Rimrock jones, p.21
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       Rimrock Jones, p.21
 

           Dane Coolidge
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  CHAPTER XXI

  THE SECOND ANNUAL MEETING

  The second annual meeting of the Tecolote stockholders found Whitney H.Stoddard in the chair. Henry Rimrock Jones was too busy on the stockmarket to permit of his getting away. He was perfecting a plan whereby throwing in all his money, and all he could borrow at the bank, hehoped to wrest from Stoddard his control of Navajoa, besides dealing ablow to his pride. But Whitney H. Stoddard, besides running a railroadand a few subsidiary companies as well, was not so busy; he had plentyof time to come to Gunsight and to lay out a carefully planned program.As his supposed friend, the mysterious Mrs. Hardesty, had remarked onceupon a time: he was a very thorough man, and very successful.

  He greeted Mary warmly and in a brief personal chat flattered herimmensely by forgetting that she was deaf. He also found time toexpress his gratification that she had approved his idea of atemperance camp. In the election that followed the incumbent Directorswere unanimously re-elected, whereupon, having performed their solefunction as stockholders, they adjourned and immediately reconvened asDirectors. In marked contrast to the last, this meeting of theDirectors was characterized by the utmost harmony--only L. W. seemedill at ease. He had avoided Mary since the day she came back, and evenyet seemed to evade her eye; but the reason for that appeared in time.

  After the usual reports of the secretary and treasurer, showing acondition of prosperity that made even Stoddard's eyes gleam, Mr.Jepson presented his report. It was a bulky affair, full of technicalstatistics and elaborate estimates of cost; but there was arecommendation at the end.

  "The report of our treasurer," said Jepson in closing, "shows a netprofit of several million dollars, but I wish to point out our losses.Chief of these is the enormous wastage which comes from shipping ourconcentrates. There is no doubt in my mind that the Tecoloteproperties contain an inexhaustible supply of ore; nor that that ore,if economically handled, will pay an increasing profit. The principalcharges, outside the operating expenses, have been freight and thesmelting of our concentrates. As you doubtless know, the long haul toEl Paso, and the smelter charges at that end, have materially reducedour net profits. The greater part of this loss is preventable and Itherefore recommend that the Company construct its own smelter."

  He went on with estimates of costs and the estimated saving per ton,but Mary Fortune allowed her attention to stray. She was thinking ofRimrock Jones, and she was watching Rimrock's proxy. Like a criminalon trial L. W. sat glowering, his dead cigar still in his teeth; andbefore the end of the report was reached the sweat was beading his face.

  "Well, I, for one," began Stoddard diplomatically, "most heartilyapprove of this plan. It will necessitate, of course, a postponementof profits, but I think we can all stand that. I therefore suggestthat we apply this year's profits to the immediate construction of asmelter and, if I hear a motion, we will consider the question ofpassing the annual dividend."

  He paused and as Mary went on with her writing a dead silence fell uponthe room. L. W. glanced at Jepson and then at Stoddard and at last hecleared his throat.

  "Well, Mr. President," he said, half-heartedly, "this is a newproposition to me. I regret very much that Mr. Jones isn't here,but--well, I make a motion that we build the smelter and pass theannual dividend."

  He spoke with an effort, his eyes on the table, and at the end he sankback in his chair.

  "Did you get that, Miss Fortune?" asked Stoddard solicitously and Marynodded her head.

  "Yes, I second the motion," she answered sweetly and an electric thrillpassed round the room. It had not been expected by the most optimisticthat the vote would be unanimous.

  "All in favor, say 'Ay!' spoke up Stoddard sharply, but L. W. hadsprung to his feet.

  "Mr. President!" he began, suddenly panting with excitement, andStoddard fixed him with his steely eyes.

  "Very well, Mr. Lockhart," he responded curtly, "what is it you wish tosay?"

  "Why, I--I didn't know," began L. W. haltingly, "that she was going tovote--that way."

  "Well, you know it now," answered Stoddard freezingly, "does thatconclude your remarks?"

  "Oh, no!" burst out L. W., his drawn face twitching. "I--in that case,I change my vote. I don't think Mr. Jones----"

  "You haven't voted yet," corrected Stoddard shortly, "all in favorplease say: 'Ay!'"

  "Ay!" said Mary and as Stoddard echoed it he cast a sneering glance atL. W.

