When morning came, Conniston was the last man to crawl out of his bunk. At breakfast he was the last man to finish. He dawdled over his coffee until the cook stared curiously at him, he used up a great deal of time buttering his hot cakes, he ate very slowly. Only after every other man had left the table did he push his plate aside and go out into the yard. His manner was unusually quiet this morning, his jaw unusually firm, his eye unusually determined. He saw with deep satisfaction that all of the Half Moon men except Lonesome Pete and Brayley had ridden away upon their day’s work. The red-headed cowboy was even now going down to the corrals, a vacant look in his blue eyes, the corners of a little volume sticking out of his hip-pocket, his lips moving to unspoken words. Brayley was going through the fringe of trees toward the house, evidently to speak with Mr. Crawford upon some range business. Conniston strolled slowly down toward the corrals, stopping and loitering when he had got there.
Now and then he caught a glimpse of Lonesome Pete mending his saddle just within the half-open stable door, but for the most part his eyes rested steadily upon the little path which wriggled through the grove and toward the house. He made and smoked a cigarette, tossing away the burned stub. He glanced at his watch, noticed that he was already half an hour late in going to work, and turned back toward the house, his expression the set, even, placid expression of a man who waits, and waits patiently. Five minutes passed—ten minutes—and he stood still, making no move to get his horse and ride upon his day’s duties. And then, walking swiftly, Brayley came out of the trees and hurried, lurching, toward the corral.
“What are you waitin’ for?” he cried, sharply, when twenty paces away. “Ain’t you got nothin’ to do to-day?”
Conniston made no answer, turning his eyes gravely upon Brayley’s face, waiting for the man to come up to him.
“Can’t you hear?” called Brayley again, more sharply, coming on swiftly. “What are you waitin’ an’ loafin’ here for?”
“I want to talk with you a minute.” Conniston’s voice was very quiet, almost devoid of expression.
“Well, talk. An’ talk fast! I ain’t got all day.”
Brayley was standing close to him now, his eyes boring into Conniston’s, his manner impatient, irritated. For just a moment Conniston stood as though hesitating, leaning slightly forward, balanced upon the balls of his feet. Then he sprang forward suddenly, without sign of warning, taking the big foreman unawares, throwing both arms about the stalwart body, driving the heavier body back with the impact of the one hurled against it. Brayley, standing carelessly, loosely, his feet not braced, but close together, unprepared for the attack, fell heavily, lifted clean off his feet, born backward, and slammed to the ground with the breath jolted out of him, Conniston on top of him.