“There it is,” said Joshua, who had replaced it on the ground close to where the Pike man had slept.
He took it with satisfaction and replaced it in his girdle.
“Then you didn’t kill any?”
“No, but I drove them away. They won’t trouble you any more.”
“That’s a comfort,” said Joshua.
“Now, strangers, if you’ve got any breakfast to spare, I think I could eat some.”
“Set up, old man,” said Mr. Bickford, with his mouth full.
The man from Pike did full justice to the meal. Then he asked his two companions, as a favor, not to start for two hours, during which he lay down and rested.
The three kept together that day, but did not accomplish as much distance as usual, chiefly because of the condition of their companion’s horse.
At night they camped out again. In the morning an unpleasant surprise awaited them. Their companion had disappeared, taking with him Joshua’s horse and leaving instead his own sorry nag. That was not all. He had carried off their bag of provisions, and morning found them destitute of food, with a hearty appetite and many miles away, as they judged, from any settlement.
“The mean skunk!” said Joshua. “He’s cleaned us out. What shall we do?”
“I don’t know,” said Joe seriously.
The two friends felt themselves to be in a serious strait. The exchange of horses was annoying, but it would only lengthen their journey a little. The loss of their whole stock of provisions could not so readily be made up.
“I feel holler,” said Joshua. “I never could do much before breakfast. I wish I’d eat more supper. I would have done it, only I was afraid, by the way that skunk pitched into ’em, we wouldn’t have enough to last.”
“You only saved them for him, it seems,” said Joe. “He has certainly made a poor return for our kindness.”
“If I could only wring his neck, I wouldn’t feel quite so hungry,” said Joshua.
“Or cut his head off with a scythe,” suggested Joe, smiling faintly.
“Danged if I wouldn’t do it,” said Mr. Bickford, hunger making him bloodthirsty.
“We may overtake him, Mr. Bickford.”
“You may, Joe, but I can’t. He’s left me his horse, which is clean tuckered out, and never was any great shakes to begin with. I don’t believe I can get ten miles out of him from now till sunset.”
“We must keep together, no matter how slow we go. It won’t do for us to be parted.”
“We shall starve together likely enough,” said Joshua mournfully.
“I’ve heard that the French eat horse-flesh. If it comes to the worst, we can kill your horse and try a horse-steak.”
“It’s all he’s fit for, and he ain’t fit for that. We’ll move on for a couple of hours and see if somethin’ won’t turn up. I tell you, Joe, I’d give all the money I’ve got for some of marm’s johnny-cakes. It makes me feel hungrier whenever I think of ’em.”