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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGordon Keith - Chapter 12. Keith Declines An Offer
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Gordon Keith - Chapter 12. Keith Declines An Offer Post by :welshbeef Category :Long Stories Author :Thomas Nelson Page Date :May 2012 Read :936

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Gordon Keith - Chapter 12. Keith Declines An Offer

CHAPTER XII. KEITH DECLINES AN OFFER

With the growth of Gumbolt, Mr. Wickersham and his friends awakened to the fact that Squire Rawson was not the simple cattle-dealer he appeared to be, but was a man to be reckoned with. He not only held a large amount of the most valuable property in the Gap, but had as yet proved wholly intractable about disposing of it. Accordingly, the agent of Wickersham & Company, Mr. Halbrook, came down to Gumbolt to look into the matter. He brought with him a stout, middle-aged Scotchman, named Matheson, with keen eyes and a red face, who was represented to be the man whom Wickersham & Company intended to make the superintendent of their mines as soon as they should be opened.

The railroad not having yet been completed more than a third of the way beyond Eden, Mr. Halbrook took the stage to Gumbolt.

Owing to something that Mr. Gilsey had let fall about Keith, Mr. Halbrook sent next day for Keith. He wanted him to do a small piece of surveying for him. With him was the stout Scotchman, Matheson.

The papers and plats were on a table in his room, and Keith was looking at them.

"How long would it take you to do it?" asked Mr. Halbrook. He was a short, alert-looking man, with black eyes and a decisive manner. He always appeared to be in a hurry.

Keith was so absorbed that he did not answer immediately, and the agent repeated the question with a little asperity in his tone.

"I say how long would it take you to run those lines?"

"I don't know," said Keith, doubtfully. "I see a part of the property lies on the mountain-side just above and next to Squire Rawson's lands. I could let you know to-morrow."

"To-morrow! You people down here always want to put things off. That is the reason you are so behind the rest of the world. The stage-driver, however, told me that you were different, and that is the reason I sent for you."

Keith straightened himself. "Dr. Chalmers said when some one praised him as better than other Scotchmen, 'I thank you, sir, for no compliment paid me at the expense of my countrymen." He half addressed himself to the Scotchman.

Matheson turned and looked him over, and as he did so his grim face softened a little.

"I know nothing about your doctors," said Mr. Halbrook; "what I want is to get this work done. Why can't you let me know to-day what it will cost? I have other things to do. I wish to leave to-morrow afternoon."

"Well," said Keith, with a little flush in his face, "I could guess at it to-day. I think it will take a very short time. I am familiar with a part of this property already, and--"

Mr. Halbrook was a man of quick intellect; moreover, he had many things on his mind just then. Among them he had to go and see what sort of a trade he could make with this Squire Rawson, who had somehow stumbled into the best piece of land in the Gap, and was now holding it in an obstinate and unreasonable way.

"Well, I don't want any guessing. I'll tell you what I will do. I will pay you so much for the job." He named a sum which was enough to make Keith open his eyes. It was more than he had ever received for any one piece of work.

"It would be cheaper for you to pay me by the day," Keith began.

"Not much! I know the way you folks work down here. I have seen something of it. No day-work for me. I will pay you so many dollars for the job. What do you say? You can take it or leave it alone. If you do it well, I may have some more work for you." He had no intention of being offensive; he was only talking what he would have called "business"; but his tone was such that Keith answered him with a flash in his eye, his breath coming a little more quickly.

"Very well; I will take it."

Keith took the papers and went out. Within a few minutes he had found his notes of the former survey and secured his assistants. His next step was to go to Captain Turley and take him into partnership in the work, and within an hour he was out on the hills, verifying former lines and running such new lines as were necessary. Spurred on by the words of the newcomer even more than by the fee promised him, Keith worked with might and main, and sat up all night finishing the work. Next day he walked into the room where Mr. Halbrook sat, in the company's big new office at the head of the street. He had a roll of paper under his arm.

"Good morning, sir." His head was held rather high, and his voice had a new tone in it.

Mr. Wickersham's agent looked up, and his face clouded. He was not used to being addressed in so independent a tone.

"Good morning. I suppose you have come to tell me how long it will take you to finish the job that I gave you, or that the price I named is not high enough?"

