Chapter X. Barbara's Love for the Seer.
 

Jefferson Worth had not proceeded far with the work before him after James Greenfield left when he was again interrupted. This time it was the voice of Barbara in the other room.

The banker lifted his head quickly. Again he pushed his papers from him, but now the movement seemed to indicate weariness and uncertainty rather than readiness for action. His head dropped forward, his thin fingers nervously tapped the arms of his chair. When the girl's step sounded at the door he looked up the fraction of a second before she appeared.

"I don't want to disturb you, father, but they told me that that big, fine-looking man just going out was Mr. Greenfield. Is he--did he come all the way from New York to see you?"

"He came in here to see me," said Jefferson Worth exactly.

"And the work?"

"He says they have already started the wheels to moving."

"And you, daddy; you?"

Jefferson Worth arose and carefully closed the door. Then silently indicating the chair at the end of his desk he resumed his seat.

As Barbara looked into that mask-like face, the eager expectant light in her brown eyes died out and a look of questioning doubt came. She seemed to shrink back from him almost as she had turned away that first time in the desert.

If Jefferson Worth felt that look his face gave no sign; only those thin, nervous fingers were lifted to caress his chin.

"Are you--are you going to help, daddy? Will you join Mr. Greenfield's company?"

Still the man was silent, and the girl, watching, wondered what was going on behind that gray mask, what questions were being weighed and considered,

At last he spoke one cold word: "Why?"

Barbara flushed. "Because," she answered, carefully, "because it is such a great work. You could do so much more than simply make money."

"That is as you and the Seer see it."

"But, father; it is a great work, isn't it, to change the desert into a land of farms and homes for thousands and thousands of people?"

"Do you think that Greenfield and his crowd are going into this scheme because it is a great thing for the people?"

"But don't even capitalists sometimes undertake a great work just because it is great and because thousands upon thousands of people, through years and years to come, will be benefited even though the men themselves do not make so awfully much money?"

If Jefferson Worth felt her unconscious insinuation his face gave no sign. Carefully he listened with his manner of considering and weighing every word, while to Barbara his mind seemed to be reaching out on every side or running far into the future. When he answered his words were carefully exact. "Capitalists, as individuals might and do, spend millions in projects from which they, personally, expect no returns. But Capital doesn't do such things. Anything that Capital, as Capital, goes into must be purely a business proposition. If anything like sentiment entered into it that would be the end of the whole matter."

Barbara moved uneasily. "I don't think I quite understand why," she said.

There was a shade of color now in the banker's voice as he explained by asking: "How long do you think this bank could exist if we made loans to Tom, Dick and Harry because they needed help, or put money into this and that scheme simply because it was a beneficial thing? How long would it be before we went to smash?"

"But don't business men ever do anything except to make money? Doesn't Capital, as you say, ever consider the people?"

"This bank is a very substantial benefit to the people. But it can only benefit them by doing business on strictly business principles. As an individual any officer or stock holder can do what he pleases for whatever reason moves him. He can burn his money if he wants to. But as officers and directors of this corporation we can't burn the capital of the institution."

"But Mr. Greenfield and these New York men, who have organized the company--are they not careful financiers?"

"Very."

"It seems to me that they must believe in the Seer and his work or they wouldn't furnish him the money, would they?"

"They believe in the Seer and his work from their standpoint. Their capital is invested for just one purpose--dividends."

Barbara sighed and moved impatiently. "You always make it so hard to believe in men, father. I can't think that all business men--all financiers, I mean,--are so cold and heartless."

Again if Jefferson Worth felt the unconscious implication in her words he gave no sign. The banker was not ignorant of the public sentiment toward himself and the men of his class in his profession. He had come to accept it with the indifference of his exact, machine-like habit.

Barbara continued: "I feel sure that Mr. Greenfield and the men with him are going to furnish the money for the Seer to do this work for more than just what they will make out of it. I know that Mr. Holmes does, and I had hoped that you"--her voice broke--"that you would--"

If only Jefferson Worth could have broken the habit of a lifetime. If he could have laid aside that gray mask and permitted the girl to look into his hidden life, perhaps--

His colorless voice broke the silence, coldly exact: "What do you figure Willard Holmes is in this thing for?"

Barbara's face lighted up proudly. "He is in the work for the same reason that the Seer and Abe are--because it is such a great work and means so much to the world. I know, because since he returned he has talked to me so much about it. When he first came out--just at first--he didn't understand what the work really was. But now he understands it as the Seer sees it."

"Did the Seer send him out here?"

"No, I believe Mr. Greenfield sent him."

"Why?"

"I suppose they wanted an eastern man, whom they knew better than they knew the Seer, to represent them? It would be very natural, wouldn't it?"

"Very natural," agreed Jefferson Worth.

"Have you given the Company your final answer, father?"

"Yes."

"And you--you won't have anything to do with the reclamation of my Desert?"

"I declined to join the Company."

Blindly Barbara made her way out of the building. The place, with its air of business and suggestions of wealth, was unbearably hateful to her. At home she ordered her horse and started for the open country. But she did not ride toward the Desert. She felt that she could not bear the sight of The King's Basin that day.

