Part 6 out of 7
players. One of this company, surveying the glint of his bookcases, was
satisfied with the greatest effort of his life in his library.
PRATHER SEES THE PORTRAIT
It did not occur to Jack to question a word of the narrative that had
reduced a dismal enigma to luminous, connected facts. With the swift
processes of reason and the promptness of decision of which he was
capable on occasion, he had made up his mind as to his future even as he
ascended the stairs to his room. The poignancy of his father's appeal had
struck to the bed-rock of his affection and his conscience, revealing
duty not as a thing that you set for yourself, but which circumstances
set for you.
Never before had he realized how hopelessly he had been a dreamer. Firio,
P.D., Wrath of God, and Jag Ear became the fantastic memory of another
incarnation. His devil should never again rejoice in having his finger on
a trigger or send him off an easy traveller in search of gorgeous
sunrises. His devil should be transformed into a backbone of unremitting
apprenticeship in loving service for the father who had built for him in
love. Though his head split, he would master every detail of the
business. And when Jack stepped into the Rubicon he did not splash around
or look back. He went right over to the new country on the other bank.
But there were certain persons whom he must inform of the crossing.
First, he wrote a telegram to Jim Galway: "Sorry, but overwhelming duty
here will not permit. Luck and my prayers with you." Then to Firio a
letter, which did not come quite so easily: "You see by now that you are
mistaken, Firio. I am not coming back. Make the most of the ranch--your
ranch--that you can." The brevity, he told himself, was in keeping with
Firio's own style. Besides, anything more at length would have opened up
an avenue of recollections which properly belonged to oblivion.
And Mary? Yes, he would write to her, too. He would cut the last strand
with the West. That was best. That was the part of his new courage of
self-denial stripping itself of every trammeling association of
sentiment. Other men had given up the women of their choice; and he could
never be the man of this woman's choice. Somehow, his father's talk had
made him realize an inevitable outcome which had better be met and
mastered in present fortitude, rather than after prolonged years of
fruitless hope centering two thousand miles away. He started a dozen
letters to Mary, meaning each to be a fitting _envoi_ to their
comradeship and a song of good wishes. Each one he wrote in the haste of
having the task quickly over, only to throw away what he had written when
he read it. The touch that he wanted would not come. He was simply
flashing out a few of a thousand disconnected thoughts that ran away
incoherently with his pen.
But wasn't any letter, any communication of any kind, superfluous? Wasn't
it the folly of weak and stupid stubbornness? She had spoken her final
word in their relations at the hotel door. There was no Little Rivers;
there was no Mary; there was nothing but the store. To enforce this fiat
he had only to send the wire to Jim and post the letter to Firio. This he
would do himself. A stroll would give him fresh air. It was just what he
needed after all he had been through that evening; and he would see the
streets not with any memory of the old restlessness when he and his
father were strangers, but kindly, as the symbol of the future.
His room was on the second floor. As he left it, he heard the door-bell
ring, its electric titter very clear in the silence of the house. No
doubt it meant a telegram for his father. At the turn of the stairs on
the first floor he saw the back of the butler before the open door.
Evidently it was not a matter of a telegram, but of some late caller.
Jack paused in the darkness of the landing, partly to avoid the bother of
having to meet anyone and partly arrested by the manner of the butler,
who seemed to be startled and in doubt about admitting a stranger at that
hour. Indistinctly, Jack could hear the caller's voice. The tone was
familiar in a peculiar quality, which he tried to associate with a voice
that he had heard frequently. The butler, apparently satisfied with the
caller's appearance, or, at least, with his own ability to take care of a
single intruder, stepped back, with a word to come in. Then, out of the
obscurity of the vestibule, appeared the pale face of John Prather. Jack
withdrew farther into the shadows instinctively, as if he had seen a
ghost; as if, indeed, he were in fear of ghosts.
"I will take your card to Mr. Wingfield," said the butler.
Prather made a perfunctory movement as if for a card-case, but
apparently changed his mind under the prompting suggestion that it was
"My name is John Prather," he announced. "Mr. Wingfield knows who I am
and I am quite sure that he will see me."
While the butler, after rapping cautiously, went into the library with
the message, John Prather stood half smiling to himself as he looked
around the hall. The effect seemed to please him in a contemplative
fashion, for he rubbed the palms of his hands together, as he had in his
survey of the diamond counters. He was serenity itself as John Wingfield,
Sr. burst out of the library, his face hard-set.
"I thought you were going this evening!" he exclaimed. "By what right do
you come here?"
He placed himself directly in front of Prather, thus hiding Prather's
figure, but not his face, which Jack could see was not in the least
disturbed by the other's temper.
"Oh, no! The early morning train has the connections I want for Arizona,"
he answered casually, as if he were far from being in any hurry. "I was
taking a walk, and happening to turn into Madison Avenue I found myself
in front of the house. It occurred to me what a lot I had heard about
that ancestor, and seeing a light in the library, and considering how
late it was, I thought I might have a glimpse of him without
inconveniencing any other member of the family. Do you mind?"
He put the question with an inflection that was at once engaging and
"Mind!" gasped John Wingfield, Sr.
"I am sure you do not!" Prather returned. Now a certain deference and a
certain pungency of satire ran together in his tone, the mixture being
nicely and pleasurably controlled. "Is it in there, in the drawing-room?"
"And then what else? Where do you mean to end? I thought that--"
"Nothing else," Prather interrupted reassuringly. "Everything is settled,
of course. This is sort of a farewell privilege."
"Yes, in there!" snapped John Wingfield, Sr. "It's the picture on the
other side of the mantel. I will wait here--and be quick, quick, I tell
you! I want you out of this house! I've done enough! I--"
"Thanks! It is very good-natured of you!"
John Prather passed leisurely into the drawing-room and John Wingfield,
Sr. stood guard by the door, his hand gripping the heavy portieres for
support, while his gaze was steadily fixed at a point in the turn of the
stairs just below where Jack was obscured in the shadow. His face was
drawn and ashen against the deep red of the hangings, and torment and
fear and defiance, now one and then the other, were in ascendency over
the features which Jack had always associated with composed and
unchanging mastery until he had seen them illumined with affection only
an hour before. And the father had said that he had never met or heard of
John Prather! The father had said so quietly, decidedly, without
hesitation! This one thought kept repeating itself to Jack's stunned
brain as he leaned against the wall limp from a blow that admits of no
"The ancestor certainly must have been a snappy member of society in his
time! It has been delightful to have a look at him," said John Prather,
as he came out of the drawing-room.
He paused as he spoke. He was still smiling. The mole on his cheek was
toward the stairway; and it seemed to heighten the satire of his smile.
The faces of the young man and the old man were close together and they
were standing in much the same attitude, giving an effect of likeness in
more than physiognomy. That note of John Prather's voice that had sounded
so familiar to Jack was a note in the father's voice when he was
"This is the end--that is the understanding--the end?" demanded John
"Oh, quite!" John Prather answered easily, moving toward the door. He
did not offer his hand, nor did John Wingfield, Sr. offer to take it.
But as he went out he said, his smile broadening: "I hope that Jack
makes a success with the store, though he never could run it as well as
I could. Good-by!"
"Good-by!" gasped John Wingfield, Sr.
He wheeled around distractedly and stood still, his head bowed, his
fingers working nervously before his hands parted in a shrugging,
outspread gesture of relief; then, his head rising, his body stiffening,
once more his arbitrary self, he started up the stairs with the firm yet
elastic step with which he mounted the flights of the store.
If Jack remained where he was they would meet. What purpose in questions
now? The answer to all might be as false as to one. He was no more in a
mood to trust himself with a word to his father than he had been to trust
himself with a word to John Prather. He dropped back into the darkness
of the dining-room and sank into a chair. When a bedroom door upstairs
had closed softly he was sequestered in silence with his thoughts.
His own father had lied to him! Lied blandly! Lied with eyes limpid with
appeal! And the supreme commandment on which his mother had ever insisted
was truth. The least infraction of it she would not forgive; it was the
only thing for which she had ever punished him. He recalled the one
occasion when she had seemed harsh and merciless, as she said:
"A lie fouls the mouth of the one who utters it, Jack. A lie may torture
and kill. It may ruin a life. It is the weapon of the coward--and never
be a coward, Jack, never be afraid!"
At the New England preparatory school which he had attended after he came
home, a lie was the abomination on which the discipline of student
comradeship laid a scourge. Out on the desert, where the trails run
straight and the battle of life is waged straight against thirst and
fatigue and distance, men spoke straight.
And nothing had been explained, after all! The phantom was back,
definite of form and smiling in irony. For it had a face, now, the face
of John Prather! How was he connected with the story of the mother? the
father? the Doge?
Then, like a shaft of light across memory, came the recollection of a
thing that had been so negligible to Jack at the time. It was Dr.
Bennington's first question in Jack's living-room; a question so
carelessly put and so dissociated from the object of his visit! Jack
remembered Dr. Bennington's curious glance through his eyebrows as he
asked him if he had met John Prather. And Dr. Bennington had brought Jack
into the world! He knew the family history! The Jack that now rose from
the chair was a Jack of action, driven by the scourge of John Prather's
smile into obsession with the one idea which was crying: "I will know! I
Downstairs in the hall he learned over the telephone that Dr. Bennington
had just gone out on a call. It would be possible to see him yet
to-night! An hour later, as the doctor entered his reception-room he was
startled by a pacing figure in the throes of impatience, who turned on
him without formality in an outburst:
"Dr. Bennington, you asked me in Little Rivers if I had ever met John
Prather. I have met him! Who is he? What is he to me?"
The doctor's suavity was thrown off its balance, but he did not lose
his presence of mind. He was too old a hand at his profession, too
capable, for that.
"I refuse to answer!" he said quickly and decisively.
"Then you do know!" Jack took a step toward the doctor. His weight was on
the ball of his foot; his eyes had the fire of a command that was not to
"Heavens! How like the ancestor!" the doctor exclaimed involuntarily.
"Then you do know! Who is he? What is he to me?"
