A COUNCIL OF WAR
In the magic of a moment a dozen angry men were pouring from the shaft-house, their guns barking viciously between their curses. Beyond, at the edge of their dark cover, Hicks and Brown rose eagerly to their knees, while their ready rifles spat swift return fire, not all of it wasted. But Winston had vanished in the green underbrush as completely as though he had dropped into the sea. When he finally emerged it was behind the protecting chaparral, his clothing rags, his breathing the sobs of utter exhaustion. Brown, the spell of battle upon him, never glanced aside, his eyes along the brown rifle-barrel; but Hicks sprang enthusiastically to his feet, uttering a growl of hearty welcome.
“Damn it,” he exclaimed, his old eyes twinkling with admiration, “but you ’re a man!”
The engineer smiled, his hand pressed hard against his side. “Maybe I am,” he gasped, “but I ’m mighty near all in just now. Say, that was a lively spin, and it’s got to be an eat and a rest for me next.”
Hicks shaded his forehead, leaning on his rifle.
“Sometimes I reckon maybe I don’t see quite as good as I used to,” he explained regretfully. “Put five shots inter that measly bunch over thar just now, an’ never saw even one o’ ’em hop ’round like they got stung. They look sorter misty-like ter me from here; say, Stutter, what is a-happenin’ over thar now, anyway?”
Brown wiped his face deliberately, sputtering fiercely as he strove to get firm grip on his slow thought.
“A-a-ain’t much o’ n-nuthing, so f-f-fur’s I kin s-see,” he replied gravely. “C-couple o’ fellars w-with g-guns h-h-hidin’ back o’ ther d-dump. C-c-carried two b-bucks ’hind ther sh-shaft-house; h-h-hurt some, I ‘speck. R-reckon I must a’ g-got both on ’em. Y-y-you shore ought t-ter wear t-t-telescopes, Bill.”
Hicks stared at his partner, his gray goat-beard sticking straight out, his teeth showing.
“So yer got ’em, hey?” he retorted, savagely. “Oh, ye ’re chain-lightnin’, yer are, Stutter. Ye ’re the ’riginal Doctor Carver, yer long-legged, sputtering lunk-head. Yer crow like a rooster thet ’s just found its voice. Now, look yere; I reckon it’s brain-work what’s got ter git us out o’ this yere hole, an’ I ’ll shore have ter furnish most o’ that, fer yer ain ’t got none ter spare, as ever I noticed. Shoot! hell, yes, yer kin shoot all right, an’ make love ter Greasers; but when thet’s over with, yer all in. That’s when it’s up ter old Bill Hicks ter do the thinkin’ act, and make good. Lord! yer leave me plumb tired.” The old man peered out across the vacant space toward the apparently deserted dump, the anger slowly fading away from his eyes. “I sorter imagine, gents, it will take them fellers a while ter git over ther sudden shock we ’ve given ’em,” he continued. “Maybe we better take this yere rest spell ter git somethin’ ter eat in, and talk over how we ’re fixed fer when the curtain goes up again. Them fellers never won’t be happy till after they git another dose into their systems, an’ thar ’s liable ter be some considerable lead eat afore night. When they does git braced up, an’ they reckon up all this yere means, they ’ll shore be an ugly bunch.”