Rimrock jones, p.25
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       Rimrock Jones, p.25

           Dane Coolidge
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  All the next day, and the next, Mary watched the door and on themorning of the third Rimrock came. From motives of prudence the badlyshaken Jepson had suggested that she see him first and she hadconsented with an understanding smile. He slipped in quietly, glancingfurtively around, and then looked at her coldly in the eye.

  "Well," he said with an accusing smile, "I see you sold out toStoddard, too."

  She turned away wearily and, picking up a letter, laid it down on thecounter before him.

  "There's a notice," she said as if she had not heard him, "that I'vebeen asked to turn over to you."

  He glanced at it impatiently and then, confused by its verbiage, lookedup with a questioning scowl.

  "What's all this?" he asked. And then, in a louder tone: "Where'd youget this paper?"

  "It was sent to me," she answered, "as secretary of the Company. Butit's only a matter of form. When you left New York a general summonswas published in a legal paper and in ninety days you will have toappear or lose your stock by default."

  "Uhr! Pretty nice!" he sneered, and came in and sat down in a chair."Pretty nice!" he repeated as he took off his hat and glanced aroundthe room, "you must've known I was coming. What's the matter?" heburst out as she made no answer, "can't you hear, or don't you care?"

  "I can hear," she replied categorically, "and I don't care."

  "Oh! Like the rest of 'em, hey? Got no use for me, now. And so I'msummoned to appear in court? I come back home and the first thing youshove at me is this here little notice." He drummed on a desk with therolled-up paper, but as she sighed he changed his tone. "Well, well,"he said, "you've got things all changed since Rimrock was here before."

  "Yes," she answered with her old-time pleasantness. "Mr. Jepson didit. I found it like this myself."

  "'S that so?" observed Rimrock and gazed at her curiously. "How longago was that?"

  "Oh, back in November. It was about the twentieth. I came to send outthe notices."

  "Oh! Ah, yes! For the annual meeting. Well, you put a crimp in methen. Just by passing that dividend you dropped me so flat that I lostevery dollar I had."

  "Very likely," she observed with no sign of regret, "but you shouldhave attended the meeting."

  "Attended the meeting!" he repeated angrily. "I had something else todo! But is that any excuse for stopping my dividend and leaving me forStoddard to clean?"

  "If you had come to the meeting," she responded evenly, but with ananswering fire in her eyes, "and explained that you needed the money, Imight have voted differently. As it was I voted for the smelter."

  "The smelter?"

  "Why, yes! Didn't you get my letter? We're going to build a smelter."

  "Oh, my Lord!" raved Rimrock, "did you let them fool you on that old,whiskered dodge? Sure I got your letter--but I never read it--thefirst few lines were enough! When I saw that you'd sold me out toStoddard and gone and passed that dividend----" He paused--"Say,what's the matter?"

  She had forgotten at last her studied calm and was staring at him withstartled eyes.

  "Why--didn't you read about Ike Bray?"

  "Ike Bray! Why, no; what's the matter with Ike? I just came in--onthe freight."

  "Then you don't know that your claim has been jumped, and----"

  "_Jumped_!" yelled Rimrock, rising suddenly to his feet and making aclutch for his gun.

  "Yes--jumped! The Old Juan claim! The assessment work was never done."

  "Uh!" grunted Rimrock and sank back into his chair as if he hadreceived a blow. "Not done?" he wailed staggering wildly up again."My--God! Did L. W. go back on me, too? Didn't Hassayamp or anybodyjust think to go out there and see that the holes were sunk? Oh, myLord; but this is awful!"

  "Yes, it is," she said, "but it wouldn't have happened if you had comeout here yourself. And if you'd just read my letter instead ofthrowing it down the minute it didn't happen to please----" Shestopped and winked back the angry tears that threatened to betray herhurt. "But now go on, and blame me for this--you blame me foreverything else! Curse and swear and ask me what I was doing when allthis came to pass! Ah, you expect more of others, Mr. Rimrock Jones,than you ever do of yourself; and now it will be me or poor L. W. thatwill come in for all the----"

  She broke down completely and buried her face in her arms while Rimrockstood staring like a fool. He was stunned, astounded; put beyond thepower to listen, or reason, or think. All he knew was that some time,when he was away and while no one was there to befriend, Ike Bray hisenemy had climbed up the butte and jumped the Old Juan claim. And allthe time he was dallying in New York and playing his puny string atNavajoa the Old Juan claim and the mighty Tecolote had been leftunguarded until they were jumped.

  "Where's L. W.?" he asked, coming suddenly from his trance; and she wassitting there, dry-eyed as before.

  "He's gone to the hospital. Bray shot him through the arm in a quarrelover the claim."

  "What? Shot L.W.? Well, the little shrimp! Just wait till I get tohim with this!"

  He tapped his pistol and a wry, cynical smile came over hertear-stained face.

  "Yes! Wait!" she mocked. "You'll be a long time waiting. He's underthe protection of the court. No, you can put up that pistol and nevermiss it--this case will be tried by law."