It seemed as if the ceiling were about to crack. The doctor looked away
to avoid the bore of Jack's unrelenting scrutiny. He took a turn up and
down, rapidly, nervously, his fingers pressed in against the palms and
the muscles of his forearms moving in the way of one who is trying to
hold himself in control by an outward expression of force against inward
"I dined with your father to-night!" he exclaimed. "I counseled him to
tell you the truth! I said that if he did not want to tell it for its own
sake, as policy it was the only thing to you! I--I--" he stopped, facing
Jack with a sort of grisly defiance. "Jack, a doctor is a confessor of
men! He keeps their secrets! Good-night!" And he strode through the
office door, which he closed behind him sharply, in reminder that the
interview was at an end.
As Jack went down the steps into the night, the face of John Prather,
with a satirical turn to the lips, was preceding him. Now he walked madly
up and down and back and forth across town to the river fronts, with
panting energy of stride, as he fastened the leash of will on quivering
nerves. When dawn came it was the dawn of the desert calling to a brain
that had fought its way to a lucid purpose. It started him to the store
in the fervor of a grateful mission, while a familiar greeting kept
repeating itself in his ears on the way:
"You won't forget, Jack, about giving me a chance to come along if you
ever go out West again, will you?"
The question was one in answer to a promise; a reminder from certain
employees into whom he had fused his own spirit of enthusiasm about dry
wastes yielding abundance.
"But you must work very hard," he had told them. "Not until you have
callouses on your hands can you succeed or really know how to enjoy a
desert sunrise or sunset. After that, you will be able to stand erect and
look destiny in the face."
"No February slush!" Burleigh, the fitter, had said. "No depending on
one man to hold your job!"
"Your own boss! You own some land and you just naturally get what you
earn!" according to Joe Mathewson.
"And from what I can make out," observed one of the automobile van
drivers whom Jack had accompanied on the suburban rounds, "it requires
about as much brains as running an automobile to be what you'd call a
first-class, a number one desert Rube, Jack!"
"Yes," Jack told him. "The process that makes the earth fruitful is not
less complicated than a motor, simply because it is one of the earliest
inventions. You mix in nature's carbureter light and moisture with the
chemical elements of the soil."
"I'm on!" the chauffeur rejoined. "If a man works with a plow instead of
a screwdriver, it doesn't follow that his mind is as vacant as a cow that
stands stockstill in the middle of the road to show you that you can't
fool her into thinking that radiators are good to eat."
In explaining the labor and pains of orange-growing, which ended only
with the careful picking and packing, Jack would talk as earnestly as his
father would about the tedious detail which went into the purchase and
sale of the articles in any department of the store. He might not be able
to choose the best expert for the ribbon counter, but he had a certain
confidence that he could tell the man or the woman who would make good in
Little Rivers. No manager was more thorough in his observation of clerks
for promotion than Jack in observing would-be ranchers. He had given his
promise to one after another of a test list of disciples; and at times he
had been surprised to find how serious both he and the disciples were
over a matter that existed entirely on the hypothesis that he was not
going to stay permanently in New York.
This morning he was at the store for the last time, arriving even before
the delivery division, to circulate the news that he was returning to
Little Rivers. Trouble was brewing out there, he explained, but they
could depend on him. He would make a place for them and send word when he
was ready; and all whom he had marked as faithful were eager to go. Thus
he had builded unwittingly for another future of responsibilities when he
had paused in the midst of the store's responsibilities to tell stories
of how a desert ranch is run.
But one disciple did not even want to wait on the message. It was Peter
Mortimer, whom Jack caught on his way to the elevator at eight, his usual
hour, to make sure of having the letters opened and systematically
arranged when his employer should appear.
"So you are going, Jack! And--and, Jack, you know?" asked Peter
"Yes, Peter. And I see that you know."
"I do, but my word is given not to tell."
Through that night's march Jack had guessed enough. He had guessed his
fill of chill misery, which now took the place of the hunger of inquiry.
The full truth was speeding out to the desert. It was with John Prather.
"Then I will not press you, Peter," he said. "But, Peter, just one
question, if you care to answer; was it--was it this thing that drove my
mother into exile?"
Then a moment's silence, with Peter's eyes full of sympathy and Jack's
dull with pain.
"And, Jack," Peter went on, "well, I've been so long at it that suddenly,
now you're going, I feel choked up, as if I were about to overflow with
anarchy. Jack, I'm going to give notice that I will retire as soon as
there is somebody to take my place. I want to rest and not have to keep
trying to remember if I have forgotten anything. I've saved up a little
money and whatever happens out there, why, there'll be some place I can
buy where I can grow roses and salads, as you say, if nothing more
profitable, won't there?"
"Yes, Peter. I know other fertile valleys besides that of Little Rivers,
though none that is its equal. I shall have a garden in one of them and
you shall have a garden next to mine."
"Then I feel fixed comfortable for life!" said Peter, with a perfectly
wonderful smile enlivening the wrinkles of his old face, which made Jack
think once more that life was worth living.
Later in the morning, after he had bought tickets for Little Rivers, Jack
returned to the house. When he stood devoutly before the portrait, whose
"I give! I give!" he now understood in new depths, he thought:
"I know that you would not want to remain here another hour. You would
want to go with me."
And before the portrait on the other side of the mantel he thought,
challengingly and affectionately:
"And you? You were an old devil, no doubt, but you would not lie! No,
you would not lie to the Admiralty or to Elizabeth even to save your
head! Yes, you would want to go with me, too!"
Tenderly he assisted the butler to pack the portraits, which were put in
a cab. When Jack departed in their company, this note lay on the desk in
the library, awaiting John Wingfield, Sr.'s return that evening:
"The wire to Jim Galway which I enclose tells its own story. It was
written after our talk. When I was going out to send it I saw John
Prather and you in the hall. You said that you knew nothing of him. I
overheard what passed between you and him. So I am going back to Little
Rivers. The only hope for me now is out there.
"I am taking the portrait of my mother, because it is mine. I am taking
the portrait of the ancestor, because I cannot help it any more than he
could help taking a Spanish galleon. That is all I ask or ever could
accept in the way of an inheritance.
"JOHN WINGFIELD, YOU--"
John Wingfield, Sr. had often made the boast that he never worried;
that he never took his business to bed with him. When his head touched
the pillow there was oblivion until he awoke refreshed to greet the
problems left over from yesterday. Such a mind must be a reliably
co-ordinated piece of machinery, with a pendulum in place of a heart. It
is overawing to average mortals who have not the temerity to say
"Nonsense!" to great egos. Yet the best adjusted clocks may have a lapse
in a powerful magnetic storm, and in an earthquake they might even be
tipped off the shelf, with their metal parts rendered quite as helpless
by the fall as those of a human organism subject to the constitutional
weaknesses of the flesh.
It was also John Wingfield, Sr.'s boast to himself that he had never been
beaten, which average mortals with the temerity to say "Nonsense!"--that
most equilibratory of words--might have diagnosed as a bad case of
self-esteem finding a way to forget the resented incidental reverses of
success. Yet, even average mortals noted when John Wingfield, Sr.
arrived late at the store the morning after Jack's departure for the West
that he had not slept well. His haggardness suggested that for once the
pushbutton to the switch of oblivion had failed him. The smile of
satisfied power was lacking. In the words of the elevator boy,
impersonal observer and swinger of doors, "I never seen the old man like
But the upward flight through the streets of his city, if it did not
bring back the smile, brought back the old pride of ownership and
domination. He still had a kingdom; he was still king. Resentment rose
against the cause of the miserable twelve hours which had thrown the
machinery of his being out of order. He passed the word to himself that
he should sleep to-night and that from this moment, henceforth things
would be the same as they had been before Jack came home. Yes, there was
just one reality for him. It was enthroned in his office. This morning
was to be like any other business morning; like thousands of mornings to
come in the many years of activity that stretched ahead of him.
"A little late," he said, explaining his tardiness to his secretary; a
superfluity of words in which he would not ordinarily have indulged. "I
had some things to attend to on the outside."
With customary quiet attentiveness, Mortimer went through the mail with
his employer, who was frequently reassuring himself that his mind was as
clear, his answers as sure, and his interest as concentrated as usual.
This task finished, Mortimer, with his bundle of letters and notes in
hand, instead of going out of the room when he had passed around the
desk, turned and faced the man whom he had served for thirty years.
John Wingfield, Sr. looked up sharply, struck by Mortimer's tone, which
seemed to come from another man. In Mortimer's eye was a placid,
confident light and his stoop was less marked.
"Mr. Wingfield, I am getting on in years, now," he said, "and I have
concluded to retire as soon as you have someone for my place; the sooner,
sir, the more agreeable to me."
"What! What put this idea into your head?" John Wingfield, Sr. snapped.
Often of late he had thought that it was time he got a younger man in
Peter's place. But he did not like the initiative to come from Peter; not
on this particular morning.
"Why, just the notion that I should like to rest. Yes, rest and play a
little, and grow roses and salads," said the old secretary, respectfully.
"Roses and salads! What in--where are you going to grow them?"
There was something so serene about Peter that his highly imperious,
poised employer found it impertinent, not to say maddening. Peter had a
look of the freedom of desert distances in his eyes already. A lieutenant
was actually radiating happiness in that neutral-toned sanctum of power,
particularly this morning.
"I am going out to Little Rivers, or to some place that Jack finds
for me, where I am to have a garden and work--or maybe I better call
it potter around--out of doors in January and February, just like it
Peter spoke very genially, as if he were trying to win a disciple on his
"With Jack! Oh!" gasped John Wingfield, Sr. He struck his closed fist
into the palm of his hand in his favorite gesture of anger, the
antithesis of the crisp rubbing of the palms, which he so rarely used of
late years. Rage was contrary to the rules of longevity, exciting the
heart and exerting pressure on the artery walls.
"Yes, sir," answered Peter, pleasantly.
"Well--yes--well, Jack has decided to go back!" Then there rose strongly
in John Wingfield, Sr.'s mind a suspicion that had been faintly signaled
to his keen observation of everything that went on in the store. "Are any
other employees going?" he demanded.
"Yes, sir, I think there are; not immediately, but as soon as he finds a
place for them."
"I don't think it is any secret. About fifty, sir."
"Name some of them!"
"Joe Mathewson, that big fellow who drives a warehouse truck, and
Burleigh;" and Peter went on with those of the test proof list
whom he knew.
