The Winning of Barbara Worth by Harold Bell Wright
Chapter XXVI. Held in Suspense.
George Cartwright, the retired New York capitalist, belonged to that older school of American financiers who, having built up large fortunes by taking advantage of the speculative opportunities of their day, look somewhat doubtfully from the pinnacle of a successful old age upon the same adventurous spirit when shown by the active younger generation. George Cartwright was ready to take a chance, certainly. He had taken chances all his life. But George Cartwright distrusted mightily what he called the "slap-dash, smash- bang" system of the modern manipulators of capital. Some day, he predicted, the manipulators themselves would go "smash-bang" along with their methods.
Though retired from the rush and drive of active business, the veteran still enjoyed taking an occasional hand in the game, though more than ever he played that hand with a dignified leisure befitting the stake. "A business transaction," said he, "was not something to be put through with a nod and wink or at most a half dozen monosyllables between as many bites of a sandwich."
Jefferson Worth was in desperate need of quick action. He was not playing a game of business for the mere pleasure of playing. He was fighting for his financial life and every hour's delay increased his peril. But Jefferson Worth did not need his railroad friend's warning that an attempt to rush George Cartwright would be disastrous. The old financier was not at all backward in making known to Jefferson Worth his opinions of Jim Greenfield and the men associated with him in the Company. He had had some experience with them not altogether satisfactory to himself. But an investment in actual improvement and development enterprises, such as he understood Mr. Worth to be promoting, was rather an attractive venture. He was going for a week's trip to San Felipe and when he returned he would take the matter up.
Barbara's father could not urge his need of immediate relief, for to do so would have been to destroy his only hope. So he was forced to await the New York man's pleasure. Nor was Mr. Worth ignorant of Greenfield's efforts as indicated by the presence of Willard Holmes in the city. He knew also the high regard that Cartwright held for the engineer and that he would place great value upon the Company man's opinion. What would Willard Holmes do?
Abe Lee's telegram announcing the strike and the critical situation in the Basin changed conditions instantly. Now Jefferson Worth's only hope was to get to Cartwright without delay and to present the urgent need of immediate action. For while the chances that the old capitalist would come to the rescue were greatly lessened, Jefferson Worth's financial ruin was certain if the critical situation at home was not relieved instantly. Sending the telegram to Abe Lee he took the first train for San Felipe. It was indeed a forlorn hope.
Mr. Worth's train arrived in San Felipe about eleven o'clock in the morning. Scanning the register at the principal hotel he found the eastern man's name, but the clerk informed him that Mr. Cartwright was out for the day sight-seeing with a party of friends from New York and would not likely return until late in the evening.
No one observing the quiet, gray-faced man who waited in the hotel lobby that evening could have said that there was more on his mind than a mild interest in the evening paper. Yet Jefferson Worth was reading an account of The King's Basin strike. Finishing the article, he dropped the paper on his knee while the slim fingers of his right hand sought his chin with a nervous, caressing motion and his expressionless eyes moved continually over the crowd in the big room. Outside, the depot 'bus had just stopped in front of the hotel and a company of newly arrived guests were entering the corridor, while the bell-boys were running forward to relieve them of their luggage and lead them to the spick-and-span clerk behind the register.
First of the group Jefferson Worth saw the portly, well-groomed president of The King's Basin Land and Irrigation Company and with him his athletic, bronzed-faced chief engineer.
Even as the two were talking with the clerk and, as Worth rightly guessed, asking for Mr. Cartwright, the old gentleman with his party of friends entered. At a word from the man behind the desk Greenfield and Holmes turned to greet the entering capitalist and his party. They were all New Yorkers--acquaintances and friends. Coming together with the width of the continent between them and their homes, their greetings were cordial--joyful--even boisterous. And as they parted to follow the waiting bell-boys to their rooms, the western pioneer banker heard them agreeing to meet and dine together a few minutes later.
Jefferson Worth realized that a business interview with Mr. Cartwright that evening was impossible. Without visible interest in anything else he raised his paper again and continued reading.
The next morning when the New York capitalist stepped from the elevator on his way to breakfast he found himself face to face with the man who so desperately needed financial assistance. "Why, how do you do, Mr. Worth. When did you land in San Felipe?" Cartwright's tone seemed to subtly change his commonplace question into--"Why are you in San Felipe?"
Jefferson Worth's answer was straightforward. "I arrived yesterday. Conditions have arisen that make it necessary for me to see you at once."
The old veteran looked straight into Jefferson Worth's face with the understanding of one who had himself passed through many a financial crisis when the issue depended upon time gained or lost. Sometimes the wheel of Fortune turns with dizzy speed.
"Certainly, Mr. Worth. Come to my room in half an hour," he answered quickly and as quickly moved away.
When The King's Basin man had placed the situation fairly before him and the old financier had asked a number of pertinent questions, he said: "Mr. Worth, I understand that neither the value nor the safety of my investment is necessarily impaired because you have a situation on your hands demanding immediate relief. I can see that the capital you ask me to put into your enterprise will relieve the situation at once and enable you to place the whole business upon a solid foundation. If you fail to raise this money, or if you get it too late, you go to the wall and I lose a chance for what seems a profitable investment. As I told you, legitimate promotion of actual development projects has always been attractive to me, but I want to examine into matters a little further before I give you my final answer. Frankly I want to ask the opinion of Willard Holmes. I would not place too much confidence in Mr. Greenfield's judgment, or rather, I should say, in any advice that he would give me in this particular matter. But I have known Willard from babyhood. I knew his father and the whole family, and I would be guided by his opinion as an engineer of conditions in the new country in which you are all interested. Fortunately Holmes is here in the hotel. Let me have a little talk with him and I'll give you my answer without delay."
Writing a brief note asking the engineer to come to his room, he summoned a boy and directed him to deliver the message immediately. A few minutes later Jefferson Worth, in the lobby, saw the boy approach Holmes, who was with Greenfield. The engineer took the note from the boy, glanced at it and handed it to his companion. For a moment they stood in earnest conversation; then the engineer turned and moved away.
Jefferson Worth saw him enter the elevator, saw the ornamented iron door close and the cage glide smoothly upward.
James Greenfield, confident, self-possessed, with the air of one whose position and future are secure, jovially greeted one of the New York party, who came up on Holmes's departure, and the two stood laughing and chatting over their cigars.
Jefferson Worth sat alone in a secluded corner of the lobby.