The City of Numbered Daysскачать книгу бесплатно
J. Wesley Cr?sus
Measured even by the rather exacting standards of the mining and cattle country, Brouillard was not what the West calls "jumpy." Four years of field-work, government or other, count for something; and the man who has proved powder-shy in any stage of his grapple with the Land of Short Notice is customarily a dead man.
In spite of his training, however, the young chief of construction, making an early morning exploration of the site for the new dam at the mouth of the outlet gorge while the rank and file of the pioneer force were building the permanent camp half-way between the foot-hills and the river, winced handsomely when the shock of a distance-muffled explosion trembled upon the crisp morning air, coming, as it seemed, from some point near the lower end of the canyon.
The dull rumble of the explosion and the little start for which it was accountable were disconcerting in more ways than one. As an industry captain busy with the preliminaries of what promised to be one of the greatest of the modern salvages of the waste places, Brouillard had been assuring himself that his work was large enough to fill all his horizons. But the detonating crash reminded him forcibly that the presence of the touring party was asserting itself as a disturbing element and that the incident of its discovery the night before had been dividing time pretty equally with his verification of the locating engineer's blue-print mappings and field-notes.
This was the first thought, and it was pointedly irritating. But the rebound flung him quickly over into the field of the common humanities. The explosion was too heavy to figure as a gun-shot; and, besides, it was the closed season for game. Therefore, it must have been an accident of some sort – possibly the blowing up of the automobile. Brouillard had once seen the gasolene tank of a motor-car take fire and go up like a pyrotechnic set piece in a sham battle.
Between this and a hurried weighting of the sheaf of blue-prints with his field-glass preparatory to a first-aid dash down the outlet gorge, there was no appreciable interval. But the humane impulse doubled back upon itself tumultuously when he came to his outlook halting place of the night before.
There had been no accident. The big touring-car, yellow with the dust of the Buckskin, stood intact on the sand flat where it had been backed and turned and headed toward the desert. Wading in the shallows of the river with a linen dust robe for a seine, the two younger men of the party were gathering the choicest of the dead mountain trout with which the eddy was thickly dotted. Coming toward him on the upward trail and climbing laboriously to gain the easier path among the pines, were the two remaining members of the party – an elderly, pudgy, stockily built man with a gray face, stiff gray mustaches and sandy-gray eyes to match, and the young woman, booted, gauntleted, veiled, and bulked into shapelessness by her touring coat, and yet triumphing exuberantly over all of these handicaps in an ebullient excess of captivating beauty and attractiveness.
Being a fisherman of mark and a true sportsman, Brouillard had a sudden rush of blood to the anger cells when he realized that the alarm which had brought him two hard-breathing miles out of his way had been the discharge of a stick of dynamite thrown into the Niquoia for the fish-killing purpose.
In his code the dynamiting of a stream figured as a high crime. But the two on the trail had come up, and his protest was forestalled by the elderly man with the gray face and the sandy-gray eyes, whose explosive "Ha!" was as much a measure of his breathlessness as of his surprise.
"I was just telling Van Bruce that his thundering fish cartridge would raise the neighbors," the trail climber went on with a stout man's chuckle. And then: "You're one of the Reclamation engineers? Great work the government is undertaking here – fine opportunity to demonstrate the lifting power of aggregated capital backed by science and energy and a whole heap of initiative. It's a high honor to be connected with it, and that's a fact. You are connected with it, aren't you?"
Brouillard's nod was for the man, but his words were for the young woman whose beauty refused to be quenched by the touring handicaps. "Yes, I am in charge of it," he said.
"Ha!" said the stout man, and this time the exclamation was purely approbative. "Chief engineer, eh? That's fine, fine! You're young, and you've climbed pretty fast. But that's the way with you young men nowadays; you begin where we older fellows leave off. I'm glad we met you. My name is Cortwright – J. Wesley Cortwright, of Chicago. And yours is – ?"
Brouillard named himself in one word. Strangers usually found him bluntly unresponsive to anything like effusiveness, but he was finding it curiously difficult to resist the good-natured heartiness which seemed to exude from the talkative gentleman, overlaying him like the honeydew on the leaves in a droughty forest.
If Mr. J. Wesley Cortwright's surprise on hearing the Brouillard surname was not genuine it was at least an excellent imitation.