Every one of them had high standing. Every one represented a value. While
at first John Wingfield, Sr. had decided savagely that Mortimer should
remain at his pleasure, now his sense of outraged egoism took an opposite
turn. He could get on without Mortimer; he could get on if every employee
in the store walked out. There were more where they came from in a city
of five millions population; and no one in the world knew so well as he
how to train them.
"Very good, Peter!" he said rigidly, as if he were making a declaration
of war. "Fix up your papers and leave as soon as you please. I will have
one of the clerks take your place."
"Thank you. That is very kind, Mr. Wingfield!" Mortimer returned, so
politely, even exultantly, that his aspect seemed treasonable.
John Wingfield, Sr. tried to concentrate his attention on some long and
important letters that had been left on his desk for further
consideration; but his mind refused to stick to the lines of typewriting.
"This one is a little complicated," he thought, "I will lay it aside."
He tried the second and the third letters, with no better results. A
tanned face and a pair of broad shoulders kept appearing between him and
the paper. Again he was thinking of Jack, as he had all night, to the
exclusion of everything else. Unquestionably, this son had a lot of
magnetic force in him; he had command of men. Why, he had won fifty of
the best employees out of sheer sentiment to follow him out to the
desert, when they had no idea what they were in for!
His gaze fell and rested for some time on the bunch of roses on his desk.
Every morning there had been a fresh bunch, in keeping with the custom
that Jack had established. The father had become so used to their
presence that he was unconscious of it. For all the pleasure he got out
of them, they might as well have been in the cornucopia vase in the
limousine. His hand went out spasmodically toward the roses, as if he
would crush them; crush this symbol of the thing drawn from the mother
that had invaded the calm autocracy of his existence. The velvety
richness of the petals leaning toward him above the drooping grace of
their stems made him pause in realization of the absurdity of his anger.
A feeling to which he had been a stranger swept over him. It was like a
breaking instinct of dependableness; and then he called up Dr.
"Well, he has gone!" he told the doctor, desperately.
"You did not tell him the truth!" came the answer; and he noted that the
doctor's voice was without its usual suavity. It was as matter-of-fact to
the man of millions as if it had been advising an operation in a
"No, not exactly," John Wingfield, Sr. confessed.
"I told you what his nature was; how it had drawn on the temperament of
his mother. I told you that with candor, with a decently human humility
appealing to his affections, everything was possible. And remember, he is
strong, stronger than you, John Wingfield! There's a process of fate in
him! John Wingfield, you--" The sentence ended abruptly, as if the doctor
had dropped the receiver on the hooks with a crash.
Phantoms were closing in around John Wingfield, Sr.... His memory
ranged back over the days of ardent youth, in the full tide of growing
success, when to want a thing, human or material, meant to have it....
And in his time he had told a good many lies. The right lie, big and
daring, at the right moment had won more than one victory. With John
Prather out of the way, he had decided on an outright falsehood to his
son. Why had he not compromised with Dr. Bennington's advice and tried
part falsehood and part contrition? But no matter, no matter. He would
go on; he was made of steel.
Again the tanned face and broad shoulders stood between him and the
page. Jack was strong; yes, strong; and he was worth having. All the old
desire of possession reappeared, in company with his hatred of defeat.
He was thinking of the bare spot on the wall in the drawing-room in place
of the Velasquez. There would be an end of his saying: "The boy is the
spit of the ancestor and just as good a fighter, too; only his abilities
are turned into other channels more in keeping with the spirit of the
age!" An end of: "Fine son you have there!" from men at the club who had
given him only a passing nod in the old days. For he was not displeased
that the boy was liked, where he himself was not. The men whom he admired
were those who had faced him with "No!" across the library desk; who had
got the better of him, even if he did not admit it to himself. And the
strength of his son, baffling to his cosmos, had won his admiration. No,
he would not lose Jack's strength without an effort; he wanted it for his
own. Perhaps something else, too, there in the loneliness of the office
in the face of that bunch of roses was pulling him: the thrill that he
had felt when he saw the moisture in Jack's eyes and felt the warmth of
his grasp before Jack left the library.
And Jack and John Prather were speeding West to the same destination!
They would meet! What then? There was no use of trying to work in an
office on Broadway when the forces which he had brought into being over
twenty years ago were in danger of being unloosed out on the desert, with
Jack riding free and the fingers of the ancestor-devil on the reins. John
Wingfield, Sr. called in the general manager.
"You are in charge until I return," he said; and a few hours later he was
in a private car, bound for Little Rivers.
HE FINDS HIS PLACE IN LIFE
BACK TO LITTLE RIVERS
As with the gentle touch of a familiar hand, the ozone of high altitudes
gradually and sweetly awakened Jack. The engine was puffing on an
upgrade; the car creaked and leaned in taking a curve. Raising the shade
of his berth he looked out on spectral ranges that seemed marching and
tumbling through dim distances. With pillows doubled under his head he
lay back, filling sight and mind with the indistinctness and spacious
mystery of the desert at night; recalling his thoughts with his last
view of it over two months ago in the morning hours after leaving El
Paso and seeing his future with it now, where then he had seen his
future with the store.
"Think of old Burleigh raising oranges! I am sure that the trees will be
well trimmed," he whispered. "Think of Mamie Devore in the thick of the
great jelly competition, while the weight of Joe Mathewson's shoulders
starts a spade into the soil as if it were going right to the centre of
the earth. Why, Joe is likely to get us into international difficulties
by poking the ribs of a Chinese ancestor! Yes--if we don't lose our
Little Rivers; and we must not lose it!"
The silvery face of the moon grew fainter with the coming of a ruddier
light; the shadows of the mountains were being etched definitely on the
plateaus that stretched out like vast floors under the developing glow
of sunrise; and the full splendor of day had come, with its majestic
spread of vision.
"When Joe sees that he will feel so strong he will want to get out and
carry the Pullman," Jack thought. "But Mamie will not let him for fear
that he will overdo!"
How slow the train seemed to travel! It was a snail compared to Jack's
eagerness to arrive. He was inclined to think that P.D., Wrath of God,
and Jag Ear were faster than through expresses. He kept inquiring of the
conductor if they were on time, and the conductor kept repeating that
they were. How near that flash of steel at a bend around a tongue of
chaotic rock, stretching out into the desert sea, with its command to man
to tunnel or accept a winding path for his iron horse! How long in coming
to it in that rare air, with its deceit of distances! Landmark after
landmark of peak or bold ridge took the angle of some recollected view of
his five years' wanderings. It was already noon when he saw Galeria from
the far end of the long basin that he had crossed, with the V as the
compass of his bearings, on the ride that brought him to the top to meet
Mary and Pete Leddy.
Then the V was lost while the train wound around the range that formed
one side of the basin's rim. The blaze of midday had passed before it
entered the reaches of the best valley yet in the judgment of a
connoisseur in valleys; and under the Eternal Painter's canopy a spot of
green quivered in the heat-rays of the horizon. His Majesty was in a
dreamy mood. He was playing in delicate variations, tranquil and
enchanting, of effects in gold and silver, now gossamery thin, now
thick and rich.
"What is this thing crawling along on two silken threads and so afraid of
the hills?" he was asking, sleepily. "Eh? No! Bring the easel to me, if
you want a painting. I am not going to rise from my easy couch. There!
Fix that cushion so! I am a leisurely, lordly aristocrat. Palette? No, I
will just shake my soft beard of fine mist back and forth across the sky,
a spectrum for the sunrays. So! so! I see that this worm is a railroad
train. Let it curl up in the shadow of a gorge and take a nap. I will
wake it up by and by when I seize my brush and start a riot in the
heavens that will make its rows of window-glass eyes stare."
"I am on this train and in a hurry!" Jack objected.
"Do I hear the faint echo of a human ego down there on the earth?"
demanded the Eternal Painter. "Who are you? One of the art critics?"
"One of Your Majesty's loving subjects, who has been away in a foreign
kingdom and returns to your allegiance," Jack answered.
"So be it. I shall know if what you say is true when I gaze into your
eyes at sunset."
"I am bringing you a Velasquez!" Jack added.
"Good! Put him where he can have a view out of the window of his first
teacher at work in the studio of the universe."
The train crept on toward the hour of the Eternal Painter's riot and
toward Little Rivers, while the patch of green was softly, impalpably
growing, growing, until the crisscross breaks of the streets developed
and Jack could identify the Doge's and other bungalows. He was on the
platform of the car before the brakes ground on the wheels, leaning out
to see a crowd at the station, which a minute later became a prospect of
familiar, kindly, beaming faces. There was a roar of "Hello, Jack!" in
the heavy voices of men and the treble of children. Then he did not see
the faces at all for a second; he saw only mist.
"Not tanned, Jack, but you'll brown up soon!"
"Gosh! But we've been lonesome without you!"
"Cure any case of sore eyes on record!"
Jack was too full of the glory of this unaffected welcome in answer to
his telegram that he was coming to find words at first; but as he fairly
dropped off the steps into the arms of Jim Galway and Dr. Patterson he
shouted in a shaking voice:
"Hello, everybody! Hello, Little Rivers!"
He noted, while all were trying to grasp his hands at once, that the men
had their six-shooters. A half-dozen were struggling to get his suit
case. Not one of his friends was missing except the Doge and Mary.
"Let the patient have a little air!" protested Dr. Patterson, as some
started in to shake hands a second time.
"Fellow-citizens, if there's anything in the direct primary I feel sure
of the nomination!" said Jack drily.
"You're already elected!" shouted Bob Worther.
Around at the other side of the station Jack found Firio waiting his turn
in patient isolation, with P.D., Wrath of God, and Jag Ear.
"_Si! si_!" called Firio triumphantly to all the sceptics who had told
him that Jack would not return.
Jack took the little Indian by the shoulders and rocked him back and
forth in delight, while Firio's eyes were burning coals of jubilation.
"You knew!" Jack exclaimed. "You were right! I have come back!"
"_Si, si_! I know!" repeated Firio.
"No stopping him from bringing the whole cavalcade to the station,
either," said Jim Galway. "And he wouldn't join the rest of us out in
front of the station. He was going to be his own reception committee and
hold an overflow meeting all by himself!"
There was no disguising the fact that the equine trio of veterans
remembered Jack. With P.D. and Jag Ear the demonstration was
unrestrained; but however exultant Wrath of God might be in secret, he
was of no mind to compromise his reputation for lugubriousness by any
public display of emotional weakness.
