Rimrock jones, p.16
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       Rimrock Jones, p.16
 

           Dane Coolidge
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  CHAPTER XVI

  THE TIGER LADY

  The winter came on with its rains and soft verdure and desert shrubsbursting with bloom and, for a man who professed to know just exactlywhere he was at, Rimrock Jones was singularly distrait. When he castdown the glove to Whitney H. Stoddard, that glutton for punishment whohad never quit yet, he had looked for something to happen. Eachmorning he rose up with the confident expectation of hearing that theOld Juan was jumped; but that high, domelike butte remained as lifelessas ever, without a single guard to herd the apex claim. Then he fellto watching Jepson and talking to the miners and snooping for somehidden scheme, but Jepson went ahead with his machine-like efficiencyuntil the Tecolote began to turn out ore.

  Day and night the low thunder of the powerful batteries told of themilling of hundreds of tons; and the great concentrator, sprawling downon the broad hillside, washed out the copper and separated it from themuck. Long trains of steel ore-cars received the precious concentratesand bore them off to the distant smelters, and at last there came theday when the steady outpay ceased and the money began to pile up in thebank. L. W.'s bank, of course; for since the fatal fight he had beenRimrock's banker and bosom friend. But that ended the long wait. Atthe sight of all that money Rimrock Jones began to spend.

  For a year and more Rimrock had been careful and provident--that is,careful and provident for him. Six months of that time had been spentin the County Jail, and since then he had been watching Stoddard. Butnow Whitney H. Stoddard--and Jepson, too--were uniformly polite andconsiderate. There was no further question--whatever Rimrock orderedwas done and charged up to the Company. That had been Stoddard'spayment for his share of the mine, and now the money was pouring back.Rimrock watched it and wondered, then he simply watched it; and at lasthe began to spend.

  His first big blow-out was a raid on The Mint, where Ike Bray still ranhis games; and when Rimrock rose up from the faro table he owned theplace, fixtures and all. It had been quite a brush, but Rimrock waslucky; and he had a check-book this time, for more luck. That turnedthe scales, for he outheld the bank; and, when he had won The Mint, hepresented it to Old Hassayamp Hicks.

  "They can talk all they please," he said in his presentation speechwhich, though brief, invoked tremendous applause, "but the man don'tlive that can say I don't remember my friends."

  Yet how difficult it is to retain all our friends, though we come withgifts in both hands! Rimrock rewarded Hassayamp and L. W., and WooChong, and every man who had done him a kind act. If money can cementfriendships he had won over the whole town, but with Mary Fortune hehad failed. On that first triumphant night when, after their bout withStoddard, they realized the true value of their mine; in the dim lightof the balcony and speaking secretly into her ear, he had won, for oneinstant, a kiss. But it was a kiss of ecstasy, of joy at their triumphand the thought that she had saved him from defeat; and when he laidhold of her and demanded another she had fought back and leapt up andfled. And after that, repentance; the same, joyless waiting; and, atlast, drink again, to forget. And then humbler repentance andforgiveness of a kind, but the sweet trustfulness was lost from hersmile.

  So with money and friends there came little happiness, either forRimrock or yet for her. They looked at each other across a chasm ofdifferences where any chance word might offend. He had alluded at onetime to the fact that she was deaf and she had avoided his presence fordays. And she had a way, when his breath smelled of drink, of drawingher head away. Once when he spoke to her in his loud, outdoor voiceshe turned away and burst into tears; but she would never explain whatit was that had hurt her, more than to ask him not to do it again. Soit went until his wild, ungoverned nature broke all bounds and heturned to drink.

  Yet if the first phase of his devotion had been passed by Rimrock hewas not lacking in attentions of a kind, and so one evening as theWest-bound train was due Mary found herself waiting for him in theladies' balcony. This oriental retreat, giving them a view of thelobby without exposing them to the rough talk of the men, was commonground for the women of the hotel, and as she looked over the railingMary was distinctly conscious of the chic Mrs. Jepson, sitting near.Mrs. Jepson, as the wife of the Tecolote Superintendent, was in asocial class by herself and, even after Mary's startling rise to adirectorship in the Company, Mrs. Jepson still thought of her as atypist. Still a certain feeling of loyalty to her husband, and anatural fear for his job, had prompted Mrs. Jepson, in so far aspossible, to overlook this mere accident of occupation. And behind hertoo-sweet smile there was another motive--her woman's curiosity waspiqued. Not only did this deaf girl, this ordinary typist, hold thefate of her husband in her hand, but she could, if she wished, marryRimrock Jones himself and become the wife of a millionaire. And yetshe did not do it. This was out of the ordinary, even in Mrs. Jepson'sstratum of society, and so she watched her, discreetly.

