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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFlowing Gold - Chapter 8
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Flowing Gold - Chapter 8 Post by :sharoton Category :Long Stories Author :Rex Beach Date :May 2012 Read :3071

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Flowing Gold - Chapter 8

CHAPTER VIII

The luncheon hour was long in arriving, and when it did come around Calvin Gray regretted that he had elected to play a game of make-believe with "Miss Good," for she rigidly held him to his promise, and however adroitly he undertook to ascertain who or what she was, she foiled him. It gave her a mischievous pleasure to evade his carefully laid conversational traps, and what little he learned came from Ma Briskow. Briefly, it amounted to this: Miss Good was what the elder woman called "home folks," but she had been schooled in the East. Moreover, she was in the oil business. This last bit of intelligence naturally intrigued the man, and he undertook to gain further illumination, but only to have the girl pretend that he knew all about it. He accepted this checkmate with the best possible grace, but revenged himself by assuming the airs and privileges of a friend more intimate even than Miss Good had implied, a pretense that confused and even annoyed her. For some reason this counterfeit pleased him; it was extremely agreeable even to pretend a close acquaintance with this girl.

The luncheon went off gaily enough, then Gray was again banished with instructions to return at closing time.

"You took a mean, a malicious advantage of an offer intended only to spare your feelings. And you haven't any," he told Miss Good when they had a chance for a word alone.

"I have no feelings?"

"None. Or you'd see that I'm perishing of curiosity."

She shook her head, and her blue eyes laughed at him provokingly. "Curiosity is fatal only to cats. It is good for people."

"I shall find out all about you."

"How?"

"By cross-examining the Briskows, perhaps."

"But they're waiting to have you tell them what you know. I've seen to that."

"If they ask any questions, I'll invent a story. I'll act confused, self-conscious. I'll make them think you are a much dearer friend than I have pretended, so far; dearer, even, than I can hope you ever will be."

"That wouldn't be fair."

"There are occasions when everything is fair. Perhaps these store people know something--"

"Nothing whatever."

"Then, for Heaven's sake, release me from my pledge!" Gray spoke desperately. "When I return, permit me to ask those thousand questions, and what others occur to me. Won't you?"

The girl pondered this request briefly, then smiled. "Very well. If you are still curious, when you see me, I'll tell you who I am."

"A bargain! I'll be back early." More seriously, Gray declared: "I must tell you right now how perfectly splendid I think you are. You have completely renewed my belief in human kindness, and I'm sure your name must be Miss Good."

But a disappointment awaited Calvin Gray when, late that afternoon, he returned to the store. Miss Good had gone. At first he refused to believe Ma Briskow's statement, but it was true: she had disappeared as quietly and as unobtrusively as she had appeared, and, what was more annoying, she had left no word whatever for him. This was practical joking, for a certainty, and Gray told himself that he abhorred practical jokes. It was a jolt to his pride to have his attentions thus ignored, but what irked him most was the fact that he was stopped, by reason of his deceit, from making any direct inquiries that might lead to a further acquaintance with the girl.

Mrs. Briskow, however, was in no condition either to note his dismay or to volunteer information upon any except one subject; to wit, corns. Human hearts were of less concern to her, for the time being, than human feet, and hers were killing her. She began a recital of her sufferings, as intimate, as agonizing, and as confidential as if Gray were a practicing chiropodist. What she had to say about tight shoes was bitter in the extreme; she voiced a gloomy conviction that the alarming increase in suicides was due to bunions. The good woman confessed that she dearly loved finery and had bought right and left with reckless extravagance, but all the merchandise in this department store was not worth the anguish she had endured this day. With her stiff little bonnet tilted carelessly over her wrinkled forehead, she declared emphatically that she would gladly swap all her purchases at this moment for a tub of hot water.

"Where is Allie?" Gray inquired.

"Lord knows! She's som'eres around bein' worked over by a couple of women. Gettin' her hair washed an' her finger nails cured an' I dunno what not. Mercy me! The things Miss Good had 'em do to her! An' the money we've spent! Allie's gone hog wild." The complaint ended in a stifled moan induced perhaps by some darting pain, then without further ado Ma Briskow unbuttoned one shoe and removed it. "Whew!" She leaned back in her chair, wiggled her stockinged toes, and feebly fanned herself. "But wait till you see her. I can't scarcely reco'nize my own flesh an' blood. I never seen such a change in a human person."

