Rimrock jones, p.17
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       Rimrock Jones, p.17
 

           Dane Coolidge
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  CHAPTER XVII

  AN AFTERTHOUGHT

  It was part of the violent nature of Rimrock that his wrath fell uponboth the just and the unjust. Mary Fortune had worsted him in theirpassage at arms and left him bruised from head to heels. She hadsimply let him come on and at every bludgeon stroke she had repliedwith a rapier thrust. Without saying a word against the character ofMrs. Hardesty she had conveyed the thought that she was an adventuress;or, if not exactly that, then something less than a lady. And the sureway in which she had reached for that book was proof positive that thestock was not recorded. But the thing that maddened him most, andagainst which there was no known defense, was her subtle implicationthat Mrs. Hardesty was at the bottom of his plan to go East. And so,with the fury still hot in his brain, he made poor company on the roadto the Tecolote.

  Since Mrs. Hardesty had come, as a stockholder of course, to look overthe Company's properties, it was necessary that she should visit themine, though she was far from keen for the trip. She came down atlast, heavily veiled from the sunshine, and Rimrock helped her into hismachine; but, being for the moment in a critical mood and at war in hisheart against all women, he looked at her with different eyes. For thebest complexion that was ever laid on will not stand the test of thedesert and in the glare of white light she seemed suddenly older andpitifully made up and painted. Even the flash of pearly teeth and thedangerous play of her eyes could not hide the dark shadows beneath; andher conversation, on the morning after, seemed slightly artificial andforced.

  Perhaps, in that first flight of their unleashed souls when they satclose in the balcony alone, they had reached a height that could neverbe attained when the sun was strong in their eyes. They crouchedbehind the windshield, for Rimrock drove recklessly, and went roaringout across the desert and between the rush of the wind and the sharpkick of the chuck-holes conversation was out of the question. Thenthey came to the camp, with its long rows of deal houses and the roughbulk of the concentrator and mill; and even this, to Mrs. Hardesty'swind-blown eyes, must have seemed exceedingly Western and raw.

  A mine, at the best, is but a hole in the ground; and that whichappears on top--the shaft-houses and stacks and trestles and dumps--issingularly barren of interest. The Tecolote was better than most, forthere were open cuts with steam shovels scooping up the ore, and minersdriving holes into the shattered formation and powder-men loadingshots. Rimrock showed it all faithfully, and they watched some blastsand took a ride in the gliding cars, but it was hardly a trip that theaverage lady would travel from New York to take. So they both breatheda sigh when the ordeal was over and the car had taken them home.

  At the door of the hotel Mrs. Hardesty disappeared, which gave Rimrocka chance for a drink, but as he went past the desk the clerk called himback and added to the burden of his day.

  "What's these?" demanded Rimrock as the clerk handed over some keys,but he knew them all too well.

  "The keys to the office, sir. Miss Fortune left quite suddenly andrequested me to deliver them to you."

  "Where'd she go?" he asked, and, not getting an answer, he burst into afit of cursing. He could see it all now. She had not gone for anoperation, she had gone because she was mad. She was jealous, and thatwas her way of showing it--she had gone off and left him in a hole. Heought to have known from that look in her eye and the polite, smilingway she talked. Now he was tied to the mast and if he went to New Yorkhe would have to turn over the mine to Jepson! And that would giveJepson just the chance he wanted to jump the Old Juan claim.

  For a man who was worth fifty million dollars and could claim a wholetown for his friends Rimrock put in a most miserable night as he dwelton this blow to his hopes. He was like a man checkmated atchess--every way he turned he was sure to lose if he moved. For thechance of winning a hypothetical two thousand shares, which Stoddardwas supposed to have sold to Mrs. Hardesty, he had thrown away and lostforever his control over Mary Fortune's stock. Now, if he followedafter her and tried to make his peace, he might lose his chance withMrs. Hardesty as well; and if he stayed with _her_ Mary was fullycapable of throwing her vote with Stoddard's. It was more than herstock, it was her director's vote that he needed above everything else!

