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THE SPIRIT OF THE RANGE

B. M. BOWER

Start Publishing LLC

Copyright © 2012 by Start Publishing LLC

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

First Start Publishing eBook edition January 2014

Start Publishing is a registered trademark of Start Publishing LLC

Manufactured in the United States of America

10   9   8   7   6   5   4   3   2   1

ISBN 978-1-60977-455-4

Cal Emmett straightened up with his gloved hand pressed tight against the small of his back, sighed Hully Gee! at the ache of his muscles and went over to the water bucket and poured a quart or so of cool, spring water down his parched throat. The sun blazed like a furnace with the blower on, though it was well over towards the west; the air was full of smoke, dust and strong animal odors, and the throaty bawling of many cattle close-held. For it was nearing the end of spring round-up, and many calves were learning, with great physical and mental distress, the feel of a hot iron properly applied. Cal shouted to the horse-wrangler that the well had gone dry—meaning the bucket—and went back to work.

I betche we won't git through in time for no picnic, predicted Happy Jack gloomily, getting the proper hold on the hind leg of a three-months-old calf. They's three hundred to decorate yet, if they's one; and it'll rain—

You're batty, Cal interrupted. Uh course we'll get through—we've got to; what d'yuh suppose we've been tearing the bone out for the last three weeks for?

Chip, with a foot braced against the calf's shoulder, ran a U on its ribs with artistic precision. Chip's Flying U's were the pride of the whole outfit; the Happy Family was willing at any time, to bet all you dare that Chip's brands never varied a quarter-inch in height, width or position. The Old Man and Shorty had been content to use a stamp, as prescribed by law; but Chip Bennett scorned so mechanical a device and went on imperturbably defying the law with his running iron—and the Happy Family gloated over his independence and declared that they would sure deal a bunch of misery to the man that reported him. His Flying U's were better than a stamp, anyhow, they said, and it was a treat to watch the way he slid them on, just where they'd do the most good.

I'm going home, after supper, he said, giving just the proper width to the last curve of the two-hundredth U he had made that afternoon. I promised Dell I'd try and get home to-night, and drive over to the picnic early to-morrow. She's head push on the grub-pile, I believe, and wants to make sure there's enough to go around. There's about two hundred and fifty calves left. If you can't finish up to-night, it'll be your funeral.

Well, I betche it'll rain before we git through—it always does, when you don't want it to, gloomed Happy, seizing another calf.

If it does, called Weary, who was branding—with a stamp—not far away, if it does, Happy, we'll pack the bossies into the cook-tent and make Patsy heat the irons in the stove. Don't yuh cry, little boy—we'll sure manage somehow.

Aw yes—you wouldn't see nothing to worry about, not if yuh was being paid for it. They's a storm coming—any fool can see that; and she's sure going to come down in large chunks. We ain't got this amatoor hell for nothing! Yuh won't want to do no branding in the cook-tent, nor no place else. I betche—

Please, spoke up Pink, coiling afresh the rope thrown off a calf he had just dragged up to Cal and Happy Jack, won't somebody lend me a handkerchief? I want to gag Happy; he's working his hoodoo on us again.

Happy Jack leered up at him, consciously immune—for there was no time for strife of a physical nature, and Happy knew it. Everyone was working his fastest.

Hoodoo nothing! I guess maybe yuh can't see that bank uh thunderheads. I guess your sight's poor, straining your eyes towards the Fourth uh July ever since Christmas. If yuh think yuh can come Christian Science act on a storm, and bluff it down jest by sayin' it ain't there, you're away off. I ain't that big a fool; I— he trailed into profane words, for the calf he was at that minute holding showed a strong inclination to plant a foot in Happy's stomach.

Cal Emmett glanced over his shoulder, grunted a comprehensive refutation of Happy Jack's fears and turned his whole attention to work. The branding proceeded steadily, with the hurry of skill that makes each motion count something done; for though not a man of them except Happy Jack would have admitted it, the Happy Family was anxious. With two hundred and fifty calves to be branded in the open before night,