The City of Numbered Daysскачать книгу бесплатно
Late as it was when he left the Spot-Light office, Brouillard waited on the corner for a Quadjen?? car, and, catching one, he was presently whisked out to the ornate villa in the eastern suburb. There was a light in the hall and another in a room to the rear, and it was Amy who answered his touch of the bell-push.
"No, I can't stay," he said, when she asked him in. "But I had to come, if it was only for a minute. The deed is done. I've had my next-to-the-last round-up with Mr. J. Wesley Cortwright, and to-morrow's Spot-Light will fire the sunset gun for Mirapolis. Is your father here?"
"No. He and Stevie are up at the mine. I am looking for them on every car."
"When they come, tell your father it's time to hike. Are you all packed?"
She nodded. "Everything is ready."
"All right. Three of my teams will be here by midnight, at the latest. The drivers and helpers will be good men and you can trust them. Don't let anything interfere with your getting safely up to the mountain to-night. There'll be warm times in Gomorrah from this on and I want a free hand – which I shouldn't have with you here."
"Oh, I'm glad, glad! – and I'm just as scared as I can be!" she gasped with true feminine inconsistency. "They will single you out first; what if I am sending you to your death, Victor! Oh, please don't go and break my heart the other way across by getting killed!"
He drew a deep breath and laughed.
"You don't know how good it sounds to hear you say that – and say it in that way. I sha'n't be reckless. But I'm going to bring J. Wesley and his crowd to book – they've got to go, and they've got to turn the 'Little Susan' loose."
"They will never do that," she said sadly.
"I'll make them; you wait and see."
She looked up with the violet eyes kindling.
"I told you once that you could do anything you wanted to – if you only wanted to hard enough. I believed it then; I believe it now."
"No," he denied with a smile that was half sorrowful, "I can't make two hills without a valley between them. I've chased down the back track like a little man, – for love's sake, Amy, – and I've burned all the bridges behind me as I ran; namely, the sham deeds to the pieces of reservoir bottom I'd been buying. But when it is all over I shall be just where I was when we began – exactly one hundred thousand dollars short of being able to say: 'Come, girl, let's go and get married.'"
"But father owes you a hundred thousand dollars," she said quickly.
"Not in a hundred thousand years, O most inconsistent of women! Didn't we agree that that money was poisoned? It was the purchase price of an immortal soul, and I wouldn't touch it with a pair of tongs. That is why your father couldn't use it; it belonged to the devil and the devil wanted it back."
"Father won't take that view of it," she protested.
"Then you'll have to help me to bully him, that's all. But I must go and relieve Grizzy, who is doing guard duty at the mixers… Tell your father – no, that isn't what I meant to say, it's this – " and his arms went suddenly across the hundred-thousand-dollar chasm.
A little deeper in the night, when he was tramping back through the sleeping town and up to the mixers on the high bench of Jack's Mountain, Brouillard knew well enough that he was walking over a thin-crusted crater of volcanic possibilities.
But to a man in the seventh heaven of love acknowledged without shame, and equally without shame returned, – nay, with the first passionate kiss of the love still tingling on his lips, – volcanic possibilities, or even the volcanoes themselves, figure lightly, indeed.
In the Yellowstone National Park there is an apparently bottomless pit which can be instantly transformed into a spouting, roaring Vesuvius of boiling water by the simple expedient of dropping a bar of soap into it.
The Spot-Light went to press at three o'clock. By the earliest graying of dawn, and long before the sun had shown itself above the eastern Timanyonis, Brouillard's bar of soap was melting and the Mirapolitan under-depths were beginning to heave. Like wild-fire, the news spread from lip to lip and street to street, and by sunrise the geyser was retching and vomiting, belching d?bris of cries and maledictions, and pouring excited and riotous crowds into Chigringo Avenue.
Most naturally, the Spot-Light office was the first point of attack, and Harlan suffered loss, though it was inconsiderable. At the battering down of the doors the angry mob found itself confronting the young Reclamation Service chief and four members of his staff, all armed. Brouillard spoke briefly and to the point.
"I am the man who wrote that article you've been reading, and Mr. Harlan printed it as a matter of news. If you have anything to say to me you know where to find me. Now, move on and let Mr. Harlan's property alone or somebody will get hurt."
Nobody stayed to press the argument at the moment. An early-morning mob is proverbially incoherent and incohesive; and, besides, loaded Winchesters in the hands of five determined men are apt to have an eloquence which is more or less convincing.
