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The Octopus, by Frank Norris

Part 2 out of 12

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"No," he had cried between his teeth, "no, thank God, it is not."

A little later, one of the stablemen brought the buggy with the
team of bays up to the steps of the porch, and Harran, putting on
a different coat and a black hat, took himself off to
The morning was fine; there was no cloud in the sky, but as
Harran's buggy drew away from the grove of trees about the ranch
house, emerging into the open country on either side of the Lower
Road, he caught himself looking sharply at the sky and the faint
line of hills beyond the Quien Sabe ranch. There was a certain
indefinite cast to the landscape that to Harran's eye was not to
be mistaken. Rain, the first of the season, was not far off.

"That's good," he muttered, touching the bays with the whip, "we
can't get our ploughs to hand any too soon."

These ploughs Magnus Derrick had ordered from an Eastern
manufacturer some months before, since he was dissatisfied with
the results obtained from the ones he had used hitherto, which
were of local make. However, there had been exasperating and
unexpected delays in their shipment. Magnus and Harran both had
counted upon having the ploughs in their implement barns that
very week, but a tracer sent after them had only resulted in
locating them, still en route, somewhere between The Needles and
Bakersfield. Now there was likelihood of rain within the week.
Ploughing could be undertaken immediately afterward, so soon as
the ground was softened, but there was a fair chance that the
ranch would lie idle for want of proper machinery.

It was ten minutes before train time when Harran reached the
depot at Guadalajara. The San Francisco papers of the preceding
day had arrived on an earlier train. He bought a couple from the
station agent and looked them over till a distant and prolonged
whistle announced the approach of the down train.

In one of the four passengers that alighted from the train, he
recognised his father. He half rose in his seat, whistling
shrilly between his teeth, waving his hand, and Magnus Derrick,
catching sight of him, came forward quickly.

Magnus--the Governor--was all of six feet tall, and though now
well toward his sixtieth year, was as erect as an officer of
cavalry. He was broad in proportion, a fine commanding figure,
imposing an immediate respect, impressing one with a sense of
gravity, of dignity and a certain pride of race. He was smooth-
shaven, thin-lipped, with a broad chin, and a prominent hawk-like
nose--the characteristic of the family--thin, with a high bridge,
such as one sees in the later portraits of the Duke of
Wellington. His hair was thick and iron-grey, and had a tendency
to curl in a forward direction just in front of his ears. He
wore a top-hat of grey, with a wide brim, and a frock coat, and
carried a cane with a yellowed ivory head.

As a young man it had been his ambition to represent his native
State--North Carolina--in the United States Senate. Calhoun was
his "great man," but in two successive campaigns he had been
defeated. His career checked in this direction, he had come to
California in the fifties. He had known and had been the
intimate friend of such men as Terry, Broderick, General Baker,
Lick, Alvarado, Emerich, Larkin, and, above all, of the
unfortunate and misunderstood Ralston. Once he had been put
forward as the Democratic candidate for governor, but failed of
election. After this Magnus had definitely abandoned politics
and had invested all his money in the Corpus Christi mines. Then
he had sold out his interest at a small profit--just in time to
miss his chance of becoming a multi-millionaire in the Comstock
boom--and was looking for reinvestments in other lines when the
news that "wheat had been discovered in California" was passed
from mouth to mouth. Practically it amounted to a discovery.
Dr. Glenn's first harvest of wheat in Colusa County, quietly
undertaken but suddenly realised with dramatic abruptness, gave a
new matter for reflection to the thinking men of the New West.
California suddenly leaped unheralded into the world's market as
a competitor in wheat production. In a few years her output of
wheat exceeded the value of her out-put of gold, and when, later
on, the Pacific and Southwestern Railroad threw open to settlers
the rich lands of Tulare County--conceded to the corporation by
the government as a bonus for the construction of the road--
Magnus had been quick to seize the opportunity and had taken up
the ten thousand acres of Los Muertos. Wherever he had gone,
Magnus had taken his family with him. Lyman had been born at
Sacramento during the turmoil and excitement of Derrick's
campaign for governor, and Harran at Shingle Springs, in El
Dorado County, six years later.

But Magnus was in every sense the "prominent man." In whatever
circle he moved he was the chief figure. Instinctively other men
looked to him as the leader. He himself was proud of this
distinction; he assumed the grand manner very easily and carried
it well. As a public speaker he was one of the last of the
followers of the old school of orators. He even carried the
diction and manner of the rostrum into private life. It was said
of him that his most colloquial conversation could be taken down
in shorthand and read off as an admirable specimen of pure, well-
chosen English. He loved to do things upon a grand scale, to
preside, to dominate. In his good humour there was something
Jovian. When angry, everybody around him trembled. But he had
not the genius for detail, was not patient. The certain
grandiose lavishness of his disposition occupied itself more with
results than with means. He was always ready to take chances, to
hazard everything on the hopes of colossal returns. In the
mining days at Placerville there was no more redoubtable poker
player in the county. He had been as lucky in his mines as in
his gambling, sinking shafts and tunnelling in violation of
expert theory and finding "pay" in every case. Without knowing
it, he allowed himself to work his ranch much as if he was still
working his mine. The old-time spirit of '49, hap-hazard,
unscientific, persisted in his mind. Everything was a gamble--
who took the greatest chances was most apt to be the greatest
winner. The idea of manuring Los Muertos, of husbanding his
great resources, he would have scouted as niggardly, Hebraic,

Magnus climbed into the buggy, helping himself with Harran's
outstretched hand which he still held. The two were immensely
fond of each other, proud of each other. They were constantly
together and Magnus kept no secrets from his favourite son.

"Well, boy."

"Well, Governor."

"I am very pleased you came yourself, Harran. I feared that you
might be too busy and send Phelps. It was thoughtful."

Harran was ahout to reply, but at that moment Magnus caught sight
of the three flat cars loaded with bright-painted farming
machines which still remained on the siding above the station.
He laid his hands on the reins and Harran checked the team.

"Harran," observed Magnus, fixing the machinery with a judicial
frown, "Harran, those look singularly like our ploughs. Drive
over, boy."

The train had by this time gone on its way and Harran brought the
team up to the siding.

"Ah, I was right," said the Governor. "'Magnus Derrick, Los
Muertos, Bonneville, from Ditson & Co., Rochester.' These are
ours, boy."

Harran breathed a sigh of relief.

"At last," he answered, "and just in time, too. We'll have rain
before the week is out. I think, now that I am here, I will
telephone Phelps to send the wagon right down for these. I
started blue-stoning to-day."

Magnus nodded a grave approval.

"That was shrewd, boy. As to the rain, I think you are well
informed; we will have an early season. The ploughs have arrived
at a happy moment."

"It means money to us, Governor," remarked Harran.

But as he turned the horses to allow his father to get into the
buggy again, the two were surprised to hear a thick, throaty
voice wishing them good-morning, and turning about were aware of
S. Behrman, who had come up while they were examining the
ploughs. Harran's eyes flashed on the instant and through his
nostrils he drew a sharp, quick breath, while a certain rigour of
carriage stiffened the set of Magnus Derrick's shoulders and
back. Magnus had not yet got into the buggy, but stood with the
team between him and S. Behrman, eyeing him calmly across the
horses' backs. S. Behrman came around to the other side of the
buggy and faced Magnus.

He was a large, fat man, with a great stomach; his cheek and the
upper part of his thick neck ran together to form a great
tremulous jowl, shaven and blue-grey in colour; a roll of fat,
sprinkled with sparse hair, moist with perspiration, protruded
over the back of his collar. He wore a heavy black moustache.
On his head was a round-topped hat of stiff brown straw, highly
varnished. A light-brown linen vest, stamped with innumerable
interlocked horseshoes, covered his protuberant stomach, upon
which a heavy watch chain of hollow links rose and fell with his
difficult breathing, clinking against the vest buttons of
imitation mother-of-pearl.

S. Behrman was the banker of Bonneville. But besides this he was
many other things. He was a real estate agent. He bought grain;
he dealt in mortgages. He was one of the local political bosses,
but more important than all this, he was the representative of
the Pacific and Southwestern Railroad in that section of Tulare
County. The railroad did little business in that part of the
country that S. Behrman did not supervise, from the consignment
of a shipment of wheat to the management of a damage suit, or
even to the repair and maintenance of the right of way. During
the time when the ranchers of the county were fighting the grain-
rate case, S. Behrman had been much in evidence in and about the
San Francisco court rooms and the lobby of the legislature in
Sacramento. He had returned to Bonneville only recently, a
decision adverse to the ranchers being foreseen. The position he
occupied on the salary list of the Pacific and Southwestern could
not readily be defined, for he was neither freight agent,
passenger agent, attorney, real-estate broker, nor political
servant, though his influence in all these offices was undoubted
and enormous. But for all that, the ranchers about Bonneville
knew whom to look to as a source of trouble. There was no
denying the fact that for Osterman, Broderson, Annixter and
Derrick, S. Behrman was the railroad.

"Mr. Derrick, good-morning," he cried as he came up. "Good-
morning, Harran. Glad to see you back, Mr. Derrick." He held
out a thick hand.

Magnus, head and shoulders above the other, tall, thin, erect,
looked down upon S. Behrman, inclining his head, failing to see
his extended hand.

"Good-morning, sir," he observed, and waited for S. Behrman's
further speech.

"Well, Mr. Derrick," continued S. Behrman, wiping the back of his
neck with his handkerchief, "I saw in the city papers yesterday
that our case had gone against you."

"I guess it wasn't any great news to YOU," commented Harran, his
face scarlet. "I guess you knew which way Ulsteen was going to
jump after your very first interview with him. You don't like to
be surprised in this sort of thing, S. Behrman."

"Now, you know better than that, Harran," remonstrated S. Behrman
blandly. "I know what you mean to imply, but I ain't going to
let it make me get mad. I wanted to say to your Governor--I
wanted to say to you, Mr. Derrick--as one man to another--letting
alone for the minute that we were on opposite sides of the case--
that I'm sorry you didn't win. Your side made a good fight, but
it was in a mistaken cause. That's the whole trouble. Why, you
could have figured out before you ever went into the case that
such rates are confiscation of property. You must allow us--must
allow the railroad--a fair interest on the investment. You don't
want us to go into the receiver's hands, do you now, Mr.

"The Board of Railroad Commissioners was bought," remarked Magnus
sharply, a keen, brisk flash glinting in his eye.

