The two weeks had not been wasted. He had learned something, and he had made a friend. The friend was Lonesome Pete. Night after night, with a dogged perseverance which neither towering barriers in the way of unbelievably long words nor the bantering ridicule of his fellows could affect, the red-headed man sat at the table in the bunk-house under the swinging-lamp and conned “Macbeth.” Upon long rides across the range he carried “Macbeth” in his hand, a diminutive and unsatisfactory dictionary in his hip-pocket.
One day Conniston and Lonesome Pete were riding together upon some range errand. Lonesome Pete was particularly interested in his study, and Conniston asked him the question he had been upon the verge of asking many times.
“How does it happen, Pete,” he said, carelessly, “that you’re getting so interested in an education here of late?”
Pete did not answer with his usual alacrity. Conniston, looking at him, about to repeat the question, thinking that it had been lost in the thud of their horses’ hoofs, was considerably amazed to see the cowboy’s face go as flaming a red as his hair.
“Look here, Con,” Pete said, finally, his tone half belligerent, while his eyes, usually so frank, refused to meet Conniston’s amused regard, “what I do an’ why I do it ain’t any other jasper’s concern, is it?”
“Certainly not,” answered Conniston, promptly. “Certainly not mine. I didn’t go to frolic into your personal business, Pete.”
“I mean other jaspers, not you, Con,” Pete continued, after they had galloped on for a moment in silence. “You been helpin’ me so’s I don’t know how I’d ‘a’ made such fas’ improvement without you. It’s like this: here I am, gittin’ along first-rate, maybe, like the res’ of the boys, workin’ steady, an’ a few good hard iron dollars put away in a sock. An’ all the time with no more eddication than a wall-eyed, year-ol’ steer. An’ some day, in case I might creep a ways off’n the range, I ain’t no more fit to herd with real folks than that same steer is.”
“You’re figuring, then, on leaving the range? On going to a city to live? To cut something of a dash in society? Is that it, Pete?”
Again Pete blushed.
“Git out, Con! You’re joshin’! But what I says is so, an’ you know it as well’s I do. Now, it’s goin’ on three months I’m down in Rattlesnake Valley, where the Ol’ Man’s stringin’ his chips on makin’ a big play. He’s goin’ to make a town down in that sand-pile or bust a tug; I ain’t sayin’ which right now. Anyway, he’s already got a school down there, an’ they make the kids go. I figgered it out, seein’ as them little freckle-nosed sons o’ guns could learn readin’ an’ writin’ an’ such-like, by gravy, I could do it too!”
The explanation was so simple, and Lonesome Pete had such difficulty in making his halting words come, and had such a way of refusing to look at Conniston, that the latter began to suspect the truth.