MoboReader> Literature > The City of Numbered Days

   Chapter 3 No.3

The City of Numbered Days By Francis Lynde Characters: 20030

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

Sands of Pactolus

If Victor Brouillard had been disposed to speculate curiously upon the possibilities suggested by Mr. J. Wesley Cortwright on the occasion of the capitalist's brief visit to the Niquoia, or had been tempted to dwell sentimentally upon the idyllic crossing of orbits-Miss Genevieve's and his own-on the desert's rim, there was little leisure for either indulgence during the strenuous early summer weeks which followed the Cortwright invasion.

Popular belief to the contrary notwithstanding, it is not precisely true that all government undertakings are dilatory industrial imitations, designed, primarily, to promote the even-handed cutting of some appropriation pie, and, secondarily, to provide easy sinecures for placemen and political heelers. Holding no brief for the government, one may still say without fear of contradiction that laissez-faire has seldom been justly charged against the Reclamation Service. Fairly confronting his problem, Brouillard did not find himself hampered by departmental inertia. While he was rapidly organizing his force for the constructive attack, the equipment and preliminary material for the building of the great dam were piling up by the train load on the side-tracks at Quesado; and at once the man- and beast-killing task of rushing the excavating outfit of machinery, teams, scrapers, rock-drilling installations, steam-shovels, and the like, over the War Arrow trail was begun.

During the weeks which followed, the same trail, and a little later that from the Navajo Reservation on the south, were strung with ant-like processions of laborers pouring into the shut-in valley at the foot of Mount Chigringo. Almost as if by magic a populous camp of tents, shelter shacks, and Indian tepees sprang up in the level bed-bottom of the future lake; camp-fires gave place to mess kitchens; the commissary became a busy department store stocked with everything that thrifty or thriftless labor might wish to purchase; and daily the great foundation scorings in the buttressing shoulders of Jack's Mountain and Chigringo grew deeper and wider under the churning of the air-drills, the crashings of the dynamite, and the rattle and chug of the steam-shovels.

Magically, too, the life of the isolated working camp sprang into being. From the beginning its speech was a curious polyglot; the hissings and bubblings of the melting-pot out of which a new citizenry is poured. Poles and Slovaks, men from the slopes of the Carpathians, the terraces of the Apennines, and the passes of the Balkans; Scandinavians from the pineries of the north, and a colony of railroad-grading Greeks, fresh from the building of a great transcontinental line; all these and more were spilled into the melting-pot, and a new Babel resulted. Only the Indians held aloof. Careful from the first for these wards of the nation, Brouillard had made laws of Draconian severity. The Navajos were isolated upon a small reservation of their own on the Jack's Mountain side of the Niquoia, a full half mile from the many-tongued camp in the open valley; and for the man caught "boot-legging" among the Indians there were penalties swift and merciless.

It was after the huge task of foundation digging was well under way and the work of constructing the small power dam in the upper canyon had been begun that the young chief of construction, busy with a thousand details, had his first forcible reminder of the continued existence of Mr. J. Wesley Cortwright.

It came in the form of a communication from Washington, forwarded by special post-rider service from Quesado, and it called a halt upon the up-river power project. In accordance with its settled policy, the Reclamation Service would refrain, in the Niquoia as elsewhere, from entering into competition with private citizens; would do nothing to discourage the investment of private capital. A company had been formed to take over the power production and to establish a plant for the manufacture of cement, and Brouillard was instructed to govern himself accordingly. For his information, the department letter-writer went on to say, it was to be understood that the company was duly organized under the provisions of an act of Congress; that it had bound itself to furnish power and material at prices satisfactory to the Service; and that the relations between it and the government field-staff on the ground were to be entirely friendly.

"It's a graft-a pull-down with a profit in it for some bunch of money leeches a little higher up!" was the young chief's angry comment when he had given Grislow the letter to read. "Without knowing any more of the details than that letter gives, I'd be willing to bet a month's pay that this is the fine Italian hand of Mr. J. Wesley Cortwright!"

Grislow's eyebrows went up in doubtful interrogation.

"Ought I to know the gentleman?" he queried mildly. "I don't seem to recall the name."

