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   Chapter 4 THE POWERS CONFER

The Delafield Affair By Florence Finch Kelly Characters: 12454

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Lucy Bancroft bade a smiling good-bye to her father at the door of the First National Bank, and crossed the street to a store on the corner opposite. Lingering in the doorway for her turn to be waited upon, she watched him with admiring eyes. "What a handsome man daddy is," she was thinking; "I like a man to be tall and straight and broad-shouldered; and I'm glad he's always so well groomed; I'd love him just as much if he wasn't, but I couldn't be quite so proud of him."

Another man was coming up the street toward her father, and Lucy smiled as her eyes fell upon him. "There's Congressman Baxter," her thought ran on. "How slouchy and dumpy he seems beside daddy! They say he's one of the smartest men in the Territory; but I'm sure daddy is just as smart as he is, and he's certainly a great deal handsomer and nicer looking. And he's just as nice as he looks, too, my dear daddy!"

Bancroft appeared the man of substance and of consequence, confident alike in himself and in the regard of the community, as he stood in the door of his bank and met the Congressman with friendly greeting. "Glad to see you, Baxter! Come in! I want to have a talk with you."

Dellmey Baxter shook hands cordially, pleasure at the meeting fairly radiating from his round, sunburned face, even his cold gray eyes borrowing warmth from his gratified and shining countenance. One of these eyes was set at an angle slightly oblique, its peculiarity made more prominent by the loose hanging of the upper lid from the outer corner. The expression of cunning thus given to the upper part of his face was curiously at variance with his jovial look and manner.

In Bancroft's private office Baxter's first question was if the other had yet visited the mine at the base of Mangan's Peak, concerning which they had had correspondence.

"Yes; I was there this week. The man who owns it hasn't sabe enough about mines to know what a good proposition he's got. He'll sell cheap for cash, for he needs the money. I think it's a first-class investment, and we'd better snap it up. Shall we make it half and half?"

"I don't know about going in as a partner, Aleck. I'm getting too much tied up in all kinds of enterprises, and I don't want to have more on my hands than I can attend to. But if it's a good thing I'd like to help you get hold of it; I know you'd hustle its development and make all there is in it tell for the reputation of New Mexico. I've got too many other things on hand to go in as a partner, but if you haven't the ready cash to buy it yourself I'll advance you what you need and take a mortgage on the property."

In the persuasive tones of Bancroft's reply there was no hint of the reluctance and disappointment he inwardly felt at this prospect of having to increase his indebtedness to Baxter, concerning which he already felt some anxiety.

"That hardly seems fair, Dell. You gave me the hint about the mine, and you ought to make more than that out of it. I'm satisfied it's an almighty good proposition and can be made to pay for itself and for the money needed in initial development inside the first year."

"Oh, that's all right," Baxter responded heartily. "I'm glad to let the chance come your way, because you've got more sabe and more hustle than any other man I know, and you'll do something worth while with it. Think about it, and we'll talk it over again before I go back. I'm down here now mainly for politics. You know Silverside County as well as any man in it-how do things look?"

"Well, it's always a close county, you know. But you'll probably get the delegates to the convention, and I reckon you'll stand as good a chance on election day as Johnny Martinez."

The other chuckled. "Well, I rather guess! Why, he's got no money to put into the fight!"

"No; but there are the Castletons."

"I heard that their superintendent at Socorro Springs ranch-what's his name?-Conrad?-had come out strong in his favor. What do they care about it? Neither one of 'em spends two weeks out of the year in the Territory."

"Oh, if they really have any interest in it I suppose it's that everlasting 'cousin' business of the Mexicans. You know Ned Castleton married a first cousin of Johnny's, although she's half American."

Baxter looked thoughtful. "If he's got the Castleton money back of him," he began doubtfully, but broke off with an opposing idea: "I've heard that the wives of the two brothers fight each other to the limit on every proposition that comes along, and I reckon if Turner's wife found out that Ned's wife wanted Martinez boosted into Congress she'd see to it that Turner blocked the game if he could."

"If Ned Castleton should back up Martinez with a bagful or two of his loose cash it would make mighty hard sledding for us," observed Bancroft.

Baxter pursed his lips and whistled softly. "I reckon it would!" he said, with an air of taking the other into his innermost counsels. Then he broke out warmly: "That was damn good of you, Aleck, to come out for me as squarely as you did in the Albuquerque Leader the other day! It's a good thing for me, all over the Territory, to have people know that Alexander Bancroft is supporting me. They've got confidence in you, Aleck. I appreciate it, I tell you, and I won't forget it, either."

Baxter had already served two terms in Congress, and some members of his party thought he should be willing to stand aside and give some one else the prize. This made him anxious about the outcome of the approaching convention, and set him to interrogating the banker regarding the intentions of this, that, and the other man of local consequence. At last he came back to the subject of the Castletons.

"Do you really think, Aleck, that Ned Castleton's money is behind Martinez? If it is, that would explain Conrad's attitude."

Bancroft saw that the Congressman was worried by the possibility of such effective opposition. On the instant an idea was projected into his mind, born of his own secret anxiety and his knowledge of Baxter's reputation. It came so suddenly and so vividly that it took him unawares, sending a telltale light into his eyes and across his usually impassive countenance. His lids were quickl

y lowered, but Baxter had already seen the revealing flash and was wondering what it might mean. The banker hesitated for a moment, his thoughts confused by the force of the bolt which had shot into his mind.

