Francis Lynde.

The City of Numbered Days



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"I don't mean that at all," was the impatient rejoinder. "Let me show you: you are going to have a population of some sort, if it's only the population that your big job will bring here. That's the basis. Then you're going to need material by the train load, not the raw stuff, which you say is right here on the ground, but the manufactured article – cement, lumber, and steel. You can ship this material in over the range at prices that will be pretty nearly prohibitory, or, as you suggest, it can be manufactured right here on the spot."

"The cement and the lumber can be produced here, but not the steel," Brouillard corrected.

"That's where you're off," snapped the millionaire. "There are fine ore beds in the Hophras and a pretty good quality of coking coal. Ten or twelve miles of a narrow-gauge railroad would dump the pig metal into the upper end of your valley, and there you are. With a small reduction plant you could tell the big steel people to go hang."

Brouillard admitted the postulate without prejudice to a keen and growing wonder. How did it happen that this Chicago money king had taken the trouble to inform himself so accurately in regard to the natural resources of the Niquoia region? Had he not expressly declared that the object of the desert automobile trip was mere tourist curiosity? Given a little time, the engineer would have cornered the inquiry, making it yield some sort of a reasonable answer; but Mr. Cortwright was galloping on again.

"There you are, then, with the three prime requisites in raw material: cement stock, timber, and pig metal. Fuel you've got, you say, and if it isn't good enough, your dummy railroad can supply you from the Hophra mines. Best of all, you've got power to burn – and that's the key to any manufacturing proposition. Well and good. Now, you know, and I know, that the government doesn't care to go into the manufacturing business when it can help it. Isn't that so?"

"Unquestionably. But this is a case of can't-help-it," Brouillard argued. "You couldn't begin to interest private capital in any of these industries you speak of."

"Why not?" was the curt demand.

"Because of their impermanence – their dependence upon a market which will quit definitely when the dam is completed. What you are suggesting predicates a good, busy little city in this valley, behind the dam – since there is no other feasible place for it – and it would be strictly a city of numbered days. When the dam is completed and the spillway gates are closed, the Niqoyastc?dje and everything in it will go down under two hundred feet of water."

"The – what?" queried Miss Cortwright, lowering the glass with which she had been following the progress of the two riders down the Buckskin trail from the high-pitched mine on Chigringo.

"The Niqoyastc?dje – 'Place-where-they-came-up,'" said Brouillard, elucidating for her. "That is the Navajo name for this valley. The Indians have a legend that this is the spot where their tribal ancestors came up from the underworld.

Our map makers shortened it to 'Niquoia' and the cow-men of the Buckskin foot-hills have cut that to 'Nick-wire.'"

This bit of explanatory place lore was entirely lost upon Mr. J. Wesley Cortwright. He was chewing the ends of his short mustaches and scowling thoughtfully out upon the possible site of the future industrial city of the plain.

"Say, Brouillard," he cut in, "you get me the right to build that power dam, and give me the contracts for what material you'd rather buy than make, and I'll be switched if I don't take a shot at this drowning proposition myself. I tell you, it looks pretty good to me. What do you say?"

"I'll say what I said a few minutes ago," laughed the young chief of construction – "that I'm only a hired man. You'll have to go a good few rounds higher up on the authority ladder to close a deal like that. I'm not sure it wouldn't require an act of Congress."

"Well, by George, we might get even that if we have to," was the optimistic assertion. "You think about it."

"I guess it isn't my think," said Brouillard, still inclined to take the retired pork packer's suggestion as the mere ravings of a money-mad promoter. "As the government engineer in charge of this work, I couldn't afford to be identified even as a friendly intermediary in any such scheme as the one you are proposing."

"Of course, I suppose not," agreed the would-be promoter, sucking his under lip in a way ominously familiar to his antagonists in the wheat pit. Then he glanced at his watch and changed the subject abruptly. "We'll have to be straggling back to the chug-wagon. Much obliged to you, Mr. Brouillard. Will you come down and see us off?"

Brouillard said "yes," for Miss Cortwright's sake, and took the field-glass she was returning to put it back upon the sheaf of blue-prints. She saw what he did with it and made instant acknowledgments.

"It was good of you to neglect your work for us," she said, smiling level-eyed at him when he straightened up.

He was frank enough to tell the truth – or part of it.

"It was the dynamite that called me off. Doesn't your brother know that it is illegal to shoot a trout stream?"

