Francis Lynde.

The City of Numbered Days



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"Shove it for every minute of daylight there is left," he ordered, snapping out his commands to his staff while he was filling the magazine of his Winchester. "Puddle what material there is in the forms, dump the telpher buckets where they stand, and clean out the mixers; that's the size of the job, and it's got to be done. Jump to it, Grizzy, you and Handley, and we'll try to fill your gangs the best way we can. Leshington, don't you take any refusal from the shopkeepers and the bank people; if they kick, you tell them that not another dollar of government money will be spent in this town – we'll run a free commissary first. Anson, you make Bongras turn out every man in his feeding place; he'll do it. Griffith, you chase Mr. Cortwright, and don't quit till you find him. Tell him from me that we've got to have every man he can give us, at whatever cost."

"You'll be up on the stagings yourself, won't you?" asked Grislow, struggling into his working-coat.

"After a bit. I'm going down to the lower Avenue to turn out the crooks and diamond wearers. It's time they were learning how to earn an honest dollar."

"You'll get yourself killed up," grumbled Leshington. "Work is the one thing you won't get out of that crowd."

"Watch me," rasped the chief, and he was gone as soon as he had said it.

Strange things and strenuous happened in the lower end of the Niquoia valley during the few hours of daylight that remained. First, climbing nervously to the puddlers' staging on the great dam, and led by near-Napoleon Poodles himself, came the Metropole quota of waiters, scullions, cooks, and porters, willing but skilless. After them, and herded by Leshington, came a dapper crew of office men and clerks to snatch up the puddling spades and to soil their clothes and blister their hands in emptying the concrete buckets. Mr. Cortwright's contribution came as a dropping fire; a handful of tree-cutters from the sawmills, a few men picked up here and there in the deserted town, an automobile load of power-company employees shot down from the generating plant at racing speed.

Last, but by no means least in numbers, came the human derelicts from the lower Avenue; men in frock-coats; men in cow-boy jeans taking it as a huge joke; men with foreign faces and lowering brows and with strange oaths in their mouths; and behind the motley throng and marshalling it to a quickstep, Brouillard and Tig Smith.

It was hot work and heavy for the strangely assorted crew, and Brouillard drove it to the limit, bribing, cajoling, or threatening, patrolling the long line of staging to encourage the awkward puddlers, or side-stepping swiftly to the mixers to bring back a detachment of skulkers at the rifle's muzzle. And by nightfall the thing was done, with the loss reduced to a minimum and the makeshift laborers dropping out in squads and groups, some laughing, some swearing, and all too weary and toil-worn to be dangerous. "Give us a job if we come back to-morrow, Mr.

Brouillard?" called out the king of the gamblers in passing; and the cry was taken up by others in grim jest.

"Thus endeth the first lesson," said Grislow, when the engineering corps was reassembling at the headquarters preparatory to a descent upon the supper-table. But Brouillard was dumb and haggard, and when he had hung rifle and cartridge-belt on their pegs behind his desk, he went out, leaving unbroken the silence which had greeted his entrance.

"The boss is taking it pretty hard," said young Griffith to no one in particular, and it was Leshington who took him up savagely and invited him to hold his tongue.

"The least said is the soonest mended – at a funeral," was the form the first assistant's rebuke took. "You take my advice and don't mess or meddle with the chief until he's had time to work this thing out of his system."

Brouillard was working it out in his own way, tramping the streets, hanging on the outskirts of arguing groups of newsmongers, or listening to the bonanza talk of the loungers in the Metropole lobby. Soon after dark the gold-seekers began to drop in, by twos and threes and in squads, all with the same story of disappointment. By nine o'clock the town was full of them, and since the liquor was flowing freely across many bars, the mutterings of disappointment soon swelled to a thunder roar of drunken rage, with the unknown exhibitor of the specimen nuggets for its object. From threats of vengeance upon the man who had hoaxed an entire town to a frenzied search for the man was but a step, and when Brouillard finally left the Metropole and crossed over to his office quarters, the mob was hunting riotously for the jeweller Levy and promising to hang him – when found – to the nearest wire pole if he should not confess the name and standing of his gold-bug.

The shouts of the mob were ringing in Brouillard's ears when he strode dejectedly into the deserted map room, and the cries were rising with a new note and in fresher frenzies a little later when Grislow came in. The hydrographer's blue eyes were hard and his voice had a tang of bitterness in it when he said: "Well, you've done it. Three men have just come in with a double handful of nuggets, and Mirapolis makes its bow to the world at large as the newest and richest of the gold camps."

