The Secretary's face was quite as inscrutable as Jim's. "Mr. Manning, why do you put so much money into roads?"
Jim's eyes fired a little. "I believe that one of the functions of government is to build good roads. Actually, the heavy freightage that must pass over these roads makes it essential that they be first class. A cheap road would be expensive in time and breakage."
"How about the accusations of mismanagement?"
"I have made mistakes," replied Jim, "and some of them have been expensive ones in lives and money. Many of our engineering problems are entirely new and we have to solve them without precedent. The punishment for a bad guess in engineering is always sure and hard. One can make a bad political guess and escape."
"How about the accusation of graft?" continued the Secretary.
Jim whitened a little. He looked over the Secretary's head out at the patch of blue sky and then back at the room full of hostile faces.
"If any man in the Service," he said slowly, "can be shown to be dishonest, no punishment can be too severe for him." Jim paused and then went on, half under his breath as if he had forgotten his audience. "The strength of the pack is the wolf. It's disloyalty in the pack that's helping the old American spirit down hill."
The Secretary's eyes deepened but he repeated, quietly, "And as to your graft, Mr. Manning?"
Jim hesitated and whitened again under his bronze. If ever a man looked guilty, Jim did.
There was at this point a sudden scraping of a chair, the clatter of an overturned cuspidor and a stout, elderly man at the rear of the room jumped to his feet.
"Mr. Secretary," he cried, "may I say a word?"
"Who are you?" asked the Secretary.
"I'm a New York lawyer, but I know the Projects like the back of me hand. And I know Jim Manning as I know me own soul. You've let everyone have free speech here. Manning didn't know till this minute that I was in town. My name is Michael Dennis, your honor."
The Secretary smiled ever so slightly as he glanced from Jim's face to that of the speaker. Jim's jaw was dropped. He was shaking his head furiously at Uncle Denny while the latter nodded as furiously at Jim.
"Mr. Manning seems unwilling to speak for himself. Since you know him so well, Mr. Dennis, we'll hear what you have to say. You may be seated, Mr. Manning."
Jim moved back to his place reluctantly and Uncle Denny made his way to the front, talking as he went.
"Of course, he won't speak for himself, Mr. Secretary. He never could. Still Jim we call him. Still Jim they name him on all the Projects and Still Jim he is here before this crowd of mixed jackals and jackasses. He never could waste his energy in speech, as I'm doing now. I've often thought he had some fine inner sense that taught him even as a child that if it's hard to speak truth, its next to impossible to hear it. So he just keeps still.
"You've heard him accused of graft, Mr. Secretary, and of inefficiency and of any other black phrase that came handy to these people. Your honor, it's impossible! It's not in his breed of mind! If you could have seen him as I have! A child of fifteen working in the pit of a skyscraper and crying himself to sleep nights for memory of his father he'd seen killed at like work, yet refusing money from me till I married his mother and made him take it. If you had seen him out on your Projects, cutting himself off from civilization in the flower of his youth and giving his young life blood to his dams! I know he's received offers of five times his salary from a corporation and stayed by his dam. I've seen him hang by a frayed cable with the flood round his arm pits, arguing, heartening the rough-necks for twenty-four hours at a stretch, the last man to give in, for his dam! I've seen him take chances that meant life or death for him and a hundred workmen and ten thousand dollars worth of material and win for his dam, for a pile of stones that was to bring money to the very men here who are howling him down. For his dam, that's wife and child to him, and they accuse him of prostituting it! Bah! You fools! Don't you know no money-getter works that way? He's a trail builder, Mr. Secretary. He's the breed that opens the way for idiots like these and they follow in and trample him underfoot on the very trail he has made for them!"
Uncle Denny stopped. There was a moment's hush in the room. Jim watched the patch of blue with unseeing eyes. As Uncle Denny started back to his seat there rose an angry buzz, but the Secretary raised his hand.
"Gentlemen! Gentlemen! Turn about is fair play. Remember that you have called the Reclamation Engineers some very foul names. Mr. Manning, I cannot see why you should not return to the flood at your dam and you other engineers to your respective posts, there to await word from your Director as to the results of this Hearing. You yourselves must realize after hearing all sides that I can take action only after careful deliberation. I thank you all for your frankness and patience with me."
As the room cleared, Uncle Denny puffed down on Jim. "Still Jim, me boy, don't be sore at me. I should have spoken if I'd been a deaf mute!"
Jim took Uncle Denny's hands. "Uncle Denny! Uncle Denny! You shouldn't have done it, yet how can I be sore at you!"
"That's right," said Uncle Denny. "You can't be! Oh, I tell you, I feel about you as I do about Ireland! I'm aching for some blundering fool to say something that I may knock his block off! When are you going back?"
"Tonight," replied Jim. "Come up to the hotel and talk while I pack. I can't wait an hour on the flood. How are mother and Pen?"
"Fine! Your mother and I are the most comfortable couple on earth. We took it for granted you'd come up to New York. You got me letter about Sara and Pen before you left the dam, didn't you?"
"No. What letter?" asked Jim.
The two were walking up to the hotel now. Uncle Denny threw up both his hands. "Soul of me soul! They are out there by now. It all happened very unexpectedly and I did me best to head him off. I must admit Pen was no help to me there."
"But what——" exclaimed Jim.
Uncle Denny interrupted. "I don't know, meself. You gave Sara's name to Freet some time ago, two years ago, when he wanted to do some real estate business in New York. Well, ever since Sara has had the western land speculation bug, and lately nothing would do but he must get out to your Project. They are waiting there now for you if Sara killed no one en route. There is so much peace in the old brownstone front now, Still Jim, that your mother and I fear we will have to keep a coyote in the parlor to howl us to sleep!"
Jim turned a curiously shaken face on Dennis. "Do you mean that Pen, Pen is out at the Dam? That she will be there when I get back?"
Uncle Denny nodded. "Pen and Sara! Don't forget Sara. Me heart misgives me as to his purpose in going."
"Penelope at my dam?" repeated Jim.
Uncle Denny looked at Jim's tanned face. Then he looked away and his Irish eyes were tear-dimmed. He said no more until they were in Jim's room at the hotel. Jim began to pack rapidly and Uncle Denny remarked, casually:
"Penelope is Saradokis' wife, you know."
Jim's drawl was razor-edged. "Uncle Denny, she never was and never will be Saradokis' wife."
"Oh, I know! Only in name! But—I may as well tell you that I think she was unwise in going to you."
Jim walked over to the window, then slowly back again. His clear gray eyes searched the kindly blue ones. "Uncle Denny, why do you suppose this thing happened to Pen?"
The Irishman's voice was a little husky as he answered: "To make a grand woman of her. She's developed qualities that nothing else on earth could have developed in her. It's because of her having grown to be what she is that I didn't want her to go to you. I—Oh, Still Jim, me boy! Me boy!"
For just a moment Jim's lips quivered, then he said, "We shall see what the desert does for us," and he closed his suitcase with a snap.
OLD JEZEBEL ON THE RAMPAGE
"Old Jezebel is a woman. For years she keeps her appointed trail until the accumulation of her strength breaks all bounds and she sweeps sand and men before her."
MUSINGS OF THE ELEPHANT.
There is a butte in the Cabillo country that they call the Elephant.
Picture a country of lavenders and yellows and blues; an open, barren land, with now a wide sweep of desert, now a chaos of mesa and mountain, dead volcano and eroded plain. The desert, a buff yellow where blue distance and black shadow and the purple of volcano spill have not stained it. The mountains, bronze and lavender, lifting scarred peaks to a quiet sky; a sky of turquoise blue. The Rio del Norte, a brown streak, forcing a difficult and roundabout course through ranges and desert.
In a rough desert plain, which is surrounded by ranges, stands a broad backed butte that was once a volcano. The Rio del Norte sweeps in a curve about its base. Time and volcanic crumblings and desert wind have carved the great beast into the semblance of an elephant at rest. The giant head is slightly bowed. The curved trunk droops, but the eyes are wide open and the ears are slightly lifted. By day it is a rich, red bronze. By night, a purple that deepens to black. Watching, brooding, listening, day or night, the butte dominates here the desert and the river and the ranges.
This is the butte that they call the Elephant.
Below this butte the Service was building a dam. It was a huge undertaking. When finished the dam would be as high as a twenty-story building and as long as two city blocks. It would block the river, turning it into a lake forty miles long, that would be a perpetual water supply to over a hundred thousand acres of land in the Rio del Norte valley.
The borders of the Rio del Norte have been cultivated for centuries. Long before the Puritans landed in New England, the Spanish who followed Coronado planted grape vines on the brown river's banks. The Spanish found Pueblo Indians irrigating little hard-won fields here. The irrigation ditches these Indians used were of dateless antiquity and yet there were traces left of still older ditches used by a people who had gone, leaving behind them only these pitiful dumb traces of heroic human effort. After the Spanish came the Americans, patrolling their ditches with guns lest the Apaches devastate their fields.
Spanish, Indians, Americans all fought to bring the treacherous Rio del Norte under control, but failure came so often that at last they united in begging the Reclamation Service for aid. It was to help these people and to open up the untouched lands of the valley as well, that the dam was being built. And the building of it was Jim's job.
Jim jumped off the bobtailed train that obligingly stopped for him at a lone shed in the wide desert. In the shed was the adobe splashed automobile which Jim had left there on his trip out. He threw his suit case into the tonneau, cranked the engine and was off over the rough trail that led to the Project Road.
A few miles out he met four hoboes. They turned out for the machine and Jim stopped.