She waited until her father was out of ear-shot on the gorge trail before she answered:

"He ought to know that it is caddish and unsportsmanlike. I didn't know what he and Rickert were doing or I should have stopped them."

"In that event we shouldn't have met, and you would have missed your chance of seeing the Niqoyastc?dje and the site of the city that isn't to be – the city of numbered days," he jested, adding, less lightly: "You wouldn't have missed very much."

"No?" she countered with a bright return of the alluring smile which he had first seen through the filmy gauze of the automobile veil. "Do you want me to say that I should have missed a great deal? You may consider it said if you wish."

He made no reply to the bit of persiflage, and a little later felt the inward warmth of an upflash of resentment directed not at his companion but at himself for having been momentarily tempted to take the persiflage seriously. The temptation was another of the consequences of the four years of isolation which had cut him off from the world of women no less completely than from the world of money-getting. But it was rather humiliating, none the less.

"What have I done to make you forget how to talk?" she wished to know, five minutes further on, when his silence was promising to outlast the canyon passage.

"You? Nothing at all," he hastened to say. Then he took the first step in the fatal road of attempting to account for himself. "But I have forgotten, just the same. It has been years since I have had a chance to talk to a woman. Do you wonder that I have lost the knack?"

"How dreadful!" she laughed. And afterward, with a return to the half-serious mood which had threatened to reopen the door so lately slammed in the face of temptation: "Perhaps we shall come back to Niqo – Niqoy – I simply can't say it without sneezing – and then you might relearn some of the things you have forgotten. Wouldn't that be delightful?"

This time he chose to ignore utterly the voice of the inward monitor, which was assuring him coldly that young women of Miss Cortwright's world plane were constrained by the accepted rules of their kind to play the game in season and out of season, and his half-laughing reply was at once a defiance and a counter-challenge.

"I dare you to come!" he said brazenly. "Haven't you heard how the men of the desert camps kill each other for the chance to pick up a lady's handkerchief?"

They were at the final descent in the trail, with the Buckskin blanknesses showing hotly beyond the curtaining of pines, and there was space only for a flash of the beautiful eyes and a beckoning word.

"In that case, I hope you know how to shoot straight, Mr. Brouillard," she said quizzically; and then they passed at a step from romance to the crude realities.

The realities were basing themselves upon the advent of two new-comers, riding down the Chigringo trail to the ford which had been the scene of the fish slaughtering; a sunburnt young man in goatskin "shaps," flannel shirt and a flapping Stetson, and a girl whose face reminded Brouillard of one of the Madonnas, whose name and painter he strove vainly to recall. Ten seconds farther along the horses of the pair were sniffing suspiciously at the automobile, and the young man under the flapping hat was telling Van Bruce Cortwright what he thought of cartridge fishermen in general, and of this present cartridge fisherman in particular.

"Which the same, being translated into Buckskin English, hollers like this," he concluded. "Don't you tote any more fish ca'tridges into this here rese'vation; not no more, whatsoever. Who says so? Well, if anybody should ask, you might say it was Tig Smith, foreman o' the Tri'-Circ' outfit. No, I ain't no game warden, but what I say goes as she lays. Savez?"

The chauffeur was adjusting something under the upturned bonnet of the touring-car and thus hiding his grin. Mr. Cortwright, who had maintained his lead on the descent to the desert level, was trying to come between his sullen-faced son and the irate cattleman, money in hand. Brouillard walked his companion down to the car and helped her to a seat in the tonneau. She repaid him with a nod and a smile, and when he saw that the crudities were not troubling her he stepped aside and unconsciously fell to comparing the two – the girl on horseback and his walking mate of the canyon passage.

They had little enough in common, apart from their descent from Eve, he decided – and the decision itself was subconscious. The millionaire's daughter was a warm blonde, beautiful, queenly, a finished product of civilization and high-priced culture; a woman of the world, standing but a single remove from the generation of quick money-getting and yet able to make the money take its proper place as a means to an end.

And the girl on horseback? Brouillard had to look twice before he could attempt to classify her, and even then she baffled him. A rather slight figure, suggestive of the flexible strength of a silken cord; a face winsome rather than beautiful; coils and masses of copper-brown hair escaping under the jaunty cow-boy hat; eyes … it was her eyes that made Brouillard look the third time: they were blue, with a hint of violet in them; he made sure of this when she turned her head and met his gaze fearlessly and with a certain calm serenity that made him feel suddenly uncomfortable and half embarrassed. Nevertheless, he would not look aside; and he caught himself wondering if her cow-boy lover – he had already jumped to the sentimental conclusion – had ever been able to look into those steadfast eyes and trifle with the truth.