"It was part of the game," put in Harran, "for the Railroad
Commission to cut rates to a ridiculous figure, far below a
REASONABLE figure, just so that it WOULD be confiscation.
Whether Ulsteen is a tool of yours or not, he had to put the
rates back to what they were originally."

"If you enforced those rates, Mr. Harran," returned S. Behrman
calmly, "we wouldn't be able to earn sufficient money to meet
operating expenses or fixed charges, to say nothing of a surplus
left over to pay dividends----"

"Tell me when the P. and S. W. ever paid dividends."

"The lowest rates," continued S. Behrman, "that the legislature
can establish must be such as will secure us a fair interest on
our investment."

"Well, what's your standard? Come, let's hear it. Who is to say
what's a fair rate? The railroad has its own notions of fairness

"The laws of the State," returned S. Behrman, "fix the rate of
interest at seven per cent. That's a good enough standard for
us. There is no reason, Mr. Harran, why a dollar invested in a
railroad should not earn as much as a dollar represented by a
promissory note--seven per cent. By applying your schedule of
rates we would not earn a cent; we would be bankrupt."

"Interest on your investment!" cried Harran, furious. "It's fine
to talk about fair interest. I know and you know that the total
earnings of the P. and S. W.--their main, branch and leased lines
for last year--was between nineteen and twenty millions of
dollars. Do you mean to say that twenty million dollars is seven
per cent. of the original cost of the road?"

S. Behrman spread out his hands, smiling.

"That was the gross, not the net figure--and how can you tell
what was the original cost of the road?"
"Ah, that's just it," shouted Harran, emphasising each word with
a blow of his fist upon his knee, his eyes sparkling, "you take
cursed good care that we don't know anything about the original
cost of the road. But we know you are bonded for treble your
value; and we know this: that the road COULD have been built for
fifty-four thousand dollars per mile and that you SAY it cost you
eighty-seven thousand. It makes a difference, S. Behrman, on
which of these two figures you are basing your seven per cent."

"That all may show obstinacy, Harran," observed S. Behrman
vaguely, "but it don't show common sense."

"We are threshing out old straw, I believe, gentlemen," remarked
Magnus. "The question was thoroughly sifted in the courts."

"Quite right," assented S. Behrman. "The best way is that the
railroad and the farmer understand each other and get along
peaceably. We are both dependent on each other. Your ploughs, I
believe, Mr. Derrick." S. Behrman nodded toward the flat cars.

"They are consigned to me," admitted Magnus.

"It looks a trifle like rain," observed S. Behrman, easing his
neck and jowl in his limp collar. "I suppose you will want to
begin ploughing next week."

"Possibly," said Magnus.

"I'll see that your ploughs are hurried through for you then, Mr.
Derrick. We will route them by fast freight for you and it won't
cost you anything extra."

"What do you mean?" demanded Harran. "The ploughs are here. We
have nothing more to do with the railroad. I am going to have my
wagons down here this afternoon."

"I am sorry," answered S. Behrman, "but the cars are going north,
not, as you thought, coming FROM the north. They have not been
to San Francisco yet."

Magnus made a slight movement of the head as one who remembers a
fact hitherto forgotten. But Harran was as yet unenlightened.

"To San Francisco!" he answered, "we want them here--what are you
talking about?"

"Well, you know, of course, the regulations," answered
S. Behrman. "Freight of this kind coming from the Eastern points
into the State must go first to one of our common points and be
reshipped from there."

Harran did remember now, but never before had the matter so
struck home. He leaned back in his seat in dumb amazement for
the instant. Even Magnus had turned a little pale. Then,
abruptly, Harran broke out violent and raging.

"What next? My God, why don't you break into our houses at
night? Why don't you steal the watch out of my pocket, steal the
horses out of the harness, hold us up with a shot-gun; yes,
'stand and deliver; your money or your life.' Here we bring our
ploughs from the East over your lines, but you're not content
with your long-haul rate between Eastern points and Bonneville.
You want to get us under your ruinous short-haul rate between
Bonneville and San Francisco, AND RETURN. Think of it! Here's a
load of stuff for Bonneville that can't stop at Bonneville, where
it is consigned, but has got to go up to San Francisco first BY
WAY OF Bonneville, at forty cents per ton and then be reshipped
from San Francisco back to Bonneville again at FIFTY-ONE cents
per ton, the short-haul rate. And we have to pay it all or go
without. Here are the ploughs right here, in sight of the land
they have got to be used on, the season just ready for them, and
we can't touch them. Oh," he exclaimed in deep disgust, "isn't
it a pretty mess! Isn't it a farce! the whole dirty business!"

S. Behrman listened to him unmoved, his little eyes blinking
under his fat forehead, the gold chain of hollow links clicking
against the pearl buttons of his waistcoat as he breathed.

"It don't do any good to let loose like that, Harran," he said at
length. "I am willing to do what I can for you. I'll hurry the
ploughs through, but I can't change the freight regulation of the

"What's your blackmail for this?" vociferated Harran. "How much
do you want to let us go? How much have we got to pay you to be
ALLOWED to use our own ploughs--what's your figure? Come, spit
it out."

"I see you are trying to make me angry, Harran," returned S.
Behrman, "but you won't succeed. Better give up trying, my boy.
As I said, the best way is to have the railroad and the farmer
get along amicably. It is the only way we can do business.
Well, s'long, Governor, I must trot along. S'long, Harran." He
took himself off.

But before leaving Guadalajara Magnus dropped into the town's
small grocery store to purchase a box of cigars of a certain
Mexican brand, unprocurable elsewhere. Harran remained in the

While he waited, Dyke appeared at the end of the street, and,
seeing Derrick's younger son, came over to shake hands with him.
He explained his affair with the P. and S. W., and asked the
young man what he thought of the expected rise in the price of

"Hops ought to be a good thing," Harran told him. "The crop in
Germany and in New York has been a dead failure for the last
three years, and so many people have gone out of the business
that there's likely to be a shortage and a stiff advance in the
price. They ought to go to a dollar next year. Sure, hops ought
to be a good thing. How's the old lady and Sidney, Dyke?"

"Why, fairly well, thank you, Harran. They're up to Sacramento
just now to see my brother. I was thinking of going in with my
brother into this hop business. But I had a letter from him this
morning. He may not be able to meet me on this proposition.
He's got other business on hand. If he pulls out--and he
probably will--I'll have to go it alone, but I'll have to borrow.
I had thought with his money and mine we would have enough to
pull off the affair without mortgaging anything. As it is, I
guess I'll have to see S. Behrman."

"I'll be cursed if I would!" exclaimed Harran.

"Well, S. Behrman is a screw," admitted the engineer, "and he is
'railroad' to his boots; but business is business, and he would
have to stand by a contract in black and white, and this chance
in hops is too good to let slide. I guess we'll try it on,
Harran. I can get a good foreman that knows all about hops just
now, and if the deal pays--well, I want to send Sid to a seminary
up in San Francisco."

"Well, mortgage the crops, but don't mortgage the homestead,
Dyke," said Harran. "And, by the way, have you looked up the
freight rates on hops?"

"No, I haven't yet," answered Dyke, "and I had better be sure of
that, hadn't I? I hear that the rate is reasonable, though."

"You be sure to have a clear understanding with the railroad
first about the rate," Harran warned him.

When Magnus came out of the grocery store and once more seated
himself in the buggy, he said to Harran, "Boy, drive over here to
Annixter's before we start home. I want to ask him to dine with
us to-night. Osterman and Broderson are to drop in, I believe,
and I should like to have Annixter as well."

Magnus was lavishly hospitable. Los Muertos's doors invariably
stood open to all the Derricks' neighbours, and once in so often
Magnus had a few of his intimates to dinner.

As Harran and his father drove along the road toward Annixter's
ranch house, Magnus asked about what had happened during his

He inquired after his wife and the ranch, commenting upon the
work on the irrigating ditch. Harran gave him the news of the
past week, Dyke's discharge, his resolve to raise a crop of hops;
Vanamee's return, the killing of the sheep, and Hooven's petition
to remain upon the ranch as Magnus's tenant. It needed only
Harran's recommendation that the German should remain to have
Magnus consent upon the instant.
"You know more about it than I, boy," he said, "and whatever you
think is wise shall be done."

Harran touched the bays with the whip, urging them to their
briskest pace. They were not yet at Annixter's and he was
anxious to get back to the ranch house to supervise the blue-
stoning of his seed.

"By the way, Governor," he demanded suddenly, "how is Lyman
getting on?"

Lyman, Magnus's eldest son, had never taken kindly toward ranch
life. He resembled his mother more than he did Magnus, and had
inherited from her a distaste for agriculture and a tendency
toward a profession. At a time when Harran was learning the
rudiments of farming, Lyman was entering the State University,
and, graduating thence, had spent three years in the study of
law. But later on, traits that were particularly his father's
developed. Politics interested him. He told himself he was a
born politician, was diplomatic, approachable, had a talent for
intrigue, a gift of making friends easily and, most indispensable
of all, a veritable genius for putting influential men under
obligations to himself. Already he had succeeded in gaining for
himself two important offices in the municipal administration of
San Francisco--where he had his home--sheriff's attorney, and,
later on, assistant district attorney. But with these small
achievements he was by no means satisfied. The largeness of his
father's character, modified in Lyman by a counter-influence of
selfishness, had produced in him an inordinate ambition. Where
his father during his political career had considered himself
only as an exponent of principles he strove to apply, Lyman saw
but the office, his own personal aggrandisement. He belonged to
the new school, wherein objects were attained not by orations
before senates and assemblies, but by sessions of committees,
caucuses, compromises and expedients. His goal was to be in fact
what Magnus was only in name--governor. Lyman, with shut teeth,
had resolved that some day he would sit in the gubernatorial
chair in Sacramento.

"Lyman is doing well," answered Magnus. "I could wish he was
more pronounced in his convictions, less willing to compromise,
but I believe him to be earnest and to have a talent for
government and civics. His ambition does him credit, and if he
occupied himself a little more with means and a little less with
ends, he would, I am sure, be the ideal servant of the people.
But I am not afraid. The time will come when the State will be
proud of him."

As Harran turned the team into the driveway that led up to
Annixter's house, Magnus remarked:

"Harran, isn't that young Annixter himself on the porch?"