"Looking for work at the dam?" he asked.
"What are the chances?" asked one of the group.
"Fine! Get in! I'm engineer up there. You're hired."
With broad grins the three clambered aboard. The man who sat beside Jim said: "We heard flood season was coming on and thought you'd like extra help. Us boys rode the bumpers up from Cabillo."
Jim grunted. Labor-getting continued to be a constant problem for all the valuable nucleus formed by the Park. Experts and the offscourings of the earth drifted to the great government camp and Jim and all his assistants exercised a constant and rigid sifting process. He did not talk much to his new help. His eyes were keen to catch the first glimpse of the river. The men caught his strain and none of them spoke again. Cottontails quivered out of sight as the automobile rushed on. An occasional coyote, silhouetted against the sky, disappeared as if by magic. Swooping buzzards hung motionless to see, then swept on into the heavens.
Jim was taking right-angled curves at twenty-five miles an hour. The hoboes clung to the machine wild-eyed and speechless. Up and up, round a twisted peak and then, far below, the river.
"She's up! The old Jezebel!" said Jim.
The machine slid down the mountainside to the government bridge. The brown water was just beginning to wash over the floor. Across the bridge, Jim stopped the machine before a long gray adobe building. It topped a wide street of tents. Jim scrawled a line on an old envelope and gave it to one of the hoboes.
"Take that to the steward. Eat all you can hold and report wherever the steward sends you."
Then he went on. Regardless of turn or precipice the road rose in a steady grade from the lower camp where the workmen lived, a half mile to the dam site. Jim whirled to the foot of the cable way towers and jumped out of the machine.
The dam site lay in a valley, a quarter of a mile wide, between two mountains. Above the dam lay the Elephant. A great cofferdam built near the Elephant's base diverted the river into a concrete flume that ran along the foot of one of the mountains. The river bed, bared by the diverting of the stream, was filled with machinery. An excavation sixty feet below the river bottom and two hundred feet wide was almost completed. Indeed, on the side next the flume there already rose above the river bed a mighty square of concrete, a third the width of the river. Jim had begun the actual erection of the dam.
The two mountains were topped by huge towers, supporting cables that swung above the dam site. The cables carried anything from a man to a locomotive, from the "grab buckets" that bit two tons of sand at a mouthful from the excavation, to a skid bearing a motion picture outfit.
Work was going on as usual when Jim arrived. The cable ways sang and shrieked. The concrete mixer roared. Donkey engines puffed and dinkees squealed. Jim dashed into a telephone booth and called up the office.
"This is Mr. Manning. Where is Williams?"
The telephone girl answered quickly: "Oh, how are you, Mr. Manning? We're glad you are back. Why, Mr. Williams was called down to Cabillo to make a deposition for the Washington hearing, several days ago. And they made Mr. Barton and Mr. Arles go, too. I'm trying to get them on long distance now. You came by the way of Albuquerque, didn't you? We tried to reach you in Washington, but couldn't."
Jim groaned. His three best men were gone.
"We didn't expect high water for a week," the girl went on, "or else——"
"Miss Agnes," Jim interrupted, "call up every engineer on the job and tell them to report at once to me at Booth A. Whom did Iron Skull leave on his job?"
"Benson, the head draughtsman."
Jim hung up the receiver and stood a moment in thought. Iron Skull was now Jim's superintendent and right hand. His mechanical and electrical engineers were gone, too, leaving only cubs who had never seen a flood. Benson came running down the trail from the office.
"For the Lord's sake, Benson, have you been asleep?" said Jim.
Benson looked at the roaring flume. "She'll carry it all right, don't you think? I haven't been able to get in touch with the hydrographer for twenty-four hours. The water only began to rise an hour ago."
"The poor kid may be drowned!" exclaimed Jim. He turned to the group of men forming about him. "We're in for a fight, fellows. This flood has just begun and it's higher now than I've ever seen the water in the flume. I'm going to fill the excavation with water from the flume and so avoid the wash from the main flow. Save what you can from the river bed. Leave the excavation to me."
Five minutes later the river bed swarmed with workmen. The cable ways groaned with load after load of machinery. Jim ran down the trail, around the excavation and up onto the great block of concrete. The top of this was just below the flume edge. The foreman of the concrete gang was aghast at Jim's orders.
"We may have a couple of hours," Jim finished, "or she may come down on us as if the bottom had dropped out of the ocean. See that everyone gets out of the excavation."
The foreman looked a little pitifully at the concrete section.
"That last pouring'll go out like a snow bank, Mr. Manning."
Jim nodded. "Dam builders luck, Fritz. Get busy." He hurried into a telephone booth, even in the stress of the moment smiling ruefully as he remembered the complaint at the hearing. The booths had been too well built. Jim's predecessor had been a government man of the old school in just one particular. Honest to his heart's core, he still could not understand the need of economy when working for Uncle Sam.
"Have you heard from Iron Skull?" Jim asked the operator.
"He ought to be here now, Mr. Manning," she replied. "I sent the car over to the kitchen."
"You are all right, Miss Agnes," said Jim. "Tell Dr. Emmet to be near the telephone. I don't like the looks of this."
Jim hung up the receiver, pulled off his coat and hurried out to the edge of the concrete section. A derrick was being spun along the cableway, just above the excavation. A man was standing on the great hook from which the derrick was suspended. Men were clambering through the heavy sand up out of the excavation. The man on the edge of the pit who was holding the guide rope attached to the swinging derrick was caught in the rush of workmen. He tripped and dropped the rope, then ran after it with a shout of warning. For a moment the derrick spun awkwardly.
The man in the tower rang a hasty signal and the operator of the cableway reversed with a sudden jerk that threw the derrick from the hook. The man on the hook clung like a fly on a thread. The derrick crashed heavily down on the excavation edge, and slid to the bottom, carrying with it a great sand slide that caught two men as it went.
Jim gasped, "My God! I hate a derrick!" and ran down into the excavation, the foreman at his heels. Men turned in their tracks and wallowed back after Jim.
The derrick had fallen in such a way that its broken boom held back a portion of the slide. From under the boom protruded a brown hand with almond-shaped nails; unmistakably the hand of an Indian. The least movement of the boom would send the sand down over the wreckage of the derrick.
Uncontrollably moved for a moment, Jim dropped to his knees and crawled close to touch the inert hand. "Don't move!" he shouted. "We will get you out!" For just a moment, an elm shaded street and a dismantled mansion flashed across his vision. Then he got a grip on himself and crawled out.
"Get a bunch of men with shovels!" he cried. "Dig as if you were digging in dynamite."
"They are dead under there, Boss!" pleaded the foreman. "And they ain't nothing but an Injun and a Mexican, an ornery hombre! And if you don't let the flume in this whole place'll wash out like flour. It'll take an hour to get them out."
Jim's lips tightened. "You weren't up on the Makon, Fritz. My rule is, fight to save a life at any cost. Keep those fellows digging like the devil."
He hurried back up onto the section, thence up to the flume edge. Then he gave an exclamation. The brown water had risen an inch while he was in the excavation. He ran for the telephone again.
In a moment a new form of activity began in the river bed. Every man who was not digging gingerly at the sand slide was turned to throwing bags of sand on cofferdam and flume edge to hold back the river as long as might be. Jim stood on the concrete section and issued his orders. His voice was steel cool. His orders came rapidly but without confusion. He concentrated every force of his mind on driving his army of workmen to the limit of their strength, yet on keeping them cool headed that every moment might count.
It was an uneven fight at that. Old Jezebel gathered strength minute by minute. The brown water was dripping over onto the concrete when someone caught Jim's arm.
"Where shall I go, Boss Still?"
"Thank God, Iron Skull!" exclaimed Jim. "Go down and get that hombre and Apache out."
Iron Skull ran down into the excavation. The brown water began to seep over the edge of the pit. The men who were digging above the slide swore and threw down their shovels. Jim tossed his megaphone to the cement engineer and ran to meet the men.
"Get back there," he said quietly. The men looked at his face, then turned sheepishly back.
Jim picked up a shovel. Iron Skull already was digging like a madman.
One of the workmen, who never had ceased digging, snarled to another: "What does he want to let the whole dam go to hell for two nigger rough-necks for?"
"Bosses' rule," panted the other. "Up on the Makon we'd risk our lives to the limit and fight for the other fellows just as quick. How'd you like to be under there? Never know who's turn's next!"
The brown water rose steadily, running faster and faster over into the excavation. The water was touching the brown hand which now twitched and writhed, when Jim said:
"Now, boys, catch the cable hook to the boom and give the signal."
The derrick swung up into the air. Jim and a Makon man seized the Indian, Iron Skull and another man the hombre. Both of them were alive but helpless. The cement engineer shouted an order through the megaphone and just as a lifting brown wave showed its fearful head beyond the Elephant, the river bed was cleared of human beings.
Up around the cable tower foot was gathered a great crowd of workmen, women and children. Jim, greeted right and left as he relinquished his burden, looked about eagerly. Penelope must have heard of the flood and have come to see it. But surrounded by his friends, Jim missed the girlish figure that had hovered on the outskirts of the crowd and that, after he had reached the tower foot in safety, disappeared up the trail.
Jim, with his arm across Iron Skull's shoulder, turned to watch the river. The moving brown wall had filled the excavation. It rushed like a Niagara over the flume edge. In half an hour it ran from bank to bank, with a roar of satisfaction at having once more regained its bed.
Jim sighed and said to Iron Skull: "She's taken a hundred thousand dollars at a mouthful. I'll put that in my expense account for my trip to Washington."