Brouillard had been humped over his desk, and he sprang up with a cry like that of a wounded animal.

"It can't be; Grizzy, I tell you it can't be! Steve Massingale planted that gold that I washed out – played me for a fool to get me to work for the railroad. I didn't know it until – until – "

"Until Amy Massingale told you about it this afternoon," cut in the map-maker shrewdly. "That's all right. The bar Steve took you to was barren enough; they tell me that every cubic foot of it has been washed over in dish pans and skillets in the past few hours. But you know the big bend opposite the Quadjen?? Hills; the river has built that bend out of its own washings, and the bulletin over at the Spot-Light office says that the entire peninsula is one huge bank of gold-bearing gravel."

At the word Brouillard staggered as from the impact of a bullet. Then he crossed the room slowly, groping his way toward the peg where the coat he had worn in the afternoon was hanging. Grislow saw him take something out of the pocket of the coat, and the next moment the door opened and closed and the hydrographer was left alone.

Having been planned before there was a city to be considered, the government buildings enclosed three sides of a small open square, facing toward the great dam. In the middle of this open space Brouillard stopped, kicked up a little mound of earth, and stood the two paper cylinders on it, side by side.

The tempered glow from the city electrics made a soft twilight in the little plaza; he could see the wrapper colors of the two signal-fires quite well. A sharp attack of indecision had prompted him to place both of them on the tiny mound. With the match in his hand, he was still undecided. Amy Massingale's words came back to him as he hesitated: "Light the blue one when you are ready to send me my message of cheer…" On the lips of another woman the words might have taken a materialistic meaning; the miraculous gold discovery would bring the railroad, and the railroad would rescue the Massingale mine and restore the Massingale fortunes.

He looked up at the dark bulk of Chigringo, unrelieved even by the tiny fleck of lamplight which he had so often called his guiding star. "Take me out of your mind and heart and say which you will have, little girl," he whispered, sending the words out into the void of night. But only the din and clamor of a city gone wild with enthusiasm came to answer him. Somewhere on the Avenue a band was playing; men were shouting themselves hoarse in excitement, and above the shouting came the staccato crackling of pistols and guns fired in air.

He struck the match and stooped over the blue cylinder. "This is your message of cheer, whether you take it that way or not," he went on, whispering again to the silent void. But when the fuse of the blue light was fairly fizzing, he suddenly pinched it out and held the match to the other.

Up on the high bench of the great mountain Amy Massingale was pacing to and fro on the puncheon-floored porch of the home cabin. Her father had gone to bed, and somewhere down among the electric lights starring the valley her brother was mingling with the excited mobs whose shoutings and gun-firings floated up, distance-softened, on the still, thin air of the summer night.

Though there was no pause in the monotonous pacing back and forth, the girl's gaze never wandered far from a dark area in the western edge of the town – the semicircle cut into the dotting lights and marking the site of the government reservation. It was when a tiny stream of sparks shot up in the centre of the dark area that she stopped and held her breath. Then, when a blinding flare followed to prick out the headquarters, the commissary, and the mess house, she sank in a despairing little heap on the floor, with her face hidden in her hands and the quick sobs shaking her like an ague chill. It was Brouillard's signal, but it was not the signal of peace; it was the blood-red token of revolution and strife and turmoil.

XI
The Feast of Hurrahs

Mirapolis the marvellous was a hustling, roaring, wide-open mining-camp of twenty thousand souls by the time the railroad, straining every nerve and crowding three shifts into the twenty-four-hour day, pushed its rails along the foot-hill bench of Chigringo, tossed up its temporary station buildings, and signalled its opening for business by running a mammoth excursion from the cities of the immediate East.

Busy as it was, the city took time to celebrate fittingly the event which linked it to the outer world. By proclamation Mayor Cortwright declared a holiday. There were lavish displays of bunting, an impromptu trades parade, speeches from the plaza band-stand, free lunches and free liquor – a day of boisterous, hilarious triumphings, with, incidentally, much buying and selling and many transfers of the precious "front foot" or choice "corner."

Yielding to pressure, which was no less imperative from below than from above, Brouillard had consented to suspend work on the great dam during the day of triumphs, and the Reclamation-Service force, smaller now than at any time since the beginning of the undertaking, went to swell the crowds in Chigringo Avenue.

