“My horse is gun-shy,” he said, “but I’ll bet the rest of you I can drill a horn off that skull before you do.”
Of course it was a foolish challenge. Lowrie was the gun expert of the party. Indeed he had reached that dangerous point of efficiency with firearms where a man is apt to reach for his gun to decide an argument. Now Lowrie followed the direction of Sinclair’s gesture. It was the skull of a steer, with enormous branching horns. The rest of the skeleton was sinking into the sands.
“Don’t talk fool talk,” said Lowrie. “Save your wind and your ammunition. You may need ’em for yourself, son!”
That grim suggestion made Sandersen and Quade shudder. But a grin spread on the broad, ugly face of Lowrie, and Sinclair merely shrugged his shoulders.
“I’ll try you for a dollar.”
“You’re afraid to try, Lowrie!”
It was a smiling challenge, but Lowrie flushed. He had a childish pride in his skill with weapons.
“All right, kid. Get ready!”
He brought a Colt smoothly into his hand and balanced it dexterously, swinging it back and forth between his eyes and the target to make ready for a snap shot.
“Ready!” cried Hal Sinclair excitedly.
Lowrie’s gun spoke first, and it was the only one that was fired, for Sinclair’s horse was gun-shy indeed. At the explosion he pitched straight into the air with a squeal of mustang fright and came down bucking. The others forgot to look for the results of Lowrie’s shot. They reined their horses away from the pitching broncho disgustedly. Sinclair was a fool to use up the last of his mustang’s strength in this manner. But Hal Sinclair had forgotten the journey ahead. He was rioting in the new excitement cheering the broncho to new exertions. And it was in the midst of that flurry of action that the great blow fell. The horse stuck his right forefoot into a hole.
To the eyes of the others it seemed to happen slowly. The mustang was halted in the midst of a leap, tugged at a leg that seemed glued to the ground, and then buckled suddenly and collapsed on one side. They heard that awful, muffled sound of splintering bone and then the scream of the tortured horse.
But they gave no heed to that. Hal Sinclair in the fall had been pinned beneath his mount. The huge strength of Quade sufficed to budge the writhing mustang. Lowrie and Sandersen drew Sinclair’s pinioned right leg clear and stretched him on the sand.
It was Lowrie who shot the horse.
“You’ve done a brown turn,” said Sandersen fiercely to the prostrate figure of Sinclair. “Four men and three hosses. A fine partner you are, Sinclair!”
“Shut up,” said Hal. “Do something for that foot of mine.”
Lowrie cut the boot away dexterously and turned out the foot. It was painfully twisted to one side and lay limp on the sand.