Rimrock jones, p.19
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       Rimrock Jones, p.19
 

          
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  CHAPTER XIX

  WHERE ALL MEN MEET

  When Rimrock had caught the first train for New York he had thought itwas to seek out Mary Fortune--to kneel at her feet and tell her humblythat he knew he had done her a wrong--but as the months went by and hisdetectives reported no progress he forgot his early resolve. The rushand excitement of that great gambling game that goes on in the StockExchange, the plunges on copper and the rushes for cover, all thegive-and-take of the great chase; it picked him up as a great flowingstream floats a leaf and hurries it along, and Gunsight and Tecoloteand the girl he had known there seemed far away, like a dream.

  He was learning the game from the gamblers about him, all the ins andouts of The Street; the names and methods of all the great leaders andhow they had won their success; and also, bold gambler that he was, hewas starting on a career of his own. In days gone by, at roulette orfaro, or in frontier poker games, he had learned to play with bigchances against him and, compared to them, Wall Street was safe. Themoney that he staked was less than six months' earnings of his share ofthe Tecolote Mine; and from the brief notes of L. W., who was acting ashis agent, there was more of it piling up. So he played it carelessly,like the plunger he was, and fortune--and Mrs. Hardesty--smiled.

  He won, on the Street; and, though the stakes were not specified, heseemed to be winning with her. It was a question with him whether awoman of her kind ever thought of such a thing as marriage. She hadmoney of her own, and all that money could buy; and her freedom,whatever that was. In this new world about him all the terms of lifeseemed changed and transposed and vague, and he never quite knew whatshe meant. Every word that she said when they discussed life and loveseemed capable of a double intent, and whether by freedom she meant toyield or to escape something he had never made out. All he knew wasthat at times she seemed to beckon him on and at others to fend himaway. She was fickle as fortune which, as he plunged and covered,sometimes smiled and again wore a frown.

  But it was sparkling and stimulating as the champagne he now drank,this new life with its win and lose, and he played his stakes with thestoical repose of a savage, the delighted abandon of a boy. His brokerwas always Buckbee, that gay, laughing Beau Brummel who had given himhis first start in the world. It was Buckbee who had met him when hefirst came to the Waldorf with his assays and his samples of ore and,after much telephoning and importuning and haggling, had arranged forhis interview with Stoddard. That interview had resulted in Rimrock'sfirst clash with Stoddard, and he had hated him ever since; for a manwho would demand a controlling interest in a mine for simply lendinghis name was certainly one who was fully capable of grabbing the restif he could. So Rimrock had fought him; but for Buckbee, the broker,he had nothing but the best of good will.

  To be sure Buckbee worked for Stoddard--that was plainly made evidentat the time they had made the first deal--but he was open-hearted andhonest and generous with his tips, and Rimrock found they were good.Buckbee even went further, he arranged credit for Rimrock at one of thebiggest banks and when in his plunges he was caught short of funds thebank made him loans on his note. They took no chances, for he wasrated at millions as half owner of the Tecolote Mine, but it helped outmightily as he extended his operations and found his marginsthreatened. But all this buying and selling of stocks, theestablishment of his credit and the trying out of his strength, it wasall preliminary to that great contest to come when he would come outinto the open against Stoddard.

  Whitney Stoddard was a man rated high up in the millions, but he wasfallible like the rest. His wealth, compared to Rimrock's was as ahundred dollars to one, but it was spread out a hundred times as far;and with his next dividend, which was due in December, Rimrock wouldhave nearly a million in cash. To Stoddard, at the same time, therewould come nearly the same amount of money, but it would be gone withina few days. There were obligations to be met, as Rimrock well knew,that would absorb his great profits and more. The Tecolote Mine,before it began to pay, had cost several million dollars in dead work.That money had been borrowed, and while Rimrock took in velvet,Stoddard was obligated to pay his debts.

  Several months went by and, patient Indian that he was, Rimrock stillfollowed on Stoddard's trail. He looked up his connections with theTranscontinental railroad and there he made his first strike. Althoughhe moulded the policies of that great corporation and seemed endowedwith unlimited power his actual holdings in the stock of the companywere almost ridiculously small. Yet he took advantage of hisdominating position and the influence it gave him with the directors tomake such coups as he had made with the Tecolote, building the branchline which had given value to his mine. As a business proposition itwas a good investment for the Company, but who was it that reaped thebig profits? By the investment of less than three milliondollars--which he had borrowed as he went along--Whitney Stoddard hadacquired practically a half interest in a property which he valued at ahundred millions. And now he was bucking the Hackmeisters!