Of the engineering staff Grislow alone held aloof. Early in the morning he trudged away with rod and trout-basket for the upper waters of the Niquoia and was seen no more. But the other members of the staff, following the example set by the chief, took part in the hilarities, serving on committees, conducting crowds of sightseers through the government reservation and up to the mixers and stagings, and otherwise identifying themselves so closely with the civic celebration as to give the impression, often commented upon by the visitors, that the building of the great dam figured only as another expression of the Mirapolitan activities.

For himself, Brouillard vaguely envied Grislow the solitudes of the upper Niquoia. But Mr. Cortwright had been inexorable. It was right and fitting that the chief executive of the Reclamation Service should have a part in the rejoicings, and Brouillard found himself discomfortingly emphasized as chairman of the civic reception committee. Expostulation was useless. Mr. Cortwright insisted genially, and Miss Genevieve added her word. And there had been only Grislow to smile cynically when the printed programmes appeared with the chief of the Buckskin reclamation project down for an address on "Modern City Building."

It was after his part of the speechmaking, and while the plaza crowds were still bellowing their approval of the modest forensic effort, that he went to sit beside Miss Cortwright in the temporary grand-stand, mopping his face and otherwise exhibiting the after effects of the unfamiliar strain.

"I didn't know you could be so convincing," was Miss Genevieve's comment. "It was splendid! Nobody will ever believe that you are going to go on building your dam and threatening to drown us, after this."

"What did I say?" queried Brouillard, having, at the moment, only the haziest possible idea of what he had said.

"As if you didn't know!" she laughed. "You congratulated everybody: us Mirapolitans upon our near-city, the miners on their gold output, the manufacturers on their display in the parade, the railroad on its energy and progressive spirit, and the visitors on their perspicuity and good sense in coming to see the latest of the seven wonders of the modern world. And the funny thing about it is that you didn't say a single word about the Niquoia dam."

"Didn't I? That shows how completely your father has converted me, how helplessly I am carried along on the torrent of events."

"But you are not," she said accusingly. "Deep down in your inner consciousness you don't believe a little bit in Mirapolis. You are only playing the game with the rest of us, Mr. Brouillard. Sometimes I am puzzled to know why."

Brouillard's smile was rather grim.

"Your father would probably tell you that I have a stake in the game – as everybody else has."

"Not Mr. Grislow?" she said, laying her finger inerrantly upon the single exception.

"No, not Grizzy; I forgot him."

"Doesn't he want to make money?" she asked, with exactly the proper shade of disinterest.

"No; yes, I guess he does, too. But he is – er – well, I suppose you might call him a man of one idea."

"Meaning that he is too uncompromisingly honest to be one of us? I think you are right."

Gorman, Mr. Cortwright's ablest trumpeter in the real-estate booming, was holding the plaza crowd spellbound with his enthusiastic periods, rising upon his toes and lifting his hands in angel gestures to high heaven in confirmation of his prophetic outlining of the Mirapolitan future.

In the middle distance, and backgrounding the buildings on the opposite side of the plaza, rose the false work of the great dam – a standing forest of sawed timbers, whose afternoon shadows were already pointing like a many-fingered fate toward the city of the plain. But, though the face of the speaker was toward the shadowing forest, his words ignored it. "The snow-capped Timanyonis," "the mighty Chigringo," and "the golden-veined slopes of Jack's Mountain" all came in for eulogistic mention; but the massive wall of concrete, with its bristling parapet of timbers, had no part in the orator's flamboyant descriptive.

Brouillard broke the spell of the grandiloquent rantings, and came back to what Miss Genevieve was saying.

"Yes, Murray is stubbornly honest," he agreed; adding: "He is too good for this world, or rather for this little cross-section of Pandemonium named Mirapolis."

"Which, inasmuch as we are making Mirapolis what it is, is more than can be said for most of us," laughed Miss Cortwright. Then, with a purposeful changing of the subject: "Where is Miss Massingale? As the original 'daughter of the Niquoia' she ought to have a place on the band-stand."

"She was with Tig Smith and Lord Falkland when the parade formed," rejoined the engineer. "I saw them on the balcony of the Metropole."

"Since you are the chairman of the reception committee, I think you ought to go and find her," said Miss Genevieve pointedly, so pointedly that Brouillard rose laughing and said:

"Thank you for telling me; whom shall I send to take my place here?"

"Oh, anybody – Lord Falkland will do. By the way, did you know that he is Lord Falkland now? His elder brother died a few weeks ago."