  Rimrock paced up and down in his untidy room and struggled to find away out. With Mary gone he could not even vote a dividend unless hecame to an agreement with Stoddard. He could not get the money tocarry out his plans, not even when it lay in bank. He could notappoint a new secretary, to carry on the work while he made his trip toNew York. He couldn't do anything but stay right there and wait untilhe heard from her!

  It was a humiliating position for a man to find himself in, andespecially after his talk with Mrs. Hardesty. Perhaps he had notconsidered the ways and means very carefully, but he had promised herto go back to New York. A man like him, with his genius for financeand his masterful control of men, a man who could rise in a single yearfrom a prospector to a copper king; such a man was wasted in provincialArizona--his place was in Wall Street, New York. So she had said thatnight when they sat close together and their souls sought the highempyrean of dreams--and now he was balked by a woman. Master of men hewas, and king of finance he might be, but woman was still his bane.

  He looked at it again by the cold light of day and that night heappealed to Mrs. Hardesty. She was a woman herself, and wise in theways of jealousy, intrigue and love. A single word from her and thisimpenetrable mystery might be cleared up like mist before the sun. Andshe ought to help him because it was through her, indirectly, that allthis trouble had occurred. Until her arrival there had never been amoment when he had seriously worried over Mary. She had scolded, ofcourse, about his gambling and drinking and they had had their bad halfhours, off and on; but never for an instant had there been thesuggestion of a break in their business affairs. About that, at least,she had always been reasonable; but now she was capable of anything.It would not surprise him to get a telegram from Stoddard that he wascoming out to take over the control; nor to discover later, across thedirectors' table, Mary Fortune sitting grimly by. He knew her toowell! If she once got started! But he passed--it was up to Mrs.Hardesty.

  They met at dinner, the lady being indisposed during the day as aresult of their strenuous trip, but she came down now, floatinggracefully in soft draperies and Rimrock knew why he had built thosebroad stairs. He had thought, in jail, that he was building them forMary, but they were for Mrs. Hardesty after all. She was a queen noless in her filmy gown than in the tiger-skin cloak that she wore, andRimrock dared to use the same compliment on her that he had coined forMary Fortune. They dined together in a secluded corner on the bestthat the chef could produce--and for a Chinaman, he accomplishedmiracles--but Rimrock said nothing of his troubles. The talk waswholly of gay, distant New York, and of the conflict that was formingthere.

  For a woman of society, compelled by her widowhood to manage her ownaffairs, it was wonderful to Rimrock how much she knew of theintricacies of the stock market and of the Exchange. There was not afinancier or a broker of note that she did not know by name, and thecomplex ways by which they achieved their ends were an open book toher. Even Whitney H. Stoddard was known to her personally--theshrewdest intriguer of them all--and yet he, so she said, had a humanside to him and let her in on occasional deals. He had been a closefriend of her husband, in their boyhood, and that probably accountedfor the fact; otherwise he would never have sold her that Tecolote.

  "But he's got a string on it," suggested Rimrock shrewdly; but she onlydrooped her eyelashes and smiled.

  "I never carry gossip between rivals," she said. "They might fly ateach other's throats. You don't like Mr. Stoddard. Very well, hedoesn't like you. He thinks you're flighty and extravagant. But isthat any reason why we shouldn't be friends--or why my stock isn'tperfectly good?"

  "Don't you think it!" answered Rimrock. "Any time you want to sellit----"

  "A-ah! At it again!" she chided laughingly. "How like figh
tinganimals men are. If I'd toss that stock, like a bit of raw meat, inthe midst of you copper-mad men! But I won't, never fear. In thefight that would follow I might lose some highly valued friend."

  From the droop of her lashes Rimrock was left to guess who that friendmight be and, not being quick at woman logic, he smiled and thought ofStoddard. They sat late at their table and, to keep him at ease, Mrs.Hardesty joined him in a cigarette. It was a habit she had learnedwhen Mr. Hardesty was living; although now, of course, every onesmoked. Then, back at last in the shadowy alcove--which was suddenlyvacated by the Jepsons--they settled down on the Turkish divan andinvited their souls with smoke. It rose up lazily as the talk driftedon and then Rimrock jumped abruptly to his problem.

