Rimrock jones, p.20
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       Rimrock Jones, p.20
 

           Dane Coolidge
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  CHAPTER XX

  A LETTER FROM THE SECRETARY

  As Mrs. Hardesty guessed, Rimrock was hurrying away in order to followMary Fortune; and as Rimrock guessed, she had invited him in to keephim from doing just that. She failed, for once, and it hurt her pride;but Rimrock failed as well. After a swift spin through the streets hereturned to his hotel and called up his detective in a rage.

  "Say, what kind of an agency are you running, anyhow?" he demanded whenhe got his man. "Ain't you been working ten months to find MaryFortune? Well, I met her to-night, on the street. What's that yousay? There's three million people! Well, I don't care if there'ssix--I want you to find that girl! No, stop her nothing! You lay ahand on her and I'll come down to your office and kill you. Just tellme where she is and keep an eye on her and I don't care what youcharge. And paste this in your hat--if you don't find that girl you'llhave to sue for your pay!"

  The agency had to sue, for ten days later, Rimrock received a letterfrom her hand. It was mailed from Gunsight, Arizona, and was strictlybusiness throughout. It was, in fact, the legal thirty days' notice ofthe annual meeting of the Company

  "in the town of Gunsight, county of Geronimo, Territory of Arizona, onTuesday, the 22nd day of December, to transact the following business,viz:

  "1--to elect a Board of Directors

  "2--to transact any other business that may properly come before themeeting."

  Rimrock read it over and his courage failed him--after all he wasafraid to face her. He did not flatter himself that she hated him; shedespised him, and on account of Mrs. Hardesty. How then could hehasten back to Gunsight and beg for a chance to explain? She had fledfrom his presence ten months before, on the day after Mrs. Hardestycame; and ten months later, when she met him by accident, he was withMrs. Hardesty again. As far as he knew Mrs. Hardesty was a perfectlady. She went out everywhere and was received even by millionaires onterms of perfect equality--and yet Mary Fortune scorned her. Shescorned her on sight, at a single glance, and would not even argue thematter. Rimrock decided to use "the enclosed proxy."

  He made it out in the name of L. W. Lockhart and returned it by thefollowing mail, and then he called up the detective agency and toldthem to go ahead and sue. He told them further that he was willing tobet that Stoddard knew where she was all the time; and if they werestill working for him, as he strongly suspected, they could tell himshe was back in Gunsight. Rimrock hung up there and fell to pacing thefloor and for the first time the busy city looked gray. It looked draband dirty and he thought longingly of the desert with its miles andmiles of clean sand. He thought of his mine and how he had fought forit, and of all his friends in the straggling town; of Old Juan and L.W. and hearty Old Hassayamp with his laugh and his Texas yupe. And ofMary Fortune, the typist, as he had known her at first--but now she wassending letters like this:

  "DEAR SIR:

  You are hereby notified that the regular Annual Meeting of theStockholders of the Tecolote Mining Company will be held at the officesof the Company, in the Tecolote Hotel," etc., etc.

  Rimrock threw down the letter and cursed himself heartily for a fool, achump and a blackguard. With a girl like that, and standing all shehad from him, to lose her over Mrs. Hardesty! Who was Mrs. Hardesty?And why had she gone to Gunsight and fetched him back to New York? Wasit because he was crazy that he had the idea that she was an agent,somehow, of Stoddard? That two thousand shares of Tecolote stock thatshe had assured him Stoddard had sold her, wasn't it part of theirscheme to lure him away and break up his friendship with Mary? Becauseif Mrs. Hardesty had it she had never produced it, and there was norecord of the transfer on the books. Rimrock brought down his fist andswore a great oath never to see the woman again. From the day he mether his troubles had begun--and now she claimed she loved him!