  "Do I understand, Mr. Lockhart," he enquired pointedly, "that you wishto go on record as voting 'No'?"

  "Yes, put me down 'No!'" directed L. W. feverishly. "I don't approveof this at all. Rimrock needs the money--he wrote me particularly--Iwouldn't put him out for the world." He straightened the stoop fromhis long, bent back and his eyes opened up appealingly. "Put me downfor a 'No,'" he repeated wildly. "My God, he'll kill me for this. Iwouldn't cross that boy for anything in the world--he's the best frienda man ever had. But put me down 'No'--you will, won't you, Miss? Idon't want Rimrock to know."

  "Mr. Lockhart votes 'No,'" broke in Stoddard peremptorily, "the 'Ayes'have it and the motion is carried. Is there any other business?"

  His cold, incisive words seemed almost to stab, but L. W. still swayedon his feet.

  "I'd like to explain," he went on brokenly. "I never go back on afriend. But Rimrock, he's wasting his money back there--I thought itwould be a kindness."

  "Yes, yes, Mr. Lockhart," interrupted Stoddard impatiently, "we allknow the goodness of your heart. Do I hear a motion to adjourn?"

  He shifted his keen, commanding eyes to Mary, who nodded her head inreturn. She was watching L. W. as he stood there sweating, with theanguish of that Judas-like thought. He had betrayed his friend, he hadsold him for gold; and, already, he was sorry.

  "Second the motion," said Stoddard. "All in favor say 'Ay!' Themeeting stands adjourned."

  He rose up quickly and gathering up his papers, abruptly left the room.Jepson followed as quickly and L. W., still talking, found himselfalone with the girl. She was gazing at him strangely and as he pausedenquiringly she went over and held out her hand.

  "I understand, Mr. Lockhart," she said, smiling comfortingly. "Iunderstand just how you feel. It _was_ a kindness--I felt somyself--and that's why I voted as I did."

  The staring eyes of L. W. suddenly focused and then he seized her hand."God bless you," he cried, crushing her fingers in his grip. "You'llmake it right on the books? God bless you, then; I wouldn't sell outthat boy for all the money in the world."

  He broke off suddenly and dashed from the room while Mary gazedpensively after him. She too, in a way, had betrayed her friend; butshe had not done it for gold.

  As secretary of the Company and the Board of Directors it devolved uponMary Fortune to notify Rimrock of the passed dividend. She knew aswell as L. W. knew that it would be a bitter blow to him, but she feltno pity or regret. The money that would otherwise be wasted in NewYork would be diverted to the construction of the smelter, and if hefound the loss a hardship he had only himself to thank. She went intoher office and shut the door, but, simple as the letter seemed, she wasunable to put it on paper. Three times she tried, but at each attempther pent-up anger burst forth and the coldest and most business-likewords she could summon seemed packed with hate and resentment. Shegave up at last and was sitting listlessly when she heard voices in theouter room. It was Jepson and Stoddard, and as she listened closer shecould make out what they said.

  "I've got a report here," said the voice of Jepson, "that I'd like toshow you--alone."

  There was an impatient slamming of desk drawers and then the clerkspoke up--the young man who had taken Mary's place.

  "That report of the experts? I put it in here. You remember, onaccount of Miss Fortune."

  "Oh, yes," answered Jepson, "and by the way, where is she?"

  And then suddenly his voice was dropped. Mary reached for herear-'phone and slipped it on and listened to catch every word. IfJepson saw fit t
o practice deceit she had no compunction in listeningin.

  "Well, that's all right," he was saying, "she can't hear what we say.You go on out for your lunch."

  There was a scuffling of feet and then, still talking, Jepson led theway to the Directors' room.

  "Yes, she reads your lips--she's really quite clever at it--that's her,running the typewriter, now."

  He shut the door and for several minutes Mary played a tattoo on hermachine. Then she keyed down quietly and, setting her transmitter atits maximum, she turned it towards the wall.

  "This is that report," the voice of Jepson was saying, "that you spoketo me about in the spring. It gives the geology of the whole Tecoloteproperties, by the very best experts in the field--three independentreports, made in advance of litigation, and each comes to the sameconclusion. If we accept the ore-body as a single low-grade depositinstead of a series of high-grade parallel veins--and each of theseexperts does--the crest of that dome, the Old Juan claim, is the apexof the whole. In other words, according to the apex law, thepossession of the Old Juan claim will give us indisputable right to thewhole property. You can look over that yourself."

