AN ILL WIND
The start to the station was made at four o’clock in the morning. Joel accompanied the drover, the two best horses being under saddle, easily capable of a road gait that would reach the railroad during the early forenoon. The direct course lay across country, and once the sun flooded the Beaver valley, the cowman swung around in the saddle and his practical eye swept the range. On sighting Hackberry Grove, the broken country beyond, including the sand hills, he turned to his guide.
“My boy,” said Mr. Lovell, “you brothers have a great future before you. This is an ideal cattle range. The very grass under our horses’ feet carries untold wealth. But you lack cattle. You have the range here for thousands where you are running hundreds. Buy young steers; pay any price; but get more cattle. The growth of young steers justifies any outlay. Come down to Dodge about the first of August. This drouth is liable to throw some bargains on that market. Be sure and come. I’ll keep an eye open in your interest on any cattle for sale.”
The old drover’s words bewildered Joel. The ways and means were not entirely clear, but the confidence of the man in the future of the brothers was gratifying. Meanwhile, at the little ranch the team stood in waiting, and before the horseman had passed out of sight to the south the buckboard started on its northern errand. Dell accompanied it, protesting against his absence from home, but Forrest brushed aside every objection.
“Come on, come on,” said he to Dell; “you have no saddle, and we may be back to-night. We’re liable to meet Paul on the Republican. Turn your ranch loose and let it run itself. Come on; we ain’t halfway through our figuring.”
Joel returned after dark. Priest had left Ogalalla, to the north, the same day that Forrest and his employer started up the trail from the south, and at the expected point the two foremen met. The report showed water in abundance from the Republican River northward, confirming Forrest’s assertion to his employer, and completing the chain of waters between Dodge and Ogalalla. Priest returned with the buckboard, which reached the Beaver after midnight, and aroused Joel out of heavy sleep.
“I just wanted to say,” said Priest, sitting on the edge of Joel’s bunk, “that I had my ear to the ground and heard the good fighting. Yes, I heard the sleet cracking. You never saw me, but I was with you the night you drifted to the Prairie Dog. Take it all along the line, wasn’t it good fighting?”
“Has Dell told you everything?” inquired Joel, sitting up in his blankets.
“Everything, including the fact that he got lost the night of the March drift, while going home after a pack horse. Wouldn’t trust poor old Dog-toe, but run on the rope himself! Landed down the creek here a few miles. News to you? Well, he admits that the horse forgot more than he himself ever knew. That’s a hopeful sign. As long as a man hearkens to his horse, there is no danger of bad counsel being thrust on him.”