Chapter XXXVI. Out of the Hollow of God's Hand.
 

The first train from Republic to Barba over the new King's Basin Central arrived in the town by the old Dry River Crossing shortly after noon. Later in the day Jefferson Worth with his daughter, his superintendent and the Seer went to the power plant on the bank of Dry River.

When the plant was built it was placed as low in the old wash as the depth of the ancient channel would permit, so that the greatest possible fall from the Company canal above might be secured. As Jefferson Worth and his companions stood now on the bank of the river they saw the waste-way from the turbine wheel that ran the generators nearly thirty feet above the bottom of the channel. The flood that had cut the deep canyons through the heart of the Basin, destroying Kingston on its course, had worked on a smaller scale in the old Dry River wash, cutting a narrow gorge nearly fifty feet deep from its outlet at the new sea past the power plant at Barba and nearly to the spillway of the main canal.

Standing almost on the very spot where they had found the baby girl years before, the Seer asked Barbara's father: "Jeff, does your contract with The King's Basin Land and Irrigation Company call for a certain amount of water, or for water to develop a certain amount of power?"

Jefferson Worth answered in his careful, exact voice: "The first contract called for water to develop a certain amount of power. This new one is a contract for three hundred inches of water. There's nothing in it about the amount of power, but it gives me the sole rights to all the power privileges on the Company property. You see, when Greenfield tried to change the line of their canal so as to cut me out, Abe and I had begun to figure that some day the water from the spillway might cut down the channel and give us a little more drop. But we never counted on this, of course. I simply figured that I might just as well make the new contract safe."

The Seer smiled. "You made it safe all right, Jeff. Do you know what this cut means to you?"

"In a way, yes. That's why I wanted you to look at it."

"It means," said the Seer, "that you have rights here worth a million dollars at least. By lowering your turbine to the bottom of this cut you can, with the same amount of water that you are now using, develop power enough to run every electric light system and turn every wheel in all The King's Basin for years to come."

"You mean that the river breaking in and doing this has made daddy's property worth a million dollars?" asked Barbara breathlessly.

The Seer turned toward her. "Yes, Barbara. The same force that destroyed Kingston and wrecked the Company has increased the value of your father's holding to fully that amount. A million is very conservative."

The young woman looked down into the gorge at their feet. Slowly she said: "The Indians must be right. This must be indeed La Palma de la Mano de Dios. Such things could happen nowhere else."

She had just finished speaking when the sound of wheels behind caused them to turn toward the desert and the old San Felipe trail. It was Texas and Pat in the buckboard with El Capitan leading behind.

Catching sight of the group on the river bank, the men turned aside from the road and went to them. "Howdy folks," drawled Tex. "We 'lowed we'd jest about meet up with you-all somewhere about here."

"Sure, 'tis a family reunion we do be havin', wid no empthy chairs at all," declared the Irishman, looking from face to face with twinkling eyes. "Well, well, who'd a thought now that the little kid we found under the bank here, shcared av the coyotes an' more shcared av us rough-necks, wud av growed up like this? An' wid me a shwearin' by all the saints I knew that I wud niver set fut on the disert again. Here we are once more altogether, wid Barbara an' Abe bigger than life. 'Tis the danged owld disert itsilf that's a-lavin' niver to come back at all." He drew the back of his huge hairy hand across his eyes.

Barbara's eyes too were wet, and the others turned away their faces. Pat's words had recalled so vividly the scene at the dry water hole with the changes that the years had brought both to them and to the desert.

It was Texas Joe who broke the silence. "Mr. Worth, Pat and I would like to see you some time this evenin' if you ain't engaged."

"What is it, Tex?" As he spoke Jefferson Worth looked straight into the eyes of the old plainsman. Texas Joe, gazing steadily into the face of his employer, drawled easily: "Jest a little matter we 'lowed maybe you'd like to know about, sir. What time shall we come?"

Something--the memories of the place, perhaps, aroused by the words of Pat a moment before--caused Jefferson Worth to lift those nervous fingers and softly caress his chin. "I guess I can go now. We're all through here." He turned to the others. "I'll go on to the hotel with Tex and Pat and you folks can come along later when you are ready."

He stepped into the buckboard and with the two drove away. At a livery barn where they stopped to leave the horses, Texas took from under the seat of the buckboard something that was wrapped in a sack that had held a feed of grain for the team and El Capitan.

When they had reached the privacy of Mr. Worth's room, the old plainsman and the Irishman stood as if each waited for the other to begin.

"Well, men," said Jefferson Worth. "What is it?"

"Go on, ye owld oysther," growled Pat to Tex. "Why the hell don't ye tell the boss what we've come to tell him. Shpake up."

