Steer after steer passed by Conniston as he held his horse aside, keeping a watchful eye for the cows. Rawhide and Toothy were “cutting them out” as best they could, urging the steers toward the gate, trying to keep the cows to the far side of the inclosure. But again and again a quick-footed heifer pressed her slender body against that of some big, long-horned steer, running with him. That she did not pass through the gate was Conniston’s lookout.
They were not sluggish-blooded brutes. They were as swift as a horse almost, quick-footed, alert to leap forward or to stop with sharp hoofs cutting the dry dirt, and swing shortly to the side. In a sudden onrush toward him Conniston shut off one cow by forcing his horse in front of her and threatening her with his waving quirt. As she turned and ran back into the mass behind her he saw two more cows running toward the gate. He swung his horse and dashed at them. But they had seen their opportunity, they had grasped it, and they shot through the gate, mingling with the herd outside.
Again Rawhide cursed him, and Conniston made no answer, having none to make. He gave over his place silently at Rawhide’s surly order and rode over to aid Toothy. And he marveled at the ease with which Rawhide did the thing which he himself had found simple from a distance and impossible near at hand.
At last, behind the scattering herd of running cattle, they left the corrals and the Lone Dog men behind, and began their drive forty miles to the Sunk Hole. Now a man must be a hundred places at the same time. In twenty minutes the three horses were wet and dripping with sweat. The herd was one which ordinarily, when there was not so much requiring to be done at once on the ranges, half a dozen men would have handled. The steers were wild; they were as stubborn as hogs; there was no narrow, fenced-in road to keep them in the way they should go. They broke back again and again; they turned off to right and left by ones and twos, by scores. While Conniston galloped after one of them that had left the others and broken into a run to the right the main part of the herd over which he should have been watching took advantage of the opportunity to lose themselves in the timbered gulches to the left. Both Rawhide Jones and Toothy had to ride with him to drive them out of the gulches and back to the herd.
Conniston learned that day how a cattle-man can swear—and why. He learned that a steer is not the easiest thing in the world to handle, that sometimes he is not content with fleeing from his natural enemy, but charges with lowered horns and froth-dripping mouth upon man and horse. He learned many, many little things that day, and some big things. And the biggest thing came to him suddenly, and brought a look into his eyes which had never been there before. He learned that Greek Conniston, the son of William Conniston, of Wall Street, was the most inefficient man upon the range.