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- The Winning of Barbara Worth - 70/75 -
longer to his will would he throw himself fully dressed upon a cot in his tent for an hour's sleep. His face grew haggard and deeply lined with anxious care, his hollow eyes--dark-rimmed--were bloodshot and burning as if with fever, his jaws were set as if by sheer power of his will he would beat the river into submission. And he barked his orders shortly in a hoarse strained voice that told of nerves stretched almost to the breaking point. In critical moments, when it looked as though the river in the next instant would reduce their work to a hopeless wreck, the engineer, standing on the trembling timbers or clinging to the swaying pile-driver itself, seemed to those who did his bidding to become the very incarnation of human courage and power.
The Seer and Abe Lee, remembering the man who had come out from the East to go with them on that preliminary survey, wondered at the transformation. Then Willard Holmes was the servant of Capital that used people for its own gain. He saw his work then only as a means to the end that his Company might make money. Now, though employed still by a corporation, he was a master who used the power at his command in behalf of the people. He had come to look upon his work as a service to the world and through that service only he served his employers. It was as if in this man, born of the best blood of a nation-building people, trained by the best of the cultured East-- trained as truly by his life and work in the desert--it was as though, in him, the best spirit of the age and race found expression.
At last the trestles were pushed across the break, the track was laid and the gigantic work of filling the channel was begun. In every rock quarry reached by the S. & C. within two hundred and fifty miles of the battle, men were drilling and blasting and with steam shovels and derricks were loading cars with material for the fill. At the word from Willard Holmes these rock trains steamed swiftly to the front, everything giving them the right of way. Merchants and manufacturers east and west cursed the railroad because their shipments were delayed. Passengers, held for hours on the sidings, complained, scolded, protested and threatened. It was an outrage! declared the tourists in their luxurious Pullmans that they should be forced to give up an hour of their pleasure in order that a train load of rock might make better time. But, unheeding, the great battleships, each with its fifty cubic yards of stone, and the flats and gondolas, each with its tons of material, thundered away to the scene of the struggle. Every five minutes, night and day, from the moment of the completion of the trestles until the fill was above the danger point a car of rock was dumped into the break.
So the task was accomplished; the fight was won. The Rio Colorado was checked in its work of destruction and beaten back into its old channel. The thousands of acres of The King's Basin lands that would have been forever lost to the race through one corporation were saved by another; and the man, who--without protest--had built for his employers' gain the inadequate structures that endangered the work of the pioneers, led the forces that won the victory.
The afternoon of the day on which the break was finally closed three private cars came in with the rock trains. The passengers were the general manager and the general superintendent with their wives, Jefferson Worth and a small party of friends.
Leaving their cars the party walked toward a point below the rock embankment where they could look down into the now empty gorge. With this visible evidence of the river's power before them, the visitors exclaimed with wonder.
When the superintendent had explained the magnitude of the work, the difficulties encountered and how the task had been accomplished, the general manager, who--here and there--had added a word, said: "After all, friends, taking into consideration money, equipment and everything, the whole question of a work like this, or of any great enterprise, resolves itself into a question of men. It's up to the _man on the job_. We have the system, the machinery without which this work could not have been done. We have the capital to supply material and labor--but that man up there closed the break."
As he spoke he pointed to a figure standing on the upper trestle above the fill--outlined against the sky.
Then the party climbed the grade to the tracks again and walked to the end of the upper trestle. Turning, the engineer saw and came towards them. Silently they stood to receive him. From boots to Stetson his khaki trousers and rough shirt were stained with mud and grime, his eyes were sunken in dark hollows, his worn face was unshaven and his hair, when he removed his hat, was unkempt. He did not look like a hero; he looked more like some ruffian just from a prolonged debauch. But the little party burst into applause.
The engineer smiled as his chief went forward from the group to grasp him by the hand. For a moment they talked of the work. Then the official, placing his hand on the engineer's arm, said: "Come, Holmes, we have some women here who want to meet the man who mastered the Colorado."
The engineer protested. He was "not presentable."
