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- Cowboy Dave - 20/28 -
Chicago man. "I know something about water rights, irrigation and title deeds to streams, even if I'm not much on the cowpunching," he added with a smile, "and such knowledge as I have is at your service."
"Well, I'm sure we'll appreciate it--dad and I," said Dave. "Now let's try a little run. Crow is just spoiling for a good gallop, and the way from here home is as fine a track as you'd want."
Calling to his horse, Dave set him at a gallop, being followed by Mr. Bellmore on Kurd, and the two indulged in an impromptu race, reaching the ranch house at the same time.
"Hi there, Hop Loy!" called Dave. "Grub ready?"
"Alle same leady velly soon," said the amiable Chinese, with a cheerful grin, "How you like plan-cakes?"
"Plan-cakes strike me as about right; don't they you, Mr. Bellmore?"
"I should say they would be eminently fitting and proper," returned the engineer with a laugh.
Presently there were busy scenes being enacted at Bar U ranch as the cowboys came in from their various stations, including those men who were with Mr. Carson, driving in the cattle that had been in such danger.
"Grub" in other words, supper, was served, a prodigious number of "plan- cakes" being consumed. But far from being annoyed, Hop Loy was pleased the more the boys ate. His shrill voice, singing a Chinese song, rose higher and higher as he toiled in his kitchen, baking stack after stack of the brown cakes.
"Velly much glood eat!" he exclaimed with a grin.
"Hop, you're all right!" cried Pocus Pete.
"Your pig-tail is safe with us!" declared Tubby Larkin, as he passed his plate for more cakes.
Preparations for the round-up were made that night, and the real work began next morning. A round-up on a cattle ranch, as I suppose you all know, means just what the word implies. A rounding up, or bringing together, of all the beasts, that a count may be made and some disposed of.
When the cattle roamed freely about the plains there was an intermingling of herds, and the only way one man could tell his "critters" from those of his neighbor, was by the brand marks on their flanks, or cuts in the ears. Of course in later years when there were more fences, the work became easier.
In the round-up the calves born since the last accounting are branded, and cattle matters generally are straightened out, and settled for the ensuing year.
And this was the work that Dave and his cowboy friends did. The main object of having it done now at the Bar U ranch was to provide for the water contingency. Mr. Carson realized that Molick would probably soon again shut off a portion of his supply.
"And if I can't get enough water for all my cattle I'll have to keep a smaller number until the tangle is straightened out," said the ranchman, "I'll sell off while I have the chance, and buy later in the fall."
These were busy times. From distant ranges the cattle were driven in. Those needing branding were "cut out," or separated from the rest of the herd. With skillful throws of their ropes Dave and the others would lasso the creatures, throwing them and holding them to the ground, while another cowpuncher, with an iron made hot in a hastily built fire, imprinted on the flank of the unbranded cow or steer the device of a letter U with a straight bar across it. This marked the animal as Mr. Carson's.
Riders dashed here and there, shouting, yelling, now and then laughing, and occasionally firing off big revolvers to turn some refractory steer.
The dust-cloud was thick over everything. It coated the faces of the cowboys until they appeared to be wearing masks. Now and then one of them would have a fall, but seldom with any serious results.
It was work, toil, sweat, ride hard, gallop here and there, yell, shout, leap, stumble, fall and get up again. And gradually something like order came out of the chaos.
Over at the chuck wagon Hop Loy stood ready to serve a hasty lunch whenever it was called for. Water, thickened with oatmeal, or made spicy with vinegar and ginger, "switchel," as it is called, served to quench the thirst.
"Well, I guess we have 'em pretty well where we want 'em," said Dave, at the close of the day. "Pretty good round-up; eh, Dad?"
"Yes, but it isn't over yet," was the answer. Mr. Carson cast a look at the sky. All his cattle were now gathered in one immense herd, branded, and ready for division during the following few days. A large number would be shipped away, and others would be scattered over the ranch on ranges where the water supply could not be tampered with by Jason Molick.
"Thinking of a storm?" asked Mr. Bellmore, for a midnight storm will sometimes stampede a bunch of cattle more quickly than anything else.
"Well, I don't like the look of the sky," the ranchman said. "But it may blow over."
Night on the prairies. Night, with a great herd of cattle to be looked after. The cowboys rode slowly around the immense herd, singing their own peculiar songs. Some claimed that the cattle were quieter if they heard singing.
"Though th' way some of those fellers howl is enough t' give any self- respectin' cow critter th' nightmare," declared Pocus Pete.
"Go on! You're just jealous 'cause you can't warble!" said Skinny.
Gradually those who were not on night duty rolled themselves up in their blankets and forgot the cares of the day in heavy slumber. Dave lay near Mr. Carson and Mr. Bellmore. But for some reason or other the young cowboy could not sleep. He stared up at the stars which had been dim, but were now quite bright.
"I don't believe we're going to get a storm," mused Dave.
He arose to get a drink of water, thinking perhaps this change might bring slumber. As he stood for a moment, after quenching his thirst, he gazed over the great dark mass of slightly moving cattle. He heard the distant songs of the cowboys. And then, suddenly, Dave saw something else. It was a glow off to the west-a red, dull glow that nearly caused his heart to stop beating.
"That's a fire!" he murmured. For a moment he thought of the ranch buildings, but an instant later he knew it was in the opposite direction.
The glow increased. It lighted the sky. Dave sprang toward the place where the ranchman slept.
"Fire! Fire!" he cried. "The prairie is on fire!"
The cry of fire at any time, is a dreadful one to hear. Whether it be in the crowded city, or in the lonely country; whether on board a ship on the heaving ocean, or an alarm given where factory workers are assembled; it is fearsome, always.
And though Dave and his friends were out on the great, open prairies, where the fire might have full sweep without ever coming near them, yet the cry of the young cowboy roused all instantly.
For fire on the prairies means more than would at first seem, and when a herd of cattle is in its path it is a warning that must be heeded at once if one would save the stock.
If there is not actual danger from the fire itself, there is the risk of its stampeding the cattle causing them to make a mad rush in which many will be killed.
"Fire! Fire!" yelled Dave, but his first cry was enough. All the sleepers jumped to their feet, and an echoing cry came from the cowboys who, on the far side of the herd of cattle were riding around them to keep them from straying.
As yet the animals had not taken the alarm. They could not smell the fire, for it was too far away, and the dull, distant glow in the west, as yet, meant nothing to them.
Nor had Dave's cries, and the answers thereto, given them any alarm. They were accustomed to the shouting and yelling of the cowboys day and night, and a little more or less of this noise did not startle them.
"Fire did you say, Dave?" cried Mr. Carson, as he shook his blanket from him.
"Yes, Dad. Over there!"
Dave pointed to the glow. It was brighter now.
"Yes, it's a fire sure enough," was the ranchman's remark. "And traveling fast, too."
"Wind's blowing her this way," remarked Pocus Pete, who had joined the two." Got t' get busy, boys." That last to the cowboys who were now up, ready for business.
"A prairie fire!" cried Mr. Bellmore. "How are you going to fight it?"
"There are only two ways," said Pocus Pete. "By plowing, or by firing a strip so wide that the main fire can't cross. We won't have time to plow. We've got to fight fire with fire. Come on, boys."
"Oh, if we only had water!" murmured the engineer.
"It wouldn't do us much good," said the ranchman. "When that fire gets here it will be a mile or more wide, and no hose would reach that far."
"That's right," chimed in Dave. He had not seen many prairie fires, but he
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