Rimrock jones, p.14
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       Rimrock Jones, p.14

           Dane Coolidge
 
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  CHAPTER XIV

  RIMROCK EXPLAINS

  It had not taken long, after his triumphant homecoming, for Rimrock towreck his own happiness. That old rift between them, regarding thelaw, had been opened the very first day; and it was not a differencethat could be explained and adjusted, for neither would concede theywere wrong. As the daughter of a judge, conservatively brought up in acommunity where an outlaw was abhorred, Mary Fortune could no moreagree to his program than he could agree to hers. She respected thelaw and she turned to the law, instinctively, to right every wrong; buthe from sad experience knew what a broken reed it was, compared to hisgun and his good right hand. The return to Gunsight was a gloomyaffair, but nothing was said of the Old Juan. Abercrombie Jepsonguessed, and rightly, that his company was not desired; and they whohad set out with the joy of lovers rode back absent-minded anddistrait. But the question of the Old Juan was a vital problem,involving other interests beside theirs, and in the morning there was atelegram from Whitney H. Stoddard requesting that the matter be clearedup. Rimrock read it in the office where Mary sat at work and threw itcarelessly down on her desk.

  "Well, it's come to a showdown," he said as she glanced at it. "Thequestion is--who's running this mine?"

  "And the answer?" she enquired in that impersonal way she had; andRimrock started as he sensed the subtle challenge.

  "Why--we are!" he said bluffly. "You and me, of course. You wouldn'tquit me on a proposition like this?"

  "Yes, I think I would," she answered unhesitatingly. "I think Mr.Stoddard is right. That claim should be located in such a manner as toguarantee that it won't be jumped."

  "Uh! You think so, eh? Well, what do you know about it? Can't youtake my word for anything?"

  "Why, yes, I can. In most matters at the mine I think you're entitledto have your way. But if you elect me as a Director in this comingstockholders' meeting and this question comes before the Board, unlessyou can make me see it differently I'm likely to vote against you."

  Rimrock shoved his big hat to the back of his head and stood gazing ather fixedly.

  "Well, if that's the case," he suggested at last, and then stopped asshe caught his meaning.

  "Very well," she said, "it isn't too late. You can get you anotherdummy."

  "Will you vote for him?" demanded Rimrock, after an instant's thought,and she nodded her head in assent.

  "Well, dang my heart!" muttered Rimrock impatiently, pacing up and downthe room. "Here I frame it all up for us two to get together and runthe old Company right and the first thing comes up we split right thereand pull off a quarrel to boot. I don't like this, Mary; I want toagree with you; I want to get where we can understand. Now let meexplain to you why it is I'm holding out; and then you can have yousay-so, too. When I was in jail I sent for Juan Soto and it's true--hewas born in Mexico. But his parents, so he says, were born south ofTucson and that makes them American citizens. Now, according to theTreaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo if any citizen of Mexico moves to theUnited States, unless he moves back or gives notice within five yearsof his intention of returning to Mexico he becomes automatically anAmerican citizen. Do you get the idea? Even if Juan was born inMexico he's never considered himself a Mexican citizen. He moved backwith his folks when he was a little baby, took the oath when he came ofage and has been voting the Democratic ticket ever since. But here'sanother point--even if he is a Mexican, no private citizen can jump hisclaim. The Federal Government can, but I happen to know that noordinary citizen can take possession of a foreigner's claim. It's beendone, of course, but that lawyer I consulted told me it wasn'taccording to Hoyle. And here's another point--but what are youlaughing at? Ain't I laying the law down right?"

  "Why, yes, certainly," conceded Mary, "but with all this behind youwhat's the excuse for defying the law? Why don't you tell Mr. Jepson,or Mr. Stoddard, that the Old Juan is a perfectly good claim?"

  "I did!" defended Rimrock. "I told Jepson so yesterday. I used thosevery same words!"

  "Yes, but with another implication. You let it be understood that thereason it was good was that you were there, with your gun!"

  "Stop right there!" commanded Rimrock. "That's the last, ultimatereason that holds in a court of law! The code is nothing, the Federallaw is nothing, even treaties are nothing! The big thing that countsis--possession. Until that claim is recorded it's the only reason.The man that holds the ground, owns it. And that's why I say, and Istand pat on it yet, that my gun outweighs all the law!"

  "Well, I declare," gasped Mary, "you are certainly convincing! Whydidn't you tell _me_ about it yesterday?"

  "Well," began Rimrock, and then he hesitated, "I knew it would bringup--well, another matter, and I don't want to talk about that, yet."