But with the opening of business the geyser spouted again. The exchanges were mobbed by eager sellers, each frenzied struggler hoping against hope that he might find some one simple enough to buy. At ten o'clock the bank closed – "Temporarily," the placard notice said. But there were plenty to believe that it would never open again.
By noon the trading panic had exhausted itself a little, though the lobby and caf? of the Metropole were crowded, and anxious groups quickly formed around any nucleus of rumor or gossip in the streets.
Between one and two o'clock, while Brouillard, Leshington, and Anson were hastily eating a luncheon sent over to the mapping room from Bongras's, Harlan drifted in.
"Spill your news," commanded Leshington gruffly. "What's doing, and who's doing it?"
"Nobody, and nothing much," said Harlan, answering the two queries as one. "The town is falling apart like a bunch of sand and the get-away has set in. Two full trains went east this forenoon, and two more are scheduled for this afternoon if the railroad people can get the cars here."
"'Good-by, little girl, good-by,'" hummed Grislow, entering in time to hear the report of the flight.
But Leshington was shaking his big head moodily. "Laugh about it if you can, but it's no joke," he growled. "When the froth is blown away and the bubbles quit rising, there are going to be some mighty bitter settlings left in the bottom of the stein."
"You're right, Leshington," said Harlan, gravely. "What we're seeing now is only the shocked surprise of it – as when a man says 'Ouch!' before he realizes that the dog which has bitten him has a well-developed case of rabies. We'll come to the hydrophobic stage later on."
By nightfall of this first day the editor's ominous prophecy seemed about to reach its fulfilment. The Avenue was crowded again and the din and clamor was the roar of a mob infuriated. Brouillard and Leshington had just returned from posting a company of the workmen guard at the mixers and crushers, when Grislow, who had been scouting on the Avenue, came in.
"Harmless enough, yet," he reported. "It's only some more of the get-away that Harlan was describing. Just the same, it's something awful. People are fairly climbing over one another on the road up the hill to the station – with no possible hope of getting a train before some time to-morrow. Teamsters are charging twenty-five dollars a load for moving stuff that won't find cars for a week, and they're scarce at the price."
Leshington, who was not normally a profane man, opened his mouth and said things.
"If the Cortwright crowd had one man in it with a single idea beyond saving his own miserable stake!" he stormed. "What are the spellbinders doing, Grizzy?"
The hydrographer grinned. "Cortwright and a chosen few left this afternoon, hotfoot, for Washington, to get the government to interfere. That's the story they'd like to have the people believe. But the fact is, they ran away from Judge Lynch."
"Yes; I think I see 'em coming back – not!" snorted the first assistant. Then to Brouillard: "That puts it up to us from this out. Is there anything we can do?"
Brouillard shook his head. "I don't want to stop the retreat. I've heard from President Ford. The entire Western Division will hustle the business of emptying the town, and the quicker it is done the sooner it will be over."
For a tumultuous week the flight from the doomed city went on, and the overtaxed single-track railroad wrought miracles of transportation. Not until the second week did the idea of material salvage take root, but, once started, it grew like Jonah's gourd. Hundreds of wrecking crews were formed. Plants were emptied, and the machinery was shipped as it stood. Houses and business blocks were gutted of everything that could be carried off and crowded into freight-cars. And, most wonderful of all, cars were found and furnished almost as fast as they could be loaded.
But the second week was not without incidents of another sort. Twice Brouillard had been shot at – once in the dark as he was entering the mapping room, and again in broad day when he was crossing the Avenue to Bongras's. The second attempt was made by the broker Garner, whom excitement or loss, or both, had driven crazy. The young engineer did nothing in either case save to see to it that Garner was sent to his friends in Kansas City. But when, two nights later, an attempt was made to dynamite the great dam, he covered the bill-boards with warning posters. Outsiders found within the Reclamation Service picket-lines after dark would be held as intentional criminals and dealt with accordingly.
"It begins to look a little better," said Anson on the day in the third week when the army of government laborers began to strip the final forms from the top of the great wall which now united the two mountain shoulders and completely overshadowed and dominated the dismantled town. "If the Avenue would only take its hunch and go, the agony would be over."
But Brouillard was dubious. The Avenue, more particularly the lower Avenue, constituted the dregs. Bongras, whom Brouillard had promised to indemnify, stayed; some of the shopkeepers stayed for the chance of squeezing the final trading dollar out of the government employees; the saloon-keepers stayed to a man, and the dives were still running full blast – chiefly now on the wages of the government force.