Brouillard got up from his desk to go and stand at one of the little square windows of the log-built office quarters. For some reason which he had not taken the trouble to define, even to himself, he had carefully refrained from telling the hydrographer anything about the early morning meeting with the automobilists at the edge of the desert basin; of that and of the subsequent visit of two of them to the site of the dam.

"No; you don't know him," he said, turning back to the worker at the mapping table. "It was his motor party that was camping at the Buckskin ford the night we broke in here-the night when we saw the search-light."

"And you met him? I thought you told me you merely went down and took a look-didn't butt in?"

"I didn't-that night. But the next morning--"

The hydrographer's smile was a jocose grimace.

"I recollect now; you said that one of the motorists was a young woman."

Brouillard resented the implication irritably.

"Don't be an ass, Murray," he snapped; and then he went on, with the frown of impatience still wrinkling between his eyes. "The young woman was the daughter. There was a cub of a son, and he fired a stick of dynamite in the river to kill a mess of trout. I heard the explosion and thought it might be the gasolene tank of the car."

"Naturally," said Grislow guilelessly. "And, quite as naturally, you went down to see. I'm not sure that I shouldn't have done it myself."

"Of course you would," was the touchy retort. "When I got there and found out what had happened, I meant to make a second drop-out; but Cortwright and his daughter were coming up the trail, and he hailed me. After that I couldn't do less than the decent thing. They wanted to see the valley, and I showed them the way in. Cortwright is the multimillionaire pork packer of Chicago, and he went up into the air like a lunatic over the money-making chances there were going to be in this job. I didn't pay much attention to his chortlings at the time. It didn't seem remotely credible that anybody with real money to invest would plant it in the bottom of the Niquoia reservoir."

"But now you think he is going to make his bluff good?"

"That looks very much like it," said Brouillard sourly, pointing to the letter from Washington. "That scheme is going to change the whole face of Nature for us up here, Grislow. It will spell trouble right from the jump."

"Oh, I don't know," was the deprecatory rejoinder. "It will relieve us of a lot of side-issue industries-cut 'em out and bury 'em, so far as we are concerned."

"That part of it is all right, of course; but it won't end there; not by a hundred miles. We've started in here to be a law to ourselves-as we've got to be to handle this mixed multitude of brigands and ditch diggers. But when this new company gets on the ground it will be different. There will be pull-hauling and scrapping and liquor selling, and we can't go in and straighten things out with a club as we do now. Jobson says in that letter that the relations have got to be friendly! I'll bet anything you like that I'll have to go and read the riot act to those people before they've been twenty-four hours on their job!"

Grislow was trying the point of his mapping-pen on his thumb nail. "Curious that this particular fly should drop into your pot of ointment on your birthday, wasn't it?" he remarked.

"O suffering Jehu!" gritted Brouillard ragefully. "Are you never going to forget that senseless bit of twaddle?"

"You're not giving me a chance to forget it," said the map-maker soberly. "You told me that night that the seven-year characteristic was change; and you're a changed man, Victor, if ever there was one. Moreover, it began that very night-or the next morning."

"Oh, damn!"

"Certainly, if you wish it. But that is only another proof of what I am saying. It's getting on your nerves now. Do you know what the men have named you? They call you 'Hell's-Fire.' That has come to be your word when you light into them for something they've done or haven't done. No longer ago than this morning you were swearing at Griffith, as if you'd forgotten that the boy is only a year out of college and can't be supposed to know as much as Leshington or Anson. Where is your sense of humor?"

Brouillard laughed, if only to prove that his sense of humor was still unimpaired.

"They are a fearful lot of dubs, Grizzy," he said, meaning the laborers; "the worst we've ever drawn, and that is saying a good deal. Three drunken brawls last night, and a man killed in Haley's Place. And I can't keep liquor out of the camp to save my soul-not if I should sit up nights to invent new regulations. The Navajos are the best of the bunch and we've managed to keep the fire from spreading over on their side of the Niquoia, thus far. But if the whiskey ever gets hold in the tepees, we'll have orders to shoot Chief Nicagee's people back to their reservation in a holy minute."

Grislow nodded.

"Niqoyastcàdje-'Place-where-they-came-up.' It will be 'Place-where-they-go-down' if the t

in-horns and boot-leggers get an inning."

