The range-land was at its unpicturesque worst. For two days the wind had raged and ranted over the hilltops, and whooped up the long coulees, so that tears stood in the eyes of the Happy Family when they faced it; impersonal tears blown into being by the very force of the wind. Also, when they faced it they rode with bodies aslant over their saddle-horns and hats pulled low over their streaming eyes, and with coats fastened jealously close. If there were buttons enough, well and good; if not, a strap cinched tightly about the middle was considered pretty lucky and not to be despised. Though it was early September, “sour-dough” coats were much in evidence, for the wind had a chill way of searching to the very marrow—and even a good, sheepskin-lined “sour-dough” was not always protection sufficient.
When the third day dawned bleakly, literally blown piecemeal from out darkness as bleak, the Happy Family rose shiveringly and with sombre disapproval of whatever met their blood-shot eyes; dressed hurriedly in the chill of flapping tent and went out to stagger drunkenly over to where Patsy, in the mess-tent, was trying vainly to keep the biscuits from becoming dust-sprinkled, and sundry pans and tins from taking jingling little excursions on their own account. Over the brow of the next ridge straggled the cavvy, tails and manes whipping in the gale, the nighthawk swearing so that his voice came booming down to camp. Truly, the day opened inauspiciously enough for almost any dire ending.
As further evidence, saddling horses for circle resolved itself, as Weary remarked at the top of his voice to Pink, at his elbow, into “a free-for-all broncho busting tournament.” For horses have nerves, and nothing so rasps the nerves of man or beast as a wind that never stops blowing; which means swaying ropes and popping saddle leather, and coat-tails flapping like wet sheets on a clothes line. Horses do not like these things, and they are prone to eloquent manifestations of their disapproval.
Over by the bed-wagon, a man they called Blink, for want of a better name, was fighting his big sorrel silently, with that dogged determination which may easily grow malevolent. The sorrel was at best a high-tempered, nervous beast, and what with the wind and the flapping of everything in sight, and the pitching of half-a-dozen horses around him, he was nearly crazed with fear in the abstract.
Blink was trying to bridle him, and he was not saying a word—which, in the general uproar, was strange. But Blink seldom did say anything. He was one of the aliens who had drifted into the Flying U outfit that spring, looking for work. Chip had taken him on, and he had stayed. He could ride anything in his string, and he was always just where he was wanted. He never went to town when the others clattered off for a few hours’ celebration more or less mild, he never took part in any of the camp fun, and he never offended any man. If any offended him they did not know it unless they were observant; if they were, they would see his pale lashes wink fast for a minute, and they might read aright the sign and refrain from further banter. So Blink, though he was counted a good man on roundup, was left pretty much alone when in camp.