"It will be worse before it is better," was the young chiefs prediction, and the foreboding verified itself that night. Looting of a more or less brazen sort had been going on from the first, and by nine o'clock of the night of prediction a loosely organized mob of drink-maddened terrorists was drifting from street to street, and there were violence and incendiarism to follow.
Though the property destruction mattered little, the anarchy it was breeding had to be controlled. Brouillard and Leshington got out their reserve force and did what they could to restore some semblance of order. It was little enough; and by ten o'clock the amateur policing of the city had reduced itself to a double guarding of the dam and the machinery, and a cordoning of the Metropole, the Reclamation Service buildings, and the Spot-Light office. For Harlan, the dash of sporting blood in his veins asserting itself, still stayed on and continued to issue his paper.
"I said I wanted to be in at the death, and for a few minutes to-night I thought I was going to be," he told Brouillard, when the engineer had posted his guards and had climbed the stair to the editorial office. Then he asked a question: "When is this little hell-on-earth going to be finally extinguished, Victor?"
Instead of answering, Brouillard put a question of his own: "Did you know that Cortwright and Schermerhorn and Judge Williams came back this evening, Harlan?"
"I did," said the newspaper man. "They are registered at the Metropole as large as life. And Miss Genevieve and Lord Falkland and Cortwright's ugly duckling of a son came with them. What's up?"
"That is what I'd like to know. There's a bunch of strangers at the Metropole, too, a sheriff's posse, Poodles thinks; at least, there is a deputy from Red Butte with the crowd."
Harlan tilted back in his chair and scanned the ceiling reflectively. "This thing is getting on my nerve, old man. I wish we could clean the slate and all go home."
"It is going to be cleaned. Notices will be posted to-morrow warning everybody that the waste-gates will be closed promptly on the date advertised."
"When is it? Things have been revolving too rapidly to let me remember such a trivial item as a date."
"It is the day after to-morrow, at noon."
The owner of the Spot-Light nodded. "Let her go, Gallagher. I've got everything on skids, even the presses. Au revoir– or perhaps one should say, Au reservoir."
Fresh shoutings and a crackling of pistols arose in the direction of the plaza, and Brouillard got up and went to a window. The red glow of other house burnings loomed against the sombre background of Jack's Mountain.
"Senseless savages!" he muttered, and then went back to the editor. "I don't like this Cortwright reappearance, Harlan. I wish I knew what it means."
"Let's see," said the newsman thoughtfully; "what is there worth taking that they didn't take in the sauve qui peut? By Jove – say! Did old David Massingale get out of J. Wesley's clutches before the lightning struck?"
"I wish I could say 'Yes', and be sure of it," was the sober reply. "You knew about the thieving stock deal, or what you didn't know I told you. Well, I had Massingale, as president, call a meeting of directors – which never met. Afterward, acting under legal advice, he went on working the mine, and he's been working it ever since, shipping a good bit of ore now and then, when he could squeeze it in between the get-away trains. Of course, there is bound to be a future of some sort; but that is the present condition of affairs."
"How about those notes in the bank? Wasn't Massingale personally involved in some way?"
Brouillard bounded out of his chair as if the question had been a point-blank pistol-shot.
"Great Heavens!" he exclaimed. "To-day's the day! In the hustle I had forgotten it, and I'll bet old David has – if he hasn't simply ignored it. That accounts for the reunion at the Metropole!"
"Don't worry," said Harlan easily. "The bank has gone, vanished, shut up shop. At the end of the ends, I suppose, they can make David pay; but they can't very well cinch him for not meeting his notes on the dot."
"Massingale doesn't really owe them anything that he can't pay," Brouillard asserted. "By wiring and writing and digging up figures, we found that the capitalizing stockholders, otherwise J. Wesley Cortwright, and possibly Schermerhorn, have actually invested fifty-two thousand dollars, or, rather, that amount of Massingale's loan has been expended in equipment and pay-rolls. Three weeks ago the old man got the smelter superintendent over here from Red Butte, and arranged for an advance of fifty-two thousand dollars on the ore in stock, the money to be paid when the first train of ore-cars should be on the way in. It was paid promptly in New York exchange, and Massingale indorsed the draft over to me to be used in the directors' meeting, which was never held."
"Well?" said the editor.
Brouillard took a pacing turn up the long, narrow room, and when he came back he said: "I guess I'm only half reformed, after all, Harlan. I'd give a year or so out of my natural life if I had a grip on Cortwright that would enable me to go across to Bongras's and choke a little justice out of him."