"We'll all go to the devil on a toboggan-slide and there is the order for it," declared the chief morosely, again indicating the letter from Washington. "That means more human scum-a new town-an element that we can neither chase out nor control. Cortwright and his associates, whoever they are, won't care a rotten hang. They'll be here to sweat money out of the job; to sweat it in any and every way that offers, and to do it quick. All of which is bad enough, you'd say, Murray; but it isn't the worst of it. I've just run up against another thing that is threatening to raise merry hell in this valley."

"I know," said the hydrographer slowly. "You've been having a séance with Steve Massingale. Leshington told me about it."

"What did he tell you?" Brouillard demanded half-angrily.

"Oh, nothing much; nothing to make you hot at him. He happened to be in the other room when Massingale was here, and the door was open. He said he gathered the notion that the young sorehead was trying to bully you."

"He was," was the brittle admission. "See here, Grizzy."

The thing to be seen was a small buckskin bag which, when opened, gave up a paper packet folded like a medicine powder. The paper contained a spoonful of dust and pellets of metal of a dull yellow lustre.

The hydrographer drew a long breath and fingered the nuggets. "Gold-placer gold!" he exclaimed, and Brouillard nodded and went on to tell how he had come by the bag and its contents.

"Massingale had an axe to grind, of course. You may remember that Harding talked loosely about the Massingale opposition to the building of the dam. There was nothing in it. The opposition was purely personal and it was directed against Harding himself, with Amy Massingale for the exciting cause."

"That girl?-the elemental brute!" Grislow broke in warmly. He knew the miner's daughter fairly well by this time and, in common with every other man on the staff, not excepting the staff's chief, would have fought for her in any cause.

Brouillard nodded. "I don't know what Harding did, but Smith, the Triangle-Circle foreman, tells me that Steve was on the war-path; he told Harding when he left, last summer, that if he ever came back to the Niquoia, he'd come to stay-and stay dead."

"I never did like Harding's sex attitude any too well," was the hydrographer's definitive comment; and Brouillard went back to the matter of the morning's séance and its golden outcome.

"That is only a little side issue. Steve Massingale came to me this morning with a proposal that was about as cold-blooded as a slap in the face. Naturally, for good business reasons of their own, the Massingales want to see the railroad built over War Arrow Pass and into the Niquoia. In some way Steve has found out that I stand in pretty well with President Ford and the Pacific Southwestern people. His first break was to offer to incorporate the 'Little Susan' and to give me a block of the stock if I'd pull Ford's leg on the Extension proposition."

"Well?" queried Grislow. "The railroad over War Arrow Pass would be the biggest thing that ever happened for our job here. If it did nothing else, it would make us independent of these boomers that are coming in to sell us material at their own prices."

"Exactly. But my hands are tied; and, besides, Massingale's offer was a rank bribe. You can imagine what I told him-that I could neither accept stock in his mine nor say anything to influence the railroad people; that my position as chief engineer for the government cut me out both ways. Then he began to bully and pulled the club on me."

Again Grislow's smile was jocose.

"You haven't been tumbling into the ditch with Leshington and Griffith and the rest of us and making love to the little sister, have you?" he jested.

"Don't be a fool if you can help it," was the curt rejoinder. "And don't give yourself leave to say things like that about Amy Massingale. She is too good and sweet and clean-hearted to be dragged into this mix-up, even by implication. Do you get that, Murray?"

"Oh, yes; it's only another way of saying that I'm one of the fools. Go on with the Stephen end of it."

"Well, when I turned him down, young Massingale began to bluster and to say that I'd have to boost the railroad deal, whether I wanted to or not. I told him he couldn't prove it, and he said he would show me, if I'd take half an hour's walk up the valley with him. I humored him, more to get quit of him than for any other reason, and on the way past the camp he borrowed a frying-pan at one of the cook shacks. You know that long, narrow sand-bar in the river just below the mouth of the upper canyon?"

Grislow nodded.

"That is where we went for the proof. Massingale dipped up a panful of the bar sand, which he asked me to wash out for myself. I did it, and you have the results there in that paper. That bar is comparatively rich placer dirt."