Harran nodded and remarked:

"By the way, Governor, I wouldn't seem too cordial in your
invitation to Annixter. He will be glad to come, I know, but if
you seem to want him too much, it is just like his confounded
obstinacy to make objections."

"There is something in that," observed Magnus, as Harran drew up
at the porch of the house. "He is a queer, cross-grained fellow,
but in many ways sterling."

Annixter was lying in the hammock on the porch, precisely as
Presley had found him the day before, reading "David Copperfield"
and stuffing himself with dried prunes. When he recognised
Magnus, however, he got up, though careful to give evidence of
the most poignant discomfort. He explained his difficulty at
great length, protesting that his stomach was no better than a
spongebag. Would Magnus and Harran get down and have a drink?
There was whiskey somewhere about.

Magnus, however, declined. He stated his errand, asking Annixter
to come over to Los Muertos that evening for seven o'clock
dinner. Osterman and Broderson would be there.

At once Annixter, even to Harran's surprise, put his chin in the
air, making excuses, fearing to compromise himself if he accepted
too readily. No, he did not think he could get around--was sure
of it, in fact. There were certain businesses he had on hand
that evening. He had practically made an appointment with a man
at Bonneville; then, too, he was thinking of going up to San
Francisco to-morrow and needed his sleep; would go to bed early;
and besides all that, he was a very sick man; his stomach was out
of whack; if he moved about it brought the gripes back. No, they
must get along without him.

Magnus, knowing with whom he had to deal, did not urge the point,
being convinced that Annixter would argue over the affair the
rest of the morning. He re-settled himself in the buggy and
Harran gathered up the reins.

"Well," he observed, "you know your business best. Come if you
can. We dine at seven."

"I hear you are going to farm the whole of Los Muertos this
season," remarked Annixter, with a certain note of challenge in
his voice.

"We are thinking of it," replied Magnus.

Annixter grunted scornfully.

"Did you get the message I sent you by Presley?" he began.

Tactless, blunt, and direct, Annixter was quite capable of
calling even Magnus a fool to his face. But before he could
proceed, S. Behrman in his single buggy turned into the gate, and
driving leisurely up to the porch halted on the other side of
Magnus's team.

"Good-morning, gentlemen," he remarked, nodding to the two
Derricks as though he had not seen them earlier in the day. "Mr.
Annixter, how do you do?"

"What in hell do YOU want?" demanded Annixter with a stare.

S. Behrman hiccoughed slightly and passed a fat hand over his

"Why, not very much, Mr. Annixter," he replied, ignoring the
belligerency in the young ranchman's voice, "but I will have to
lodge a protest against you, Mr. Annixter, in the matter of
keeping your line fence in repair. The sheep were all over the
track last night, this side the Long Trestle, and I am afraid
they have seriously disturbed our ballast along there. We--the
railroad--can't fence along our right of way. The farmers have
the prescriptive right of that, so we have to look to you to keep
your fence in repair. I am sorry, but I shall have to protest----"
Annixter returned to the hammock and stretched himself out in it
to his full length, remarking tranquilly:

"Go to the devil!"

"It is as much to your interest as to ours that the safety of the

"You heard what I said. Go to the devil!"

"That all may show obstinacy, Mr. Annixter, but----"

Suddenly Annixter jumped up again and came to the edge of the
porch; his face flamed scarlet to the roots of his stiff yellow
hair. He thrust out his jaw aggressively, clenching his teeth.

"You," he vociferated, "I'll tell you what you are. You're a--a--
a PIP!"

To his mind it was the last insult, the most outrageous calumny.
He had no worse epithet at his command.

"----may show obstinacy," pursued S. Behrman, bent upon finishing
the phrase, "but it don't show common sense."

"I'll mend my fence, and then, again, maybe I won't mend my
fence," shouted Annixter. "I know what you mean--that wild
engine last night. Well, you've no right to run at that speed in
the town limits."

"How the town limits? The sheep were this side the Long

"Well, that's in the town limits of Guadalajara."
"Why, Mr. Annixter, the Long Trestle is a good two miles out of

Annixter squared himself, leaping to the chance of an argument.

"Two miles! It's not a mile and a quarter. No, it's not a mile.
I'll leave it to Magnus here."

"Oh, I know nothing about it," declared Magnus, refusing to be

"Yes, you do. Yes, you do, too. Any fool knows how far it is
from Guadalajara to the Long Trestle. It's about five-eighths of
a mile."

"From the depot of the town," remarked S. Behrman placidly, "to
the head of the Long Trestle is about two miles."

"That's a lie and you know it's a lie," shouted the other,
furious at S. Behrman's calmness, "and I can prove it's a lie.
I've walked that distance on the Upper Road, and I know just how
fast I walk, and if I can walk four miles in one hour"

Magnus and Harran drove on, leaving Annixter trying to draw S.
Behrman into a wrangle.

When at length S. Behrman as well took himself away, Annixter
returned to his hammock, finished the rest of his prunes and read
another chapter of "Copperfield." Then he put the book, open,
over his face and went to sleep.

An hour later, toward noon, his own terrific snoring woke him up
suddenly, and he sat up, rubbing his face and blinking at the
sunlight. There was a bad taste in his mouth from sleeping with
it wide open, and going into the dining-room of the house, he
mixed himself a drink of whiskey and soda and swallowed it in
three great gulps. He told himself that he felt not only better
but hungry, and pressed an electric button in the wall near the
sideboard three times to let the kitchen--situated in a separate
building near the ranch house--know that he was ready for his
dinner. As he did so, an idea occurred to him. He wondered if
Hilma Tree would bring up his dinner and wait on the table while
he ate it.

In connection with his ranch, Annixter ran a dairy farm on a very
small scale, making just enough butter and cheese for the
consumption of the ranch's PERSONNEL. Old man Tree, his wife, and
his daughter Hilma looked after the dairy. But there was not
always work enough to keep the three of them occupied and Hilma
at times made herself useful in other ways. As often as not she
lent a hand in the kitchen, and two or three times a week she
took her mother's place in looking after Annixter's house, making
the beds, putting his room to rights, bringing his meals up from
the kitchen. For the last summer she had been away visiting with
relatives in one of the towns on the coast. But the week
previous to this she had returned and Annixter had come upon her
suddenly one day in the dairy, making cheese, the sleeves of her
crisp blue shirt waist rolled back to her very shoulders.
Annixter had carried away with him a clear-cut recollection of
these smooth white arms of hers, bare to the shoulder, very round
and cool and fresh. He would not have believed that a girl so
young should have had arms so big and perfect. To his surprise
he found himself thinking of her after he had gone to bed that
night, and in the morning when he woke he was bothered to know
whether he had dreamed about Hilma's fine white arms over night.
Then abruptly he had lost patience with himself for being so
occupied with the subject, raging and furious with all the breed
of feemales--a fine way for a man to waste his time. He had had
his experience with the timid little creature in the glove-
cleaning establishment in Sacramento. That was enough.
Feemales! Rot! None of them in HIS, thank you. HE had seen
Hilma Tree give him a look in the dairy. Aha, he saw through
her! She was trying to get a hold on him, was she? He would
show her. Wait till he saw her again. He would send her about
her business in a hurry. He resolved upon a terrible demeanour
in the presence of the dairy girl--a great show of indifference,
a fierce masculine nonchalance; and when, the next morning, she
brought him his breakfast, he had been smitten dumb as soon as
she entered the room, glueing his eyes upon his plate, his elbows
close to his side, awkward, clumsy, overwhelmed with constraint.

While true to his convictions as a woman-hater and genuinely
despising Hilma both as a girl and as an inferior, the idea of
her worried him. Most of all, he was angry with himself because
of his inane sheepishness when she was about. He at first had
told himself that he was a fool not to be able to ignore her
existence as hitherto, and then that he was a greater fool not to
take advantage of his position. Certainly he had not the
remotest idea of any affection, but Hilma was a fine looking
girl. He imagined an affair with her.

As he reflected upon the matter now, scowling abstractedly at the
button of the electric bell, turning the whole business over in
his mind, he remembered that to-day was butter-making day and
that Mrs. Tree would be occupied in the dairy. That meant that
Hilma would take her place. He turned to the mirror of the
sideboard, scrutinising his reflection with grim disfavour.
After a moment, rubbing the roughened surface of his chin the
wrong way, he muttered to his image in the glass:

That a mug! Good Lord! what a looking mug!" Then, after a
moment's silence, "Wonder if that fool feemale will be up here

He crossed over into his bedroom and peeped around the edge of
the lowered curtain. The window looked out upon the skeleton-
like tower of the artesian well and the cook-house and dairy-
house close beside it. As he watched, he saw Hilma come out from
the cook-house and hurry across toward the kitchen. Evidently,
she was going to see about his dinner. But as she passed by the
artesian well, she met young Delaney, one of Annixter's hands,
coming up the trail by the irrigating ditch, leading his horse
toward the stables, a great coil of barbed wire in his gloved
hands and a pair of nippers thrust into his belt. No doubt, he
had been mending the break in the line fence by the Long Trestle.
Annixter saw him take off his wide-brimmed hat as he met Hilma,
and the two stood there for some moments talking together.
Annixter even heard Hilma laughing very gayly at something
Delaney was saying. She patted his horse's neck affectionately,
and Delaney, drawing the nippers from his belt, made as if to
pinch her arm with them. She caught at his wrist and pushed him
away, laughing again. To Annixter's mind the pair seemed
astonishingly intimate. Brusquely his anger flamed up.

Ah, that was it, was it? Delaney and Hilma had an understanding
between themselves. They carried on their affair right out there
in the open, under his very eyes. It was absolutely disgusting.
Had they no sense of decency, those two? Well, this ended it.
He would stop that sort of thing short off; none of that on HIS
ranch if he knew it. No, sir. He would pack that girl off
before he was a day older. He wouldn't have that kind about the
place. Not much! She'd have to get out. He would talk to old
man Tree about it this afternoon. Whatever happened, HE insisted
upon morality.

"And my dinner!" he suddenly exclaimed. "I've got to wait and go
hungry--and maybe get sick again--while they carry on their
disgusting love-making."

He turned about on the instant, and striding over to the electric
bell, rang it again with all his might.

"When that feemale gets up here," he declared, "I'll just find
out why I've got to wait like this. I'll take her down, to the
Queen's taste. I'm lenient enough, Lord knows, but I don't
propose to be imposed upon ALL the time ."