"Wrath of God, I believe you were a cross-eyed Cromwellian soldier in
your previous incarnation!" said Jack; "and as it is hard for a horse to
be crosseyed, you could not retain the characteristic. Think of that!
Wouldn't a cross-eyed Cromwellian soldier strike fear to the heart of any
loyalist? And Jag Ear, you're getting fat!"
"I keep his hoofs hard. When he fat he eat less on trail!" explained
Firio, becoming almost voluble. "All ready for trail!" he hinted.
"Not now, Firio," said Jack. "And, Firio, there's a package at the
station, a big, flat case. It came by express on the same train with
me--the most precious package in the world. See that it is taken to
"Si! You ride?" asked Firio, offering P.D.'s reins.
"No, we'll all walk."
The procession had started toward the town when Jack felt something soft
poking him in the small of the back and looked around to find that the
cause was P.D.'s muzzle. Wrath of God and Jag Ear might go with Firio,
but P.D. proposed to follow Jack.
"And after I have ridden you thousands of miles and you've heard all my
songs over and over! Well, well, P.D., you are a subtle flatterer! Come
along!" Then he turned to Jim Galway: "Has John Prather arrived?"
"Yes, last night."
"He is here now?" Jack put in quickly.
"No; he pulled out at dawn on his way to Agua Fria."
"Oh!" Jack was plainly disappointed. "He has the grant for the
"Yes," said Jim, "though he hasn't made the fact public. He does
everything in his smooth, quiet fashion, with a long head, and I suppose
he hasn't things just right yet to spring his surprise. But there is no
disputing the fact--he has us!"
One man henceforth was in control of the water. His power over the
desert community would be equivalent to control of the rains in a
"You see," Jim continued, "old man Lefferts' partners had really never
sold out to him; so his transfer to the Doge wasn't legal. He turned his
papers over to Prather, giving Prather full power to act for him in
securing the partners' surrender of their claims and straighten out
everything with the Territory and get a bonafide concession. That is as I
understand it, for the whole business has been done in an underhand way.
Prather represented to the Doge that he was acting entirely in the
interests of the community and his only charge would be the costs. The
Doge quite believed in Prather's single-mindedness and public spirit.
Well, with the use of money and all the influences he could command,
including the kind that Pete Leddy exercises, he got the concession and
in his name. It was very smart work. I suppose it was due to the crafty
way he could direct the Doge to do his wishes that the Doge happened to
be off the scene at the critical stage of the negotiations. When he went
to New York all that remained was for him to obtain the capital for his
scheme. Lefferts and his partners had the underlying rights and the Doge
the later rights, thanks to his improvements, and Prather has them both.
Well, Leddy and his crowd have been taking up plots right and left;
that's their share in the exploitation. They're here, waiting for the
announcement to be made and--well, the water users' association is still
in charge; but it won't be when Prather says the word."
"And you have no plans?" Jack asked.
"And the Doge?"
"None. What can the old man do? Though nobody exactly blames him, a good
many aren't of a mind to consult him at all. The crisis has passed beyond
him. Three or four men, good men, too, were inclined to have it out with
John Prather; but that would have precipitated a general fight with
Leddy's gang. The conservatives got the hot-heads to wait till you came.
You see, the trouble with every suggestion is that pretty much everybody
is against it except the fellow who made it. The more we have talked,
the more we have drifted back to you. It's a case of all we've got in the
world and standing together, and we are ready to get behind you and take
"Yes, ready to fight at the drop of the hat, seh, or to sit still on our
doorsteps with our tongues in our cheeks and doing the wives' mending, as
you say!" declared Bob Worther. "It's right up to you!"
"You are all of the same opinion?" asked Jack.
They were, with one voice, which was not vociferous. For theirs was that
significantly quiet mood of an American crowd when easy-going good nature
turns to steel. Their partisanship in pioneerdom had not been with
six-shooters, but with the ethics of the Doge; and such men when aroused
do not precede action with threats.
"All right!" said Jack.
There was a rustle and an exchange of satisfied glances and a chorus of
approval like an indrawing of breath.
"First, I will see the Doge," Jack added; "and then I shall go to
Galway, Dr. Patterson, Worther, and three or four others went on with him
toward the Ewold bungalow. They were halted on the way by Pete Leddy,
Ropey Smith, and a dozen followers, who appeared from a side street and
stopped across Jack's path, every one of them with a certain slouching
aggressiveness and staring hard at him. Pete and Ropey still kept faith
with their pledge to Jack in the _arroyo_. They were without guns, but
their companions were armed in defiance of the local ordinance which had
been established for Jack's protection.
"Howdy do, Leddy?" said Jack, as amiably as if there had never been
anything but the pleasantest of relations between them.
"Getting polite, eh! Where's your pretty whistle?" Leddy answered.
"I put it in storage in New York," Jack said laughing; then, with a
sudden change to seriousness: "Leddy, is it true that you and John
Prather have got the water rights to this town?"
"None of your d----d business!" Leddy rapped out. "The only business I've
got with you has been waiting for some time, and you can have it your way
out in the _arroyo_ where we had it before, right now!"
"As I said, Pete, I put the whistle in storage and I have already
apologized for the way I used it," returned Jack. "I can't accommodate
you in the _arroyo_ again. I have other things to attend to."
"Then the first time you get outside the limits of this town you will
have to play my way--a man's way!"
"I hope not, Pete!"
"Naturally you hope so, for you know I will get you, you--"
"Careful!" Jack interrupted. "You'd better leave that out until we are
both armed. Or, if you will not, why, we both have weapons that nature
gave us. Do you prefer that way?" and Jack's weight had shifted to the
ball of his foot.
Plainly this was not to Pete's taste.
"I don't want to bruise you. I mean to make a clean hole through you!"
"That is both courteous and merciful; and you are very insistent, Leddy,"
Jack returned, and walked on.
"Just as sweet as honey, just as cool as ice, and just as sunny as
June!" whispered Bob Worther to the man next him.
Again Jack was before the opening in the Ewold hedge, with its glimpse
of the spacious living-room. The big ivory paper-cutter lay in its
accustomed place on the broad top of the Florentine table. In line with
it on the wall was a photograph of Abbey's mural in the Pennsylvania
capitol and through the open window a photograph of a Puvis de Chavannes
was visible. Evidently the Doge had already hung some of the
reproductions of masterpieces which he had brought from New York. But no
one was on the porch or in the living-room; the house was silent. As
Jack started across the cement bridge he was halted by a laugh from his
companions. He found that P.D. was taking no risks of losing his master
again; he was going right on into the Doge's, too. Jim took charge of
him, receiving in return a glance from the pony that positively reeked
Again Jack was on his way around the Doge's bungalow on the journey he
had made so many times in the growing ardor of the love that had mastered
his senses. The quiet of the garden seemed a part of the pervasive
stillness that stretched away to the pass from the broad path of the
palms under the blazonry of the sun. As he proceeded he heard the
crunching of gravel under a heavy tread. The Doge was pacing back and
forth in the cross path, fighting despair with the forced vigor of his
steps, while Mary was seated watching him. As the Doge wheeled to face
Jack at the sound of his approach, it was not in surprise, but rather in
preparedness for the expected appearance of another character in a
drama. This was also Mary's attitude. They had heard of his coming and
they received his call with a trace of fatalistic curiosity. The Doge
suddenly dropped on a bench, as if overcome by the weariness and
depression of spirits that he had been defying; but there was something
unyielding and indomitable in Mary's aspect.
"Well, Sir Chaps, welcome!" said the Doge. "We still have a seat in the
shade for you. Will you sit down?"
But Jack remained standing, as if what he had to say would be soon said.
"I have come back and come for good," he began. "Yes, I have come back to
take all the blue ribbons at ranching," he added, with a touch of garden
nonsense that came like a second thought to soften the abruptness of his
"For good! For good! You!" The Doge stared at Jack in incomprehension.
"Yes, my future is out here, now."
"You give up the store--the millions--your inheritance!" cried the Doge,
still amazed and sceptical as he sounded the preposterousness of this
idea to worldly credulity.
There was no mistaking the firmness of the word. "To make your fortune,
your life, out here?"
The Doge's voice was throbbing with the wonder of the thing.
"Why? Why? I feel that I have a right to ask why!" demanded the Doge, in
all the majesty of the moment when he faced John Wingfield, Sr. in the
"Because of a lie and what it concealed. Because of reasons that may not
be so vague to you as they are to me."
"A lie! Yes, a lie that came home!" the Doge repeated, while he passed
his hand back and forth over his eyes. The hand was trembling. Indeed,
his whole body was trembling, while he sought for self-control and to
collect his thoughts for what he had to say to that still figure awaiting
his words. When he looked up it was with an expression wholly new to
Jack. Its candor was not that of transparent mental processes in serene
philosophy or forensic display, but that of a man who was about to lay
bare things of the past which he had kept secret.
"Sir Chaps, I am going to give you my story, however weak and blameworthy
it makes me appear," he said. "Sir Chaps, you saw me in anger in the
Wingfield drawing-room, further baffling you with a mystery which must
have begun for you the night that you came to Little Rivers when we
exchanged a look in which I saw that you knew that I recognized you. I
tried to talk as if you were a welcome stranger, when I was holding in my
rancor. There was no other face in the world that I would not rather have
seen in this community than yours!
"How glad I was to hear that you were leaving by the morning train! How I
counted the days of your convalescence after you were wounded! How glad I
was at the news that you were to go as soon as you were well! With what a
revelry of suggestion I planned to speed your parting! How demoralized I
was when you announced that you were going to stay! How amazed at your
seriousness about ranching--but how distrustful! Yet what joy in your
companionship! At times I wanted to get my arms around you and hug you as
a scarred old grizzly bear would hug a cub. And, first and last, your
success with everybody here! Your cool hand in the duel! That iron in
your will which would triumph at any cost when you broke Nogales's arm!
For some reason you had chosen to stop, in the play period of youth, on
the way to the inheritance to overcome some obstacle that it pleased you
to overcome and to amuse yourself a while in Little Rivers--you with your
steadiness in a fight and your airy, smiling confidence in yourself!"
"I--I did not know that I was like that!" said Jack, in hurt, groping
surprise. "Was I truly?"
The Doge nodded.
