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- The Winning of Barbara Worth - 4/75 -


Pat grunted. "But fwhat does he do?"

"Do?" Tex swung his team around a spur of the mountain where the trail leads along the side of a canyon to its head. Far below they heard the tumbling roar of a stream in its rocky course.

"Sure the man must do something?"

"As near as I can make out Jefferson Worth does everybody."

"Oh ho! So that's ut? I've no care for the cards mesilf, but av a man's a professional an'--"

"You're off there, pardner. Jefferson Worth ain't that kind. He's one o' these here financierin' sports, an' so far as anybody that I ever seen goes, he's got a dead cinch."

"Ye mane he's a banker?"

"Sure. The Pioneer in Rubio City. He started the game in the early days an' he's been a-rollin' it up ever since. Hit's plumb curious about this here financierin' business," continued Tex, in his slow, meditative way. "Looks to me mostly jest plain, common hold-up, only they do it with money 'stead of a gun. In the old days you used to get the drop on your man with your six, all regular, an' take what he happened to have in his clothes. Then the posse'd get after you an' mebbe string you up, which was all right, bein' part of the game. Now these fellows like Jefferson Worth, they get's your name on some writin's an' when you ain't lookin' they slips up an' gets away with all your worldly possessions, an' the sheriff he jest laughs an' says hits good business. This here Worth man is jest about the coolest, smoothest, hardest proposition in the game. He fair makes my back hair raise. The common run o' people ain't got no more show stackin' up agin Jefferson Worth than two-bits worth o' ice has in hell. Accordin' to my notion hit's this here same financierin' game that's a-ruinin' the West. The cattle range is about all gone now. If they keeps it up we won't be no better out here than some o' them places I've heard about back East."

"'Tis a danged ignorant savage ye are, like the rest av yer thribe, wid yer talk av ruinin' the West. Fwhat wud this counthry be without money? 'Tis thim same financiers that have brung ye the railroads, an' the cities, an' the schools, an' the churches, an' all the other blessin's an' joys of civilization that ye've got to take whither ye likes ut or not. Look at the Seer, now. Fwhat could a man like him-- an engineer, mind ye--fwhat could the Seer do widout the men wid money to back him?"

The Irishman's words were answered by a cheerful "Whoa!" and a crash of the brakes as Texas Joe brought his team to a stand near the spring at the head of the canyon. "We camp here," he announced. "This is the last water we strike until we make it over the Pass to Mountain Springs on the desert side. Jefferson Worth will be along with the Seer and his kid most any time now."

A little before dusk the banker, with his two companions, arrived.

"Hello, Pat!" The man who leaped from the buckboard and strode toward the waiting Irishman was tall and broad, with the head and chin of a soldier, and the brown eyes of a dreamer. He was dressed in rough corduroys, blue flannel shirt, laced boots, and Stetson, and he greeted the burly Irishman as a fellow-laborer.

A joyful grin spread over the battered features of the gladiator as he grasped the Seer's outstretched hand. "Well, dang me but ut's glad I am to see ye, Sorr, in this divil's own land. I had me natural doubts, av course, whin I woke up in the wagon, but ut's all right. 'Tis proud I am to be abducted by ye, Sorr."

"Abducted!" The engineer's laugh awoke the echoes in the canyon. "It was a rescue, man!"

"Well, well, let ut go at that! But tell me, Sorr"--he lowered his voice to a confidential rumble--"fwhat's this I hear that ye have yer bhoy wid ye? Sure I niver knew that ye was a man av family." He looked toward the slender lad who, with the readiness of a grown man, was helping the driver of the buckboard to unhitch his team of four broncos. "'Tis a good lad he is, or I'm a Dutchman."

"You're right, Pat, Abe is a good boy," the Seer answered gravely. "I picked him up in a mining camp on the edge of the Mojave Desert when I was running a line of preliminary surveys through that country for the S. and C. last year. He was born in the camp and his mother died when he was a baby. God knows how he pulled through! You know what those mining places are. His father, Frank Lee, was killed in a drunken row while I was there, and Abe showed so much cool nerve and downright manliness that I offered him a place with my party. He has been with me ever since."

Pat's voice was husky as he said: "I ax yer pardon, Sorr, for me blunderin' impedence about yer bein' a man av family. I'm a danged old rough-neck, wid no education but me two fists, an' no manners at all."

