Chapter XXV. Willard Holmes on Trial.
 

Scarcely had the train with Jefferson Worth aboard passed beyond the yard limits of Republic when the Manager of The King's Basin Land and Irrigation Company in Kingston was called to the telephone by the cashier of the bank in the Company's rival town. Ten minutes later a Western Union message in cipher went from Mr. Burk to James Greenfield in the city.

The afternoon of the following day Willard Holmes, at the Dry River Heading, was called to the telephone. Mr. Burk was at the other end of the line. "There is a telegram here from your Uncle Jim ordering you to go to the city on the first train. If you can make it, catch the four-twenty at Frontera. I'll pack your grip and give it to you when you go through."

Mr. Greenfield met the engineer at the depot in the city the next morning and escorted him to his rooms in a hotel. "I was almighty glad to get Burk's wire that you were on the road," said the older man. "I was afraid that he would not be able to find you in time; you go gadding about the country so. Where did he catch you?"

"Dry River Heading. My gadding takes me mostly there or to the intake heading these days. Just now I am trying to patch up the spillway which threatens to go out at any time altogether, and the heading itself is so shaky I'm almost afraid to touch it for fear it will fall down on top of me. No one ever dreamed that these structures would ever be called upon to stand the strain they are under now. I wish--"

"All right; all right, my boy; I think I've heard you say something like that before. I called you in to help me on a little deal that will put us in shape to build all the new structures you want."

"You mean that the Company is at last going to make the appropriation I have been begging for?"

"Not exactly. They will if we can handle one individual."

"Who?"

"Jefferson Worth."

"Jefferson Worth? What under heaven has he to do with the Company's appropriations?"

"He has a lot to do with the Company's profits, which amounts to the same thing."

At this Holmes was silent and his uncle was forced to continue: "You know what Worth has been doing to the Company, don't you?"

"Yes; and I know what the Company has been trying to do to him."

"Exactly. And do you know his present situation?"

"Only in a general way."

"Well, in a definite way then: he is here in the city trying to raise fifty thousand dollars. He must have it before the first of the month or go to smash. If he goes to smash the Company will be able to get hold of his interests, which will give us control of the whole King's Basin project as we planned in the beginning. Then we would be able to put what you want into the system. If Worth gets the fifty thousand he is safe to make a million or two that would otherwise go to the Company and we wouldn't feel justified in spending any more money on new structures."

"But Uncle Jim, what on earth have I to do with all this?"

"It happens that you have a whole lot to do with it my boy, or I wouldn't have called you away from your beloved headings. You remember old George Cartwright, don't you?"

Willard Holmes had grown to manhood with Cartwright's sons and his earliest memories were of boyish good times at the old gentleman's home. With James Greenfield, Mr. Cartwright had been one of his father's oldest and warmest friends. The engineer listened with amazed interest as Greenfield told him that his old friend was spending the winter on the coast, and that some one, the general manager of the S. & C., probably, had introduced Jefferson Worth to him.

"And," Greenfield finished, "they have him all lined up to furnish Worth with the capital he needs to go ahead. If he gets that money we will never be able to block him."

"But why don't you get Cartwright into your crowd, if he is so ready to invest in reclamation projects?" asked the engineer.

"I can't on account of White and some of the others. You know how cranky the old man is. Besides, we don't want him in the Company. What we want is to block Jefferson Worth from getting hold of that money. I sent for you because you can do more with Cartwright on this proposition than any man living."

"You mean that you have sent for me to influence Mr. Cartwright against Jefferson Worth's interests?"

"I mean that I expect you to use your influence in the interests of the Company--in my interests. Surely, Willard, that is not asking anything unreasonable."

"But Uncle Jim, you just said that if Worth gets this help he will clean up a million or two. That looks like it would be safe enough for Mr. Cartwright."

"Yes, and I said also that if Worth did not get that money the Company would acquire his interests in The King's Basin."

While the Company president was speaking a messenger boy knocked at the door. Greenfield read the note and handed it to Holmes, who in turn read: "Mr. Cartwright left this afternoon for San Felipe. Will probably return in a week. Worth is still in town."

"That means you must take a little vacation, Willard."

"But I can't, Uncle Jim," protested the engineer. "My work is in such shape that I--"

The older man interrupted. "Your work! You seem to think that there is nothing of importance to The King's Basin Land and Irrigation Company but drops and headings and intakes and canals, and the Lord knows what else, you mess around with! If you handle old Cartwright in the interests of the Company it will be the best week's work you ever did. He is likely to return any day, and you've got to stay right here and see this matter through."

All that day the engineer roamed about the city, striving to find distraction in the amusements offered but feeling strangely alone and out of place. Under other circumstances he would have keenly enjoyed the brief vacation and the change from the desert life and work, but now he could think of nothing but the situation in which he so unexpectedly found himself.