  The thought of this man, who had come up from nothing and was even yetbarely on his feet, deliberately attempting to break the great coppercombine was hardly credible to Rimrock. He marveled now at thepresumption of Stoddard in offering him fifty millions for his half andthe control of the mine. From what he could gather Stoddard had neverpossessed fifty millions, nor did he possess them then. He was tradingon his name and traveling on a shoestring; quite the common thing inNew York. But Rimrock knew as well as he knew anything that a man likeStoddard was dangerous. As sure as the time came, by some hook orcrook, he would beat him out of his mine. The thing to do was to beathim to it--to raid his newly acquired Navajoa stocks and then pinch himuntil he let go of Tecolote. But it must be done secretly, not a wordto anybody, not even to Buckbee or Mrs. Hardesty. They were friends ofStoddard's as well as his--it was safest to work alone.

  So, while outwardly the same good-hearted plunger, Rimrock began hiscampaign of revenge. It opened with a series of secret orders tooutside brokers that he knew and soon, by selling Navajoa short, he hadhammered the asking price down. Then he bought it in, a little at atime, until the market began to rise; and then, vindictively, heslaughtered it again and gathered in more at the bottom. Not fornothing had he listened to Mrs. Hardesty and Buckbee and learned howthe market riggers worked, but neither to her nor to Buckbee did he somuch as hint of his purpose. His day would come when the Tecolotedividend was voted, when he got his million dollar check; and the onlything that could keep him from a notable revenge was some slip-up inconnection with the dividend.

  In the continued absence of Mary Fortune, with her third and decisivevote, it would be necessary for Rimrock to agree with Stoddard, to theextent of dividing their profits. Not a great ways to go, even for menwho were sworn enemies, and Stoddard certainly needed the money. Heneeded it badly, much worse than Rimrock, and would need it from timeto time; yet until Rimrock actually got his hands on the money it wasessential to conceal his plans. For a shrewd man like Stoddard, if hegot an inkling of his purpose, was perfectly capable of tying up theirprofits and of stopping his credit at the bank. It was dangerousground and Rimrock trod it warily, buying Navajoa in the mostroundabout ways; yet month after month increased his holdings until hiscredit at the bank was stretched. If they asked for collateral hecould turn over his Navajoa, although that would tip off his hand; buthis note was still good and he went in deeper as the date of the annualmeeting drew near.

  There came a time when Buckbee asked shrewd questions and Mrs. Hardestytook him playfully to task; but he carried it off by wise nods andsmiles and the statement that he knew something good. He was learningthe game and, to cover up his tracks, he joined the mad whirl of sociallife. In place of his black sombrero and the high-heeled boots thathad given him his entree in New York he appeared one evening in a tophat and dress suit, with diamonds glittering down the front of hisshirt. It was a new plunge for him, but Buckbee supplied the tailorand Mrs. Hardesty launched his debut.

  She had alm
ost adopted him, this baffling, "free" woman, and yet shestill had her reserves. She went with him everywhere, but therecherche suppers were almost a thing of the past. It was the operanow, and the gayest restaurants, and dinners where they metdistinguished guests; but at the entrance of the St. Cyngia, when thegraven-faced doorman opened the door to let her pass, she had acquireda way of giving Rimrock her hand without asking if he wouldn't come in.She played him warily, for his nature was impetuous and might easilylead him too far; but the time came at last when she found himrecalcitrant and insurgent against her will.

  It was at the opera where, amid jewelled women and men in immaculateattire, they had sat through a long and rather tedious evening duringwhich Mrs. Hardesty had swept the boxes with her lorgnette. Somethingthat she saw there had made her nervous and once in the cloakroom shedelayed. Rimrock waited impatiently and when at last she joined him heforced his way aggressively into the slow-moving crowd and they wereswept on down the broad, marble stairs. Once a part of that throng,there was no escaping its surge, and yet, as they drifted with therest, two great columns of humanity flowing together like twin brooksthat join in a river below, she clutched his arm and started back; butthe crowd swept her inexorably on. Then Rimrock caught her glance--itwas flashing across the foyer to the stream on the other side. Hefollowed it instinctively and there, tripping gracefully down thestairway as he had seen her once before at Gunsight, was Mary Fortune,his girl!

