They swung to their horses’ backs and rode through the trees and on eastward across a long grassy slope from which the shadows of the night were just beginning to lift. As day came on Conniston saw that ahead of them for miles ran a barren-looking, treeless country, rising on the one hand to the foot of the mountains, falling away gradually on the other to the Big Flat. They rode swiftly, side by side, for five miles, passing through many grazing herds of cattle, many smaller bands of horses. And finally, when they came to a wire fence running north and south, Lonesome Pete swung down from his saddle.
On the ground near the fence were hammers, a pick, a shovel, and a crowbar. The old barley-sack at the foot of one of the posts gave out the jingle of nails as Pete’s boot struck against it. And Conniston, dismounting and tying his horse, began his first lesson in fence-repairing.
The loose wires they tightened with the short iron bar, in the end of which a V-shaped cut had been made. While Pete caught the slack wire with this bar, and, using the post as a fulcrum, the bar as a lever, drew it taut, Conniston with hammer and staples made it secure. Now and again they found a rotten post which must be taken out, while a new one from a row which had been dumped from a wagon yesterday was put into its place.
It was easy work, and Conniston found, that he rather enjoyed the novelty of it. But as hour after hour dragged by with the same unceasing monotony, as the sun crept burning into the hot sky, and the wires, the crowbar, even the pick-handle blistered his hands, he began to feel the cramp of fatigue in his stooping shoulders and in his forearms and back. Noon came at last, and he and Lonesome Pete ate the cold lunch which the latter had brought, drank from the bottle of water, and lay down for a smoke. Conniston had left his pipe at the bunk-house, and accepted from his fellow-worker his coarse, cheap tobacco and brown papers.
The morning had been endlessly long. The afternoon was an eternity. It was hotter now that the sun had rolled past the zenith, now that the sand had drunk deep of its fiery rays. The air shimmered and danced above the gray monotone of flat country, Conniston’s eyeballs were burning with it. And back and arms and shoulders ached together. He had hoped that they would quit work at five o’clock. Five o’clock came and went, and the red-headed man said no word of stopping. Half-past five, six o’clock. And still they tightened wires, hammered burning staples, dug endless post-holes. Conniston’s hands were torn with the sharp staples, blistered with the work. Half-past six, and he was ready to throw down his tools and quit. But a glance at his companion’s face, sweat-covered but showing nothing of the fatigue of the day, and Conniston held doggedly to his work, ashamed to stop.