"As I saw you," he said.
Jack looked at Mary, frankly and calmly.
"Was I truly?" he asked her.
"As I saw you!" she repeated, as an impersonal, honest witness.
"Then I must have been!" he said, with conviction. "But I hope that I
shall not be in the future." And he smiled at Mary wistfully. But her
gaze was bent on the ground.
"And you want it all--all the story from me?" the Doge asked, hesitating.
"All!" Jack answered.
"It strikes hard at your father."
"The truth must strike where it will, now!"
"Then, your face, so like your father's, stood for the wreck of two
lives to me, and for recollections in my own career that tinged my view
of you, Jack. You were one newcomer to Little Rivers to whom I could not
wholly apply the desert rule of oblivion to the past and judgment of
every man solely by his conduct in this community. No! It was out of the
question that I could ever look at you without thinking who you were.
"You know, of course, that your father and I spent our boyhood in
Burbridge. Once I found that he had told me an untruth and we had our
difference out, as boys will; and, as I was in the right, he confessed
the lie before I let him up. That defeat was a hurt to his egoism that he
could not forget. He was that way, John Wingfield, in his egoism. It was
like flint, and his ambition and energy were without bounds. I remember
he would say when teased that some day he should have more money than all
the town together, and when he had money no one would dare to tease him.
He had a remarkable gift of ingratiation with anyone who could be of
service to him. My uncle, who was the head of the family, was fond of
him; he saw the possibilities of success in this smart youngster in a New
England village. It was the Ewold money that gave John Wingfield his
start. With it he bought the store in which he began as a clerk. He lost
a good part of the Ewold fortune later in one of his enterprises that did
not turn out well. But all this is trifling beside what is to come.
"He went on to his great commercial career. I, poor fool, was an egoist,
too. I tried to paint. I had taste, but no talent. In outbursts of
despair my critical discrimination consigned my own work to the rubbish
heap. I tried to write books, only to find that all I had was a head
stuffed with learning, mixed with the philosophy that is death to the
concentrated application that means positive accomplishment. But I could
not create. I was by nature only a drinker at the fountain; only a
student, the pitiful student who could read his Caesar at eight, learn a
language without half trying, but with no ability to make my knowledge of
service; with no masterful purpose of my own--a failure!"
"No one is a failure who spreads kindliness and culture as he goes
through life," Jack interrupted, earnestly; "who gives of himself
unstintedly as you have; who teaches people to bring a tribute of flowers
to a convalescent! Why, to found a town and make the desert bloom--that
is better than to add another book to the weight of library shelves or to
get a picture on the line!"
"Thank you, Jack!" said the Doge, with a flash of his happy manner of
old, while there was the play of fleeting sunshine over the hills and
valleys of his features. "I won't call it persiflage. I am too selfish,
too greedy of a little cheer to call it persiflage. I like the illusion
He was silent for a while, and when he spoke again it was with the tragic
simplicity of one near his climax.
"Your father and I loved the same girl---your mother. It seemed that in
every sympathy of mind and heart she and I were meant to travel the long
highway together. But your father won her with his gift for ingratiation
with the object of his desire, which amounts to a kind of genius. He won
her with a lie and put me in a position that seemed to prove that the
lie was truth. She accepted him in reaction; in an impulse of heart-break
that followed what she believed to be a revelation of my true character
as something far worse than that of idler. I married the woman whom he
had made the object of his well-managed calumny. My wife knew where my
heart was and why I had married her. It is from her that Mary gets her
dark hair and the brown of her cheeks which make her appear so at home on
the desert. Soon after Mary's birth she chose to live apart from me--but
I will not speak further of her. She is long ago dead. I knew that your
mother had left your father. I saw her a few times in Europe. But she
never gave the reason for the separation. She would talk nothing of the
past, and with the years heavy on our shoulders and the memory of what we
had been to each other hovering close, words came with difficulty and
every one was painful. Her whole life was bound up in you, as mine was in
Mary. It was you that kept her from being a bitter cynic; you that kept
"Some of the Ewold money that John Wingfield lost was mine. You see how
he kept on winning; how all the threads of his weaving closed in around
me. I came to the desert to give Mary life with the fragments of my
fortune; and here I hope that, as you say, I have done something worthier
than live the life of a wandering, leisurely student who had lapsed into
the observer for want of the capacity by nature or training to do
"But sometimes I did long for the centres of civilization; to touch
elbows with their activities; to feel the flow of the current of
humanity in great streets. Not that I wanted to give up Little Rivers,
but I wanted to go forth to fill the mind with argosies which I could
enjoy here at my leisure. And Mary was young. The longing that she
concealed must be far more powerful than mine. I saw the supreme
selfishness of shutting her up on the desert, without any glimpse of the
outer world. I sensed the call that sent her on her lonely rides to the
pass. I feared that your coming had increased her restlessness.
"But I wander! That is my fault, as you know, Sir Chaps. Well, we come to
the end of the weaving; to the finality of John Wingfield's victory.
Little Rivers was getting out of hand. I could plan a ranch, but I had
not a business head. I had neither the gift nor the experience to deal
with lawyers and land-grabbers. I knew that with the increase of
population and development our position was exciting the cupidity of
those who find quicker profit in annexing what others have built than in
building on their own account. I knew that we ought to have a great dam;
that there was water to irrigate ten times the present irrigated area.
"Then came John Prather. I saw in him the judgment, energy, and ability
for organization of a real man of affairs. He was young, self-made,
engaging and convincing of manner. He liked our life and ideals in Little
Rivers; he wanted to share our future. In his resemblance to you I saw
nothing but a coincidence that I passed over lightly. He knew how to
handle the difficult situation that arose with the reappearance of old
man Lefferts' partners. He would get the water rights legalized beyond
dispute and turn them over to the water users' association; he would
bring in capital for the dam; the value of our property would be
enhanced; Little Rivers would become a city in her own right, while I was
growing old delectably in the pride of founder. So he pictured it and so
I dreamed. I was so sure of the future that I dared the expense of a trip
to New York.
"And always to me, when I looked at you and when I thought of you, you
were the son of John Wingfield; you incarnated the inheritance of his
strength. But when, from the drawing-room, I saw your father, whom I had
not seen for fifteen years, then--well, the thing came to me in a burning
second, the while I glimpsed his face before he saw mine. He was smiling
as if pleased with himself and his power; he was rubbing the palms of his
hands together; and I saw that it was John Prather who was like John
Wingfield in manner, pose, and feature. You were like the fighting man,
your ancestor, and your airy confidence was his. And I, witless and
unperceiving, had been won by the same methods of ingratiation with which
John Wingfield had won the assistance of the Ewold fortune for the first
step of his career; with which he had won Alice Jamison and kept me
unaware of his plan while he was lying to her.
"Finally, let us say, in all charity, that your father is what he is
because of what is born in him and for the same reason that the snowball
gathers size as it rolls; and I am what I am for the same reason that the
wind scatter the sands of the desert--a man full of books and tangent
inconsequence of ideas, without sense; a simpleton who knows a painting
but does not know men; a garrulous, philosophizing, blind, old
simpleton, whose pompous incompetency has betrayed a trust! Through me,
men and women came here to settle and make a home! Through me they
lose--to my shame!"
The Doge buried his face in his hands and drew a deep breath more
pitiful than a sob, which, as it went free of the lungs, seemed to leave
an empty ruin of what had once been a splendid edifice. He was in
striking contrast to Mary, who, throughout the story fondly regarding
him, had remained as straight as a young pine. Now, with her rigidity
suddenly become so pliant that it was a fluid thing mixed of
indignation, fearlessness, and compelling sympathy, she sprang to his
side. She knew the touchstone to her father's emotion. He did not want
his cheek patted in that moment of agony. He wanted a stimulant; some
justification for living.
"There is no shame in believing in those who speak fairly! There is
honor, the honor of faith in mankind!" she cried penetratingly. "There is
no shame in being the victim of lies!"
"No! No shame!" the Doge cried, rising unsteadily to his feet
under the whip.
"And we are not afraid for the future!" she continued. "And the other men
and women in Little Rivers are not afraid for the future!"
"No, not afraid under this sun, in this air. Afraid!"
An unconquerable flame had come into his eyes in answer to that in
"The others have asked me to act for them, and I think I may yet save our
rights," said Jack. "Will you also trust me?"
"Will I trust you, Jack? Trust you who gave up your inheritance?"
exclaimed the Doge. "I would trust you on a mission to the stars or to
lead a regiment; and the wish of the others is mine."
Jack had turned to go, but he looked back at Mary.
"And you, Mary? I have your good wishes?"
He could not resist that question; and though it was clear that nothing
could stay him--as clear as it had been in the _arroyo_ that he would
keep his word and face Leddy--he was hanging on her word and he was
seeing her eyes moist, with a bright fire like that of sunshine on still
water. She was swaying slightly as a young pine might in a wind. Her eyes
darkened as with fear, then her cheeks went crimson with the stir of her
blood; and suddenly, her eyes were sparkling in their moisture like water
when it ripples under sunshine.
"Yes, Jack," she said quietly, with the tense eagerness of a good cause
that sends a man away to the wars.
"That is everything!" he answered.
So it was! Everything that he could ask now, with his story and hers so
fresh in mind! He started up the path, but stopped at the turn to look
back and wave his hand to the two figures in a confident gesture.
"Luck with you, Sir Chaps!" called the Doge, with all the far-carrying
force of his oldtime sonorousness.
"Luck! luck!" Mary called, on her part; and her voice had a flute note
that seemed to go singing on its own ether waves through the tender
green foliage, through all the gardens of Little Rivers, and even away
to the pass.
"Mary! Mary!" he answered, with a ring of cheeriness. "Luck for me will
always come at your command!"
A moment later Galway and the others saw him smiling with a hope that ran
as high as his purpose, as he passed through the gateway of the hedge.
"It will all be right!" he told them.
With P.D. keeping his muzzle close to the middle of Jack's back, the
party started toward his house, which took them almost the length of the
"Prather went by the range trail, of course?" Jack asked Galway.
"No, straight out across the desert," said Galway.
"Straight out across the desert!" exclaimed Jack, mystified.
