The Winning of Barbara Worth by Harold Bell Wright
Chapter XIII. Barbara's Call to Her Friends.
That night, long after Kingston was still and the Manager of The King's Basin Land and Irrigation Company was fast asleep, Jefferson Worth and Abe Lee talked in the little tent that, from the lantern within, glowed in the darkness, seemingly the one spot of light under the desert stars.
The next morning the surveyor left town on the stage, but not as he had planned. Abe knew now where he was going and what he was going to do. He was bound for the city by the sea and he carried in his pocket several letters of introduction, written by his employer and addressed to different firms engaged in manufacturing and selling things electrical. And more than this, Abe would see Barbara.
Jefferson Worth did not breakfast with Abe that morning nor did he see him off on the stage, but a few minutes after the surveyor had left town his employer passed down the street in the direction of the store.
As Mr. Worth drew near his place of business he saw, posed just without the door, one whom the most casual of observing strangers would have supposed instantly to be the proprietor of the store, the owner of the building--if not, indeed, the proprietor and owner of all Kingston and many miles of country round about.
The portly figure, clad in a business suit of gray, with a vast, full-rounded expanse of white vest, expressed in every curve opulent wealth and lordly generosity. The clean-shaven face, fat and florid, beamed upon the world from above the clerical severity of a black tie with truly paternal benevolence; while the massive head was not in reality crowned but was covered by a hat such as commanding generals always wear in pictures. The pose of the figure, the lift of the countenance, the kingly mien of eye and brow made it impossible to mistake his majesty. In comparison with this august personage, the figure and air of Jefferson Worth were pitifully inadequate.
The great one welcomed the financier at the latter's own door with an air of royal hospitality. Extending his hand as if he stepped down only one step from his throne and speaking in a tone that was meant to confer marked distinction upon the humble recipient of his favor, he said: "Mr. Worth, I am delighted, more delighted than I can express, to welcome you to our city. It is a great day for this country--a great day!" He wrung the financier's timid hand with two hundred and fifty pounds of emotional energy. "Mr. Greenfield and I, with our friends and associates in the East, and Mr. Burk and Holmes here in the field, are doing what we can for these people, but there is a great work here yet for men like you--men of some means and financial ability, who will get behind the smaller business interests and build them up on a solid foundation. My heart rejoiced for the country, sir, when I heard this morning that you had purchased this establishment. Deck is a good honest fellow, you know, but--" An expansive smile of confidential understanding finished this sentence, and the words--"My name is Blanton, Mr. Worth--Horace P. Blanton"--seemed to settle at once any doubt as to the position and authority of the speaker.
Jefferson Worth did not explain that he had owned the store from the beginning and that Deck Jordan was no more than his very capable agent. Indeed Mr. Worth said nothing at all. He even appeared to shrink with becoming modesty though there was the faintest hint of a twinkle in the corners of his eyes--a hint so faint that Horace P. Blanton, from his great height, overlooked it.
The big man, in a lower tone of confidential familiarity, asked: "Have you heard from Greenfield lately?"
"I wrote Jim some time ago that he would have to come out here himself. There are some conditions developing here that should have his personal attention, and I'll be blessed if I'll stand seeing him neglect them! I'm a western man myself, Worth; and you know we do things in this country."
"You are interested in The King's Basin Company?"
The answer was given in a tone of tolerant surprise that any one should think he would toy with a thing of such trifling importance. "Me? Oh no!--that is, not directly you understand. But I am deeply interested in the development of the country. Let me show you a little of what we are doing here. It's amazing how the world outside fails utterly to grasp the magnitude of the enterprise. Even the newspapers are criminally negligent. Quite recently I had occasion to tell my good friend, the editor of the Times, that if he didn't give us something like a fair showing I would see to it personally that the bulk of our business went to San Felipe. It's a burning shame the way they have persistently ignored us."
Mr. Worth made an ineffectual attempt to escape but the white vest blocked his move. Pointing to a half-finished building on the nearest corner, the great one explained in the tone of a personal conductor: "That is our new hotel--one of the finest buildings in the southwest. The young man who will run it for us is personally superintending the construction. Bright boy, too. You must let me introduce you to him."
Jefferson Worth, gazing at the modest building under construction, murmured: "You are interested, you say?"
"Oh no; that is--only in a way, you understand. I have a hand in most of these enterprises."
"This town needs a good hotel," said Mr. Worth, mildly.
"That building farther down--the one where the foundation is just completed--is our Opera House. It is being erected by one of the big Coast syndicates and will be a magnificent hall of amusement and entertainment as well as a place for public gatherings of all kinds. I have been in close personal touch with the men in charge of the enterprise and they understand that we will tolerate nothing that is not first class."
"The people need such a building," was the quiet comment.