  Yes, his girl! Rimrock knew it instantly, the girl he had alwaysloved. The One Woman he could love forever if fate would but give himthe chance. He started forward, but a hand restrained him; it was Mrs.Hardesty at his side.

  "Where are you going?" she asked and the slim, jewelled fingers closeddown on his hand like a vise.

  "Let me go!" muttered Rimrock, as he struggled against her; but shejerked him back to her side.

  "Don't you dare to humiliate me!" she hissed into his ear, "don't youdare to leave me--for her!"

  "It's Mary!" mumbled Rimrock without taking his eyes from her and Mrs.Hardesty tightened her grasp.

  "If you do--I'll kill you!" she added dangerously; but Rimrock gave noheed. He had forgotten all about her; forgotten she was there, thedead weight that was holding him back; all he saw was Mary, moreradiant than ever, moving towards him down the stairs. She was dressedin soft white and her glorious brown hair, that had before been crusheddown beneath its clasp, was fluffed out now in all its beauty; and shetalked and laughed as she came. At her side was an elderly,distinguished gentleman who listened with an indulgent smile--and thenthey were engulfed in the crowd. The mass of humanity that had sweptthem down the stairway closed in and swallowed them up.

  She was gone--but she was there--right there through the crowd--andRimrock started towards her. Mrs. Hardesty followed, dragged on bymain strength, and then resolutely she set her feet. The outragedescorts of jostled ladies formed a solid phalanx against him andRimrock wheeled impatiently.

  "Let go of my arm!" he commanded savagely and then he met her eyes. Ifhe had doubted before the nature of the tiger woman he could read itnow at a glance. She was choking with anger and her thin, even teethwere bared as she hissed out her breath; and then she spoke, veryquietly:

  "If you are a gentleman," she said in his ear, "you will not fail toescort me home. Otherwise----"

  She stopped, but the roll of her eyes conveyed a threat that wentbeyond words. She was a tigress, after all, a woman of dark passionsand uncontrolled anger, a woman who beneath her languid grace had thestrength and the courage to strike. And now as she faced him themill-race of people surged against them and carried them on. Theymoved with the crowd, there was no escape, and she lashed him withbitter words. He listened, unchastened, his head held high, his eyesstill seeking for Mary; and as they plunged into the opposing currentsof the street, he met her, face to face.

  The distinguished man was talking now and Mary was listening to what hesaid; yet her eyes, that were accustomed to read from the lips, werenow free to look about. A swift, unbidden gladness leapt up into themat first as she recognized Rimrock in the crowd; and then, quick aslightning, she saw the other woman and the glad look went out of hereyes. They flared up suddenly with the old anger and resentment and asquickly took on a distant stare. Then they turned to her escort and asRimrock was shoved past them he heard her answer him pleasantly. Itwas just a word, only a fraction of a word, and then Mrs. Hardestybroke in. What she said fell again upon unheeding ears, but Rimrockknew it was harsh. Harsh and threatening and yet with an undertone ofpassion that thrilled him against his will.

  He found himself in a gliding auto' with the street lights twinklingpast, and there he came out of his dream.

  "What's the matter with you?" he asked at last as he discovered herstill walking on and she burst into hysterical tears.

  "What's the matter!" she echoed, "why, can't you see? I'm in love withyou--that's what's the matter! Oh, I hate that woman! She's a cruelthing--didn't you see the way she looked at me? But I'll pay her back,I'll get even with her yet! Ah, my God, how I hate the sight of her!"

  She fell to weeping and Rimrock, silenced, drew away and left heralone. Then the automobile stopped and through the glass they couldsee the imposing entrance of the St. Cyngia. The chauffeur reachedback and threw open the door and Rimrock leapt quickly out, but Mrs.Hardesty did not follow. She sat in the half-darkness, composing herhair and working swiftly to cover the traces of tears; and when shestepped out she was calm.

  "Excuse me," she whispered as he led her towards the door, "I didn'tmean what I said. But I do love you, Rimrock, in spite of myself,and--won't you come in for a moment?"

  They stood at the entrance and the Sphinxlike doorman opened the doorto let them pass. Outside it was cold and from the portals there cameforth a breath of warm air, but for the first time Rimrock held back.

  "No, thank you very much," he said, bowing formally, and turned quicklyback towards the car. She watched him a moment, then drew her cloakabout her and hurried in swiftly through the door.

 
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