  "Mrs. Hardesty," he said, "I'm in a terrible fix and I want you to helpme out. I never saw the man yet that I couldn't get away with--give metime, and room according to my strength--but I've had a girl workingfor me, she's the secretary of our company, and she fools me everytime."

  Mrs. Hardesty laughed--it was soft, woman's laughter as if she enjoyedthis joke on mere man--and even when Rimrock explained the dangerousside of his predicament she refused to take it seriously.

  "Ah, you're all alike," she said sighing comfortably, "I've never knownit to fail. It's always the woman who trusts through everything, andthe man who disbelieves. I saw her, just a moment, as she passed downthe hall and I don't think you have anything to fear. She's a quietlittle thing----"

  "Don't you think it!" burst out Rimrock. "You don't know her the way Ido. She's an Injun, once she makes up her mind."

  "Well, even so," went on Mrs. Hardesty placidly, "what reason have youto think she means trouble? Did you have any words with her before shewent away? What reason did she give when she left?"

  "Well," began Rimrock, "the reason she gave was some operation to beperformed on her ears. But I know just as sure as I'm sitting hereto-night she did it out of jealousy, over you."

  "Over me!" repeated Mrs. Hardesty sitting up abruptly; and then shesank back and shook with laughter. "Why, you foolish boy," she cried,straightening up reproachfully, "why didn't you tell me you were inlove? And we sat here for hours! Did she see us, do you suppose? Shemust have! Was she waiting to speak to you, do you think?"

  "My--God!" exclaimed Rimrock, rising slowly to his feet. "I had anappointment with her--that night!" He paused and Mrs. Hardesty satsilent, the laughter dead on her lips. "Yes, sir," he went on, "I wasgoing to meet her--here! By grab, I forgot all about it!" He struckhis leg a resounding whack and sank back upon the divan. "Well, nowisn't--that fierce!" he muttered and Mrs. Hardesty tittered nervously.

  "Ah, well," she said, "it's soon discovered, the reason why she leftyou so abruptly. But didn't she say a word about it? That doesn'tseem very lover-like, to me. What makes you think the child wasjealous? Did she mention my name at all?"

  "Nope," mumbled Rimrock, "she never mentioned it. That girl is anInjun, all through! And she'll knife me, after this! I can feel itcoming. But, by George, I plumb forgot!"

  "Oh, come now!" consoled Mrs. Hardesty, giving him a gentle pat, "thisisn't so bad, after all. If I can only see her, I'll explain itmyself. Have you any idea where she's gone?"

  "Bought a ticket for New York--where Old Stoddard hangs out. I can seemy finish--right now!"

  "No, but listen, Mr. Jones--or may I call you Rimrock? That's such afine, Western name! Did it ever occur to you that the trains are stillrunning? You could follow, and let me explain!"

  "Aw, explain to a tiger cat! Explain to an Apache! I tell you thatgirl is an Injun. She'll go with you so far, and stand for quite alittle; but when she strikes fire, look out!"

  "Oh, very well," murmured Mrs. Hardesty and reached for a cigarettewhich she puffed delicately while Rimrock gloomed. It was painfullyclear now--the cause of Mary's going and the embittered vindictivenessof her smile. Not only had he sat up to talk with Mrs. Hardesty, buthe had brought her to where Mary had been waiting. He had actuallytalked love, without really meaning it, with this fascinating woman ofthe world; and, having an appointment to meet him right there, howcould Mary help but know? He pictured her for a moment, lingeringsilently in the background, looking on where she could not hear. Wasit less than human that she should resent it and make an excuse to go?And yet she had done it so quietly--that was the lady in her--without aword of tragedy or reproach! He remembered suddenly that she hadlaughed quite naturally and made some joke about his name being Mister.

  "What's that you say about the trains still running?" he demanded as heroused up from his thoughts. "Well, excuse me, right now! I'm on myway! I'm going back to hunt that girl up!"

  He leaped to his feet and left her still smoking as he rushed off toenquire about the trains.

  "Well, well," she murmured as she gazed thoughtfully after him, "he'sas impulsive as any child. Just a great, big boy--I rather likehim--but he won't last long, in New York."

 
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