“If you’d asked me about it, I’d have said keep it under your hat. But—”
“And that would have been a sin and a shame,” argued Jim, licking a finger he had just scorched on a hot kettle-handle. “The fellows all like a good story—and it don’t sound any worse because it’s on Dick. And say! I kinda got a clue to where he connected with that whisky. Walt says he come back from the line-camp with his overcoat rolled up and tied behind the saddle—and it wasn’t what you could call a hot night, either. He musta had that jug wrapped up in it. I’ll bet he sent in by Peterson, the other day, for it. He was over there, I know. He’s sure a deliberate kind of a cuss, isn’t he? Must have had this thing all figured out a week ago. The boys are all tickled to death at the way he got it in the neck; they know Dick pretty well. But if you’d told me not to say anything, I’d have said he stubbed his toe on his shadow and fell all over himself, and let it go at that.”
“Lordy me! Jim, you needn’t worry about it; you ought to know you can’t keep a thing like this quiet, on a ranch. It doesn’t matter much how he got that whisky here, either; I know well enough you didn’t haul it out. I’d figured it out about as Walt says.
“Say, it looks as if you’ll have to wrastle with the pots and pans till to-morrow. The lower fence I’ll ride, this afternoon; did you get clear around the Pinnacle field?”
“I sure did—and she’s tight as a drum. Say, Mose is a good cook, but he’s a mighty punk housekeeper, if you ask me. I’m thinking of getting to work here with a hoe!”
So life, which had of late loomed big and bitter before the soul of Ford, slipped back into the groove of daily routine.
Into its groove of routine slipped life at the Double Cross, but it did not move quite as smoothly as before. It was as if the “hill” which Ford was climbing suffered small landslides here and there, which threatened to block the trail below. Sometimes—still keeping to the simile—it was but a pebble or two kicked loose by Ford’s heel; sometimes a bowlder which one must dodge.
Dick, for instance, must have likened Mose to a real landslide when he came at him the next day, with a roar of rage and the rolling-pin. Mose had sobered to the point where he wondered how it had all happened, and wanted to get his hands in the wool of the “nigger” said to lurk in woodpiles. He asked Jim, with various embellishments of speech, what it was all about, and Jim told him and told him truly.
“He was trying to queer you with the outfit, Mose, and that’s a fact,” he finished; which was the only exaggeration Jim was guilty of, for Dick had probably thought very little of Mose and his ultimate standing with the Double Cross. “And he was trying to queer Ford—but you can search me for the reason why he didn’t make good, there.”