The Drift Fence - Zane Grey - ebook

The Drift Fence ebook

Zane Grey



Zane Grey evokes the atmosphere, hardships and possibilities of the Old West like nobody else. Leaving Missouri with no knowledge of cattle ranching, Jim Traft of Missouri is put in charge of building one hundred miles of fence on his uncle’s western ranch to prevent cattle from drifting. The job puts him in conflict with the local community and he must find a balance. There’s also the lovely Molly Dunn to distract him; but how can he hope to woo the sister of his chief enemy? The Drift Fence shows how this tender young man struggles to overcome the odds he faces and ultimately wins over the heart of the beautiful young lass.

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Molly Dunn sat waiting on the rickety old porch of Enoch Summers’ store in the village of West Fork. For once she was oblivious to the approach of the lean-faced, long-legged young backwoodsmen who lounged there with their elders. Molly was sixteen and on the eve of a great adventure. She had been invited to ride to Flagerstown with the Sees. She had been there once some years before and the memory had haunted her. In her pocket she had money to buy new stockings and shoes, which compensated somewhat for the fact that she carefully kept her feet and ankles hidden under the bench. She wore her good dress and bonnet, and though not satisfied with them she was not ashamed.

Andy Stoneham, a tall youth with sallow face and fuzzy beard, edged over closer and closer.

“Reckon you’re orful stuck up this mawnin’,” he drawled.

Molly looked at the bullet holes in the wall of the old store. She had seen them before, and long ago when she was ten she had stuck her finger in them and wondered about the battle that had been fought there once.

“Goin’ up to Flag, huh?”

“Do you think I’d dress up like this for West Fork?” inquired Molly, loftily.

“Wal, you used to, didn’t you? You shore look purty. But I can’t see you’ve any call to get uppish. I’ve seen you in thet rig before, haven’t I?”

“I don’t remember, Andy.”

“Then you’ve got a darn short memory,” replied Andy, bluntly. “Didn’t I take you to the last dance in thet dress?”

“Did you?”

“Wal, I shore did. An’ didn’t I hug you in it?”

“Did you?” queried Molly, flippantly.

“You bet I did.”

“I’ve forgotten. But I’ve heard it said you’re so big and awkward you have to hold on to a girl when you dance. Else you’d fall down.”

“Wal, how aboot kissin’ you, too? On the way to the dance an’ drivin’ home?”

“Oh, did you?” retorted Molly, her face hot. Andy’s voice carried rather far. “An’ what did I do?”

“Wal, I figger thet you kissed me back an’ then slapped my face.”

“Andy Stoneham, you’re a liar about that first.”

“Haw! Haw!…Say, Molly, there’s goin’ to be a dance next week.”

“Where at?”

“Hall’s Mill. Come on an’ go.”

“Andy, I don’t like that place,” returned Molly, regretfully. “Besides, I wouldn’t go with you, anyway.”

“Wal, you shore air gettin’ stuck up. An’ why not?”

“Because of what you said–about huggin’ an’ kissin’ me.”

“What of thet? I did an’ you liked it. Aw, you’re funny. Haven’t all the boys done the same?”

“They have not,” declared Molly. “Who ever said such a thing?”

“I heerd Sam Wise say it. An’ Bill Smith laughed, though he didn’t say nothin’.”

“So that’s the kind of fellows you are!” exclaimed Molly. “Talk about a girl behind her back?…To kiss an’ tell!”

“Wal, at thet we’re not so gabby as your cowboy admirers from Pleasant Valley. Take thet red-headed cowpuncher. Accord-in’ to his talk he’s a tall fellar with Burls. He shore had you crazy aboot him.”

“He did not,” said Molly, hotly.

“Wal, you acted orful queer then. Danced all the time with him. An’ three times walked out under the pines. Aw, I watched you. An’ come Saturday night he was drinkin’ heah, an’ accordin’ to his talk he could have had a lot more than huggin’ an’ kissin’ from you, if he only got you alone.”

