The two men watched Buddy’s departure for the house, and grinned over the manifest struggle between his haste to tell his mother and Jo, and his sense of importance over the trust.
“A kid of your own makes up for a whole lot,” Mason observed abstractedly, reaching up to the narrow shelf where he kept his tobacco. “I wish I had two or three more; they give a man something to work for, and look ahead and plan for.”
Ford, studying his face with narrowed eyelids, was more than ever thankful that he was not hampered by matrimony.
In Which the Demon Opens an Eye and Yawns
A storm held the Double Cross wagons in a sheltered place in the hills, ten miles from the little town where Ford had spent a night on his way to the ranch a month before. Mason, taking the inaction as an excuse, rode home to his family and left Ford to his own devices with no compunctions whatever. He should, perhaps, have known better; but he was acting upon his belief that nothing so braces a man as the absolute confidence of his friends, and to have stayed in camp on Ford’s account would, according to Mason’s code, have been an affront to Ford’s manifest determination to “make good.”
It is true that neither had mentioned the matter since the day of Ford’s arrival at the ranch; men do not, as a rule, harp upon the deeper issues within their lives. For that month, it had been as though the subject of intemperance concerned them as little as the political unrest of a hot-tempered people beyond the equator. They had argued the matter to a more or less satisfactory conclusion, and had let it rest there.
Ford had ridden with him a part of the way, and when they came to a certain fork in the trail, he had sent a whimsically solemn message to Buddy, had pulled the collar of his coat closer together under his chin, and had faced the wind with a clean conscience, and with bowed head and hat pulled low over his brows. There were at least three perfectly valid reasons why Ford should ride into town that day. He wanted heavier socks and a new pair of gloves; he was almost out of tobacco, and wanted to see if he could “pick up” another man so that the hours of night-guarding might not fall so heavily upon the crew. Ford had been standing the last guard himself, for the last week, to relieve the burden a little, and Mason had been urgent on the subject of another man—or two, he suggested, would be better. Ford did his simple shopping, therefore, and then rode up to the first saloon on the one little street, and dismounted with a mind at ease. If idle men were to be found in that town, he would have to look for them in a saloon; a fact which every one took for granted, like the shortening of the days as winter approached.
Perhaps he over-estimated his powers of endurance, or under-estimated the strength of his enemy. Certain it is that he had no intention of drinking whisky when he closed the door upon the chill wind; and yet, he involuntarily walked straight up to the bar. There he stuck. The bartender waited expectantly. When Ford, with a sudden lift of his head, turned away to the stove, the man looked after him curiously.