Once he would not have hesitated an instant to do Greenfield's bidding. Why should he hesitate now?

Why, indeed; save for this--Willard Holmes knew that it would be better for the people in the new country if Jefferson Worth continued his operations.

Willard Holmes's conception and understanding of his work as an engineer had changed materially in the years since those first days with Barbara in Rubio City, even as, under his hand, the desert itself had changed. It may have been that in his long, lonely rides across the great plain in the white light of the wide, cloudless sky, something of the spirit of the slow, silent ages that had wrought in the making of the desert had touched his spirit as it could not have been influenced by the smoke-clouded atmosphere and crowded highways of the East; or that in the lonely nights under the stars the weird, mysterious voices of the desert had taught him truths he had never heard in the noisy cries of the great cities. Perhaps, as he had looked day after day across the wide far-reaching miles with their seas and scarfs and veils of color to the purple mountains, the very greatness of the unpeopled lands forced him to a larger thinking and planning and dreaming than would have been possible in the limited views of his eastern homeland; or that the spirit of the hardy settlers awoke the blood of his own pioneer ancestors to a feeling of fellowship; or his constant struggle with the river aroused the old conquering spirit of his race. Or again it might be that some powerful chord, deep-hidden and silent in his nature, had been touched by the spirit of the girl who had bidden him learn the language of her country and who had said that she could never forgive one who was untrue to the work itself.

On the other hand there was the training of his whole professional career. Up to the beginning of The King's Basin work the engineer had known no other creed than the creed of those corporation servants who have no higher interest than that of the machine they serve. There was also his intimate relation with Mr. Greenfield and the debt of gratitude he owed the man who had, in every way, been a father to him. And there was the prejudice of class, the instinct that holds a man to his own peculiar people, and the argument cleverly advanced by Greenfield that the protection of The King's Basin project would be secured.

As the engineer was wandering, in the aimless and preoccupied manner of one whose mind is not on his task, through one of the city parks, he saw just ahead a man whose figure seemed familiar. With aroused interest he quickened his pace. There was no mistaking that form, so strongly upright, so instinct with vigorous power; nor those broad shoulders and the finely poised head. It was the Seer.

Overtaking the older engineer, Holmes greeted him eagerly and the brown eyes of the old Chief shone with pleasure while he returned the young man's greeting heartily.

Had the Seer any engagement that afternoon?

None at all. He had just arrived from the North Country and was loafing a day or two. And Holmes?

The younger man laughed. He was a stranger in a strange land, forced by circumstances to do nothing.

Good. They would find a quiet corner somewhere and Holmes could tell his old Chief about The King's Basin work. Also The King's Basin man could tell the Seer about Barbara.

So they found a seat and Willard Holmes told how splendidly the Seer's dream was coming true, and in answer to many questions talked of Barbara and her life in the new country, of Jefferson Worth and his operations, and of some of his own professional difficulties and problems. And the Seer, as he led the younger man on and studied the strong bronzed face that was all aglow with enthusiasm over the work, smiled quietly as he remembered the tenderfoot who had once threatened to report his Chief to the Company.

Brave, great-hearted, generous Seer! There was in all his questioning not a hint of any feeling against the younger man who had been given the place that should have been his. He fell to wondering if after all the Company had now in Holmes the man they thought they had, or the man they did have, indeed, when they made him their chief engineer. If the test were to come now--The Seer did not know that Willard Holmes was even then undergoing that test.

The two men dined together that evening and afterwards over the cigars in the Seer's room the old engineer talked of the progress and future of the great Reclamation work, of its value not only to our own nation but to the over-crowded nations beyond the seas, and of its place in the great forward march of the race. Then gravely he spoke to the younger man of his own efforts to bring the work to the attention of the people, of disappointments and failures, year after year, until at last the work in Barbara's Desert had been launched, and following that several other projects until now at last reclamation had become a great national enterprise. And Willard Holmes knew that out of the millions that would be realized from these reclaimed lands this man, who had seen the vision, would receive nothing. The Seer had not even a position with an irrigation company or with a reclamation project.

As he listened to the man who had literally given the best of his life to a great work, the Company engineer felt as he sometimes felt when alone in the heart of the desert itself he heard its call, the call that was at once a challenge, a threat and a promise; or as when he had felt the sweet power of Barbara's presence.

At his hotel Holmes found the president of The King's Basin Land and Irrigation Company anxiously awaiting him: "Look here!" was Greenfield's greeting. "This thing is approaching a climax."

He handed the engineer a telegram from Burk. Willard Holmes glanced at the yellow slip of paper.

"Strike on the K. B. C. Looks serious."

"Jefferson Worth left for San Felipe this afternoon," Greenfield said quickly. "There's another train in thirty minutes. We mustn't miss it!"