For one had a choice of two routes to Agua Fria, which was well over the
border in Mexico. Not a drop of water was to be had on the way across the
trackless plateau, but halfway on the range trail was a camping-place,
Las Cascadas, where a spring which spouted in a tiny cascade welcomed the
traveller. Under irrigation, most of the land for the whole stretch
between the two towns would be fertile. There was said to be a big
underground run at Agua Fria that could be pumped at little expense.
"All I can make out of Prather's taking a straight line, which really is
slower, as you know, on account of the heavy sand in places, is to look
over the soil," said Galway. "He may be preparing to get a concession in
Mexico at the same time as on this side, so as to secure control of the
whole valley. It means railroads, factories, new towns, millions--but you
and I have talked all this before in our dreams."
"Who was with him?" Jack asked.
"Pedro Nogales. He seems to have taken quite a fancy to Pedro and Pedro
is acting as guide. Leddy recommended him, I suppose."
"No one else?"
"Good!" said Jack.
As they turned into the side street where the front of Jack's bungalow
was visible, Jim Galway observed that they had seen nothing of Leddy or
any of his followers.
"Maybe he's gone to join Prather," said Bob Worther.
But Jack paid no attention to the remark. He was preoccupied with the
first sight of his ranch in over two months.
"It will be all right!" he called out to the crowd in his yard; for the
others who had met him at the station were waiting for him there. "Bob,
those umbrella-trees could shade a thin, short man now, even if he didn't
hug the trunk! Firio has done well, hasn't he?" he concluded, after he
had walked through the garden and surveyed the fields and orchards in
fond comparison as to progress.
"The best I ever knew an Indian to do!" said Jim Galway.
"And everything kept right on growing while I was away! That's the joy of
planting things. They are growing for somebody, if not for you!"
Inside the house he found Firio, with the help of some of the ranchers,
taking the pictures out of their cases. Firio surveyed the buccaneer
for some time, squinting his eyes and finally opening them saucer-wide
"You!" he said to Jack. And of the Sargent, after equally deliberate
observation, he said: "A lady!"
That seemed about all there was to say and expressed the thought of the
"And, Firio, now it's the trail!" said Jack.
"_Si, si_!" said Firio, ever so softly. "We take rifles?"
"Yes. Food for a week and two-days' water."
It pleased Jack to hang the portraits while Firio was putting on Jag
Ear's pack; and he made it a ceremony in which his silence was
uninterrupted by the comments of the ranchers. They stood in wondering
awe before John Wingfield, Knight, hung where he could watch the Eternal
Painter at his sunset displays and looking at the "Portrait of a Lady"
across the breadth of the living-room, whose neutral tones made a perfect
setting for their dominant genius.
"I believe they are at home," said Jack, with a fond look from one to the
other, when Firio came to say that everything was ready.
"Senor Jack," whispered Firio insinuatingly, "for the trail you wear the
grand, glad trail clothes and the big spurs. I keep them shiny--the big
spurs!" He was speaking with the authority of an expert in trail
fashions, who would consider Jack in very bad form if he refused.
"Why, yes, Firio, yes; it is so long since we have been on the trail!"
And he went into the bedroom to make the change.
"I've never seen him quite so dumb quiet!" said Worther.
Jack certainly had been quiet, ominously quiet and self-contained. When
he came out of the bedroom he was without the jaunty freedom of manner
that Little Rivers always associated with his full regalia. In place of
the dreamy distances in his eyes on such occasions were a sad
preoccupation and determination. When they went outside to Firio and the
waiting ponies, the Eternal Painter was in his evening orgy of splendor.
But even Jack did not look up at the sky this time as he walked along in
silence with his fellow-citizens to the point where the farthest furrow
of his ranch had been drawn across the virgin desert. His foot was
already in the stirrup when Jim Galway spoke the thought of all:
"Jack, there's only two of you, and if it happened that you met
"It is Prather that I want to see," Jack answered.
"But Leddy's whole gang! We don't know what your plans are, but if
there's going to be a mix-up, why, we've got to be with you!"
"No!" said Jack, decidedly. "Remember, Jim, you were to trust me. This is
a mission that requires only two; it is between Prather and me. We are
going to get acquainted for the first time."
Already Firio, riding Wrath of God, had started, and the bells of Jag Ear
were jingling, while the rifles, their bores so clean from Firio's care,
danced with the gleams of sunset in their movement with the burro's
jogging trot. Jack sprang into the saddle, his face lighting as the foot
came home in the stirrup.
"It will be all right!" he called back.
P.D. in the freshness of his long holiday, feeling a familiar pressure of
a leg, hastened to overtake his companions; and the group of Little
Riversites watched a chubby horseman and a tall, gaunt horseman, bathed
in gold, riding away on a hazy sea of gold, with Jag Ear's bells growing
fainter and fainter, until the moving specks were lost in the darkness.
AROUND THE WATER-HOLE
Easy traveller had turned speedy traveller, on a schedule. Never had he
and Firio ridden so fast as in pursuit of John Prather, who had eight
hours' start of them on a two-days' journey. Jag Ear had to trot all the
time to keep up. Ounce by ounce he was drawing on his sinking fund of fat
in a constitutional crisis.
"I keep his hoofs good. I keep his wind good. All right!" said Firio.
It was after midnight before the steady jingle of Jag Ear's orchestra had
any intermission. An hour for food and rest and the little party was off
again in the delicious cool of the night, toward a curtain pricked with
stars which seemed to be drawn down over the edge of the world.
"What sort of horses had Prather and Nogales?" Jack asked. He must reach
the water-hole as soon as Prather; for it was not unlikely that Prather
might have fresh mounts waiting there to take him on to the nearest
railroad station in Mexico.
"Look good, but bad. Nogales no know horses!" Firio answered.
"And they rode in the heat of the day!" said Jack, confidently.
"_Si_! And we ride P.D. and Wrath of God!"
There were no sign-posts on this highway of desert space except the
many-armed giant cacti, in their furrowed armor set with clusters of
needles, like tawny auroras gleaming faintly; no trail on the hard earth
under foot, mottled with bunches of sagebrush and sprays of low-lying
cacti, all as still as the figures of an inlaid flooring in the violet
sheen, with an occasional quick, irregular, shadowy movement when a
frightened lizard or a gopher beat a precipitate retreat from the
invading thud of hoofs in this sanctuary of dust-dry life. And the course
of the hoofs was set midway between the looming masses of the mountain
walls of the valley.
Firio listened for songs from Senor Jack; he waited for stories from
Senor Jack; but none came. He, the untalkative one of the pair, the
living embodiment of a silent and happy companionship back and forth from
Colorado to Chihuahua, liked to hear talk. Without it he was lonesome.
If, by the criterion of a school examination, he never understood more
than half of what Jack said, yet, in the measure of spirit, he understood
Now Jack was going mile after mile with nothing except occasional urging
words to P.D. His close-cut hair well brushed back from his forehead
revealed the sweep of his brow, lengthening his profile and adding to the
effect of his leanness. The moonlight on his face, which had lost its
tan, gave him an aspect of subdued and patient serenity in keeping with
the surroundings. You would have said that he could ride on forever
without tiring, and that he could go over a precipice now without even
seeing any danger sign. He had never been like this in all Firio's
memory. The silence became unsupportable for once to Indian taciturnity.
If Jack would not talk Firio would. Yes, he would ask a question, just to
hear the sound of a voice.
"We go to fight?"
"Not to fight Prather?"
"To fight Leddy?"
"I hope not."
"Why we go? Why so--why so--" he had not the language to express the
strange, brooding inquiry of his mind.
"I go to save Little Rivers."
"_Si_!" said Firio, but as if this did not answer his question.
"I go to get the end of a story, Firio--my story!" continued Jack. "I
have travelled long for the story and now I shall have it all from
"_Si, si_!" said Firio, as if all the knowledge in the world had flashed
into his head quicker than the hand of legerdemain could run the leaves
of a pack of cards through its fingers. "And then?"
At last Firio had won a smile from the untanned face which could not be
the same to him until it was tanned.
"Then I shall plant seeds and keep the ground around them soft and
the weeds out of it; and I shall wear my heart on my sleeve and lay a
siege--a siege in the open, without parallels or mines! A siege in
Firio did not understand much about parallels or mines or, for that
matter, about sieges; but he could see the smile fading from Jack's lips
and could comprehend that the future of which Jack was speaking was very
far from another prospect, which was immediate and vivid in his mind.
"But you must fight Leddy! _Si, si_! You must fight Leddy first!"
"Then I must, I suppose," said Jack, absently. "All things in their turn
"_Si_!" answered Firio. All things in their turn and time! This desert
truth was bred in him through his ancestry, no less than in the Eternal
Again the silence of the morning darkness, with all the stars twinkling
more faintly and some slipping from their places in the curtain into the
deeper recesses of the broad band of night on the surface of the rolling
ball. The plodding hoofs kept up their regular beat of the march of their
little world of action in the presence of the Infinite; plodding,
plodding on into the dawn which sent the last of the stars in flight,
while the curtain melted away before blue distances swimming with light.
Still bareheaded, Jack looked into the face of the sun which heaved above
an irregular roof of rocks. It blazed into the range on the other side of
the valley. It slaked its thirst with the slight fall of dew as a great,
red tongue would lick up crumbs. Sun and sky, cactus and sagebrush, rock
and dry earth and sand, that was all. Nowhere in that stretch of basin
that seemed without end was there a sign of any other horseman or of
But at length, as they rode, their eyes saw what only eyes used to desert
reaches could see, that the speck in the distance was not a cactus or
even two or three cacti in line, but something alive and moving.
Perceptibly they were gaining on it, while it developed into two riders
and a pack animal in single file. Now Jack and Firio were coming into a
region of more stunted vegetation, and soon the two figures emerged into
a stretch of gray carpet on which they were as clearly silhouetted as a
white sail on a green sea.
"Very thick sand there--five or six miles of it. It make this the
long way," said Firio. "They call it the apron of hell to fools who
ride at noon."
"And beyond that how many miles to the water-hole?"
"Five or six."
But Firio knew a way around where the going was good. It made a
difference of two or three miles in distance against them, but two or
three times that in their favor in time and the strength taken out of
"How long will Prather be in getting through the sand?" Jack asked.
Firio squinted at the objects of their pursuit for a while, as if he
wanted to be exact.
"Almost as many hours as miles," he said.
