Francis Lynde.

The City of Numbered Days



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Brouillard smoked in silence for a full minute before he said: "You know as well as I do, Mr. Cortwright, that it is an unwritten law of the Service that a civilian employee of the government shall not engage in any other business."

"No, I don't," was the blunt reply. "That rule may be good enough to apply to senators and representatives – and it ought to; outside jobs for them might influence legislation. But in your case it would not only be unjust to apply it; it would be absurd and contradictory. Supposing your father had left you a hundred thousand dollars to invest instead of a debt of that amount – you see, I know what a load your keen sense of honor is making you carry – suppose you had this money to invest, would your position in the Reclamation Service compel you to lock it up in a safety vault?"

"Certainly not. But – "

"Very good. Your objection to taking part in our project would be that a man can't be strictly impartial when he has a stake in the game; some men couldn't, Mr. Brouillard, but you can; you know you can, and I know it. Otherwise you wouldn't be putting half of your salary and more into life-insurance premiums to secure a debt that isn't even constructively yours."

"Yes; but if the department should learn that I am a stockholder in a company from which it buys its power – "

"There wouldn't be a word said – not one single word. They know you in Washington, Brouillard, better, perhaps, than you think they do. They know you would exact a square deal for the department even if it cost you personal money. But this is all academic. The practical facts are that you'll come in as consulting engineer and that you'll hold us strictly up to the mark on the government power contract. It's your duty and part of your job as chief of construction. And we'll leave the money consideration entirely out of it if you like. You'll get a stock-certificate, which you may keep or tear up and throw into the waste-basket, just as you please. If you keep it and want to realize on it at any time before you begin to put the finishing forms on the dam, I'll do this: I'll agree to market it for you at par. Now let's quit and go and find Gene. She'll think we've tippled ourselves under the table."

"One moment," said Brouillard. "You have a way of taking a man off his feet, Mr. Cortwright; a rather pleasant way I'm bound to admit. But in this thing which you are proposing there are issues involved which – "

"You want time to think it over? Take it, man; take all the time you need. There's no special hurry."

Brouillard felt that in accepting the condition he was potentially committing himself. It was a measure of the distance he had already travelled that he interposed a purely personal obstacle.

"I couldn't serve as your engineer, Mr. Cortwright, not even in a consulting capacity. Call it prejudice or anything you please, but I simply couldn't do business in an associate relation with your man Hosford."

Cortwright had risen, and he took his guest confidentially by the buttonhole.

"Do you know, Brouillard, Hosford gets on my nerves, too? Don't let that influence you.

We'll let Hosford go. We needed him at first to sort of knock things into shape; it takes a man of his calibre in the early stages of a project like ours, you know. But he has outlived his usefulness and we'll drop him. Let's go up-stairs."

It was quite late in the evening when Brouillard, a little light-headed from an after-dinner hour of purely social wit-matching with Miss Genevieve, passed out through the caf? of the Metropole on his way to his quarters.

There were a few late diners at the tables, and Bongras, smug and complacent in evening regalia, was waddling about among them like a glorified head waiter, his stiffly roached hair and Napoleonic mustaches striving for a dignity and fierceness which was cruelly negatived by a round, full-fed face and an obese little body.

"Ze dinnare – she was h-all right, M'sieu' Brouillard?" he inquired, holding the engineer for a moment at the street door.

"As right as the price you're going to charge Mr. Cortwright for it," joked Brouillard.

"Sacr?!" swore the amiable one, spreading his hands, "if you could h-only know 'ow eet is cost to bring dose dinnare on dis place! Two dollare de 'undred pounds dat mule-freightare is charge me for bringing dose chip-pest wine from Quesado! Sommtime ve get de railroad, n'est-ce pas, M'sieu' Brouillard? Den ve make dose dinnare moz risson-able."

"Yes, you will!" Brouillard scoffed jocosely. "You'll be adding something then for the uniqueness – for the benefit of the tourists. It'll be a great ad, 'The Hotel Metropole, the Delmonico's of the Lake Bottom. Sit in and dine with us before the heavens open and the floods come.'"

"I'll been wanting to h-ask you," whispered the Frenchman with a quick-flung glance for the diners at the nearest of the tables, "doze flood – when she is coming, M'sieu' Brouillard?"

"When we get the dam completed."

"You'll bet money h-on dat? – h-all de money you got?"

"It's a sure thing, if that's what you're driving at. You can bet on it if you want to."

"I make my bet on de price of de dinnare," smiled Bongras. "Mais, I like to know for sure."

"Why should you doubt it?"

