Truxton made no sign, did not so much as stir, as Conniston dropped the flap of canvas and stood over him. His breath came heavily, saturated with whisky. Conniston laid a rude hand upon the slack shoulder, shaking it roughly. Still Truxton did not lift his head, did not even mutter as a drunken man is apt to do in his stupor. With the full purport of this thing upon him, Conniston was driven to a fury of rage. He jerked Truxton’s head back and slapped him across the face until his fingers tingled. Now Truxton’s eyes opened, red-rimmed, bloodshot, fixed in a vacant, idiotic stare. And before Conniston could speak the eyes were closed again, the head had sunk forward upon the table.
“My God!” cried Conniston, feeling now only a great despair upon him, seeing only the death to all hopes of success for the reclamation project with Truxton lost to it. He started to leave the tent, and suddenly swung about again, grasping Truxton’s two shoulders in his hands.
“It ain’t no go, pardner. He’s very—hic—drunk!”
He had not seen the other man, had seen little enough but the sprawling, inert figure. It was the camp cook. And as Conniston turned upon him he saw that this man’s face was flushed, that he was little better than Truxton. And if he needed further indication of the reason for the cook’s plight it was not far to seek. The man held in his left hand, thrust clumsily behind him, a third bottle, half empty.
“You, too!” shouted Conniston. “Drop that bottle, and drop it quick!”
The cook, with a drunken assumption of dignity, tried to straighten up, grasping his bottle the more firmly.
“Who’re you?” he leered. “G’wan; chase yourself. I ain’t throwin’ away—”
He did not finish. Conniston stepped forward quickly and jerked the bottle out of the cook’s hand, hurling it against the stove, where it broke into a score of pieces. The bottle upon the table he treated in similar fashion.
“Now,” he said, sternly, “you get to work and get something cooked for the men. Haven’t even a fire, have you?” He stepped close to the cook again, thrusting his face close up to the other’s. He did not know his own voice, which had gone suddenly hoarse and low, as he went on: “You have a fire going in two minutes. Where are your helpers? And you have breakfast on the tables in half an hour, or I give you my word I’ll come back here and beat you half to death!”
He turned and went out with no single look behind him, glad to be out in the open, thankful for the fresh air, which he drew deep down into his stifling lungs. And, realizing only that nothing could be done with Truxton for the present and that he himself was next in command, he hastened to where the four foremen were standing, grinning at him.
“Get your men busy,” he snapped at them. “Ben, send some men up to the tent to help get something to eat. Let them put on anything. If the cook doesn’t get coffee ready in fifteen minutes let me know. All of you have your men hook up their teams. They can do that while breakfast is getting ready. And hurry!”