"Presentable! You're the most presentable man I know of this minute. Come along, there's my wife making signs to me to hurry right now."
There was nothing for Holmes to do but to go. A moment later he was face to face with the rest of the party and--with Barbara Worth.
NATURE AND HUMAN NATURE
Two weeks after the victory of Willard Holmes in the River war the engineer arrived in Republic on the evening train from the city by the sea.
At the hotel he was quickly surrounded by the pioneer citizens, who were eager to greet him with expressions of appreciation for his work. But it was Horace P. Blanton who did the talking.
Horace P., in his brave picture-general hat, his impressively swelling front of white vest and his black clerical tie, was the personification of economic, financial and scholastic--not to say ecclesiastic, dignity. His greeting of the engineer was majestic. But, as a royal sovereign might welcome the returning general of his conquering armies with sadness at the thought of the lives his victories had cost, the countenance of Horace P. expressed a noble grief.
"Willard," he said, his voice charged with emotion, "I congratulate you. You are the savior of this imperial King's Basin. When we saw that Greenfield's Company was not able to handle the awful situation, I told my friend the general manager and our other officials of the S. & C. that they must _come_ to the rescue without an instant's delay and that you must be put in charge of the work. I knew that if any man on earth could stop that river, you could. So we decided to let you go ahead. You have justified my confidence nobly, Willard; you certainly have. I'm proud of you, old man; I am indeed."
The engineer tried manfully to appreciate the spirit of the speaker's words. With that white vest and black tie before him, to say nothing of the picture hat that crowned the massive head, it was impossible for Holmes not to wish that he could appreciate Horace P. Blanton's spirit--it hungered so for appreciation.
"I am very grateful to you, Mr. Blanton," said the engineer. "But really I feel that you over-estimate my part in the work. I--"
"Not at all; not at all, my dear boy. I knew my man and I was not disappointed. But the cost--" he shook his kingly head sorrowfully and heaved a majestic sigh. "Confidentially, Willard, I estimate that the financial losses of Greenfield and myself alone are close on to a million. I haven't a thing left. Wiped me out clean."
Holmes looked really sympathetic. He knew that every dollar that Horace P. Blanton ever spent was a dollar belonging to someone else, but even mythical losses of mythical property, when suffered by Horace P., demanded sympathy. The man in the white vest felt them so keenly and strove with such noble courage to bear them bravely.
Encouraged by the engineer's interest and the presence of the little crowd of pioneers, the speaker continued: "When I saw our beautiful town--the town that we had built with our own hands--falling in ruins into that terrible chasm, I cried like a baby, sir." Even as he spoke his eyes filled with manly tears which he made no attempt to hide. Then he lifted his majestic bulk grandly and looked about with kingly countenance. "But I shall stay with it, Willard. I shall stay and help these people to regain their losses. We _can't_ desert them now. If my creditors will give me a little time, and I am sure they will, not a man shall lose a penny, no matter what it costs me."
The sentence was a bit ambiguous but it was a noble resolution, worthy of such a lofty soul.
At this moment a boy with the evening papers approached the group. "Here son, my paper," called Horace P.
The boy gripped his wares with a firm hand. "I got to have my money first. You ain't done nothin' but promise for a month."
"Boy! Give me my paper. You shall have your money to-morrow," he thundered from the depths beneath the white vest.
The boy backed away, "I dassn't do it. I can't live on hot air."
With an imperial air, as if tremendous stakes hung upon the trivial incident, the great man said to Holmes: "Excuse me, Willard; I must see about this," and with a firm and determined step he left the hotel.
A hush fell upon the company of pioneers. Not one of them but would have gladly--had he dared--offered the outraged monarch the price of a paper. The King's Basin settlers were proud of Horace P.
But that night Horace P. Blanton boarded the north-bound train and was never seen in The King's Basin again. His creditors--and they are many, from the newsboy to the hotel manager, the barber, the laundry agent, the liveryman and boot-black--are still "giving him time," as he was confident that they would. The pioneers miss him sorely, but they manage to struggle along without him, living perhaps in the hope that he will some day come back.
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