The Winning of Barbara Worth by Harold Bell Wright
Chapter XXI. Pablo Brings News to Barbara.
All through the long hot months of that second summer Barbara stayed in the desert with her father. Many times Mr. Worth insisted that she should go to the coast or the mountains for a few weeks, while Abe, Texas and Pat added their entreaties. But the young woman's answer was always--to her father: "If you must stay, daddy, then I must stay to take care of you;" to Abe it was: "Why don't you take a vacation? This is just as much my work as it is yours;" to Texas it was a laughing question whether he thought she was a "quitter," and to Pat she always declared that the desert could not in the least hurt her complexion.
"And look at the other women," she would argue. There was Jack Hanson's little wife, with their children, in a twelve by fourteen tent out there on their claim alone all day and many nights, while Jack was on the work. And Mrs. White, who stoutly declared that she was "sure going to stand by her Jim if it burned her to a crisp," and that they did not have the money to spend even if they could leave the crops they had managed to plant. And Mrs. Rollins and Mrs. Baird and Mrs. Cole and the others, who were holding down their husbands' claims while the men were earning money on the works to help them in getting their start. Surely if these women could stay with their men-folk Barbara could. So Mr. Worth let her have her way. And the other three strove among themselves, with varied and picturesque figures of speech, and--it must be confessed--some rather strong language, to express their admiration for her courage and endurance, while all four taxed their inventive powers to the limit devising ways to add to her comfort.
The work in the South Central District continued steadily with no delay through lack of help, and when the canal was finished and the water ready, the men who had built it turned to making the ditches on their own claims, leveling their land for irrigation, preparing for the first crops and making what other improvements they could. Meanwhile the new townsite was laid out on the ground already occupied by the headquarters camp and the camp itself became the town of "Barba."
But, perhaps because--as Pablo said--"there was no Senorita in the Company," Greenfield's chief engineer again found it hard to hold his men through the hot months and was obliged to discontinue work on their Central Main. Holmes himself spent the weeks of the flood season at the river, refusing to leave even for a day. Three times, when conditions at the intake and heading were most critical and the danger that threatened the unconscious settlers seemed imminent, the engineer sent for Abe Lee, while Texas, Pat and Pablo were instructed by Mr. Worth to be ready at an hour's notice to move the entire working force of the district to the scene of the expected disaster.
And still, even through those trying times Jefferson Worth continued his operations in all parts of the Basin and started various enterprises in his new town with the conviction of a born fatalist, though he almost constantly now, except when he was with Barbara, wore that expressionless gray mask. Abe Lee's thin face, burned dark by constant exposure to the fierce desert sun, had a look of watchful readiness. And Barbara, seeing, thought that it was all because of the strain of their own work, for even Barbara was not told of the terrible risk that the Company was forcing the pioneers to take.
Meanwhile James Greenfield and the Company officials, from the outside, watched the situation with the calmness of professional gamblers watching the turn of the cards. Though he did not come into the desert during the summer, the Company president spent most of his time in the West now, for the Reclamation project launched by him was assuming such proportions that his personal attention was justified. Only one thing more was needed to bring such a flood of land-seekers, speculators and investors that the Company's immense profits would be assured. The new country must have a railroad.
To this end, in the city by the sea, the eastern financier was bringing every influence he could command to bear upon the officials of the Southwestern and Continental that skirted the rim of the Basin. But the great man who shaped the destinies of the S. & C., secure in the knowledge that his road controlled the only pass through the range of mountains that shut in the new country, for some reason refused to build a branch line into the territory in which Mr. Greenfield was so deeply interested.
James Greenfield, himself a power of the first magnitude in the financial world, was always admitted to the presence of the railroad man without delay and was always received by the official with every courtesy. His statements as to the extent and value of the lands that were being developed by his Company, with his estimates of the volume of business that a branch line would bring to the Southwestern and Continental, were received without question. The railroad man even betrayed unusual interest in the reclamation of The King's Basin Desert, with a knowledge of conditions almost as complete as Mr. Greenfield's. Frequently he asked of Jefferson Worth's operations and of the development of the South Central District. But always he shook his head when Greenfield urged immediate action. There were certain reasons; he was not at liberty to go into details. Some day no doubt the branch line would be built, but he could make no promises.