So far the young chief of construction had travelled on the road reflective while the fish-slaughtering matter was getting itself threshed out at the river's edge. When it was finally settled – not by the tender of money that Mr. Cortwright had made – the man Smith and his pretty riding mate galloped through the ford and disappeared among the barren hills, and the chauffeur was at liberty to start the motor.

"Au revoir, Mr. Brouillard," said the princess, as the big car righted itself for the southward flight into the desert. Then, when the wheels began to churn in the loose sand of the halting place, she leaned out to give him a woman's leave-taking. "If I were you I shouldn't fall in love with the calm-eyed goddess who rides like a man. Mr. Tri'-Circ' Smith might object, you know; and you haven't yet told me whether or not you can shoot straight."

There was something almost heart-warming in the bit of parting badinage; something to make the young engineer feel figuratively for the knife with which he had resolutely cut around himself to the dividing of all hindrances, sentimental or other, on a certain wretched day years before when he had shouldered his life back-load.

But the warmth might have given place to a disconcerting chill if he could have heard Mr. J. Wesley Cortwright's remark to his seat companion, made when the canyon portal of the Niquoia and the man climbing the path beside it were hazy mirage distortions in the backward distances.

"He isn't going to be the dead easy mark I hoped to find in the son of the old bankrupt hair-splitter, Genie, girl. But he'll come down and hook himself all right if the bait is well covered with his particular brand of sugar. Don't you forget it."

III
Sands of Pactolus

If Victor Brouillard had been disposed to speculate curiously upon the possibilities suggested by Mr. J. Wesley Cortwright on the occasion of the capitalist's brief visit to the Niquoia, or had been tempted to dwell sentimentally upon the idyllic crossing of orbits – Miss Genevieve's and his own – on the desert's rim, there was little leisure for either indulgence during the strenuous early summer weeks which followed the Cortwright invasion.

Popular belief to the contrary notwithstanding, it is not precisely true that all government undertakings are dilatory industrial imitations, designed, primarily, to promote the even-handed cutting of some appropriation pie, and, secondarily, to provide easy sinecures for placemen and political heelers. Holding no brief for the government, one may still say without fear of contradiction that laissez-faire has seldom been justly charged against the Reclamation Service. Fairly confronting his problem, Brouillard did not find himself hampered by departmental inertia. While he was rapidly organizing his force for the constructive attack, the equipment and preliminary material for the building of the great dam were piling up by the train load on the side-tracks at Quesado; and at once the man– and beast-killing task of rushing the excavating outfit of machinery, teams, scrapers, rock-drilling installations, steam-shovels, and the like, over the War Arrow trail was begun.

During the weeks which followed, the same trail, and a little later that from the Navajo Reservation on the south, were strung with ant-like processions of laborers pouring into the shut-in valley at the foot of Mount Chigringo. Almost as if by magic a populous camp of tents, shelter shacks, and Indian tepees sprang up in the level bed-bottom of the future lake; camp-fires gave place to mess kitchens; the commissary became a busy department store stocked with everything that thrifty or thriftless labor might wish to purchase; and daily the great foundation scorings in the buttressing shoulders of Jack's Mountain and Chigringo grew deeper and wider under the churning of the air-drills, the crashings of the dynamite, and the rattle and chug of the steam-shovels.

Magically, too, the life of the isolated working camp sprang into being. From the beginning its speech was a curious polyglot; the hissings and bubblings of the melting-pot out of which a new citizenry is poured. Poles and Slovaks, men from the slopes of the Carpathians, the terraces of the Apennines, and the passes of the Balkans; Scandinavians from the pineries of the north, and a colony of railroad-grading Greeks, fresh from the building of a great transcontinental line; all these and more were spilled into the melting-pot, and a new Babel resulted. Only the Indians held aloof. Careful from the first for these wards of the nation, Brouillard had made laws of Draconian severity. The Navajos were isolated upon a small reservation of their own on the Jack's Mountain side of the Niquoia, a full half mile from the many-tongued camp in the open valley; and for the man caught "boot-legging" among the Indians there were penalties swift and merciless.

