Conniston wet his dry lips and hesitated.
“Mr. Crawford, it is a big job. I do not even know that the thing is possible. I believe that it is. I do not know, I cannot know, if I can do it. I believe that I can. If you have a better man, if in Denver or anywhere else you can find a better man, put him in Truxton’s place. If you can’t, if you want me to go ahead with the work, I’ll do it.”
“Then that is settled. Confer often with Tommy Garton. If you need advice while I am away, go to him. But remember that in all things it will be up to you to make the final decision. There can be no sharing of responsibility.”
“Then,” said Conniston, with quiet decision, “I want an absolute and unrestricted authority here. I want the power to take on new men, to fire old men, to raise wages, to do what I think wise and best. I want every man working for you to know that he is under my orders, and that there is no recourse from my judgment. I want to be able to call upon the Half Moon outfit, if I find it necessary, just as you would call upon them.”
“You are asking a great deal, Conniston.”
“I am asking everything.”
“And you can have what you ask!”
“To begin with, I shall want a man here to take my place if I find it necessary to be away at all. I want Brayley here, and right away.”
“Brayley is the best man on the Half Moon. You can have him.”
“Thank you. There is one further thing.”
“I do not draw a cent of wages until the first day of October. Then if I have water in the valley I get it in a block. If I do not have water—I don’t touch it!”
A curious little smile flitted across Mr. Crawford’s lips.
“You are in a position to dictate, Conniston. Let it be as you say.”
“And now, if you have no immediate orders for me, I want to get to work. I am going to shift the gang under the Lark out yonder, in front of the others. He’s the best pace-maker I’ve got.”
“Go ahead. I’ll be here until noon.”
Unconsciously squaring his shoulders as he went, Conniston strode away toward the ditch.
At noon Mr. Crawford told the men gathered at the long tables that in the future they were to look to Conniston for all orders, that he was empowered to act as he saw fit in any crisis, that he would have absolute command over every part of the reclamation work, here or elsewhere. And then he gripped Conniston’s hand warmly, gave him an address in Denver where a telegram would find him, and drove away toward Crawfordsville, promising to telephone to Brayley to report to the Valley immediately.
Before he was out of sight the new superintendent called his four overseers aside.
“What wages are you fellows drawing down?” he asked, bluntly.
“Three bones,” the Lark told him.