The engineer's reply was prevented by the approach of Jefferson Worth who had been talking with Texas Joe. The banker's head came but little above the Seer's shoulders and in comparison with the Irishman's heavy bulk he appeared almost insignificant, while his plain business suit of gray seemed altogether out of place in the wild surroundings. His smooth-shaven face was an expressionless gray mask and his deep-set gray eyes turned from the Irishman to the engineer without a hint of emotion. The two men felt that somewhere behind that gray mask they were being carefully estimated--measured --valued--as possible factors in some far-reaching plan. He spoke to the Seer, and his voice was without a suggestion of color: "I see that your friend has recovered." It was as though he stated a fact that he had just verified.

Laughing at the memory of the Irishman's San Felipe experience, the engineer said: "Mr. Worth, permit me to introduce Mr. Patrick Mooney whom I have known for years as the best boss of a grading gang in the West. Pat, this is Mr. Jefferson Worth, president of the Pioneer Bank in Rubio City."

The Irishman clutched at his tattered hat-brim in embarrassed acknowledgment of the Seer's formality. Jefferson Worth, from behind his gray mask, said in his exact, colorless voice: "He looks as though he ought to handle men."

As the banker passed on toward the big wagon the Irishman drew close to the Seer and whispered hoarsely: "Now fwhat the hell kind av a man is that? 'Tis the truth, Sorr, that whin he looked at me out av that grave-yard face I could bare kape from crossin' mesilf!"

CHAPTER II.

JEFFERSON WORTH'S OFFERING.

When day broke over the topmost ridges of No Man's Mountains, Jefferson Worth's outfit was ready to move. The driver of the lighter rig with its four broncos set out for San Felipe. On the front seat of the big wagon Texas Joe picked up his reins, sorted them carefully, and glanced over his shoulder at his employer. "All set?"

"Go ahead."

"You, Buck! Molly!" The lead mules straightened their traces. "Jack! Pete!" As the brake was released with a clash and rattle of iron rods, the wheelers threw their weight into their collars and the wagon moved ahead.

Grim, tireless, world-old sentinels, No Man's Mountains stood guard between the fertile land on their seaward side and the desolate forgotten wastes of the East. They said to the country of green life, of progress and growth and civilization, that marched to their line on the West, "Halt!" and it stopped. To the land of lean want, of gray death, of gaunt hunger, and torturing thirst, that crept to their feet on the other side, "Stop!" and it came no farther. With no land to till, no mineral to dig, their very poverty was their protection. With an air of grim finality, they declared strongly that as they had always been they would always remain; and, at the beginning of my story, save for that one, slender, man-made trail, their hoary boast had remained unchallenged.

Steadily, but with frequent rests on the grades, Jefferson Worth's outfit climbed toward the summit and a little before noon gained the Pass. The loud, rattling rumble of the wagon as the tires bumped and ground over the stony, rock-floored way, with the sharp ring and clatter of the iron-shod hoofs of the team, echoed, echoed, and echoed again. Loudly, wildly, the rude sounds assaulted the stillness until the quiet seemed hopelessly shattered by the din. Softly, tamely, the sounds drifted away in the clear distance; through groves of live oak, thickets of greasewood, juniper, manzanita and sage; into canyon and wash; from bluff and ledge; along slope and spur and shoulder; over ridge and saddle and peak; fainting, dying--the impotent sounds of man's passing sank into the stillness and were lost. When the team halted for a brief rest it was in a moment as if the silence had never been broken. Grim, awful, the hills gave no signs of man's presence, gave that creeping bit of life no heed.

At Mountain Spring--a lonely little pool on the desert side of the huge wall--they stopped for dinner. When the meal was over, Texas Joe, with the assistance of Pat, filled the water barrels, while the boy busied himself with the canteen and the Seer and Jefferson Worth looked on.

"'Tis a dhry counthry ahead, I'm thinking'," remarked the Irishman inquiringly as he lifted another dripping bucket.

"Some," returned Tex. "There are three water holes between here and the river where there's water sometimes. Mostly, though, when you need it worst, there ain't none there, an' I reckon a dry water hole is about the most discouragin' proposition there is. They'll all be dry this trip. There wasn't nothin' but mud at Wolf Wells when we come through last week."

Again the barren rocks and the grim, forbidding hills echoed the loud sound of wheel and hoof. Down the steep flank of the mountain, with screaming, grinding brakes, they thundered and clattered into the narrow hall-way of Devil's Canyon with its sheer walls and shadowy gloom. The little stream that trickled down from the tiny spot of green at the spring tried bravely to follow but soon sank exhausted into the dry waste. A cool wind, like a draft through a tunnel, was in their faces. After perhaps two hours of this the way


The Winning of Barbara Worth - 4/75

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