Francis Lynde.

The City of Numbered Days



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Epochal

At the other extremity of the trajectory of Grislow's telltale field-glass Brouillard was sunning himself luxuriously on the porch step at the Massingale house and making up for lost time Ц counting all time lost when it spelled absence from the woman he loved. But Miss Massingale was in a charmingly frivolous frame of mind.

"That is the fourth different excuse you have invented for cutting me out of your visiting list, not counting the repetitions," she gibed, when he had finally fallen back upon the time demands of his work to account for his late neglect of her. "If I wanted to be hateful I might insist that you haven't given the true reason yet."

"Perhaps I will give it before I go," he parried. "But just now I'd much rather talk about something else. Tell me about yourself. What have you been doing all these days when I haven't been able to keep tab on you?"

"Flirting Ц flirting desperately with Tig, with Lord Falkland, with Mr. Anson, and Mr. Grislow, and that nice boy of yours, Herbert Griffith, and with Ц no, not with Mr. Leshington; he scares me Ц makes a face like a wooden image and says: 'Little girl, you need a mother Ц or a husband; I haven't made up my mind which.' When he does make up his mind I'm going to shriek and run away."

"Who is Lord Falkland?" demanded Brouillard, ignoring the rank and file.

"O-o-h! Haven't you met him? He is Tig's boss. He isn't a real lord; he is only a 'younger son.' But we call him Lord Falkland because he has no sense of humor and is always trying to explain. 'Beg pawdon, my deah Miss Massingale, but I'm not Lord Falkland, don't y' know. The Ц er Ц title goes with the Ц er Ц entail. I'm only the Honorable Pawcy Grammont Penbawthy Trevawnnion.'" Her mimicry of the Englishman was delicious, and Brouillard laughed like a man without a care in the world.

"Where does the Honorable All-the-rest keep himself?" he wished to know.

"He stays out at the ranch in the Buckskin with Tig and the range-riders most of the time, I think. It's his ranch, you know, and he is immensely proud of it. He never tires of telling me about the cattle on a thousand hills, or the thousand cattle on one hill, I forget which it is."

"And you flirt with this Ц this alphabetical monstrosity!" he protested reproachfully.

"Honestly, Victor, I don't; that was only an amiable little figure of speech. You simply can't flirt with a somebody who is almost as brilliant as a lump of Cornish tin ore and, oh, ever so many times as dense."

"Exit Lord Falkland, who isn't Lord Falkland," said Brouillard. "Now tell me about the 'Little Susan'; is the Blue-grass farm looming up comfortably on the eastern edge of things?"

In a twinkling her frivolous mood vanished.

"Oh, we are prosperous, desperately prosperous. We have power drills, and electric ore-cars, and a crib, and a chute, and a hoist, and an aerial tramway down to the place where the railroad yard is going to be Ц all the improvements you can see and a lot more that you can't see.

And our pay-roll Ц it fairly frightens me when I make it up on the Saturdays."

"I see," he nodded. "All going out and nothing coming in. But the money is all here, safely stacked up in the ore bins. You'll get it all out when the railroad comes."

"That is another thing Ц a thing I haven't dared tell father and Stevie. When I was in Mirapolis this morning I heard that the railroad wasn't coming, after all; or, rather, Tig had heard it and he told me. We were digging for facts when you met us on Chigringo Avenue Ц trying to find out if the rumor were true."

"Did you find out?" he asked.

"Not positively. That is why I left the note at your office begging you to come up if you could spare the time. I felt sure you would know."

"It means a great deal to you, doesn't it?" he said evasively.

"It means everything Ц a thousand times more now than it did before."

His quick glance up into the suddenly sobered eyes of the girl standing on the step above him was a voiceless query and she answered it.

"We had no working capital, as I think you must have known. Once a month father or Stevie would make up a few pack-saddle loads of the richest ore and freight them over the mountains to Red Butte. That was how we got along. But when you sent me word by Tig that the railroad company had decided to build the Extension, there was Ц there was Ц a chance Ц "

"Yes," he encouraged.

"A chance that the day of little things was past and the day of big things was come. Mr. Cortwright and some of his associates had been trying to buy an interest in the 'Little Susan.' Father let them in on some sort of a stock arrangement that I don't understand and then made himself personally responsible for a dreadful lot of borrowed money."

"Borrowed of Mr. Cortwright?" queried Brouillard.

