Chapter XXXVII. Back to the Old San Felipe Trail.
 

In the office of The King's Basin Land and Irrigation Company, James Greenfield was aroused by a knock at the door. He lifted his head from his arms and looked around as if awakened out of a deep sleep.

Another knock, and he slipped the picture he held in his hand into his pocket and called, "Come in."

The door opened and Jefferson Worth stepped into the room.

For a moment the president of the wrecked Company sat staring at his business rival, then he leaped to his feet, his fists clenched and his face working with passion. "You can't come in here, sir. Get out!" he said with the voice and manner he would have assumed in speaking to a trespassing dog.

Jefferson Worth stood still. "I have business of importance with you, Mr. Greenfield," he said, and his air of quiet dignity contrasted strangely with the rage of the larger man.

"You can have no business with me of any sort whatever. I have nothing to do with your kind. This is my private office. I tell you to get out."

Jefferson Worth turned calmly as though to obey, but instead of leaving the room closed the door and locked it. Then, placing the small grip he carried upon the table, he deliberately went close to the threatening president and said coldly: "This is rank nonsense, Greenfield. I won't leave this office until I'm through with what I came to do. I have business with you that concerns you as much as it does me."

"You're a damned thief, a low sharper! I tell you I have nothing to do with you. Now get out or I'll throw you out!"

Jefferson Worth answered in his exact, precise manner, as though carefully choosing and considering his words: "No, you won't throw me out. You'll listen to what I have come to tell you. The rest of your statement, Greenfield, is false and you know it. It will be just as well for you not to repeat it." The last low-spoken words did not appear to be uttered as a threat but as a calm statement of a carefully considered fact. James Greenfield felt as a man who permits himself to rage against an immovable obstacle--as one who spends his strength cursing a stone wall that bars his way or a rock that lies in his path. With an effort he regained a measure of his self-control.

"Well, out with it. What do you want?"

"Sit down," said Worth, pointing to a chair. Mechanically the other obeyed. "You have no reason for taking this attitude toward me, Mr. Greenfield," began Worth with his air of simply stating a fact.

At his words the wrath of the other again mastered him. "No reason! You--you dare to tell me that? When you and the young woman that you call your daughter have come between me and the boy who is more than a son to me! When you have broken our close relationship of years' standing and robbed me of his companionship! When you have wrecked and ruined all my plans for his future! When you have defeated the object of my life! No reason? But what can you understand of us? You're a nobody, sir, without a place or a name in the world; a common, low-bred, ignorant sharper with no family but a nameless daughter of unknown parentage whom you found on the desert. How can you understand what Willard Holmes is to me?"

"I figured that you would feel this way about it," came the colorless words. "That's what I came here for to-night--to fix it up."

The angry amazement of Greenfield at what he considered the man's presumption could find no expression.

Worth continued: "I know a great deal more about you and your folks than you think. When I saw that my"--he hesitated over the word, then spoke it plainly--"my daughter was becoming interested in Willard Holmes, I took some pains to look up his history. In doing that I naturally found out a good deal about you. Later I learned a good deal more."

"It is immaterial to me what you know," muttered the other in a tone of deep disgust. "What do you want?"

Worth spoke with quiet dignity. "I want you to understand first, Mr. Greenfield, that my girl is just as much to me as young Holmes is to you. You are right; I am a nobody, ignorant and all that, but you must not think Mr. Greenfield that because you belong in New York and I belong in the West that this thing is harder for you than it is for me. You are not going to lose your boy but I"--for the first time he hesitated and his voice expressed emotion--"I am going to lose my girl."

The pathos of this lonely man's words touched even Greenfield. His manner was more gentle as he said gruffly: "It's a bad business, Mr. Worth; a damned bad business for both of us. I wish I had never heard of this country."

"You'll feel different about that. Anyway I figure that this country and this work will be here long after you and I are gone, and so will these young people." Again he hesitated and his slim fingers caressed his chin. Then from behind that gray mask he asked: "How much do you know about our finding Barbara in the desert?"

"I know the story in a general way, that's all. It does not interest me."

"Let me tell you the facts."

In his brief, colorless sentences Jefferson Worth related the incidents of that trip across the desert, and as he did so Greenfield began to realize that some powerful motive had brought this man to him and was forcing him to relate his story with such exact care for the details.

"And you never found the slightest clue even to the child's name?" he asked, when Worth had finished.

Jefferson Worth hesitated, then: "Mr. Greenfield, you had a younger brother who came West?"

The man gazed at the speaker in amazement as he answered mechanically. "Yes. He died out here somewhere--in California, I believe. I was never able to learn the details. He was an adventurous lad and a good deal of a rover. But why--how--" As the full import of the question dawned upon him Greenfield started from his seat. "My God, man! You don't mean--you cannot mean that it was my brother Will who was lost in that sandstorm on the desert? That the woman you found by the water hole was his wife, Gertrude, and that--that--" His voice sank to a whisper. "Will wrote me that there was a child--that she had Gertrude's hair and eyes. I had never seen her." He turned fiercely upon his companion. "And you have kept this from me all these years? You have kept my only brother's child from me? By God, sir! I--But perhaps this is all one of your damnable tricks. What proof have you that this is so, and if it is, why have you kept it a secret?"

Jefferson Worth opened his satchel and laid the tin box on the desk before the president of The King's Basin Land and Irrigation Company. "This box was found this afternoon by Texas Joe and Pat, who brought it to me. I opened it. It is all here."

When Greenfield had examined the contents of the box--letters, some of them written by himself to his brother, papers relating to William Greenfield's business affairs and property, and photographs of the little family and of the two brothers and their parents, he looked up to see Jefferson Worth sitting motionless, his form relaxed, his head dropped forward.

[Illustration: Without a word--for no word was needed--their hands met in a firm grip ]

Suddenly the words of the man who had been a father to his brother's child came back to Greenfield. "My girl is just as much to me as young Holmes is to you. You are not going to lose your boy, but I am going to lose my girl." In a flash the financier saw it all--saw how Jefferson Worth loved Barbara as his own child, as Greenfield cared for Willard Holmes; saw how Worth might have destroyed the papers so strangely brought to light and kept the secret; saw and realized a little what strength of character it had taken to overcome the temptation, and felt what the man was suffering.

As Greenfield's hand fell on his shoulder, Jefferson Worth slowly lifted his head. Slowly he rose to his feet. In silence the two men faced each other. Without a word--for no word was needed-their hands met in a firm grip.

After a little while Greenfield asked eagerly: "Where is she now, Mr. Worth? Where is the girl? Does she know? I must see her at once. Come! And Willard--I wonder if he is still in town. Come, we must go to them."

But Jefferson Worth answered: "I've been figuring on that, Mr. Greenfield. You had better let me tell Barbara myself. And if I was you, after what you have probably said to Holmes on this subject, I wouldn't be in a hurry to tell him. For the sake of their future we'd better let Barbara handle that matter herself. You can easily figure it out that it will be best for them that way."