Chapter XXVIII. What the Company Man Told the Mexicans.
 

While Barbara and her three friends at home were rejoicing over the message from Jefferson Worth telling them that he had secured the money needed to go on with the work, Willard Holmes was alone in his room in the San Felipe hotel.

Following the engineer's interview with Mr. Cartwright, he had passed through a stormy scene with James Greenfield and the words of the president of The King's Basin Land and Irrigation Company were ringing in his ears with painful monotony: "Discharged--discharged-- discharged!"

For the first time in his life the engineer had heard those words addressed to himself. He could not rid himself of the feeling that he had come suddenly to the end of his career.

All his life Willard Holmes had had back of him the powerful influence of his foster uncle. Positions and opportunities had come to him from the first without effort on his part. Notwithstanding the fact that his ability as an engineer was naturally of a high order and that his training was of the best, he had never been dependent wholly upon these things. Other and stronger considerations had always given him his place. For the first time in his life he faced the world of his profession with nothing but his naked ability as an engineer to speak for him, while his abrupt dismissal from the Company compelled him to realize with sudden force how over-shadowed his work had always been by outside influences and how dependent he had been upon them. He felt lost and bewildered, knowing not which way to turn. His future seemed a blank. He had been anxious and eager to get back to his work in the Basin. But he had not realized how much that work meant to him--how his plans, his dreams, his whole life work had become centered in the reclamation of The King's Basin Desert.

If his dismissal had come from anything connected with his work, he told himself, it would be different. He thought bitterly how he had struggled with insufficient equipment and inadequate makeshifts of every kind to hold the Company system together that the pioneers might have the water, without which the work of reclamation could not be done. He knew every stake and pile and plank and crack and patch in the whole system. He had learned the tricks of the river and was familiar with the conditions peculiar to the desert country. He knew the terrible danger of the flood season that was only two months away. He had planned and prepared to meet emergencies that would be sure to arise.

And now, because he had refused to deliver the settlers wholly into the hands of these New York capitalists, who cared nothing at all for the real work save as it could be made to increase their money bags, he was turned out. There was now no reason even for his return to The King's Basin. Why, he asked himself, should he go back? To see some other man doing his work? To watch as an outsider the development of the land? or perhaps--as was more likely--to stand idly by and watch its destruction?

But even as he told himself that he could not do that, he knew that he would go back; that, indeed, he must go. The desert called him-- summoned him imperatively;--the desert, and something else: something that was as mysteriously impelling as the spirit of the land; something that had grown into his life even as his work had grown; something that seemed to him now a part of his work from the beginning.

All that day the engineer avoided Greenfield and his eastern friends. In the evening he dined alone and after the meal sat alone in the hotel lobby with his back to the crowd, watching through the big window the life of the street outside--watching without seeing. Moodily he pulled at his cigar, his thoughts far away in Barbara's Desert where, unknown to him, Abe Lee on the buckskin horse was riding--riding--riding to save the work of Jefferson Worth.

His thoughts were interrupted by the voice of Jefferson Worth himself, who, seeing the engineer alone, had gone to him. Holmes, drawing another chair close to his, greeted Barbara's father with eager questions. "Have you heard from home? Is everything all right?"

The older man accepted the chair by the engineer's side and answered his questions by saying: "Mr. Cartwright instructed his New York bankers to wire this money to my account in Republic. I notified Abe to pay the men to-morrow and go on with the work."

It was characteristic of Jefferson Worth that he did not attempt to thank Holmes for his part in the transaction with Cartwright, but in some subtle way the engineer was made to feel his gratitude and appreciation. After a pause Worth continued: "I am going to start back to-night on the ten-thirty. When are you figuring on going back?"

The engineer smiled grimly. "I can't figure on anything definite just now, Mr. Worth. I might as well tell you, I suppose, that I am no longer connected with the Company."

The announcement did not appear to be unexpected to Jefferson Worth, but his slim fingers caressed his chin as he said: "I was afraid of that. Have you anything in view?"

Holmes felt that not only had Worth foreseen the situation, but that he had already set in motion some movement to relieve it. "No, sir. It came so suddenly that I have scarcely had time to think."

"I figured some time ago that the Company would not be able to hold you much longer," was the surprising comment. "The S. & C. has been looking for a good man to put down in our country for some time. Your experience on the river would make you particularly valuable to them under existing conditions. I told them about you. They have been holding off waiting developments. If I were you I would get in touch with them at once. You can go up to the city with me to-night. We will stop over and look into the proposition and then if it is all right and agreeable to you we can go on home together." Jefferson Worth seemed to understand perfectly the engineer's desire to return to The King's Basin.

Before Holmes could express his delight and gratitude at the unexpected relief, a call-boy, passing among the guests, shouted: "Mr. Jefferson Worth! Mr. Jefferson Worth!"

The banker opened the message, read it, then--without a word-handed the yellow slip to his companion. The engineer read: "Banks in Basin won't accept New York business. Can't handle pay checks. Abe Lee starting for San Felipe overland to-night. Have money and fresh horse ready. Barbara."