A few moments later, while Annixter was pretending to read the
county newspaper by the window in the dining-room, Hilma came in
to set the table. At the time Annixter had his feet cocked on
the window ledge and was smoking a cigar, but as soon as she
entered the room he--without premeditation--brought his feet down
to the floor and crushed out the lighted tip of his cigar under
the window ledge. Over the top of the paper he glanced at her
covertly from time to time.

Though Hilma was only nineteen years old, she was a large girl
with all the development of a much older woman. There was a
certain generous amplitude to the full, round curves of her hips
and shoulders that suggested the precocious maturity of a
healthy, vigorous animal life passed under the hot southern sun
of a half-tropical country. She was, one knew at a glance, warm-
blooded, full-blooded, with an even, comfortable balance of
temperament. Her neck was thick, and sloped to her shoulders,
with full, beautiful curves, and under her chin and under her
ears the flesh was as white and smooth as floss satin, shading
exquisitely to a faint delicate brown on her nape at the roots of
her hair. Her throat rounded to meet her chin and cheek, with a
soft swell of the skin, tinted pale amber in the shadows, but
blending by barely perceptible gradations to the sweet, warm
flush of her cheek. This colour on her temples was just touched
with a certain blueness where the flesh was thin over the fine
veining underneath. Her eyes were light brown, and so wide open
that on the slightest provocation the full disc of the pupil was
disclosed; the lids--just a fraction of a shade darker than the
hue of her face--were edged with lashes that were almost black.
While these lashes were not long, they were thick and rimmed her
eyes with a fine, thin line. Her mouth was rather large, the
lips shut tight, and nothing could have been more graceful, more
charming than the outline of these full lips of hers, and her
round white chin, modulating downward with a certain delicious
roundness to her neck, her throat and the sweet feminine
amplitude of her breast. The slightest movement of her head and
shoulders sent a gentle undulation through all this beauty of
soft outlines and smooth surfaces, the delicate amber shadows
deepening or fading or losing themselves imperceptibly in the
pretty rose-colour of her cheeks, or the dark, warm-tinted shadow
of her thick brown hair.

Her hair seemed almost to have a life of its own, almost Medusa-
like, thick, glossy and moist, lying in heavy, sweet-smelling
masses over her forehead, over her small ears with their pink
lobes, and far down upon her nape. Deep in between the coils and
braids it was of a bitumen brownness, but in the sunlight it
vibrated with a sheen like tarnished gold.

Like most large girls, her movements were not hurried, and this
indefinite deliberateness of gesture, this slow grace, this
certain ease of attitude, was a charm that was all her own.

But Hilma's greatest charm of all was her simplicity--a
simplicity that was not only in the calm regularity of her face,
with its statuesque evenness of contour, its broad surface of
cheek and forehead and the masses of her straight smooth hair,
but was apparent as well in the long line of her carriage, from
her foot to her waist and the single deep swell from her waist to
her shoulder. Almost unconsciously she dressed in harmony with
this note of simplicity, and on this occasion wore a skirt of
plain dark blue calico and a white shirt waist crisp from the

And yet, for all the dignity of this rigourous simplicity, there
were about Hilma small contradictory suggestions of feminine
daintiness, charming beyond words. Even Annixter could not help
noticing that her feet were narrow and slender, and that the
little steel buckles of her low shoes were polished bright, and
that her fingertips and nails were of a fine rosy pink.

He found himself wondering how it was that a girl in Hilma's
position should be able to keep herself so pretty, so trim, so
clean and feminine, but he reflected that her work was chiefly in
the dairy, and even there of the lightest order. She was on the
ranch more for the sake of being with her parents than from any
necessity of employment. Vaguely he seemed to understand that,
in that great new land of the West, in the open-air, healthy life
of the ranches, where the conditions of earning a livelihood were
of the easiest, refinement among the younger women was easily to
be found--not the refinement of education, nor culture, but the
natural, intuitive refinement of the woman, not as yet defiled
and crushed out by the sordid, strenuous life-struggle of over-
populated districts. It was the original, intended and natural
delicacy of an elemental existence, close to nature, close to
life, close to the great, kindly earth.

As Hilma laid the table-spread, her arms opened to their widest
reach, the white cloth setting a little glisten of reflected
light underneath the chin, Annixter stirred in his place

"Oh, it's you, is it, Miss Hilma?" he remarked, for the sake of
saying something. "Good-morning. How do you do?"

"Good-morning, sir," she answered, looking up, resting for a
moment on her outspread palms. "I hope you are better."

Her voice was low in pitch and of a velvety huskiness, seeming to
come more from her chest than from her throat.

"Well, I'm some better," growled Annixter. Then suddenly he
demanded, "Where's that dog?"

A decrepit Irish setter sometimes made his appearance in and
about the ranch house, sleeping under the bed and eating when
anyone about the place thought to give him a plate of bread.

Annixter had no particular interest in the dog. For weeks at a
time he ignored its existence. It was not his dog. But to-day
it seemed as if he could not let the subject rest. For no reason
that he could explain even to himself, he recurred to it
continually. He questioned Hilma minutely all about the dog.
Who owned him? How old did she think he was? Did she imagine
the dog was sick? Where had he got to? Maybe he had crawled off
to die somewhere. He recurred to the subject all through the
meal; apparently, he could talk of nothing else, and as she
finally went away after clearing off the table, he went onto the
porch and called after her:

"Say, Miss Hilma."

"Yes, sir."

"If that dog turns up again you let me know."

"Very well, sir."

Annixter returned to the dining-room and sat down in the chair he
had just vacated.
"To hell with the dog!" he muttered, enraged, he could not tell

When at length he allowed his attention to wander from Hilma
Tree, he found that he had been staring fixedly at a thermometer
upon the wall opposite, and this made him think that it had long
been his intention to buy a fine barometer, an instrument that
could be accurately depended on. But the barometer suggested the
present condition of the weather and the likelihood of rain. In
such case, much was to be done in the way of getting the seed
ready and overhauling his ploughs and drills. He had not been
away from the house in two days. It was time to be up and doing.
He determined to put in the afternoon "taking a look around," and
have a late supper. He would not go to Los Muertos; he would
ignore Magnus Derrick's invitation. Possibly, though, it might
be well to run over and see what was up.

"If I do," he said to himself, "I'll ride the buckskin."
The buckskin was a half-broken broncho that fought like a fiend
under the saddle until the quirt and spur brought her to her
senses. But Annixter remembered that the Trees' cottage, next
the dairy-house, looked out upon the stables, and perhaps Hilma
would see him while he was mounting the horse and be impressed
with his courage.

"Huh!" grunted Annixter under his breath, "I should like to see
that fool Delaney try to bust that bronch. That's what I'D like
to see."

However, as Annixter stepped from the porch of the ranch house,
he was surprised to notice a grey haze over all the sky; the
sunlight was gone; there was a sense of coolness in the air; the
weather-vane on the barn--a fine golden trotting horse with
flamboyant mane and tail--was veering in a southwest wind.
Evidently the expected rain was close at hand.

Annixter crossed over to the stables reflecting that he could
ride the buckskin to the Trees' cottage and tell Hilma that he
would not be home to supper. The conference at Los Muertos would
be an admirable excuse for this, and upon the spot he resolved to
go over to the Derrick ranch house, after all.

As he passed the Trees' cottage, he observed with satisfaction
that Hilma was going to and fro in the front room. If he busted
the buckskin in the yard before the stable she could not help but
see. Annixter found the stableman in the back of the barn
greasing the axles of the buggy, and ordered him to put the
saddle on the buckskin.

"Why, I don't think she's here, sir," answered the stableman,
glancing into the stalls. "No, I remember now. Delaney took her
out just after dinner. His other horse went lame and he wanted
to go down by the Long Trestle to mend the fence. He started
out, but had to come back."

"Oh, Delaney got her, did he?"

"Yes, sir. He had a circus with her, but he busted her right
enough. When it comes to horse, Delaney can wipe the eye of any
cow-puncher in the county, I guess."

"He can, can he?" observed Annixter. Then after a silence,
"Well, all right, Billy; put my saddle on whatever you've got
here. I'm going over to Los Muertos this afternoon."

"Want to look out for the rain, Mr. Annixter," remarked Billy.
"Guess we'll have rain before night."

"I'll take a rubber coat," answered Annixter. "Bring the horse
up to the ranch house when you're ready."

Annixter returned to the house to look for his rubber coat in
deep disgust, not permitting himself to glance toward the dairy-
house and the Trees' cottage. But as he reached the porch he
heard the telephone ringing his call. It was Presley, who rang
up from Los Muertos. He had heard from Harran that Annixter was,
perhaps, coming over that evening. If he came, would he mind
bringing over his--Presley's--bicycle. He had left it at the
Quien Sabe ranch the day before and had forgotten to come back
that way for it.

"Well," objected Annixter, a surly note in his voice, "I WAS
going to RIDE over."
"Oh, never mind, then," returned Presley easily. "I was to blame
for forgetting it. Don't bother about it. I'll come over some
of these days and get it myself."

Annixter hung up the transmitter with a vehement wrench and
stamped out of the room, banging the door. He found his rubber
coat hanging in the hallway and swung into it with a fierce
movement of the shoulders that all but started the seams.
Everything seemed to conspire to thwart him. It was just like
that absent-minded, crazy poet, Presley, to forget his wheel.
Well, he could come after it himself. He, Annixter, would ride
SOME horse, anyhow. When he came out upon the porch he saw the
wheel leaning against the fence where Presley had left it. If it
stayed there much longer the rain would catch it. Annixter
ripped out an oath. At every moment his ill-humour was
increasing. Yet, for all that, he went back to the stable,
pushing the bicycle before him, and countermanded his order,
directing the stableman to get the buggy ready. He himself
carefully stowed Presley's bicycle under the seat, covering it
with a couple of empty sacks and a tarpaulin carriage cover.

While he was doing this, the stableman uttered an exclamation and
paused in the act of backing the horse into the shafts, holding
up a hand, listening.

From the hollow roof of the barn and from the thick velvet-like
padding of dust over the ground outside, and from among the
leaves of the few nearby trees and plants there came a vast,
monotonous murmur that seemed to issue from all quarters of the
horizon at once, a prolonged and subdued rustling sound, steady,
even, persistent.

"There's your rain," announced the stableman. "The first of the

"And I got to be out in it," fumed Annixter, "and I suppose those
swine will quit work on the big barn now."

