Rimrock jones, p.3
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       Rimrock Jones, p.3
 

           Dane Coolidge

  CHAPTER III

  MISS FORTUNE

  It was very informal, to say the least, for Mary Fortune to invite himto stay. To be sure, she knew him--he was the man with the gun, theman of whom McBain was afraid--but that was all the more reason, to areasoning woman, why she should keep silent and let him depart. Butthere was a business-like brevity about him, a single-mindeddirectness, that struck her as really unique. Quite apart from thefact that it might save McBain, she wanted him to stay there and talk.At least so she explained it, the evening afterwards, to her censoriousother-self. What she did was spontaneous, on the impulse of themoment, and without any reason whatever.

  "Oh, won't you sit down a moment?" she had murmured politely; and thesavage, fascinating Westerner, after one long look, had with equalpoliteness accepted.

  "Yes, indeed," he answered when he had got his wits together, "you'revery kind to ask me, I'm sure."

  He came back then, a huge, brown, ragged animal and sat down, verycarefully, in her spare chair. Why he did so when his business, not tomention a just revenge, was urgently calling him thence, was a questionnever raised by Rimrock Jones. Perhaps he was surprised beyond thepoint of resistance; but it is still more likely that, without hisknowing it, he was hungry to hear a woman's voice. His black mood lefthim, he forgot what he had come there for, and sat down to wonder andadmire.

  He looked at her curiously, and his eyes for one brief moment took inthe details of the headband over her ear; then he smiled to himself inhis masterful way as if the sight of her pleased him well. There wasnothing about her to remind him of those women who stalked up and downthe street; she was tall and slim with swift, capable hands, and everyline of her spoke subtly of style. Nor was she lacking in thosequalities of beauty which we have come to associate with her craft.She had quiet brown eyes that lit up when she smiled, a high nose andmasses of hair. But across that brown hair that a duchess might haveenvied lay the metal clip of her ear-'phone, and in her dark eyes,bright and steady as they were, was that anxious look of the deaf.

  "I hope I wasn't rude," she stammered nervously as she sat down and methis glance.

  "Oh, no," he said with the same carefree directness, "it was me, Ireckon, that was rude. I certainly didn't count on meeting a lady whenI came in here looking for--well, McBain. He won't be back, I reckon.Kind of interferes with business, don't it?"

  He paused and glanced at the rear door and the typist smiled,discreetly.

  "Oh, no," she said. And then, lowering her voice: "Have you hadtrouble with Mr. McBain?"

  "Yes, I have," he answered. "You may have heard of me--my name isHenry Jones."

  "Oh--_Rimrock_ Jones?"

  Her eyes brightened instantly as he slowly nodded his head.

  "That's me," he said. "I used to run this whole town--I'm the man thatdiscovered the mines."

  "What, the Gunsight mines? Why, I thought Mr. McBain----"

  "McBain _what_?"

  "Why, I thought _he_ discovered the mines."

  Rimrock straightened up angrily, then he sat back in his chair andshook his head at her cynically.

  "He didn't need to," he answered. "All he had to do was to discover anerror in the way I laid out my claim. Then he went before a judge thatwas as crooked as he was and the rest you can see for yourself."

  He thrust his thumb scornfully through a hole in his shirt and waved ahand in the direction of the office.

  "No, he cleaned me out, using a friend of mine; and now I'm down tonothing. What do you think of a law that will take away a man's minebecause it apexes on another man's claim? I discovered this mine and Iformed the company, keeping fifty-one per cent. of the stock. I openedher up and she was paying big, when Andy McBain comes along. A shysterlawyer--that's the best you can say for him--but he cleaned me, down toa cent."

  "I don't understand," she said at last as he seemed to expect somereply. "About these apexes--what are they, anyway? I've only beenWest a few months."

  "Well, I've been West all my life, and I've hired some smart lawyers,and I don't know what an apex is yet. But in a general way it's thehigh point of an ore-body--the highest place where it shows aboveground. But the law works out like this: every time a man finds a mineand opens it up till it pays these apex sharps locate the high groundabove him and contest the title to his claim. You can't do that inMexico, nor in Canada, nor in China--this is the only country in theworld where a mining claim don't go straight down. But under the law,when you locate a lode, you can follow that vein, within an extensionof your end-lines, under anybody's ground. _Anybody's_!"

