That afternoon and the next morning the second division of the Lovell herds crossed the Beaver. Forrest rode in and saluted the boys with his usual rough caress.
“Saddle up horses,” said he, “and drop back and come through with the two rear herds, There’s a heavy drag end on each one, and an extra man to nurse those tender cows over here, to home and friends, will be lending a hand to the needy. I’ll run the ranch while you’re gone. One of you to each, the fourth and fifth herds, remember. I’ll meet you to-morrow morning, and we’ll cut the cripples out and point them in to the new tanks below. Shake out your fat horses, sweat them up a little—you’re needed at the rear of Lovell’s main drive.”
The boys saddled and rode away in a gallop. Three of the rear herds reached the Beaver that afternoon, watered, and passed on to safe camps beyond. One of Quirk’s wagons had left a quarter of beef at headquarters, and Forrest spent the night amid peace and plenty where the year before he lay wounded.
The next morning saw the last of the Lovell herds arrive. The lead one yielded ninety cripples, and an hour later the rear guard disgorged a few over one hundred head. The two contingents were thrown together, the brothers nursed them in to the new tanks, where they were freed on a perfect range. A count of the cripples and fagged cattle, culled back at headquarters, brought the total discard of the sixteen herds up to two hundred and forty-odd, a riffraff of welcome flotsam, running from a young steer to a seven-year-old beef. The sweepings had paid the reckoning.
Several other trail foremen, scouting in advance of their herds, had reached the Beaver, or had been given assurance that water was to be had in abundance. A measurement of the water was awaited with interest, and once the rear herd grazed out from the beaver ponds, Forrest and the brothers rode around the pools to take soundings.
“I cut notches on willow roots, at each beaver dam, and the loss runs from four to six inches, the lower pools suffering the heaviest,” said Joel, summing up the situation.
“They’re holding like cisterns,” exultingly said Forrest. “Fifty thousand cattle watered, and only lowered the pools on an average of five inches. The upper one’s still taking water—that’s the reason it’s standing the drain. Write it in the sand or among the stars, but the water’s here for this year’s drive. Go back and tell those waiting foremen to bring on their cattle. Headquarters ranch will water every trail herd, or break a tug trying.”
“Bring on your herds,” said Joel, addressing a quartette of trail foremen resting under the sunshade. “Our water is holding out better than we expected. The Lovell cattle only lowered the ponds a trifle. From the present outlook, we can water the drive.”