  Rimrock curled his lip at the very thought of any New York woman inlove. There was only one woman who knew what the word meant and shewas in Gunsight, Arizona. He picked up her letter and scanned itagain, but his eyes had not learned to look for love. Even the driestformula, sent from one to another, may spell out that magic word; mayspell it unconsciously and against the will, if the heart but rules thehand. Mary Fortune had told him in that briefest of messages that shewas back in Gunsight again; and furthermore, if he wished to see her,he could do so in thirty days. It told him, in fact, that while theirpersonal relations had been terminated by his own unconsidered acts; asfellow stockholders, perhaps even as partners, they might meet and worktogether again. But Rimrock was dense, his keen eyes could not see it,nor his torn heart find the peace that he sought. Like a woundedanimal he turned on his enemy and fought Stoddard to keep down thepain. And back at Gunsight, trying to forget her hate, Mary Fortunefought her battle alone.

  There was great excitement--it amounted almost to a panic--when MaryFortune stepped in on Jepson. During her unexplained absence he hadnaturally taken charge of things, with L. W. of course, to advise; andto facilitate business he had moved into the main office where he couldwork with the records at hand. Then, as months went by and neither shenor Rimrock came back to assert their authority, he had rearranged theoffices and moved her records away. Behind the main office, with itsplate-glass windows and imposing furniture and front, there were twosmaller rooms; the Directors' meeting place and another, now filledwith Mary's records. A clerk, who did not even know who she was, satat his ease behind her fine desk; and back in the Directors' room, withits convenient table, L. W. and Jepson were in conference. She couldsee them plainly through the half-opened door, leaning back and smokingtheir cigars, and in that first brief interval before they caught sightof her she sensed that something was wrong.

  Of course there were apologies, and Jepson insisted upon moving out orgiving her any room she chose, but Mary assured him she had not comeback permanently and the smaller room would do just as well. Then sheset about writing the notices of the annual meeting, which had to besent out by her hand, and Jepson recovered from his fright. Perhaps herecovered too much; for Mary Fortune had intuitions, and she rememberedthat first glimpse of L. W. As the agent of Rimrock and his legalrepresentative it was desirable, of course, to be friends; but Jepson,it was well known, was the agent of Stoddard and Stoddard was aftertheir mine. Therefore it ill became Lockhart, with one treacheryagainst him, to be found smoking so comfortably with Jepson.

  So astonished and stunned had she been by the changes and the suddensuspicions that arose that Mary at first had stood startled and silent,and Jepson had raised his voice. At this he remembered that she hadgone East for an operation to help restore her hearing and, seeing hernow so unresponsive, he immediately assumed the worst. So he shoutedhis explanations and Mary, flushing, informed him that she could hearvery well.

  "Oh, I beg your pardon," he apologized abjectly; but she noticed thathe kept on shouting. And then in a flash of sudden resentment she bither lips and let him shout. If he still wished to think that she wasdeaf as a post she would not correct him again. Perhaps if hersuspicions should prove to be justified it would help her to discoverhis plans.

  In her room that evening Mary brought from her trunk the ear-'phone shehad cast aside. She had packed it away with a sigh of relief and yet alingering fear for the future, and already she was putting it on. Atthe back of the transmitter there was a mechanical device whichregulated the intensity of the sound. When she settled the claspacross her head and hung the 'phone over her ear she set it at normaland then advanced the dial until she could hear the faintest noise.The roar of the lobby, drifting in through the transom, becameseparated into its various sounds. She could hear men talking andoutbursts of laughter and the scrape of moving chairs. The murmur ofconversation in the adjoining room became a spat between husband andwife and, ashamed of her eavesdropping, she put down the instrument andlooked about, half afraid.

  As the doctor through his stethoscope can hear the inrush of air as itis drawn into the patient's lungs, or the surge of blood as
it ispumped through the heart with every telltale gurgle of the valves; sowith that powerful instrument she could hear through walls and knowwhat was being said. It was a wonderful advantage to have over thesemen if she discovered that there was treachery afoot and the followingmorning, to test it out, she wore her 'phone to the office.

  "Mr. Jepson," she said as he rose nervously to meet her, "I'd like tobring my books down to date. Of course it is mostly a matter of form,or I couldn't have been gone for so long, but I want to look over therecords of the office and make out my annual report."

