The City of Numbered Days
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"But now the mob is very likely to wreck the building and dynamite the vault, you were going to say. I think it is more than likely, Mr. Cortwright, and I wonder that it hasn't been done before this. It would have been done if the rioters had had any idea that you'd left anything worth taking. And it would probably wreck you and Mr. Schermerhorn if it should get hold of you; you've both been burned in effigy half a dozen times since you ran away."
"Oh, good Lord!" shuddered the magnate. "Make it two hundred of your men, and let's hurry. You won't turn us down on this, Brouillard?"
"No. It is no part of our duty to go and keep the mob off while you save your stealings, but we'll do it. And from the noise they are making down that way, I think you are wise in suggesting haste. But first there is a question of common justice to be settled. An hour ago, or such a matter, you sent a part of your sheriff's posse up to seize the 'Little Susan' and to arrest David Massingale – "
"It's – it's a lie!" stammered Cortwright. "Somebody has been trying to backcap me to you!"
Brouillard looked up, frowning.
"You are a good bit older man than I am, Mr. Cortwright, and I sha'n't punch your head. But you'll know why I ought to when I tell you that my informant is Miss Amy Massingale. What have you done with old David?"
The man who had lost his knack of bluffing came down and stayed down.
"He – he's over at the hotel," he stammered.
"Well – y-yes."
Brouillard pointed to the telephone on the wall.
"Go and call up your crowd and get it here. Tell Judge Williams to bring the stock he is holding, and Schermerhorn to bring the Massingale notes, and your man Jackson to bring the stock-book. We'll have that directors' meeting that was called, and wasn't held, three weeks ago."
"Oh, good Heavens!" protested the millionaire, "put it off – for God's sake, put it off! It will be wasting time that may be worth a thousand dollars a minute!"
"You are wasting some of the thousand-dollar minutes right now," was the cool reply, and the engineer turned to his desk and squared himself as if he were going to work on a bunch of foremen's reports.
It was a crude little expedient, but it sufficed. Cortwright tramped to the 'phone and cursed and swore at it until he had his man at the other end of the wire. The man was the lawyer, as it appeared, and Cortwright abused him spitefully.
"You've balled it – balled it beautifully!" he shouted. "Come over here to Brouillard's office and bring Schermerhorn and the stock and the notes and Jackson and the secretary's books and Massingale and your infernal self! Get a move, and get it quick! We stand to lose the whole loaf because you had to butt in and sweep up the crumbs first!"
When the procession arrived, as it did in an incredibly short time, Brouillard laid down the law.
"We don't need these," he said curtly, indicating the two deputies who came to bring David Massingale.And when they were gone: "Now, gentlemen, get to work and do business, and the less time you waste the better chance there will be for your bank salvage. Three requirements I make: you will turn over the stock, putting Mr. Massingale in possession of his mine, without encumbrance; you will cancel and surrender his notes to the bank; and you will give him a document, signed by all of you, acknowledging the payment in full of all claims, past or pending. While you are straightening things out, I'll ring up the yards and rally your guard."
Cortwright turned on the lawyer. "You hear what Brouillard says; fix it, and do it suddenly."
It was done almost before Brouillard had made Leshington, in charge at the yards, understand what was wanted.
"Now a note to your man at the mine to make him let go without putting us to the trouble of throwing him over the dump," said the engineer, when he had looked over the stock transfers, examined the cancelled notes, and read and witnessed the signatures on the receipt in full.
Cortwright nodded to the lawyer, and when Williams began to write again the king of the promoters turned upon Brouillard with a savage sneer.
"Once more you've had your price," he snarled bitterly. "You and the old man have bilked us out of what we spent on the mine. But we'll call it an even break if you'll hurry that gang of huskies."
"We'll call it an even break when it is one," retorted Brouillard; and after he had gathered up the papers he took the New York check from his pocketbook, indorsed it, and handed it to Cortwright. "That is what was spent out of the hundred thousand dollars you had Mr. Massingale charged with, as nearly as we can ascertain. Take it and take care of it; it's real money."
He had turned again to the telephone to hurry Leshington, had rung the call, and was chuckling grimly over the collapse of the four men at the end of the mapping table as they fingered the slip of money paper. Suddenly it was borne in upon him that there was trouble of some sort at the door – there were curses, a blow, a mad rush; then… It was Stephen Massingale who had fought his way past the door-guarding sentry and stood blinking at the group at the far end of the mapping board.
"You're the houn' dog I'm lookin' for!" he raged, singling out Cortwright when the dazzle of the electrics permitted him to see. "You'll rob an old man first, and then call him a thief and set the sheriff on him, will you – ?"
Massingale's pistol was dropping to the firing level when Brouillard flung away the telephone ear-piece and got between. Afterward there was a crash like a collision of worlds, a whirling, dancing medley of colored lights fading to gray and then to darkness, and the engineer went down with the avenger of wrongs tightly locked in his arms.
