“Ben,” he cried, when he had waited for them to understand what he had said, “get the harness on some horses and take one of the wagons to Valley City. Take a couple of men with you. Go to the general office and ask for Tommy Garton. Tell him we’ve got to have water. You, Lark, take the rest of the wagons as fast as you can send your horses to the Half Moon for more water. Take what men you need. Cook, see if you have enough water in your tent to do any good. And then get us something to eat. Ben will be back from Valley City before you know it. The rest of you fellows better lie around and chew tobacco until water comes. We’ll get an early start to-morrow to make up for lost time. Peters, you and Mundy see that somebody looks out for the men that are hurt. Take them to the tent. They get first water if the cook has any. If not, Ben, you take them with you to Valley City.”
His orders came with staccato precision. There was no tremor of doubt in his tones. And there was no slightest hesitation in obeying the orders from the man who was again “boss.” Ben shouted out his own commands to two men who stood close to him, and they ran for the horses. The Lark was at the same time snapping out his orders, and the men he called by name hurried for horses, and many hands made quick work of the hitching-up. Other fingers whittled plugs, wrapped them about with bits of sack, and drove them tight into the holes in the barrels. The cook sped to his tent, found a bucket half full of water, and was drinking thirstily when Mundy jerked it from his hands.
“None of that, you sneakin’ skunk!” he shouted. “Them guys as got hurt gets the first show.”
The fellow Conniston had shot in the thigh, and the man whom he had seen a companion strike with a knife, cutting him deeply in the neck, were carried into the tent, water thrust up to their parched lips, their wounds bound swiftly and gently. The Chinaman Mundy rolled over with his foot.
“Deader ’n hell,” he grunted. “Might as well leave him where he is until plantin’-time.”
Once more order had grown quietly out of chaos. The men stood here and there talking, chewing tobacco, cursing the thirst which as the minutes dragged by grew ever more tormenting. Already the sun had rolled upward above the flat horizon. Already the desert heat had leaped out at them. A dozen men climbed upon Ben’s wagon, thinking to go to Valley City with him to get water there. But he drove them back, threatening them with his big fists and cockney oaths, and they dropped down and watched him as the wagon, rocking and swaying and lurching, was drawn away from them by galloping horses.
At a sharp word from Conniston two of the men brought the broken barrel which had contained whisky to where the discarded revolvers lay glinting in the early light and tossed them into it. And then Brayley came.
“What’s up, Con?” he asked, swinging down from his panting horse, his keen eyes taking in the fading excitement, the general idleness. And then, as he stooped forward and looked into the barrel: “Good heavens! What is the matter?”