  He shifted his chair a little closer and fixed her with his fightingblue eyes.

  "Now, just to show you how it works," he went on, "take me, forinstance. I was just an ordinary ranch kid, brought up so far back inthe mountains that the boys all called me Rimrock, and I found a richledge of rock. I staked out a claim for myself, and the rest for myfolks and my friends, and then we organized the Gunsight MiningCompany. That's the way we all do, out here--one man don't hog it all,he does something for his friends. Well, the mine paid big, and if Ididn't manage it just right I certainly never meant any harm. Ofcourse I spent lots of money--some objected to that--but I made the oldGunsight pay.

  "Then--" he raised his finger and held it up impressively as he markedthe moment of his downfall--"then this McBain came along and edged intothe Company and right from that day, I lose. He took on as attorney,but it wasn't but a minute till he was trying to be the whole show.You can't stop that man, short of killing him dead, and I haven't gotaround to that yet. But he bucked me from the start and set everybodyagainst me and finally he cut out Lon Lockhart. There was a man, byJoe, that I'd stake my life on it he'd never go back on a friend; buthe threw in with this lawyer and brought a suit against me, and justnaturally took--away--my--mine!"

  Rimrock's breast was heaving with an excitement so powerful that thegirl instinctively drew away; but he went on, scarcely noticing, andwith a fixed glare in his eyes that was akin to the stare of a madman.

  "Yes, took it away; and here's how they did it," he went on, suddenlystriving to be calm. "The first man I staked for, after my father andkin folks, was L. W. Lockhart over here. He was a cowman then and hehad some money and I figured on bidding him in. So I staked him a goodclaim, above mine on the mountain, and sure enough, he came into theCompany. He financed me, from the start; but he kept this claim forhimself without putting it in with the rest. Well, as luck would haveit, when we sunk on the ledge, it turned at right angles up the hill.Up and down, she went--it was the main lode of quartz and we'd beenfollowing in on a stringer--and _rich_? Oh, my, it was rotten!"

  He paused and smiled wanly, then his eyes became fixed again, and hehurried on with his tale.

  "I was standing out in front of my office one day when Tuck Edwards,the boy I had in charge of the mine, came riding up and says:

  "'Rim, they've jumped you!'

  "'Who jumped me?' I says.

  "'Andrew McBain and L. W.!' he says and I thought at first he was crazy.

  "'Jumped our mine?' I says. 'How can they jump it when it's part theirown already?'

  "'They've jumped it all,' he says. 'They had a mining expert out therefor a week and he's made a report that the lode apexes on L. W.'sclaim.'

  "I couldn't believe it. L. W.? I'd made him. He used to be nothingbut a cowman; and here he was in town, a banker. No, I couldn'tbelieve it; and when I did it was too late. They'd taken possession ofthe property and had a court order restraining me from going onto thegrounds. Not only did they claim the mine, but every dollar it hadproduced, the mill, the hotel, everything! And the judge backed themup in it--what kind of a law is that?"

  He leaned forward and looked her in the eyes and Mary Fortune realizedthat she was being addressed not as a woman, impersonally, but as ahuman being.

  "What kind of a law is that?" he demanded sternly and took the answerfor granted.

  "That cured me,"
he said. "After this, here's the only law I know."

  He tapped his pistol and leaned back in his chair, smiling grimly asshe gazed at him, aghast.

  "Yes, I know," he went on, "it don't sound very good, but it's that orlay down to McBain. The judges are no better--they're just promotedlawyers----"

  He checked himself for she had risen from her chair and her eyes wereno longer scared.

  "Excuse me," she said, "my father was a judge." And Rimrock reachedfor his hat.

  "Whereabouts?" he asked, groping for a chance to square himself.

  "Oh--back East," she said evasively, and Rimrock heaved a sigh ofrelief.

  "Aw, that's different," he answered. "I was just talking about theTerritory. Well, say, I'll be moving along."

  He rose quickly, but as he started for the door a rifle-cartridge fellfrom his torn pocket. It rolled in a circle and as he stooped swiftlyto catch it the bullet came out like a cork and let spill a thin yellowline.