  "Well, we'll see about that," he answered significantly. "I've got alook-in on this, myself."

  "No, I don't think you have," she responded firmly. "The claim was theproperty of the Company."

  "Well, what of that?"

  "Why, only this, that the case is out of your hands. Ike Bray hasdisappeared, the claim is recorded, and only the Company can sue."

  "What, do you mean to say that when my claim is jumped I can't beginsuit to get it back?"

  "Why, certainly. You have transferred that claim to the Company."

  "Well, why didn't Jepson do that work? Do you mean to say that thathigh-priced man, getting his twenty-five thousand a year, deliberatelysat down and let that assessment work lapse and then let Ike Bray jumpit?"

  "Yes," she nodded, "that's it."

  "But----" He stopped and a wave of sudden intelligence swept thepassion from his face.

  "It's Stoddard!" he said and once more she nodded, then waited with anunderstanding smile.

  "Yes, it's Stoddard," she said. "But of course we can't prove it. Mr.Bray has already begun suit."

  "What, suit to dispossess us? Does he claim the whole works? Well,there must be somebody behind him. You don't think it could be--what?Well, doesn't that--beat----"

  "Yes, it does!" she cut in hastily. "The whole thing has been verycarefully thought out."

  He slapped his leg and, rising from his chair, paced restlessly to andfro.

  "How'd you know all this?" he demanded at last and something in thenagging, overbearing way he said it woke the smouldering fires of herhate.

  "Mr. Jones," she said rising up to face him, "we might as wellunderstand each other right now. From the very first you have taken itfor granted that I have sold you out. You don't need to deny it,because you have used those very words--but please don't do it again.And please don't speak to me in that tone of voice, as if I had doneyou some great wrong. _You_ are the one that has done _me_ a wrong andI assure you, I will never forget. But from this time on, if you wantanything of me, please ask for it like a gentleman. Now what do youwant to know?"

  "I want to know," began Rimrock slowly and then he broke down and smotethe desk. "You have too sold me out!" he exploded in a fury, "youhave--I don't care what you say! You stood in with Stoddard to passthat dividend and, by grab, you can't deny it! If you'd voted with L.W.----"

  "Very well!" returned Mary in a tone that silenced him, "I see that youdon't wish to be friends. And I want to tell you, in parting, that youexpect a constancy from women that you signally lack yourself. I willsend Mr. Jepson down to be sworn at."

  When Jepson
, pale and anxious, sidled warily into the office he foundRimrock sitting thoughtfully in a chair. Some time had passed, forJepson's wife had delayed him, but time alone could not account for thechange. Rimrock was more than quiet, he was subdued; but when helooked up there was another change. In Abercrombie Jepson he saw,without question, the tool and servitor of Stoddard, the man who hadengineered his downfall. And Jepson's smile as he came forwarddoubtfully--but with the frank, open manner he affected--was sickly andjaundiced with fear. It was a terrible position that he found himselfplaced in and his wife was crying, upstairs.

  "Ah, good morning, Mr. Jepson," said Rimrock pleasantly and put hishand behind his back.

  "Good morning," returned Jepson, drawing in a deep breath, "is thereanything I can do?"

  "Yes," said Rimrock coldly. "I've been away for some time. I'd liketo know what's going on. You'll excuse me, Mr. Jepson, if I ask you afew questions about the jumping of the Old Juan claim."

  "Ah, yes, yes," spoke up Jepson briskly, "very regrettable case, I'msure. But you must remember, if you'll pardon my mentioning it, that Ispoke of this possibility before. The Old Juan claim, as I told you atthe time, placed our entire property in jeopardy. It should have beenre-located before all this had happened; but I have turned over thewhole affair to our attorneys, McVicker and Ord."

  "And what do they think?"

  "Well, as to that, I can't say. You see, I have really beenfrightfully busy. Still, they are a very good firm and I think verylikely the affair can somehow be compromised. Looks very bad for theCompany, as far as the law goes, if you should ask my private opinion;but all such litigation, while of course very expensive, generallyresults, in the end, in a compromise."

  "Oh, a compromise, eh? Well, sit down a minute; I want to find out afew details. Do you think now, for instance, that Whitney H. Stoddardis back of this man, Ike Bray? Because if he is, and their claim is agood one, it might make some difference to me."

  He said this so naturally and with such apparent resignation thatJepson almost rose to the bait, but he had learned Rimrock's ways toowell. Such an admission as that, if made before the trial, mightseriously affect Stoddard's case. And besides, this was a matter forlawyers.

  "Well, as to that, Mr. Jones," he replied apologetically, "I reallycannot say. As superintendent of the mine, and lately as actingmanager, I am fully occupied, I am sure----"

  "Yes, no doubt," observed Rimrock, suddenly changing his tone, "butyou've got more time, now--I'll take that manager job off your hands."

