“Where is the trouble with them? What do you mean by the ornery ones? They’re all here because they want to work, aren’t they? If they get dissatisfied they quit, don’t they?”
Truxton looked at him curiously. “You got a lot of things to learn, Conniston. Just you take a tip from me: You keep your eyes an’ ears real wide open for the next few days an’ your mouth shut as long as you can. Tommy explained to you about the opposition? About what Oliver Swinnerton is doin’ an’ tryin’ to do?”
“Then you remember that; don’t overlook it for a minute, wakin’ or sleepin’. It’ll explain a whole lot.”
When they rode into the camp at Little Rome the two hundred men employed there were just beginning to stir. Conniston’s eyes took in with no little interest the details of the camp. There was one long, low tent, the canvas sides rolled up so that he could see a big cooking-stove with two or three men working over it. This, plainly enough, was the kitchen. From each side of the door a long line of twelve-inch boards laid across saw-horses ran out across the level sand. Upon the parallel boards were tin plates stacked high in piles, tin cups, knives and forks, and scores of loaves of bread. There were in addition perhaps twenty tin buckets half filled with sugar.
Scattered here and there upon the sand, some not twenty feet from the tent, some a hundred yards, some few with a little straw under them, the most of them with their blankets thrown upon the sand or upon heaps of cut sage-brush, were Truxton’s “muckers.” They lay there like a bivouacking army, their bodies disposed loosely, some upon their backs, still sleeping heavily; many just sitting up, awakened by the clatter of the cook’s big iron spoon against a tin pan.
Behind the tent, picketed in rows by short ropes, were the horses and mules. And lined up to the right of the tent were twenty big, long-bodied Studebaker wagons, each with four barrels of water. Two more wagons at the other side of the tent were piled high with boxes and bags of provisions.
Truxton and Conniston unsaddled swiftly, and after staking out their horses, Conniston throwing his roll of bedding down behind the tent, they walked around to the front. Already most of the men were up, rolling blankets or hurrying to the rude tables. Several of them had gone to the aid of the cooks, and now were hurrying up and down between the parallel boards, setting out immense black pots of coffee, great lumps of butter, big pans of mush, beans, stewed “jerky,” and potatoes boiled in their jackets. The men who had rolled out of their beds fully dressed, save for shoes, formed in a long line near the tent door and moved swiftly along the tables, taking up knives, forks, plates, and cups as they went, helping themselves generously to each different dish as they came to it. Many stopped at the farther ends of the boards, standing and eating from them. Many more took their plates and cups of coffee away from the tables and squatted down to eat, placing their dishes upon the sand. There was remarkably little confusion, no time lost, as the two hundred men helped themselves to their breakfast. They did not appear to have seen Truxton; they glanced swiftly at Conniston and seemed to forget his presence in their hunger.