"Moi, I don't doubt nottings; I make de grass to be cut w'ile de sun is shine. But I'll been hearing somebody say dat maybe-so dis town she grow so fas' and so beeg dat de gover'ment is not going drown her."

"Who said that?"

"I don't know; it is bruit– what you call rumaire. You hear it h-on de Avenue, in de caf?, h-anyw'eres you go."

Brouillard laughed again, this time with his hand on the door-latch.

"Don't lower your prices on the strength of any such rumor as that, Poodles. The dam will be built, and the Niquoia will be turned into a lake, with the Hotel Metropole comfortably anchored in the deepest part of it – that is, if it doesn't get gay enough to float."

"Dat's juz what I'll been thinking," smiled the little man, and he sped the parting guest with a bow that would have graced the antechamber of a Louis le Grand.

Out in the crisp night air, with the stars shining clear in the velvet sky and the vast bulks of the ramparting mountains to give solidity and definiteness to the scheme of things, Brouillard was a little better able to get his feet upon the stable earth.

But the major impulse was still levitant, almost exultant. When all was said, it was Mr. Cortwright's rose-colored view of the immediate future that persisted. "Mirapolis!" It was certainly a name to conjure with; an inspiration on the part of the young woman who had chosen it.

Brouillard saw the projected streets pointing away into the four quarters of the night. It asked for little effort of the imagination to picture them as the streets of a city – lighted, paved, and busy with traffic. Would the miracle be wrought? And if it should be, was there any possibility that in time the building of the great dam and the reclamation of the Buckskin Desert would become secondary in importance to the preservation of Mirapolis?

It seemed highly incredible; before the little dinner and the social evening Brouillard would have said it was blankly impossible. But it is only fools and dead men who cannot admit a changing angle in the point of view. At first Brouillard laid it to the champagne, forgetting that he had permitted but a single refilling of his glass. Not then, nor for many days, did he suspect that it was his first deep draught of a far headier wine that sent the blood laughing through his veins as he strode down Chigringo Avenue to his darkened office quarters – the wine of the vintner whose name is Graft.

VII
The Speedway

It was in the days after he had found on his desk a long envelope enclosing a certificate for a thousand shares of stock in the Niquoia Electric Power, Lighting, and Traction Company that Brouillard began to lose his nickname of "Hell's-Fire" among his workmen, with the promise of attaining, in due time, to the more affectionate title of "the Little Big Boss."

At the envelope-opening moment, however, he was threatened with an attack of heart failure. That Mr. Cortwright and his fellow promoters should make a present of one hundred thousand dollars of the capital stock of the reorganized company to a mere government watch-dog who could presumably neither help nor hinder in the money-making plans of the close corporation, was scarcely believable. But a hastily sought interview with the company's president cleared the air of all the incredibilities.

"Why, my dear Brouillard! what in Sam Hill do you take us for?" was the genial retort when the young engineer had made his deprecatory protest. "Did you think we were going to cut the melon and hand you out a piece of the rind? Not so, my dear boy; we are not built on any such narrow-gauge lines. But seriously, we're getting you at a bargain-counter price. One of the things we're up against is the building of another dam higher in the canyon for an auxiliary plant. In taking you in, we've retained the best dam builder in the country to tell us where and how to build it."

"That won't go, Mr. Cortwright," laughed Brouillard, finding the great man's humor pleasantly infectious. "You know you can hire engineers by the dozen at the usual rates."

"All right, blot that out; say that I wanted to do the right thing by the son of good old Judge Antoine; just imagine, for the sake of argument, that I wanted to pose as the long-lost uncle of the fairy-stories to a fine young fellow who hasn't been able to draw a full breath since his father died. You can do it now, Victor, my boy. Any old time the trusteeship debt your father didn't really owe gets too heavy, you can unload on me and wipe it out. Isn't it worth something to realize that?"

"I guess it will be, if I am ever able to get down to the solid fact of realizing it. But I can't earn a hundred thousand dollars of the company's stock, Mr. Cortwright."

"Of course you can. That's what we are willing to pay for a good, reliable government brake. It's going to be your business to see to it that the Reclamation Service gets exactly what its contract calls for, kilowatt for kilowatt."

"I'd do that, anyhow, as chief of construction on the dam."

"You mean you would try to do it. As an officer of the power company, you can do it; as an official kicker on the outside, you couldn't feaze us a particle. What? You'd put us out of business? Not much, you wouldn't; we'd play politics with you and get a man for your job who wouldn't kick."

