Fraser was dragged from sweet slumber, pegged face down on his blankets, with a large-sized man at the extremity of each arm and leg, and introduced to a chapping. Dick France wielded the chaps vigorously upon the portions of his anatomy where they would do the most execution. The Texan did not enjoy it, but he refrained from saying so. When he was freed, he sat down painfully on a saddle and remarked amiably:
“You’re a beautiful bunch, ain’t you? Anybody got any smoking?”
This proper acceptance of their attentions so delighted these overgrown children that they dug up three bottles of whisky that were kept in camp for rattlesnake bites, and made Rome howl. They had ridden all day, and for many weary days before that; but they were started toward making a night of it when Dillon appeared.
Dillon was boss of the round-up— he had been elected by general consent, and his word was law. He looked round upon them with a twinkling eye, and wanted to know how long it was going to last. But the way he put his question was:
“How much whisky is there left?”
Finding there was none, he ordered them all back to their blankets. After a little skylarking, they obeyed. Next day Fraser rode the hills, a sore, sore man. But nobody who did not know could have guessed it. He would have died before admitting it to any of his companions. Thus he won the accolade of his peers as a worthy horse-man of the hills.
The broncho busters
Jed Briscoe rejoined the round-up the day following Fraser’s initiation. He took silent note of the Texan’s popularity, of how the boys all called him “Steve” because he had become one of them, and were ready either to lark with him or work with him. He noticed, too, that the ranger did his share of work without a whimper, apparently enjoying the long, hard hours in the saddle. The hill riding was of the roughest, and the cattle were wild as deers and as agile. But there was no break-neck incline too steep for Steve Fraser to follow.
Once Jed chanced upon Steve stripped for a bath beside the creek, and he understood the physical reason for his perfect poise. The wiry, sinuous muscles, packed compactly without obtrusion, played beneath the skin like those of a panther. He walked as softly and as easily as one, with something of the rippling, unconscious grace of that jungle lord. It was this certainty of himself that vivified the steel-gray eyes which looked forth unafraid, and yet amiably, upon a world primitive enough to demand proof of every man who would hold the respect of his fellows.
Meanwhile, Briscoe waited for Struve and his enemy to become entangled in the net he was spinning. He made no pretense of fellowship with Fraser; nor, on the other hand, did he actively set himself against him with the men. He was ready enough to sneer when Dick France grew enthusiastic about his new friend, but this was to be expected from one of his jaundiced temper.