This was the situation in the fall when, with the danger from the river past and his canals finished, Jefferson Worth sought an interview with the president of The King's Basin Land and Irrigation Company at his office in the Coast city.
Mr. Greenfield received the banker cordially, congratulated him upon the success of his South Central District work and prophesied great things for everybody interested in The King's Basin project.
Jefferson Worth, behind his gray mask, at once made known the object of his visit. He wished to secure from the Company the right to take water from their Central Main for a small power house to be located in the Dry River wash. Mr. Worth explained frankly the advantage it would give the new town of Barba, in which he was interested, and stated that he had, some time before, laid his proposition before the Company's manager in order that Mr. Greenfield might be informed of the matter.
Greenfield said that he had heard from Mr. Burk and that he thought it might be arranged. Then, while Jefferson Worth listened with his usual careful attention, the Company man set forth their great need of a railroad. And by the way; was Mr. Worth personally acquainted with the man who controlled the S. & C.?
"I know of him," came the cautious reply.
"Well, Mr. Worth," said the president; "I'll tell you what we'll do. We need that railroad and we need it now. So far I have failed to get any definite promise from the S. & C. that they will give us a branch line. If you can secure a railroad for the Basin this year, we will give you the right of way for your power canal and a contract for the water."
"Is that your only proposition?"
"That is my only proposition."
The president of The King's Basin Land and Irrigation Company would have been astonished if he could have witnessed the meeting of Jefferson Worth and the railroad man an hour later.
"Hello, Jeff!" came in hearty tones from the official as the door of his private office closed behind the banker. "How are you? I hear that Greenfield sold you a gold brick."
Mr. Worth smiled while the other laughed heartily. "I tell you, Jeff, we little Westerners have got to watch out for these big eastern operators or they'll take the whole blamed country away from us."
"The gold brick is panning out pretty well so far," said the banker.
"So I understand. Crawford has been telling me all about it. In fact the whole King's Basin proposition looks mighty good to me, except for that New York bunch. I'm afraid of them, Jeff. Greenfield has been camping on my trail for three months, wanting us to build them a branch line. I told Crawford yesterday that it was about time for you to come around."
"When are you going to build that road?" asked Mr. Worth.
The other shook his head. "Can't do it, Jeff. You know the situation as well as I. If the river comes in the whole country will go to smash; and with the class of structures they have put in to control it and with an eastern engineer in charge, it's too big a chance. The S. & C. is not spending money to help out wild-cat projects promoted by eastern capital."
"But if you give us the branch line it will insure the success of the project, for it will make the Company property so valuable that they will spend more money to protect it."
"Or"--added the other--"we would have to spend more money to protect it. I'm sorry Jeff, if that's what you have been figuring on, but we are not an insurance company--we are in the transportation business."
"Then you won't build into the Basin?"
"Not under existing conditions, Jeff."
With as little show of emotion as he would have exhibited had he merely proposed to purchase a morning paper, Jefferson Worth said: "All right, then I'll build it myself."
The railroad man knew that the quietly spoken words meant that the banker had determined to stake everything he had in the world upon a chance that even the S. & C., with its unlimited capital, refused to take. With his already large investments in the new country, the building of the railroad would tax Worth's resources to the very limit and the failure of the Company's project would mean for him financial ruin.
During the flood season just past Jefferson Worth had seen the safety of the Reclamation work hanging on a very slender thread. Every hour he had looked for the disaster that would bring to nothing all that had been accomplished by the desert pioneers, whose ruin he would share, yet he calmly proposed now to throw into the venture everything that years of unceasing toil had brought him--his capital, his credit, his reputation.
"Don't do it, Jeff," said his friend. "You are in deep enough now. Better keep an anchor to windward."
