“I don’t know,” Conniston offered after a moment, “that there is any immediate call for worry. I think that I can handle them until Truxton gets around—”
“Truxton won’t get around!”
“That the moment he is sober enough to know anything he will know that he is discharged!”
“But we can’t get along without him. He is the one man—”
“We shall have to get along without him. I have told him that if he touched whisky again on this job he could go.”
“But would it not be better to wait a few days—to give him a chance to sober up?”
“Conniston, I have never found it necessary to break my word. I am through with Truxton. And if my last hope of success goes with him he must go just the same. I am sorry for the man—the poor fellow can’t help these periodic drunks of his. But I am through with him.”
Conniston frowned into the eyes which were fixed intently upon him.
“You know best. I am ready to do what I can to help out. I think I can promise you to keep the work going until you can get a man to take his place.”
Mr. Crawford bent a long, searching regard upon him. And when he spoke it was slowly, sternly.
“What am I paying you, Conniston?”
“Forty-five dollars a month.”
“All right. I’ll give you seventy-five dollars a week to take Bat Truxton’s place for me—not for a few days, but until the first day of October. Will you do it?”
A hot flush spread over Conniston’s face, and surged away, leaving it white.
“Do you think that I can do it?”
“I am not the one to think. You are. You know what the work is, what it means. Can you do it?”
And Conniston stared long out across the wide sweep of the desert, his lips set hard in white, bloodless lines, before he answered, briefly:
“It’s a big job, Conniston, and, frankly, I wouldn’t put it into your hands if I had a man I thought better qualified to carry it on. A big job! I wonder if you know how big? You will hold the whole fate of this country in the palm of your hand, to make or to mar. You will hold in the palm of your hand my whole life-work. For if you succeed I succeed. And if you fail, all hope of reclamation here dies, still-born, and I am a ruined man. Understand what you are to do? I cannot even stay here to help you. I will leave to-night for Denver. I can’t send another man in my place. Would to God that I could! I must go myself; I must raise money—fifty thousand dollars at the very lowest figure. And when I come back I shall bring the money with me, and I shall bring at least five hundred more men. And you will have to oversee the work of seven hundred men then; you will have to drive this ditch night and day; you will have to complete two big dams. And you will have to do that before the first day of October. It is a big job, Conniston. Can you do it?”