“No. Just fagged out. We came all the way from Indian Creek since morning.”
“That’s real far, ain’t it?” remarked the man in the buckboard, with a little twitch to the corner of his mouth, but much deep gravity in his eye. “Which way you goin’, stranger?”
“We’re going across the hills into the Half Moon country. It’s forty miles farther, they tell me.”
“Uh-uh. That’s what they call it. An’ a darn long forty mile, or I’ll put in with you.”
“And,” Conniston hurried on, “if you are going—You are going the same way, aren’t you?”
“Sure. I’m goin’ right straight to the Half Moon corrals.”
“Then would you mind if my friend rode with you? I’ll pay whatever is right.”
The other eyed him strangely. “I reckon you’re from the East, maybe? Huh?”
“Yes. From New York.”
“Uh-uh. I thought so. Well, stranger, we won’t quarrel none over the payin’, an’ your frien’ can pile in with me.”
Conniston turned, murmuring his thanks, to where Hapgood now was sitting up. And the red-headed man climbed down from his seat and began to unhitch his horses.
“You needn’t git your frien’ up jest now in case he ain’t finished his siesta. We won’t move on until mornin’.”
“Where are you going to sleep?” Hapgood wanted to know.
“I had sorta planned some on sleepin’ right here.”
“Right here! You don’t sleep on the ground?”
The red-headed man, drawing serenely at his cigarette, went about unharnessing his horses.
“Bein’ as how I ain’t et for some right smart time,” he was saying as he came back from staking out his horses, “I’m goin’ to chaw real soon. Has you gents et yet?”
They assured him that they had not.
“Then if you’ve got any chuck you want to warm up you can sling it in my fryin’-pan.” He dragged a soap-box to the tail end of the buckboard and began taking out several packages.
“We didn’t bring anything with us,” Conniston told him. “We didn’t think—”
The new-comer dropped his frying-pan, put his two hands on his hips, and stared at them. “You ain’t sayin’ you started out for the Half Moon, which is close on a hundred mile, an’ never took nothin’ along to chaw!”
Conniston nodded. The red-headed man stared at them a minute, scratched his head, removing his hat to do so, and then burst out:
“Which I go on record sayin’ folks all the way from Noo York has got some funny ways of doin’ business. Bein’ as you’ve slipped me your name, frien’ly like, stranger, I don’t min’ swappin’ with you. It’s Pete, an’ folks calls me Lonesome Pete, mos’ly. An’ you can tell anybody you see that Lonesome Pete, cow-puncher from the Half Moon, has made up his min’ at las’ as how he ain’t never goin’ any nearer Noo York than the devil drives him.”
He scratched his head again, put on his hat, and reached once more for his frying-pan.