"I figured on taking a chance when I went into that country," said Worth simply. It was as if he had foreseen this situation from the very beginning and had planned how he would meet it. The railroad man's face expressed his admiration for this display of nerve.
"If I can do anything for you let me know, Jeff."
"Thanks. If you would just not mention to anyone that I am connected with this for a little while."
"Oh, I see. Greenfield again, I suppose? What are you up to anyway, Jeff; buying another gold brick?"
Worth explained his plan for a power plant and Greenfield's proposition.
"Hell!" exclaimed the dignified official. "You can't tell me that you are going to build a railroad into Greenfield's town just to get a dinky little power plant in your own district. I'm not from New York, Jeff."
To which Jefferson Worth answered from behind his mask: "The Basin needs a railroad."
The next day Greenfield sought the railroad office in haste. "I understand that you have decided to build that branch road."
The official, who had received his guest with the dignified courtesy befitting one of his position, smiled at the other's manner as a gracious sovereign might smile on granting a subject's petition.
Greenfield accepted the smile as an assent. "May I ask when you will begin the work?"
"I cannot say exactly, Mr. Greenfield. The survey will probably be made at once and the work begun as soon as it is possible to assemble men and material."
When The King's Basin Messenger announced that the survey was being made for a railroad from the main line of the S. & C. at Deep Well to Kingston, it did not mention the fact that Abe Lee was in charge of the work. And James Greenfield, who signed the promised contract following the announcement, did not learn until the next issue of the Messenger that the road was not being built by the S. & C. but by Jefferson Worth himself.
Quickly the news that the railroad was building into The King's Basin was spread by the papers throughout the surrounding country and from every side the swelling flood of life poured in. Every section of the new lands felt the influence of the rush. For miles around the towns, every vacant tract was seized by the incoming settlers. Townsite companies quickly laid out new towns, while in the towns already established new business blocks and dwellings sprang up as if some Aladdin had rubbed his lamp. Real estate values advanced to undreamed figures and the property was sold, re-sold and sold again. And Kingston, the heart and center of it all--Kingston, Texas Joe said, "went plumb locoed."
The name of Jefferson Worth was on every tongue. Was he not the wizard who commanded prosperity and wealth to wait upon The King's Basin? Was he not the Aladdin who rubbed the lamp?
Horace P. Blanton, who seemed to increase magically as if, indeed, he fed on the stuff of which booms are made, did not lack for audience now as he talked in rolling phrases of his friend Worth and what "we" had done, with suggestive hints of still greater things that "we" again would do. To see the great Horace P. in all the glory of white vest and picture-hat, as he escorted parties of awe- stricken newcomers about the town and pointed out with majestic gestures "our" opera house, "our" bank, "our" power house, "our" ice plant, the site of "our" new depot, was an experience never to be forgotten. To watch him give orders, when Pat was not near, to some laborer in the grading gang at work on the roadbed and yards or to see him instructing a merchant in the finer points of his business, was a delight. To hear him speak with authority upon every question relating to The King's Basin project, from the stage of the water in the river two years before the first survey, and the future plans of Jefferson Worth, to the chemical properties of the soil, the proper grade for irrigating alfalfa and the kinds and varieties of fruits and vegetables best adapted to the climate, was as instructive as it was interesting.
With the beginning of the work on the railroad, Barbara and her father again made their home in Kingston, and Horace P. Blanton, whenever he could escape from his arduous duties, endeavored earnestly to make himself agreeable to Jefferson Worth's daughter. There was no mistaking either his purpose or his perfect confidence in his ability to achieve success. Many and ingenious were the things that three members of Barbara's court promised each other should happen to Horace P.
It was on one of those afternoons, when the man with the white vest was making himself very much at home on the front porch of the Worth cottage, that Pablo riding in from the South Central District sought La Senorita. Dismounting from his tired horse the Mexican, his spurs clanking on the walk, approached Barbara, and with his sombrero brushing the ground greeted her in his native tongue, turning an inquiring eye meanwhile upon the portly Horace P.
