Chapter VI. The Standard of the West.
 

Three days after the Seer's letters to Abe and Barbara telling them that James Greenfield and his associates would finance an expedition to make the preliminary surveys in The King's Basin Desert, the west-bound overland dropped a passenger in Rubio City from New York.

The stranger was really a fine looking young man with the appearance of being exceptionally well-bred and well-kept. Indeed the most casual of observers would not have hesitated to pronounce him a thoroughbred and a good individual of the best type that the race has produced.

A company of men and women--traveling acquaintances evidently-- followed him from the Pullman to bid him good-by and to look at the Indians, who with their wealth of curios spread before them, squatted in a long row beside the track--objects of never failing interest to travelers from the East.

"Ugh!" said a tall blonde, who displayed more bracelets, bangles, chains and charms--both natural and manufactured--than any blanketed squaw in the party of natives, "I suppose if we ever see you again you'll be the color of that thing there." She pointed to a smoky, copper-colored Papago in a green head-cloth and decorated shirt, who posed in a watchful attitude near his thrifty help-meet.

"How perfectly romantic!" gushed a billowy divorcee, clinging to the young fellow's athletic arm with little shivers of delight. "To think of you in this great, savage, wild land, among these strange people. Aren't you just a little bit frightened?"

"By George, I half wish I was going to stop with you. You'll get some great shooting, don't you know!" exclaimed one of the men, while the chorus joined in: "You'll die of loneliness!" "You'll find nothing fit to eat!" "And do take care of yourself!"

Then as the warning, "All aboard!" and the clang of the engine bell came down the platform, there were quick good-bys and a rush for the car. The colored porters tossed their steps aboard and followed. Smoothly the long, dust-covered coaches slid past. There was a waving of handkerchiefs and caps from the rear of the observation car, and the young man turned to look curiously about.

"Hotel?"

The stranger glanced doubtfully at the tough-looking citizen who reached for his suit case, and without replying stepped into the questionable looking hack standing nearby. The driver threw the suitcase into the vehicle after his passenger and climbing to his seat, yelled to the team.

There was no rush of brass-buttoned bell-boys to meet the guest at the door of the hotel, and the room was well-filled with a group strange to the eyes of the young man from New York. Bronzed-faced men in flannel shirts and belted trousers talked to men well-dressed in more conventional business clothes; others in their shirt sleeves sat smoking with companions in blue overalls; two or three wore guns loosely belted at their hips. Here and there was the pale-faced, white-collared, tied and tailored tourist. In the corner near the big window a group of women, some in white duck, some in khaki or corduroy, sat chatting and enjoying the scene. No one paid the least attention to the newcomer. The tough-looking driver of the hack dropped the suit case near the desk with a bang and turned to reply to a good-natured remark addressed to him by a jovial, well-dressed man standing near. Only the clerk regarded the stranger.

"Have you a room with bath?"

The clerk smiled. "Certainly, sir." Then to a young fellow talking over the cigar counter to a man in high-heeled boots and spurs: "Jack, show this gentleman to forty-five."

In the well-furnished room the guide threw open long French windows and pointed to a cot on the screened-porch outside. "Better sleep on the porch," he volunteered.

"Sleep on the porch?"

"Suit yourself," came the answer as the independent one turned away.

"Look here!" The employe of the house paused. "I want my trunk sent up immediately."

"Sure Mike! Let's have your checks. So-long!"

The stranger stood staring at the door, which the breezy young man, as he disappeared with a cheery whistle, had shut behind him with a vigorous bang.

In the dining room the man from New York found the same easy freedom in the manner of dress, the same lack of conventionalities and the same atmosphere of general good-fellowship; yet he could not say that there was any lack of real courtesy and certainly there was no rude and boisterous talk. It was, to say the least, unsettling to the exceptionally well-bred and well-kept stranger, accustomed to the hotels and restaurants in the East frequented by his class.

Early that evening the Easterner sallied forth, clearly bent on sight-seeing. He had dressed for the occasion. The gray traveling suit had been put aside for a tailor-made outfit of corduroy. The coat--worn without a vest over a fine negligee shirt of silk--was Norfolk; the trousers were riding trousers and above the tan shoes were pig-skin puttees. All this, with the light, soft hat, neat tie and the undeniably fine figure and handsome face, would have made him attractive on any stage. The tourists turned to look after him with expressions of admiring envy; the natives--white, red, black, yellow and brown--accepted him with no more than a passing glance as a part of the strange new life that the railroad was constantly bringing to Rubio City.