"Go over and flash Massingale's fifty-two thousand dollars at 'em. They'll turn loose. I'll bet a yellow cur worth fifteen cents that they're wishing there was a train out of this little section of Sheol right now. Hear that!"
The crash of an explosion rattled the windows, and the red loom on the Jack's Mountain side of the town leaped up and became a momentary glare. The fell spirit of destruction, of objectless wreck and ruin, was abroad, and Brouillard turned to the stairway door.
"I'll have to be making the rounds again," he said. "The Greeks and Italians are too excitable to stand much of this. Take care of yourself; I'll leave Grif and a dozen of the trusties to look after the shop."
When he reached the sidewalk the upper Avenue was practically deserted. But in the eastern residence district, and well around to the north, new storm-centres were marked by the increasing number of fires. Brouillard stopped and faced toward the distant and invisible Timanyonis. A chill autumn breeze was sweeping down from the heights and the blockading wall of the great dam turned it into eddies and dust-pillared whirls dancing in the empty street.
Young Griffith sauntered up with his Winchester in the hollow of his arm.
"Anything new?" he asked.
"No," said Brouillard. "I was just thinking that a little wind would go a long way to-night, with these crazy house-burners loose on the town." Then he turned and walked rapidly to the government headquarters, passed the sentry at the door of the mapping room; and out of the fire-proof vault where the drawings and blue-print duplicates were kept took a small tin despatch-box.
He had opened the box and had transferred a slip of paper from it to the leather-covered pocket field book which served him for a wallet, when there was a stir at the door and Castner hurried in, looking less the clergyman than the hard-working peace-officer.
"More bedlam," he announced. "I want Gassman or Handley and twenty or thirty good men. The mob has gone from wrecking and burning to murdering. 'Pegleg' John was beaten to death in front of his saloon a few minutes ago. It is working this way. There were three fires in the plaza as I came through."
"See Grislow at the commissary and tell him I sent you," said the chief. "I'd go with you, but I'm due at the Metropole."
"Good. Then Miss Amy got word to you? I was just about to deliver her message."
"Miss Massingale? Where is she, and what was the message?" demanded Brouillard.
"Then you haven't heard? The 'Little Susan' is in the hands of a sheriff's posse, and David Massingale is under arrest on some trumped-up charge – selling ore for his individual account, or something of that sort. Miss Amy didn't go into particulars, but she told me that she had heard the sheriff say it was a penitentiary offence."
"But where is she now?" stormed Brouillard.
"Over at the hotel. I supposed you knew; you said you were going there."
Brouillard snatched up the despatch-box and flung it into the fire-proof. While he was locking the door Castner went in search of Grislow, and when Brouillard faced about, another man stood in the missionary's place by the mapping table. It was Mr. J. Wesley Cortwright.
The gray-faced promoter had lost something of his old-time jaunty assurance, and he was evidently well shaken and unnerved by the sights and sounds of the night of terror. The sandy-gray eyes advertised it as well as the fat hands, which would not keep still.
"I didn't think I'd have to ask a favor of you again, Brouillard, but needs must when the devil drives," he began, with an attempted assumption of the former manner. "We didn't know – the newspapers didn't tell us anything about this frightful state of affairs, and – "
Brouillard had suddenly lost his desire to hurry.
"Sit down, Mr. Cortwright," he said. "I was just coming over to see you – to congratulate you and Mr. Schermerhorn on your return to Mirapolis. We have certainly missed the mayor, not to mention the president of the common council."
"Of course – yes," was the hurried rejoinder. "But that's all over. You said you'd get us, and you did. I don't bear malice. If you had given me one more day I'd have got you; the stuff that would have broken your neck with the Washington people was all written and ready to put on the wires. But that's past and gone, and the next thing is something else. There is a lot of money and securities locked up in the Niquoia Bank vault. We've come to clean up, and we brought a few peace officers along from Red Butte for a guard. The miserable scoundrels are scared stiff; they won't stir out of the hotel. Bongras tells me you've got your force organized and armed – can't you lend us fifty or a hundred huskies to keep the mob off while we open that bank vault?"
Brouillard's black eyes snapped, and the blood danced in his veins. The opportunity for which he would have bartered Ormus treasure had come to him – was begging him to use it.
"I certainly can," he admitted, answering the eager question and emphasizing the potentiality.
"But will you? that's the point. We'll make it worth your while. For God's sake, don't say no, Brouillard! There's pretty well up to a million in that vault, counting odds and ends and left-overs. Schermerhorn oughtn't to have left it. I thought he had sense enough to stay and see it taken care of. But now – "скачать книгу бесплатно
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