"In the block opposite our bank will be located. They will be working on the vault in another two weeks. While the building is well under way, as you see, the organization of the institution is not yet made public. Only a few of us on the inside, you understand, know who is back of the enterprise."
"I see," said Jefferson Worth. "A bank is a good thing for the country."
Pointing up the street, the great one in the white vest continued: "There you see the office of our paper--The King's Basin Messenger. The machinery is being installed now. I'm mighty proud of the young man who is starting that work. He will be a credit to us I promise you. Directly opposite is The King's Basin Land and Irrigation Company building with the offices of the Company. You must let me introduce you to the manager, Mr. Burk, and to Holmes, the engineer. Come, we will go over there now." He started forward with perspiring energy, but Jefferson Worth, seizing the opportunity, gained the doorway of the store and vanished.
For two weeks Mr. Worth seemed to devote his time wholly to his store. Though Deck Jordan still continued the active management, it was generally understood that Mr. Worth, having but recently purchased the establishment, retained Deck until, as it was generally expressed, he got the run of the business. At an old desk in a cubby-hole of an office roughly partitioned off in one corner of the room, the financier spent nearly every hour of the day apparently poring over his accounts.
Here the Manager from across the street found him when he called to explain to Mr. Worth the advantage of an alliance between the store and the Company. Mr. Burk did not stay long, but upon his return to his office wrote a long, confidential letter to his superiors. The thoughtful Manager's letters to his superiors were always confidential.
Willard Holmes also called to pay his respects; to inquire whether Miss Worth was well; and--as Holmes put it to himself when he was again safely outside the building--to turn himself inside out for the critical inspection of the man who hid behind that gray mask.
So far as the Manager of The King's Basin Land and Irrigation Company observed, Jefferson Worth, beside buying the store, made only one small investment. He purchased from the Company a small tract of land just inside the limits of the townsite. Then almost before Mr. Burk knew that it was before them, the town council passed an ordinance granting permission to the Worth Electric Company to place their poles and to stretch wires on the streets of the town, and the first issue of The King's Basin Messenger announced with a great flourish of trumpets that Kingston was to have lights.
The article explained that Mr. Abe Lee, the well known engineer, formerly with the K. B. L. and I. Company, would have charge of the construction work and would push it with his usual energy. For some time Mr. Lee had been in the city arranging for material, which would be shipped immediately. Mr. Worth had stated to the Messenger that Mr. Lee would return to Kingston in a day or two and would break ground for the power plant at once. The Messenger also gave an interesting history of Jefferson Worth's successful career from farm-boy to financier with an appreciation of his character and congratulated the citizens that a man of such financial strength and genius had come to invest the fruit of his toil in the new country.
Mr. Burk read the Messenger's article thoughtfully. Then Mr. Burk wrote another confidential letter to his superiors.
Over this enterprise of Jefferson Worth, as set forth in the Messenger, the citizens were enthusiastic. Horace P. Blanton was more than enthusiastic. Meeting Mr. Burk as the latter was returning to his office after dinner he blocked the Manager's way with his white vest and, wiping the sweat of honest endeavor from his brow, delivered himself. "Well, sir; we landed it. Biggest thing that ever happened to Kingston. Double our population in three months. I told my friend Worth that they would have to come through with that franchise whether they wanted to or not, and by George! we landed it. There was nothing else to do."
The Manager thoughtfully flicked the ashes from his cigar. "And what is this that you have landed?"
"What! haven't you heard? Have you seen the Messenger?" He drew a paper from his pocket and placed a finger on the headlines: "Electric Lights for Kingston."
The Manager shifted his cigar to the corner of his mouth and, casting his head in the opposite direction, surveyed the excited Horace P. as an artist might view an interesting picture. "So you are interested in the Worth Electric Company?"
"Oh no; that is, not exactly, you know. My name will not appear in the company. But Jeff and I are very warm friends, you understand, and for the sake of Kingston I am bound to take an interest in his enterprise."
At this the thoughtful Mr. Burk became suddenly confidential. Tapping his companion impressively on the arm and speaking in a low tone of vast import, he said: "Blanton, be careful; be careful. Don't get into Worth's schemes too deeply. A man of your standing and influence, you know, can't afford to play into the hands of a four-flusher."
Then the Manager of The King's Basin Land and Irrigation Company slipped easily away before the other could reply.
Three minutes later the man in the big white vest overtook the Company's chief engineer in the doorway of the restaurant. "Good morning, Holmes; good morning." The simple greeting seemed to come from a great heart that was fairly staggering under a burden of other people's woes.
As the boy placed their dinners before them, Horace P. Blanton, shaking his massive head, murmured sadly: "It's a burning shame, Holmes; a burning shame."
