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The trail outfit swept past the ranch, leaving Dell on nettles. The importance of the
message was urgent, and saddling up a horse, he started up the Beaver in search of Joel
and Sargent. They were met returning, near the dead-line, and after listening to the
breathless report, the trio gave free rein to their horses on the homeward ride.
"I'll use old Rowdy for my seventh horse," said Joel, swinging out of the saddle at the
home corral. "Bring him in and give him a feed of corn. It may be late when I overtake
the outfit. Mr. Quince says that that old horse has cow-sense to burn; that he can scent a
camp at night, or trail a remuda like a hound."
An hour later Joel cantered up to the tent. "This may be a wild-goose chase," said he, "but
I'm off. If my hopes fall dead, I can make a hand coming back. Sargent, if I do buy any
cattle, your name goes on the pay-roll from to-day. I'll leave you in charge of the ranch,
anyhow. There isn't much to do except to ride the dead-line twice a day. The wintered
cattle are located; and the cripples below--the water and their condition will hold them.
Keep open house, and amuse yourselves the best you can. That's about all I can think of
just now."
Joel rode away in serious meditation. Although aged beyond his years, he was only
seventeen. That he could ride into Dodge City, the far-famed trail-town of the West, and
without visible resources buy cattle, was a fit subject for musing. There the drovers from
Texas and the ranchmen from the north and west met and bartered for herds--where the
drive of the year amounted to millions in value. Still the boy carried a pressing invitation
from a leading drover to come, and neither slacking rein nor looking back, he was soon
swallowed up in the heat-waves over the plain.
Sargent and Dell sought the shelter of the awning. "Well," said the latter, "that trip's a
wild-goose chase. How he expects to buy cattle without money gets me."
"It may be easier than it seems," answered Sargent. "You secured a start in cattle last
summer without money. Suppose you save a thousand head out of the cripples this year,
what have they cost you?"
"That's different," protested Dell. "Dodge City is a market where buyers and sellers
"True enough. And behind that are unseen conditions. The boom of two years ago in land
and live stock bankrupted many people in Texas. Cattle companies were organized on the
very summit of that craze. Then came the slump. Last year cattle had fallen in price
nearly forty per cent. This year there is a further falling. I'm giving you Texas conditions.
Half the herds at Dodge to-day are being handled by the receivers of cattle companies or
by trustees for banks. That accounts for the big drive. Then this drouth came on, and the
offerings at Dodge are unfit for any purpose, except to restock ranches. And those