“Ever had any experience handlin’ men? Ever bossed a gang of men?”
“Ever do any kind of construction work?”
“Forget what you did with a four-eyed professor standin’ over you! Ever build a bridge or a grade or a dam or a railroad?”
“No.” Conniston answered shortly, half angrily.
“Then,” grunted Truxton, plainly disgusted, “I’d like to know what the Old Man meant by sendin’ you over here! I can’t be bothered teachin’ college boys how to do things. What I need an’ need bad is an engineer that can do his part of the day’s work.”
“Look here!” cried Conniston, hotly. “We all have to begin some time, don’t we? You had your first job, didn’t you? And I’ll bet you didn’t fall down on it, either! It’s up to you. If you think I’m no good, all right. If you give me my work to do I’ll do it.”
“It ain’t up to me. The Old Man sent you over. You go to work in the mornin’. If I was doin’ it I wouldn’t put you on. I don’t say you won’t make good—I’m just sayin’ I wouldn’t take the chance. I’ll stop here for you at four o’clock in the mornin’.” He swung about from Conniston and toward Garton. “How’re they comin’, Tommy?”
All of the curt brusqueness was gone from his tone, the keen, cold, measuring calculation from his eye. With the compelling force of the man’s blunt nature the whole atmosphere of the room was altered.
“First rate, Bat,” Tommy answered, cheerfully. “How’s the work going?”
“Good! The best day I’ve had in two weeks. We get to work on those seven knolls to-morrow. You remember—Miss Argyl calls ’em Little Rome.”
“What have you decided? Going to make a detour, or—”
“Detour nothin’. I’m goin’ right straight through ’em. It’ll take time, all right. But in the end we’ll save. I’ll cut through ’em in four days or four an’ a half.”
“And then—it’s Dam Number One?”
Truxton swore softly. “If I can get the men, it is! Swinnerton stole my last gang—seventy-five of ’em. The blamed little porcupine offered ‘em two bits more than we’re payin’ an’ grabbed every one of ’em. The Old Man has wired Denver for a hundred more muckers. Swinnerton can’t keep takin’ men on all year. He’s got more now than he knows what to do with. I guess this gang ’ll come on through. As soon as they come, Tommy, I’ll have that big dam growin’ faster’n you ever saw a dam grow before.”
For half an hour the two men talked, and Conniston lay back listening. In spite of Bat Truxton’s sour acceptance of him, Conniston began to feel a decided liking for the old engineer. After all, he told himself, were he in Truxton’s place he would have small liking for putting a green man on the job. He realized that there was nothing personal in Truxton’s attitude toward him. Truxton was not looking for a man, but for an efficient, reliable machine, one that had already been tested and found to be strong, trustworthy, infallible.