Chapter XVI. Jefferson Worth's Operations.
 

The crowd that waited in front of the new hotel for the arrival of the stage, the evening James Greenfield came to Kingston, was unusually large. The King's Basin Messenger had announced the coming of the promoter and president of The King's Basin Land and Irrigation Company and the pioneers had assembled to see the famous capitalist whose power in the money world was making possible the reclamation of the desert.

Mr. Greenfield's greeting in the lobby, under the perspiring efforts of Horace P. Blanton, soon assumed the proportions of a public reception. With his Manager to introduce the prominent citizens, and Horace P., who was never farther than a yard from the capitalist's elbow to assist in receiving them, the man from New York entered graciously into the spirit of the occasion. And when the man in the white vest, intoxicated by the atmosphere of greatness, burst forth in a speech of welcome, setting forth the wonders of The King's Basin, the marvelous growth and future of Kingston, the greatness of Greenfield and--quite incidentally--the greatness of Horace P, Blanton, all in behalf of the people, the Easterner replied with a few modest remarks, in which he hinted at even greater things to come, promising by subtle suggestion unlimited wealth for all who would invest their money and their lives in The King's Basin project.

Then Mr. Greenfield slipped away with Willard Holmes to his room. The friendship between the engineer's own parents and his benefactor had been lifelong and very close. It was a story, years ago forgotten by the world, of how Grace Winton had chosen one of the two college chums and why the other had never married. In the repeated business failures of his old schoolmate and the consequent loss of his fortune the successful financier had proven himself many times a friend in need, and through the long illness of the man who had been successful in winning the woman they both loved, Greenfield, with his wealth, had been steadfast in his thoughtful care. When baby Willard's mother died soon after the death of his father, she--knowing the heart of the man whose love for her had kept him childless--committed to him her only child, and Greenfield, accepting the trust, had taken the boy into his life and heart as his own son.

After the loss of William Greenfield, his only brother, James Greenfield--whose power in the financial world was steadily increasing--had no one to intimately share his success but young Holmes, and when Willard had finished his school and chosen his profession the older man used the influence of his own position to give the young engineer every advantage.

As the two men faced each other now after the longest separation they had ever known, the Company's president studied his chief engineer with interest.

"Well, Willard, my boy," he said at last; "how do you like it? Say, but you are looking fine. You always were a handsome youngster but you're--you're improving, young man. I'm blessed if you don't look like a work of art done in bronze." He laughed with the pleasure of his own conceit and the other laughed with him.

"Wait until this sun gets a shot at you, Uncle Jim."

"Humph! I suppose you think it will make me into some sort of an hideous old idol. I don't propose to stay long enough to give it a chance," he added grimly, and as he finished a shadow fell over his face and the laughter died out of his voice.

"What's the matter; don't you like the West, Uncle Jim?"

"I hate it, and with good reason. Don't you get too interested out here, Willard. We'll clean up a nice little pile out of this scheme and get back home where we belong. I miss you like the deuce, boy!"

The engineer started to say something about the work, but Greenfield held up his hand. "Not a word about business to-night, Willard. We'll take that up to-morrow. Tell me where I can get a shave and then we'll have dinner and after that a quiet evening together."

Holmes laughed. "We have a barber, all right, Uncle Jim. He landed with his outfit this afternoon. There was no place for him, and the freighter unloaded him on a vacant lot about a block west of the hotel. It's been a long time since most of us have seen a real barber and the boys couldn't wait. Trade came with such a rush that he set up his chair in the street and has been doing a land-office business ever since. They say he's all right, too, but it looks funny."

Mr. Greenfield, his curiosity aroused and being really in need of a shave, sought out the shopless barber. He was easily found, for the crowd that had gathered to witness the arrival of the great financier, James Greenfield, had already drifted to the scene of Kingston's other chief attraction. Piled in a vacant lot was the necessary furniture for a well-equipped shop, but only the chair was in use. A goods-box nearby held the instruments of the craft while a bucket of water, a tin basin, and a supply of towels completed the arrangements. The delighted crowd filled the air with good natured chaff and laughter as the customers compared notes and attempted to express their emotion at finding themselves properly groomed.

Mr. Greenfield, highly amused at the novel sight, pushed his way well into the circle.

"Next!" shouted the man with the brush and razors in a voice that was heard a block away.

