A Welcome Guest
The heralds of spring bespoke its early approach. April was ushered in to the songs of
birds, the greening valley, and the pollen on the willow. The frost arose, the earth
mellowed underfoot, and the creek purled and sang as it hastened along. The cattle
played, calves were born, while the horses, in shedding their winter coats, matted the
saddle blankets and threw off great tufts of hair where they rolled on the ground.
The marketing of the peltry fell to Joel. Dell met the wagon returning far out on the trail.
"The fur market's booming," shouted Joel, on coming within speaking distance. "We'll
not know the price for a few weeks. The station agent was only willing to ship them. The
storekeeper was anxious to do the same, and advanced me a hundred dollars on the
shipment. Wolf skins, prime, are quoted from two to two dollars and a half. And I have a
letter from Forrest. The long winter's over! You can shout! G'long, mules!"
During the evening, Dell read Forrest's letter again and again. "Keep busy until the herds
arrive," it read. "Enlarge your water supply and plan to acquire more cattle."
"That's our programme," said Joel. "We'll put in two dams between here and the trail. Mr.
Quince has never advised us wrong, and he'll explain things when he comes. Once a
week will be often enough to ride around the cattle."
An air of activity was at once noticeable around headquarters. The garden was ploughed
and planting begun. The fence was repaired around the corn-field, the beaver dams were
strengthened, and sites for two other reservoirs were selected. The flow of the creek was
ample to fill large tanks, and if the water could be conserved for use during the dry
summer months, the cattle-carrying capacity of the ranch could be greatly enlarged. The
old beaver dams around headquarters had withstood every drouth, owing to the shade of
the willows overhead, the roots of which matted and held the banks intact. Wagon loads
of willow slips were accordingly cut for the new dams and the work begun in earnest.
"We'll take the tent and camp at the lower site," announced Joel. "It would waste too
much time to go and come. When we build the upper one, we can work from home."
The two tanks were finished within a month. They were built several miles apart, where
there was little or no fall in the creek, merely to hold still water in long, deep pools. The
willow cuttings were planted along the borders and around the dams, the ends of which
were riprapped with stone, and a spillway cut to accommodate any overflow during
The dams were finished none too soon, as a dry spring followed, and the reservoirs had
barely filled when the creek ceased flowing. The unusual winter snowfall had left a
season's moisture in the ground, and the grass came in abundance, matting slope and
valley, while the garden grew like a rank weed. The corn crop of the year before had
repaid well in forage, and was again planted. In the face of another drouthy summer, the