In an easy, conversational tone the cattleman continued, but now there was a touch of frost in his eyes.
“It was thisaway, Dug. When he and Bob knocked Steelman’s plans hell west and crooked after that yellow skunk George Doble betrayed me to Brad, the boy lost his boots in the brush. ’Course I said to get another pair at the store and charge ’em to me. I reckon he was havin’ some fun joshin’ you.”
The foreman was furious. He sputtered with the rage that boiled inside him. But some instinct warned him that unless he wanted to break with Crawford completely he must restrain his impulse to rip loose.
“All right,” he mumbled. “If you told him to get ’em, ’nough said.”
THE CATTLE TRAIN
Dave stood on the fence of one of the shipping pens at the Albuquerque stockyards and used a prod-pole to guide the bawling cattle below. The Fifty-Four Quarter Circle was loading a train of beef steers and cows for Denver. Just how he was going to manage it Dave did not know, but he intended to be aboard that freight when it pulled out for the mile-high town in Colorado.
He had reached Albuquerque by a strange and devious route of zigzags and back-trackings. His weary bronco he had long since sold for ten dollars at a cow town where he had sacked his saddle to be held at a livery stable until sent for. By blind baggage he had ridden a night and part of a day. For a hundred miles he had actually paid his fare. The next leg of the journey had been more exciting. He had elected to travel by freight. For many hours he and a husky brakeman had held different opinions about this. Dave had been chased from the rods into an empty and out of the box car to the roof. He had been ditched half a dozen times during the night, but each time he had managed to hook on before the train had gathered headway. The brakeman enlisted the rest of the crew in the hunt, with the result that the range-rider found himself stranded on the desert ten miles from a station. He walked the ties in his high-heeled boots, and before he reached the yards his feet were sending messages of pain at every step. Reluctantly he bought a ticket to Albuquerque. Here he had picked up a temporary job ten minutes after his arrival.
A raw-boned inspector kept tally at the chute while the cattle passed up into the car.
“Fifteen, sixteen—prod ’em up, you Arizona—seventeen, eighteen—jab that whiteface along—nineteen—hustle ’em in.”
The air was heavy with the dust raised by the milling cattle. Calves stretched their necks and blatted for their mothers, which kept up in turn a steady bawling for their strayed offspring. They were conscious that something unusual was in progress, something that threatened their security and comfort, and they resented it in the only way they knew.
Car after car was jammed full of the frightened creatures as the men moved from pen to pen, threw open and shut the big gates, and hustled the stock up the chutes. Dave had begun work at six in the morning. A glance at his watch showed him that it was now ten o’clock.