Next on the slope, just below the third and largest lake, were corrals and a wide stone barn and open sheds and coops and pens.
Here were clouds of dust, and cracking sounds of hoofs, and romping colts and heehawing burros. Neighing horses trampled to the corral fences. And on the little windows of the barn projected bobbing heads of bays and blacks and sorrels. When the two men entered the immense barnyard, from all around the din increased. This welcome, however, was not seconded by the several men and boys who vanished on sight.
Venters and Lassiter were turning toward the house when Jane appeared in the lane leading a horse. In riding-skirt and blouse she seemed to have lost some of her statuesque proportions, and looked more like a girl rider than the mistress of Withersteen.
She was brightly smiling, and her greeting was warmly cordial.
"Good news," she announced. "I've been to the village. All is quiet. I expected--I don't know what. But there's no excitement.
And Tull has ridden out on his way to Glaze."
"Tull gone?" inquired Venters, with surprise. He was wondering what could have taken Tull away. Was it to avoid another meeting with Lassiter that he went? Could it have any connection with the probable nearness of Oldring and his gang?
"Gone, yes, thank goodness," replied Jane. "Now I'll have peace for a while. Lassiter, I want you to see my horses. You are a rider, and you must be a judge of horseflesh. Some of mine have Arabian blood. My father got his best strain in Nevada from Indians who claimed their horses were bred down from the original stock left by the Spaniards."
"Well, ma'am, the one you've been ridin' takes my eye," said Lassiter, as he walked round the racy, clean-limbed, and fine-pointed roan.
"Where are the boys?" she asked, looking about. "Jerd, Paul, where are you? Here, bring out the horses."
The sound of dropping bars inside the barn was the signal for the horses to jerk their heads in the windows, to snort and stamp.
Then they came pounding out of the door, a file of thoroughbreds, to plunge about the barnyard, heads and tails up, manes flying.
They halted afar off, squared away to look, came slowly forward with whinnies for their mistress, and doubtful snorts for the strangers and their horses.
"Come--come--come," called Jane, holding out her hands. "Why, Bells-- Wrangle, where are your manners? Come, Black Star--come, Night. Ah, you beauties! My racers of the sage!"
Only two came up to her; those she called Night and Black Star.
Venters never looked at them without delight. The first was soft dead black, the other glittering black, and they were perfectly matched in size, both being high and long-bodied, wide through the shoulders, with lithe, powerful legs. That they were a woman's pets showed in the gloss of skin, the fineness of mane.