"Of course I don't know anything about it," he went on cautiously, the other watching him for signs of self-betrayal, "but it looks to me as if Conrad might be acting as Ned Castleton's agent, so that Ned won't have to be mixed up in it. That would take away the chance of Mrs. Turner's trying to make her husband block the game. And Conrad is violently opposed to you. He handles you without gloves, and is doing all he can against your nomination. He says he'll bolt you if you get it, and that if the other side puts up Martinez he'll jump in and fight for him with both feet and his spurs on."

The smile faded from Baxter's face, and his left eyelid drooped lower than usual-a sign that his mind was busy with some knotty problem. But he was not considering the pros and cons of the Castleton money. He was wondering why that sudden purpose had flashed in Bancroft's eyes, why he had shown that momentary discomposure, and why he was now dwelling so much more strongly on the fact of Conrad's opposition. He drew his chair nearer and in confidential tones began to inquire about the young cattleman: "Has Conrad got much influence?"

"Yes; a good deal. He's a bright, energetic fellow, and he's made lots of friends."

"Know anything about him, Aleck?"

"Not much. Ned Castleton ran across him in San Francisco, I believe, where he was agent for one of the big cattle ranches in southern California. He's been their superintendent at Socorro Springs for two years, and he's put the ranch in better shape and made it pay better, in spite of the drought, than anybody else they've had since their father died."

"But where'd he come from before Castleton got him?"

"I don't know, except in a general way. I guess he's mostly run along with the cattle business in Colorado and California and New Mexico."

"You really think his opposition to me down here is important?"

"There's no doubt about it, Dell," Bancroft rejoined, his manner becoming more earnest and his tones more persuasive as he went on. "Curt Conrad is a fighter from the word 'go,' and he seems to have started out with the intention of doing you up. He'll sure do you a lot of damage if you can't find some way of making him change his mind. He's popular,-the sort that everybody likes, you know,-and he's always enthusiastic and cocksure, so that he has a good deal of influence of his own, whether or not he's acting for Ned Castleton. And as people generally believe he is it amounts to the same thing."

"We must get at him some way," said Baxter earnestly, his cold eyes watchful of his companion's manner and expression. "Hasn't he done something that would give us a hold on him?"

"No, there's nothing in that lead. I've tried argument, and you might as well talk to a cyclone."

"How about money?"

Bancroft shook his head decisively. "That would be the worst mistake you could make. He wouldn't touch it and he'd roar about it everywhere. The fact is, Dell, we'll have to get rid of his opposition some way. I've done everything I can, and now I'll have to put it up to you."

"Well, I'll think it over," said Baxter, rising and looking at his watch. "I'll see you again about that mine business, while I'm here, and I want to talk with you about a paisano ranch, up above Socorro, there's a chance of our getting. I think we'll be able to get our development company going in less than a year. When it's organized, Aleck, I want you to be president of it."

"I don't know about that," Bancroft replied slowly, an uneasy recollection of some of Lucy's freely expressed ideas coming into his mind. "I may prefer to stay in the background, as a silent partner, as our arrangement is now."

"It would be good for the company to have you at its head; your reputation would be an asset," Baxter objected persuasively.

"By the way, Dell, did you foreclose on a man named Melgares, José Maria Melgares, a month or two ago?"

"Melgares? Yes; and I was especially easy on him; let him have three months' extra time. But I had to come down on him finally. Why?"

"He's here in Golden now, and he's been roaring about it. He came down here from the Mogollons, where it's likely he'd been doing some horse-stealing. And I guess he's been lifting chickens and things out of people's back-yards since he's been here."

"Next thing he'll be getting arrested," Baxter chuckled, "and I'll have to defend him-for nothing. These greasers all seem to think I'm a heaven-sent protector for 'em all, no matter what they do. So long, Aleck; I'll see you again before I leave town."

Baxter lounged down the street, greeting one acquaintance after another with a jovial laugh, a hearty handshake, or a slap on the shoulder, his round, red face aglow with good fellowship. But his gray eyes were cold and preoccupied. At the court-house door he stopped to talk with Dan Tillinghurst, the sheriff, and Little Jack Wilder, his deputy.

"Say, Jack," said the sheriff, as the Congressman went on up the street, "what sort o' hell do you-all reckon Dell Baxter's cookin' up now? He's too jolly not to have somethin' on hand. The louder he laughs the more sulphur you can bet he's got in his pockets."

"Be careful, Dan," warned Jack, "or that nomination for sheriff will miss fire."

"Don't you worry about that-Dell an' me's all right; you-all just worry about the fellow that's made his eyes look like a dead fish's. Dell's sure got somethin' on his mind."

There was something on Baxter's mind. He was still wondering why Alexander Bancroft had insisted so strongly upon the importance of young Conrad's opposition, which the Congressman did not believe was of much consequence. He chuckled and his left lid drooped lower as he finally decided: "I reckon he wants me to pull some chestnut or other out of the fire for him. I'll just let him think I'm taking it all in. I'd like to know what it is, though, for if I don't keep a good hold on Aleck he's likely to get heady and try to step into my shoes."

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