"No, I hadn't heard it. I should think he would want to go home."

"He does. But he, too, has contracted Mirapolitis. He has been investing any number of pounds sterling. If you find him send him to me. I want to see how the real, simon-pure American brand of oratory affects a British title."

Brouillard went, not altogether unwillingly. Loving Amy Massingale with a passion which, however blind it might be on the side of the higher moralities, was still keen-sighted enough to assure him that every plunge he made in the Mirapolitan whirlpool was sweeping him farther away from her; he found himself drifting irresistibly into the inner circle of attraction of which Genevieve Cortwright was the centre.

Whether Miss Cortwright's influence was for good or for evil, in his own case, or was entirely disinterested, he could never quite determine. There were times, like this present instant of blatant rejoicings, when she was brightly cynical, flinging a mocking jest at all things Mirapolitan. But at other times he had a haunting conviction that she was at heart her father's open-eyed ally and abettor, taking up as she might the burden of filial loyalty thrown down by her brother Van Bruce, who, in his short summer of Mirapolitan citizenship, had been illustrating all the various methods by which a spoiled son of fortune may go to the dogs.

Brouillard faced the impossible brother and the almost equally impossible father when he thought of Genevieve Cortwright. But latterly the barriers on that side had been crumbling more and more. Once, and once only, had he mentioned the trusteeship debt to Genevieve, and on that occasion she had laughed lightly at what she had called his strained sense of honor.

The laugh had come at a critical moment. It was in the height of the madness following the discovery of the placers, in an hour when Brouillard would have given his right hand to undo the love-prompted disloyalty to his service, that Cortwright, whose finger was on everybody's pulse, had offered to buy in the thousand shares of power company's stock at par. Brouillard had seen freedom in a stroke of the millionaire's pen; but it was a distinct downward step that by this time he was coming to look upon the payment of his father's honor debt as a hard necessity. He meant to pay it, but there was room for the grim determination that the payment should forever sever him from the handicapped past.

He had transferred the stock, minus a single share to cover his official standing on the power company's board, to Cortwright and had received the millionaire's check in payment. It was in the evening of the same eventful day, he remembered, that Genevieve Cortwright had laughed, and the letter, which was already written to the treasurer of a certain Indianapolis trust company, was not mailed. Instead of mailing it he had opened an account at the Niquoia National, and the ninety-nine thousand nine hundred dollars had since grown by speculative accretions to the rounded first eighth of a million which all financiers agree in calling the stepping-stone to fortune.

He had regarded this money – was still regarding it – as a loan; his lever with which to pry out something which he could really call his own. But more and more possession and use were dulling the keen edge of accountability and there were moments of insight when the grim irony of taking the price of honor to pay an honor debt forced itself upon him. At such moments he plunged more recklessly, in one of them taking stock in a gold-dredge company which was to wash nuggets by the wholesale out of the Quadjen?? bend, in another buying yet other options in the newest suburb of Mirapolis.

What was to come of all this he would not suffer himself to inquire; but two results were thrusting themselves into the foreground. Every added step in the way he had chosen was taking him farther from the ideals of an ennobling love and nearer to a possibility which precluded all ideals. Notwithstanding Grislow's characterization of her as a trophy hunter, Genevieve Cortwright was, after all, a woman, and as a woman she was to be won. With the na?ve conceit of a man who has broken into the heart of one woman, Brouillard admitted no insurmountable obstacles other than those which the hard condition of being himself madly in love with another woman might interpose; and there were times when, to the least worthy part of him, the possibility was alluring. Miss Cortwright's distinctive beauty, her keen and ready wit, the assurance that she would never press the ideals beyond the purely conventional limits; in the course of time these might happily smother the masterful passion which had thus far been only a blind force driving him to do evil that good might ensue.

Some such duel of motives was fighting itself to an indecisive conclusion in the young engineer's thoughts when he plunged into the sidewalk throngs in search of the Englishman, and it was not until after he had found Falkland and had delivered Miss Genevieve's summons that the duel paused and immediate and more disquieting impressions began to record themselves.

With the waning of the day of celebrations the temper of the street throngs was changing. It is only the people of the Latinized cities who can take the carnival spirit lightly; in other blood liberty grows to license and the thin veneer of civilized restraints quickly disappears. From early dawn the saloons and dives had been adding fuel to the flames, and light-heartedness and good-natured horse-play were giving way to sardonic humor and brutality.



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