"No; of the bank. Neither Stevie nor I knew about it until after it was done, and even then father wouldn't explain. He has been like a man out of his mind since Mr. Cortwright got hold of him Ц everything is rose-colored; we are going to be immensely rich the minute the railroad builds its track to the mine dump. The ore is growing richer every day Ц which is true Ц and the railroad will let us into the smelters with train loads of it. He is crazy to build more cribs and put on night shifts of miners. But you see how it all depends upon the railroad."

"Not so much upon the railroad now as upon some other things," said Brouillard enigmatically. "You say your father has borrowed of the bank Ц is Mr. Cortwright mixed up in the loan in any way?"

"Yes; he arranged it in some way for father Ц I don't know just how. All I know is that father is responsible, and that if the railroad doesn't come he will lose everything."

Brouillard gave a low whistle. "I don't wonder that the quitting rumor made you nervous."

"It was, and is, positively terrifying. Father has taken one of the new houses in town and we are to move down next week in spite of all I can do or say. That means more expense and more temptations. I can't tell you how I hate and dread Mirapolis. It isn't like any other place I have ever known; it is cynical, vicious, wicked!"

"It is," he agreed soberly. "It couldn't well be otherwise. You tell a dozen men they've got a certain definite time to live, and the chances are that two or three of them will begin to prepare to get ready to be sorry for their sins. The other nine or ten will speed up and burn the candle right down into the socket. We shall see worse things in Mirapolis before we see better. But I think I can lift one of your burdens. What you heard in town this morning is a fact: the railroad people have stopped work on the Buckskin Extension. Don't faint Ц they are going to begin again right away."

"Oh!" she gasped. "Are you sure? How can you be sure?"

"I've given the order," he said gravely. "An order they can't disregard. Let's go back a bit and I'll explain. Do you remember my telling you that your brother had tried to bribe me to use my influence with Mr. Ford?"

"As if I should ever be able to forget it!" she protested.

"Well, that wasn't all that he did Ц he threatened me Ц took me to one of the bars in the Niquoia, and let me prove for myself that it was tolerably rich placer ground. The threat was a curious one. If I'd say the right thing to President Ford, well and good; if not, your brother would disarrange things for the government by giving away the secret of the gold placers. It was ingenious, and effective. To turn the valley into a placer camp would be to disorganize our working force, temporarily at least, and in the end it might even stop or definitely postpone the building of the dam."

She was listening eagerly, but there was a nameless fear in the steadfast eyes Ц a shadow which he either missed or disregarded.

"Naturally, I saw, or thought I saw, a good reason why he should hesitate to carry out his threat," Brouillard went on. "The placer find, with whatever profit might be got out of it, was his only so long as he kept the secret. But he covered that point at once; he said that the 'Little Susan' Ц with the railroad Ц was worth more to him and to your father than a chance at the placer-diggings. The ore dump with its known values was a sure thing, while the sluice mining was always a gamble."

"And you Ц you believed all this?" she asked faintly.

"I was compelled to believe it. He let me pan out the proof for myself; a heaping spoonful of nuggets and grain gold in a few panfuls of the sand. It pretty nearly turned my head, Amy; would have turned it, I'm afraid, if Steve hadn't explained that the bar, as a whole, wouldn't run as rich as the sample."

"It is dreadful Ц dreadful!" she murmured. "You believed him, and for that reason you used your influence with Mr. Ford?"

"No."

"But you did advise Mr. Ford to build the Extension?"

"Yes."

"Believing that it was for the best interests of the railroad to come here?"

"No; doubting it very much, indeed."

"Then why did you do it? I must know; it is my right to know."

He got up and took her in his arms, and she suffered him.

"A few days ago, little girl, I couldn't have told you. But now I can. I am a free man Ц or I can be whenever I choose to say the word. You ask me why I pulled for the railroad; I did it for love's sake."

She was pushing him away, and the great horror in her eyes was unmistakable now.

"Oh!" she panted, "is love a thing to be cheapened like that Ц to be sinned for?"

"Why, Amy, girl! What do you mean? I don't understand Ц "

"That is it, Victor; you don't understand. You deliberately sacrificed your convictions; you have admitted it. And you did it in the sacred name of love! And your freedom Ц how have you made a hundred thousand dollars in these few weeks? Oh, Victor, is it clean money?"

He was abashed, confounded; and at the bottom of the tangle of conflicting emotions there was a dull glow of resentment.

"The 'sacrifice,' as you call it, was made for you," he said, ignoring her question about the money. "I merely told Mr. Ford what I should do if the decision lay wholly with me. That is what he asked for Ц my personal opinion. And he got it."

