He opened them all, one after the other, turned many pages, stopping now and then to bend closer to look at a picture and decipher painstakingly the legend inscribed under it. Finally, after perhaps ten minutes of this kind of examination, he laid two of them beside him, grasped the other firmly with both awkward hands and began to read. They knew that he was reading, for now and again his droning voice came to them as he struggled with a word of some difficulty.
Hapgood smoked his last cigarette; Conniston puffed at his pipe. At the end of ten minutes Lonesome Pete had turned a page, the rustling of the leaves accompanied by a deep sigh. Then he laid his book, open, across his knee, made another cigarette, lighted it, and, after a glance toward Conniston and Hapgood, spoke softly.
“You gents reads, I reckon? Huh?”
“Yes. A little,” Conniston told him; while Hapgood, being somewhat strengthened by his rest and his meal, grunted.
“After a man gets the swing of it, sorta, it ain’t always such hard work?”
“No, it isn’t such hard work after a while.”
Lonesome Pete nodded slowly and many times.
“It’s jest like anything else, ain’t it, when you get used to it? Jest as easy as ropin’ a cow brute or ridin’ a bronco hoss?”
Conniston told him that he was right.
“But what gits me,” Lonesome Pete went on, closing his book and marking the place with a big thumb, “is knowin’ words that comes stampedin’ in on you onexpected like. When a man sees a cow brute or a hoss or a mule as he ain’t never clapped his peepers on he knows the brute right away. He says, ‘That’s a Half Moon,’ or, ’It’s a Bar Circle,’ or ‘It’s a U Seven.’ ’Cause why? ‘Cause she’s got a bran’ as a man can make out. But these here words”—he shook his head as he opened his book and peered into it—“they ain’t got no bran’. Ain’t it hell, stranger?”
“What’s the word, Pete,” smiled Conniston.
“She ain’t so big an’ long as bothers me,” Lonesome Pete answered. “It’s jest she’s so darn peculiar-lookin’. It soun’s like it might be izzles, but what’s izzles? You spell it i-s-l-e-s. Did you ever happen to run acrost that there word, stranger?”
Conniston told him what the word was, and Lonesome Pete’s softly breathed curse was eloquent of gratitude, amazement, and a certain deep admiration that those five letters could spell a little island.
“The nex’ line is clean over my head, though,” he went on, after a moment of frowning concentration.
Conniston got to his feet and went to where the reader sat, stooping to look over his shoulder. The book was “Macbeth.” He picked up the two volumes upon the ground. They were old, much worn, much torn, their backs long ago lost in some second-hand book-store. One of them was a copy of Lamb’s Essays, the other a state series second reader.
“Quite an assortment,” was the only thing he could think to say.