"No," said Keith, "I have not. I have come to show you that my people down here do not always put things off till to-morrow. I have come to tell you that I have done the work. Here is your survey." He unrolled and spread out before Mr. Halbrook's astonished gaze the plat he had made. It was well done, the production of a draughtsman who knew the value of neatness and skill. The agent's eyes opened wide.

"Impossible! You could not have done it, or else you--"

"I have done it," said Keith, firmly. "It is correct."

"You had the plat before?" Mr. Halbrook's eyes were fastened on him keenly. He was feeling a little sore at what he considered having been outwitted by this youngster.

"I had run certain of the lines before," said Keith: "these, as I started to tell you yesterday. And now," he said, with a sudden change of manner, "I will make you the same proposal I made yesterday. You can pay me what you think the work is worth. I will not hold you to your bargain of yesterday."

The other sat back in his chair, and looked at him with a different expression on his face.

"You must have worked all night?' he said thoughtfully.

"I did," said Keith, "and so did my assistant, but that is nothing. I have often done that for less money. Many people sit up all night in Gumbolt," he added, with a smile.

"That old stage-driver said you were a worker." Mr. Halbrook's eyes were still on him. "Where are you from?"

"Born and bred in the South," said Keith.

"I owe you something of an apology for what I said yesterday. I shall have some more work for you, perhaps."

* * * * *

The agent, when he went back to the North, was as good as his word. He told his people that there was one man in Gumbolt who would do their work promptly.

"And he's straight," he said. "He says he is from the South; but he is a new issue."

He further reported that old Rawson, the countryman who owned the land in the Gap, either owned or controlled the cream of the coal-beds there. "He either knows or has been well advised by somebody who knows the value of all the lands about there. And he has about blocked the game. I think it's that young Keith, and I advise you to get hold of Keith."

"Who is Keith? What Keith? What is his name?" asked Mr. Wickersham.

"Gordon Keith."

Mr. Wickersham's face brightened. "Oh, that is all right; we can get him. We might give him a place?"

Mr. Halbrook nodded.

Mr. Wickersham sat down and wrote a letter to Keith, saying that he wished to see him in New York on a matter of business which might possibly turn out to his advantage. He also wrote a letter to General Keith, suggesting that he might possibly be able to give his son employment, and intimating that it was on account of his high regard for the General.

That day Keith met Squire Rawson on the street. He was dusty and travel-stained.

"I was jest comin' to see you," he said.

They returned to the little room which Keith called his office, where the old fellow opened his saddle-bags and took out a package of papers.

"They all thought I was a fool," he chuckled as he laid out deed after deed. "While they was a-talkin' I was a-ridin'. They thought I was buyin' cattle, and I was, but for every cow I bought I got a calf in the shape of the mineral rights to a tract of land. I'd buy a cow and I'd offer a man half as much again as she was worth if he'd sell me the mineral rights at a fair price, and he'd do it. He never had no use for 'em, an' I didn't know as I should either; but that young engineer o' yourn talked so positive I thought I might as well git 'em inside my pasture-fence." He sat back and looked at Keith with quizzical complacency.

"Come a man to see me not long ago," he continued; "Mr. Halbrook--black-eyed man, with a face white and hard like a tombstone. I set up and talked to him nigh all night and filled him plumb full of old applejack. That man sized me up for a fool, an' I sized him up for a blamed smart Yankee. But I don't know as he got much the better of me."

Keith doubted it too.

"I think it was in and about the most vallyble applejack that I ever owned," continued the old landowner, after a pause. "You know, I don't mind Yankees as much as I used to--some of 'em. Of course, thar was Dr. Balsam; he was a Yankee; but I always thought he was somethin' out of the general run, like a piebald horse. That young engineer o' yourn that come to my house several years ago, he give me a new idea about 'em--about some other things, too. He was a very pleasant fellow, an' he knowed a good deal, too. It occurred to me 't maybe you might git hold of him, an' we might make somethin' out of these lands on our own account. Where is he now?"

Keith explained that Mr. Rhodes was somewhere in Europe.

