“I told you I don’t want the job.” Ford’s mouth was set grimly.
“You tried to tell me what I want and what I don’t want,” Mason corrected amiably. “Now I’ve got my own ideas on that subject. This here outfit belongs to me. I like to pick my men to suit myself; and if I want a certain man for foreman, I guess I’ve got a right to hire him—if he’ll let himself be hired. I’ve picked my man. It don’t make any difference to me how many times he played hookey when he was a kid, or how many men he’s licked since he growed up. I’ve hired him to help run the Double Cross, and run it right; and I ain’t a bit afraid but what he’ll make good.” He smiled and knocked the ashes gently from his pipe into the palm of his hand, because the pipe was a meerschaum just getting a fine, fawn coloring around the base of the bowl, and was dear to the heart of him. “Down to the last, white chip,” he added slowly, “he’ll make good. He ain’t the kind of a man that will lay down on his job.” He got up and yawned, elaborately casual in his manner.
“You lay around and take it easy this afternoon,” he said. “I’ve got to jog over to the river field; the boys are over there, working a little bunch we threw in yesterday. To-morrow we can ride around a little, and kinda get the lay of the land. You better go by-low, right now—you look as if it wouldn’t do you any harm!” Whereupon he wisely took himself off and left Ford alone.
The door he pulled shut after him closed upon a mental battle-ground. Ford did not go “by-low.” Instead, he rolled over and lay with his face upon his folded arms, alive to the finger-tips; alive and fighting. For there are times when the soul of a man awakes and demands a reckoning, and reviews pitilessly the past and faces the future with the veil of illusion torn quite away—and does it whether the man will or no.
“I Wish You’d Quit Believing in Me!”
A distant screaming roused Ford from his bitter mood of introspection. He raised his head and listened, his heavy-lidded eyes staring blankly at the wall opposite, before he sprang off the bunk, pulled on his boots, and rushed from the room. Outside, he hesitated long enough to discover which direction he must take to reach the woman who was screaming inarticulately, her voice vibrant with sheer terror. The sound came from the little, brown cottage that seemed trying modestly to hide behind a dispirited row of young cottonwoods across a deep, narrow gully, and he ran headlong toward it. He crossed the plank footbridge in a couple of long leaps, vaulted over the gate which barred his way, and so reached the house just as a woman whom he knew must be Mason’s “Kate,” jerked open the door and screamed “Chester!” almost in his face. Behind her rolled a puff of slaty blue smoke.
Ford pushed past her in the doorway without speaking; the smoke told its own urgent tale and made words superfluous. She turned and followed him, choking over the pungent smoke.