A texas ranger, p.20
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       A Texas Ranger, p.20

           William MacLeod Raine
 
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  CHAPTER VII -- THE ROUND-UP

  "Would you like to take in the round-up to-day?"

  Arlie flung the question at Fraser with a frank directness of sloe-blackeyes that had never known coquetry. She was washing handkerchiefs, andher sleeves were rolled to the elbows of the slender, but muscular,coffee-brown arms.

  "I would."

  "If you like you may ride out with me to Willow Spring. I have someletters to take to dad."

  "Suits me down to the ground, ma'am."

  It was a morning beautiful even for Wyoming. The spring called potentlyto the youth in them. The fine untempered air was like wine, and outof a blue sky the sun beat pleasantly down through a crystal-clearatmosphere known only to the region of the Rockies. Nature was preachinga wordless sermon on the duty of happiness to two buoyant hearts thatscarce needed it.

  Long before they reached the scene of the round-up they could hear thealmost continual bawl of worried cattle, and could even see the cloudof dust they stirred. They passed the remuda, in charge of two ladslounging sleepily in their saddles with only an occasional glance at thebunch of grazing horses they were watching. Presently they looked downfrom a high ridge at the busy scene below.

  Out of Lost Valley ran a hundred rough and wooded gulches to theimpassable cliff wall which bounded it. Into one of these they nowdescended slowly, letting their ponies pick a way among the loose stonesand shale which covered the steep hillside.

  What their eyes fell upon was cattle-land at its busiest. Severalhundred wild hill cattle were gathered in the green draw, and aroundthem was a cordon of riders holding the gather steady. Now and again oneof the cows would make a dash to escape, and instantly the nearest riderwould wheel, as on a batter's plate, give chase, and herd the animalback after a more or less lengthy pursuit.

  Several of the riders were cutting out from the main herd cows withunmarked calves, which last were immediately roped and thrown. Usuallyit took only an instant to determine with whose cow the calf had been,and a few seconds to drive home the correct brand upon the sizzlingflank. Occasionally the discussion was more protracted, in order tosolve a doubt as to the ownership, and once a calf was released that itmight again seek its mother to prove identity.

  Arlie observed that Fraser's eyes were shining.

  "I used to be a puncher myse'f," he explained. "I tell you it feels goodto grip a saddle between your knees, and to swallow the dust and hearthe bellow of the cows. I used to live in them days. I sure did."

  A boyish puncher galloped past with a whoop and waved his hat to Arlie.For two weeks he had been in the saddle for fourteen hours out of thetwenty-four. He was grimy with dust, and hollow-eyed from want of sleep.A stubbly beard covered his brick-baked face. But the unquenchablegayety of the youthful West could not be extinguished. Though hisflannel shirt gaped where the thorns had torn it, and the polka-dotbandanna round his throat was discolored with sweat, he was as blithelydebonair as ever.

  "That's Dick France. He's a great friend of mine," Arlie explained.

  "Dick's in luck," Fraser commented, but whether because he was enjoyinghimself so thoroughly or because he was her friend the ranger did notexplain.

  They stayed through the day, and ate dinner at the tail of the chuckwagon with the cattlemen. The light of the camp fires, already blazingin the nipping night air, shone brightly. The ranger rode back with herto the ranch, but next morning he asked Arlie if she could lend him anold pair of chaps discarded by her father.

  She found a pair for him.

  "If you don't mind, I'll ride out to the round-up and stay with the boysa few days," he suggested.

  "You're going to ride with them," she accused.

  "I thought I would. I'm not going to saddle myse'f on you two ladiesforever."

  "You know we're glad to have you. But that isn't it. What about yourheart? You know you can't ride the range."

  He flushed, and knew again that feeling of contempt for himself, or, tobe more exact, for his position.

  "I'll be awful careful, Miss Arlie," was all he found to say.

  She could not urge him further, lest he misunderstand her.

  "Of course, you know best," she said, with a touch of coldness.

  He saddled Teddy and rode back. The drive for the day was already on,but he fell in beside young France and did his part. Before two days hadpassed he was accepted as one of these hard-riding punchers, for he wasa competent vaquero and stood the grueling work as one born to it. Hewas, moreover, well liked, both because he could tell a good story andbecause these sons of Anak recognized in him that dynamic quality ofmanhood they could not choose but respect. In this a fortunate accidentaided him.

  They were working Lost Creek, a deep and rapid stream at the point wherethe drive ended. The big Norwegian, Siegfried, trying to head off a wildcow racing along the bank with tail up, got too near the edge. The bankcaved beneath the feet of his pony, and man and horse went head firstinto the turbid waters. Fraser galloped up at once, flung himself fromhis saddle, and took in at a glance the fact that the big blond Herculescould not swim.

  The Texan dived for him as he was going down, got hold of him by thehair, and after a struggle managed somehow to reach the farther shore.As they both lay there, one exhausted, and the other fighting for thebreath he had nearly lost forever, Dillon reached the bank.

  "Is it all right, Steve?" he called anxiously.

  "All right," grinned the ranger weakly. "He'll go on many a spree yet.Eh, Siegfried?"

  The Norwegian nodded. He was still frightened and half drowned. It wasnot till they were riding up the creek to find a shallow place theycould ford that he spoke his mind.

  "Ay bane all in ven you got me, pardner."

  "Oh, you were still kicking."

  "Ay bane t'ink Ay had van chance not to get out. But Ay bane not forgetdees. Eef you ever get in a tight place, send vor Sig Siegfried."

  "That's all right, Sig."

  Nobody wasted any compliments on him. After the fashion of their kind,they guyed the Norwegian about the bath he had taken. Nevertheless,Fraser knew that he had won the liking of these men, as well as theirdeep respect. They began to call him by his first name, which hithertoonly Dillon had done, and they included him in the rough, practicaljokes they played on each other.

  One night they initiated him--an experience to be both dreaded anddesired. To be desired because it implies the conferring of thethirty-second degree of the freemasonry of Cattleland's approval; tobe dreaded because hazing is mild compared with some features of theexercises.

  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, andintroduced to a chapping. Dick France wielded the chaps vigorously uponthe portions of his anatomy where they would do the most execution. TheTexan did not enjoy it, but he refrained from saying so. When he wasfreed, 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 overgrownchildren that they dug up three bottles of whisky that were kept in campfor rattlesnake bites, and made Rome howl. They had ridden all day, andfor many weary days before that; but they were started toward making anight 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 hisquestion 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. Hewould have died before admitting it to any of his companions. Thus hewon the accolade of his peers as a worthy horse-man of the hills.

 
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