Iron Skull grunted: "We'll be lucky if we get off that cheap. This will make talk for every farmer on the Project. They'll all be up to tell you how you should have done it."
Jim shrugged his shoulders. "This isn't the first flood we've weathered, Iron Skull. Come up to the house while I change my clothes."
The two started along the road that wound up to the low mountain top where the group of adobe cottages known as "officers' quarters" was located. The cottages were occupied by Jim's associate engineers and their families.
"I suppose you learned that your friends came," said Iron Skull. "They wanted a tent for his health, so I put them in the tent house back on the level behind the quarters.
"I didn't know of their coming until I was leaving Washington," said Jim. "How are they?"
"She stood the trip fine. He was pretty well used up, poor cus! She is awful patient with him. She's all you've said about her and then some. The ladies have all called on her but he don't encourage them. I stood a good deal from him, then I just told him to go to hell. Not when she was round, of course."
Jim listened intently. He knew the whole camp must be alive with gossip and curiosity over his two guests. An event of this order was a godsend in news value to the desert camp.
"Much obliged to you," was Jim's comment.
"How'd the Hearing go?" asked Iron Skull.
Jim shook his head and sighed. "They are convinced down there, I guess, that the Service is rotten. I kept my mouth shut and sawed wood. The Secretary is good medicine. You should have heard Uncle Denny jump in and make a speech. Bless him. I felt like a fool. What the Secretary thinks about the whole thing nobody knows."
Iron Skull grunted. After a moment he said: "Folks down at Cabillo are peeved at the way you are making the main canal. Old Suma-theek is back with fifty Apaches. That's one of them we pulled out of the sand. I've fixed a separate mess for them. I think we can reorganize one of the shifts so as to reduce the number of foremen."
Jim paused before the door of his little gray adobe. "Will you come in, Iron Skull?"
"I'll wait for you in the office," replied Williams. He turned down the mountainside toward a long adobe with a red roof.
Jim walked in at the open door of his house. The living room was long and low, with an adobe fireplace at one end. The walls were left in the delicate creamy tint of the natural adobe. On the floor were a black bearskin from Makon and a brilliant Navajo that Suma-theek had given him. The walls were hung with Indian baskets and pottery, with photographs of the Green Mountain and the Makon, with guns and canteens and a great rack of pipes. This was the first home that Jim had had since he had left the brownstone front and he was very proud of it. He had inherited his predecessor's housekeeper, who ruled him firmly.
Jim dropped his suit case and called, "Hello, Mrs. Flynn!"
A door at the end of the room opened and a very stout woman came in, her ruddy face a vast smile, her gray hair flying. She was wiping her hands on her apron.
"Oh, Boss Still, but I'm glad to see you! You look pindlin'. Ain't it awful about the dam! I bet you're hungry this minute. God knows, if I'd thought you'd be here for another hour I'd have had something against your coming. And if God lets me live to spare my life, it won't happen again."
She talked very rapidly and as she talked she was patting Jim's arm, turning him round and round to look him over like a mother.
Jim flashed his charming smile on her. "Bless you, Mother Flynn! I know it's a hundred years since you've told me what God knows! I'll have a bath and go down to the office. I've had nothing to eat since morning." This last very sadly.
It had the expected effect on Mrs. Flynn, whose idea of purgatory was of a place where one had to miss an occasional meal.
She groaned: "Leave me into the kitchen! At six o'clock exactly there will be fried chicken on this table!"
Mrs. Flynn made breathlessly for the kitchen pausing at the door to call back: "And how's your mother and your Uncle Denny? I've been doing the best I can for your company. They ate stuff I took 'em only the first day, then she went to housekeeping."
"Thank you," said Jim, absently. He went into his bedroom. This, too, was uncolored. It was a simple little room with only a cot, a bureau and a chair in it. The walls were bare except for the little old photograph of Pen in her tennis clothes.
In half an hour Jim had splashed in and out of his bath, was shaved and clad in camp regalia; a flannel shirt, Norfolk coat and riding breeches of tan khaki, leather puttees and a broad-brimmed Stetson. At his office awaiting him were his engineer associates and Iron Skull, and he put in a long two hours with them, his mind far less on the flood and the Hearing than on the fact that Penelope was waiting for him, up in the little tent house.
It was not quite eight o'clock when Jim stood before the tent house, waiting for courage to rap.
Suddenly he heard Sara's voice. "I won't have women coming up here to snoop! Understand that, Pen, right now. Hand me the paper and be quick about it."
Jim felt himself stiffened as he listened for Pen's voice in answer.
THE TENT HOUSE
"Leave Old Jezebel to herself and she soon returns to old ways. She likes them best for she is a woman."
MUSINGS OF THE ELEPHANT.
Pen's voice, when it came, was lower and fuller than he had remembered it but there was the old soft chuckle in it.
"Cross patch! Draw the latch! Say please, like a nice child and then I'll play a game of cards with you."
Jim rapped on the door and stepped in. "Hello, Pen!" he said, holding out his hand.
She was changed and yet unchanged. A little thinner, older, yet more beautiful in her young womanhood than in her charming girlhood. Her chestnut hair was wrapped in soft braids around her head instead of being bundled up in her neck. Her eyes looked larger and deeper set but they were the same steady, clear eyes of old; ageless eyes; the eyes of the woman who thinks. She had the same full soft lips, and as Jim held out his hand the same flash of dimples.
"Hello, Still! The mountains have come to Mahomet!"
"And a poor welcome I gave you," replied Jim. "Hello, Sara."
Jim turned to the great invalid chair. There, propped up in cushions, lay a fat travesty of the old Saradokis. This was a Sara whose tawny hair was turning gray with suffering; whose mouth, once so full and boyish, was now heavy and sinister, whose buoyancy had changed to the bitter irritability of the hopeless invalid.
Sara looked Jim over deliberately, then dropped his hand. "How do you think I am? Enjoying the dirty deal I've had from life?"
Jim had not realized before just what a dirty deal Sara had been given. "I'm sorry about it, Sara," he said.
Saradokis gave an ugly laugh. "Sounds well! I've never heard a word from you since the day we ran the Marathon. You hold a grudge as well as a Greek, Jim."
"Gee, I'd forgotten all about the race!" exclaimed Jim.
"I haven't," returned Sara. "Neither the race nor several other things."
Jim shrugged his shoulders and turned to Pen, who was watching the two men anxiously.
"Tell me about your plans. I'm mighty happy to have you here."
"Sara's had the feeling for a long time that this climate would help him, and we've talked in a general way about coming. It was Mr. Freet that told Sara he thought there were some good real estate chances here and that decided Sara. Sara has done him a number of good turns in investments round New York."
Jim looked at Sara sharply but made no comment on Pen's remarks. "Are you comfortable here?" he asked, looking about the tent house.
It was a roomy place. There was a good floor and a wooden wainscoting that rose three feet above it. The tent was set on this wainscoting, which gave plenty of head space. A gasolene stove in one corner with a table and chairs and a cupboard formed the kitchen. A cot for Pen and a book shelf or two with a corner clothes closet and some hammock swung chairs completed the furniture. Pen had achieved the homelike with some chintz hangings and a rug.
"I am getting our meals right here," said Pen. "The steward said we could have them sent up from the mess, but it's less expensive and more fun to get them camp fashion here. The government store is a very good one and all the neighbors have called and have brought me everything from fresh baked bread to cans of jelly. They are so wonderfully kind to me!"
Sara was staring at Jim with an insolent sort of interest. He had full use of his arms, as was evident when he gave the great wheel chair a quick flip about so as to shade his eyes from the lamp. As Jim watched him all the resentment of the past eight years welled up within him with an added repugnance for Sara's fat helplessness and ugly temper that made it difficult for him to sit by the invalid's chair.
When Pen had finished her account Sara said, "You made rather a mess, didn't you, in handling the flood today?"
"You were splendid, Jimmy!" cried Pen. "I saw the whole thing!"
Jim shook his head. "It was expensive splendor!"
"You will find it difficult to explain your lack of preparation to an investigating committee, won't you?" asked Sara.
"If you can give a recipe for flood preparation," said Jim good naturedly, "you will have every dam builder in the world at your feet."
Sara grunted and changed the subject and his manner abruptly.
"Got any decent smoking tobacco, Still?"
"That is hard to find here," replied Jim. "It dries out fast and loses flavor. I've got some over at the house I brought back from the East. I'll go over and get it now. Will you let Pen walk over with me? I'd like to have her see my house."
"Makes no difference to me what she does. Hand me that book, Pen, before you start."
Out under the stars Jim pulled Pen's hand within his arm and asked, "Pen, is he always like that?"
"Always," answered Pen. "Do you remember the 'Wood-carver of Olympus'? How he was hurt like Sara and how he blasphemed God and was embittered for years? He was reconciled to his lot after a time and people loved him. I have so hoped for that change in poor Sara, but none has come."
"Pen!" cried Jim suddenly. "I gave you my sign and seal! Why did you marry Saradokis?"
Pen answered slowly, "Jim, why wouldn't you understand and take me West with you when I begged you to?"
"Understand what?" asked Jim, tensely.
"That Sara's hold on me was almost hypnotic, that it was you I really cared for, as I realized as soon as Sara was hurt. If only you had had the courage of your convictions, Still!"
Jim winced but found no reply and Pen went on, her voice meditative and soft as if she were talking not of herself but of some half-forgotten acquaintance.