“Andy Stoneham!–You let him talk that way aboot me?”

“Wal, why should I care? You’ve shore been mean to me.”

“Why should you, indeed?” replied Molly, coldly, and turned away.

At that juncture a horseman rode up, and his advent not only nterrupted Molly’s argument with her loquacious admirer, but had a decided quieting effect upon the other occupants of the porch. He was a lean range-rider, neither young nor old, and he fitted the hard country. His horse showed the dust and strain of long travel.

“Howdy, Seth,” said old Enoch Summers, rubbing his bristled chin and stepping out. “‘Pears like you been humpin’ it along. Whar you come from?”

“Me an’ Arch Dunn just rode over from the Diamond,” replied the other.

Molly’s attention quickened to interest at the mention of her brother. Seth Haverly was his boon companion and they had been up to something.

“Wal, thar’s news stickin’ out all over you,” drawled Summers. “Reckon so.”

“Git down an’ come in. Mebbe a drink wouldn’t go bad.”

“Nope. I’m goin’ home an’ get a snack of grub.”

One by one the men on the porch joined Summers. The fact that Seth Haverly did not want a drink, as much as his arrival, interested them.

Haverly had a still brown face and intent light eyes.

“Enoch, you know thet rift fence we been hearin’ aboot for the last year?” he asked.

“Reckon I heerd the talk.”

“Wal, it’s more’n talk now.”

“You don’t say?”

“Yep. Me an’ Arch rode along it, for ten miles, I figger. Straight as a bee-line. New three-wire fence, an’ barbed at thet!”

“What you say? Barbed!”

“You bet.”

Silence greeted Seth’s nonchalant affirmative.

“Arch had a hunch aboot this fence goin’ up,” went on Haverly. “An’ in Flag we found it was a fact.”

“Wal, who’s buildin’ it?”


“Ahuh. He could afford it. Wal, what’s his idee?”

“It ain’t very flatterin’ to West Fork,” drawled Seth, with a grin. “We heerd some things thet’d be hard for you old cattle-nesters to swaller, if they’re true. But me an’ Arch only had the word of some idle cowpunchers. We couldn’t get any satisfaction from Traft’s outfit. New foreman. Nephew from Missourie, we heerd. Tenderfoot, but I agree with Arch, who said he was no fool. Anyway, we asked him polite like: ‘Say, mister, what’s the idee of this drift fence?’–An he looked me an’ Arch over an’ said, ‘What do you suppose the idee is?’”

“Short an’ sweet!” ejaculated a man standing beside Summers. “Wal, you two-bit free-range cattlemen can put thet in your pipes an’ smoke it.”

Whereupon he strode off the porch and down the road, erect and forceful, his departure expressive of much.

“Me an’ Arch was sure curious aboot this fence,” continued Seth. “We rode out of Flag an’ started in where the fence begins. It strikes south into the timber at Traft’s line, an’ closes up every draw clear to the Diamond. At Limestone we hit into Traft’s‘ outfit. They’ve got the job half done an’ by the time the snow flies thet drift fence will run clear from Flag to Black Butte.”

“Ha! A hundred miles of drift fence!” exclaimed some one.

“Ahuh,” nodded Summers, sagely. “An’ all the cattle will drift along to Black Butte an’ then driftback again.”

Haverly swung his spurred boot back to his stirrup and without another word rode away.

Molly watched the departing rider as thoughtfully as any of the others on Summers’ porch. This drift fence must be going to have a profound significance for the few inhabitants along the West Fork of the Cibeque.

Then down the road from the other direction appeared the See buckboard, sight of which brought Molly bouncing to her feet. To her relief young John See was not in the vehicle with his parents. John had more prospects than any of the young men Molly knew, but he also had more than his share of their demerits. The buckboard rolled to a stop.

“Hop up, Molly,” called See, gayly. “We’re late an’ it ain’t no fault of yours.”