"The coffee, you mean?" queried the engineer, digging up a spoonful of sediment from the bottom of his heavy cup and inspecting it critically. "It looks shameful, all right; and it may have been overheated some time in past ages, but the temperature doesn't appear to be above normal to-day."
The big man did not smile; his burden was too heavy. "I mean," he explained, "the way these four-flushers come in here and attempt to work their graft right under our eyes. Did you hear about this man Worth getting that franchise out of the council? I did my level best, but what's the use. It's all as plain as day but you can't hammer an idea into the boneheads that run this town. I had a little talk with Burk over the matter this morning. He agrees with me perfectly. We've got to take hold of this thing, Mr. Holmes, or the town will go to the dogs. I wish Greenfield would come on."
The engineer agreed heartily that it might be well to take hold of something. But what? That was the rub--what? He gently intimated that if Horace P. Blanton could not find a way to avert the awful calamity that threatened the public, the public was in a bad way. Clearly it was up to Horace P. to save Kingston.
The dinner over the men separated quickly: the man in the white vest to carry the burden of Kingston's future on his fat shoulders, and the engineer to inspect the work at Dry River Heading.
The evening of the third day after Abe Lee's return to Kingston the surveyor and his employer were in Mr. Worth's office. The work of excavation for the foundation of the power plant would begin in the morning, and Mr. Worth had planned to leave town the following morning for a week's business trip to the city.
The two men were interrupted in their conversation by a loud familiar voice on the store side of the board partition.
"Busy, be they? Well, fwhat the divil should they be but busy? Do ye suppose I thought they was a-playin' dominoes?"
Abe grinned at his employer. They both listened.
Deck Jordan's voice said: "But you better not go in now, boys. They will be through in a little while."
"Go in? Who the hell's talkin' av goin' in? Do ye think, ye danged counter-hopper, that we've no manners at all? For a sup o' wather I'd go over to ye wid me two hands!"
And another softer voice drawled: "Run along Deck. Me an' my pardner promises not to turn violent or break into the sanctuary. We'll just camp here peaceful 'til the meetin's over."
Abe chuckled. "I knew they would be along as soon as they heard the news." He lifted his voice. "Come in, boys."
Instantly Barbara's "uncles" appeared. "We axes yer pardon, Sorr, for not comin' before to pay our respects, but we only heard yestherday that ye was in the counthry. Ye see, afther we finished at the river we was transferred over on Number Three at the tail end av nowhere an' knew nothin' at all 'til someone brung into camp the paper that towld about yer doin's. An' how is our little girl?"
"Very well," said Mr. Worth. "She told me to be sure and remember her to you."
"I saw her the other day," said Abe. "She sent you both her love."
"Well, now, fwhat do ye think av that? Tex, ye danged owld sand rat, ut's proud av yersilf ye should be to be the uncle av sich a darlin'. An' tell us now, Sorr, fwhat's this I hear about yer buildin' a power plant for electric lights, or street cars, or somethin'? We thought that the lad here left the danged counthry for good, an' sarves thim danged yellow-legs that boss the Company right for not knowin' a man whin they see wan."
"We begin work in the morning. Abe is in charge."
"Hurroo!" exclaimed the delighted Irishman. "An' ut's men ye'll be wantin' av course; wan to handle the greasers, which is cake to me, an' wan to boss the mule skinners, which is pie for Tex. I'm thinkin' the Company will be short handed at Number Three in the mornin'."
"I have been holding these places open for you," Abe laughed. "If I could get hold of Pablo, now, I would be all right. Barbara said to be sure and get him too. He's still at Dry River Heading, I hear."
As the two were leaving Texas Joe said to Abe: "Are you plumb certain Pablo is at the Heading?"
"That's what one of the crew told me to-day."
"Well, then I reckon he'll be along pronto."
The next morning when Abe went to the site of the work the first man he saw was Barbara's friend, Pablo. The Mexican greeted the surveyor with a show of white teeth.
"Did you come to work?" asked Abe.
"Si, Senor. Senor Texas he come las' night with two horses. He say Senor Abe want you quick, Pablo. La Senorita say you come. So I am come pronto, like he say."
"Texas Joe went for you last night?" repeated Abe.
"Si, Senor. If you want me come--if La Senorita want me come--Senor Tex he go tell me come. I come. It is no much ride for vaqueros like Senor Tex and me."
"But you have your job with the Company?"
The Mexican shrugged his shoulders and his teeth showed. "Senor Worth and Senores Lee and Tex and Pat good company for Pablo. Beside, is there not La Senorita? She was good to me when I was sick with no one to help. Do not we all--Senores Lee and Tex and Pat, and Senor Worth and me--do not we all work for La Senorita in La Palma de la Mano de Dios? Is it not so? Beside I think sometime La Senorita come--then I would be near. In the Company there is no Senorita."