Francis Lynde.

The City of Numbered Days



скачать книгу бесплатно

In the short faring through the crowded street from the plaza to the Metropole corner Brouillard saw and heard things to make his blood boil. Women, those who were not a part of the unrestrained mob, were disappearing from the streets, and it was well for them if they could find shelter near at hand. Twice before he reached Bongras's caf? entrance the engineer shouldered his way to the rescue of some badgered nucleus of excursionists, and in each instance there were frightened women to be hurriedly spirited away to the nearest place of seclusion and safety.

It was in front of Bongras's that Brouillard came upon the Reverend Hugh Castner, the hot-hearted young zealot who had been flung into Mirapolis on the crest of the tidal wave of mining excitement. Though Hosford – who had not been effaced, as Mr. Cortwright had promised he should be – and the men of his clique called the young missionary a meddlesome visionary, he stood in the stature of a man, and lower Chigringo Avenue loved him and swore by him; and sent for him now and then when some poor soul, hastily summoned, was to be eased off into eternity.

When Brouillard caught sight of him Castner was looking out over the seething street caldron from his commanding height of six feet of athletic man stature, his strong face a mask of bitter humiliation and concern.

"Brouillard, this is simply hideous!" he exclaimed. "If this devils' carnival goes on until nightfall we shall have a revival of the old Roman Saturnalia at its worst!" Then, with a swift blow at the heart of the matter: "You're the man I've been wanting to see; you are pretty close in with the Cortwright junta – is it true that free whiskey has been dealt out to the crowd over the bar in the Niquoia Building?"

Brouillard said that he did not know, which was true, and that he could not believe it possible, which was not true. "The Cortwright people are as anxious to have the celebration pass off peaceably as even you can be," he assured the young missionary, trying to buttress the thing which was not true. "When riot comes in at the door, business flies out at the window; and, after all, this feast of hurrahs is merely another bid for business."

But Castner was shaking his head.

"I can't answer for Mr. Cortwright personally. He and Handley and Schermerhorn and a few of the others seem to stand for respectability of a sort. But, Mr. Brouillard, I want to tell you this: somebody in authority is grafting upon the vice of this community, not only to-day but all the time."

"The community is certainly vicious enough to warrant any charge you can make," admitted Brouillard. Then he changed the topic abruptly. "Have you seen Miss Massingale since noon?"

"Yes; I saw her with Smith, the cattleman, at the other end of the Avenue about an hour ago."

"Heavens!" gritted the engineer. "Didn't Smith know better than to take her down there at such a time as this?"

The young missionary was frowning thoughtfully.

"I think it was the other way about. Her brother has been drinking again, and I took it for granted that she and Smith were looking for him."

Brouillard buttoned his coat and pulled his soft hat over his eyes.

"I'm going to look for her," he said. "Will you come along?"

Castner nodded, and together they put their shoulders to the crowd. The slow progress northward was nearly a battle. The excursion trains returning to Red Butte and Brewster were scheduled to leave early, and the stream of blatant, uproarious humanity was setting strongly toward the temporary railroad station.

Again and again the engineer and his companion had to intervene by word and blow to protect the helpless in the half-drunken, gibe-flinging crush, and in these sallies Castner bore his part like a man, expostulating first and hitting out afterward in a fashion that left no doubt in the mind of his antagonist of the moment.

So, struggling, they came finally to the open square of the plaza. Here the speechmaking was concluded and the crowd was thinning a little. There was a clamorous demonstration of some sort going on around the band-stand, but they left it behind and pushed on into the less noisy but more dangerous region of the lower Avenue.

In one of the saloons, as they passed, a sudden crackling of pistol-shots began, and a mob of terrorized Reclamation-Service workmen poured into the street, sweeping all obstacles before it in a mad rush for safety.

"It was little less than a crime to turn your laborers loose on the town on such an occasion as this," said Castner, dealing out his words as frankly and openly as he did his blows.

Brouillard shrugged.

"If I hadn't given them the day they would have taken it without leave. You'll have to pass the responsibility on to some one higher up."

The militant one accepted the challenge promptly.

"It lies ultimately at the door of those whose insatiate greed has built this new Gomorrah in the shadow of your dam." He wheeled suddenly and flung a long arm toward the half-finished structure filling the gap between the western shoulders of Chigringo and Jack's Mountain. "There stands the proof of God's wisdom in hiding the future from mankind, Mr. Brouillard. Because a little section of humanity here behind that great wall knows the end of its hopes, and the manner and time of that end, it becomes demon-ridden, irreclaimable!"