"Well, time enough. He'll come home sometime, an' them lands ain't liable to move away. Yes, I likes some Yankees now pretty well; but, Lord! I loves to git ahead of a Yankee! They're so kind o' patronizin' to you. Well," he said, rising, "I thought I'd come up and talk to you about it. Some day I'll git you to look into matters a leetle for me."

The next day Keith received Mr. Wickersham's letter requesting him to come to New York. Keith's heart gave a bound.

The image of Alice Yorke flashed into his mind, as it always did when any good fortune came to him. Many a night, with drooping eyes and flagging energies, he had sat up and worked with renewed strength because she sat on the other side of the hot lamp.

It is true that communication between them had been but rare. Mrs. Yorke had objected to any correspondence, and he now began to see, though dimly, that her objection was natural. But from time to time, on anniversaries, he had sent her a book, generally a book of poems with marked passages in it, and had received in reply a friendly note from the young lady, over which he had pondered, and which he had always treasured and filed away with tender care.

Keith took the stage that night for Eden on his way to New York. As they drove through the pass in the moonlight he felt as if he were soaring into a new life. He was already crossing the mountains beyond which lay the Italy of his dreams.

He stopped on his way to see his father. The old gentleman's face glowed with pleasure as he looked at Gordon and found how he had developed. Life appeared to be reopening for him also in his son.

"I will give you a letter to an old friend of mine, John Templeton. He has a church in New York. But it is not one of the fashionable ones; for


"'Unpractised he to fawn or seek for power
By doctrines fashioned to the varying hour:
Far other aims his heart had learned to prize,
More skilled to raise the wretched than to rise.'


"You will find him a safe adviser. You will call also and pay my respects to Mr. and Mrs. Wentworth."

On his way, owing to a break in the railroad, Keith had to change his train at a small town not far from New York. Among the passengers was an old lady, simply and quaintly dressed, who had taken the train somewhere near Philadelphia. She was travelling quite alone, and appeared to be much hampered by her bags and parcels. The sight of an old woman, like that of a little girl, always softened Keith's heart. Something always awoke in him that made him feel tender. When Keith first observed this old lady, the entire company was streaming along the platform in that haste which always marks the transfer of passengers from one train to another. No one appeared to notice her, and under the weight of her bags and bundles she was gradually dropping to the rear of the crowd. As Keith, bag in hand, swung past her with the rest, he instinctively turned and offered his services to help carry her parcels. She panted her thanks, but declined briefly, declaring that she should do very well.

"You may be doing very well," Keith said pleasantly, "but you will do better if you will let me help you."

"No, thank you." This time more firmly than before. "I am quite used to helping myself, and am not old enough for that yet. I prefer to carry my own baggage," she added with emphasis.

"It is not the question of age, I hope, that gives me the privilege of helping a lady," said Keith. He was already trying to relieve her of her largest bag and one or two bundles.

A keen glance from a pair of very bright eyes was shot at him.

"Well, I will let you take that side of that bag and this bundle--no; that one. Now, don't run away from me."

"No; I will promise not," said Keith, laughing; and relieved of that much of her burden, the old lady stepped out more briskly than she had been doing. When they finally reached a car, the seats were nearly all filled. There was one, however, beside a young woman at the far end, and this Keith offered to the old lady, who, as he stowed her baggage close about her, made him count the pieces carefully. Finding the tale correct, she thanked him with more cordiality than she had shown before, and Keith withdrew to secure a seat for himself. As, however, the car was full, he stood up in the rear of the coach, waiting until some passengers might alight at a way-station. The first seat that became vacant was one immediately behind the old lady, who had now fallen into a cheerful conversation with the young woman beside her.

"What do you do when strangers offer to take your bags?" Keith heard her asking as he seated himself.

"Why, I don't know; they don't often ask. I never let them do it," said the young woman, firmly.

"A wise rule, too. I have heard that that is the way nowadays that they rob women travelling alone. I had a young man insist on taking my bag back there; but I am very suspicious of these civil young men." She leaned over and counted her parcels again. Keith could not help laughing to himself. As she sat up she happened to glance around, and he caught her eye. He saw her clutch her companion and whisper to her, at which the latter glanced over her shoulder and gave him a look that was almost a stare. Then the two conferred together, while Keith chuckled with amusement. What they were saying, had Keith heard it, would have amused him still more than the other.