When the buggy was finally ready, he put on his rubber coat,
climbed in, and without waiting for the stableman to raise the
top, drove out into the rain, a new-lit cigar in his teeth. As
he passed the dairy-house, he saw Hilma standing in the doorway,
holding out her hand to the rain, her face turned upward toward
the grey sky, amused and interested at this first shower of the
wet season. She was so absorbed that she did not see Annixter,
and his clumsy nod in her direction passed unnoticed.

"She did it on purpose," Annixter told himself, chewing fiercely
on his cigar. "Cuts me now, hey? Well, this DOES settle it.
She leaves this ranch before I'm a day older."

He decided that he would put off his tour of inspection till the
next day. Travelling in the buggy as he did, he must keep to the
road which led to Derrick's, in very roundabout fashion, by way
of Guadalajara. This rain would reduce the thick dust of the
road to two feet of viscid mud. It would take him quite three
hours to reach the ranch house on Los Muertos. He thought of
Delaney and the buckskin and ground his teeth. And all this
trouble, if you please, because of a fool feemale girl. A fine
way for him to waste his time. Well, now he was done with it.
His decision was taken now. She should pack.

Steadily the rain increased. There was no wind. The thick veil
of wet descended straight from sky to earth, blurring distant
outlines, spreading a vast sheen of grey over all the landscape.
Its volume became greater, the prolonged murmuring note took on a
deeper tone. At the gate to the road which led across Dyke's
hop-fields toward Guadalajara, Annixter was obliged to descend
and raise the top of the buggy. In doing so he caught the flesh
of his hand in the joint of the iron elbow that supported the top
and pinched it cruelly. It was the last misery, the culmination
of a long train of wretchedness. On the instant he hated Hilma
Tree so fiercely that his sharply set teeth all but bit his cigar
in two.

While he was grabbing and wrenching at the buggy-top, the water
from his hat brim dripping down upon his nose, the horse, restive
under the drench of the rain, moved uneasily.

"Yah-h-h you!" he shouted, inarticulate with exasperation. "You--
you--Gor-r-r, wait till I get hold of you. WHOA, you!"

But there was an interruption. Delaney, riding the buckskin,
came around a bend in the road at a slow trot and Annixter,
getting into the buggy again, found himself face to face with

"Why, hello, Mr. Annixter," said he, pulling up. "Kind of sort
of wet, isn't it?"

Annixter, his face suddenly scarlet, sat back in his place
abruptly, exclaiming:

"Oh--oh, there you are, are you?"

"I've been down there," explained Delaney, with a motion of his
head toward the railroad, "to mend that break in the fence by the
Long Trestle and I thought while I was about it I'd follow down
along the fence toward Guadalajara to see if there were any more
breaks. But I guess it's all right."

"Oh, you guess it's all right, do you?" observed Annixter through
his teeth.

"Why--why--yes," returned the other, bewildered at the truculent
ring in Annixter's voice. "I mended that break by the Long
Trestle just now and----

"Well, why didn't you mend it a week ago?" shouted Annixter
wrathfully. "I've been looking for you all the morning, I have,
and who told you you could take that buckskin? And the sheep
were all over the right of way last night because of that break,
and here that filthy pip, S. Behrman, comes down here this
morning and wants to make trouble for me." Suddenly he cried
out, "What do I FEED you for? What do I keep you around here
for? Think it's just to fatten up your carcass, hey?"

"Why, Mr. Annixter----" began Delaney.

"And don't TALK to me," vociferated the other, exciting himself
with his own noise. "Don't you say a word to me even to
apologise. If I've spoken to you once about that break, I've
spoken fifty times."

"Why, sir," declared Delaney, beginning to get indignant, "the
sheep did it themselves last night."

"I told you not to TALK to me," clamoured Annixter.

"But, say, look here----"

"Get off the ranch. You get off the ranch. And taking that
buckskin against my express orders. I won't have your kind about
the place, not much. I'm easy-going enough, Lord knows, but I
don't propose to be imposed on ALL the time. Pack off, you
understand and do it lively. Go to the foreman and tell him I
told him to pay you off and then clear out. And, you hear me,"
he concluded, with a menacing outthrust of his lower jaw, "you
hear me, if I catch you hanging around the ranch house after
this, or if I so much as see you on Quien Sabe, I'll show you the
way off of it, my friend, at the toe of my boot. Now, then, get
out of the way and let me pass."

Angry beyond the power of retort, Delaney drove the spurs into
the buckskin and passed the buggy in a single bound. Annixter
gathered up the reins and drove on muttering to himself, and
occasionally looking back to observe the buckskin flying toward
the ranch house in a spattering shower of mud, Delaney urging her
on, his head bent down against the falling rain.

"Huh," grunted Annixter with grim satisfaction, a certain sense
of good humour at length returning to him, "that just about takes
the saleratus out of YOUR dough, my friend."

A little farther on, Annixter got out of the buggy a second time
to open another gate that let him out upon the Upper Road, not
far distant from Guadalajara. It was the road that connected
that town with Bonneville and that ran parallel with the railroad
tracks. On the other side of the track he could see the infinite
extension of the brown, bare land of Los Muertos, turning now to
a soft, moist welter of fertility under the insistent caressing
of the rain. The hard, sun-baked clods were decomposing, the
crevices between drinking the wet with an eager, sucking noise.
But the prospect was dreary; the distant horizons were blotted
under drifting mists of rain; the eternal monotony of the earth
lay open to the sombre low sky without a single adornment,
without a single variation from its melancholy flatness. Near at
hand the wires between the telegraph poles vibrated with a faint
humming under the multitudinous fingering of the myriad of
falling drops, striking among them and dripping off steadily from
one to another. The poles themselves were dark and swollen and
glistening with wet, while the little cones of glass on the
transverse bars reflected the dull grey light of the end of the

As Annixter was about to drive on, a freight train passed, coming
from Guadalajara, going northward toward Bonneville, Fresno and
San Francisco. It was a long train, moving slowly, methodically,
with a measured coughing of its locomotive and a rhythmic cadence
of its trucks over the interstices of the rails. On two or three
of the flat cars near its end, Annixter plainly saw Magnus
Derrick's ploughs, their bright coating of red and green paint
setting a single brilliant note in all this array of grey and

Annixter halted, watching the train file past, carrying Derrick's
ploughs away from his ranch, at this very time of the first rain,
when they would be most needed. He watched it, silent,
thoughtful, and without articulate comment. Even after it passed
he sat in his place a long time, watching it lose itself slowly
in the distance, its prolonged rumble diminishing to a faint
murmur. Soon he heard the engine sounding its whistle for the
Long Trestle.

But the moving train no longer carried with it that impression of
terror and destruction that had so thrilled Presley's imagination
the night before. It passed slowly on its way with a mournful
roll of wheels, like the passing of a cortege, like a file of
artillery-caissons charioting dead bodies; the engine's smoke
enveloping it in a mournful veil, leaving a sense of melancholy
in its wake, moving past there, lugubrious, lamentable,
infinitely sad under the grey sky and under the grey mist of rain
which continued to fall with a subdued, rustling sound, steady,
persistent, a vast monotonous murmur that seemed to come from all
quarters of the horizon at once.


When Annixter arrived at the Los Muertos ranch house that same
evening, he found a little group already assembled in the dining-
room. Magnus Derrick, wearing the frock coat of broadcloth that
he had put on for the occasion, stood with his back to the
fireplace. Harran sat close at hand, one leg thrown over the arm
of his chair. Presley lounged on the sofa, in corduroys and high
laced boots, smoking cigarettes. Broderson leaned on his folded
arms at one corner of the dining table, and Genslinger, editor
and proprietor of the principal newspaper of the county, the
"Bonneville Mercury," stood with his hat and driving gloves under
his arm, opposite Derrick, a half-emptied glass of whiskey and
water in his hand.

As Annixter entered he heard Genslinger observe: "I'll have a
leader in the 'Mercury' to-morrow that will interest you people.
There's some talk of your ranch lands being graded in value this
winter. I suppose you will all buy?"

In an instant the editor's words had riveted upon him the
attention of every man in the room. Annixter broke the moment's
silence that followed with the remark:

"Well, it's about time they graded these lands of theirs."

The question in issue in Genslinger's remark was of the most
vital interest to the ranchers around Bonneville and Guadalajara.
Neither Magnus Derrick, Broderson, Annixter, nor Osterman
actually owned all the ranches which they worked. As yet, the
vast majority of these wheat lands were the property of the P.
and S. W. The explanation of this condition of affairs went back
to the early history of the Pacific and Southwestern, when, as a
bonus for the construction of the road, the national government
had granted to the company the odd numbered sections of land on
either side of the proposed line of route for a distance of
twenty miles. Indisputably, these sections belonged to the P.
and S. W. The even-numbered sections being government property
could be and had been taken up by the ranchers, but the railroad
sections, or, as they were called, the "alternate sections,"
would have to be purchased direct from the railroad itself.

But this had not prevented the farmers from "coming in" upon that
part of the San Joaquin. Long before this the railroad had
thrown open these lands, and, by means of circulars, distributed
broadcast throughout the State, had expressly invited settlement
thereon. At that time patents had not been issued to the
railroad for their odd-numbered sections, but as soon as the land
was patented the railroad would grade it in value and offer it
for sale, the first occupants having the first chance of
purchase. The price of these lands was to be fixed by the price
the government put upon its own adjoining lands--about two
dollars and a half per acre.

With cultivation and improvement the ranches must inevitably
appreciate in value. There was every chance to make fortunes.
When the railroad lands about Bonneville had been thrown open,
there had been almost a rush in the matter of settlement, and
Broderson, Annixter, Derrick, and Osterman, being foremost with
their claims, had secured the pick of the country. But the land
once settled upon, the P. and S. W. seemed to be in no hurry as
to fixing exactly the value of its sections included in the
various ranches and offering them for sale. The matter dragged
along from year to year, was forgotten for months together, being
only brought to mind on such occasions as this, when the rumour
spread that the General Office was about to take definite action
in the affair.

"As soon as the railroad wants to talk business with me,"
observed Annixter, "about selling me their interest in Quien
Sabe, I'm ready. The land has more than quadrupled in value. I
ll bet I could sell it to-morrow for fifteen dollars an acre, and
if I buy of the railroad for two and a half an acre, there's
boodle in the game."

"For two and a half!" exclaimed Genslinger. "You don't suppose
the railroad will let their land go for any such figure as that,
do you? Wherever did you get that idea?"