At another time the engineer might have felt the force of the tersely eloquent summing up of the accusation against the Mirapolitan attitude. But now he was looking anxiously for Amy Massingale or her escort, or both of them.

"Surely Smith wouldn't let her stay down here a minute longer than it took to get her away," he said impatiently as a pair of drunken Cornishmen reeled out of Haley's Place and usurped the sidewalk. "Where was it you saw them, Castner?"

"They were in front of 'Pegleg John's', in the next block. Miss Massingale was waiting for Smith, who was just coming out of Pegleg's den shaking his head. I put two and two together and guessed they were looking for Stephen."

"If they went there Miss Amy had her reasons. Let's try it," said Brouillard, and he was half-way across the street when Castner overtook him.

There was a dance-hall next door to Pegleg John's barrel-house and gambling rooms, and, though the daylight was still strong enough to make the electrics garishly unnecessary, the orgy was in full swing, the raucous clanging of a piano and the shuffle and stamp of many feet drowning the monotonous cries of the sidewalk "barker," who was inviting all and sundry to enter and join the dancers.

Castner would have stopped to question the "barker" – was, in fact, trying to make himself heard – when the sharp crash of a pistol-shot dominated the clamor of the piano and the stamping feet. Brouillard made a quick dash for the open door of the neighboring barrel-house, and Castner was so good a second that they burst in as one man.

The dingy interior of Pegleg John's, which was merely a barrel-lined vestibule leading to the gambling rooms beyond, staged a tragedy. A handsome young giant, out of whose face sudden agony had driven the brooding passion of intoxication, lay, loose-flung, on the sawdust-covered floor, with Amy Massingale kneeling in stricken, tearless misery beside him. Almost within arm's-reach Van Bruce Cortwright, the slayer, was wrestling stubbornly with Tig Smith and the fat-armed barkeeper, who were trying to disarm him, his heavy face a mask of irresponsible rage and his lips bubbling imprecations.

"Turn me loose," he gritted. "I'll fix him so he won't give the governor's snap away! He'll pipe the story of the Coronida Grant off to the papers? – not if I kill him till he's too dead to bury, I guess."

Castner ignored the wrestling three and dropped quickly on his knees beside Stephen Massingale, bracing the misery-stricken girl with the needed word of hope and directing her in low tones how to help him search for the wound.

But Brouillard hurled himself with an oath upon young Cortwright, and it was he, and neither the cattleman nor the fat-armed barkeeper, who wrenched the weapon out of Cortwright's grasp and with it menaced the babbling murderer into silence.

XII
Quicksands

A short week after the Reclamation Service headquarters had been moved from the log-built offices on the government reservation to the commodious and airy suite on the sixth floor of the Niquoia Building Brouillard received the summons which he had been expecting ever since the night of rioting and lawlessness which had marked the close of the railroad celebration.

"Mr. Cortwright would like to see you in his rooms at the Metropole," was the message the office boy brought, and Brouillard closed his desk with a snap and followed the boy to Bongras's.

The shrewd-eyed tyrant of Mirapolis was in his shirt-sleeves, busily dictating to two stenographers alternately, when the engineer entered the third room of the series; but the work was suspended and the stenographers were sent away as soon as Brouillard was announced.

"Well," was the millionaire's greeting, "you waited to be sent for, didn't you?"

"Why not?" said Brouillard shortly. "I have my work to do and you have yours."

"And the two jobs are at opposite ends of the string, you'd say. Never mind; we can't afford to throw each other down, and just now you can tell me a few things that I want to know. How is young Massingale getting along?"

"As well as could be expected. Carruthers – the doctor – says he is out of danger."

"H'm. It has been handed in to me two or three times lately that the old man is out gunning for Van Bruce or for me. Any truth in that?"

"I think not. Massingale is a Kentuckian, and I fancy he is quite capable of potting either one or both of you for the attack on his son. But so far he has done nothing – has hardly left Steve's bedside."

Mr. J. Wesley Cortwright flung himself back in his luxurious swing chair and clasped his pudgy hands over the top of his head where the reddish-gray hair was thinning reluctantly.

"I've been putting it off to see which way the cat was going to jump," he admitted. "If young Massingale is out of danger, it is time to get action. What was the quarrel about, between him and Van Bruce?"

"Why do you ask me?" queried Brouillard.

"Because you are pretty thick with the Massingales, and you probably know," was the blunt accounting for the question.

"It occurs to me that your son would be a better source of information," said Brouillard, still evading.