"Well," said the inheritor of sudden wealth, still matching the promoter's mood, "you won't get me fired now, that's one comfort. When will you want my expert opinion on your auxiliary dam?"

"On our dam, you mean. Oh, any time soon; say to-morrow or Friday – or Saturday if that hurries you too much. We sha'n't want to go to work on it before Monday."

Being himself an exponent of the modern theory that the way to do things is to do them now, Brouillard accepted the hurry order without comment. Celerity, swiftness of accomplishment that was almost magical, had become the Mirapolitan order of the day. Plans conceived over-night leaped to their expositions in things done as if the determination to do them had been all that was necessary to their realization.

"You shall have the report to-morrow," said the newly created consulting engineer, "but you can't go to work Monday. The labor market is empty, and I'm taking it for granted that you're not going to stampede my shovellers and concrete men."

"Oh, no," conceded the city builder, "we sha'n't do that. You'll admit – in your capacity of government watch-dog – that we have played fair in that game. We have imported every workman we've needed, and we shall import more. That's one thing none of us can afford to do – bull the labor market. And it won't be necessary; we have a train load of Italians and Bulgarians on the way to Quesado to-day, and they ought to be here by Monday."

"You are a wonder, Mr. Cortwright," was Brouillard's tribute to the worker of modern miracles, and he went his way to ride to the upper end of the valley for the exploring purpose.

On the Monday, as President Cortwright had so confidently predicted, the train load of laborers had marched in over the War Arrow trail and the work on the auxiliary power dam was begun. On the Tuesday a small army of linemen arrived to set the poles and to string the wires for the lighting of the town. On the Wednesday there were fresh accessions to the army of builders, and the freighters on the Quesado trail reported a steady stream of artisans pouring in to rush the city making.

On the Thursday the grading and paving of Chigringo Avenue was begun, and, true to his promise, Mr. Cortwright was leaving a right of way in the street for the future trolley tracks. And it was during this eventful week that the distant thunder of the dynamite brought the welcome tidings of the pushing of the railroad grade over the mountain barrier. Also – but this was an item of minor importance – it was on the Saturday of this week that the second tier of forms was erected on the great dam and the stripped first section of the massive gray foot-wall of concrete raised itself in mute but eloquent protest against the feverish activities of the miracle-workers. If the protest were a threat, it was far removed. Many things might happen before the gray wall should rise high enough to cast its shadow, and the shadow of the coming end, over the miraculous city of the plain.

It was Brouillard himself who put this thought into words on the Sunday when he and Grislow were looking over the work of form raising and finding it good.

"Catching you, too, is it, Victor?" queried the hydrographer, dropping easily into his attitude of affable cynicism. "I thought it would. But tell me, what are some of the things that may happen?"

"It's easy to predict two of them: some people will make a pot of money and some will lose out."

Grislow nodded. "Of course you don't take any stock in the rumor that the government will call a halt?"

"You wouldn't suppose it could be possible."

"No. Yet the rumor persists. Hosford hinted to me the other day that there might be a Congressional investigation a little further along to determine whether the true pro bono publico lay in the reclamation of a piece of yellow desert or in the preservation of an exceedingly promising and rapidly growing young city."

"Hosford is almost as good a boomer as Mr. Cortwright. Everybody knows that."

"Yes. I guess Mirapolis will have to grow a good bit more before Congress can be made to take notice," was the hydrographer's dictum. "Isn't that your notion?"

Brouillard was shaking his head slowly.

"I don't pretend to have opinions any more, Grizzy. I'm living from day to day. If the tail should get big enough to wag the dog – "

They were in the middle of the high staging upon which the puddlers worked while filling the forms and Grislow stopped short.

"What's come over you, lately, Victor? I won't say you're half-hearted, but you're certainly not the same driver you were a few weeks ago, before the men quit calling you 'Hell's-Fire.'"

Brouillard smiled grimly. "It's going to be a long job, Grizzy. Perhaps I saw that I couldn't hope to keep keyed up to concert pitch all the way through. Call it that, anyway. I've promised to motor Miss Cortwright to the upper dam this afternoon, and it's time to go and do it."

It was not until they were climbing down from the staging at the Jack's Mountain approach that Grislow acquired the ultimate courage of his convictions.

"Going motoring, you said – with Miss Genevieve. That's another change. I'm beginning to believe in your seven-year hypothesis. You are no longer a woman-hater."

"I never was one. There isn't any such thing."

"You used to make believe there was and you posed that way last summer. Think I don't remember how you were always ranting about the dignity of a man's work and quoting Kipling at me? Now you've taken to mixing and mingling like a social reformer."