  "What? Take charge of the mine again?" cried Jepson aghast. "Why, Ithought----"

  "Very likely," returned Rimrock, "but guess again. I'm still generalmanager, unless the Directors have fired me; and believe me, I'm goingto take charge. In the next few days I'm going to go through thisoffice with a six-shooter and a fine-tooth comb and if I find a singledollar paid out to Ike Bray some ex-manager is liable to get shot. Youunderstand that, now don't you, Mr. Jepson? All right then; we can goahead. Now will you kindly tell me how, as general manager and minesuperintendent, and being worried so much over that claim, you came tolet the ordinary assessment work lapse on the apex claim to our mine?"

  He leaned back in his chair and put one hand in his pocket and Jepsonbroke into a sweat. It is no easy task for a man to serve two masters,and Rimrock had exposed a heavy pistol.

  "Well--why, really!" burst out Jepson in desperation, "I thought youhad entrusted that to Mr. Lockhart. He told me so, distinctly, when Ispoke of it in your absence, and naturally I let the matter drop."

  "Yes, naturally," drawled Rimrock and as he reached for hishandkerchief Jepson started and almost ran. "You're a great man,Jepson," he went on cuttingly, "a great little piece of mechanism. Nowcome through--what does Stoddard want?"

  "Mr. Jones," began Jepson in his most earnest manner, "I give you myword of honor I don't know of what you are speaking."

  "Oh, all right," answered Rimrock, "if that's the way you feel aboutit. You stand pat then, and pull the injured innocence? But you'renot much good at it, Jepson; nothing like some people he has workingfor him. That fellow Buckbee is a corker. You're too honest, Jepson;you can't act the part, but Buckbee could do it to perfection. Youshould've been there to see him trim me, when I tried that little flierin Navajoa. Not an unkind word ever passed between us, and yet hebusted me down to a dollar. He was a great fellow--you ought to knowhim--you could take a few leaves from his book.

  "But here's the proposition as I look at it, Jepson," went on Rimrockwith an ingratiating smile, "you're supposed to be strictly on thesquare. You're a solid, substantial, mining engineer, chieflyinterested in holding your job. But on the side, as I happen to know,you're doing all this dirty work for Stoddard. Now--as generalmanager, if I did my duty, I ought to fire you on the spot; but I'mgoing to give you a chance. So I'll make you an offer and you can takeit or leave it. If you'll recognize my authority as general managerand tell me what I'm entitled to know, I'll leave you where you are;but if you don't I'll not only fire you, but I'll run you out of town.Now how about it--ain't I the legal manager of this Company?"

  "Why--why, yes, Mr. Jones," stammered Jepson abjectly, "as far as thatgoes, I'm sure no one will object. Of course it was understood,between Mr. Stoddard and me, when you went East a year ago----"

  "Yes, all right, Mr. Jepson," interrupted Rimrock easily, "now how muchmoney have we got?"

  "Why, as to that," began Jepson his eyes opening wider, "there is quitea sum in the bank. Some three millions, altogether, but the most ofthat is set aside for the construction of the smelter."

  "Ah, yes! Exactly! But that was set aside before the Old Juan claimwas jumped. A smelter's no good now, if we're going to lose ourmine--it would be just like making a present of it to Ike Bray."

  "Oh, but my dear Mr. Jones!" burst out Jepson in dismay, "you surelywouldn't stop the smelter now?"

  "Well, I don't know why not," answered Rimrock briefly. "Don't youthink so now, yourself?"

  He gazed at his superintendent with an unwinking smile and Jepson bowedhis head.

  "Oh, very well, sir," he said with a touch of servility, "but Mr.Stoddard will be greatly put out."

  "You're working for me!" spoke up Rimrock sharply, "and we'll spendthat money for something else."

  "Spend it?"

  "Yes, for lawyers! I hate the whole outfit--they're a bunch of lousycrooks--but we'll see if money don't talk. I'm going to hire, Jepson,every lawyer in this Territory that's competent to practice in thecourts. Now look at it fairly, as a business proposition; would it beright to do anything else? Here's a copper property that you couldsell to-morrow for a hundred million dollars gold, and the apex claimis jumped. The whole title to the mine is tied up right there--theycan claim every shovelful you mine, and your mill and your smelter toboot. What kind of a business man would I be if I left this toMcVicker and Ord? No, I'm going to send to San Francisco, and Denver,and Butte, and retain every mining attorney I can get. It's the onlything to do; but listen, my friend, I'm not going to tell anybody butyou. So if Stoddard finds this out, or McVicker and Ord, or whateverblackleg lawyers Ike Bray has, I'll just know where to go. And onething more--if I find you've split on me, I'll kill you like aMexican's dog."

  He rose up slowly and looked Jepson in the eye with glance that heldhim cold.

  "Very well, sir," he said as he started to his feet. "And now, ifyou'll excuse me----"

  "All right," nodded Rimrock and as he watched him pass out he gave wayto a cynical smile.

  "Good enough!" he said. "They can all go back on me, but there's oneman I know I can trust!"

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