Gray pretended to listen as the good woman babbled on, but he was thinking about the girl who had disappeared. He was surprised at the keenness of his chagrin. He had seen Miss Good but a short time, and she had made no effort whatever to excite his interest; nevertheless, she remained a tantalizingly vivid picture in his mind. It was extraordinary.

So engrossed was he in his thoughts that he did not notice Allegheny Briskow until she stood close beside him. Then, indeed, he experienced a shock, for it was difficult to recognize in this handsome, modish young woman the awkward, ill-dressed country girl he had seen at noon. Allie was positively stunning. She was completely transformed from the soles of her well-shod feet to the tip of her French coiffure, and what was more astonishing, she had lost much of her self-consciousness and carried herself with a native grace that became her well.

"Why, _Allie!_" Gray exclaimed. "You're wonderful! Let me see you." He stood off and gazed at her while she revolved before him.

"Sakes alive! Who'd ever s'pose you'd look like _that!_" the mother exclaimed.

"Miss Good told me I'd look nice, but I didn't believe her. Do I?"

"You're wonderful, Allie." Gray said it with conviction.

"Honest? You ain't laughin' at me?" The amazon's voice quavered.

"Can't you see? Look at yourself. I'm proud of you."

"I--She said--" Allegheny twisted her hands, she cast an appealing glance at her mother, but the latter was staring at her in open amazement, slowly nodding her head and clucking.

"Tse! Tse! Tse!" It was an approving cluck, and it had a peculiar effect upon the girl. Allegheny's tears started, she turned suddenly and hid her face in her hands.

Gray crossed quickly to her side, saying: "There! We've overdone it the first day, and you're tired."

"I _ain't tired." His sympathy brought audible sobs; the girl's shoulders began to heave.

"Well, _I am," the mother complained. "I'm wore to the bone. Allie! You dry up an' stop that snivelin' so we kin go home and I kin let my feet swell, an' scream."

"You're not too tired, I hope, to have dinner with Allie and me in the big dining room at the Ajax?" Gray said, gayly. "You'll be all right after an hour's rest, and--'I want to show her off, if her nose isn't too red."

"I 'ain't seen that girl cry in ten years," Ma declared, in mingled wonderment and irritation. "Why, she didn't cry when Number One blowed in."

Allie spoke between her sobs. "There wasn't nothin' to cry for, then. But--Miss Good said I--I'd look jest as purty as other folks when I got fixed up. An' _he says--I do."

Gray decided that all women are vain. Nevertheless, it surprised him to discover the trait so early in Allegheny Briskow.

It was on the second day thereafter that Gus Briskow appeared at the hotel. He came unexpectedly, and he still wore his rough ranch clothes. After an hour or more spent with his wife and daughter, he went down to Gray's room and thanked him for the assistance he had rendered the two women.

Followed a few moments of desultory conversation, then he put an abrupt question: "Mr. Gray, you're a rich man, ain't you?"

"I--am so considered."

"Um-m! Dunno's I'm glad or sorry."

"Indeed! What difference can it make to you?"

"A lot. It's like this: my boy Buddy has took a turrible shine to you, an' he can't talk about nothin' else. I was sort of hopin'--"

"Yes?"

"Buddy's ignerunt. He can read an' write an' figger some, but he's got about the same company manners as a steer, an' he's skeered of crowds. When he sees strangers he's liable to charge 'em or else throw up his head an' his tail an' run plumb over a cliff. He'd ought to go to school, but he says he's too big, an' he'd have to set with a lot of little children. Him an' Allie's alike, that way--it r'ars 'em up on their hind feet to be laughed at."

"Get a tutor for them."

"A what?" When Gray had explained the meaning of the word, Mr. Briskow's face cleared. "That's what I figgered on, but I didn't know what you called 'em. That's why I'm sorry you're so well off. Y' see I'd of paid you anything--I'd of doubled whatever you're gettin'--" The speaker raised a hopeful gaze; he paused as if to make sure that his hearer was beyond temptation. "I thought mebbe him and you'd like to travel some--go to furrin places--see the hull world. I kin afford it."

"Thank you for the compliment, but--"

"I got some big deals on, an' Buddy's got to learn enough so's to hang onto what's comin' to him an' Allie. He needs a man like you to learn him, an' be an example. It would be a payin' job, Mister Gray."