Near the zenith now, the sun was a bulging furnace eye, piercing through
shirts into the flesh and sucking the very moisture of the veins. A
single catspaw was all that the Eternal Painter had to offer over that
basin shut in between the long, jagged teeth of the ranges biting into
the steel-blue of the sky. The savage, merciless hours of the desert day
approached; the hours of reckoning for unknowing and unprepared
Jag Ear's bells had a faint plaintiveness at intervals and again their
jingling was rapid and hysterical, as he tried to make up the distance
lost through a lapse in effort. He had ceased altogether to wiggle the
sliver of ear--the baton with which he conducted his orchestra--because
this was clearly a waste of energy. P.D.'s steps still retained their
dogged persistence, but their regular beat was slower, like that of a
clock that needs winding. His head hung low. Wrath of God was no more and
no less melancholy than when he was rusticating in Jack's yard. It seemed
as if his sad visage, so reliably and grandly sad, might still be
marching on toward the indeterminate line of the horizon when his legs
were worn off his body.
"Firio, you brown son of the sun," said Jack, with a sudden display of
his old-time trail imagery, "you prolix, garrulous Firio, you knew! You
had the great equine trio ready, and look at the miles they have done
since sunset to prove it! You, P.D., favorite trooper of our household
cavalry! You, Wrath of God, don't be afraid to make an inward smile, for
your face will never tell on you! You, Jag Ear, beat a tattoo with the
fragment of the gothic glory of burrohood, for we rest, to go on all the
faster when the heat of the day is past!"
While Prather and Nogales were riding over hell's apron, their pursuers
had saddles off hot, moist backs, over which knowing hands were run to
find no sores. After they had eaten, P.D. and Wrath of God and Jag Ear
stood in drooping relaxation which would make the most of every moment of
respite. Jack and Firio, with a blanket fastened to the rifles as
standards, made a patch of shade in which they lay down.
"Have a nap, Firio," said Jack. "I will wake you when it is time
"And you--you no sleep?" asked Firio.
"I could not sleep to-day," Jack answered. "I don't feel as if I could
sleep until I've seen Prather and heard his story--my story--Firio!" And
he lay with eyes half closed, staring at the steel blue overhead.
It was well after midday when they mounted for the remainder of the
journey. The Eternal Painter was shaking out the silvery cloud-mist of
his beard across a background that had a softer, kindlier, deeper blue.
The shadows of the ponies and their riders and Jag Ear and his pack no
longer lay under their bellies heavily, but were stretched out to one
side by the angle of the sun, in cheerful, jogging fraternity. Prather
and Nogales had again become only a speck.
"Do you think that they are out of the sand?" asked Jack.
"Very near," Firio answered.
"Their ponies had a whole night's rest--we must not forget that," said
Jack; "and they must be in a hurry, for certainly Nogales had sense
enough to rest over noon."
"_Quien sabe_!" answered Firio. "But we catch them--_si, si_!"
Leading the way, Firio turned toward the eastern range until he came to a
narrow tongue of shale almost as hard to the hoofs as asphalt, that ran
like a shoal across that sea of sand. Rest had given the great equine
trio renewed life. P.D., reduced in rank to second place, could not think
of allowing more than a foot between his muzzle and the tail of Wrath of
God, who was bound to make up the time he had lost in pursuit of the
horizon. Another hypothesis of Jack's as to the cause of Wrath of God's
melancholy was that solemn Covenanter's inability to get any nearer to
the edge of the earth. Once he could poke his nose through the blue
curtain and see what was on the other side, the satisfaction of his
eternal curiosity might have made him a rollicking comedian. As for Jag
Ear, his baton was once more conducting his orchestra in spirited tempo.
He, who was nearest of all three in heart to Firio, might well have been
saying to himself: "I knew! I knew we were not going through the sand!
Firio and I knew!"
So rapidly were they gaining that, when past the sand and they turned
back westward, it was only a question of half an hour or so to come up
with Prather and Nogales. Nogales had been riding ahead; but now Prather,
after gazing over his shoulder for some time at his pursuers, took the
lead. He was urging his horse as if he would avoid being overtaken.
Evidently Nogales did not share that desire, for he let Prather go on
alone. But Prather's horse was too tired after its effort in the sand and
he halted and waited until Nogales, at a slow walk, closed up the gap
between them, when they proceeded at their old, weary gait.
As Jack and Firio came within hailing distance, both Prather and Nogales
glanced at them sharply; but no word was spoken on either side. The
absence of any call between these isolated voyagers of the desert sea was
strangely unlike the average desert meeting. Prather and Nogales did not
look back again, not even when Jack and Firio were very near. A neigh by
P.D., a break into a trot by him and Wrath of God, and Firio was saying
"You went right through the sand!"
"_Si_!" answered Pedro, with a grin.
Still Prather did not so much as turn his head to get a glimpse of Jack,
nor did he offer any sign of knowledge of Jack's presence when Jack
reined alongside him so close that their stirrup leathers were brushing.
Prather was gazing at the desert exactly in front of him, the reins
hanging loose, almost out of hand. His horse was about spent, if not on
the point of foundering. Jack was so near the mole on the cheek of the
peculiar paleness that never tans that by half extending his arm he might
have touched it. After all, it was only a raised patch of blue, a blemish
removable by the slightest surgical operation which its owner must have
preferred to retain.
Firio and Nogales, also riding side by side, were also silent. There was
no sound except Jag Ear's bells, now sunk to a faint tinkle in keeping
with the slow progress of Prather's beaten horse. Looking at Prather's
hands, Jack was thinking of another pair of hands amazingly like them. In
the uncanniness of its proximity he was imagining how the profile would
look without the birthmark, and he found himself grateful for the
silence, which spoke so powerfully to him, in the time that it provided
for bringing his faculties under control.
"How do you do?" he said at last, pleasantly.
Probably the silence had been equally welcome to Prather in charting his
own course in the now unavoidable interview. He looked around slowly, and
he was smiling with a trace of the satire that Jack had seen in the
elevator, but smiling watchfully in a way that covers the apprehension of
a keen glance. And he saw features that were calm and eyes that were
still as the sky.
"How do you do?" he answered; and paused as one who is about to slip a
point of steel home into a scabbard. "How do you do, brother?" he
added, as if uttering a shibboleth that could protect him from any
"Brother! Brother! Yes!" repeated Jack, with dry lips.
This shaping of conviction into fact so nakedly, so coolly, made all the
desert and the sky swim before him in kaleidoscopic patches of blue and
gray, shot with zigzag flashes. He half reeled in the saddle; his hands
gripped the pommel to hold himself in place. It was as if a long strain
of nervous tension had come to an end with a crack. Prather's smile took
a turn of deeper satisfaction. It was like John Wingfield, Sr.'s after
Jack had left the library.
"This is the first time we have ever met to speak," said Prather, easily.
"Yes!" assented Jack, the gray settling back into desert and the blue
into sky and the zigzag flashes becoming only the brilliance of late
"Certainly it is time that we got acquainted, brother," said Prather.
"It is!" agreed Jack. "It is time that I knew your story!"
"Which you have hardly heard from your--I mean, our father!" The pause
between the "your" and the "our" was made with an appreciative
significance. "Well, you see, I was the brother who had the mole on
"Yes--pitifully yes!" said Jack, with a kind of horror at the expression
of this face in his father's likeness, no less than at the words.
"Why, no! I've often thought of _you_ rather pitifully!" said Prather.
"You well might!" Jack answered, feelingly. "We may well share a common
pity for each other."
There was no sign that John Prather subscribed to the sentiment except in
a certain quizzical turn of his lips, as he looked away.
"Yes, the story has been kept from me. I have come for it!" said Jack.
"That is raking out the skeletons. But why not rake out our skeletons
together, you and I?" said Prather.
It was clear that he enjoyed the prospect as an opportunity for
"To begin with, I have the rights of primogeniture in my favor," he said.
"I was born a day before you were, in the same city of New York. My
mother's name was not down in the telephone list as Mrs. Wingfield,
however--I look at it all philosophically, you understand--and it was
just that which made the difference between you and me, outside of the
difference of our natures. But I am proud of my birth on both sides, in
my own way. My mother was won without marriage and she was true to
father. A woman of real ability, my mother! She was well suited to be
John Wingfield's wife; better, I think, in the practical world of
materialism than your mother. By a peculiar coincidence, unknown to
father, my mother called in Dr. Bennington. So you and I have a further
bond, in that the same doctor brought us into the world."
"And my mother must have known this!" Jack exclaimed, in racking horror.
At last the cause of her exile was clear in all its grisly monstrousness;
the source of the pain in her eyes in the portrait had been traced home.
Again he saw her white and trembling when she returned to the house in
Versailles to find a visitor there; and now he realized the fulness of
her relief when the frail boy said that he did not like his father. Her
travels had spoken the restlessness of flight in search of oblivion to
the very fact of his paternity. The "I give! I give!" of the portrait was
the giving of the infinity of her fine, sensitive being to him to make
him all hers. His feeling which had held him on the desert when he should
have gone home, that feeling of literal revulsion toward his inheritance,
was a thing born in him which had grown under her caresses and her
training. She had been living solely for him to that last moment when the
book dropped out of her hand; and the incarnation of that which had
killed her was riding beside him now in the flesh. He felt a weaving of
his muscles, a tightening of his nerves, as if waiting on the spark of
will, and all the strength that he had built in the name of the store was
madly tempted. But no! John Prather was not to blame, any more than
himself. He would listen to John Prather, as justice listens to evidence,
and endure his stare to the end.
"Yes, your mother knew," continued Prather. "My mother made a point of
having her know. That was part of my mother's own bitterness. That was
her teaching to me from the first. She had no illusions. She knew the
advantages and the disadvantages of her position. She was and is one of
the few persons in the world of whom my father is a little afraid."
"Then she still lives?" asked Jack sharply.
"Yes, she is in California," Prather returned. "She often referred to the
mole on my cheek as the symbol of my handicap in the world of convention.
'But for the mole, Jack, you would have the store,' she often said. It
delighted her that I had my father's face. As I grew older the
resemblance became more marked. I could see that I pleased my father with
my practical ideas of life, which I developed when quite young. He saw to
it that my mother and I lived well and that I went to a good school. From
my books I drew the same lesson as from my peculiar inheritance; the
lesson that my mother was always inculcating. 'A bank account,' she would
repeat, 'will erase even a mole patch on the cheek. It is the supreme
power that will carry you anywhere, Jack. You must make money!'
