more and more contented. “Quite right,” he said. “You had to part with your cook. When I put a man in charge, I put him in charge. I don’t make particulars my business. They’re to be always his. Do you understand?” “Thank yu’.” The Virginian understood that his employer was praising his management of the expedition. But I don’t think he at all discerned--as I did presently--that his employer had just been putting him to a further test, had laid before him the temptation of complaining of a fellow-workman and blowing his own trumpet, and was delighted with his reticence. He made a movement to rise.

“I haven’t finished,” said the Judge. “I was coming to the matter. There’s one particular--since I do happen to have been told. I fancy Trampas has learned something he didn’t expect.” This time the Virginian evidently did not understand, any more than I did. One hand played with his hat, mechanically turning it round.

The Judge explained. “I mean about Roberts.” A pulse of triumph shot over the Southerner’s face, turning it savage for that fleeting instant. He understood now, and was unable to suppress this much answer. But he was silent.

“You see,” the Judge explained to me, “I was obliged to let Roberts, my old foreman, go last week. His wife could not have stood another winter here, and a good position was offered to him near Los Angeles.” I did see. I saw a number of things. I saw why the foreman’s house had been empty to receive Dr. MacBride and me. And I saw that the Judge had been very clever indeed. For I had abstained from telling any tales about the present feeling between Trampas and the Virginian; but he had divined it. Well enough for him to say that “particulars” were something he let alone; he evidently kept a deep eye on the undercurrents at his ranch. He knew that in Roberts, Trampas had lost a powerful friend. And this was what I most saw, this final fact, that Trampas had no longer any intervening shield. He and the Virginian stood indeed man to man.

“And so,” the Judge continued speaking to me, “here I am at a very inconvenient time without a foreman. Unless,” I caught the twinkle in his eyes before he turned to the Virginian, “unless you’re willing to take the position yourself. Will you?” I saw the Southerner’s hand grip his hat as he was turning it round. He held it still now, and his other hand found it and gradually crumpled the soft crown in. It meant everything to him: recognition, higher station, better fortune, a separate house of his own, and--perhaps--one step nearer to the woman he wanted. I don’t know what words he might have said to the Judge had they been alone, but the Judge had chosen to do it in our presence, the whole thing from beginning to end. The Virginian sat with the damp coming out on his forehead, and his eyes dropped from his employer’s.

“Thank yu’,” was what he managed at last to say.

“Well, now, I’m greatly relieved!” exclaimed the Judge, rising at once. He spoke with haste, and lightly. “That’s excellent. I was in some thing of a hole,” he said to Ogden and me; “and this gives me one thing less to think of. Saves me a lot of particulars,” he jocosely added to the Virginian, who was now also standing up. “Begin right off. Leave the bunk house. The gentlemen won’t mind your sleeping in your own house.” Thus he dismissed his new foreman gayly. But the new foreman, when he got outside, turned back for one gruff word,--” I’ll try to please yu’.” That was all. He was gone in the darkness. But there was light enough for me, looking after him, to see him lay his hand on a shoulder-high gate and vault it as if he had been the wind. Sounds of cheering came to us a few moments later from the bunk house. Evidently he had “begun right away,” as the Judge had directed. He had told his fortune to his brother cow-punchers, and this was their answer.

“I wonder if Trampas is shouting too?” inquired Ogden.

“Hm!” said the Judge. “That is one of the particulars I wash my hands of.” I knew that he entirely meant it. I knew, once his decision taken of appointing the Virginian his lieutenant for good and all, that, like a wise commander-in-chief, he would trust his lieutenant to take care of his own business.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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