  "Why, certainly," responded Jepson, still speaking very clearly, andassuming his most placating smile, "I'd be glad to have you check up.With Mr. Jones away I've been so pressed by work I hardly know where weare. Just make yourself at home and anything I can do for you, pleasefeel free to let me know."

  She thanked him politely and then, as she ran through the files, sheabsently removed her ear-'phone.

  "Just hold out that report of the mining experts," she heard Jepsonremark to his clerk; and in an instant her suspicions were confirmed.He had had experts at work, making a report on their property, but hewished to withhold it from her. That report was doubtless for WhitneyH. Stoddard, the only man that Jepson really served, the man whoactually controlled their mine. But she worked on unheeding andpresently, from across the room, she heard him speak again. His voicewas low, but the painful operations, the tedious treatments she hadendured, had sharpened her hearing until she caught every word exceptthe mumbled assent of the clerk.

  "And tell Mr. Lockhart I'll arrange about that rebate. The check willgo directly to him."

  He went on then with some hurried directions about the differentaccounts to be changed and then, without troubling to shout at heragain, he turned and slipped away. She had found him out, then, thevery first day--Mr. Jepson had an understanding with L. W.! Sheretired to her room to think it over and then went systematically towork on the books, but these seemed scrupulously correct. Theinfluence of Stoddard, that apostle of thoroughness, was apparentthroughout the office; for Jepson well knew that the day was comingwhen he must render an account to his master. The books were correct,yet she could hardly believe the marvellous production they recorded.Her share alone--a poor one per cent. of all that enormousprofit--would keep her in comfort for the rest of her life; she neednever work again.

  But as the days went by and the yearly profit was reduced to dollarsand cents; as she looked over the statement from L. W.'s bank and sawthe money piling up to their credit; the first thrill of joy gave wayto fear--of Stoddard, and what he might do. With interests so vastlying unprotected what could restrain his ruthless hand? And yet therewas Rimrock, wrecking his life in New York and letting her watch theirmine alone! A wave of resentment rose up at the thought--it was theold hatred that she tried to fight down--and she clasped her hands andgazed straight ahead as she beheld in a vision, the woman! A lank ragof a woman, a Kipling's vampire, who lived by the blood of strong men!And to think that she should have fastened on Rimrock, who was once sofaithful and true!

  For the thousandth time there rose up in her mind the old Rimrock asshe had seen him first--a lean, sunburned man on a buckskin horse witha pistol slung at his hip; a desert miner, clean, laughing, eager,following on after his dream of riches. But now, soft and fat, in tophat and diamonds, swaggering past with that woman on his arm! It wouldbe a blessing for them both if Stoddard should jump the mine and putthem back where they were before--he a hardy prospector; and she a poortypist, with a dream! But the dream was gone, destroyed forever, andall she could do was to fight on.

  As she waited for his letter from day to day, Mary Fortune thoughtincessantly of Rimrock. She went out to the mine and gazed at thegreat workings where men appeared no larger than ants. She watched theore being scooped up with steam shovels and dropped load by load intocars; she saw it crushed and pulverized and washed and the concentratesdumped into more cars; and then the endless chain of copper going outand the trainloads of supplies coming in. It was his, if he would cometo it; every man would obey him; his orders would tear down a mountain;and yet he chose to grow fat and sordid, he preferred that woman to her!

  She fought against it, but the anger still raged that had driven herfleeing from New York. How could she endure it, to meet him again?And yet she hoped he would come. She hated him, but still she waitedand at last his letter came. She tore it open and drew out his proxy;and then in the quiet of her office she sat silent, while the letterlay trembling in her hands. This was his answer to her, who hadendured so much for him, his answer to her invitation to come. Heenclosed his proxy for L. W.

  She began on a letter, full of passionate reproaches, and tore it up ina rage. Then she wrote another, and tore it up, and burst into a stormof tears. She rose up at last and, dry-eyed and quiet, typed a noteand sent it away. It was a formal receipt for his proxy for Lockhartand was signed: Mary R. Fortune, Secretary.

 
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