But the horse did see them, did see a man lying stretched upon the ground, and with the sharp nostrils of its kind the horse scented fresh blood. The result was that the frightened brute reared, snorting, and wheeled suddenly, plunging back through the corral gate. And Lonesome Pete, taken unawares as he sat loosely in the saddle, was jerked rudely out of his dreamings of the fair Jocelyn and the bloody Macbeth to find his horse shooting out from under him, and to find himself sitting upon the hard ground with his legs in Brayley’s lap.
Brayley’s strength of lungs came back to him with a new anger. “You howlin’ idiot, what are you tryin’ to do?”
“I was a-readin’,” responded Lonesome Pete, still grinning vapidly, still not quite certain whether the things which he saw about him were real things or literary hallucinations.
“A-readin’!” snapped Brayley, sitting up. “That what I’m payin’ you for, you blame gallinipper!”
With a glance from Brayley’s lacerated face to the bloody smears on Conniston’s, Lonesome Pete got to his feet and, shaking his head and dusting the seat of his overalls as he went, turned and disappeared into the stable after his horse. Brayley glared after him a second, grunted, and got to his feet.
“Well,” he snarled, facing Conniston. “You licked me. Now what? Want to beat me up some more?”
“No, I don’t,” Conniston answered him, steadily. “You know I had to do it, Brayley. You had it coming to you after that first night in the bunk-house. Now—I want to shake hands, if you do.”
With a keen, measuring glance from under swelling eyelids, and no faintest hesitation, Brayley put out his hand.
“Shake!” he grunted. “You done it fair. I didn’t think you had it in you. And”—with a distorted grin—“I’ll ’scuse the left hand, Con!”
Brayley and Conniston went together into the corral and picked up the three revolvers. Then Conniston turned toward the stable to get his horse. Brayley’s eyes followed him, narrowing speculatively.
“Hey, Conniston,” he called, sharply, “where you goin’?”
“To work. It’s late now.”
“Yes, it’s late, all right. But you better go up to the bunk-house first an’ fix your hand up. Oh, don’t be a fool. Come ahead. I’m goin’ to straighten out my face a bit.”
So Conniston turned back, and the two men went to the bunk-house. The cook was pottering around his stove, cleaning up his pots and pans. He looked up curiously as they came in, realizing that by now they should have been at work. The faint, careless surprise upon his face changed suddenly into downright bewilderment as he saw the dust-covered bodies, the cut lips, blood-streaked cheeks, and swelling eyes of the two men. The song which he had been humming died away into a little gasp, and with sagging lower jaw he stood and stared.