"Van Bruce has told me all he remembers – which isn't much, owing to his own beastly condition at the time. He says young Massingale was threatening something – something in connection with the Coronida Grant – and that he got the insane idea into his head that the only way to stop the threat was by killing Massingale."

The sandy-gray eyes of the millionaire promoter were shifting while he spoke, but Brouillard fixed and held them before he said: "Why should Massingale threaten your son, Mr. Cortwright?"

"I don't know," denied the promoter, and he said it without flinching a hair's-breadth.

"Then I can tell you," was the equally steady rejoinder. "Some time ago you lent David Massingale, through the bank, a pretty large sum of money for development expenses on the 'Little Susan,' taking a mortgage on everything in sight to cover the loan."

"I did."

"Massingale's obligation was in short-time, bankable paper, which he expected to take up when the railroad should come in and give him a market for the ore which he has already taken out of the mine."

"Yes."

"But when the railroad was an assured fact he learned that the Red Butte smelters wouldn't take his ore, giving some technical reason which he knew to be a mere excuse."

Mr. Cortwright nodded. "So far you might be reading it out of a book."

"In consequence of these successive happenings, David Massingale finds himself in a fair way to become a broken man by the simplest of commercial processes. The bank holds his notes, which will presently have to be paid. If he can't pay, the bank comes back on you as his indorser, and you fall back on your mortgage and take the mine. Isn't that about the size of it?"

"It is exactly the size of it."

Brouillard laughed quietly. "And yet you said a moment ago that you didn't know why young Massingale should threaten your son."

"And I don't know yet," blustered the magnate. "Is it my fault that Massingale can't pay his debts?"

The engineer had stopped laughing when he said definitely and decidedly: "It is."

It was the promoter's turn to laugh.

"What sort of a bug have you got in your cosmos this morning, Brouillard? Why, man, you're crazy!"

Brouillard rose and relighted his cigar.

"If that is your last word, Mr. Cortwright, I may as well go back to my office. You don't need me."

"Oh, hold on; don't go off in a huff. You're too thin-skinned for any common kind of use. I was only trying you to see how far you'd carry it. Let it stand. Assume, for the sake of argument, that I do want the 'Little Susan' and that I've got a good friend or two in the Red Butte smelters who will help me get it. Now, then, does that stand the band-wagon upon its wheels again?"

Brouillard's black eyes were snapping, but his voice was quite steady when he said: "Thank you; now we shall go on better. You want the 'Little Susan,' and Massingale naturally thinks you're taking an unfair advantage of him to get it. Quite as naturally he is going to make reprisals if he can. That brings us down to the mention of the Coronida Grant and Stephen Massingale's threat – which your son can't remember."

"Right-o," said Mr. Cortwright, still with predetermined geniality. "What was the threat?"

"I don't know, but the guessing list is open to everybody. There was once a grant of many square miles of mountain and desert somewhere in this region made to one Don Estacio de Montarriba Coronida. Like those of most of the great Spanish land grants, the boundaries of this one were loosely described and – "

Mr. Cortwright held up a fat hand.

"I know what you're going to say. But we went into all that at Washington before we ever invested a single dollar in this valley. As you may or may not know, the Reclamation Service bureau tried to choke us off. But when it came down to brass tacks, they lacked a witness. We may be in the bed of your proposed lake, but we're safely on Coronida land."

"So you say," said Brouillard quietly, "and on the strength of that you have been guaranteeing titles."

"Oh, no," protested the millionaire. "We have merely referred purchasers to the record. There is a clause in every deed."

"But you have caused it to be believed that your title was good, that the government's claim to the land will not hold."

"It won't hold if we're on Coronida land."

"Ah! Just there is where Massingale comes in, I imagine. He has spent twenty years or more in this region, and he knows every landmark in it. What if he should be able to put a lighted match to your pile of kindling, Mr. Cortwright?"

The promoter pulled himself erect with a grip on either arm of the chair.

"Brouillard, do you know what you are talking about?" he demanded.

"No; it is only a guess. But as matters stand – with your son indictable for an attempted murder … if I were you, Mr. Cortwright, I believe I'd give David Massingale a chance to pay those notes at the bank."

"And let him blackmail me? Not in a month of Sundays, Brouillard! Let him sell his ore and pay the notes if he can. If he can't, I'll take the mine."

"All right," said the visitor placably. "You asked, and I've answered. Now let's come to something more vital to both of us. There is a pretty persistent rumor on the street that you and your associates succeeded in getting a resolution through both houses of Congress at the last session, appointing a committee to investigate this Coronida claim right here on the ground. Nobody seems to have any definite details, and it possibly hasn't occurred to any one that Congress hasn't been in session since Mirapolis was born. But that doesn't matter. The committee is coming: you have engaged rooms for it here in Bongras's. You are expecting the private-car special next week."

