The appearance of Priest and the readiness with which the strange men assisted in corralling the herd shortly revealed the situation to the crafty Joel. On the homeward canter, the gray-haired foreman managed to drop a word which lightened Dell’s depression and cleared up the supposed error.
That was a great night on the Beaver. The two wagons camped together, the herds bedded on either side of the creek, and the outfits mingled around the same camp-fire. Rare stories were told, old songs were sung, the lusty chorus of which easily reached the night-herders, and was answered back like a distant refrain.
The next morning the herds moved out on their way without a wasted step. Two men were detailed from each outfit, and with the foremen and the boys, a branding crew stood ready for the task before them. The chute had been ironed and bolted the evening previous, and long before the early rays of the sun flooded the valley of the Beaver, the first contingent of cattle arrived from the upper corral.
The boys adopted Bar Y as their brand. The chute chambered ten grown cattle, and when clutched in a vise-like embrace, with bars fore and aft, the actual branding, at the hands of two trail foremen, was quickly over. The main herd was cut into half a dozen bunches, and before the noon hour arrived, the last hoof had passed under the running irons and bore the new owner’s brand or tally-mark.
Only a short rest was allowed, as the herds were trailing the limit of travel, and must be overtaken by evening. When crossing the railroad a few days before, it was learned that Grinnell was the railroad depot for settlers’ supplies, and the boys were advised to file their order for corn, and to advance a liberal payment to insure attention. All details of the ranch seemed well in hand, the cattle were in good condition to withstand a winter, and if spirit and confidence could be imparted, from age to youth, the sponsors of the venture would have felt little concern for the future. If a dry, open winter followed, success was assured; if the reverse, was it right to try out the very souls of these waifs in a wintry crucible?
The foremen and their men left early in the afternoon. On reaching a divide, which gave the party of horsemen a last glimpse of the Beaver, the cavalcade halted for a parting look.
“Isn’t it a pretty range?” said Forrest, gazing far beyond the hazy valley. “I wish we knew if those boys can stick out the winter.”
“Stick? We’ll make them stick!” said Priest, in a tone as decisive as if his own flesh and blood had been insulted.
THE LINES OF INTRENCHMENT