“Jealousy, old man,” Jim pronounced without hesitation. “Of course, I don’t know the details, but—details be darned. If he has tried to hand you a package, take it from me, jealousy’s the string he tied it with. I don’t mind saying that Dick told me when I first rode up to the corral that you and Mose were both boozing up to beat the band; and right after that we heard a deuce of a racket up here, and it did look—” He waved an apologetic hand at Mose and the fragments of pottery which framed like a “still life” picture on the floor, and let it go at that. “I’m strong for you, Ford,” he added, and his smile was frank and friendly. “Double Cross is the name of this outfit, but I’m all in favor of running that brand on the cow-critters and keeping it out of the bunk-house. If you should happen to feel like elucidating—” he hinted delicately.
Ford had always liked Jim Felton; now he warmed to him as a real friend, and certain things he told him. As much about the jug with the brown neck and handle as concerned Dick, and all he knew of the bottles in the haystack, while Jim smoked, and swung the foot which did not rest upon the floor, and listened.
“Sounds like Dick, all right,” he passed judgment, when Ford had finished. “He counted on your falling for the jug—and oh, my! It was a beautiful plant. I’d sure hate to have anybody sing ’Yield not to temptation’ at me, if a gallon jug of the real stuff fell into my arms and nobody was looking.” He eyed Ford queerly. “You’ve got quite a reputation—” he ventured.
“Well, I earned it,” Ford observed laconically.
“Dick banked on it—I’d stake my whole stack of blues on that. And after you’d torn up the ranch, and pitched the fragments into the gulch, he’d hold the last trump, with all high cards to keep the lead. Whee!” He meditated admiringly upon the strategy. “But what I can’t seem to understand,” he said frankly, “is why the deuce it didn’t work! Is your swallower out of kilter? If you don’t mind my asking!”
“I never noticed that it was paralyzed,” Ford answered grimly. He got up, lifted a lid of the stove, and threw in the cigarette stub mechanically. Then he bethought him of his interrupted search, and prodded a long-handled spoon into the flour bin, struck something smooth and hard, and drew out a befloured, quart bottle half full of whisky. He wiped the bottle carefully, inspected it briefly, and pitched it into the gully, where it smashed odorously upon a rock. Jim, watching him, knew that he was thinking all the while of something else. When Ford spoke, he proved it.
“Are you any good at all in the kitchen, Jim?” he asked, turning to him as if he had decided just how he would meet the situation.
“Well, I hate to brag, but I’ve known of men eating my grub and going right on living as if nothing had happened,” Jim admitted modestly.
“Well, you turn yourself loose in here, will you? The boys will be good and empty when they come—it’s dinner time right now. I’ll help you carry Mose out of the way before I go.”