  "Yes, I understand," said Mary very hastily, "but--why didn't you tellJepson this? I may do you an injustice but it seemed to me you wereseeking a quarrel. But if you had explained the case----"

  "What? To Stoddard's man? Why, you must think I'm crazy. Jepson hashired a lawyer and looked up that claim to the last infinitesimalhickey; he knows more about the Old Juan than I do. And speaking aboutquarrels, don't you know that fellow deliberately framed the wholething? He wanted to know just where I stood on the Old Juan--and hewanted to get me in bad with you."

  "With me?"

  "Yes, with you! Why, can't you see his game? If he can get you tothrow your vote against me he can knock me out of my control. Add yourstock to Stoddard's and it makes us fifty-fifty--a deadlock, withJepson in charge. And if he thought for a minute that I couldn't firehim he'd thumb his nose in my face."

  Mary smiled at this picture of primitive defiance in a battle ofgrown-up men and yet she saw dimly that Rimrock was right in hisestimate of Jepson's motives. Jepson did have a way that was subtlyprovocative and his little eyes were shifty, like a boxer's. As thetwo men faced each other she could feel the antagonism in every wordthat they said; and, looking at it as he did, it seemed increasinglyreasonable that Rimrock's way was the best. It was better just tofight back without showing his hand and let Jepson guess what he could.

  "But if we'd stand together--" she began at last and Rimrock's face litup.

  "That's it!" he said, leaping forward with his hand out, "will youshake on it? You know I'm all right!"

  "But not _always_ right," she answered smiling, and put her hand inhis. "But you're honest, anyway; and I like you for that. It'sagreed, then; we stand together!"

  "No-ow, that's the talk!" grinned Rimrock approvingly, "and besides, Ineed you, little Mary."

  He held on to her hand but she wrested it away and turned blushing toher work.

  "Don't be foolish!" she said, but her feelings were not hurt for shewas smiling again in a minute. "Don't you know," she confided, "I feelutterly helpless when it comes to this matter of the mine. Everythingabout it seems so absolutely preposterous that I'm glad I'm not goingto be a Director."

  "But you are!" came back Rimrock, "now don't tell me different; becauseyou're bull-headed, once you've put yourself on record. There ain'tanother living soul that I can trust to take that directorship. EvenOld Hassayamp down here--and I'd trust him anywhere--might get drunkand vote the wrong way. But you----"

  "You don't know me yet," she replied with decision. "I won't getdrunk, but I've got to be convinced. And if you can't convince me thatyour way is right--and reasonable and just, as well--I give you noticethat I'll vote against you. Now! What are you going to say?"

  "All right!" he answered promptly, "that's all I ask of you. If youthink I'm wrong you're welcome to vote against me; but believe me, thisis no Sunday-school job. There's a big fight coming on, I can feel itin my bones, and the best two-handed scrapper wins. Old W. H.Stoddard, when he had me in jail and was hoping I was going to be sentup, he tried to buy me out of this mine. He started at nothing andwent up to twenty million, so you can guess how much it's worth."

  "Twenty million!" she echoed.

  "Y
es; twenty million--and that ain't a tenth of what he might bewilling to pay. Can you think that big? Two hundred million dollars?Well then, imagine that much money thrown down on the desert for himand me to fight over. Do you think it's possible to be pleasant andpolite, and always reasonable and just, when you're fighting a manthat's never quit yet, for a whole danged mountain of copper?" He roseup and shook himself and swelled out his chest and then looked at herand smiled. "Just remember that, in the days that are coming, and giveme the benefit of the doubt."

  "But I don't believe it!" she exclaimed incredulously. "What groundhave you for that valuation of the mine?"

  "Well, his offer, for one thing," answered Rimrock soberly. "He neverpays what a thing is worth. But did you see Mr. Jepson when I wentinto the assay house and began looking at those diamond-drill cores?He was sore, believe me, and the longer I stayed there the more fidgetyJepson got. That ore assay's big, but the thing that I noticed is thatall of it carries some values. You can begin at the foot of it andwork that whole mountain and every cubic foot would pay. And thatpeacock ore, that copper glance! That runs up to forty per cent. Now,here's a job for you as secretary of the Company, a little whirl intothe higher mathematics. Just find the cubic contents of Tecolotemountain and multiply it by three per cent. That's three per cent.copper, and according to those assays the whole ground averages that.Take twenty claims, each fifteen hundred feet long, five hundred feetacross and say a thousand feet deep; pile the mountain on top of them,take copper at eighteen cents a pound and give me the answer in dollarsand cents. Then figure it out another way--figure out the humancussedness that that much copper will produce."

  "Why--really!" cried Mary as she sat staring at him, "you make mealmost afraid."