It was in a voice graver than usual that the younger man spoke: "Briskow, you're sensible enough to understand plain talk. I'm not a fit man to teach Buddy what he ought to know. In fact, I'm about the worst person you could select."

"How so?"

"Because I'm a good deal of a--rotter. I couldn't permit Buddy to make a mess of his life, such as I've made of mine."

The father sighed. "I s'pose you know, but--Well, I'm disapp'inted. But it wasn't hully on that account I come to Dallas. Ma told me over the telephone how nice you been an' what you done for her 'n' Allie, so I says to myself I'll square things by givin' him a chance to make some money."

Gray stirred slightly in his chair and regarded the speaker more keenly.

"When oil come in at Ranger, nobody thought it would get out our way, but Ma had a dream--a lot of dreams--about oil on our farm, so I got an outfit to come there an' drill. Folks thought we was crazy, and we didn't expect they'd find much, ourselves--a few bar'l a day would of looked big--but I allus had ambitions to be good an' rich, so I got options on quite a bit of acreage. It didn't take no money at the time, 'cause land was what people had most of. Along with the rest, there's a hundred an' sixty right next to ours--hill stuff that wouldn't feed a goat. It's wuth a lot of money now, but the option's 'most run out."

"When does it expire?"

"Saturday."

"That's to-morrow."

Gus Briskow nodded. "It's cheap at a thousand dollars an acre, an' it costs two hundred."

"Of course you'll take it."

"Nope."

"Why not?"

"Per one thing, I got a lot of other land just as good an' mebbe better, an' I been takin' it up out of the royalties that come in. We got enough sure money in sight to do us, but I promised Ma to play safe, an'--we can't take everything. You kin have that option, Mister Gray, for nothin'. You kin sell the lease inside of a week an' make fifty thousand dollars, or you kin hold it an' make mebbe a million. All it'll cost you is thirty-two thousand dollars. I don't make a cent out of it."

"Thirty-two thousand dollars! Not much, is it?"

"It ain't nothin' to a man like you."

Gray nodded and smiled queerly as he thanked the nester, then from his pockets he removed several crumpled wads of currency and a handful of silver. These he counted before saying: "What capital I have is entirely liquid--it's all in cash. There is eighty-seven dollars and forty-three cents. It is every dollar in the world that I possess."

"Huh?" Gus Briskow's bright eyes searched the smiling countenance before him. "You're--jokin'. I thought you said you was rich."

"I am rich. I don't owe a nickel, and won't, until my hotel bill is due, day after to-morrow. I'm in full possession of all my faculties. I'm perfectly healthy and cheerful. I know men who would pay a million dollars for my health alone, and another million to enjoy my frame of mind. That's two million--"

"Well--doggone _me_!" There was a pause, then the speaker brightened. "Mebbe you'll take Buddy, after all? You kin set your own wages."

Gray shook his head. "There are two good reasons why I couldn't accept, even if I wished. I've told you one; I'm too fond of you Briskows to risk ruining Buddy."

"What's the other one?"

"A purely personal reason. I have a definite something to do here in Texas. Before I can accomplish it, I shall have to make a lot of money, but that I shall do easily. I make money rapidly when I start."

"You gotta git goin' afore long." Briskow allowed his eyes to rove about the spacious Governor's suite. "'Specially with only eighty- seven forty--"

"That is nearly eighty-seven dollars more than I had when I arrived. Three weeks ago I was an utter stranger here; to-day I know everybody worth knowing in a business way, and some of them are my friends."

"If you could learn Buddy to make friends like that--"

But Gray raised his hand. "I derive a certain amusement from my own peculiar characteristics and capabilities, but I should detest them in another."

"Well, you sure need money, and--I kin he'p you out."

"Thank you, but I sha'n't borrow. If the time were not so short, I could probably turn this lease you so kindly offered me. But something else will happen along."

Briskow sighed. "I could of sold it myself--thought I had it sold to a bunch from Wichita, but they tricked me. I offered it the day you was at our house for eighty thousand and Nelson more 'n half agreed to--"

"_Who?_"

Briskow looked up at the tone of this inquiry. "One of the fellers from Wichita Falls. I s'pose he knowed the option was about run out; anyhow, he's been holdin' me off from day to day till it's too late now fer me to--"

"What is his name?" Gray broke in, sharply. "Name's Nelson. Bell Nelson's son. Bell's hard-boiled, but--"

"Henry Nelson?"