"There he is now, right behind us," whispered the old lady.

"Why, he doesn't look like a robber."

"They never do. I have heard they never do. They are the most dangerous kind. Of course, a robber who looked it would be arrested on sight."

"But he is very good-looking," insisted the younger woman, who had, in the meantime, taken a second glance at Keith, who pretended to be immersed in a book.

"Well, so much the worse. They are the very worst kind. Never trust a good-looking young stranger, my dear. They may be all right in romances, but never in life."

As her companion did not altogether appear to take this view, the old lady half turned presently, and taking a long look down the other side of the car, to disarm Keith of any suspicion that she might be looking at him, finally let her eyes rest on his face, quite accidentally, as it were. A moment later she was whispering to her companion.

"I am sure he is watching us. I am going to ask you to stick close beside me when we get to New York until I find a hackney-coach."

"Have you been to New York often?" asked the girl, smiling.

"I have been there twice in the last thirty years; but I spent several winters there when I was a young girl. I suppose it has changed a good deal in that time?"

The young lady also supposed that it had changed in that time, and wondered why Miss Brooke--the name the other had given--did not come to New York oftener.

"You see, it is such an undertaking to go now," said the old lady. "Everything goes with such a rush that it takes my breath away. Why, three trains a day each way pass near my home now. One of them actually rushes by in the most impetuous and disdainful way. When I was young we used to go to the station at least an hour before the train was due, and had time to take out our knitting and compose our thoughts; but now one has to be at the station just as promptly as if one were going to church, and if you don't get on the train almost before it has stopped, the dreadful thing is gone before you know it. I must say, it is very destructive to one's nerves."

Her companion laughed.

"I don't know what you will think when you get to New York."

"Think! I don't expect to think at all. I shall just shut my eyes and trust to Providence."

"Your friends will meet you there, I suppose?"

"I wrote them two weeks ago that I should be there to-day, and then my cousin wrote me to let her know the train, and I replied, telling her what train I expected to take. I would never have come if I had imagined we were going to have this trouble."

The girl reassured her by telling her that even if her friends did not meet her, she would put her in the way of reaching them safely. And in a little while they drew into the station.

Keith's first impression of New York was dazzling to him. The rush, the hurry, stirred him and filled him with a sense of power. He felt that here was the theatre of action for him.

The offices of Wickersham & Company were in one of the large buildings down-town. The whole floor was filled with pens and railed-off places, beyond which lay the private offices of the firm. Mr. Wickersham was "engaged," and Keith had to wait for an hour or two before he could secure an interview with him. When at length he was admitted to Mr. Wickersham's inner office, he was received with some cordiality. His father was asked after, and a number of questions about Gumbolt were put to him. Then Mr. Wickersham came to the point. He had a high regard for his father, he said, and having heard that Gordon was living in Gumbolt, where they had some interests, it had occurred to him that he might possibly be able to give him a position. The salary would not be large at first, but if he showed himself capable it might lead to something better.

Keith was thrilled, and declared that what he most wanted was work and opportunity to show that he was able to work. Mr. Wickersham was sure of this, and informed him briefly that it was outdoor work that they had for him--"the clearing up of titles and securing of such lands as we may wish to obtain," he added.

This was satisfactory to Keith, and he said so.

Mr. Wickersham's shrewd eyes had a gleam of content in them.

"Of course, our interest will be your first consideration?" he said.

"Yes, sir; I should try and make it so."

"For instance," proceeded Mr. Wickersham, "there are certain lands lying near our lands, not of any special value; but still you can readily understand that as we are running a railroad through the mountains, and are expending large sums of money, it is better that we should control lands through which our line will pass."

Keith saw this perfectly. "Do you know the names of any of the owners?" he inquired. "I am familiar with some of the lands about there."

Mr. Wickersham pondered. Keith was so ingenuous and eager that there could be no harm in coming to the point.

"Why, yes; there is a man named Rawson that has some lands or some sort of interest in lands that adjoin ours. It might be well for us to control those properties."

Keith's countenance fell.

"It happens that I know something of those lands."

"Yes? Well, you might possibly take those properties along with others?"

"I could certainly convey any proposition you wish to make to Mr. Rawson, and should be glad to do so," began Keith.