  "And you can mighty well be so," he answered grimly. "It gets me goingsometimes. Sometimes I get a hunch that I'll take all my friends andgo and camp right there on the Old Juan. Just go out there with gunsand hold her down, but that ain't the way it should be done. Theminute you show these wolves you're afraid they'll fly at your throatin a pack. The thing to do is to look 'em in the eye and keep your gunkind of handy, so."

  He tapped the old pistol that he still wore under his coat and leanedforward across her desk.

  "Now tell me this," he said. "Knowing what you know now, does it seemso plain criminal--what I did to that robber, McBain?"

  Mary met his eyes and in spite of her the tears came as she read thedesperate longing in his glance. He was asking for justification afterthose long months of silence, but his deed was abhorrent to her still.She had shuddered when he had touched that heavy pistol whose shot hadsnuffed out a man's life; and she shuddered when she thought of it,when she saw his great hand and the keen eyes that had looked death atMcBain. And yet, now he asked it, it no longer seemed criminal, onlybrutal and murderous--and violent. It was that which she feared inhim, much as she was won by his other qualities, his instinctive resortto violence. But when he asked if she considered it plain criminal shewas forced to answer him:

  "No!"

  "Well, then, what is the reason you always keep away from me and looklike you didn't approve? Ain't a man got a right, if he's crowded toofar, to stand up and fight for his own? Would you think any better ofme if I'd quit in the pinch and let McBain get away with my mine?Wasn't he just a plain robber, only without the nerve, hiringgun-fighters to do the rough work? Why, Mary, I feel proud, every timeI think about it, that I went there and did what I did. I feel like aman that has done a great duty and I can't stand it to have youdisapprove. When I killed McBain I served notice on everybody that noman can steal from me, not even if he hides behind the law. And now,with all this coming up, I want you to tell me I did right!"

  He thrust out his big head and fixed her eyes fiercely, but she slowlyshook her head.

  "No," she said, "I can never say that. I think there was another way."

  "But I tried that before, when he robbed me of the Gunsight. My God,you wouldn't have me go to law!"

  "You didn't need to go to law," she answered, suddenly flaring up inanger. "I warned you in plenty of time. All you had to do was to goto your property and be there to warn him away."

  "Aw, you don't understand!" he cried in an agony. "Didn't I warn himto keep away? Didn't I come to his office when you were right thereand tell him to keep off my claims? What more could I do? But he wentout there anyhow, and after that there was nothing to do but fight!"

  "Well, I'm glad you're satisfied," she said after a silence. "Let'stalk about something else."

  "No, let's fight this out!" he answered insistently. "I want you tounderstand."

  "I do," she replied. "I know just how you feel. But unfortunately Isee it differently."

  "Well, how do you see it? Just tell me, how you feel and see if Ican't prove I'm right."

  "No, it can't be proved. It goes beyond that. It goes back to the waywe've been brought up. My father was a judge and he worshiped thelaw--you men out West are different."

  "Yes, you bet we are. We don't worship any law unless, by grab, it'sright. Why, there used to be a law, a hundred years ago, to hang a manif he stole. They used to hang them by the dozen, right over there inEngland, and put their heads on a spike. Could you worship that law?Why, no; you know better. But there's a hundred more laws on ourstatute books to-day that date clear back to that time, and lots ofthem are just as unreasonable. I believe in justice, and every man forhis own rights, and some day I believe you'll agree with me."

  "That isn't necessary," she said, smiling slightly, "we can proceedvery nicely without."

  "Aw, now, that's what I mean," he went on appealingly. "We canproceed, but I want more than that. I want you to like me--and approveof what I do--and love and marry me, too."

  He poured it out hurriedly and reached blindly to catch her, but sherose up and slipped way.

  "No, Rimrock," she said as she gazed back at him from a distance, "youwant too much--all at once. To love and to marry are serious things,they make or mar a woman's whole life. I didn't come out here with theintention of marrying and I have no such intention yet. And to win awoman's love--may I tell you something? It can never be done byviolence. You may take that big pistol and win a mountain of copperthat is worth two hundred million dollars, but love doesn't come thatway. You say you want me now, but to-morrow may be different. And youmust remember, you are likely to be rich."

  "Yes, and that's why I want you!" burst out Rimrock impulsively. "Youcan keep me from blowing my money."

  "Absolutely convincing--from the man's point of view. But what aboutthe woman's? And if that's all you want you don't have to have me.You'll find lots of other girls just as capable."

  "No, but look! I mean it! I've got to have you--we can throw in ourstock together!"

  There was a startled pause, in which each stared at the other as ifwondering what had happened, and then Mary Fortune smiled. It was avery nice smile, with nothing of laughter in it, but it served torecall Rimrock to his senses.

  "I think I know what you mean," she said at last, "but don't you thinkyou've said enough? I like you just as much; but really, Rimrock,you're not very good at explaining."

 
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