“Good mawnin’,” returned Molly, brightly, as she climbed to the seat beside Mrs. See.

“Mornin’, lass,” replied the rancher’s wife. “You look like you could fly as well as hop.”

“Oh, I’m on pins,” cried Molly. “I’ll never be able to thank you enough.”

“Howdy, Caleb,” spoke up Summers. “Reckon you’ve got time to come inside a minute.”

“Mawnin’, Enoch,” replied See, which greeting included the others present. “I’m in a hurry.”

“Wal, come in anyhow,” returned Summers bluntly, and went into the store.

See grumbled a little, as he wound the reins around the brake-handle, and laboriously got down. He was a heavy man, no longer young. All the loungers on the porch followed him into the store, but Andy Stoneham remained in the door, watching Molly. “That lout’s makin’ sheep eyes at you, Molly,” said Mrs. See.

Molly did not look. “He just said some nasty things to me,” she confided. “Then the fool asked me to go to a dance at Hall’s Mill.”

“Molly, you’re growin’ up an’ it’s time you got some sensible notions,” said Mrs. See, seriously.

“I’m goin’ to Flag,” trilled Molly, as if that momentous adventure was all that mattered.

“Lass, you’re a bad combination. You’re too pretty an’ too crazy. I reckon it’s time to get you a husband.”

Molly laughed and blushed. “That’s what ma says. But it’s funny. I have to work hard enough now.”

Caleb See came stamping out of the store, wiping his beard, sober of face where he had been merry. Without a word he stepped into the buckboard, making it lurch, and drove away.

Molly was reminded of the news about the drift fence.

“Mrs. See, while I was waitin’ for you Seth Haverly rode up,” said Molly. “He’d just come in from the Diamond with my brother Arch. They’d been to Flag. An’ he was tellin’ old Enoch Summers about a fence that was bein’ built, down across the country. A drift fence, he called it. What’s a drift fence?”

While Mrs. See pondered over the query Caleb answered.

“Wal, lass, it’s no wonder you ask, seem’ we don’t have no fences in this country. On a free range cattle travel all over, accordin’ to water an’ grass. Now a drift fence is somethin’ that changes a free range. It ain’t free no more. It’s a rough country this side of the Diamond. All the draws head up on top an’ run down into the West Fork, an’ into the Cibeque. Water runs down these draws, an’ feed is good. Wal, a drift fence built on top an’ runnin’ from Flag down country will keep the cattle on top. They’ll drift along an’ water down on the other side. Then they’ll drift back.”

“Why were they so serious about it?” asked Molly, curiously.

“Isn’t a drift fence a good thing?”

“Reckon it is, for Traft an’ Blodgett, an’ the big cattlemen up Flag way. But for us folks, who live off the Diamond, it ain’t so good.”

“Most of us couldn’t live much worse,” replied Molly, thoughtfully.

“You bet you could, lass. Haven’t you always had milk an’ beefsteak, an’ shoes to wear?”

“Most always, but not always. Just now I’m walkin’ in my bare toes,” said Molly, with a giggle. “If I hadn’t saved up money enough to buy stockings an’ shoes I’d never come.

“Molly, you goin’ to have a new dress, too,” declared Mrs. See. “I didn’t tell you we are goin’ to a picnic. Goin’ to be a big time in Flag on Saturday, most like the Fourth.”

“Oh, heavenly!” exclaimed Molly, rapturously. “An’ to think I almost didn’t come!…Mrs. See, you’re awfully kind.”

Mr. See went on with something in his mind. “No, Molly, we’ve been fair to middlin’ prosperous down here in the valley. But this drift fence will make a difference.”

“Caleb, isn’t the land owned by the government? Couldn’t any man homestead it?”

“Shore. An’ there’s the rub. Traft has no right to fence this free range. But he’s a rich, powerful old duffer an’ bull-headed as one of his steers. Who’re we down here to go to law? An’ where’d we go? Fairfield, the county seat, is farther away than Flag. It takes time an’ money to travel.”