"From the circulars and pamphlets," answered Harran, "that the
railroad issued to us when they opened these lands. They are
pledged to that. Even the P. and S. W. couldn't break such a
pledge as that. You are new in the country, Mr. Genslinger. You
don't remember the conditions upon which we took up this land."

"And our improvements," exclaimed Annixter. "Why, Magnus and I
have put about five thousand dollars between us into that
irrigating ditch already. I guess we are not improving the land
just to make it valuable for the railroad people. No matter how
much we improve the land, or how much it increases in value, they
have got to stick by their agreement on the basis of two-fifty
per acre. Here's one case where the P. and S. W. DON'T get
everything in sight."

Genslinger frowned, perplexed.

"I AM new in the country, as Harran says," he answered, "but it
seems to me that there's no fairness in that proposition. The
presence of the railroad has helped increase the value of your
ranches quite as much as your improvements. Why should you get
all the benefit of the rise in value and the railroad nothing?
The fair way would be to share it between you."

"I don't care anything about that," declared Annixter. "They
agreed to charge but two-fifty, and they've got to stick to it."

"Well," murmured Genslinger, "from what I know of the affair, I
don't believe the P. and S. W. intends to sell for two-fifty an
acre, at all. The managers of the road want the best price they
can get for everything in these hard times."

"Times aren't ever very hard for the railroad," hazards old

Broderson was the oldest man in the room. He was about sixty-
five years of age, venerable, with a white beard, his figure bent
earthwards with hard work.

He was a narrow-minded man, painfully conscientious in his
statements lest he should be unjust to somebody; a slow thinker,
unable to let a subject drop when once he had started upon it.
He had no sooner uttered his remark about hard times than he was
moved to qualify it.

"Hard times," he repeated, a troubled, perplexed note in his
voice; "well, yes--yes. I suppose the road DOES have hard times,
maybe. Everybody does--of course. I didn't mean that exactly.
I believe in being just and fair to everybody. I mean that we've
got to use their lines and pay their charges good years AND bad
years, the P. and S. W. being the only road in the State. That
is--well, when I say the only road--no, I won't say the ONLY
road. Of course there are other roads. There's the D. P. and M.
and the San Francisco and North Pacific, that runs up to Ukiah.
I got a brother-in-law in Ukiah. That's not much of a wheat
country round Ukiah though they DO grow SOME wheat there, come to
think. But I guess it's too far north. Well, of course there
isn't MUCH. Perhaps sixty thousand acres in the whole county--if
you include barley and oats. I don't know; maybe it's nearer
forty thousand. I don't remember very well. That's a good many
years ago. I----"

But Annixter, at the end of all patience, turned to Genslinger,
cutting short the old man:

"Oh, rot! Of course the railroad will sell at two-fifty," he
cried. "We've got the contracts."

"Look to them, then, Mr. Annixter," retorted Genslinger
significantly, "look to them. Be sure that you are protected."

Soon after this Genslinger took himself away, and Derrick's
Chinaman came in to set the table.

"What do you suppose he meant?" asked Broderson, when Genslinger
was gone.

"About this land business?" said Annixter. "Oh, I don't know.
Some tom fool idea. Haven't we got their terms printed in black
and white in their circulars? There's their pledge."

"Oh, as to pledges," murmured Broderson, "the railroad is not
always TOO much hindered by those."

"Where's Osterman?" demanded Annixter, abruptly changing the
subject as if it were not worth discussion. "Isn't that goat
Osterman coming down here to-night?"

"You telephoned him, didn't you, Presley?" inquired Magnus .

Presley had taken Princess Nathalie upon his knee stroking her
long, sleek hair, and the cat, stupefied with beatitude, had
closed her eyes to two fine lines, clawing softly at the corduroy
of Presley's trousers with alternate paws.

"Yes, sir," returned Presley. "He said he would be here."

And as he spoke, young Osterman arrived.

He was a young fellow, but singularly inclined to baldness. His
ears, very red and large, stuck out at right angles from either
side of his head, and his mouth, too, was large--a great
horizontal slit beneath his nose. His cheeks were of a brownish
red, the cheek bones a little salient. His face was that of a
comic actor, a singer of songs, a man never at a loss for an
answer, continually striving to make a laugh. But he took no
great interest in ranching and left the management of his land to
his superintendents and foremen, he, himself, living in
Bonneville. He was a poser, a wearer of clothes, forever acting
a part, striving to create an impression, to draw attention to
himself. He was not without a certain energy, but he devoted it
to small ends, to perfecting himself in little accomplishments,
continually running after some new thing, incapable of persisting
long in any one course. At one moment his mania would be
fencing; the next, sleight-of-hand tricks; the next, archery.
For upwards of one month he had devoted himself to learning how
to play two banjos simultaneously, then abandoning this had
developed a sudden passion for stamped leather work and had made
a quantity of purses, tennis belts, and hat bands, which he
presented to young ladies of his acquaintance. It was his policy
never to make an enemy. He was liked far better than he was
respected. People spoke of him as "that goat Osterman," or "that
fool Osterman kid," and invited him to dinner. He was of the
sort who somehow cannot be ignored. If only because of his
clamour he made himself important. If he had one abiding trait,
it was his desire of astonishing people, and in some way, best
known to himself, managed to cause the circulation of the most
extraordinary stories wherein he, himself, was the chief actor.
He was glib, voluble, dexterous, ubiquitous, a teller of funny
stories, a cracker of jokes.

Naturally enough, he was heavily in debt, but carried the burden
of it with perfect nonchalance. The year before S. Behrman had
held mortgages for fully a third of his crop and had squeezed him
viciously for interest. But for all that, Osterman and S.
Behrman were continually seen arm-in-arm on the main street of
Bonneville. Osterman was accustomed to slap S. Behrman on his
fat back, declaring:

"You're a good fellow, old jelly-belly, after all, hey?"

As Osterman entered from the porch, after hanging his cavalry
poncho and dripping hat on the rack outside, Mrs. Derrick
appeared in the door that opened from the dining-room into the
glass-roofed hallway just beyond. Osterman saluted her with
effusive cordiality and with ingratiating blandness.

"I am not going to stay," she explained, smiling pleasantly at
the group of men, her pretty, wide-open brown eyes, with their
look of inquiry and innocence, glancing from face to face, "I
only came to see if you wanted anything and to say how do you

She began talking to old Broderson, making inquiries as to his
wife, who had been sick the last week, and Osterman turned to the
company, shaking hands all around, keeping up an incessant stream
of conversation.

"Hello, boys and girls. Hello, Governor. Sort of a gathering of
the clans to-night. Well, if here isn't that man Annixter.
Hello, Buck. What do you know? Kind of dusty out to-night."

At once Annixter began to get red in the face, retiring towards a
corner of the room, standing in an awkward position by the case
of stuffed birds, shambling and confused, while Mrs. Derrick was
present, standing rigidly on both feet, his elbows close to his
sides. But he was angry with Osterman, muttering imprecations to
himself, horribly vexed that the young fellow should call him
"Buck" before Magnus's wife. This goat Osterman! Hadn't he any
sense, that fool? Couldn't he ever learn how to behave before a
feemale? Calling him "Buck" like that while Mrs. Derrick was
there. Why a stable-boy would know better; a hired man would
have better manners.
All through the dinner that followed Annixter was out of sorts,
sulking in his place, refusing to eat by way of vindicating his
self-respect, resolving to bring Osterman up with a sharp turn if
he called him "Buck" again.

The Chinaman had made a certain kind of plum pudding for dessert,
and Annixter, who remembered other dinners at the Derrick's, had
been saving himself for this, and had meditated upon it all
through the meal. No doubt, it would restore all his good
humour, and he believed his stomach was so far recovered as to be
able to stand it.

But, unfortunately, the pudding was served with a sauce that he
abhorred--a thick, gruel-like, colourless mixture, made from
plain water and sugar. Before he could interfere, the Chinaman
had poured a quantity of it upon his plate.

"Faugh!" exclaimed Annixter. "It makes me sick. Such--such
SLOOP. Take it away. I'll have mine straight, if you don't

"That's good for your stomach, Buck," observed young Osterman;
"makes it go down kind of sort of slick; don't you see? Sloop,
hey? That's a good name."

"Look here, don't you call me Buck. You don't seem to have any
sense, and, besides, it ISN'T good for my stomach. I know
better. What do YOU know about my stomach, anyhow? Just looking
at sloop like that makes me sick."

A little while after this the Chinaman cleared away the dessert
and brought in coffee and cigars. The whiskey bottle and the
syphon of soda-water reappeared. The men eased themselves in
their places, pushing back from the table, lighting their cigars,
talking of the beginning of the rains and the prospects of a rise
in wheat. Broderson began an elaborate mental calculation,
trying to settle in his mind the exact date of his visit to
Ukiah, and Osterman did sleight-of-hand tricks with bread pills.
But Princess Nathalie, the cat, was uneasy. Annixter was
occupying her own particular chair in which she slept every
night. She could not go to sleep, but spied upon him
continually, watching his every movement with her lambent, yellow
eyes, clear as amber.

Then, at length, Magnus, who was at the head of the table, moved
in his place, assuming a certain magisterial attitude. "Well,
gentlemen," he observed, "I have lost my case against the
railroad, the grain-rate case. Ulsteen decided against me, and
now I hear rumours to the effect that rates for the hauling of
grain are to be advanced."

When Magnus had finished, there was a moment's silence, each
member of the group maintaining his attitude of attention and
interest. It was Harran who first spoke.

"S. Behrman manipulated the whole affair. There's a big deal of
some kind in the air, and if there is, we all know who is back of
it; S. Behrman, of course, but who's back of him? It's

Shelgrim! The name fell squarely in the midst of the
conversation, abrupt, grave, sombre, big with suggestion,
pregnant with huge associations. No one in the group who was not
familiar with it; no one, for that matter, in the county, the
State, the whole reach of the West, the entire Union, that did
not entertain convictions as to the man who carried it; a giant
figure in the end-of-the-century finance, a product of
circumstance, an inevitable result of conditions, characteristic,
typical, symbolic of ungovernable forces. In the New Movement,
the New Finance, the reorganisation of capital, the amalgamation
of powers, the consolidation of enormous enterprises--no one
individual was more constantly in the eye of the world; no one
was more hated, more dreaded, no one more compelling of unwilling
tribute to his commanding genius, to the colossal intellect
operating the width of an entire continent than the president and
owner of the Pacific and Southwestern.