"I used to feel resentful that Sara thought I was worth such constant attention, while you, in spite of the Sign and Seal, were quite as contented with Uncle Denny as with me. And yet, after it all was over and I had settled down to nursing Sara for the rest of my life, I could see that I had had nothing to give you then and Uncle Denny had. Life is so mercilessly logical—to look back on, Jimmy."
Jim put his hand over the cold little fingers on his arm. Pen went on. "I did not try to write to you. I——"
But Jim could bear no more. "Pen! Pen! What a miserable fool I am!"
"You are nothing of the kind!" exclaimed Pen, indignantly "What do you think of the mess I've made of my life, if you think you are foolish?"
"What am I to do? How can I make it up to you?" cried Jim.
"By letting me stay in your desert for a time," answered Pen. "I know I'm going to love it."
They were at Jim's doorstep and he made no reply. As usual, words seemed futile to him. He showed Pen his house and found the tobacco, letting Mrs. Flynn do all the talking. Then, still in silence, he led Pen back to her tent. At the door he gave her the tobacco and left her.
Jim had a bad night. He stayed in bed until midnight; then to get away from his own thoughts he dressed and went out to the dam. The water had reached its height. There was nothing to be done save wait until Old Jezebel grew weary of mischief. But Jim tramped up and down the great road between the dam and the lower town all night.
His mind swung from Pen to the Hearing and from the Hearing to the flood, then back to Pen again. From Pen his thoughts went to his father and with his father he paused for a long time.
Was the evil destiny that had made his father fail to follow him, too? Jim had always believed himself stronger than his father, somehow better fitted to cope with destiny. Yet ever since his trouble with Freet on the Makon there had been growing in Jim a vague distrust of his own powers. He could build the dams, yes, if "they" would leave him free to do so. If "they" would not fret and hound him until his efficiency was gone. It was the very subtlety and intangibility of "they" that made him uneasy, made him less sure of himself and his own ability.
He had planned, after he had finished his work, to turn his attention to solving the problems of old Exham. How was he to do this if he was not big enough to cope with his own circumstance? And was he going to miss the continuation of the Manning line because he had failed to grasp opportunity in love as in everything else?
Dawn found Jim watching the Elephant grow bronze against the sky. The Elephant had a very real personality to Jim as it had to everyone else in the valley.
"What is to be, is to be, eh, old friend?" said Jim. "But why? Tell me why?"
The sun rolled up and the Elephant changed from bronze to gold. Jim sighed and went up to his house.
All that day crowds of workmen on the banks watched Old Jezebel romp over their working place and they swore large and vivid oaths regarding what they would do to her once they got to balking her again. It was about noon that a buckboard drawn by two good horses stopped at the foot of the cable tower. The driver called to Iron Skull Williams, who was chewing a toothpick and chatting to Pen. Williams led Pen up to the buckboard.
"Like to introduce Oscar Ames, one of our old-time irrigation farmers," said Iron Skull. "And this is Mrs. Ames, his boss. And this lady is a friend of the Big Boss—Mrs. Saradokis."
Pen held out her hand and the two women looked at each other in the quick appraising way of women. Mrs. Ames was perhaps fifty years old. She was small and thin and brown, with thin gray hair under her dusty hat and a thin throat showing under her linen duster. Her face was heavily lined. Her eyes were wonderful; a clear blue with the far-seeing gaze of eyes that have looked long on the endless distances of the desert. Yet, perhaps, the look was not due altogether to the desert, for young as she was, Pen's eyes had the same expression.
"I am glad to know you," said Penelope.
"Thank you," said Mrs. Ames, bashfully.
Oscar Ames shook hands heartily. He was a big man of fifty, with hair and skin one shade of ruddy tan.
"Glad to meet you, ma'am. Say, Iron Skull, how'd you come to let the water beat you to it? This adds another big cost to us farmers' bill."
Williams grunted. "Wish you folk had been up on the Makon. That's where we had real floods. Ames, we are doing our limit. Ain't you old enough yet to know that a lift under the arm carries a fellow twice as far as a kick in the pants? Here's the Boss now. Light on him! Poor old scout!"
Jim was on horseback. He rode slowly up and dismounted. "How are you, Ames? And Mrs. Ames? Have you met Mrs. Saradokis? Ames, before you begin to chant my funeral march let me ask you if you don't want to sell that south forty you say I'm not irrigating right. Mr. Saradokis represents some Eastern interests. Perhaps you'd like to meet him."
Oscar grinned a little sheepishly. "Business before pleasure! I'll go right up to see him now."
"Then you must come up with me," said Penelope to Mrs. Ames, and the two women followed after Jim and Oscar.
The climb was short but stiff. Pen had not yet become accustomed to the five thousand feet of elevation at which the officers' camp was set, so she had no breath for conversation until they reached the tent house. Sara lay in his invalid chair before the open door, maps, tobacco and magazines scattered over the swing table that covered his lap. Pen, as if to ward off any rudeness, began to explain as she mounted the steps:
"Here is a gentleman who has land for sale, Sara." Sara's scowl disappeared. He gave the Ames family such a pleasant welcome that Jim was puzzled. Ames and Jim dropped down on the doorstep while Mrs. Ames and Pen took the hammock chairs.
"Have you people been long in this country?" asked Pen.
"Thirty years this coming fall," replied Ames, taking the cigar Sara offered him and smelling it critically. "I was a kid of 21 when I took up my section down on the old canal. I couldn't have sold that land for two bits an acre a year after I took it up. I refused two hundred dollars an acre for the alfalfa land the other day."
"You must have done some work in the interval," commented Sara.
Jim, leaning against the door post, watched Sara through half closed eyes and glanced now and again at Pen's eager face. Ames puffed at his cigar and gazed out over the desert.
"Work!" he said with a half laugh, "why when I took up that land sand and silence, whisky and poker were the staples round here. I built a one-room adobe, bought a team, imported a plow and a harrow and a scraper and went at it. I've got a ten-acre orange grove now and two hundred acres of alfalfa and a foreman who lets me gad! But no one who ain't been a desert farmer can imagine how I worked."
Pen spoke softly. "Were you with him then, Mrs. Ames?"
The little woman looked at Pen with her far-seeing eyes. "Oh, yes, I don't know that Oscar remembers, but we were married in York State. I was a school teacher."
After the little laugh Pen asked, "Do you like the desert farming?"
"I never did get through being homesick," answered Mrs. Ames. "My first two babies died there in that first little adobe. I was all alone with them and the heat and the work."
"Jane, you let me talk," interrupted Oscar briskly. "We both worked. The worst of everything was the uncertainty about water. Us farmers built the dam that laid sixty miles below here. Just where government diversion dam is now. But we never knew when the spring floods came whether we'd have water that year or not. More and more people took up land and tapped the river and the main canal. Gosh! It got fierce. Old friends would accuse each other of stealing each other's water. Then we had a series of dry years. No rain or snow in the mountains. And green things died and shriveled, aborning: The desert was dotted with dead cattle. Three years we watched our crops die and——"
Mrs. Ames suddenly interrupted. There was a dull red in her brown cheeks. "I wanted to go home the third year of the drought. All I had to show for fifteen years in the desert was two dead babies. I wanted to go home."
"And I says to her," said Ames, "I said 'For God's sake, Jane, where is home if it isn't here? I can't expect you to feel like I do about this ranch for you've stuck to the house. I know every inch of this ranch. Ain't I fought for every acre of it, cactus and sand storm and water famine? Ain't I sweat blood over every acre? Ain't I given the best years of my life to it? And you say, 'Let's give it up! It ain't home!' I certainly was surprised at Jane."
"I have worked too," said Jane Ames, gently, to Penelope. "I'd had no help and had cooked for half a dozen men and—and—then the babies! Having four babies is not play, you know!"
"Oh, I know!" exclaimed Amos impatiently. "You worked. That was why I was so surprised at you wanting to let everything go. But you hadn't made things grow like I had. I suppose that's why you felt different. That winter the snows was heavy in the mountains and we were tickled at the thought of high water in the spring. We all got out in May to strengthen the dam, hauling brush and stone. But the water rose like the very devil. We divided into night and day shifts, then we worked all the time. But it was no use. The whole darned thing went out like Niagara. Forty-three hours at a stretch I worked and the dam went out! And the next year the same. Then it was that we began to ask for the Reclamation Service."
Pen drew a long breath and looked from Ames' strong tanned face out at the breathless wonder of the landscape. Far beyond the brooding bronze Elephant lay the chaos of the desert, yellow melting into purple and purple into the faint peaks of the mountains.
"What I can't understand, Ames," said Jim slowly, "after all this, is why you roast the Service so."
Ames flushed. "Because," he shouted, "you are so damned pig-headed! You aren't building the dam for us farmers. You are building it for the glory of your own reputation as an engineer."
There was a moment's silence in the tent house.
THE END OF IRON SKULL'S ROAD
"The Indians know that the spirit blends with the Greater Spirit, and I myself have seen every atom that was mortal lift again and again to new life, out of the desert's atom drift."
MUSINGS OF THE ELEPHANT.
Jim shrugged his shoulders. Sara's eyes narrowed as he half smiled to himself.
"For instance," Ames went on, "what are you making the third canal so big for? We don't need it that size. You're wasting time and our money. We've got to pay for the project, us farmers. You don't take any interest in that fact though."
"You don't need a canal that big, but your children will," said Jim. "I'm building this dam for the future. You farmers never built for anything but the present. That's why your dams went and the water wars were on. But you can't teach a farmer anything."