"We should expect you to use your best efforts to secure these and all other lands that we wish," interrupted Mr. Wickersham, speaking with sudden sharpness. "When we employ a man we expect him to give us all his services, and not to be half in our employ and half in that of the man we are fighting."

The change in his manner and tone was so great and so unexpected that Keith was amazed. He had never been spoken to before quite in this way. He, however, repressed his feeling.

"I should certainly render you the best service I could," he said; "but you would not expect me to say anything to Squire Rawson that I did not believe? He has talked with me about these lands, and he knows their value just as well as you do."

Mr. Wickersham looked at him with a cold light in his eyes, which suddenly recalled Ferdy to Keith.

"I don't think that you and I will suit each other, young man," he said.

Keith's face flushed; he rose. "I don't think we should, Mr. Wickersham. Good morning." And turning, he walked out of the room with his head very high.

As he passed out he saw Ferdy. He was giving some directions to a clerk, and his tone was one that made Keith glad he was not under him.

"Haven't you any brains at all?" Keith heard him say.

"Yes, but I did not understand you."

"Then you are a fool," said the young man.

Just then Keith caught his eye and spoke to him. Ferdy only nodded "Hello!" and went on berating the clerk.

Keith walked about the streets for some time before he could soothe his ruffled feelings and regain his composure. How life had changed for him in the brief interval since he entered Mr. Wickersham's office! Then his heart beat high with hope; life was all brightness to him; Alice Yorke was already won. Now in this short space of time his hopes were all overthrown. Yet, his instinct told him that if he had to go through the interview again he would do just as he had done.

He felt that his chance of seeing Alice would not be so good early in the day as it would be later in the afternoon; so he determined to deliver first the letter which his father had given him to Dr. Templeton.

The old clergyman's church and rectory stood on an ancient street over toward the river, from which wealth and fashion had long fled. His parish, which had once taken in many of the well-to-do and some of the wealthy, now embraced within its confines a section which held only the poor. But, like an older and more noted divine, Dr. Templeton could say with truth that all the world was his parish; at least, all were his parishioners who were needy and desolate.

The rectory was an old-fashioned, substantial house, rusty with age, and worn by the stream of poverty that had flowed in and out for many years.

When Keith mounted the steps the door was opened by some one without waiting for him to ring the bell, and he found the passages and front room fairly filled with a number of persons whose appearance bespoke extreme poverty.

The Doctor was "out attending a meeting, but would be back soon," said the elderly woman, who opened the door. "Would the gentleman wait?"

Just then the door opened and some one entered hastily. Keith was standing with his back to the door; but he knew by the movement of those before him, and the lighting up of their faces, that it was the Doctor himself, even before the maid said: "Here he is now."

He turned to find an old man of medium size, in a clerical dress quite brown with age and weather, but whose linen was spotless. His brow under his snow-white hair was lofty and calm; his eyes were clear and kindly; his mouth expressed both firmness and gentleness; his whole face was benignancy itself.

His eye rested for a moment on Keith as the servant indicated him, and then swept about the room; and with little more than a nod to Keith he passed him by and entered the waiting-room. Keith, though a little miffed at being ignored by him, had time to observe him as he talked to his other visitors in turn. He manifestly knew his business, and appeared to Keith, from the scraps of conversation he heard, to know theirs also. To some he gave encouragement; others he chided; but to all he gave sympathy, and as one after another went out their faces brightened.

When he was through with them he turned and approached Keith with his hands extended.

"You must pardon me for keeping you waiting so long; these poor people have nothing but their time, and I always try to teach them the value of it by not keeping them waiting."

"Certainly, sir," said Keith, warmed in the glow of his kindly heart. "I brought a letter of introduction to you from my father, General Keith."

The smile that this name brought forth made Keith the old man's friend for life.

"Oh! You are McDowell Keith's son. I am delighted to see you. Come back into my study and tell me all about your father."

When Keith left that study, quaint and old-fashioned as were it and its occupant, he felt as though he had been in a rarer atmosphere. He had not dreamed that such a man could be found in a great city. He seemed to have the heart of a boy, and Keith felt as if he had known him all his life. He asked Gordon to return and dine with him, but Gordon had a vision of sitting beside Alice Yorke at dinner that evening and declined.

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