ALL IN THE DAY’S WORK
The brief visit of Priest proved a tonic to the boys. If a firing line of veteran soldiers can be heartened, surely the spirit and courage of orphan waifs needed fortifying against the coming winter. The elements have laughed at the hopes and ambitions of a conqueror, and an invincible army has trailed its banners in the snow, unable to cope with the rigors of the frost king. The lads bent anew to their tasks with a cheerfulness which made work mere play, sweetening their frugal fare, and bringing restful sleep. The tie which began in a mercenary agreement had seemingly broken its bonds, and in lieu, through the leaven of human love, a new covenant had been adopted.
“If it’s a dry, open winter,” said Dell at breakfast next morning, “holding these cattle will be nothing. The water holds them now without herding.”
[Illustration: Joel Wells and his Spanish cow-pony]
“Yes,” replied Joel, “but we must plan to meet the worst possible winter. A blizzard gives little warning, and the only way to overcome one is to be fully prepared. That’s what Mr. Paul means by bringing up the ammunition. We must provide so as to be able to withstand a winter siege.”
“Well, what’s lacking?” insisted Dell.
“Fuel. Take an axe with you this morning, and after riding around the cattle, cut and collect the dead and fallen timber in Hackberry Grove. Keep an eye open for posts and stays—I’ll cut them while you’re hauling wood. Remember we must have the materials on the ground when Mr. Paul returns, to build a corral and branding chute.”
Axe and scythe were swung that morning with renewed energy. Within a week the required amount of hay was in stack, while the further supply of forage, promised in the stunted corn, was daily noted in its advancing growth.
Without delay the scene of activity shifted. The grove was levied on, a change of axe-men took place, while the team even felt a new impetus by making, instead of one, two round trips daily. The fuel supply grew, not to meet a winter’s, but a year’s requirements. Where strength was essential, only the best of timber was chosen, and well within the time limit the materials for corral and branding chute were at hand on the ground. One task met and mastered, all subsequent ones seemed easier.
“We’re ahead of time,” said Joel with a quiet air of triumph, as the last load of stays reached the corral site. “If we only knew the plans, we might dig the post-holes. The corn’s still growing, and it won’t do to cut until it begins to ripen—until the sugar rises in the stock. We can’t turn another wheel until Mr. Paul returns.”
Idleness was galling to Joel Wells. “We’ll ride the range to-day,” he announced the following morning. “From here to the ford doesn’t matter, but all the upper tributaries ought to be known. We must learn the location of every natural shelter. If a storm ever cuts us off from the corrals, we must point the herd for some other port.”