Calmly conscious of himself and openly interested, in a mildly condescending way, the young man strolled down one side of the main street to the end of the business section, then back on the other. Twice he made the round, then, seeking scenes of further interest, pushed open the swinging doors of Rubio City's most popular place of amusement--the Gold Bar saloon.

At a table in one corner two men--one tall, darkfaced, coatless, with unbuttoned vest, leather wrist-guards, and a heavy gun loosely buckled about his slim waist; the other thick-set, heavy, red-faced --were holding animated conversation over their glasses. That is to say: the thick, red-faced man was animated. Glaring at his companion he banged his huge, hairy fist on the table until the glasses jumped.

"Ye're a domned owld savage wid yer talk. Fwhat the hell is yer counthry good for as ut is? A thousan' square miles av ut wouldn't feed a jack-rabbit. 'Tis a blistherin', sizzlin', roastin', wilderness av sand an' cactus, fit for nothin' but thim side- winders, horn'-toads, heely-monsters an' all their poisonous relations, includin' yersilf."

The New Yorker, standing at the end of the bar nearest the table occupied by Barbara's "uncles," who had just arrived from the Gold Center mines, heard the words of Pat and turned toward the two friends with amused interest.

Texas Joe silently lifted his glass and with a look of undisguised admiration for his belligerent partner, waited for more. More came with another thump of the huge fist.

"'Tis civilization that ye need, an' 'tis civilization that we're bringin' to ye, an' 'tis civilization that ye've got to take whether ye like ut or not. Look at the Seer, now! Wan gintleman wid brains an' education like him is wort' more to this counthry than all the hell-roarin' savages like yersilf between the Coast an' Oklahoma, which is not so much better than it was. We've brung ye money; we've brung ye schools; we've brung ye railroads; an' we'll kape on bringin' ye the blissin's an' joys av civilization 'til ye mend yer ways an' live like Christians."

He paused. Texas was staring with child-like simplicity at the immaculate figure of the stranger in puttees. Pat turned to follow the gaze of his companion just as the plainsman drawled softly: "And you've brought us that." The Irishman's heavy jaw dropped. He gasped and gulped like an uncouth monster. Then--speechless--he drained his glass.

The stranger's face flushed but he did not move.

"Pardner," drawled Texas, "your remarks is sure edifyin' a heap an' some convincin'. But I'm still constrained to testify that the real cause an' reason for the declinin' glory of this yere great western country is poor shootin'. That same, in turn, bein' caused by the incomin' herds from the effete East bein' so numerous as to hinder gun-practice."

"Guns is ut?" interrupted the other with a roar. "A man--mind ye: a man--should be ashamed to go about all the time wid a cannon tied to his middle. 'Tis the mark av a child. Look at ye, now, wid all yer artillery an' me wid fingers that niver pushed a thrigger." He held out his great paws and studied them admiringly. "Why, ye herrin', wid thim two hands I could break ye, gun an' all, like I've--"

He was interrupted by a wild-eyed individual who rushed into the room from the street and, springing toward them, burst forth with: "Give me your gun, Texas, quick! I ain't got mine on and that damned Red Hoyt is a layin' for me at the corner!"

Texas Joe dropped his slim hand caressingly on the big forty-five at his side, leaned easily back in his chair and eyed the excited citizen in a manner calmly judicial. "Bill, you're comin' is some opportune. You're sure Johnny-on-the-spot."

"Le' me have yer gun, Tex. Jes' loan her to me! I'll be back in a minute."

"Oh, I ain't doubtin' that you'd be back all right, Bill. That's jest the p'int. When you blew in so promisc'us an' interrupted the meetin', me an' my friend here was jest resolvin' that there's too much bad shootin' bein' done in this here Rubio town. It's a spoilin' the fair name an' a ruinin' the reputation of this country. For which said reason us two undertakes to regulate an' reform some." He turned with elaborate politeness to Pat. "I voices yer sentiments correct, pard?"

The Irishman's fist struck the table and his eyes flashed. "To the thrim av a gnat's heel," he roared.

Texas bowed and continued: "Therefore, Bill, this here's our verdict. You camp right here peaceable while I go out an' fetch this Red Hoyt person what's been annoyin' you. We'll stand you up at fifteen steps, with nothing between to obstruct ceremonies, an' drop the hat. Me an' my friend referees the job an' undertakes to see that the remains is duly and properly planted with all regular honors. Sabe?"

The blood-thirsty one, growling something about attending to his own funeral and finding a gun somewhere else, went quietly and quickly out.

Before the pugnacious Pat could voice his disgust and disappointment at the disappearance of the trouble-hunting citizen, a low, contemptuous laugh from the well-built stranger at the bar drew the attention of the two friends. The young man was watching them with an amused smile.