Some joker shouted: "Your turn, Mr. Greenfield," and "Greenfield! Greenfield!" chimed the crowd.

Amid yells of delight the president of The King's Basin Land and Irrigation Company took his place in the chair.

As the barber worked he talked. Never before in all his professional career had he been so prominently in the public eye. "Yes sir, gents, I'm here to tell you that that there man, Jefferson Worth, is a prince--a prince. Let me tell you what he done for me. You see things was gone all to the bad. Looked like every way I turned I went up against it proper, and first thing I knowed my furniture was piled out on the sidewalk and Mr. Sheriff he was a-sellin' it. Well, sir, Mr. Worth he happened to come along just as they begun to ask for bids and I'm darned if he didn't take the whole works just as if he had done nothin' but buy barber shops all his life. I was layin' low in the crowd, watchin', you see; and there was somethin' about him--the way he stopped and bid the stuff in, or somethin', I dunno what--that struck me, so I edged alongside and says, says I: 'Are you a barber?' Whew! the minute he looked at me I seen my mistake, but he never batted a eye. 'Not yet,' he says. 'This is a pretty good outfit, ain't it?' 'You bet it is,' says I. 'It was mine a few minutes ago.' An' then I tells him how I was up against it an' asks what he was goin' to do with the stuff. 'I'm goin' to ship it to Kingston in The King's Basin country,' says he. 'We need a good barber down there and I figured that if I got the shop ready I could find the man to run it. How would you like to tackle the job? I'll send you and your outfit to Kingston and sell you your shop on good time, too, for just what it cost me.' An' here I am--Next!"

Mr. Greenfield slipped from the chair and silently tendered the talkative barber a five dollar bill. As the barber was counting out the change the eastern financier heard behind him murmurs of hearty approval and admiration of Jefferson Worth. The barber's story had made a deep impression and certainly no one in the crowd was more deeply impressed than was the president of The King's Basin Land and Irrigation Company.

At dinner that evening the boy with the weekly edition of the Messenger came into the dining room. Mr. Burk, taking his copy, glanced once at the first page, folded it carefully and laid the sheet before his employer with the headlines of a leading article uppermost.

Mr. Greenfield read: "The Citizens Bank of Kingston--Jefferson Worth owns the building opposite the opera house and has organized a bank."

Mr. Greenfield did not need to read further.

"Who did you say was building the opera house block?" he asked the Manager.

"It is owned by a syndicate. The local man in charge sits at that table in the corner"--he nodded toward a clean, solid-looking young fellow, who was enjoying his dinner and chatting with Abe Lee.

In the lobby, a few minutes later, Greenfield whispered to Holmes: "Introduce me to that young man, Willard."

His order was easily obeyed and soon, in a corner, the president and his new acquaintance were chatting pleasantly over cigars furnished by the New Yorker.

"That building of yours seems to be a very creditable piece of work," offered Greenfield. "The investment ought to pay big later on. But isn't it rather heavy for the present size of the town?"

The other smiled pleasantly. "True; but you see we are not building it for a town of this size, Mr. Greenfield. We expect Kingston to grow rapidly and we realize the importance of being on the ground first."

"That's right, too," returned Greenfield. "With the capital to do it that is undoubtedly the right plan. I understand you represent a Coast syndicate."

Again the young man smiled. "That is the general understanding, Mr. Greenfield, and until to-night I have not been at liberty to contradict it. I can tell you now, however, that the syndicate which is putting up that building is Mr. Jefferson Worth."

Greenfield was too well-schooled to give vent to the slightest expression of surprise. His tone was courtesy itself as he replied: "Indeed? Mr. Worth seems to be doing a great deal for Kingston."

Then the talk shifted easily into other channels until the president found opportunity to leave his companion. Rejoining his Manager and Holmes, Greenfield requested Burk's presence in his room and, once there, threw aside the mask of politeness, making it clearly evident, in words chosen for forcefulness rather than politeness, that he did not approve of the situation that had developed under the thoughtful Manager's eye.

"And now," he finished, "send the proprietor of this hotel up here."

The uncomfortable Burk obeyed. When the landlord arrived with an anxious face, Greenfield was his courteous, affable self again.