"Yes; but when you gave it Е did you say: 'Mr. Ford, there is a girl up at the "Little Susan" mine on Chigringo Mountain who needs your railroad to help her out of her troubles. Because I love the girl' Ц "

"Of course I didn't say any such suicidal thing as that! But it is too late to raise the question of culpability in the matter of giving Ford what he asked for. I did it, as I say Ц for love of you, Amy; and now I have done a much more serious thing Ц for the same good reason."

"Tell me," she said, with a quick catching of her breath.

"Your brother put a weapon in my hands, and I have used it. There was one sure way to make the railroad people get busy again. They couldn't sit still if all the world were trying to get to a new gold camp, to which they already have a line graded and nearly ready for the steel."

"And you have Ц ?"

He nodded.

"I had Levy put the spoonful of nuggets in his window, with a placard stating that it was taken out of a bar in the Niquoia. When I left the office to come up here the whole town was blocking the street in front of Levy's."

She had retreated to take her former position, leaning against the porch post, with her hands behind her, and she had grown suddenly calm.

"You did this deliberately, Victor, weighing all the consequences? Mirapolis is already a city of frenzied knaves and dupes; did you realize that you were taking the chance of turning it into a wicked pandemonium? Oh, I can't believe you did!"

"Don't look at me that way, Amy," he pleaded. Then he went on, with curious little pauses between the words: "Perhaps I didn't think Ц didn't care; you wanted something Ц and I wanted to give it to you. That was all Ц as God hears me, it was all. There was another thing that might have weighed, but I didn't let it weigh; I stood to lose the money that will set me free Ц I could have lost it without wincing Ц I told Cortwright so. You believe that, Amy? It will break my heart if you don't believe it."

She shook her head sadly.

"You have thrown down another of the ideals, and this time it was mine. You don't understand, and I can't make you understand Ц that is the keen misery of it. If this ruthless thing you tried to do had succeeded, I should be the most wretched woman in the world."

"If it had succeeded? It has succeeded. Didn't I say just now that the town was crazy with excitement when I left to come up here?"

The girl was shaking her head again.

"God sometimes saves us in spite of ourselves," she said gravely. "The excitement will die out. There are no placers in the Niquoia. The bars have been prospected again and again."

"They have been?†Ц "

Brouillard turned on his heel and choked back the sudden malediction that rose to his lips. She had called Mirapolis a city of knaves and dupes; surely, he himself was the simplest of the dupes.

"I see Ц after so long a time," he went on. "Your brother merely 'salted' a few shovelfuls of sand for my especial benefit. Great Heavens, but I was an easy mark!"

"Don't!" she cried, and the tears in her voice cut him to the heart Ц "don't make it harder for me than it has to be. I have told you only what I've heard my father say, time and again: that there is no gold in the Niquoia River. And you mustn't ask me to despise my brother. He fights his way to his ends without caring much for the consequences to others; but tell me Ц haven't you been doing the same thing?"

"I have," he confessed stubbornly. "My love isn't measured by a fear of consequences Ц to myself or others."

"That is the hopeless part of it," she returned drearily.

"Yet you condone in your brother what you condemn in me," he complained.

"My brother is my brother; and you are Ц Let me tell you something, Victor: God helping me, I shall be no man's evil genius, and yours least of all. You broke down the barriers a few minutes ago and you know what is in my heart. But I can take it out of my heart if the man who put it there is not true to himself."

Brouillard was silent for a little space, and when he spoke again it was as one awaking from a troubled dream.

"I know what you would do and say; you would take me by the hand and tell me to come up higherЕ There was a time, Amy, when you wouldn't have had to say it twice Ц a time when the best there was in me would have leaped to climb to any height you pointed to. The time is past, and I can't recall it, try as I may; there is a change; it goes back to that day when I first saw you Ц down at the lower ford in the desert's edge. I loved you then, though I wouldn't admit it even to myself. But that wasn't the change; it was something different. Do you believe in Freiborg's theory of the multiple personality? I saw his book in your hammock one day when I was up here."

"No," she said quite definitely. "I am I, and I am always I. For the purposes of the comedy we call life, we play many parts, perhaps; but back of the part-playing there is always the same soul person, I think Ц and believe."

"I know; that is common sense and sanity. And yet Freiborg's speculations are most plausible. He merely carries the idea of the dual personality Ц the Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde notion Ц a step farther along. You may remember how he compares the human being to a ship changing commanders at every port. One captain makes her a merchantman; another makes her a tramp; a third turns her into a slaver or a pirate; under a fourth she becomes a derelict."

"That is a terribly dangerous theory, if you take it seriously," was her comment.

