Blocker’s foreman, disdaining an invitation to dismount, saluted his host. “There’s some question in my mind,” said he, “as to what kind of a dead-fall you’re running up here, but if it’s on the square, there goes my contribution to your hospital. Of course, the gift carries the compliments of my employer, Captain John. That red-headed boy delivered my messages, I reckon? Well, now, make out that I’m somebody that’s come a long way, and that you’re tickled to death to see me, and order the fatted calf killed. Otherwise, I won’t even dismount.”
A FALL OF CRUMBS
An active day followed. The two trail foremen left early to overtake their herds, and the trio at the homestead was fully employed. The cripples were brought up, brands were copied, and the commissary stores assorted and arranged. Before leaving, the men had stretched the sunshade, and the wounded magician sat in state before his own tent door.
The second contingent numbered forty cattle. Like the first, they were a mixed lot, with the exception of a gentle cow. Occasionally a trail foreman would provide his outfit with a milk cow before starting, or gentle one en route, and Seay had willingly given his cow to the hospital on the Beaver.
A fine rain fell during the night. It began falling during the twilight of evening, gathering in force as the hours passed, and only ceased near the middle of the following forenoon. The creek filled to its banks, the field and garden freshened in a day, and the new ranch threw off the blight of summer drouth.
“This will bring the herds,” said Forrest, as the sun burst forth at noon. “It’s a general rain, and every one in Dodge, now that water is sure, will pull out for the Platte River. It will cool the weather and freshen the grass, and every drover with herds on the trail will push forward for Ogalalla. We’ll have to patrol the crossing on the Beaver, as the rain will lay the dust for a week and rob us of our signal.”
The crippled man’s words proved prophetic. One of the boys was daily detailed to ride to the first divide south, from which a herd, if timing its march to reach the Beaver within a day, could be sighted. On a primal trace, like the Texas and Montana cattle trail, every benefit to the herd was sought, and the freshened range and running water were a welcome breeze to the drover’s sail.
The first week after the rain only three herds reached the Beaver. Each foreman paid his respects to Forrest at the homestead, but the herds were heavy beef cattle, purchased at Dodge for delivery on army contracts, and were outfitted anew on a change of owners. The usual flotsam of crippled and stray cattle, of galled and lame saddle stock, and of useless commissary supplies, was missing, and only the well wishes of the wayfaring were left to hearten man and boy at the new ranch.