"When father came to see her he would talk with a candor with which I am
sure he never talked to your mother. He would tell of his successes,
revealing the strategy and system by which they were won, finding her
both understanding and sympathetic. I became a little blade that
delighted to get sharp against his big blade by asking him questions. He
did not want me about the store, and this was one of the things in which
my mother humored him. She knew just when to humor and just when to
threaten the play of the strong card which she always held.
"All the while her ambition was laying its plans. It was that I should
have the Wingfield store one day, myself. Out of school hours I would
range the other department stores. You see, I had not only inherited my
father's face more strikingly than you had, but also his talents. I
spent the summer vacations of my fourteenth and fifteenth years in a
store. I won the attention of my superiors and promise of promotion. I
foresaw the day when I should so prove my ability that father would take
me into his own store, and then, gradually, I would make my place,
secure, while you were idling about Europe. And in those days you were
frail and I was vigorous.
"There was no mistaking that father's sense of convention was the one
thing that stood between him and my desire. He feared the world's opinion
if the truth became known, and deep down in heart he could never get over
the pride of having married into your mother's family. You had very good
blood on the maternal side, as they say, while my mother had begun in the
cloak department and was self-made, like father. Again, I was so truly
his son in every instinct that he may have been a little jealous of me.
Father does not like to think that any other man was ever quite as great
as he is. I confess that is the way I feel, too. That is what life is,
after all--it is yourself. Yes, I saw the store as mine--surely mine,
Prather's reins lay across the pommel of the saddle drawn taut by the
drooping head of his horse, which was barely dragging one foot after
another. He gave Jack a glance of flashing resentment and then, in his
first impulse of real emotion, made a fist of one hand and drove it
angrily into the palm of the other before continuing.
"Then father went to Europe to bring you home. He had decided for the
son of convention, the son of blood! Though self-made, he was for family
as against talent. Besides, it was a victory for him. At last you were
his. After your return there was a scene between mother and him, a cool,
bitter argument. He defied her to play her last card. He said that you
knew the truth and that she could at best only make a row. And he wanted
us out of New York; the place for me was a new country. He would make us
a handsome allowance. So my mother agreed to his terms and we went to the
Pacific coast. There I was to enter one of the colleges. My mother wanted
me to have a college education, you see. The last meeting between father
and me was very interesting, blade playing on blade. He really hated to
let me go, for by this time he knew how hopeless you were. He embraced me
and said that I would get on, anyway. I told him that the only trouble
was that while I was the real son, I had a mole on my cheek.
"The West was best. There we could claim the favor of convention, Mrs.
Prather and her son. I matriculated at Stanford, but I saw nothing in it
for me. It was all dream stuff. Greek and Latin don't help in building a
fortune. They handicap you with the loss of time it takes to learn them,
at least; and I meant to be worth a million before I was thirty. Now I
know that I shall be worth two or three or four millions at thirty, if
all goes as I plan. So I cut college and broke for Goldfield. I ran a
store and was a secret partner in a saloon that paid better than the
store. I was in the game morning, noon, and night; it beat marching to
class to recite Horace and fiddle with the binomial theorem, as it must
for every man who counts for something in the world."
Throughout, Prather's tone, except for the one moment of anger, had been
that of an even recital of facts by one who does not allow himself to
consider anything but facts in the judgment of his position. At times he
gave Jack covert glances out of the tail of his eye and saw Jack's face
white and drawn and his head lowered. Now Prather became the victim--so
he would have put it, no doubt--of another outburst of feeling.
"But it was not like having the store!" he said. "No, my heart was in the
store; and that morning when you saw me looking down from the gallery I
was permitting myself to dream. I was thinking of what had come to you,
the fairy prince of good fortune, who had no talent for your inheritance,
and of what I might have done with it. I was thinking how I could win men
to work for me"--and there he was smiling with the father's charm--"and
of the millions to come if I could begin to build on the foundation that
father had laid. I saw branches in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia--a great
chain of stores all co-ordinated under my directing hand--I the master!"
He rubbed the palms of his hands together as he had over the
scintillation of the jewelry counters. Though Jack had not looked around,
his ear recognized that crisp sound of exultant power.
"Yes," Jack murmured thoughtfully, as if inviting Prather to go on with
anything further he might have to say.
"All mine--mine!" Prather concluded, in a sort of hypnosis with his
Jack still stared at the earth, his profile limned in gold and the side
of his face toward Prather in shadow. They were nearing the clump of
cotton-woods around the water-hole at the base of a tongue of the range
which ran out into the desert, and Firio rode up to whisper in Spanish:
"Senor Jack, see there! Horsemen!"
Jack raised his head with a returning sense of his surroundings to see
some mounted men, eight in all he counted, riding along the range trail a
half mile nearer the water-hole than themselves. Their horses had the
gait of exhaustion after a long, hard ride.
"You know who it is?" Firio whispered.
"Yes," Jack answered. "They had the better trail and have outridden us.
All right, Firio!"
"Leddy--Pete Leddy and some of his men!" exclaimed Prather, shading his
eyes to watch the file of figures now passing under the cotton-woods. It
seemed to relieve him. "I suppose he came on my account," he added,
nodding to Nogales.
"Yes," said Nogales, with a grin. He always either grinned or his face
had a half savage impassiveness.
"I wonder if Leddy thought I was in danger," and Prather gave Jack a
knowing glance of satisfaction. "We shall all camp together," he
Jack did not answer for a moment. He was intent on the cotton-woods.
Leddy and his companions appeared on the other side, the figures of
riders and horses bathed in the sunset glow. Then they disappeared as if
the earth had swallowed them up.
"They are going on! They are not going to stop!" said Prather
"There is a basin beyond the water-hole and the seepage makes a little
pasture," Jack explained. "You will see them back in a moment."
"Oh, yes!" said Prather, with a thrill in his voice; and again the
palms of his hands were making that refrain of delight. "But I have
told my story," he resumed. "Now may I ask you a question? Why have you
Jack looked around frankly and dispassionately.
"To save Little Rivers from you! I understand that you have secured the
"Well, then, I have!" declared Prather, confidently, "and I mean to have
the rights for the whole valley!" and he struck his fist into his palm.
"You see," he went on, with another flash of satire, "it is not exactly
fair that you should have the store and Little Rivers, too. I had heard
of the possibilities here from my friend Leddy, who was also at
Goldfield. A useful man in his place! He got his sixth notch there. When
I came and looked around and saw that here was the opportunity I wanted,
I wired father that in any fair division of territory everything west of
the Mississippi belonged to me"--he was showing some bravado in his sense
of security now, when he saw that Leddy and his men were returning
through the cotton-woods to the water-hole--"and I should like to have
you out of my way. I told him you were the picture of health, even if you
didn't have anything in your head, and if you were ever going to learn
the business it was time that you began. But father is always careful.
Naturally he wanted to check off my report with another's; for he didn't
want you back if you were ill. So he sent Dr. Bennington out to get
professional confirmation of my statement."
"And you told Jasper Ewold that you wanted the rights only to turn them
over to the water users' association and then bring in capital to build a
dam, with everybody sharing alike in the prosperity that was to come."
"Yes, and Jasper Ewold was so simple! Well, what I told him was
strategy--strategy of which I think father would approve. When you have a
big object in view the end must justify the means. Look at the situation!
Two hundred thousand acres of land waiting on water to be the most
fertile in the world! Why, when I rode up the valley the first time and
saw what could be done, I was amazed to think that such an opportunity
should be lying around loose. Little Rivers was so out of the way that
other promoters had overlooked it, and everybody had sort of taken it for
granted that Jasper Ewold and his water users' association really had
legal possession. It was my chance. I thought big. That dam should be
mine. I had the money I had made in Goldfield, but it was not enough for
"Where should I turn for outside capital that would not demand a
majority interest in the project? I concluded that it was time father
did something for me in return for giving up the store. Besides this
call of justice I had another influence with him. I was sure that when
he told my mother that you knew the truth he was making a statement that
suited his purpose. I was sure that you knew nothing of my story and
that father did not want you to know it. I was ready to tell if he did
not meet my demands.
"Well, you know how he can talk when he wants to gain a point. I fancy
that I talked as well as father when I showed him how that dam would pay
for itself in five years in tolls and twenty per cent on the capital
after that; when I showed him how a population ten times that of his
store would have to take their water from me; when I showed him all the
side issues of profit from town sites and the increase of values of the
big holdings which Leddy's men would take up for me. You ought to have
seen his eyes glow. He could not withstand his pride in me. 'You have the
gift, the one gift!' he said. I told him yes, it was in the blood; and I
struck while the iron was hot. I got an outright sum from him; and he
could not resist a chance to share all that profit when capital was to be
had in New York for three or four per cent. He went in as silent partner,
as I was in the saloon at Goldfield; as a partner with a minority
John Prather paused to laugh to himself over his victory, while the
movement of palm on palm was rapid and prolonged.
"Our arrangement amounted to the commercial division of territory for the
family, which I had suggested," he went on with appreciative irony. "You
and he were to have the east side of the Mississippi and I was to have
the west, and you were never to know my story. Publicly, father and I
were strangers and quits, and we came to this agreement in the room of a
"The day before I started West I simply had to have a look through the
store--the store that I loved and that I had to lose. Yes, the store is
far more to my taste than this rough western life. Naturally, as my
existence was to be kept a secret from you, when you followed me to the
elevator and tried to get acquainted I couldn't have it."
"But as the elevator descended you pointed to the mole," said Jack.
"Did I? I suppose that was an involuntary, instinctive pleasantry. The
previous evening father and I had had a farewell visit together. We went
into the country."
"The night after the scene in the drawing-room!" Jack thought.
"I knew that father was worried because he had to make an effort to show
that he was not. Usually he can cover his worries perfectly. He said that
he might have a fight in order to keep you and that he very much wanted
you to stay. But he did not succeed," concluded Prather, fist driving
into palm. "You came on the express after me."
"Because, fortunately, you went to the house to have a look at the
"Yes," said Prather. "But I did not see you."
"However, I saw you from the landing and overheard what passed between
you and father!"