The hazard savored more of inexperience than of courage. Dell rode carelessly back and forth, edging in nearer the ledge each time, whirling his loop in passing, at which the cowering animal arose in an attitude of defense. Nodding to Joel that the moment had come, as the horse advanced and the enemy came within reach, the singing noose shot out, the wolf arose as if to spring, and the next instant Dog-toe whirled under spur and quirt, leaving only a blur behind as he shot across the corral. Only his rider had seen the noose fall true, the taut rope bespoke its own burden, and there was no time to shout. For an instant, Joel held his breath, only catching a swerve in the oncoming horse, whose rider bore down on the centre post of the double gate, the deviation of course being calculated to entangle the rope’s victim. The horse flashed through the gate, something snapped, the rope stood in air, and a dull thud was heard in the bewilderment of the moment. The blur passed in an instant, and a monster dog wolf lay at the gatepost, relaxing in a spasm of death.
Dell checked his horse and returned, lamenting the loss of a foot’s length from his favorite rope. It had cut on the saddle tree, and thus saved horse and rider from an ugly fall.
“He lays right where I figured to kill him—against that post,” said Dell, as he reined in and looked down on the dead wolf. “Do you want his hide, or can I have it?”
“Drag him aside,” replied Joel, “while I rouse out the cattle. I’ll have to sit up with you to-night.”
HOLDING THE FORT
The valley lay in the grasp of winter. On the hills and sunny slopes, the range was slowly opening to the sun. The creek, under cover of ice and snow, forced its way, only yielding to axes for the time being and closing over when not in use.
The cattle required no herding. The chief concern of the brothers was to open more grazing ground, and to that end every energy was bent. The range already opened lay to the north of the Beaver, and although double the distance, an effort was made to break out a trail to the divide on the south. The herd was turned up the lane for the day, and taking their flails, the boys began an attack on the sleet. It was no easy task, as it was fully two miles to the divide, a northern slope, and not affected by the sun before high noon.
The flails rang out merrily. From time to time the horses were brought forward, their weight shattering the broken sleet and assisting in breaking out a pathway. The trail was beaten ten feet in width on an average, and by early noon the divide was reached. Several thousand acres lay bare, and by breaking out all drifts and depressions running north and south across the watershed, new grazing grounds could be added daily.