It was after the huge task of foundation digging was well under way and the work of constructing the small power dam in the upper canyon had been begun that the young chief of construction, busy with a thousand details, had his first forcible reminder of the continued existence of Mr. J. Wesley Cortwright.

It came in the form of a communication from Washington, forwarded by special post-rider service from Quesado, and it called a halt upon the up-river power project. In accordance with its settled policy, the Reclamation Service would refrain, in the Niquoia as elsewhere, from entering into competition with private citizens; would do nothing to discourage the investment of private capital. A company had been formed to take over the power production and to establish a plant for the manufacture of cement, and Brouillard was instructed to govern himself accordingly. For his information, the department letter-writer went on to say, it was to be understood that the company was duly organized under the provisions of an act of Congress; that it had bound itself to furnish power and material at prices satisfactory to the Service; and that the relations between it and the government field-staff on the ground were to be entirely friendly.

"It's a graft – a pull-down with a profit in it for some bunch of money leeches a little higher up!" was the young chief's angry comment when he had given Grislow the letter to read. "Without knowing any more of the details than that letter gives, I'd be willing to bet a month's pay that this is the fine Italian hand of Mr. J. Wesley Cortwright!"

Grislow's eyebrows went up in doubtful interrogation.

"Ought I to know the gentleman?" he queried mildly. "I don't seem to recall the name."

Brouillard got up from his desk to go and stand at one of the little square windows of the log-built office quarters. For some reason which he had not taken the trouble to define, even to himself, he had carefully refrained from telling the hydrographer anything about the early morning meeting with the automobilists at the edge of the desert basin; of that and of the subsequent visit of two of them to the site of the dam.

"No; you don't know him," he said, turning back to the worker at the mapping table. "It was his motor party that was camping at the Buckskin ford the night we broke in here – the night when we saw the search-light."

"And you met him? I thought you told me you merely went down and took a look – didn't butt in?"

"I didn't – that night. But the next morning – "

The hydrographer's smile was a jocose grimace.

"I recollect now; you said that one of the motorists was a young woman."

Brouillard resented the implication irritably.

"Don't be an ass, Murray," he snapped; and then he went on, with the frown of impatience still wrinkling between his eyes. "The young woman was the daughter. There was a cub of a son, and he fired a stick of dynamite in the river to kill a mess of trout. I heard the explosion and thought it might be the gasolene tank of the car."

"Naturally," said Grislow guilelessly. "And, quite as naturally, you went down to see. I'm not sure that I shouldn't have done it myself."

"Of course you would," was the touchy retort. "When I got there and found out what had happened, I meant to make a second drop-out; but Cortwright and his daughter were coming up the trail, and he hailed me. After that I couldn't do less than the decent thing. They wanted to see the valley, and I showed them the way in. Cortwright is the multimillionaire pork packer of Chicago, and he went up into the air like a lunatic over the money-making chances there were going to be in this job. I didn't pay much attention to his chortlings at the time. It didn't seem remotely credible that anybody with real money to invest would plant it in the bottom of the Niquoia reservoir."

"But now you think he is going to make his bluff good?"

"That looks very much like it," said Brouillard sourly, pointing to the letter from Washington. "That scheme is going to change the whole face of Nature for us up here, Grislow. It will spell trouble right from the jump."

"Oh, I don't know," was the deprecatory rejoinder. "It will relieve us of a lot of side-issue industries – cut 'em out and bury 'em, so far as we are concerned."

"That part of it is all right, of course; but it won't end there; not by a hundred miles. We've started in here to be a law to ourselves – as we've got to be to handle this mixed multitude of brigands and ditch diggers. But when this new company gets on the ground it will be different. There will be pull-hauling and scrapping and liquor selling, and we can't go in and straighten things out with a club as we do now. Jobson says in that letter that the relations have got to be friendly! I'll bet anything you like that I'll have to go and read the riot act to those people before they've been twenty-four hours on their job!"

Grislow was trying the point of his mapping-pen on his thumb nail. "Curious that this particular fly should drop into your pot of ointment on your birthday, wasn't it?" he remarked.

"O suffering Jehu!" gritted Brouillard ragefully. "Are you never going to forget that senseless bit of twaddle?"

"You're not giving me a chance to forget it," said the map-maker soberly. "You told me that night that the seven-year characteristic was change; and you're a changed man, Victor, if ever there was one. Moreover, it began that very night – or the next morning."



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