I. THE HAPPY FAMILY RETURNS
TWO days before the Fourth of July a small procession of three automobiles lifted a ribbon of fine gray dust from the road that wound eastward along the edge of the Bear Paw foothills. Far back toward Dry Lake the haze was still slowly settling to earth when the last car passed through the high gate of the Flying U fence and a small, slight man got out and pulled the gate shut, hooked the chain around the post and into a link worn smooth with much use and climbed back beside the driver.
"Same identical chain, hooked the same way as when I came through here years ago," he observed pensively to his companion. "Don't it seem like yesterday we hit out for California, Weary?"
"It sure does when I look at these hills," Weary replied. "I miss a few chucks in the road, though. They been doing some work on it lately, looks like. We'll be in sight of the coulee in a minute."
Even as he spoke the lead car, a long, low-slung roadster of a famous foreign make, slid up to the very brow of the hill and stopped with a sudden flash of the warning red light seen rather dimly through its coating of dust. The driver, capped and goggled and otherwise bearing the earmarks of a tourist de luxe , twisted his slim body so that he faced to the rear, though his gauntleted hand pointed dramatically down into the valley.
"My God, boys, they've built a red barn!" he cried in the tragic voice of one unexpectedly confronted with the worst that can befall. "Can you feature it? A red barn, and it's trimmed in white like a million other barns in a dozen States!" He sank down into the seat again, shaking his head in mournful acceptance of the sacrilege. "They might as well put up a windmill and a silo and finish the job!"
Heads craned out of the following limousine. The driver flapped a hand forward in the gesture of dismissal.
"Hey, cut the agony scene and drive on, Mig! Or else pull outa the road to do your wailing, and let me past."
"What's wrong?" Weary shouted from the rear car. "Mig stalled in that tin toy of his? Lemme past, Andy, and I'll give him a tow."
But even while he was speaking the yellow roadster slid on down the steep hill, took the narrow Hogsback trail like a darting lizard and swept at a reckless speed down the last slope and across the creek on a bridge that, like the red barn, was a late improvement, leaving the two cars to bore through the thick curtain of dust at their leisure. As he passed through the big gate he remembered so well, the driver slowed and came to a stand before the bunk house where he had slept through many a bitter night when he was only a poor cowboy working for the Flying U.
As he pulled off his brown goggles and gazed reminiscently at the squat log building, the brown limousine and the blue coach that had trailed him from Dry Lake slid up and stopped with a squeal of brakes which brought a tall man to the door of the white house on the knoll beyond the cabin. Through a window beside him an old man looked out with the peering intentness of one whose sight is failing.
"Here come the boys, Dell!" the man in the doorway called over his shoulder and came hurrying down the porch steps. "Hey, you fellows, what're you stopping down there for? Drive on up here. That you in the band wagon, Mig? Hello, Andy! Hello, Weary and Pink-everybody, hello!"
"Hello yourself!" Pink, the little fellow with dimples and eyes of a childlike candor, called exuberantly. "We're running ahead of our schedule, Chip-and that's more than you could expect with these bum cars and drivers."
"The quicker the better. Say, you're sure riding good stock these days, boys. Beats plugging along on a cayuse, don't it?" Chip went from car to car, shaking hands and flinging personal jibes at them, affection turning them to compliments by the very look and tone of him.
"Get out and come in, all of you. J. G.'s been watchin