After the period of darkness had passed and Brouillard opened his eyes again upon the world of things as they are, he had a confused idea that he had overslept shamefully and that the indulgence had given him a bad headache.
The next thought was that the headache was responsible for a set of singular hallucinations. His blanket bunk in the sleeping shack seemed to have transformed itself into a white bed with pillows and snowy sheets, and the bed was drawn up beside an open window through which he could look out, or seem to look out, upon a vast sea dimpling in the breeze and reflecting the sunshine so brightly that it made his headache a darting agony.
When he turned his face to escape the blinding glare of the sun on the sea the hallucinations became soothingly comforting, not to say ecstatic. Some one was sitting on the edge of the bed; a cool hand was laid on his forehead; and when he could again see straight he found himself looking up into a pair of violet eyes in which the tears were trembling.
"You are Amy – and this is that other world you used to talk about, isn't it?" he asked feebly.
The cool hand slipped from his forehead to his lips, as if to warn him that he must not talk, and he went through the motions of kissing it. When it was withdrawn he broke the silent prohibition promptly.
"The way to keep me from talking is to do it all yourself; what happened to me last night?"
She shook her head sorrowfully.
"The 'last night' you mean was three weeks ago. Stevie was trying to shoot Mr. Cortwright in your office and you got between them. Do you remember that?"
"Perfectly," he said. "But it still seems as if it were only last night. Where am I now? – not that it makes any difference, so long as I'm with you."
"You are at home – our home; at the 'Little Susan.' Mr. Leshington had the men carry you up here, and Mr. Ford ran a special train all the way from Denver with the doctors. Stevie's bullet struck you in the head, and – and we all thought you were going to die."
"I'm not," he asserted, in feebly desperate determination. "I'm going to live and get to work and earn a hundred thousand dollars, so I can say: 'Come, little girl – '"
Again the restraining hand was laid upon his lips, and again he went through the motions of kissing it.
"You mustn't talk!" she insisted. "You said you'd let me." And when he made the sign of acquiescence, she went on: "At first the doctors wouldn't give us any hope at all; they said you might live, but you'd – you'd never – never remember – never have your reason again. But yesterday – "
"Please!" he pleaded. "That's more than enough about me. I want to know what happened."
"That night, you mean? All the things that you had planned for. Father got the mine back, and Mr. Leshington and the others got the riot quelled after about half of the city was burned."
"But Cortwright and Schermerhorn – I promised them – "
"Mr. Leshington carried out your promise and helped them get the money out of the bank vault before the mob sacked the Niquoia Building and dynamited it. But at the hotel they were arrested on the order of the bank examiner, and everything was taken away from them. We haven't heard yet what is going to be done with them."
"And Gomorrah?" he asked.
She slipped an arm under his shoulders and raised him so he could look out upon the mountain-girt sea dimpling under the morning breeze.
"There is where it was," she said soberly, "where it was, and is not, and never will be again, thank God! Mr. Leshington waited until everybody had escaped, and then he shut the waste-way gates."
Brouillard sank back upon the pillows of comfort and closed his eyes.
"Then it's all up to me and the hundred thousand," he whispered. "And I'll get it … honestly, this time."
The violet eyes were smiling when he looked into them again.
"Is she – the one incomparable she – worth it, Victor?"
"Her price is above rubies, as I told you once a long time ago."
"You wouldn't let pride – a false pride – stand in the way of her happiness?"
"I haven't any; her love has made me very humble and – and good, Amy, dear. Don't laugh: it's the only word; I'm just hungering and thirsting after righteousness enough to be half-way worthy of her."
"Then I'll tell you something else that has happened. Father and Stevie have reorganized the 'Little Susan' Mining Company, dividing the stock into four equal parts – one for each of us. You must take your share, Victor. It will break father's heart if you don't. He says you got it back for him after it was hopelessly lost, and that is true."
He had closed his eyes again, and what he said seemed totally irrelevant.
"'And after the man had climbed the fourth mountain through all its seven stages, he saw a bright light, and it blinded him so that he stumbled and fell, and a great darkness rose up to make the light seem far beyond his reach. Then the light came near, and he saw that it was Love, and that the darkness was in his own soul.' … Kiss me, Amy, girl, and then go and tell your father that he is a simple-hearted old spendthrift, and I love him. And if you could wire Castner, and tell him to bring a license along – "
"O boy – foolish boy!" she said. "Wait: when you are well and strong again…"
But she did not make him wait for the first of the askings; and after a healing silence had fallen to show the needlessness of speech between those who have come through darkness into light, he fell asleep again, perhaps to dream that the quieting hand upon his forehead was the touch of Love, angel of the bright and shining way, summoning him to rise up and go forward as a soul set free to meet the dawning day of fruition.
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