"Mr. Wheeler," he said, "there is a little business proposition I wish to lay before you while I am here and I thought it better to mention it this evening so that you can have time to think it over and give me your answer before I leave. I can see, of course, that this hotel, building and all, represents quite an investment and that, for a time, the returns will not be large. I don't know, of course, how much capital you have to swing it, but I can see that without good, substantial backing the enterprise might not hold up, which would be very bad for the reputation of the town in which, as you know, our Company is so heavily interested. Now if we could bring about some alliance between you and the Company it would be a good thing all around, do you see?"

"Yes sir, I see. This is a big undertaking for Kingston as conditions are now, but later it is bound to be a good paying investment and we realize the importance of getting in on the ground floor. But I am not at liberty to consider or make any proposition whatever until I have consulted the owner--"

"The owner?"

"Yes, sir."

"I was told that you were the proprietor. Your name is on the hotel stationery."

"I have only a very small interest. My associate would not permit his name to be used at all. I may tell you, however, confidentially, that Mr. Worth owns the building and practically all the hotel equipment. You can easily place your proposition before him. Whatever he does I am bound to accept."

James Greenfield chewed his cigar in savage silence. Clearly it was time that he visited his town.

"Do you know where Mr. Worth is this evening??' he asked as mildly as he could speak.

"In his office, I think."

"Would you be good enough to send him a message that I would like to see him on a matter of importance? I will wait in my room."

"Certainly, sir."

When the landlord was gone the president of The King's Basin Land and Irrigation Company walked the floor, carefully reviewing his dealings with Jefferson Worth from the beginning. So this was what the banker had "up his sleeve" when he declined to join the Company!

He was interrupted by the boy with Mr. Worth's answer. Mr. Worth would be in his office at the store until ten o'clock.

The eastern capitalist made his way to the little room in the store where Jefferson Worth sat at his battered old desk. "How do you do?"

"Sit down," came the colorless greeting as the western man with one hand closed the door and with the other motioned toward the chair at the end of the desk. Then seating himself again in his own chair he waited behind his mask.

"Well, Mr. Worth, I see you decided to come into the Basin after all."

"I concluded to make a few small investments," came the exact reply.

Greenfield laughed shortly. "Yes--this store, the electric power plant and system, the bank building and bank, the opera house block, the hotel, the telephone system--" The Company president's tone and manner were intended to imply that he understood clearly the other's attitude and that he recognized a fellow-craftsman. "Come now, Worth; let's get down to good business. It's poor policy for you and me to go against each other. You know what there is in it for all of us if we hang together and you know as well as I that we can't afford, and that we don't want, to fight each other. What sort of a deal will it take to get you into the Company? I tell you squarely, we are going to make it almighty hot for any independent operator who tries to start in here."

"I must decline to consider any proposition at all from the Company, Mr. Greenfield."

In the silence that followed Greenfield sought in vain to look back of that gray mask. He felt for the first time in his business career powerless to make the next move in the game and somewhere back in his active brain a warning signal flashed: "Go slow!"

"Very well, Mr. Worth," he said at last, rising to go. "When you are ready to consider the matter let me know. In the meantime"--he shrugged his shoulders and smiled--"good night."

Outside the store Greenfield paused irresolutely as one hesitates whose mind is too preoccupied to direct his steps. Then his eye caught the gleam of light from the printing office across the street next to the Company building.

A moment later he greeted the young man who edited and published the Messenger. "You seem to be pretty well fixed here," offered Greenfield after the usual greetings. "Seems to me your prospects are mighty good for a young man. Your profits ought to be big if you can hold on and grow with the development of the country."

"Yes sir, I feel that our chances are good. Kingston is growing rapidly and we are in on the ground floor."

Greenfield looked at him sharply as he uttered the now familiar expression. "You have all the capital you need?"

"We are doing very well so far."

"I have been looking your paper over with some care," the president went on, "and I believe you have the right idea. A newspaper is a powerful factor in a great enterprise like this and of course I am anxious that everything that makes for the advancement of our project should succeed. I would be sorry to see you crippled in any way for lack of funds. If you are open to consider the matter I should be glad to take a good big interest with you and to undertake to back you handsomely."

"I don't think my partner, who really furnished all the capital, would sell, sir."

"Ah! Then you are not alone?"

"No sir. Mr. Jefferson Worth practically owns the plant."