Jim spoke with a cold contempt that startled Penelope. Ames' kindly eyes were blazing.
"No, but maybe us farmers can teach an engineer something. And I don't know a better talking point for starting an investigation than the way you let the flood rip everything to pieces."
"Which portion of your land is for sale, Mr. Ames?" asked Pen. "My husband has a map of the valley over there."
Jim rose and took up his pony's reins. "I'm sorry anything unpleasant came up, Pen. But you'll find out I'm a fool and a crook some time, so it might as well be now. I must get back." He smiled, lifted his hat and rode off. The four in the tent stared after him.
"He always seems so kind of alone," said Mrs. Ames. "They say his men will do anything for him and yet he always seems kind of lonely. I don't seem to hate him the way the rest of the valley does. He's so young, he don't know how to be patient yet."
"Oh, they don't hate him, do they!" protested Pen.
"You bet!" answered Ames succinctly. Then he added: "You'll have to excuse me saying that. I forgot you was his friend. But this here valley is like my child to me. I'm fighting for her."
"We want to know the truth about him," said Sara. "Are you really trying to get rid of him?"
Ames nodded and picked up the map. "I don't think he's crooked, like some do. I just think he's too young and pig-headed for the job."
"How do you know he's not crooked?" asked Sara.
Pen drew a startled breath. Ames looked at Sara curiously. "I thought you was his friend."
"He's my wife's friend," replied Sara. "You know what the Congressional committee reported about him."
"Sara!" cried Pen. "You know Jim couldn't do a crooked thing to save his life!"
Sara's black eyes blazed dangerously. Mrs. Ames stirred uncomfortably and Pen rose. "Let's leave the men to their land sales and go out where we can get a view of the camp, Mrs. Ames," she said.
The two women walked slowly out to the mountain edge and settled themselves on a rock.
"I'm sorry anything unpleasant occurred," said Pen.
"Don't you let it worry you," replied Mrs. Ames. "I'm used to it. Ever since the dam was started, Oscar has been like an old maid with an adopted baby."
"I'm so sorry Jim has made himself unpopular here," said Pen. "He and I were brought up by my uncle who married Jim's mother. And Jim is fine. The Lord made Jim and then broke the mold. There's no one like him; no one cleaner and truer——"
Mrs. Ames looked at Pen thoughtfully. Then she patted the girl's hand.
"Don't you worry about him. He's got lots to learn but the Lord don't waste stuff like him. I would be perfectly happy if my boy turned out like him."
Pen smiled a little uncertainly. "We who know him so well are foolish about Jim. Tell me about your children."
"I have two left," replied Mrs. Ames. "They're at school in Cabillo. I was bound they should have their chance. I'd like to ask you something. Have you got a pattern for the waist you've got on? I'd like to make one for my Mary. Though I don't know! My hands are so rough I can't handle embroidery silks very good."
She held up two work distorted hands. "I made this blouse myself," said Pen. "I'd love to make one for your Mary. Time will hang on my hands out here, some days."
"That's nice of you," said the little desert woman, taking the gift as simply as it was offered. "You tell me what materials to get. I guess I can find some way to pay you up."
"Come to see me, or let me come to see you," exclaimed Pen. "That will be pay enough. I have few friends, for my husband doesn't like them. But I can see that he has taken a liking to you two."
"The minute I saw you, I knew something pleasant had happened to me," said Jane Ames. "You don't mind having an old woman for an admirer, do you?"
Pen's dimples showed. "The more I see of men, Mrs. Ames, the better I like women."
Jane Ames nodded understandingly. "The women I know all have got it hard one way or another but I guess desert farming ain't the worst thing that can happen to a woman. Here comes Oscar. I suppose he's mad because I ain't down at the buckboard counting the minutes till he gets to me. Good-by, my dear! I'll see you soon."
Pen did not return to the tent house at once. She saw Iron Skull up on the mountainside watching a group of Indians break out the first line of a road and she strolled over to talk to him. Jim's letters home had been full of Iron Skull and Pen felt as if she knew him well.
"How do, Mrs. Saradokis?" said Williams.
"Are they all Indians?" asked Pen staring round-eyed at the group of workmen.
Iron Skull nodded. "Jicarilla and Mohave Apaches. I've fought with the older men. They make good workmen if you understand them. Old Suma-theek over there is one of my best friends."
There might have been fifty of the Indians, stalwart fellows, using pick and shovel with a deliberate grace that fascinated Pen. She watched in silence for a moment, then she said:
"Mr. Williams. I'm worried about Jim. Is it really true that they are trying to oust him?"
Iron Skull looked at Pen's anxious hazel eyes, then out at the ranges. Then he scratched his head.
"I'm a little worried myself, Mrs. Saradokis. He's up against a bad proposition and he just won't admit it. I don't like to nag him. You see, him and me are just naturally partners though I am old enough to be his father. And there's some ways a man can't nag another man."
"Do you think I could help him?" asked Pen. "He and I've always been good friends."
Williams hesitated, then he spoke with a sudden deep earnestness that surprised Pen: "If you don't help him, things will be bad for Boss Still. And you're the only person I know of that could influence him."
He paused as he saw Pen flush painfully, then he went on a little awkwardly: "Maybe you'll understand me better if—if I tell you I was with Boss Still when a—Mr. Dennis wrote about your marriage. I know about how he felt and all and I sort of look on your coming at this particular time as a kind of a godsend.
"Now I'm going to tell you some things confidential and leave it to your judgment how to act. Boss Still, he sort of worshiped Freet. You know who he is?"
Pen nodded. Williams went on. "Freet, as I size it up, wanted to break a smart cub in to be a kind of cat's paw for him in selling water power to the right folks and running the canals right. It's darn seldom you meet a good engineer that's money hungry. But Freet is. He's a miser in a way. But up on the Makon, he found out the Boss is as innocent as a baby of graft and more'n that he had his head in the clouds so's there was mighty little hope of his coming down to earth. So Freet got him sent down here.
"Well, the time's coming down here when there'll be a nice lot of water power. It belongs to the farmers after they pay for the dam, but the idea is for the engineer in charge to show 'em where to sell it to best advantage. If the engineer here ain't the right kind, the Water Power trust can make him trouble. All sorts of ways, you see. Getting the farmers sore at him is one. See?"
Pen nodded again, her eyes wide and startled. "Now," said Iron Skull, "don't be offended, but I'm wondering about your husband. I know Freet knows him and if it should just happen that your husband had any old scores to settle with the Boss——"
He paused and Pen exclaimed: "I believe we'd better go right back to New York, though as far as I know we're out here just for Sara's health and for him to buy up some land Mr. Freet knew about."
"Now don't get excited," said Williams. "Remember this here is all speculation on my part. You stay right here. If it wasn't your husband, it would be someone else and I'd rather it would be someone that has you to watch 'em! And that ain't the most important part of your job, either. Mrs. Saradokis, somehow the Boss ain't getting the grip on things he'd ought to. I don't mean in engineering. He just can't be beat at that. I don't know just what it is, but he's a big enough man to have this valley in the hollow of his hand. And he ain't. I want you to help me find out why and then make him get away with it. This little old United States needs men of his blood and kind of mind. I've fell down on my job. Don't you let him fall down on his. It's the one way you can pay up for—for the other thing you took out of his life."
Pen stood with tear-blinded eyes and trembling lips. Iron Skull cleared his throat: "I hope you don't mind my butting in this-a-way!"
Pen shook her head. "I'll do my best," she said. "Only I'm pretty small for the job."
"Here he comes now," said Williams.
Jim rode up and dismounted. "Hello, Pen! What do you think of my roads? I'm crowding as many men onto the roads as I can until the water goes down. Idleness is bad for them. You see, in spite of electric lights and a water system we're a long way from civilization and it gets on the men's nerves unless we keep 'em busy. I'm going to start a moving picture show in the lower camp. The official photographer will run it for us. Just the usual five-cent movies, you know. Anything above running expenses will go toward the farmers' debt."
Iron Skull moved away to speak to Suma-theek. Jim went on slowly: "You can see what I'm up against in Ames. Any day I may get a recall. Every farmer on the project hates me for some reason or other. I tell you, Pen, if they don't let me finish my dam and the roads to and from it, it will ruin my life."
Pen's tender eyes studied Jim's face. Long and thin, with its dreamer's forehead and its steel jaw, it was the same dear face that Penelope had carried in her heart since that spring day long ago when a long-legged freshman had said to her, "I'm glad you came. I'm going to think a lot of you. I can see that."
"You know, Jim," she said, "that your mother and Uncle Denny always shared your letters with me?"
Jim nodded. "I wrote them for that."
"And so I really know a good deal about your work. Uncle Denny and I studied the maps and the government reports and then he actually saw the dams, you know, and would tell me all the details. Honestly, we'd qualify as experts in any court! And if you'll just let me share your worries while I'm out here, I shall be prouder even than Uncle Denny after you've asked his advice. And won't I crow over him after I get back to New York!"
A glow came to Jim's eyes that had not been there for years. "Gee, Pen! You tempt me! But I'm not going to load you up with my troubles. You have enough with Sara. Perhaps Sara will shoot Ames for me! Sara looks like a sure-enough gunman, now. How he has changed, Pen!"
"If only you could have forgiven him enough to have written him once in a while, Jim. After all he's been more than punished, even for the Marathon matter or for that crazy romance about the ducal inheritance. I realized, Jim, after I had married him, that Sara was quite capable of the Marathon incident. Yet I wish you had forgiven him!"