Texas Joe cleared his throat and began formally: "I don't reckon, Mr. Worth, that you-all has forgot that outfit we left in them sand hills back yonder on the old San Felipe trail the time we found the kid."

At the words Jefferson Worth's face became a gray mask from behind which his mind reached out as though to grasp what Texas would say before the man put it into words. "Well?" The single word came with the colorless sound of dull metal.

"Also I reckon you know how them big drifts are allus on the move, so that when they covers up anything, say an outfit like that one, it stands to reason that some day they'll drift on an' leave it clear again."

Jefferson Worth's hands were gripping the arms of his chair. His gray lips could frame no sound.

"I've allus kind a-kept an eye on that there particular ridge," continued Texas, "an' so to-day me and Pat stopped for a little look around an'"--slowly he unwrapped the grain sack from a long tin box --"an' we found this." He laid the box carefully on the table before Barbara's father. "Hit was a-layin' with what was left of a bigger wooden box or trunk, which same had gone to pieces, and there was a part of that old wagon with that same piece of a halter-strap you remember fastened to a wheel. There ain't no sort of doubt, Mr. Worth, that hit's the same outfit an' hits mighty likely that there's papers in here that'll tell us what we tried so hard to find out at first, but what"--he paused and looked around, then finished in a low tone--"I don't reckon any of us wants to know now."

Jefferson Worth sat motionless in his chair, his eyes fixed upon the tin box.

The heavy voice of the Irishman broke the quiet.

"Av Tex wud a listened to raison, Sorr, I'd a-dumped the danged thing into the river, sayin' nothin' to nobody. Fwhat good can we do rakin' up the past that's dead an' gone? The girl is as much yers as if she was yer own flesh an' blood, an' who can say fwhat divil's own mess may come out av this thing? Lave it alone, I say; an' fwhat nobody don't know can't hurt thim. 'Twas wrong intirely to bring ut to ye afther all ye've been sich a father to the little one. Lave it to me, Sorr. Give me the word an' I'll"--he reached eagerly for the box, but Jefferson Worth held up his slim, nervous hand.

"Wait a moment, Pat. I--I don't think that would be right."

Never before had these men seen Jefferson Worth hesitate. The will of the man, whose cold decision had carried him through so many critical situations and upon which the pioneers had relied in the recent time of peril, seemed to fail him at last. The spectacle told the men more clearly than words could have done what he suffered. "I--I don't know what to do," he finished weakly. "Give me time. Let me think." He bowed his face in his hands.

Pat growled an oath under his breath and Texas turned his eyes from his companions to the box and from the box back to his friends in bewildered uncertainty. At last he said in his soft southern drawl: "Mr. Worth, hit's dead sure that me an' Pat ain't helpin' you none in this. I reckon I was all wrong to bring hit to you at all. But hit seemed like I was plumb balled up an' couldn't rightly say what was best. There ain't really no call to crowd this thing as I can see. Suppose you takes your time to think it over. Me an' Pat'll let you alone, an' if you decides to fergit all about hit, you can bet your last red we'll be damn glad to help. Nobody but us three will ever know. 'T ain't as if it was a-doin' anybody any harm."

Jefferson Worth raised his head. "Thank you boys," he said. "I'll have to figure on this thing a little."

Left alone, Jefferson Worth faced the temptation of his life. Dearer to this lonely-hearted man than all the wealth and power that he would realize from his King's Basin work was the child who had come to him out of the desert. The man knew that it was the influence of Barbara upon his life that had prepared him for that night in the sand hills and enabled him rightly to weigh and measure and value the efforts of his kind. That afternoon at the power house it had all been brought before him with startling vividness. He felt that in all that he had accomplished in Barbara's Desert he had been led by the child, who had come to him out of The Hollow of God's Hand. The desert had given her to him; he had given himself in return to the work she loved. He could not think of his work apart from her. She was his--his--his. His gray lips whispered the words as he stood looking down at the box. No one had the right to take her from him; to come into her life. And yet--and yet. He reached out and laid his hand upon the box, then, turning again, paced the room.

Suddenly he whirled about and approached the table. With cold fury he seized the box and placing it upon the floor, broke the light tin fastening with his boot-heel. Again he paused and looked dully at the thing in his hands. Then with a quick motion lie threw up the cover. The box was filled with documents and letters, with four or five old photographs.

The address on a large unsealed envelope met his eye and he started back with a low cry as though he had looked upon some startling apparition.

When Barbara with the Seer and Abe returned to the hotel that evening the clerk gave her a note from her father who, the note explained, had been called to Republic on business of importance. He would be back to-morrow.

The clerk said that Mr. Worth had left only a few minutes before with the engine and car that had brought them to Barba that morning.