“Oh, dear!” sighed the good woman. “Then it’ll mean hard times.”

“Wal, Susan, we can stand hard times, an’ I reckon come out ahead. But this drift fence means trouble. It’s a slap in the face to every free ranger in this section. They’ll all take it Traft accuses them of stealin’ unbranded stock that drifts down into the draws on the West Fork.”

“Lass, kind of trouble, Uncle Caleb?” queried Molly, soberly. “Lass, do you remember the Pleasant Valley war over across the mountains in the Tonto? Let’s see, you must have been about six years old. Ten years ago.”

“Yes, I remember, mamma wouldn’t let me play out of the yard. We lived at Lunden then. But if I hadn’t remembered I’d sure know what that war was. Papa talks about it yet.”

“A huh. Lass, some people say your dad was crippled for sympathy to one faction in that fight.”

“Pa denies it. But he was on the side of the sheepmen. An’ that riles my brother Arch somethin’ funny. They never get along. Arch isn’t much good, Uncle Caleb.”

“Humph! I’d not say that, for Arch has good parts. But he’s much bad, an’ that’s no joke…Wal, if Traft’s outfit ever finishes their fence–at least down in the Diamond, it’ll be cut. An’ as Traft runs a lot of hard-ridin’ an’ shootin’ cowpunchers, there’s shore goin’ to be blood spilled. It takes years sometimes to wear out these feuds. An’ we’ve a lot of thick-headed hombres in our neck of the woods.”

His ominous reasoning had a silencing effect upon his hearers. The women of that country were pioneers in suffering, and there were many widows and orphans. Molly thought of her brother Arch. He was only twenty-two, yet he had killed more than one man, and through many fights, but few of them bloodless, he had earned a reputation that was no source of pride to his family. Arch not so long ago had been a nice boy. Lack of work, and drinking, and roaming the woods with fellows like Seth Haverly, had ruined him. Now it would grow worse, and that would make it harder for Molly’s crippled father, who had to sit at home and brood.

Molly conceived a resentment against the rich cattleman who could impose such restrictions and embitter the lives of poor people. And as for Traft’s tenderfoot relative, who had come out from Missouri to run a hard outfit and build barbed-wire fences, Molly certainly hated him. Funny if she should meet him! What would he be like? A change from long-legged, unshaved, ragged boys who smelled of horses would be a relief, even if he was an enemy. It was unlikely, however, that she should have the luck to encounter Mr. Traft’s nephew from Missouri, which fact would be good luck for him, at least. Molly would certainly let him know what she thought of him.

It occurred to her presently that Arch had seen this new foreman of Traft’s and could tell her all about him. How was Arch going to take this newcomer? Seth Haverly was as easy-going a boy as Arch, but dangerous when crossed. Molly was prone to spells of depression and she felt the imminence of one here.

Wherefore, in order to shake off the insidious shadow, she devoted herself to the ride and to her companion, who needed a little cheering also.

It had been years since Molly had been so many miles from the village. She did not remember the road. From her own porch she always had a wonderful view down the valley and across to the rand upheaval of earth and rock locally called the Diamond, and atthe rugged black hills to the south. But now she was riding at a fast trot of a spirited team through a winding timbered canyon, along the banks of the West Fork. As there was a gradual down grade, the gray cliff walls grew higher until they were far above. Only a lone horseman was encountered in all the fifteen miles down to where the West Fork poured its white torrent into the Cibeque. Here Mr. See took the main road, which climbed and wound and zigzagged up the long slope. Molly looked down and back at the wilderness which was her home. All green and gray, and so big! She could not hate it, somehow. All her life she had known that kind of country. She had played among the ferns and the rock, and in the amber water, and under the brown-barked pines and spruces, where deer and elk and wild turkeys were as common as the cows she drove from pasture in the dusk. She felt that it would be a terrible break to sever her from this home of forest and gorge.

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