Holding The Fort
The valley lay in the grasp of winter. On the hills and sunny slopes, the range was slowly
opening to the sun. The creek, under cover of ice and snow, forced its way, only yielding
to axes for the time being and closing over when not in use.
The cattle required no herding. The chief concern of the brothers was to open more
grazing ground, and to that end every energy was bent. The range already opened lay to
the north of the Beaver, and although double the distance, an effort was made to break
out a trail to the divide on the south. The herd was turned up the lane for the day, and
taking their flails, the boys began an attack on the sleet. It was no easy task, as it was
fully two miles to the divide, a northern slope, and not affected by the sun before high
The flails rang out merrily. From time to time the horses were brought forward, their
weight shattering the broken sleet and assisting in breaking out a pathway. The trail was
beaten ten feet in width on an average, and by early noon the divide was reached. Several
thousand acres lay bare, and by breaking out all drifts and depressions running north and
south across the watershed, new grazing grounds could be added daily.
A discovery was made on the return trip. The horses had been brought along to ride home
on, but in testing the sleet on the divide, the sun had softened the crust until it would
break under the weight of either of the boys. By walking well outside the trail, the sleet
crushed to the extent of five or six feet, and by leading their horses, the pathway was
easily doubled in width. Often the crust cracked to an unknown distance, easing from the
frost, which the boys accepted as the forerunner of thawing weather.
"We'll put out poison to-night," said Dell. "It will hardly freeze a shoal, and I've found
one below the corral."
"I'm just as anxious as you to put out the bait," replied Joel, "but we must take no chances
of making our work sure. The moment the cattle quit drinking, the water holes freeze
over. This is regular old Billy Winter."
"I'll show you the ripple and leave it to you," argued the younger boy. "Under this crust
of sleet and snow, running water won't freeze."
"Along about sunset we can tell more about the weather for to-night," said Joel, with a
finality which disposed of the matter for the present.
On reaching the corral, the older boy was delighted with the splendid trail broken out, but
Dell rode in search of a known shallow in the creek. An old wood road crossed on the
pebbly shoal, and forcing his horse to feel his way through the softened crust, a riplet was
unearthed as it purled from under an earthen bank.