"Good Lord!" ejaculated the map-maker. "Comparatively rich, you say?-and you washed this spoonful out of a single pan?"

"Keep your head," said Brouillard coolly. "Massingale explained that I had happened to make a ten-strike; that the bar wasn't any such bonanza as that first result would indicate. I proved that, too, by washing some more of it without getting any more than a few 'colors.' But the fact remains: it's placer ground."

It was at this point that the larger aspect of the fact launched itself upon the hydrographer.

"A gold strike!" he gasped. "And we-we're planning to drown it under two hundred feet of a lake!"

Brouillard's laugh was harsh.

"Don't let the fever get hold of you, Grislow. Don't forget that we are here to carry out the plans of the Reclamation Service-which are more far-reaching and of a good bit greater consequence than a dozen placer-mines. Not that it didn't make me grab for hand-holds for a minute or two, mind you. I wasn't quite as cold about it as I'm asking you to be, and I guess Massingale had calculated pretty carefully on the dramatic effect of his little shock. Anyway, he drove the peg down good and hard. If I would jump in and pull every possible string to hurry the railroad over the range, and keep on pulling them, the secret of the placer bar would remain a secret. Otherwise he, Stephen Massingale, would give it away, publish it, advertise it to the world. You know what that would mean for us, Murray."

"My Lord! I should say so! We'd have Boomtown-on-the-pike right now, with all the variations! Every white man in the camp would chuck his job in the hollow half of a minute and go to gravel washing!"

"That's it precisely," Brouillard acquiesced gloomily. "Massingale is a young tough, but he is shrewd enough, when he is sober. He had me dead to rights, and he knew it. 'You don't want any gold camp starting up here in the bottom of your reservoir,' he said; and I had to admit it."

Grislow had found a magnifying-glass in the drawer of the mapping table, and he was holding it in focus over the small collection of grain gold and nuggets. In the midst of the eager examination he looked up suddenly to say: "Hold on a minute. Why is Steve proposing to give this thing away? Why isn't he working the bar himself?"

"He explained that phase of it, after a fashion-said that placer-mining was always more or less of a gamble and that they had a sure thing of it in the 'Little Susan.' Of course, if the thing had to be given away, he and his father would avail themselves of their rights as discoverers and take their chance with the crowd for the sake of the ready money they might get out of it. Otherwise they'd be content to let it alone and stick to their legitimate business, which is quartz-mining."

"And to do that successfully they've got to have the railroad. Say, Victor, I'm beginning to acquire a great and growing respect for Mr. Stephen Massingale. This field is too small for him; altogether too small. He ought to get a job with some of the malefactors of great wealth. How did you settle it finally?"

"Massingale was too shrewd to try to push me over the edge while there seemed to be a fairly good chance that I would walk over of my own accord. He told me to take a week or two and think about it. We dropped the matter by common consent after we left the bar in the Quadjenà? bend, and on the way down the valley Massingale pitched in a bit of information out of what seemed to be sheer good-will. It seems that he and his father have done a lot of test drilling up and down the side of Chigringo at one time and another, and he told me that there is a bed of micaceous shale under our south anchorage, cautioning me not to let the excavation stop until we had gone through it."

"Well! That was pretty decent of him."

"Yes; and it shows that Harding was lying when he said that the Massingales were opposing the reclamation project. They are frankly in favor of it. Irrigation in the Buckskin means population; and population will bring the railroad, sooner or later. In the matter of hurrying the track-laying, Massingale is only adopting modern business methods. He has a club and he is using it."

Grislow was biting the end of his penholder thoughtfully.

"What are you going to do about it, Victor?" he asked at length. "We can't stand for any more chaos than the gods have already doped out for us, can we?"

Brouillard took another long minute at the office window before he said: "What would you do if you were in my place, Murray?"

But at this the map-maker put up his hands as if to ward off a blow.

"No, you don't!" he laughed. "I can at least refuse to be that kind of a fool. Go and hunt you a professional conscience keeper; I went out of that business for keeps in my sophomore year. But I'll venture a small prophecy: We'll have the railroad-and you'll pull for it. And then, whether Massingale tells or doesn't tell, the golden secret will leak out. And after that, the deluge."

* * *

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top