"That's him."

Gray rose from his chair and strode swiftly to the window. He stood there staring down into the street for a moment before saying, curtly, "Go on!"

"You know them Nelsons?"

"I know--Henry."

"He's hard-boilder 'n his old man. They got a lot o' money behind 'em--too much money to act like he done with me. I sure hate to see him git that Evans lease for next to nothin', after the way he done. I'd call it cheat-in', but--well, I can't han'le it."

The man at the window wheeled suddenly and his face was white, his brows were drawn down. "By God!" he cried, tensely. "He _won't get it. Where's that option?"

"I got it right here." Briskow handed over a paper. "An' I got the hull title abstrack, too. Had it all ready for Nelson."

When he had swiftly scanned the document, Gray said: "This deal means little to you, Briskow, but it means much to me, and I'll make it worth something to both of us. At first I thought the time was too short, but--I work best when I work fast. You've had your chance and failed. Now then, step aside and let a man run who knows how."

Mr. Roswell, president of the bank where Gray had first made himself known, was a shrewd, forceful man who had attained a position in business and arrived at a time of life when he could well afford to indulge his likes and his dislikes. Those likes and dislikes were strong, for his was a positive character. As is the case with most successful men who pride themselves upon their cold caution and business acumen--and Mr. Roswell did so pride himself--he really was a person of impulse, and intuition played a much larger part in his conduct of affairs than he would have acknowledged. Such people make mistakes, but they also make friends; occasionally they read character wrong, but they inspire loyalty, and big institutions are founded upon friendship and loyalty as well as upon stability and fair dealing.

Roswell had liked Gray upon their first meeting, and that liking had deepened. Owing to that fact, he had neglected to secure a report upon him, assuring himself that there was always time for such formalities. He was cordial to-day when Gray strode into his office bringing Gus Briskow with him.

The banker listened with interest to what he was told, then he studied the map that Briskow spread upon his desk showing the location of his own and other near-by wells.

"That looks like a sure thing," Roswell said, finally. "As sure as anything in oil can be. What is on your mind?"

"I'd like to get the opinion of the bank's oil expert," Gray told him.

This was a matter easily disposed of; the expert was summoned and he rendered a prompt opinion. He knew the property; he considered it a cheap lease at a thousand dollars an acre. It was proven stuff and within thirty days it would probably treble in value. When he had gone, the banker smiled.

"Well, Gray," said he, "I knew you'd land something good. You're a hustler. You'll make a fortune out of that land."

Gray handed him Gus Briskow's option, and the assignment thereof, the ink upon which was scarcely dry. "There's the joker. It expires to-morrow night and--it will go to the Nelsons. They've double-crossed Mr. Briskow."

"Then don't let them get away with it. Take it yourself."

"It is now three o'clock and this is the golfing season in New York," Gray told him. "I couldn't reach my--associates and get any action before Monday." "No funds of your own available?"

"Not enough, at such short notice."

"Well?"

"That lease is worth one hundred and sixty thousand dollars, isn't it?" The banker nodded. "I'm going to sell it before six o'clock for--eighty thousand. I know people here who will take it, but I've come first to you. Get together a little syndicate right here in the bank, and buy it. I'll agree to take it off your hands within thirty days at one hundred and sixty thousand dollars. In other words, it is worth to me eighty thousand dollars to have you carry it for a month."

"Is your guaranty any good?"

"That is for you to determine. Assume that it is not, and I'll better my first offer. I'll undertake to sell off the land in twenties right here in Dallas, double your money, and divide the profits thereafter with you. It is a safe speculation and a quick one. You know I can put it through."

Mr. Roswell considered briefly before replying. "There's no use denying that we've made money on deals like this--everybody has. So it's nothing new. There's a big play on Ranger stuff and we couldn't lose. But I know nothing about you except the little you've told me. When I go into a deal I put my trust more in the man than the proposition."

"And I trust my own judgment of human character more than that of strangers," Gray said, quickly. "So do you. Thirty days is a long time with me, and the oil business is just my speed. Permit me to remind you that time is flying and that I have given myself only three hours in which to turn this property. I intend to beat Nelson, and apply that beating on account of an old score. This is more than a mere business deal."