Barbara returned his greeting in Spanish, following her words in English with: "This is Senor Blanton, Pablo. Mr. Blanton, this is my friend Pablo Garcia."
The white man acknowledged the introduction with a lordly gesture.
The Mexican, with a gleam of his white teeth said: "I have the pleasure to see the Senor sometimes before. He is what they call 'the booster.' I have hear him talk many times on street." Then to Barbara: "I am come quick, Senorita, to find Senor Worth or Senor Lee. You know if it is far to where they are? I ride fast. My horse is tired."
Before the young woman could answer, the big man, with a voice of authority, said: "You will find them out on the line of the railroad somewhere between here and Deep Well. Just follow the grade. You can't miss it."
Pablo should have considered himself dismissed but, ignoring Blanton, he waited for Barbara's answer. "I don't know just where they are, Pablo. You had better wait until they come in. Is there anything wrong?"
The Mexican shrugged his shoulders with another glance toward her companion. "I cannot say, Senorita. There is no what you call accident, but I think better I come."
"What is it, my man?" said Horace P., again interrupting. "I will see Mr. Worth about it as soon as he comes in. You have no business troubling Miss Worth."
Barbara's slippered toe tapped the floor nervously although Barbara was not a nervous young woman.
Pablo, with another shrug, said coldly: "It is to tell Senor Worth or Senor Lee that I come. If La Senorita tells me I trouble her that is different."
The young woman spoke. "Put your horse in the barn, Pablo, and then come in. I know you have had nothing to eat since morning and you are all tired out. Ynez is away, but I will find something for you and you can rest here until father comes."
Pablo retreated and Barbara rising, said: "You will excuse me, Mr. Blanton."
"Are you going to let that greaser spoil our afternoon?" he asked in a tone of offended majesty.
The girl laughed outright. "You are so funny when you puff yourself up that way and try to look so kingly. Pray how is this our afternoon? What is left of it belongs to Pablo. I am going to find him something to eat and then I mean to talk to him every minute until father comes. You may stay if you like, but we shall talk in Spanish."
The face of Horace P. Blanton expressed fat anguish. Rising, he went closer and stood over her with a look which he imagined to be a look of melting tenderness and, in a voice that fairly dripped with honeyed sweetness, he began: "Miss Worth--Barbara, I--"
"Sir!" If Barbara had shot the word at him from Texas Joe's forty- five it could not have been more effective.
"I--I beg your pardon, Miss Worth," he stammered. "Certainly, certainly; by all means, Miss Worth. Good-by."
And that was as near as Horace P. Blanton ever came to achieving the success of which he was so confident.
A few minutes later Pablo, without hesitation, told Barbara what had brought him to Kingston. A Mexican friend, who worked for The King's Basin Land and Irrigation Company, had overheard a conversation between the Company Manager and the chief engineer, who were together inspecting the work on the Central Main Canal. Dropping into his quaint English, Pablo repeated what his friend had told him.
"Senor Holmes he say: 'The canal will go here where the stakes are set.' Senor Burk say: 'No, you shall go that other way.' 'But that will leave the power house away eight miles and the elevation it is not the same,' say Senor Holmes. Senor Burk say: 'Power house is Mr. Worth's not our. This way is good for us.' 'Senor Holmes no like it. He is very mad,' say my friend. He say: 'I will not do it.' Then Senor Burk say: 'All right, you lose your job. Greenfield say it must go there; it is an order.' Then they go 'way and my friend he tell me 'cause he think maybe it is no good for power house. I think maybe so Senor Worth like to know."
The next morning Jefferson Worth called upon the Manager of The King's Basin Land and Irrigation Company.
"Mr. Burk, I understand that you are changing the line of your Central Canal."
"But my contract with your Company must be considered."
"We have already considered it, Mr. Worth. It relates only to the delivery of a certain amount of water into your canal. There is nothing in it that binds us to build our canal on the line surveyed."