On every hand stretched the desert, broken by clumps of mesquite and cactus with the only trees in the landscape the thick belt of cottonwoods lining the banks of a stream that rose in the mountains to the north and ran by the town. North, east, south and west lofty mountains gleamed on the far horizon, while closer at hand rose the foothills. These latter were of fantastic shapes, like castles, tables or crouching animals, and of the most vivid coloring. Over all was the warm and brilliant sunshine of late afternoon. As for the air, it was clean and despite the warmth of the day already beginning to turn cool as the sun hovered on the rim of the farthest mountains to the west.
“Some country,” said Bob emphatically.
“Wait until you have known it day in and day out for months,” said Jack. “You will never want to go back to Long Island.”
“Is that the way you feel about it, Jack?” asked Frank.
“Oh, well, I suppose I’ll want to go home sometime,” said Jack. “But just the same, I’m in love with this country. As for the old-timers off there in the hills, you couldn’t drive them away.”
“Say, Jack,” said Frank, as they all continued standing and gazing at the surrounding scene, “I thought we’d see some oil derricks around here. But there isn’t one in sight.”
“No, Frank,” interposed Mr. Temple, in explanation, “you see the Independents are mainly located over in the Panhandle, or upper western portion of Texas and in Oklahoma. That is east from here. But Mr. Hampton had his geologists in through this region, and they reported the prospects for finding oil favorable. Then the Independents came in quietly and took up leases, and Mr. Hampton followed to prepare for development of the field.”
“Yes, that’s the way of it,” agreed Jack.
“Say, Jack,” said Frank, “I’m hungry as a hunter. If we are going to get dinner at your camp, let’s move along. How far is it, by the way?”
“Ten miles,” said Jack, leading the way toward the automobile with its dozing Mexican at the wheel. “Come on.”
The others followed and were about to climb into the automobile when the rapid hoofbeats of a galloping horse ringing on the sun-baked clay of the street drew their attention, and they paused.
“Why, it’s Gabby Pete,” said Jack in surprise, moving forward a step as the rider reined up his horse so sharply that it reared and slid on braced hind legs. The animal came to rest so close to him that Jack was forced to give back a step, and it stood there snorting and blowing.
An oldish man of tremendous girth, but who sat his horse easily despite his size, grinned down at Jack. He was white-haired and under the brim of his sombrero little eyes twinkled genially and shrewdly in a round, fat face.
“What brings you here, Pete?” asked Jack, sharply. “I thought you were at camp, getting dinner for my guests.” He indicated the boys and Mr. Temple, who stood close at hand, looking on. “Who will prepare dinner for them now?”