"Well, well, well – you don't say! Not of the Brouillards of Knox County, Indiana? – but, of course, you must be. There is only the one family that I ever heard of, and it is mighty good, old voyageur stock, too, dating 'way back to the Revolutionary War, and further. I've bought hogs of the farmer Brouillards hundreds of times when I was in the packing business, and I want to tell you that no finer animals ever came into the Chicago market."
"Yes?" said Brouillard, driving the word in edgewise. "I am sorry to say that I don't know many of the farmers. Our branch of the family settled near Vincennes, and my father was on the bench, when he wasn't in politics."
"What? Not Judge Antoine! Why, my dear young man! Do you know that I once had the pleasure of introducing your good father to my bankers in Chicago? It was years ago, at a time when he was interested in floating a bond issue for some growing industry down on the Wabash. And to think that away out here in this howling wilderness, a thousand miles from nowhere, as you might say, I should meet his son!"
Brouillard laughed and fell headlong into the pit of triteness.
"The world isn't so very big when you come to surround it properly, Mr. Cortwright," he asserted.
"That's a fact; and we're doing our level best nowadays to make and keep it little," buzzed the portly man cheerfully, with a wave of one pudgy arm toward the automobile. "It's about a hundred and twenty miles from this to El Gato, on the Grand Canyon, isn't it, Mr. Brouillard? Well, we did it in five hours yesterday afternoon, and we could have cut an hour out of that if Rickert hadn't mistaken the way across the Buckskin. Not that it made any special difference. We expected to spend one night out and came prepared."
Brouillard admitted that the touring feat kept even pace with the quickening spirit of the age; but he did not add that the motive for the feat was not quite so apparent as it might be. This mystery, however, was immediately brushed aside by Mr. Cortwright, speaking in his character of universal ouster of mysteries.
"You are wondering what fool notion chased us away out here in the desert when we had a comfortable hotel to stop at," he rattled on. "I'll tell you, Mr. Brouillard – in confidence. It was curiosity – raw, country curiosity. The papers and magazines have been full of this Buckskin reclamation scheme, and we wanted to see the place where all the wonderful miracles were going to get themselves wrought out. Have you got time to 'put us next'?"
Brouillard, as the son of the man who had been introduced to the Chicago money gods in his hour of need, could scarcely do less than to take the time. The project, he explained, contemplated the building of a high dam across the upper end of the Niquoia Canyon and the converting of the inland valley above into a great storage reservoir. From this reservoir a series of distributing canals would lead the water out upon the arid lands of the Buckskin and the miracle would be a fact accomplished.
"Sure, sure!" said the cheerful querist, feeling in the pockets of the automobile coat for a cigar. At the match-striking instant he remembered a thing neglected. "By George! you'll have to excuse me, Mr. Brouillard; I'm always forgetting the little social dewdabs. Let me present you to my daughter Genevieve. Gene, shake hands with the son of my good old friend Judge Antoine Brouillard, of Vincennes."
It was rather awkwardly done, and somehow Brouillard could not help fancying that Mr. Cortwright could have done it better; that the roughly informal introduction was only one of the component parts of a studied brusquerie which Mr. Cortwright could put on and off at will, like a well-worn working coat. But when the unquenchable beauty stripped her gauntlet and gave him her hand, with a dazzling smile and a word of acknowledgment which was not borrowed from her father's effusive vocabulary, he straightway fell into another pit of triteness and his saving first impressions of Mr. J. Wesley Cortwright's character began to fade.
"I'm immensely interested," was Miss Cortwright's comment on the outlining of the reclamation project. "Do you mean to say that real farms with green things growing on them can be made out of that frightful desert we drove over yesterday afternoon?"
Brouillard smiled and plunged fatuously. "Oh, yes; the farms are already there. Nature made them, you know; she merely forgot to arrange for their watering." He was going on to tell about the exhaustive experiments the Department of Agriculture experts had been making upon the Buckskin soils when the gentleman whose name had once figured upon countless thousands of lard packages cut in.
"Do you know what I'm thinking about, Mr. Brouillard? I'm saying it over soft and slow to myself that no young man in this world ever had such a magnificent fighting chance as you have right here," he averred, the sandy-gray eyes growing suddenly alert and shrewd. "If you don't come out of this with money enough to buy in all those bonds your father was placing that time in Chicago – but of course you will."
"I'm afraid I don't quite understand what you mean, Mr. Cortwright," said Brouillard, with some inner monitor warning him that it would be better not to understand.
The portly gentleman became suddenly facetious.