Texas Joe and the Irishman regarded each other thoughtfully. "Pard," said Tex in a low, earnest tone, "do you reckon that there hilarity was in any ways directed toward this corner of the room?"

The stranger, receiving his change from the bartender, was moving leisurely toward the door when his way was barred by the heavy bulk of Pat. There was no misunderstanding the expression on the battle- scarred features of the Irish gladiator. Eyeing the athletic Easterner fiercely, he growled with deliberate meaning: "Ye same to be findin' plenty av amusement in the private affairs av me friend an' mesilf. D'ye think that we are a coople av hoochy-koochy girls to be makin' sphort for all the domned dudes that runs to look at us whin their mammas don't know they're out?"

The other regarded him with well-bred surprise. "Stand aside," he said curtly.

"Oh, ho! ye will lave widout properly apologizin' for yer outrageous conduc' will ye? 'Tis an ambulance that ye'll nade to take ye home whin I've taught ye manners, ye danged yellow-legged cock-a-doodle!"

He lifted his fists and the stranger, without giving back an inch or exhibiting the slightest suggestion of fear, but rather with the calm self-confidence of a trained athlete, squared himself for the encounter.

Eagerly the patrons of the place--miners, cowboys, ranchers, adventurers, Mexicans, Indians--had gathered around the two men, delighted with the prospect of what promised to be no tame exhibition. Already several bets had been placed and critical estimates and comments on the comparative merits of the two were being made freely when a hand fell on Pat's uplifted arm. Turning with an oath of rage at the interruption, the Irishman faced Abe Lee.

"Hello, Pat! Amusing yourself as usual?" To the angry protests from the crowd the tall surveyor gave not the slightest heed.

For a moment the Irishman, looking up into that thin, sun-tanned face, was speechless as though he faced some apparition. Then with a yell of delight he caught the lank form of the Seer's assistant in a bear-like hug. "For the love av Gawd is ut ye, ye owld sand-rat? Where the hell did ye drop from, an? fwhat are ye doin' in this dishreputable company? Look at Uncle Tex, there! The sentimental owld savage is fair slobberin' wid delight an' eagerness to git at ye. Come, come; we must have a dhrink."

As quickly as it had risen the storm had passed. The crowd, as if moved by a single impulse, separated and the room was filled with loud talk and laughter. Glancing around, Pat's eye met the still defiant look of the stranger who had not moved from his place but stood calmly watching the Irishman and Abe as if waiting the pleasure of the man who had challenged him.

The Irishman grinned in appreciation. "Howld on a minut," he said to Abe who was moving away with Texas Joe toward a vacant table. Then to the stranger: "I axe yer pardon, Sorr, for goin' off me head that way. 'Tis a habit I have, worse luck to me--bein' sensitive, do ye see, about me personal appearance an' some wishful for a bit av honest enjoyment. Av ye'll have a dhrink wid me an' my friends here I'll take ut kindly until we can find some betther cause for grievance."

The young man's tense figure relaxed. A smile broke over his face. "And I beg your pardon," he said heartily. "The fact is I was not laughing at you at all but at the way you two men called the bluff of that fellow who wanted the gun. I should have said so and apologized but I, too, was a little upset and thrown off my guard."

"Faith, ut looked to me that ye were thrown on your guard. 'Tis the science ye have or I'm a Dutchman." He eyed the athletic limbs, deep chest, broad shoulders and well-set head, with eyes that twinkled his approval. "Some day--But niver mind now! Come." He led the way to the table.

As they seated themselves Pat regarded the surveyor with pleased interest. "Well, well! 'tis a most unexpected worrld. Av 'twas the owld divil himsilf that clapped his hand on me arm I'd be no more surprised than I was to see the lad here. Tell us, me bhoy, fwhat 'tis that's brung ye here."

"Haven't you two been to see Barbara yet?" the surveyor demanded as though charging them with some neglected duty.

"We have not; an' by that ye will know that we've been in this town less than an hour by Tex's watch that Barbara give him an' that he lost down the shaft at Gold Center."

When the surveyor had explained his presence in Rubio City and Texas and Pat had agreed to join the King's Basin party, the stranger said: "I think it is quite time now that I introduce myself. You are Mr. Lee, I believe."

Abe assented and with his two companions regarded him with interest.

Taking a letter from his pocket and handing it to the surveyor, the young man continued: "I am a civil engineer. I have instructions from the Chief to report to you. My name is Willard Holmes."