"The Marathon, Pen!" cried Jim. "For heaven's sake, don't suppose that was why I didn't write to Sara! It's the dirty trick he did in marrying you that I'll never get over!"
"Oh, but that's not fair!" returned Pen. "He—well, anyway, he's a cripple now and needs your help."
"I—help Sara!" exclaimed Jim. "Why I simply don't know he's living! It's my turn now. Sara has had his innings. Desert methods are perfectly simple and direct and I'm a desert man. You are here with me, Penelope, and you are going to stay with me."
Iron Skull was coming back. Pen laughed. "You and Sara ought to write movie dramas, Jim." Then she sobered. "Don't misunderstand my coming to the dam, Jimmy. I've learned a good many things since you left me in New York. One thing is that we can't cut our lives loose from other lives and be a law to ourselves. Another is that any responsibility we take up voluntarily ought to be carried to the end."
Jim looked at Pen curiously and his jaw set. She was several years younger than Jim, yet something had come to her in the years just past that made him in some ways feel immature. But Jim had not hungered and thirsted for eight years in starry solitudes with one memory and one dream to keep his heart alive, to relinquish the dream without a fight.
"Penelope," he said, "you don't know me."
Pen smiled. "I know you to the last hair in that brown thatch of yours, Still Jim." Then she turned to Iron Skull, who was eager to have her talk to old Suma-theek.
For some days Jim had no opportunity to continue Pen's education with himself as textbook. He was engrossed in watching and tending the flood. Old Jezebel enjoyed herself thoroughly for a week. She fought and scratched at the mountainsides, but save the chafing of purple lava dust from their sides she made no impression on their imperturbability. She ripped down the last pouring, contemptuously leaving tons of rock and concrete at the foot of the concrete section. She roared and howled and shook the good earth with the noise of a railway train tearing through a tunnel. And Jim laughed.
"If it wasn't for you, old girl," he told her one afternoon, "I'd go crazy with the flea bitings of the Enemy. But you, bless your wicked soul, are an honest part of the game. I was bred from the beginning to fight floods. You attack in the open, like an honest vixen. Wait till I get my clutches on you again."
As Jim finished this soliloquy with considerable satisfaction to himself, Iron Skull came up and laid a newspaper on his saddle horn.
"The newspapers are roasting you, Boss Still."
"What do they say this time, Iron Skull?" Jim did not offer to lift the paper.
"You are inefficient. A friend of Freet's. They don't say you caused high water but they insinuate you suggested it to the weather man. You'd ought to tell the Secretary of the Interior the whole truth about the Makon, Boss Still."
"I can't do that, Iron Skull. I'm no squealer."
"I know. And I've always advised you to keep your mouth shut. But write to the editor of this paper, Boss."
Jim did not reply at once. The two were on the mountainside, not a great distance from Pen's house past which the new road was to run. The Indians were making ready for the sunset blasts. Above the distant roar of old Jezebel, old Suma-theek's foreman's whistle sounded clear and sweet as he signaled his men.
This was Geronimo's country, the land of the greatest of the Apache fighters. All about were the trails he and his people had made. Yonder to the north, across a harsh peak, was Geronimo's own pass. And now the last of Geronimo's race was building new trails for a new people.
The naked beauty of the brown and lavender ranges, the wholesome tang of the thin air, the far sweep of the afternoon sky, seemed suddenly remote to Jim.
"It's bigger than any editor," he said. "I don't know what is the matter. My only hope is that I can finish my dam before they get me."
"You've got to fight back, now," persisted Iron Skull.
"It's not my business to fight for permission to build this project!" cried Jim. "I was hired to build it! I was hired to fight old Jezebel and not the farmers!"
The little superintendent laid a knotted hand on Jim's knee. "You must take my advice in this, partner. I'm an old man and I'm likely to go any time. I'd like to feel that I'd helped you into a big success. It's the only record I'll leave behind me except a few dead Injuns. We both come of good old New England stock and we've got to show the old fighting blood ain't dead yet. I want to tell you—Hi! Suma-theek! Jump! Jump!"
Suma-theek was standing close to the mountain side out of which a blast had cut a great slice of rock. Up above his head some loosened stone was slipping down the mountain. As he called and before either Jim or the Indian saw the impending danger, Iron Skull dashed across the road and shoved Suma-theek out of the danger line. But he miscalculated his own agility. The rapidly-sliding rock caught him on the head and he who had shed Indian bullets like raindrops went down like a pinon, smitten by lightning.
For one breath there was an appalling silence on the mountainside. The Apaches stood like a group of bronzes. The eagle who lived on the Elephant's side hung motionless high above the road. A cotton-tail sat with quivering nose and inquiring ears above the rift of the slide.
Then, with a shout, Jim flung himself from his horse and thrust the reins into an Indian's hands.
"Ride for the doctor!" and the Indian was off like a racing shadow.
At Jim's call, old Suma-theek gave a great groan and ran to lift Iron Skull's head. The Indians gathered about in wonder as Jim knelt beside his friend. For Iron Skull was dead.
Penelope ran out of the tent house at Jim's shout and made her way among the Indians to Jim's side.
"O Jim!" she cried. "O Jim! O Jim!" Then she dropped down and lifted the quiet face into her lap and wiped the blood from it and fell to sobbing over it. "Oh, what a useless death!" she sobbed. "What a useless death!"
Jim held his dead friend's hand close in his own. Through his tear-blinded eyes he saw a golden August field and felt other fingers clinging to his own.
The doctor, driving the mule ambulance, dashed up the half-made road. He looked Iron Skull over, and shook his head. "Get the stretcher out," he said to Jim.
Four Indians lifted the stretcher with Iron Skull on it, but when they would have put it in the ambulance, old Suma-theek stepped forward. He was taller even than Jim. His face was lean and wrinkled. His eyes were deep-set and tragic. He wore a twist of red cloth filet-wise around his head.
"He die for Injun. Let Injun carry 'em home," said the old Apache. "He heap good fighter. He speak truth. He keep word. He a big chief. He die for Apache. Let Apache carry 'em home."
The doctor looked inquiringly at Jim who nodded.
"I'll go on down to his house and get things ready for him," said the doctor and he drove off.
Jim and Penelope stood back. The four Indians bearing the stretcher followed after Suma-theek and in a long single line the remaining Apaches followed, joining Suma-theek in the death chant which is the very soul cry of the desolate:
"Ai! Ai! Ai! Beloved! "Ai! Ai! Ai! Beloved!"
Down the winding road in a world all liquid gold from the setting sun, past the great shadow of the brooding elephant, past the cable towers and the engine house where the workmen stared, motionless and aghast, into the twilight of the valley where the electric lights flared, the chanting Indians carried the old shedder of bullets and laid him on his bed.
The camp was very silent that night. The Mexicans had feared and respected the little Superintendent. They had shared with the Indians the belief that the Little Boss could not be killed. The remains of the old Makon Pack were openly grief-stricken and told half-whispered stories of Iron Skull's prowess in the old days of tunnel building. The camp was smitten with awe at this sudden withdrawal. Sudden death was the rule on the Projects, yet it always left the camp breathless with surprise. The little community of twelve hundred souls, so isolated, so close to the primeval despite its electric lights, suddenly felt utterly alone and helpless.
Close after eight o'clock Jim dashed out of his house as if a voice had called him. He dropped down the steep trail to the canyon, crossed the canyon and took the steep trail up the Elephant's side. It was a sharp lift but Jim's long legs took it easily. When he reached the Elephant's top he crossed the broad back to a heap of bowlders and threw himself down in their shelter.
It was a moonlit night. Silver lay the desert with the black scratch of old Jezebel across it and the ragged purple shadows of the ranges to the east. Jim sat, chin in palm, elbow on knee, eyes wide on the soft wonder of the night. It always seemed to him that the desert night freed him of time and space and set him close to the Master Dream. He had learned to take his grief and his despairs to the desert mountain tops.
He had sat for an hour going over his life and his friendship with Iron Skull when a quick step sounded on the Elephant's back and Penelope swung past him out to the edge of the crater that formed the Elephant's east side. She stood there, her gray suit fluttering in the night wind, looking far and wide as if the view were new to her. Then she sat down on the ground, clasped her arms across her knees and bowed her head upon them. There was so much despair in the gesture that Jim could not bear the sight of it.
THE ELEPHANT'S BACK
"All living things have a universal hunger—to live again. The hunger for descendants is the same hunger."
MUSINGS OF THE ELEPHANT.
"Penelope!" Jim called softly.
Pen raised her head as if she were dreaming.
"Pen!" repeated Jim, rising and walking slowly toward her. "Don't sit so near the edge."
"You can see the eagle's nest from here," said Pen, pointing down the crater wall. "What brought you up here, Still?"
"The Elephant is an old friend of mine, particularly when I'm broken up as I am tonight," replied Jim, taking Pen's hand and leading her back to his own place which was sheltered from the wind. "What brought you here? And how about Sara?"
"Sara took some morphine tonight. He will be motionless until morning. Ever since the new moon came, I've been promising myself a trip up here."
"So Sara adds dope to his other accomplishments!" commented Jim.
"He suffers so from insomnia, I don't blame him," answered Pen. "He has pain practically all of the time. I think he gradually grows worse. Poor Sara! He said tonight he hated the sight of even a dog that can use its own legs. Don't be too hard on him, Jim."
"I can't help being hard on him when I see how he treats you, the cad!" said Jim.
"He can't hurt me," said Pen. "I'm too sorry for him. Though I'll admit that I never knew what it was to lose control of my temper until after I was married. Still, where will they bury Iron Skull?"