"I don't think, however, he has moved yet," said Magnus.

"The thing for us, then," exclaimed Osterman, "is to stand from
under before he does."

"Moved yet!" snorted Annixter. "He's probably moved so long ago
that we've never noticed it."

"In any case," hazarded Magnus, "it is scarcely probable that the
deal--whatever it is to be--has been consummated. If we act
quickly, there may be a chance."

"Act quickly! How?" demanded Annixter. "Good Lord! what can
you do? We're cinched already. It all amounts to just this: YOU
CAN'T BUCK AGAINST THE RAILROAD. We've tried it and tried it,
and we are stuck every time. You, yourself, Derrick, have just
lost your grain-rate case. S. Behrman did you up. Shelgrim owns
the courts. He's got men like Ulsteen in his pocket. He's got
the Railroad Commission in his pocket. He's got the Governor of
the State in his pocket. He keeps a million-dollar lobby at
Sacramento every minute of the time the legislature is in
session; he's got his own men on the floor of the United States
Senate. He has the whole thing organised like an army corps.
What ARE you going to do? He sits in his office in San
Francisco and pulls the strings and we've got to dance."

"But--well--but," hazarded Broderson, "but there's the Interstate
Commerce Commission. At least on long-haul rates they----"

"Hoh, yes, the Interstate Commerce Commission," shouted Annixter,
scornfully, "that's great, ain't it? The greatest Punch and
Judy; show on earth. It's almost as good as the Railroad
Commission. There never was and there never will be a California
Railroad Commission not in the pay of the P. and S. W."

"It is to the Railroad Commission, nevertheless," remarked
Magnus, "that the people of the State must look for relief. That
is our only hope. Once elect Commissioners who would be loyal to
the people, and the whole system of excessive rates falls to the

"Well, why not HAVE a Railroad Commission of our own, then?"
suddenly declared young Osterman.

"Because it can't be done," retorted Annixter. "YOU CAN'T BUCK
AGAINST THE RAILROAD and if you could you can't organise the
farmers in the San Joaquin. We tried it once, and it was enough
to turn your stomach. The railroad quietly bought delegates
through S. Behrman and did us up."

"Well, that's the game to play," said Osterman decisively, "buy

"It's the only game that seems to win," admitted Harran gloomily.
"Or ever will win," exclaimed Osterman, a sudden excitement
seeming to take possession of him. His face--the face of a comic
actor, with its great slit of mouth and stiff, red ears--went
abruptly pink.

"Look here," he cried, "this thing is getting desperate. We've
fought and fought in the courts and out and we've tried agitation
and--and all the rest of it and S. Behrman sacks us every time.
Now comes the time when there's a prospect of a big crop; we've
had no rain for two years and the land has had a long rest. If
there is any rain at all this winter, we'll have a bonanza year,
and just at this very moment when we've got our chance--a chance
to pay off our mortgages and get clear of debt and make a strike--
here is Shelgrim making a deal to cinch us and put up rates.
And now here's the primaries coming off and a new Railroad
Commission going in. That's why Shelgrim chose this time to make
his deal. If we wait till Shelgrim pulls it off, we're done for,
that's flat. I tell you we're in a fix if we don't keep an eye
open. Things are getting desperate. Magnus has just said that
the key to the whole thing is the Railroad Commission. Well, why
not have a Commission of our own? Never mind how we get it,
let's get it. If it's got to be bought, let's buy it and put our
own men on it and dictate what the rates will be. Suppose it
costs a hundred thousand dollars. Well, we'll get back more than
that in cheap rates."

"Mr. Osterman," said Magnus, fixing the young man with a swift
glance, "Mr. Osterman, you are proposing a scheme of bribery,

"I am proposing," repeated Osterman, "a scheme of bribery.
Exactly so."

"And a crazy, wild-eyed scheme at that," said Annixter gruffly.
"Even supposing you bought a Railroad Commission and got your
schedule of low rates, what happens? The P. and S. W. crowd get
out an injunction and tie you up."

"They would tie themselves up, too. Hauling at low rates is
better than no hauling at all. The wheat has got to be moved."
"Oh, rot!" cried Annixter. "Aren't you ever going to learn any
sense? Don't you know that cheap transportation would benefit
the Liverpool buyers and not us? Can't it be FED into you that
you can't buck against the railroad? When you try to buy a Board
of Commissioners don't you see that you'll have to bid against
the railroad, bid against a corporation that can chuck out
millions to our thousands? Do you think you can bid against the
P. and S. W.?"

"The railroad don't need to know we are in the game against them
till we've got our men seated."

"And when you've got them seated, what's to prevent the
corporation buying them right over your head?"

"If we've got the right kind of men in they could not be bought
that way," interposed Harran. "I don't know but what there's
something in what Osterman says. We'd have the naming of the
Commission and we'd name honest men."

Annixter struck the table with his fist in exasperation.

"Honest men!" he shouted; "the kind of men you could get to go
into such a scheme would have to be DIS-honest to begin with."

Broderson, shifting uneasily in his place, fingering his beard
with a vague, uncertain gesture, spoke again:

"It would be the CHANCE of them--our Commissioners--selling out
against the certainty of Shelgrim doing us up. That is," he
hastened to add, "ALMOST a certainty; pretty near a certainty."

"Of course, it would be a chance," exclaimed Osterman. "But it's
come to the point where we've got to take chances, risk a big
stake to make a big strike, and risk is better than sure

"I can be no party to a scheme of avowed bribery and corruption,
Mr. Osterman," declared Magnus, a ring of severity in his voice.
"I am surprised, sir, that you should even broach the subject in
my hearing."

"And," cried Annixter, "it can't be done."

"I don't know," muttered Harran, "maybe it just wants a little
spark like this to fire the whole train."

Magnus glanced at his son in considerable surprise. He had not
expected this of Harran. But so great was his affection for his
son, so accustomed had he become to listening to his advice, to
respecting his opinions, that, for the moment, after the first
shock of surprise and disappointment, he was influenced to give a
certain degree of attention to this new proposition. He in no
way countenanced it. At any moment he was prepared to rise in
his place and denounce it and Osterman both. It was trickery of
the most contemptible order, a thing he believed to be unknown to
the old school of politics and statesmanship to which he was
proud to belong; but since Harran, even for one moment,
considered it, he, Magnus, who trusted Harran implicitly, would
do likewise--if it was only to oppose and defeat it in its very

And abruptly the discussion began. Gradually Osterman, by dint
of his clamour, his strident reiteration, the plausibility of his
glib, ready assertions, the ease with which he extricated himself
when apparently driven to a corner, completely won over old
Broderson to his way of thinking. Osterman bewildered him with
his volubility, the lightning rapidity with which he leaped from
one subject to another, garrulous, witty, flamboyant, terrifying
the old man with pictures of the swift approach of ruin, the
imminence of danger.

Annixter, who led the argument against him--loving argument
though he did--appeared to poor advantage, unable to present his
side effectively. He called Osterman a fool, a goat, a
senseless, crazy-headed jackass, but was unable to refute his
assertions. His debate was the clumsy heaving of brickbats,
brutal, direct. He contradicted everything Osterman said as a
matter of principle, made conflicting assertions, declarations
that were absolutely inconsistent, and when Osterman or Harran
used these against him, could only exclaim:

"Well, in a way it's so, and then again in a way it isn't."

But suddenly Osterman discovered a new argument. "If we swing
this deal," he cried, "we've got old jelly-belly Behrman right
where we want him."

"He's the man that does us every time," cried Harran. "If there
is dirty work to be done in which the railroad doesn't wish to
appear, it is S. Behrman who does it. If the freight rates are
to be 'adjusted' to squeeze us a little harder, it is S. Behrman
who regulates what we can stand. If there's a judge to be
bought, it is S. Behrman who does the bargaining. If there is a
jury to be bribed, it is S. Behrman who handles the money. If
there is an election to be jobbed, it is S. Behrman who
manipulates it. It's Behrman here and Behrman there. It is
Behrman we come against every time we make a move. It is Behrman
who has the grip of us and will never let go till he has squeezed
us bone dry. Why, when I think of it all sometimes I wonder I
keep my hands off the man."

Osterman got on his feet; leaning across the table, gesturing
wildly with his right hand, his serio-comic face, with its bald
forehead and stiff, red ears, was inflamed with excitement. He
took the floor, creating an impression, attracting all attention
to himself, playing to the gallery, gesticulating, clamourous,
full of noise.

"Well, now is your chance to get even," he vociferated. "It is
now or never. You can take it and save the situation for
yourselves and all California or you can leave it and rot on your
own ranches. Buck, I know you. I know you're not afraid of
anything that wears skin. I know you've got sand all through
you, and I know if I showed you how we could put our deal through
and seat a Commission of our own, you wouldn't hang back.
Governor, you're a brave man. You know the advantage of prompt
and fearless action. You are not the sort to shrink from taking
chances. To play for big stakes is just your game--to stake a
fortune on the turn of a card. You didn't get the reputation of
being the strongest poker player in El Dorado County for nothing.
Now, here's the biggest gamble that ever came your way. If we
stand up to it like men with guts in us, we'll win out. If we
hesitate, we're lost."

"I don't suppose you can help playing the goat, Osterman,"
remarked Annixter, "but what's your idea? What do you think we
can do? I'm not saying," he hastened to interpose, "that you've
anyways convinced me by all this cackling. I know as well as you
that we are in a hole. But I knew that before I came here to-
night. YOU'VE not done anything to make me change my mind. But
just what do you propose? Let's hear it."

"Well, I say the first thing to do is to see Disbrow. He's the
political boss of the Denver, Pueblo, and Mojave road. We will
have to get in with the machine some way and that's particularly
why I want Magnus with us. He knows politics better than any of
us and if we don't want to get sold again we will have to have
some one that's in the know to steer us."

"The only politics I understand, Mr. Osterman," answered Magnus
sternly, "are honest politics. You must look elsewhere for your
political manager. I refuse to have any part in this matter. If
the Railroad Commission can be nominated legitimately, if your
arrangements can be made without bribery, I am with you to the
last iota of my ability."

"Well, you can't get what you want without paying for it,"
contradicted Annixter.