"Well?" said the magnate. "You're a pretty good kindergartner. But what of it?"

"Oh, nothing. Only I think you might have taken me in on the little side play. What if I had gone about town contradicting the rumor?"

"Why should you? It's true. The Congressional party will be here next week, and nobody has made any secret of it."

"Still, I might have been taken in," persisted Brouillard suavely. "You'll surely want to give me my instructions a little beforehand, won't you? Just think how easily things might get tangled. Suppose I should say to somebody – to Garner, for example – that the town was hugely mistaken; that no Congressional committee had ever been appointed; that these gentlemen who are about to visit us are mere complaisant friends of yours, coming as your guests, on a junketing trip at your expense. Wouldn't that be rather awkward?"

The mayor of Mirapolis brought his hands together, fist in palm, and for a flitting instant the young engineer saw in the face of the father the same expression that he had seen in the face of the son when Van Bruce Cortwright was struggling for a second chance to kill a man.

"Damn you!" said the magnate savagely; "you always know too much! You're bargaining with me!"

"Well, you have bargained with me, first, last, and all the time," was the cool retort. "On each occasion I have had my price, and you have paid it. Now you are going to pay it again. Shall I go over to the Spot-Light office and tell Harlan what I know?"

"You can't bluff me that way, Brouillard, and you ought to sense it by this time. Do you suppose I don't know how you are fixed? – that you've got money – money that you used to say you owed somebody else – tied up in Mirapolis investments?"

Brouillard rose and buttoned his coat.

"There is one weak link in your chain, Mr. Cortwright," he said evenly; "you don't know men. Put on your coat and come over to Harlan's office with me. It will take just about two minutes to satisfy you that I'm not bluffing."

For a moment it appeared that the offer was to be accepted. But when he had one arm in a coat sleeve, Brouillard's antagonist in the game of hardihood changed his tactics.

"Forget it," he growled morosely. "What do you want this time?"

"I want you to send a wire to Red Butte telling the smelter people that you will be glad to have them handle the 'Little Susan' ore."

"And if I do?"

"If you do, two things otherwise due to happen adversely will go over to your side of the market. I'll agree to keep out of the way of the sham Washington delegation, and I think I can promise that Harlan won't make a scare-head of the facts concerning the Coronida land titles."

Mr. Cortwright thrust the other arm into the remaining coat sleeve and scowled. But the rebound to the norm of brusque good-nature came almost immediately.

"You are improving wonderfully, Brouillard, and that's no joke. I have a large respect for a man who can outbid me in my own corner. You ought to be in business – and you will be, some time. I'll send the wire, but I warn you in advance that I can't make the smelter people take Massingale's ore if they don't want to. All I can do is to give the old man a free field."

"That is all he will ask – all I'll ask, except one small personal favor: don't rub your masquerading Washington delegation into me too hard. A fine quality of non-interference is about all you are buying from me, and – "

The interruption came in the form of a tap at the door opening into the hotel corridor, and Brouillard, at a sign from the master of the precincts, turned the knob. It was Miss Genevieve who entered, bringing the sweet breeziness and audacity of youth and beauty and health with her.

"How fortunate!" she exclaimed, with the charming smile that accorded so perfectly with her fresh, early-morning radiance. And while the hand of greeting still lay in Brouillard's: "I have just been up to your office, and they told me they hadn't the smallest idea where you could be found. Are you going to be very busy this afternoon?"

Brouillard gave the required denial, and she explained her quest of him. There was to be an auto party to the newly opened casino at the upper power dam. Would he go, if he might have the post of honor behind the pilot-wheel of the new sixty-horse, seven-passenger flyer? Please!

Mr. Cortwright leaned heavily upon his desk while the asking and answering went on, and the shrewd, gray eyes were busy. When his daughter went out and Brouillard was about to follow her, the genial web spinner stopped him.

"Tell me one thing, Brouillard: what is your stake in the Massingale game? Are you a silent partner in the 'Little Susan'?"

"No."

"Then why are you so anxious to make old David a rich man at my expense? Are you going to marry the girl?"

The engineer did not resent the question as he would have resented it a few weeks earlier. Instead he smiled and said: "A little while ago, Mr. Cortwright, I told you that you didn't know men; now I'll add that you don't know women."



скачать книгу бесплатно

страницы: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19