"We have a little graveyard high on the mesa-top, yonder. He had not a relative in the world. He was of good old New England stock. He was trying to tell me something about his feeling for the Dam because of that when he was killed."
Jim was speaking a little brokenly and Pen laid her hand on his arm.
"The big dangers on the dam, we try to guard against. We can't even foresee a thing like Iron Skull's sacrifice. But I know he would have liked to have gone giving his life for someone he loved the way he did old Suma-theek. Sometimes I think there ought to be listed on a bronze tablet on the wall of each great structure the names of those who died in giving it birth. The big structures all are consecrated in blood. Skyscrapers, bridges, and dams all demand their human sacrifices. Thirty men went on the Makon. We've lost eight here so far."
"Sara was frightfully upset," said Pen. "That's why he took the morphine. Any thought of death makes him hysterical. The chant set him to swearing frightfully. Jim, I'd give anything to be able to set Sara right with himself."
"Pen, why did Sara come down here?" asked Jim abruptly.
Penelope hesitated. She did not want to voice Iron Skull's suspicions until she had verified them. "I don't know, Jim," she said finally. "I thought it was for his health and land, but I feel uneasy since I see his attitude toward you."
"If he has an idea of speculating in real estate, I'll have to head him off," said Jim. "Land speculation hurts the projects very seriously."
"What harm does it do?" asked Pen.
"Inflates land values so that farming doesn't pay with the already heavy building charges for the dam."
"Oh, I see!" mused Pen. "I'll talk to Sara about it."
"Don't say a word to him. I can fight my own battles with Sara. Penelope, what were you thinking about when you sat over there at the crater edge with your head on your arms?"
In the moonlight a slow red stained Pen's face. Jim watched her with puzzled eyes.
"I—I can't tell you all I was thinking," she said. "But some of it was because of Iron Skull. I was thinking how awful it will be for us to die, you and Sara and me, leaving not a human being behind us, just as Iron Skull did."
"Most of us New Englanders are going that way," said Jim. "We Americans have so steadily decreased our birth rate in the past hundred years that we are nearly seven million babies below normal. South European children will take their places."
"Well, I don't know that it will hurt America in the long run," said Pen.
"I think it will," insisted Jim. "This country is governed by institutions that are inherently Teutonic. The people who will inherit these institutions are fundamentally different in their conceptions of government and education. I'm a New Englander, descendant of the Anglo-Saxon founders of the country. I can't see my race and its ideal passing without its breaking my heart."
"Why do you pass?" asked Pen sharply. "Why don't you brace up?"
"We don't know how," said Jim.
"I wonder if that's true," murmured Pen, "and if it is true, why!"
Silence fell between the two. The night wind sighed softly over the Elephant's broad back. The eagle, disturbed by the voices above his nest, soared suddenly from the crater, dipped across the canyon, and circled the flag that was seldom lowered before the office. The flag fluttered remotely in the moonlight.
"Look, Jim," whispered Pen, "the eagle and the flag so young and the Elephant so old and poor Iron Skull lying there dead! I wish I could make a legend from it. The material is there.... Oh, Sara said such horrible things tonight!"
Penelope shivered. Jim jumped up and held out his hand. "Come, little Pen! I'm going to take you home. How cold your fingers are!"
Jim kept Pen's cold little hand warm within his own whenever the trail permitted on the way back. But he scarcely spoke again.
The next day Iron Skull's funeral was held in the little adobe chapel which was filled to overflowing. A great crowd of workmen, Americans, Mexicans and Indians, gathered outside. At Suma-theek's earnest petition, Jim allowed the Indians to carry the coffin on their shoulders up the trail behind the lower town to the mesa crest where the little graveyard lay. And Jim also gave Suma-theek permission to make a farewell speech when the grave had been filled. The missionary had protested but Jim was obdurate.
"Suma-theek owes his life to Iron Skull. I shall let him do his uttermost to show his gratitude. He is a fine old man, as fine in the eyes of God, no doubt, as you or I, Mr. Smiley."
So as the last of the sand and gravel was being shoveled into the grave, the old Apache stepped forward and raised his lean brown hand.
"My blood brother," he said, "he lies in this grave. If he have squaw or childs, old Suma-theek, he go give life for them. Iron Skull he no have anyone left on this earth who carry his blood. He gone! He leave no mark but in my heart. Injun and white they come like pile of sand desert wind drifts up. They go like pile of sand desert wind blows down. Great Spirit, He say, 'Only one strength for mens; that the strength of many childs, Injuns, they no have many childs. They die. Mexicans they have many childs, they live. Niggers, they have many. They live. Whites they no have many childs. Come some day like Injuns, like Iron Skull, they see on all of earth, no blood like theirs. They lay them down to die alone. Old Iron Skull, he a real man. He fight much. He work hard. He keep word. He die for friend. Maybe when Great Spirit look down at Iron Skull, it make Him love Iron Skull to know old Injun carry Iron Skull's mark in his lonely heart. O friends, I know him many, many years! We smoke many pipes together. We hunt together. We sabez each other's hearts. Ai! Ai! Ai! Beloved!"
And old Suma-theek broke down and cried like a child.
The crowd dispersed silently. The rising night wind began its task of sifting sand across Iron Skull's grave. Coyotes howled far on the mountain tops. And the night shift began to repair the cofferdam for old Jezebel had dropped suddenly back into her old trail.
A day or so after the funeral Sara said to Penelope, "When are you going down to see Mrs. Ames?"
"What makes you so friendly to the Ames family?" Pen asked in surprise.
"Ames may be useful to me," replied Sara. "I want you to cultivate him."
"I'll not do it for any such reason," said Pen quickly. "I like Mrs. Ames and I plan to see a great deal of her. But I'll not play cat's paw for you. What are you up to, Sara?"
"None of your business," said Sara.
Pen flushed, but fell back on the whimsical manner that was her defense against Sara's ill-nature.
"It's your subtlety that fascinates me, Sara. Did you ever try a steam roller?"
Sara scowled: "Of course, I suppose it's too much to ask you to take an interest in my business affairs. If I were a well man, I might hope to make an impression on you."
"By the way, Sara," said Pen, "land speculation hurts these Projects. I don't think you ought to try to make money that way. Of course, if Mr. Ames wants to sell you some land, I suppose I can't keep you from buying, but Jim says that, coupled with the heavy building charges, inflated land values are doing the Service a lot of harm."
Pen watched Sara closely. Sara when calm was close-mouthed. Sara when angry was apt to talk! His face flushed quickly.
"Jim! Jim!" he sneered. "I heard it all the time in New York and now I'm getting it here. Oh, wait and see, the two of you!"
For the first time since the first years of bitter adjustment, Pen showed fire. She crossed the room and stood over Sara's couch, her cheeks scarlet, her hazel eyes deep with some suppressed fire.
"Do you think I fear you, with your vile tongue and your yellow heart, George Saradokis? There is neither fear nor love nor hope nor regret left in my heart! It long ago learned that marriage is a travesty and our marriage a nightmare. Do you think your impudence or your threats hurt me any more? You waste your breath if you do. You and I have made a hopeless mess of our lives. Jim is doing a big work. If I find you are laying a straw in his way, I'll—I'll shove you, couch and all, over the canyon edge."
Sara suddenly laughed. Even as she uttered her threat Pen was mechanically straightening his pillow!
"Look here, Pen," he said, "I know I'm a devil! The pain and the awful failure of my life make me that. But I'll try to be more decent. For the Lord's sake, Pen, don't you go back on me or I'll take an overdose of morphine. I do want to make some money and any land deal that Ames and I put through, I'll let Jim pass on. Does that satisfy you?"
It was not often that Sara tried to wheedle Pen. She looked at him suspiciously but nodded carelessly.
"All right! If Jim sees it I'll consent. If you get any honest enjoyment out of Mr. Ames, I'll get him up here often. Mrs. Ames is a dear."
"You are a good old sort, Pen," returned Sara. "Why can't you go down tomorrow? Mrs. Flynn would look out for me, I guess. They say that fellow Bill Evans will ride people anywhere in his machine."
"I'll go over and see Mrs. Flynn now," said Pen. She was really eager for a visit with Jane Ames. She wondered if Iron Skull might not have been over-suspicious regarding Sara's purposes. Sara had an unquenchable itch for money-making. During all his long illness he had never ceased, with his father's help, to trade in real estate. Pen suspected that the savings of many Greek immigrants were absorbed in Sara's and his father's schemes, none too honestly.
"Perhaps," said Pen, as she pinned on her hat, "Jim would take me down. Doesn't it seem natural though to have Jim doing things for me again!"
Some note in Pen's voice brought Sara to his elbow.
"Pen!" he shouted. "I've long suspected it. Are you in love with Jim Manning?"
THE HEART OF A DESERT WIFE
"The squaws who come at times to crouch upon my back have the slow listening patience of the rabbits."
MUSINGS OF THE ELEPHANT.
Pen paused, eyes angry, mouth disgusted: "You are the last person I'd ever tell, Sara, if I were. Don't add idiocy to your other accomplishments."
Sara's black eyes continued to glare for a moment. Then for the second time he astonished Penelope by laughing. He dropped back on his pillow.
"Pen! Pen! a lawyer could have given no better answer than that! I'm not worrying, Pen. You've stuck by me all these years. I know I'm safe to the end."
Penelope's scorn changed to pity. "I've been horrid today. You will have to forgive me, Sara. You must remember that you are no mild June day to live with!"