The first thing that met Mr. Greenfield's eye as he stepped through the doorway on his return to the hotel was the broad back of Horace P. Blanton, who--carried away as usual by the importance of the occasion--was "orating" to a group of strangers. It should be said that, save when the Kingston citizens were in a certain mood, Horace "orated" usually to strangers. In this case so convincing was his logic, so eloquent his flights of rhetoric, so irresistible his appeals, that Greenfield saw the fat neck of him, where it showed between the fat shoulder and the picture-general hat, grow red with the fierceness of his eloquence.

"There is no question in the world, gentlemen, that by long odds the most able financier in the West to-day is my friend, Mr. Jefferson Worth. His startling genius as a captain of industry is equaled only by his splendid public spirit and his magnificent generosity to everyone who needs a helping hand. Look what he has accomplished for Kingston, while only a few of us who were on the inside knew what he was doing--our opera house, our bank, our newspaper, our telephone lines, our ice plant, and our power plant--which to-morrow night for the first time will illuminate the heavens. Think of it! electric lights in the midst of a desert that, since God made it, has known only the light of the stars. I maintain, gentlemen, that it is the duty of every soul in The King's Basin to be present at the celebration of the splendid accomplishment and in honor to my friend, Worth. Not only has this wizard given us in Kingston the blessings of modern civilization, but there is scarcely a rancher for miles around whom he has not aided materially by furnishing him with needed supplies from the big department store, or by advancing him necessary capital. I am proud, gentlemen--proud, to call such a public benefactor my friend. Kingston is proud of her most distinguished citizen; the whole King's Basin country is proud of him. I--Oh, excuse me a minute, gentlemen; as I see my friend, Mr. Greenfield, the president of The King's Basin Land and Irrigation Company, has just arrived."

Greenfield made an effort to escape. He had heard quite enough. But it was useless. The white-vested bulk of the orator barred the way; the kingly countenance of Horace P. Blanton compelled recognition. "My dear Greenfield, how are you?" The voice was the anxious voice of unmistakable disinterested affection. "You have arrived at a most auspicious moment. I have promised our people that you would address them at the public meeting to-morrow evening in the opera house."

"It is impossible, Mr.--Ah! Mr. Blanton; I never make public speeches."

Before Greenfield had finished his curt reply the perspiring one had him by the arm in friendly familiarity, and with the president's last word the answer came in a low, confidential tone of complete understanding. "Of course you understand that I have arranged this little affair simply to encourage every one to do his part to boom Kingston. It is to our interest, you know, to keep things going."

Until a late hour the president of The King's Basin Land and Irrigation Company, with his General Manager and chief engineer, in the Manager's private office, discussed Jefferson Worth's operations and his growing influence in The King's Basin country. James Greenfield had evidently forgotten his determination to spend the evening with Willard Holmes.

It was notable that the president and his Manager did most of the talking. The engineer was, for the most part, a silent listener. When appealed to directly he answered briefly, giving such information as he had at his command, and several times his answers caused Greenfield to look at him with questioning sharpness.

Once the older man remarked: "I believe you wrote me, Burk, that Worth's daughter had arrived and that they are to make their home in Kingston. Is she likely to prove a factor in the matter of her father's popularity and influence? Sometimes a woman, you know--"

Burk's cigar shifted to the corner of his mouth and his head was cocked to one side. "Ask Holmes," he muttered with a grin.

"I think you'd better leave Miss Worth out of this, Uncle Jim," said Holmes so sharply that Barbara's name was not mentioned again. Which does not mean at all that Greenfield had dismissed the matter from his mind.

"You have that South Central District survey ready?" he asked.

"I believe the boys have it in shape," answered Burk. The engineer laid a map before them, explained the boundaries of the proposed district, the line of the proposed canal, and on another sheet pointed out the character of the land with the elevations that made irrigation of the larger part of the tract impossible.

"You can vouch for the correctness of these figures, Willard?" asked Greenfield at last.

"Certainly, sir. Black is one of the best men we have."

"And it is your opinion that it would be a heavy loss to the Company to build this canal and attempt to develop this section?"

"I am sure that it would, sir. The district is practically worthless."

"All right, boys; that will be all for this evening. We will start on that inspection tour day after to-morrow instead of in the morning as I had planned. I have a little business with our friend Worth to-morrow morning."