Broderson was about to speak when Osterman kicked his foot under
the table. He, himself, held his peace. He was quick to see
that if he could involve Magnus and Annixter in an argument,
Annixter, for the mere love of contention, would oppose the
Governor and, without knowing it, would commit himself to his--

This was precisely what happened. In a few moments Annixter was
declaring at top voice his readiness to mortgage the crop of
Quien Sabe, if necessary, for the sake of "busting S. Behrman."
He could see no great obstacle in the way of controlling the
nominating convention so far as securing the naming of two
Railroad Commissioners was concerned. Two was all they needed.
Probably it WOULD cost money. You didn't get something for
nothing. It would cost them all a good deal more if they sat
like lumps on a log and played tiddledy-winks while Shelgrim sold
out from under them. Then there was this, too: the P. and S. W.
were hard up just then. The shortage on the State's wheat crop
for the last two years had affected them, too. They were
retrenching in expenditures all along the line. Hadn't they just
cut wages in all departments? There was this affair of Dyke's to
prove it. The railroad didn't always act as a unit, either.
There was always a party in it that opposed spending too much
money. He would bet that party was strong just now. He was kind
of sick himself of being kicked by S. Behrman. Hadn't that pip
turned up on his ranch that very day to bully him about his own
line fence? Next he would be telling him what kind of clothes he
ought to wear. Harran had the right idea. Somebody had got to
be busted mighty soon now and he didn't propose that it should be

"Now you are talking something like sense," observed Osterman.
"I thought you would see it like that when you got my idea."

"Your idea, YOUR idea!" cried Annixter. "Why, I've had this idea
myself for over three years."

"What about Disbrow?" asked Harran, hastening to interrupt. "Why
do we want to see Disbrow?"

"Disbrow is the political man for the Denver, Pueblo, and
Mojave," answered Osterman, "and you see it's like this: the
Mojave road don't run up into the valley at all. Their terminus
is way to the south of us, and they don't care anything about
grain rates through the San Joaquin. They don't care how anti-
railroad the Commission is, because the Commission's rulings
can't affect them. But they divide traffic with the P. and S. W.
in the southern part of the State and they have a good deal of
influence with that road. I want to get the Mojave road, through
Disbrow, to recommend a Commissioner of our choosing to the P.
and S. W. and have the P. and S. W. adopt him as their own."

"Who, for instance?"

"Darrell, that Los Angeles man--remember?"

"Well, Darrell is no particular friend of Disbrow," said
Annixter. "Why should Disbrow take him up?"

"PREE-cisely," cried Osterman. "We make it worth Disbrow's while
to do it. We go to him and say, 'Mr. Disbrow, you manage the
politics for the Mojave railroad, and what you say goes with your
Board of Directors. We want you to adopt our candidate for
Railroad Commissioner for the third district. How much do you
want for doing it?' I KNOW we can buy Disbrow. That gives us one
Commissioner. We need not bother about that any more. In the
first district we don't make any move at all. We let the
political managers of the P. and S. W. nominate whoever they
like. Then we concentrate all our efforts to putting in our man
in the second district. There is where the big fight will come."

"I see perfectly well what you mean, Mr. Osterman," observed
Magnus, "but make no mistake, sir, as to my attitude in this
business. You may count me as out of it entirely."

"Well, suppose we win," put in Annixter truculently, already
acknowledging himself as involved in the proposed undertaking;
"suppose we win and get low rates for hauling grain. How about
you, then? You count yourself IN then, don't you? You get all
the benefit of lower rates without sharing any of the risks we
take to secure them. No, nor any of the expense, either. No,
you won't dirty your fingers with helping us put this deal
through, but you won't be so cursed particular when it comes to
sharing the profits, will you?"

Magnus rose abruptly to his full height, the nostrils of his
thin, hawk-like nose vibrating, his smooth-shaven face paler than

"Stop right where you are, sir," he exclaimed. "You forget
yourself, Mr. Annixter. Please understand that I tolerate such
words as you have permitted yourself to make use of from no man,
not even from my guest. I shall ask you to apologise."

In an instant he dominated the entire group, imposing a respect
that was as much fear as admiration. No one made response. For
the moment he was the Master again, the Leader. Like so many
delinquent school-boys, the others cowered before him, ashamed,
put to confusion, unable to find their tongues. In that brief
instant of silence following upon Magnus's outburst, and while he
held them subdued and over-mastered, the fabric of their scheme
of corruption and dishonesty trembled to its base. It was the
last protest of the Old School, rising up there in denunciation
of the new order of things, the statesman opposed to the
politician; honesty, rectitude, uncompromising integrity,
prevailing for the last time against the devious manoeuvring, the
evil communications, the rotten expediency of a corrupted

For a few seconds no one answered. Then, Annixter, moving
abruptly and uneasily in his place, muttered:

"I spoke upon provocation. If you like, we'll consider it
unsaid. I don't know what's going to become of us--go out of
business, I presume."

"I understand Magnus all right," put in Osterman. "He don't have
to go into this thing, if it's against his conscience. That's
all right. Magnus can stay out if he wants to, but that won't
prevent us going ahead and seeing what we can do. Only there's
this about it." He turned again to Magnus, speaking with every
degree of earnestness, every appearance of conviction. "I did
not deny, Governor, from the very start that this would mean
bribery. But you don't suppose that I like the idea either. If
there was one legitimate hope that was yet left untried, no
matter how forlorn it was, I would try it. But there's not. It
is literally and soberly true that every means of help--every
honest means--has been attempted. Shelgrim is going to cinch us.
Grain rates are increasing, while, on the other hand, the price
of wheat is sagging lower and lower all the time. If we don't do
something we are ruined."

Osterman paused for a moment, allowing precisely the right number
of seconds to elapse, then altering and lowering his voice,

"I respect the Governor's principles. I admire them. They do
him every degree of credit." Then, turning directly to Magnus,
he concluded with, "But I only want you to ask yourself, sir, if,
at such a crisis, one ought to think of oneself, to consider
purely personal motives in such a desperate situation as this?
Now, we want you with us, Governor; perhaps not openly, if you
don't wish it, but tacitly, at least. I won't ask you for an
answer to-night, but what I do ask of you is to consider this
matter seriously and think over the whole business. Will you do

Osterman ceased definitely to speak, leaning forward across the
table, his eves fixed on Magnus's face. There was a silence.
Outside, the rain fell continually with an even, monotonous
murmur. In the group of men around the table no one stirred nor
spoke. They looked steadily at Magnus, who, for the moment, kept
his glance fixed thoughtfully upon the table before him. In
another moment he raised his head and looked from face to face
around the group. After all, these were his neighbours, his
friends, men with whom he had been upon the closest terms of
association. In a way they represented what now had come to be
his world. His single swift glance took in the men, one after
another. Annixter, rugged, crude, sitting awkwardly and
uncomfortably in his chair, his unhandsome face, with its
outthrust lower lip and deeply cleft masculine chin, flushed and
eager, his yellow hair disordered, the one tuft on the crown
standing stiffly forth like the feather in an Indian's scalp
lock; Broderson, vaguely combing at his long beard with a
persistent maniacal gesture, distressed, troubled and uneasy;
Osterman, with his comedy face, the face of a music-hall singer,
his head bald and set off by his great red ears, leaning back in
his place, softly cracking the knuckle of a forefinger, and, last
of all and close to his elbow, his son, his support, his
confidant and companion, Harran, so like himself, with his own
erect, fine carriage, his thin, beak-like nose and his blond
hair, with its tendency to curl in a forward direction in front
of the ears, young, strong, courageous, full of the promise of
the future years. His blue eyes looked straight into his
father's with what Magnus could fancy a glance of appeal. Magnus
could see that expression in the faces of the others very
plainly. They looked to him as their natural leader, their chief
who was to bring them out from this abominable trouble which was
closing in upon them, and in them all he saw many types. They--
these men around his table on that night of the first rain of a
coming season--seemed to stand in his imagination for many
others--all the farmers, ranchers, and wheat growers of the great
San Joaquin. Their words were the words of a whole community;
their distress, the distress of an entire State, harried beyond
the bounds of endurance, driven to the wall, coerced, exploited,
harassed to the limits of exasperation.
"I will think of it," he said, then hastened to add, "but I can
tell you beforehand that you may expect only a refusal."

After Magnus had spoken, there was a prolonged silence. The
conference seemed of itself to have come to an end for that
evening. Presley lighted another cigarette from the butt of the
one he had been smoking, and the cat, Princess Nathalie,
disturbed by his movement and by a whiff of drifting smoke,
jumped from his knee to the floor and picking her way across the
room to Annixter, rubbed gently against his legs, her tail in the
air, her back delicately arched. No doubt she thought it time to
settle herself for the night, and as Annixter gave no indication
of vacating his chair, she chose this way of cajoling him into
ceding his place to her. But Annixter was irritated at the
Princess's attentions, misunderstanding their motive.

"Get out!" he exclaimed, lifting his feet to the rung of the
chair. "Lord love me, but I sure do hate a cat."

"By the way," observed Osterman, "I passed Genslinger by the gate
as I came in to-night. Had he been here?"

"Yes, he was here," said Harran, "and--" but Annixter took the
words out of his mouth.

"He says there's some talk of the railroad selling us their
sections this winter."

"Oh, he did, did he?" exclaimed Osterman, interested at once.
"Where did he hear that?"

"Where does a railroad paper get its news? From the General
Office, I suppose."

"I hope he didn't get it straight from headquarters that the land
was to be graded at twenty dollars an acre," murmured Broderson.

"What's that?" demanded Osterman. "Twenty dollars! Here, put me
on, somebody. What's all up? What did Genslinger say?"

"Oh, you needn't get scared," said Annixter. "Genslinger don't
know, that's all. He thinks there was no understanding that the
price of the land should not be advanced when the P. and S. W.
came to sell to us."

"Oh," muttered Osterman relieved. Magnus, who had gone out into
the office on the other side of the glass-roofed hallway,
returned with a long, yellow envelope in his hand, stuffed with
newspaper clippings and thin, closely printed pamphlets.

"Here is the circular," he remarked, drawing out one of the
pamphlets. "The conditions of settlement to which the railroad
obligated itself are very explicit."

He ran over the pages of the circular, then read aloud:

"'The Company invites settlers to go upon its lands before
patents are issued or the road is completed, and intends in such
cases to sell to them in preference to any other applicants and
at a price based upon the value of the land without
improvements,' and on the other page here," he remarked, "they
refer to this again. 'In ascertaining the value of the lands,
any improvements that a settler or any other person may have on

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