Holmes looked in consternation from the paper in his hand to Barbara's father. The face of Jefferson Worth expressed nothing. It was perfectly calm and emotionless, only the slim fingers were lifted to the chin as if behind that gray mask the mind of the man was groping, seizing, searching, examining every phase of the situation so suddenly confronting him. In answer to the engineer's questioning look he spoke in colorless words, with machine-like exactness, as if the matter under consideration were a mere mathematical problem presented for his solution. "The Company owns the banks. Greenfield went into the telegraph office this morning as Cartwright and I came out. Abe would get my message by nine o'clock. The banks would get Greenfield's instructions the same time. Abe would at once promise the men their money to-morrow. That cashier didn't tell him they wouldn't handle the business until too late for him to get me before the banks closed here. Greenfield is playing for time so that the strikers will make trouble. Abe has it figured out right. He can get here and back before I could get the money to him by train. He should reach here to-morrow night. There is nothing to do except to see Cartwright this evening so that he can wire New York to-night and I can get the cash through the bank here before Abe gets in to-morrow."

As he grasped the situation and the methods Greenfield had employed to injure Worth's interests, the engineer's eyes flashed. "Mr. Worth," he cried, "that is the dirtiest trick I ever saw turned."

"It's business, Mr. Holmes. Mr. Greenfield is merely using his advantage, that's all."

The methods of The King's Basin Land and Irrigation Company in La Palma de la Mano de Dios were the methods of capital, impersonal, inhuman--the methods of a force governed by laws as fixed as the laws of nature, neither cruel nor kind; inconsiderate of man's misery or happiness, his life or death; using man for its own ends-- profit, as men use water and soil and sun and air. The methods of Jefferson Worth were the methods of a man laboring with his brother men, sharing their hardships, sharing their returns; a man using money as a workman uses his tools to fashion and build and develop, adding thus to the welfare of human kind. It was inevitable that the Company and Jefferson Worth should war.

James Greenfield served Capital; Jefferson Worth sought to make Capital serve the race. But in the career of each of these men, who had been driven by the master passion--Good Business, into The Hollow of God's Hand, the dominant influence was a life. In the career of Jefferson Worth it was Barbara. In the career of James Greenfield it was Willard Holmes.

In The King's Basin reclamation work, the New York financier, whose relation to Willard Holmes was a tribute to his love for the engineer's mother, felt that in some way--for some cause which he could not understand--the younger man was growing away from him. Their relation of employer and employe seemed to mar the close intimacy of the old ties, and the older man looked forward eagerly to the time when his business plans should be carried to a successful climax and they would both leave the West for their eastern home. That morning in the hotel, when he saw Holmes go with Cartwright to Jefferson Worth and by that knew that the engineer had used his influence against the interests of the Company, he was astonished and hurt. He felt that the boy whom he had reared as his own had turned against him. As the president of the Company he abruptly discharged the engineer, for he could do nothing else. As the foster-father of Willard Holmes, he was still proud of the younger man's strength of character, for under all his anger at being thwarted in his plan against Worth he knew in his heart that the engineer had done right.

As the day passed and the engineer did not seek his company, while Greenfield's own stubborn pride forbade him to go to Holmes, the older man's heart grew more and more lonely. That evening, when he saw Jefferson Worth and Holmes together in earnest conversation and through all of the following day saw them apparently associated intimately in some plan or enterprise, for the first time personal feeling entered into his consideration of the whole situation. He felt that his business rival had become his rival for the affections of the boy he loved. The business victories of Jefferson Worth he could accept without feeling; but that this man--a stranger--should come between him and his foster-son, the child of the woman he had loved with lifelong fidelity, stirred him to a vicious, personal hatred.

At dusk that evening he saw Holmes and Worth dining together. When the meal was over he sat in the lobby, ostensibly chatting with friends, but covertly watching the two who seemed to be awaiting someone. Suddenly he saw them rise quickly and start toward the main entrance. A dusty, khaki-clad man of the desert was entering the hotel. Tall, lean, bronzed, his face haggard and strained with anxiety, his eyes blood-shot through loss of sleep, his figure expressing in every line and movement deadly weariness and aching muscles, he strode forward into the hotel lobby, his spurs clinking on the white tile floor.

Greenfield recognized Abe Lee and grasped the situation instantly. The president of The King's Basin Land and Irrigation Company knew why the surveyor had come to San Felipe and he knew what he would carry back. If the money to pay the strikers reached its destination, Jefferson Worth would win; if not--

At half past nine o'clock that evening the thoughtful Manager of The King's Basin Land and Irrigation Company received a cipher message from his superior that drew a long, low whistle from his lips. For almost an hour he considered with an occasional quiet curse. Then, because he was a good Company man, he put on his hat and strolled leisurely down the street of Kingston, apparently enjoying his evening cigar. Once he stopped to greet a belated rancher. Again he paused to chat a moment with a citizen. Once more he halted to exchange a word with a group of Company men, and later stopped to greet three Mexicans who were in from the Company's camps.

The Manager asked of the work--if all was well.

"Si, Senor."

Then naturally Mr. Burk inquired for news of their countrymen, the strikers of Republic.

The Mexicans, coming from the distant camp, could tell him nothing. They had heard little. Could Senor Burk tell them of the situation?

The Manager was quite sure that everything would be all right with the men on Jefferson Worth's railroad day after to-morrow.

That was "bueno."

Yes, Mr. Worth's superintendent was starting from San Felipe that very evening with money--thousands of dollars, American gold--to pay the men. He was coming alone through the mountains on horseback. Without doubt the men would receive their pay. The Manager was glad!

"Si, Senor."

"Gracias, Senor!"

"Buenos noches!"

"Good night."