"Hear him, Gene," he chuckled, sharing the joke with his daughter; "he says he doesn't understand!" Then to Brouillard: "Say, young man; you don't mean to tell me that your father's son needs a guardian, do you? You know exactly where these canals are going to run and all the choice spots they are going to irrigate; what's to prevent your getting in ahead of the rush and taking up a dozen or so of those prime quarter-sections – homesteads, town sites, and the like? Lack of money? Why, bless your soul, there are plenty of us who would fall all over ourselves running to back a proposition like that – any God's quantity of us who would fairly throw the working capital at you! For that matter, I don't know but I'd undertake to finance you alone."
Brouillard's first impulse sprang full-grown out of honest anger. That any man who had known his father should make such a proposal to that father's son was a bald insult to the father's memory. But the calmer second thought turned wrath into amused tolerance. The costly touring-car, the idle, time-killing jaunt in the desert, the dynamiting of the river for the sake of taking a few fish – all these were the indices of a point of view limited strictly by a successful market for hog products. Why should he go out of his way to quarrel with it on high moral grounds?
"You forget that I am first of all the government's hired man, Mr. Cortwright," he demurred. "My job of dam building will be fully big enough and strenuous enough to keep me busy. Aside from that, I fancy the department heads would take it rather hard if we fellows in the field went plum picking."
"Let them!" retorted the potential backer of profitable side issues. "What's the odds if you go to it and bring back the money? I tell you, Mr. Brouillard, money – bunched money – is what talks. A good, healthy bank balance makes so much noise that you can't hear the knockers. If the Washington crowd had your chance – but never mind, that's your business and none of mine, and you'll take it as it's meant, as a good-natured hint to your father's son. How far is it up to where you are going to build your dam?"
Brouillard gave the distance, and Mr. Cortwright measured the visible trail grades with a deprecatory eye.
"Do you think my daughter could walk it?" he asked.
Miss Genevieve answered for herself: "Of course I can walk it; can't I, Mr. Brouillard?"
"I'll be glad to show you the way if you care to try," Brouillard offered; and the tentative invitation was promptly accepted.
The transfer of view-points from the lower end of the canyon to the upper was effected without incident, save at its beginning, when the father would have called down to the young man who had waded ashore and was drying himself before the camp-fire. "Van Bruce won't care to go," the daughter hastened to say; and Brouillard, whose gift it was to be able to pick out and identify the human derelict at long range, understood perfectly well the reason for the young woman's hasty interruption. One result of the successfully marketed lard packages was very plainly evident in the dissipated face and hangdog attitude of the marketer's son.
Conversation flagged, even to the discouragement of a voluble money king, on the climb from the Buckskin level to that of the reservoir valley. The trail was narrow, and Brouillard unconsciously set a pace which was almost inhospitable for a stockily built man whose tendency was toward increasing waist measures. But when they reached the pine-tree of the anchored blue-prints at the upper portal, Mr. Cortwright recovered his breath sufficiently to gasp his appreciation of the prospect and its possibilities.
"Why, good goodness, Mr. Brouillard, it's practically all done for you!" he wheezed, taking in the level, mountain-enclosed valley with an appraisive eye-sweep. "Van Bruce and the chauffeur came up here last night, with one of the car lamps for a lantern, but of course they couldn't bring back any idea of the place. What will you do? – build your dam right here and take out your canal through the canyon? Is that the plan?"
Brouillard nodded and went a little further into details, showing how the inward-arching barrier would be anchored into the two opposing mountain buttresses.
"And the structure itself – how high is it to be?"
"Two hundred feet above the spillway apron foot."
The lard millionaire twisted his short, fat neck and guessed the distance up the precipitous slopes of Chigringo and Jack's Mountain.
"That will be a whale of a chunk of masonry," he said. Then, with business-like directness: "What will you build it of? – concrete?"
"Yes; concrete and steel."
"Then you are going to need Portland cement – a whole world of it. Where will you get it? And how will you get it here?"
Brouillard smiled inwardly at the pork packer's suddenly awakened interest in the technical ways and means. His four years in the desert had taken him out of touch with a money-making world, and this momentary contact with one of its successful devotees was illuminating. He had a growing conviction that the sordid atmosphere which appeared to be as the breath of life to Mr. J. Wesley Cortwright would presently begin to make things taste coppery, but the inextinguishable charm of the veiled princess was a compensation. It was partly for the sake of seeing her with the veil abolished that he recovered the paper-weighting field-glass and gave it to her, showing her how to focus it upon the upper reaches of the valley.