  The train 'bus dashed up outside the door and the usual crowd of peoplecame in. There was a whiff of cold air, for the winter night was keen,and then a strange woman appeared. She walked in with a presence,escorted by Jepson, who was returning from a flying trip East; andimmediately every eye, including Mrs. Jepson's, was shifted and rivetedupon her. She was a tall, slender woman in a black picture-hat andfrom the slope of her slim shoulders to the high heels of her slippersshe was wrapped in a single tiger skin. Not a Bengal tiger with blackand tawny stripes, but a Mexican tiger cat, all leopard spots and red,with gorgeous rosettes in five parallel rows that merged in the purewhite of the breast. It was a regal robe, fit to clothe a queen, andas she came in, laughing, she displayed the swift, undulating stride ofthe great beast which had worn that fine skin.

  They came down to the desk and the men who had preceded them gave wayto let her pass. She registered her name, meanwhile making some gayanswer to a jesting remark from Jepson who laid aside his dignity tolaugh. The clerk joined the merriment, whereupon it was instantlyassumed that the lady was quite correct. But women, so they say, arepreternaturally quick to recognize an enemy of the home. As Mary gazeddown she became suddenly conscious of a sharp rapping on the balconyrail and, looking up, she beheld Mrs. Jepson leaning over, glaring ather husband. Perhaps Jepson looked up--he sensed her in some way--and,remembering, glanced wildly about. And then, to the moment, in cameRimrock Jones, striding along with his big hat in his hand.

  It happened as in a play, the swift entrance of the hero, a swifterglance, and the woman smiled. At sight of that tiger-skin coat Rimrockstopped dead in his tracks--and Jepson saw his chance to escape.

  "Mr. Jones," he beckoned frantically, "let me introduce you to Mrs.Hardesty. Excuse me!" And he slipped away. There were explanationslater, in the privacy of the Jepson apartments, but Mr. Jepson nevercould quite understand. Mrs. Hardesty had come out with a card fromMr. Stoddard and it was his duty, no less, to look after her. Butmeanwhile the drama moved swiftly, with Mary in the balcony looking on.She could not hear, but her eyes told her everything and soon she, too,slipped away. Her appointment was neglected, her existence forgotten.She had come--the other woman!

  "Ah, well, well!" the woman cried as she opened her eyes at Rimrock andheld out a jeweled hand, "have you forgotten me already? I used to seeyou so often--at the Waldorf, but you won't remember!"

  "Oh! Back in New York!" exclaimed Rimrock heartily. "What'd you saythe name? Oh, _Hardesty_! Oh, yes! You were a friend of----"

  "Mr. Buckbee! Oh, I was sure you would remember me! I've come out tolook at your mine!"

  They shook hands at that and the crowd moved off further, though itincreased as the circle expanded, and then Rimrock looked again at thetiger-skin.

  "Say, by George!" he exclaimed with unctuous admiration, "ain't thatthe finest tiger-skin you ever saw. And that's no circusproduct--that's a genuine _tigre_, the kind they have in Old Mexico!"

  "Oh, you have been in Mexico? Then that's how you knew it! I meet somany people who don't know. Yes, I have an interest in the famousTigre Min
e and this was given me by a gentleman there!"

  "Well, he must have been crazy over you!" declared Rimrock frankly, "orhe'd never have parted with that skin!"

  "Ah, you flatter me!" she said and turned to the clerk with an inquiryregarding her room.

  "Give her the best there is!" spoke up Rimrock with authority, "andcharge it up to the Company. No, now never you mind! Ain't you afriend of Buckbee's? And didn't you come out to see our mine?"

  "Oh, thank you very much," answered Mrs. Hardesty sweetly, "I prefer topay, if you don't mind."

  "Your privilege," conceded Rimrock, "this is a fine, large, freecountry. We try to give 'em all what they want."

  "Yes, it is!" she exclaimed. "Isn't the coloring wonderful! And haveyou spent all your life on these plains? Can't we sit down heresomewhere? I'm just dying to talk with you. And I have business totalk over, too."

  "Oh, not here!" exclaimed Rimrock as she glanced about the lobby."This may not be the Waldorf, but we've got some class all the same.Come up to the balcony--built especially for the ladies--say, how'sfriend Buckbee and the rest?"

  And then with the greatest gallantry in the world he escorted her toMary's own balcony. There was another, across the well, but he did noteven think of it. He had forgotten that Mary was in the world. Asthey sat in the dim alcove he found himself telling long stories andlistening to the gossip of New York. Every word that he said wasreceived with soft laughter, or rapt silence or a ready jest; and whenshe in her turn took the conversation in hand he found her sharing withhim a new and unseen world. It was a woman's world, full of oddsurprises. Everything she did seemed quite sweet and reasonable and atthe same time daring and bizarre. She looked at things differently,with a sort of worldly-wise tolerance and an ever-changing, provocativesmile. Nothing seemed to shock her even when, to try her, he movedcloser; and yet she could understand.

