The three men were able to make great time towards the ranch. The powerful steeds beneath them carried on through the desert at an almost constant pace. The ride was rarely broken by breaks for water and those few halts were brief.
As the sun sank low along the western horizon, and the desert cooled, the three cowboys decided to turn in. After Kelley's imploration, each man gathered materials around their campsite and placed them within a ring of rocks. Kelley pulled a match from his gear and, with some difficulty, was able to start a fire. Placing several biscuits into a pan above the fire, Kelley began to cook the group's dinner. Ross looked at the contents of the pan and grimaced.
"Just biscuits? No jerky?"
Kelley, without turning to face Ross, replied, "If you wanna hunt some varmints and cook 'em up, be my guest. We ain't got any meat. Only biscuits."
Ross sighed and grabbed the Winchester from his horse. He cocked the hammer and set off into the desert. The sure and silent footing of Ross allowed him to sneak upon a jackrabbit. Pulling the butt of the rifle to shoulder, Ross lined up the sights. He moved his finger onto the trigger. The trigger felt heavy as he pulled it back. Suddenly the rabbit bolted. Ross quickly removed his finger from the trigger. He followed the creature to an area a few dozen yards away. From his position behind the critter, Ross had a clear shot. He raised the rifle to his shoulder and pulled the trigger.
Back at the campsite, Kelley could hear a gunshot. Whether the bullet hit its mark did not trouble him. He knew that, despite Ross's more undesirable personality traits, the boy was a sure shot with a rifle. Shortly after the report cut through the desert's silence, Ross came back carrying a rather large jackrabbit. Kelley took the varmint and prepared it, cutting out the entrails, taking off the skin, and removing the bones. He placed the meat in his skillet and cooked it.
Bannon, who had been caring for the horses, could quickly make out the smell of cooking rabbit. He walked over to the campfire and implored Kelley for a cut.
The cook looked up towards Bannon and said, "Well, the critter didn't have much on its bones, but I did save the bones for you." Casey chuckled at the look that came across Smith's face. His wide grin had shifted into a frown after hearing Brett's proposal. The tall cowboy, dejected, shuffled back to the horses, his spurs jingling with each slow step. Ross sat down by the campfire and waited for Kelley to finish cooking.
After some time, Kelley handed Ross a piece of meat and took some for himself. The meal satisfied both man's appetites. Bannon had finished tending to the horses and sat down with the other two cowboys. From across the fire, Ross could see the shadows play upon Smith's weathered face. The cowboy had aged considerably since Ross first met him. For over a decade Ross had ridden by Smith's side. From roping, to branding, to riding, Ross had learned everything there was to know about life in the saddle and on the range from Bannon. The two had grown close and formed a friendship that had remained unshaken even during the most difficult of times.
Looking to his right, Ross saw Kelley chewing on a rather tough slice of rabbit. The cook, well known among cowhands for his ability to turn any critter into a delicacy, had known Bannon long before Ross was even born. The wicked sense of humor that occasionally shined through Kelley's tough exterior had helped Ross warm up to the man. While the two did have their share of differences, both respected the other for their skillsets.
Bannon and Kelley had once taken part in each year's great cattle drive. Age began to take its toll on the two cowhands and stopped them from joining the drives north. The years of riding that each man had undergone showed in the weathering of their faces and hands. Their thick calloused hands contrasted with the comparatively soft hands of Ross. The creases in each old-timer's face projected an image of an experienced hand, and rightfully so. Few men, young or old, could match the pair's roping and riding skills, and their knowledge of the lay of the land and the animals was second to none.
The full moon rose above the horizon and the men decided to sleep. As Bannon and Kelley lay fast asleep, Casey Ross thought about the days to come. He felt his eyelids grow heavier and let sleep overtake him.