In her father's attitude toward the Company Barbara saw only his seeming desire for selfish gain. He had told her so often that only one thing could justify an investment of capital. Evidently he did not think The King's Basin project would pay. She felt ashamed for him; he seemed so incapable of considering anything but profit. Nothing but profit, the sure promise of gain, could move him. He believed in the work; he had reported in favor of it to the Company. He knew that the Company was going ahead. He was willing enough that others should do the work, she thought bitterly. They might take the risk. It was even likely that he had some way planned by which, without risking anything himself, he would reap large returns through their efforts. She thought proudly of the Seer, who had given so many unpaid years to the Reclamation work; of Abe and his loyalty to the Seer; and of Willard Holmes, who was going to give himself to the work.

Utterly sick at heart the girl did not meet her father at their evening meal. She could not. Jefferson Worth ate alone and alone spent the evening on the porch. On the way to his room he paused a moment at her door. He knocked softly so as not to waken her if she was asleep. When there was no answer he stole quietly away. But Barbara was not asleep.

For three days Mr. Greenfield remained in Rubio City, "on the business of The King's Basin Land and Irrigation Company," the papers said in a long article setting forth the greatness of the work that was to be undertaken in the desert through the magnificent enterprise of these mighty eastern capitalists.

During that time Barbara had not seen either the Seer, Holmes or Abe Lee. She understood that they were engaged with Mr. Greenfield. She read the glowing articles in the paper, the afternoon of Mr. Greenfield's departure, with a thrill of pride. At last it had come --the day for which the Seer had hoped all these years. The dear old Seer! She was a little disappointed that the papers did not give his name more prominence. It seemed to be all Greenfield and the Company. But after all that did not matter. It was the Seer's work; the Seer had brought it about.

The front gate clicked and Barbara looked up from her paper to see her old friend coming up the walk. She saw at a glance that something was wrong. She thought he was ill. The big form of the engineer drooped with weakness, his head dropped forward, his eyes were fixed on the ground and he walked slowly, dragging his feet as with great weariness. With a startled cry she ran to meet him, and as he caught her hands in both his own she saw his face drawn and haggard and his brown eyes filled with hopeless pain. He did not speak.

Leading him to the shade of the porch she brought forward his favorite chair. He sank into it as if overcome with exhaustion, but attempted to smile his thanks.

"What is it? Are you ill? Let me call a doctor?"

"No, no, dear, I'm not sick. It's not that. I'm--I'm upset a bit, that's all. I'll be all right in a little while. Only it was rather unexpected." He turned his face away as though to hide something from her,

"What is it? Can't you tell me? What is the matter?" Barbara had never seen the Seer so hopeless.

"They have let me out."

She did not understand. "Let you out?"

He bowed his head slowly. "Yes; the Company, you know. They have appointed Mr. Holmes chief engineer in my place."

She cried out in indignant dismay. "But how could they? It is your work--all your work! You have given years to bring it before the world. They never would have known of The King's Basin at all but for you. How dare they? They have no right!"

The engineer smiled. "I was only an employe of Greenfield and the men who organized the Company, you know. In their eyes my relation to the work was the same as that of a Cocopah Indian laborer. Of course it was understood in a general way that I was to have some stock in the Company when it was organized, with the chief engineer's position at least, but there was nothing settled. Nothing could be settled until the actual completion of the survey, you know. I never dreamed of this. I can see now that it was planned from the first and that this is what Holmes came out here for. He is a great favorite of Greenfield's, and I suppose they wanted a man of their own kind to look after their interests. But it hurts, Barbara; it hurts."

For an hour he stayed with her and she helped him as such a woman always helps. But when she would have kept him for supper he said: "No, I must find Abe. I want to tell the boy and have it over. You can tell your father."

When Jefferson Worth learned from his indignant daughter of the Company's action he only said, in his precise way: "I figured that would be their first move." There was no feeling in his voice or manner. It was the simple verification of conclusions already reached and considered.

"Father!" cried Barbara. "Do you mean that you expected the Company to put that man Holmes in the Seer's place?"

"What reason was there to expect anything else?"

"But you never said anything all the time the Seer was--" She could not continue. It was maddening to think that while she had been dreaming and planning with the Seer, her father had foreseen that their dreams would come to nought.

"If I had you would not have believed me." The words were merely a calm, emotionless statement of fact. "I told you that the Company would act only from a business standpoint."

Suddenly a new phase of the situation flashed upon Barbara. Controlling her emotions and searching her father's face she asked: "Daddy, tell me please: was it because you saw this that you refused to join the Company?"

Jefferson Worth considered; then with marked caution answered: "That was part of the reason."

"I think I begin to understand a little. I'm glad--glad that you would have nothing to do with those men. It would have killed me if you had had any part in this now."

Presently the banker asked: "Have you seen Abe Lee?"

"No, why? Do you think--have they discharged him, too? He wouldn't stay anyway after their treatment of the Seer. I wouldn't want him to."

"They won't let him out if they can keep him. Holmes will need him," said Worth. They he added: "You'd better tell Abe to stay."

Barbara gasped. "What do you mean?"

"Tell him to stay," repeated Worth slowly.