Now Sam and Maxime, deeming the incident closed, were walking up the levee road beyond the stock-pens, in the new and more sympathetic company of the two mounted bull-drivers, to whose love of patriotic adventure they had appealed successfully. A few yards beyond a roadside pool backed by willow bushes they set down tar-bucket and pillow, and under a low, vast live-oak bough turned and waited. A gibbous moon had set, and presently a fog rolled down the river, blotting out landscape and stars and making even these willows dim and unreal. Ideal conditions! Now if their guest of honor, with or without his friend, would but stop at this pool to wash the Stock-Landing muck from his horse’s shins—but even luck has its limits.
Nevertheless, that is what occurred. A hum of voices—a tread of hoofs—and the very man hoped for—he and Hilary Kincaid—recognized by their voices—dismounted at the pool’s margin. Sam and Maxime stole forward.
The newcomers’ talk, as they crouched busily over their horses’ feet, was on random themes: Dan Rice, John Owens, Adelina and Carlotta Patti, the comparative merits of Victor’s and Moreau’s restaur’—hah! Greenleaf snatched up his light cane, sprang erect, and gazed close into the mild eyes of Maxime. Gibbs’s more wanton regard had no such encounter; Hilary gave him a mere upward glance while his hands continued their task.
“Good-evening,” remarked Gibbs.
“Good-morning,” chirped Hilary, and scrubbed on. “Do you happen to be Mr. Samuel Gibbs?—Don’t stop, Fred, Maxime won’t object to your working on.”
“Yes, he will!” swore Gibbs, “and so will I!”
Still Hilary scrubbed: “Why so, Mr. Gibbs?”
“Bic-ause,” put in Maxime, “he’s got to go back through the same mud he came!”
“Why, then,” laughed Hilary, “I may as well knock off, too,” and began to wash his hands.
“No,” growled Gibbs, “you’ll ride on; we’re not here for you.”
“You can’t have either of us without the other, Mr. Gibbs,” playfully remarked Kincaid. The bull-drivers loomed out of the fog. Hilary leisurely rose and moved to draw a handkerchief.
“None o’ that!” cried Gibbs, whipping his repeater into Kincaid’s face. Yet the handkerchief came forth, its owner smiling playfully and drying his fingers while Mr. Gibbs went on blasphemously to declare himself “no chicken.”
“Oh, no,” laughed Hilary, “none of us is quite that. But did you ever really study—boxing?” At the last word Gibbs reeled under a blow in the face; his revolver, going off harmlessly, was snatched from him, Maxime’s derringer missed also, and Gibbs swayed, bleeding and sightless, from Hilary’s blows with the butt of the revolver. Presently down he lurched insensible, Hilary going half-way with him but recovering and turning to the aid of his friend. Maxime tore