  There was a period of silence, broken only by the rattling of MaryFortune's machine, and then they began again.

  "Very well," said Stoddard, "this seems satisfactory. Now what aboutthis L. W. Lockhart? In our meeting this morning he showed such acontemptible weakness that--now Jepson, that was very careless of you!Why didn't you find out before that fiasco how Miss Fortune intended tovote? It must have been perfectly evident to her, from the way Mr.Lockhart talked, that he had been--well, over-persuaded, to say theleast. It was very awkward, and if I hadn't rushed it she might havereconsidered her vote. But never mind that--I suppose you did yourbest--now who is to re-locate this claim?"

  "Well, that's the question," began Jepson. "There's a man here namedBray, who used to keep a saloon--"

  "No, no!" broke in Stoddard, "no disreputable characters! Now, Jepson,this is up to you! You're the only man we can trust in anextremity----"

  "Positively--no!" exclaimed Jepson firmly. "I absolutely refuse totouch it. I'll arrange the preliminaries, but after it's started youmust look to your attorneys for the rest."

  "Oh, nonsense!" cried Stoddard, "isn't it perfectly legal? Won't theclaim be open to location? Well, then, why this sudden resort toevasion and hairsplitting, and all over a mere detail?"

  "I have told you before," answered Jepson impatiently, "that it'sagainst the ethics of my profession. I am a mining engineer and if youwant this claim jumped----"

  "Oh, yes, yes! We won't argue the matter! Who is this Mr. Bray?"

  "He's a man with nerve--about the only one in the country that willstand up to Rimrock Jones. It seems that Jones won his saloon awayfrom him and gave it to one of his friends. Some gambling feud they'vehad on for years, but now Mr. Bray is broke. I haven't sounded him,but for a thousand dollars----"

  "Five hundred!"

  "Now, Mr. Stoddard!" burst out Jepson complainingly, "you don'tunderstand the gravity of this case. Do you realize that already oneman has been killed in trying to jump that claim? And Rimrock Joneshas made the threat openly that he will kill any man who does it!"

  "He's a blusterer--a braggart--a criminal, through and through! Well,make it a thousand dollars. Now one thing more--is there any chancethat Mr. Lockhart may still break up all our plans? As I understandit, Jones gave him his orders to see that the assessment work was done.There are still nine days before the first of January, and it struck methat he was repenting of his bargain. You must watch him carefully--hedoesn't seem trustworthy--and positively we must have no slip-up now.Does he actually know that this work has been neglected--and that, ifnot performed, it will invalidate the claim?"

  "Yes, he knows it," answered Jepson wearily. "I've been stuffing moneyinto his bank until he has over a million in deposits, and still theold screw isn't satisfied. He's crazy over money--and yet he's just ascrazy over standing A1 with Jones. You don't realize, Mr. Stoddard,what a strain I've been under in trying to make that man run true."

  "Well, give him anything. We must win at all hazards before this thinggets back to Jones. We have cut off his money by the construction ofthis smelter, but that can't be done again; and, once he begins toaccumulate his profits, we'll find him a dangerous man. But we havepassed this dividend and before I get through with him he'll bestripped of every dollar he has won. I'm going to break that man,Jepson, if only as an example to these upstarts who are houndingNavajoa. I've got him by the heels and--but never mind that, let's seeif our plans are air-tight. Now, this man Lockhart!"

  "He's drunk!" answered Jepson. "I'll arrange it to keep him soaked."

  "Very well--now Bray!"

  "He's drinking, too. I'll wait till the last day, and probably sendhim out with a guard."

  "Yes, make sure of that. Better send two guards. They can sign theirnames as witnesses, in case Bray should leave the Territory. And now,this girl!" went on Stoddard, lowering his voice instinctively, "is shereally as deaf as she seems? Remember, you can never depend on awoman!"

  "Yes, she's deaf!" replied Jepson. "And you don't need to worry--shehates Rimrock Jones like poison. Did you notice the way she passedthat dividend, to cut off his supply of slush? Just as sweet andsmiling! When they take it like that--well, we can forget about her!"

  He paused and in the silence a typewriter began to clack with a fierce,staccato note. It was Mary Fortune, writing her letter to RimrockJones.

 
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