Sara gave a short nod. "Give me my pipe, Pen, and then jolly Mrs. Flynn up."
Mrs. Flynn, whose curiosity was only equaled by her kindness of heart, was only too willing to take care of Sara. Had a caged South African lion been placed in her care she would have had the same thrill at the thought of caring for it as at watching Sara. Great stories of Sara's marvelous temper had gone about the camp. Any extra steps he caused Mrs. Flynn she felt would be more than compensated for in the delectable gossip she would pick.
Pen did not ask Jim to take her down to the Ames place. She arranged to go down with Bill Evans, who kept a hog ranch near the dam. Bill fed his hogs on the camp table scrapings and filled in odd moments "renting out" his automobile. This was a sad-looking vehicle of an early vintage, held together by binding wire and bits of sheet iron. But Bill got twenty miles an hour out of the machine and took better care of it than he did of his wife.
The Ames ranch lay in the desert valley below the dam. Two hours after they left the dam, Bill drew up before the Ames door with a rattle and a series of staccato explosions that would have done credit to an approaching army.
The trip down had been a noisy rush through multicolored ranges out onto a desert floor of brilliant yellow dotted with giant cactus, that austere sentinel of the desolate plains. Long before they left the mountain road Bill pointed out to Penelope the green spot in the desert that was the Ames ranch. The road, leaving the desert, ran along an irrigating ditch fringed with cotton woods. Beyond the road lay acre after acre of alfalfa, its peculiar living green melting far beyond in the shimmering of olive orchard and orange grove.
The ranch house was of yellow gray adobe, long and low, with a red roof. Oscar had made no attempt at beauty when he had added, year after year, room on room to the original box he had built for Jane. But he unknowingly had kept close to real art. He had built of the material of the country in the manner best suited to the exigencies of the country. The result, consequently, was satisfying to eye and taste.
The walls of a desert house must be thick, for coolness. The lines of the house must be broad and low and strong, to withstand the fearful winds of late winter and early spring. The Ames house lay comfortably on the desert as if it had grown up out of the sand and proposed to live forever. It was as natural a part of the landscape as the sentinel cactus.
Jane Ames, in a blue gingham dress, was standing in the door. She waved both hands as she recognized Pen. When the machine stopped she took Pen's bag.
"Of course I knew it was Bill's machine half an hour ago, but I didn't know my luck had changed enough to bring you."
"I can stay over night," said Pen, like a child out of school.
"Come straight into the parlor bedroom," said Jane. "Bill, you'll find Oscar in the lower corral."
Pen followed into the house. Jane led her through a vista of rooms into the parlor, which was furnished with a complete "near" mahogany set in green velvet. The parlor bedroom was furnished to match. Jane always showed the people whose opinion she valued her parlor first that the edge might be taken off the living room. After Pen had taken off her hat, she followed her hostess kitchenward.
The living room was big and square, the original house. It contained a wide adobe fireplace and its windows opened toward the orange grove. It was furnished with tables and chairs that Mrs. Ames had bought from an old mission in the neighborhood. They were hand-hewn and black with age. The Navajo floor rugs were soft and well worn. Jane apologized for the room, saying she left it old and ugly for the hired men and the children, then she established Pen in a rocking chair in the kitchen.
The kitchen was a model of convenience, boasting running water as well as a kitchen cabinet and a gasoline range.
"It took me just five years to raise enough chickens and eggs to buy the cabinet and the range," said Jane, taking a peep at the bread in the oven. "I begged and begged Oscar to get me things to work with every time he sent to the mail-order house to get farm machinery. But he'd just grunt. Finally I got mad. He had running water put in the barn and wouldn't send it on up to the house. He went to San Francisco that fall and I had men out here and put water in the kitchen. When he got back the bill was waiting for him and he was ashamed to complain. It isn't that men are so bad. It's just because they haven't any idea what real work housework is. How is your husband?"
"About as usual," replied Pen.
Jane Ames looked out the door, then back at Pen. "Are you ever sorry you got married?"
Pen looked a little startled, but after a moment she answered, "I used to be."
"You mean you aren't now?" asked Jane.
"I mean I'm glad I've got the things marriage has brought me."
Jane's eyes lighted. She sat down opposite Pen. "I'm just starved for a talk with some woman who isn't afraid to say what she really thinks about this marriage business. What have you got out of being married to a cripple?"
Pen chuckled. "Well, I'm really a first-class nurse, and like Bismarck, I can keep my mouth shut in seven different languages."
"Isn't that so!" exclaimed Jane. "Oscar insists on doing all the talking for us and I let him. Some day if I ever find anything worth saying, though, I'll surprise him. I'm in the 'What's the use?' stage right now. Men are awful hard to live with."
"Almost as hard as women!" said Pen. "We're all so silly about it. We expect marriage to bring us happiness with no effort on our own parts, just as if the only aim of getting married were to be happy."
"Mercy sakes!" exclaimed Jane. She sat forward on the edge of the chair. "Go on! Don't stop. I knew the minute I saw you that talking to you would beat writing to the advice column of a woman's magazine. What is it we marry for, anyhow?"
Pen laughed. "Well, when we don't marry to be happy, we marry out of curiosity. It's funny when you think of it. Two people with nothing in common have a period of insanity during which they tie themselves together in a hard knot which they can't undo and then they must feed on each other for the rest of their lives."
Jane gasped a little. "You—you aren't bitter, are you, Mrs. Penelope? I can't say your other name easy. You believe there are some happy marriages, don't you?"
Pen shrugged her shoulders. "No, I'm not bitter. I've just lost my illusions. I don't happen to know of any marriages so happy that they would tempt me to marry again."
"I feel kind of wicked talking this way," said Jane. "But," recklessly, "you've seen the world and I haven't. And it's my chance to learn real life. You don't mean people ought not to marry, do you?" This in a half-whisper of utter demoralization.
"Oh, no! Marriage is the best means we've found for perpetuating and improving the race. It's a duty we owe society, to marry. I don't believe much in divorce either. Except for unfaithfulness. Unless the average lot of us are true to the marriage ideal the whole institution will be tainted. I guess the safety of society lies in each of us looking at ourselves as average and not exceptional persons. Then we stick to the conventions. And the conventions weren't foisted on society from above. They were sweated out from beneath to satisfy; make it possible for us to endure each other."
Jane Ames threw up both her hands. "O my! You have been hurt or you'd never be so cold-blooded! I can't look at it as calmly as you do as if it all belonged to someone else. You never bore children to a man. You can't realize what selfishness and unkindness from the father of your children can mean. Do you know that I've borne two babies in this room—alone—not even a squaw to help me? And I've watched the desert through the door and I've cursed it for what it's made of my marriage!" Jane gave a short laugh and held up her knotted, rough hands. "I had dimples on my knuckles when I came to this country."
Pen looked out the door and tried to picture to herself this other woman's life.
"I—I guess my safety has lain in my getting an impersonal view of things," she said apologetically.
"There, the bread is burning!" exclaimed Jane.
Pen laughed reminiscently. "There's a verse that says:
"'Ice cream is very strange; so's a codfish ball, But the people people marry is the strangest thing of all!'"
"I guess you need me," said Jane, "as much as I need you. There comes Oscar and I haven't set the table."
Oscar was coming up the dooryard. He stepped a little high, in the gait of one accustomed to walking in shifting sands. He was big and upstanding, with a look of honesty that Pen liked.
No one who has not known a desert farmer can realize what his acres meant to Oscar Ames. The farmer of northern lands loves his acres. But he did not create them—he did not fight nature for them, until he had made himself over along with his land.
Nature fights inch by inch every effort of man to harness the desert to his uses. She scorches the soil with heat. She poisons it with alkali. She infests it with deadly vermin and—last and supreme touch of cruelty—she forbids the soil water unless she surrounds the getting of it with infinite travail and danger.
Heat and sandstorm, failure and famine, toil unutterable, these had been Oscar Ames' portion. When at last he had won his acres, had brought the barren sand to bearing, had made three hundred acres of desert a thing of breathing beauty from January to January, the ranch meant something to him that a northern farmer could not understand. And these three hundred acres were Oscar's world. He could not see beyond them. The dam was a mere adjunct to the Ames ranch. He would leave no stone unturned to see that it served his own ranch's needs as he saw them. If Sara saw this quality in Oscar and had any motive for playing on it, he could do infinite harm to Jim.
It was something of all this that Pen was thinking as Oscar crossed the yard. He came into the kitchen in a leisurely way and greeted Pen with the cordiality that belongs to the desert country. Penelope helped Jane to put the dinner on the table and the three sat down to eat.
The two were eager to hear details of Iron Skull's death, and after Pen had described it to them, Oscar began to talk about Sara.
"How long's your husband been bedridden?" he asked.
"Oscar!" exclaimed Jane.
"Jane, you keep quiet. What's the use of being secret about it? I guess both him and her know he's bedridden."
Pen told them the story of the accident.
"Isn't that fierce!" exclaimed Oscar. "He's the smartest young fellow I've met in years. I wish even now he was running the dam instead of Manning."
"Why?" asked Penelope.
"He'd build it for the farmer and have some business sense about it."
"You don't understand Mr. Manning," said Pen. "I wish you'd try to get to know him better."
Oscar grunted. "Does the doctors think your husband will get well?" he asked, finishing off his pie.
"Oscar!" cried Jane.
"Jane, you keep quiet. These are business questions. If Sardox and I are going to run this dam, we got to understand each other's limitations. I can't ask him if he's going to die."