"We are in luck on the cement proposition," he told the eager money-maker. "We shall probably manufacture our own supply right here on the ground. There is plenty of limestone and an excellent shale in those hills just beyond our camp; and for burning fuel there is a fairly good vein of bituminous coal underlying that farther range at the head of the valley."
"H'm," said the millionaire; "a cement plant, eh? There's money in that anywhere on the face of the globe, just now. And over here, where there is no transportation – Gad! if you only had somebody to sell cement to, you could ask your own price. The materials have all been tested, I suppose?"
"Oh, yes; we've had experts in here for more than a year. The material is all right."
"And your labor?"
"On the dam, you mean? One advantage of concrete work is that it does not require any great proportion of skilled labor, the crushing, mixing, and placing all being done by machinery. We shall work all the Indians we can get from the Navajo Reservation, forty-odd miles south of here; for the remainder we shall import men from the States, bringing them in over the Timanyoni High Line – the trail from Quesado on the Red Butte Western. At least, that is what we shall do for the present. Later on, the railroad will probably build an extension up the Barking Dog and over War Arrow Pass."
Mr. Cortwright's calculating eye roved once more over the attractive prospect.
"Fuel for your power plant? – wood I take it?" he surmised; and then: "Oh, I forgot; you say you have coal."
"Yes; there is coal, of a sort; good enough for the cement kilns. But we sha'n't burn it for power. Neither shall we burn the timber, which can be put to much better use in building and in false– and form-work. There are no finer lumber forests this side of the Sierras. For power we shall utilize the river. There is another small canyon at the head of the valley where a temporary dam can be built which will deliver power enough to run anything – an entire manufacturing city, if we had one."
Mr. Cortwright made a clucking noise with his tongue and blew his cheeks out like a swimmer gasping for breath.
"Julius C?sar!" he exploded. "You stand there and tell me calmly that the government has all these resources coopered up here in a barrel? – that nobody is going to get a chance to make any money out of them? It's a crime, Mr. Brouillard; that's just what it is – a crime!"
"No; I didn't say that. The resources just happen to be here and we shall turn them to good account. But if there were any feasible transportation facilities I doubt if we should make use of these native raw materials. It is the policy of the department to go into the market like any other buyer where it can. But here there are no sellers, or, rather, no way in which the sellers can reach us."
"No sellers and no chance for a man to get the thin edge of a wedge in anywhere," lamented the money-maker despairingly. Then his eye lighted upon the graybeard dump of a solitary mine high up on the face of Mount Chigringo. "What's that up there?" he demanded.
"It is a mine," said Brouillard, showing Miss Cortwright how to adjust the field-glass for the shorter distance. "Two men named Massingale, father and son, are working it, I'm told." And then again to Miss Genevieve: "That is their cabin – on the trail a little to the right of the tunnel opening."
"I see it quite plainly," she returned. "Two people are just leaving it to ride down the path – a man and a woman, I think, though the woman – if it is a woman – is riding on a man's saddle."
Brouillard's eyebrows went up in a little arch of surprise. Harding, the topographical engineer who had made all the preliminary surveys and had spent the better part of the former summer in the Niquoia, had reported on the Massingales, father and son, and his report had conveyed a hint of possible antagonism on the part of the mine owners to the government project. But there had been no mention of a woman.
"The Massingale mine, eh?" broke in the appraiser of values crisply. "They showed us some ore specimens from that property while we were stopping over in Red Butte. It's rich – good and plenty rich – if they have the quantity. And somebody told me they had the quantity, too; only it was too far from the railroad – couldn't jack-freight it profitably over the Timanyonis."
"In which case it is one of many," Brouillard said, taking refuge in the generalities.
But Mr. Cortwright was not to be so easily diverted from the pointed particulars – the particulars having to do with the pursuit of the market trail.
"I'm beginning to get my feet on bottom, Brouillard," he said, dropping the courtesy prefix and shoving his fat hands deep into the pockets of the dust-coat. "There's a business proposition here, and it looks mighty good to me. That was a mere nursery notion I gave you a while back – about picking up homesteads and town sites in the Buckskin. The big thing is right here. I tell you, I can smell money in this valley of yours – scads of it."
Brouillard laughed. "It is only the fragrance of future Reclamation-Service appropriations," he suggested. "There will be a good bit of money spent here before the Buckskin Desert gets its maiden wetting."скачать книгу бесплатно
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