Two miles below the homestead, the half-dozen cripples were dropped to the rear. “You can come back to-morrow morning and get these tender steers,” said the foreman, “and drift them up above the improvements. You’ll find them near here on the water. Now, we’ll sight the tent around the next bend, and you may point out your choice.”
“I’ll take that red steer,” said Dell with marked decision, pointing out a yearling.
A peal of laughter greeted his choice. “That’s a boy,” shouted Straw; “shoot at a buck and kill a fawn! Why didn’t you take that black cow and calf?”
“I like red cattle the best,” replied Dell, undaunted. “I’ve heard they bring a better price. I’ll own the only red steer in the bunch.”
“Yes, but when your choice is a beef, that black cow and her increase would buy two beeves. Dell, if you ever get to be a cowman, you’ll have to do some of your own thinking.”
Dell’s mistake was in listening to others. Joel was equally guilty, as his lofty comments regarding red cattle were derived from the random remarks of Forrest. The brothers were novices in range cattle, and Dell’s error was based in not relying on his own judgment.
On sighting the approaching cattle, Forrest’s bunk was eased around to the tent opening, Joel holding the flaps apart, and the little herd was grazed past at a snail’s pace in review. Leaving Dell to nurse the nucleus past the improvements, Straw dismounted at the tent. “Well,” said he, handing the bridle reins to Joel, “that red-headed Dell is surely the making of a great cowman. All successful men begin at the bottom of the ladder, and he surely put his foot on the lowest rung. What do you suppose his choice was?”
“The bottom rung suggests a yearling,” said Forrest.
“Stand up. You spelled the word correct. I’m a sheep herder, if he didn’t pick out the only, little, old, red, dobe steer in the entire bunch!”
Forrest eased himself down on the bunk, unable to restrain his laughter. “Well,” said he, “we all have to learn, and no one can say Dell wasn’t true to his colors.”
THE BROTHERS CLAIM A RANGE
The next morning Straw dallied about until Dell brought up the crippled cattle. They were uniform in size; rest was the one thing needful, and it now would be theirs amid bountiful surroundings. They were driven up among the others, now scattered about in plain sight in the valley above, presenting a morning scene of pastoral contentment.
“Even the calves are playing this morning,” said Straw to Forrest, as the former entered the tent. “A few cattle surely make this valley look good. What you want to do now is to keep on drawing more. Don’t allow no outfit to pass without chipping in, at least give them the chance, and this trail hospital will be on velvet in no time. Of course, all Lovell outfits will tear their shirts boosting the endowment fund, but that needn’t bar the other herds. Some outfits may have no cattle, but they can chip in a sore-back or crippled pony. My idea is to bar no one, and if they won’t come in, give them a chance to say they don’t want to. You ought to send word back to Dodge; any foreman going east or west from there would give you his strays.”