  It was a revelation to Rimrock, the laughing way she restrained him;and yet it baffled him, too. They sat there quite late, each delvinginto the mystery of the other's personality and mind, and as the lowerlights were switched off and the alcove grew dimmer, the talk becameincreasingly intimate. A vein of poetry, of unsuspected romance,developed in Rimrock's mind and, far from discouraging it or seeming tobelittle it, Mrs. Hardesty responded in kind. It was a rare experiencein people so different, this exchange of innermost thoughts, and astheir voices grew lower and all the world seemed far away, they took nonotice of a ghost.

  It was a woman's form, drifting past in the dark corridor where thecarpet was so thick and soft. It paused and passed on and there was aglint of metal, as of a band of steel over the head. Except for thatit might have been any woman, or any uneasy ghost. For night is thetime the dead past comes back and the soul mourns over what islost--but at dawn the spirits vanish and the work of the world goes on.

  Mary Fortune appeared late at the Company office, for she had verylittle to do; and even when there she sat tense and silent. Why not?There was nothing to do. Jepson ran the mine and everything about it,and Rimrock attended to the rest. All she had to do was to keep trackof the records and act as secretary to the Board of Directors. Theynever met now, except perfunctorily, to give Rimrock more money tospend. He came in as she sat there, dashing past her for some papers,and was dashing out when she spoke his name.

  "Oh, Mr. Jones," she said and, dimly noting its formality, he pausedand questioned her greeting.

  "Oh, it's Mister again, is it?" he observed stopping reluctantly."Well, what's the matter now?"

  "Yes, it's Mister," she said, managing to smile quite naturally. "Youknow you told me your name was 'Mister'--since you made your pile andall that--but, Mister, I'm going away."

  "Going away!" exclaimed Rimrock, suddenly turning to look at her; andthen he came hurriedly back.

  "Say, what's the matter?" he asked uneasily, "have I done somethingelse that is wrong?"

  "Why, no," she laughed, "what a conscience you have! I'm going Eastfor an operation--I should have gone long ago. Oh, yes, I've beenthinking about it for quite a while; but now I'm going to go. Youdon't know how I dread it. It's very painful, and if it doesn't makeme any better it's likely to make me--."

  "Oh," said Rimrock thoughtfully, rubbing his chin, "well, say, when doyou want to go? I'm going East myself and there ought to be one ofus----"

  "So soon?" enquired Mary and as Rimrock looked at her he caught atwinkle in her eyes. Not of merriment exactly, but of swiftunderstanding and a hidden, cynical scorn.

  "What d'ye mean?" he blustered. "Ain't I got a right----"

  "Why, certainly," she returned, still with that subtle resentment, "Ihave no objections at all. Only it might make a difference to Mr.Stoddard if he found us both away."

  "Aw, that's all bosh!" broke out Rimrock impatiently, "he's got hishands more than full in New York. I happen to know he's framing up acopper deal that will lay the Hackmeisters wide open. That's why Iwant to go back. Mrs. Hardesty says----"

  "Mrs. Hardesty?"

  Rimrock stopped and looked down. Then he picked up his hat and madeanother false start for the door.

  "Yes, Mrs. Hardesty--she came in last night. That lady that wore thetiger skin."

  "Oh!" said Mary and something in her voice seemed to stab him in theback as he fled.

  "Say, what do you mean?" he demanded, coming angrily back, "you speaklike something was wrong. Can't a man look twice at some other womanwithout your saying: 'Oh!' I want you to understand that this Mrs.Hardesty is just as good as you are. And what's more, by grab, she'sgot stock in our Company and we ought to be treating her nice. Yes,she bought it from Stoddard; and if I could just pull her over----

  "How much stock?" asked Mary, reaching suddenly for a book, and Rimrockfidgeted and turned red.

  "Two thousand shares!" he said defiantly. "She's got as much as youhave."

  "Oh!" murmured Mary as she ran through the book, and Rimrock flew intoa fury.

  "Now for the love of Mike!" he cried, striding towards her, "don'talways be pulling that book! I know you know where every share is, andjust who transferred it to who, but this Mrs. Hardesty has told meshe's got it and that ought to be enough!"

  "Why, certainly!" agreed Mary, instantly closing the book. "I justdidn't recall the name. Is she waiting for you now? Then don't let medetain you. I'll be starting East to-night."

  Rimrock rocked on his feet in impotent anger as he groped for a fittingretort.

  "Well, go then!" he said. "What do I give a damn?" And he rushedsavagely out of the room.

 
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