"I like your energy," the banker confessed, "and I'm inclined to bet some of my own money on you. Now"--he pushed a button on his desk--"let's see if there are any others here who feel as I do." It was early evening when Gus Briskow returned to his wife's and his daughter's rooms at the Ajax. He slipped in quietly and sank into a chair.

"Mercy me! I thought you was run over," Ma Briskow exclaimed.

"I feel like I was," the nester declared, with a grin. "Say! Mister Gray sold the Evans lease an'--we got more money than ever."

"Then mebbe you can afford a new suit," Allie told him. "You look like sin."

Her father nodded, but his mind was full of the incidents of that afternoon and he began at once to recount them. He told the story badly, but in a language that the women understood. He had not gone far, however, when the girl interrupted him to exclaim:

"Wait! Why, Pa! You mean to say Mister Gray 'ain't got no money?"

"He had less 'n a hundred dollars. An' him livin' here like a king with everybody bowin' an' scrapin'!"

Ignoring the effect upon Allie of this intelligence, he continued his recital. "All I done was set around while him an' them bank people talked it over," he said, finally. "Then they got their lawyer in an' he examined the title papers. Seemed like he'd never git through, but he did, an' they signed some things an' we come out, an' Mister Gray told me I'd made forty-eight thousand dollars."

"Goodness me!" Ma Briskow's eyes widened. "Why, that Evans place ain't wuth the taxes."

"It's more 'n likely wuth a million. But think! Him tellin' me _I'd made forty-eight thousand dollars! It give me a jolt, an' I says _I didn't make it. I told him I'd fell down an' turned the hull thing over to him. 'It's _you that's made forty-eight thousand,' I says."

"_What?_" Allie inquired, sharply. Then when her father had repeated himself, she asked with even greater intensity: "Wha'd he say to that? He didn't take it, did he?"

"He laughed kinda queer an' says all I got to do to give him a good night's rest is to wire Henry Nelson the deal's closed. An' him with less 'n a hundred dollars!"

Allie spoke again in great relief. "Lord! You give me a turn." Her expression altered, her lips parted in a slow smile. "So! He's pore, eh? Pore as we was. Well, I declare!" She rose and turned her back upon her father.

"No, he ain't pore," Briskow said, irritably. "Not now he ain't. I says it's his deal an' his money, an' we got plenty. An' I stuck to it."

Allie wheeled suddenly at this announcement. She uttered a cry of protest; then, "What are you talkin' about?" she roughly demanded.

"We had some argyment an' I got kinda r'iled. Finally he says if I feel that way we'll go pardners. He wouldn't listen to nothin' else, an'--that's how it stands. He made twenty-four thousand an' I--"

"You--You _fool!_"

Gus Briskow looked up with a start to find his daughter standing over him, her face ablaze, her deep bosom heaving. He stared at her in frank amazement, doubting his senses. Never had Allegheny used toward him a word, a tone like this, never had he seen her look as she did at this moment. He could not believe his eyes, for the girl had become a scowling fury, and she seemed upon the verge of destroying him with her strong hands, a task she was amply able to accomplish.

"Allie-_Allie!_" the mother gasped. She, too, was aghast. "You --you're talkin' to your pa!"

"You give him twenty-four thousan' dollars? _Give it to him? Wha'd you do it for? Wha'd you--?" Allie's voice failed her completely, she groped at her throat, uttering unintelligible, animal-like sounds.

"Why, Allie, you're _mad! And after all he done for me an' you," Mrs. Briskow cried, accusingly. "You oughter be ashamed."

"Sure! Didn't he make us twenty-four thousan' dollars, where we wouldn't of got nothin'? An' us rich as we are, an' him broke? I'm supprised at you." A harsh exclamation burst from the girl--to the astonished parents it sounded like an oath, but it could not have been--then she swung herself heavily about and rushed blindly into the next room, slamming the stout metal door behind her with a crash that threatened to unhinge it.

"Well, I be--darned!" Gus Briskow turned a slack, empty face upon the partner of his joys. "I--I never s'posed that girl would turn out--_greedy_."

The mother's countenance slowly wrinkled into lines of grief and worry, she wrung her hands and rocked from side to side. "I dunno what's come over the child," she moaned, tearfully. "She behaves so queer over them silk stockin's an' corsets an' lingeries an' things that she skeers me. Sometimes I'm afeerd she's goin' crazy--or something."

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