The next morning the young engineer from the East presented his card at the Pioneer Bank and asked for Mr. Worth. The man who received the correctly engraved bit of pasteboard merely nodded toward the other end of the long partition of polished wood, plate glass and bronze bars. "You'll find him back there, Mr. Holmes."

The New Yorker smiled at the provincialism but sought the banker without further ceremony.

Closing the door with one hand Jefferson Worth with the other indicated the chair at the end of his desk. "Sit down."

"You have a letter from Mr. Greenfield relative to my coming?" asked Willard Holmes.

The banker lifted a typewritten sheet from his desk, glanced at it and turned back to his visitor. "Yes," he said.

The involuntary movement was the instinctive act of one who habitually verifies every statement. Then, as those expressionless blue eyes were fixed on the stranger's face, the engineer's sensation was as though from behind that gray mask something reached out to grasp his innermost thoughts and emotions. He felt strangely transparent and exposed as one, alone in his lighted chamber at night, might feel someone in the dark without, watching through the window. Presently the colorless, exact voice of Jefferson Worth asked: "This is your first visit West?"

"Yes sir. My work has been altogether in New York and the New England states."

"Five years with the New York Contracting and Construction Company?" said Jefferson Worth exactly, laying his hand again on the letter on his desk.

"Yes. For the past two years I have had charge of their more important operations." The engineer's tone was a shade impressive.

But there was not the faintest shadow of a hint in the face or manner of that man in the revolving chair to intimate that he was impressed. The visitor might as well have spoken to the steel door of the big safe in the other room. "You are well acquainted with Mr. Greenfield and his associates?"

"My father and Mr. Greenfield were boyhood friends and college classmates," the engineer explained. "Since the death of my father when I was a little chap, I have lived with Uncle Jim. He was my guardian until I became of age."

The young man did not think it necessary to add that the death of his father had left him penniless and that his father's friend, who had never married, had reared and educated the child of his old classmate as his own son. Neither did he explain that his rapid advancement in his profession was due largely to the powerful influence of the capitalist and those closely associated with him, together with the strength of the proud social position to which he was born, rather than to hard work and experience. Probably Willard Holmes himself did not realize how much these things had added to his own native ability and technical training. He had never known anything else but these things and he accepted them as unconsciously as his voice was colored with the accent of the cultured East.

"How do you size up this King's Basin proposition?" questioned the banker.

Again Willard Holmes smiled at the western man's words. "Sizing up" and "proposition" were pleasingly novel forms of expression to him. "Really," he answered, "I haven't gone into it very thoroughly as yet. Mr. Greenfield asked me to come out because he and his associates felt"--he paused; perhaps it would be just as well not to say what Mr. Greenfield and his associates felt--"that with my experience in connection with large corporations I could be of value to them in certain phases of the work," he finished. He wondered if the man, who listened with such an air of carefully considering every word and mentally reaching out for whatever lay back of the verbal expression, had grasped what he had been about to say.

Jefferson Worth waited and Holmes continued: "Mr. Greenfield and his friends are very anxious that you should come in with them on the organization of this company, Mr. Worth; that is, of course, providing the scheme proves to be practicable. They instructed me to urge you personally to consider their proposal favorably and to ask you, by all means, to represent them on this expedition if possible. They realize that a man of your recognized ability and standing in the financial world, particularly in the West, in close touch as you are with Capital and conditions in this part of the country and no doubt familiar with the Reclamation work, would be a valuable addition to their strength. In fact I may say they would depend largely upon your judgment as to whether the scheme was practicable from a business standpoint. On your side I am sure you recognize the advantage of allying yourself with such a group of capitalists, who are strong enough to finance any undertaking, no matter how great. Their interests are already enormous. As you know, they operate only on the largest scale and, if this survey justifies the report already made, they will make a big thing out of this for everyone interested."

The cold, exact voice of Jefferson Worth came as if from a machine incapable of inflection. "I have written Mr. Greenfield that I would look into the proposition for him. I will go out with the outfit. Have you seen Abe Lee?"

"I met him last night and we had a little talk over things. I confess I was a little surprised."

"Why?"

"Well--that he is in charge. I was instructed to report to him. I find that he has had no schooling whatever; that, in fact, he is nothing but a kind of a self-educated surveyor. I have no doubt that he is a good, practical fellow, but it seems to me somewhat reckless to put him in such a responsible position."

Jefferson Worth did not say that he himself had had no more schooling than the Seer's lieutenant. Perhaps that, also, was not necessary to explain. He did say: "We have only one standard in the West, Mr. Holmes."

"And that?"

"What can you do?" came the words as if spoken by cold iron.