  "What's that?" she asked as he dropped to his knees; and he answeredbriefly:

  "Gold!"

  "What--real gold?" she cried rapturously, "gold from a mine? Oh, I'dlike----"

  She stopped short and Rimrock chuckled as he scooped up the elusivedust.

  "All right," he said as he rose to his feet, "I'll make you a presentof it, then," and held out the cartridge of gold.

  "Oh, I couldn't!" she thrilled, but he only smiled encouragingly andpoured out the gold in her hand.

  "It's nothing," he said, "just the clean-up from a pocket. I runacross a little once in a while."

  A panic came over her as she felt the telltale weight of it, and shehastily poured it back.

  "I can't take it, of course," she said with dignity, "but it was awfulgood of you to offer it, I'm sure."

  "Aw, what do we care?" he protested lightly, but she handed the corkedcartridge back. Then she stood off and looked at him and the huge manin overalls became suddenly a Croesus in her eyes.

  "Is that from your mine?" she asked at last and of a sudden his bronzedface lighted up.

  "You bet it is--but look at this!" and he fetched a polished rock fromhis pocket. "That's azurite," he said, "nearly forty per cent. copper!I'm not telling everybody, but I find big chunks of that, and I've gota whole mountain of low-grade. What's a gold mine compared to that?"

  He gave her the rich rock with its peacock-blue coloring and plungedforthwith into a description of his find. Now at last he was himselfand to his natural enthusiasm was added the stimulus of her spellbound,wondering eyes. He talked on and on, giving all the details, and shelistened like one entranced. He told of his long trips across thedesert, his discovery of the neglected mountain of low-grade copperore; and then of his enthusiasm when in making a cut he encountered apocket of the precious peacock-blue azurite. And then of his schemingand hiring American-born Mexicans to locate the whole body of ore,after which he engaged them to do the discovery work and later transferthe claims to him. And now, half-finished, with no money to pay them,and not even food to keep them content, the Mexicans had quit work andunless he brought back provisions all his claims would go by default.

  "I've got a chance," he went on fiercely, "to make millions, if I canonly get title to those claims! And now, by grab, after all I've donefor 'em, these pikers won't advance me a cent!"

  "How much would it cost?" she asked him quickly, "to finish the workand pay off the men?"

  "Two thousand dollars," he answered wearily. "But it might as well bea million."

  "Would--would four hundred dollars help you?"

  She asked it eagerly, impulsively, almost in his ear, and he turned asif he had been struck.

  "Don't speak so loud," she implored him nervously. "These women in thehotel--they're listening to everything you say. I can hear all rightif you only whisper--would four hundred dollars help you out?"

  "Not of your money!" answered Rimrock hoarsely. "No, by God, I'llnever come to that!"

  He started away, but she caught him by the arm and held him back tillhe stopped.

  "But I want to do it!" she persisted. "It's a good thing--I believe init--and I've got the money!"

  He stopped and looked at her, almost tempted by her offer; then heshook his great head like a bull.

  "No!" he said, talking half to himself. "I won't do it--I've sunk lowenough. But a woman? Nope, I won't do it."

  "Oh, quit your foolishness!" she burst out impatiently, "I guess I knowmy own mind. I came out to this country to try and recoup myself and Iwant to get in on this mine. No sentiment, understand me, I'm talkingstraight business; and I've got the money--right here!"

  "Well, what do you want for it?" he demanded roughly. "If that's thedeal, what's your cut? I never saw you before, nor you me. How muchdo you want--if we win?"

  "I want a share in the mine," she answered instantly. "I don'tcare--whatever you say!"

  "Well, I'll go you," he said. "Now give me the money and I'll try tomake both of us rich!"

  His voice was trembling and he followed every movement as she steppedback behind her desk.

  "Just look out the window," she said as he waited; and Rimrock turnedhis head. There was a rustle of skirts and a moment later she laid aroll of bills in his hand.

  "Just give me a share," she said again and suddenly he met her eyes.

  "How about fifty-fifty--an undivided half?" he asked with a dizzy smile.

  "Too much," she said. "I'm talking business."

  "All right," he said. "But so am I."

 
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