"Well, what of it?" half-absently.

"Oh, nothing; only it's interesting from a purely academic point of view. I've been wondering how far you are responsible; how much you really do, yourself, and how much is done for you."

Brouillard's laugh was skeptical.

"That's another leaf out of your psychological book, I suppose. It's rot."

"Is it so? But the fact remains."

"What fact?"

"The fact that your subconscious self has got hold of the pilot-wheel; that your reasoning self is asleep, or taking a vacation, or something of that sort."

"Oh, bally! There are times when you make me feel as if I had eaten too much dinner, Grizzy! This is one of them. Put it in words; get it out of your system."

"It needs only three words: you are hypnotized."

"That is what you say; it is up to you to prove it," scoffed Brouillard.

"I could easily prove it to the part of you that is off on a vacation. A month ago this city-building fake looked as crazy to you as it still does to those of us who haven't been invited to sit down and take a hand in Mr. Cortwright's little game. You hooted at it, preached a little about the gross immorality of it, swore a good bit about the effect it was going to have on our working force. It was a crazy object-lesson in modern greed, and all that."

"Well?"

"Now you seem to have gone over to the other side. You hobnob with Cortwright and do office work for him. You know his fake is a fake; and yet I overheard you boosting it the other night in Poodles's dining-room to a tableful of money maniacs as if Cortwright were giving you a rake-off."

Brouillard stiffened himself with a jerk as he paced beside his accuser, but he kept his temper.

"You're an old friend, Grizzy, and a mighty good one – as I have had occasion to prove. It is your privilege to ease your mind. Is that all?"

"No. You are letting Genevieve Cortwright make a fool of you. If you were only half sane you'd see that she is a confirmed trophy hunter. Why, she even gets down to young Griffith – and uses him to dig out information about you. She – "

"Hold on, Murray; there's a limit, and you'll bear with me if I say that you are working up to it now." Brouillard's jaw was set and the lines between his eyes were deepening. "I don't know what you are driving at, but you'd better call it off. I can take care of myself."

"If I thought you could – if I only thought you could," said Grislow musingly. "But the indications all lean the other way. It would be all right if you wanted to marry her and she wanted you to; but you don't – and she doesn't. And, besides, there's Amy; you owe her something, don't you? – or don't you? You needn't grit your teeth that way. You are only getting a part of what is coming to you. 'Faithful are the wounds of a friend,' you know."

"Yes. And when the Psalmist had admitted that, he immediately asked the Lord not to let their precious balms break his head. You're all right, Grizzy, but I'll pull through." Then, with a determined wrenching aside of the subject: "Are you going up on Chigringo this afternoon?"

"I thought I would – yes. What shall I tell Miss Massingale when she asks about you?"

"You will probably tell her the first idiotic thing that comes into the back part of your head. And if you tell her anything pifflous about me I'll lay for you some dark night with a pick handle."

Grislow laughed reminiscently. "She won't ask," he said.

"Why not?"

"Because the last time she did it I told her your scalp was dangling at Miss Genevieve's belt."

They had reached the door of the log-built quarters and Brouillard spun the jester around with a shoulder grip that was only half playful.

"If I believed you said any such thing as that I'd murder you!" he exploded. "Perhaps you'll go and tell her that – you red-headed blastoderm!"

"Sure," said the blastoderm, and they went apart, each to his dunnage kit.

VIII
Table Stakes

There were a dozen business blocks under construction in Mirapolis, with a proportional number of dwellings and suburban villas at various stages in the race toward completion, when it began to dawn upon the collective consciousness of a daily increasing citizenry that something was missing. Garner, the real-estate plunger from Kansas City, first gave the missing quantity its name. The distant thunder of the blasts heralding the approach of the railroad had ceased between two days.

There was no panic; there was only the psychoplasmic moment for one. Thus far there had been no waning of the fever of enthusiasm, no slackening of the furious pace in the race for growth, and, in a way, no lack of business. With money plentiful and credit unimpaired, with an army of workmen to spend its weekly wage, and a still larger army of government employees to pour a monthly flood into the strictly limited pool of circulation, traffic throve, and in token thereof the saloons and dance-halls never closed.

Up to the period of the silenced dynamite thunderings new industries were projected daily, and investors, tolled in over the high mountain trails or across the Buckskin in dust-encrusted automobiles by methods best known to a gray-mustached adept in the art of promotion, thronged the lobby of the Hotel Metropole and bought and sold Mirapolis "corners" or "insides" on a steadily ascending scale of prices.



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