Then, by way of idleness, he bred some of the half-bred mares. The three-quarter cross proved to be ideal. They were gentle, easily broken, and to the eye differed in no particular from their pure-blooded brothers. So, ever since, the Captain has been raising these most excellent polo ponies to his great honour and profit and the incidental pleasure of his friends who like riding.
One of these ponies was known as the Merry Jest. He had a terrifying but harmless trick. The moment the saddle was cinched, down went his head and he began to buck in the most vicious style. This he would keep up until further orders. In order to put an end to the performance all one had to do was to haul in on the rope, thrust one’s foot in the stirrup, and clamber aboard. For, mark you this, Merry Jest in the course of a long and useful life never failed to buck under the empty saddle—and never bucked under a rider!
This, of course, constituted the Merry Jest. Its beauty was that it was so safe.
“Want to ride?” asked the Captain.
“Surely,” replied the unsuspecting stranger.
The Merry Jest was saddled, brought forth, and exhibited in action.
“There’s your horse,” remarked the Captain in a matter-of-course tone.
We rode out the corral gate and directly into the open country. The animals chafed to be away; and when we loosened the reins, leaped forward in long bounds. Over the rough country they skimmed like swallows, their hoofs hardly seeming to touch the ground, the powerful muscles playing smoothly beneath us like engines. After a mile of this we pulled up, and set about the serious business of the day.
One after another we oversaw all the major activities of such a ranch; outside, I mean, of the ranch enclosure proper where were the fowls, the vegetable gardens, and the like. Here an immense hay rick was being driven slowly along while two men pitched off the hay to right and left. After it followed a long line of cattle. This manner of feeding obviated the crowding that would have taken place had the hay not been thus scattered. The more aggressive followed close after the rick, snatching mouthfuls of the hay as it fell. The more peaceful, or subdued, or philosophical strung out in a long, thin line, eating steadily at one spot. They got more hay with less trouble, but the other fellows had to maintain reputations for letting nobody get ahead of them!
At another point an exceedingly rackety engine ran a hay press, where the constituents of one of the enormous house-like haystacks were fed into a hopper and came out neatly baled. A dozen or so men oversaw the activities of this noisy and dusty machine.
Down by the northerly cottonwoods two miles away we found other men with scrapers throwing up the irrigation checks along the predetermined contour lines. By means of these irregular meandering earthworks the water, admitted from the ditch to the upper end of the field, would work its way slowly from level to level instead of running off or making channels for itself. This job, too, was a dusty one. We could see the smoke of it rising from a long distance; and the horses and men were brown with it.