"I don't want to take it seriously. But facts are stubborn things. I am not the same man I was a few years or even a few months ago. I have lost something; I have not the same promptings; things that I used to loathe no longer shock me. New and unsuspected pitfalls open for me every day. For example, I am not naturally hot-headed Ц or rather, I should say, I am quick-tempered but have always been able to control myself. Yet in the past few months I have learned what it means to fly into a rage that fairly makes me see red. And there is no cause. Nothing different has broken into my life save the best of all things Ц a great love. And you tell me that the love is unworthy."

"No, I didn't say that; I only meant that you had misconceived it. Love is the truest, finest thing we know. It can never be the tool of evil, much less the hand that guides the tool. Given a free field, it always makes for the wider horizons, the higher planes of thought and action; it may even breathe new life into the benumbed conscience. I don't say that it can't be dragged down and trampled in the dust and the mire; it can be, and then there is nothing more pitiful in a world of misconceptions."

Again a silence came and sat between them; and, as before, it was the man who broke it.

"You lead me to a conclusion that I refuse to accept, Amy; that I am dominated by some influence which is stronger than love."

"You are," she said simply.

"What is it?"

"Environment."

"That is the most humiliating thing you have said to-day. Is a man a mere bit of driftwood, to be tossed about in the froth of any wave that happens to come along, as Freiborg says he is?"

"Not always; perhaps not often. And never, I think, in the best part of him Ц the soul ego. Yet there is a mighty power in the wave, in the mere drift. However much others may be deluded, I am sure you can see Mirapolis in its true light. It is frankly, baldly, the money-making scheme of a few unscrupulous men. It has no future Ц it can have none. And because it is what it is, the very air you breathe down there is poisoned. The taint is in the blood. Mr. Cortwright and his fellow bandits call it the 'Miracle City,' but the poor wretches on lower Chigringo Avenue laugh and call it Gomorrah."

"Just at the present moment it is a city of fools Ц and I, the king of the fools, have made it so," said Brouillard gloomily. From his seat on the porch step he was frowning down upon the outspread scene in the valley, where the triangular shadow of Jack's Mountain was creeping slowly across to the foot of Chigringo. Something in the measured eye-sweep brought him to his feet with a hasty exclamation:

"Good Lord! the machinery has stopped! They've knocked off work on the dam!"

"Why not?" she said. "Did you imagine that your workmen were any less human than other people?"

"No, of course not; that is, I Ц but I haven't any time to go into that now. Is your telephone line up here in operation?"

"No, not yet."

"Then I must burn the wind getting down there. By Jove! if those unspeakable idiots have gone off and left the concrete to freeze wherever it happens to be Ц "

"One moment," she pleaded, while he was reaching for his hat. "This new madness will have spent itself by nightfall Ц it must. And yet I have the queerest shivery feeling, as if something dreadful were going to happen. Can't you contrive to get word to me, some way Ц after it is all over? I wish you could."

"I'll do it," he promised. "I'll come up after supper."

"No, don't do that. You will be needed at the dam. There will be trouble, with a town full of disappointed gold-hunters, and liquor to be had. Wait a minute." She ran into the house and came out with two little paper-covered cylinders with fuses projecting. "Take these, they are Bengal lights Ц some of the fireworks that Tig bought in Red Butte for the Fourth. Light the blue one when you are ready to send me my message of cheer. I shall be watching for it."

"And the other?" he asked.

"It is a red light, the signal of war and tumults and danger. If you light it, I shall know Ц "

He nodded, dropped the paper cylinders into his pocket, and a moment later was racing down the trail to take his place at the helm of the abandoned ship of the industries.

There was need for a commander; for a cool head to bring order out of chaos, and for the rare faculty which is able to accomplish Herculean tasks with whatever means lie at hand. Brouillard descended upon his disheartened subordinates like a whirlwind of invincible energy, electrifying everybody into instant action. Gassman was told off to bring the Indians, who alone were loyally indifferent to the gold craze, down from the crushers. Anson was despatched to impress the waiters and bell-boys from the Metropole; Leshington was sent to the shops and the bank to turn out the clerks; Grislow and Handley were ordered to take charge of the makeshift concrete handlers as fast as they materialized, squadding them and driving the work of wreck clearing for every man and minute they could command, with Gassman and Bender to act as foremen.

For himself, Brouillard reserved the most hazardous of the recruiting expedients. The lower Avenue had already become a double rank of dives, saloons, and gambling dens; here, if anywhere in the craze-depopulated town, men might be found, and for once in their lives they should be shown how other men earned money.



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