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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Iron Trail - Chapter 9. Wherein Gordon Shows His Teeth
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The Iron Trail - Chapter 9. Wherein Gordon Shows His Teeth Post by :rvlawrence Category :Long Stories Author :Rex Beach Date :May 2012 Read :3312

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The Iron Trail - Chapter 9. Wherein Gordon Shows His Teeth

CHAPTER IX. WHEREIN GORDON SHOWS HIS TEETH

Affairs at Hope were nearly, if not quite, as prosperous as those at Omar, for Curtis Gordon's advertising had yielded large and quick returns. His experiment, during the previous summer, of bringing his richest stockholders north, had been a great success. They had come, ostensibly at his expense, and once on the ground had allowed themselves to be fairly hypnotized. They had gone where he led, had seen what he pointed out, had believed what he told them. Their imaginations were fired with the grandeur of an undertaking which would develop the vast resources of the north country for the benefit of the struggling pioneers of the interior and humanity in general. Incidentally they were assured over and over again in a great variety of ways that the profits would be tremendous. Gordon showed them Hope and its half-completed mine buildings, he showed them the mountain behind. It was a large mountain. They noticed there were trees on the sides of it and snow on its top. They marveled. He said its heart was solid copper ore, and they gasped. Had he told them in the same impressive manner that the hill contained a vein three inches thick they would have exhibited the same astonishment. They entered the dripping tunnels and peered with grave approval at the drills, the rock-cars and the Montenegrin miners. They rambled over the dumps, to the detriment of shoe-leather and shins, filling their suit-cases with samples of perfectly good country rock. They confessed to each other, with admirable conservatism, that the proposition looked very promising, very promising indeed, and they listened with appreciation to Gordon's glowing accounts of his railroad enterprise, the physical evidence of which consisted of a mile or two of track which shrank along the steep shore-front and disappeared into a gulch as if ashamed of itself. He had a wonderful plan to consolidate the mining and railroad companies and talked of a giant holding corporation which would share in the profits of each. The details were intricate, but he seemed to see them all with perfect clearness, and his victims agreed.

He entertained them on a scale that was almost embarrassing, and when they returned to their homes they outdid one another in their praise of the financial genius who was leading them to the promised land of profits and preferred stock. As a matter of course they one and all advised their friends to buy, vouching for the fabulous richness of Hope Consolidated, and since their statements were backed by a personal examination of the property, subscriptions came pouring in.

All in all, the excursion had proven so profitable that Gordon had arranged for another, designed to accommodate new investors and promising "prospects." Preparations for their welcome were under way when Natalie arrived.

The girl and her mother talked late that evening, and Gordon saw on the following morning that Gloria, at least, had passed a trying night; but he gave himself no uneasiness. Emotional storms were not unusual; he always disregarded them as far as possible, and usually they passed off quietly. During breakfast he informed them:

"I received a letter from Miss Golden in yesterday's mail. She is to be one of the new party."

"Did you invite her to return this summer?" Mrs. Gerard inquired.

"Yes!"

"I remember her well," said Natalie--"too well, in fact. I thought her very bold."

"She is one of our largest investors, and she writes she would enjoy spending a fortnight here after the others go back."

"Will you allow it?"

"Allow it! My dear Gloria, I can't possibly refuse. In fact it would be the height of inhospitality not to urge her to do so. She is welcome to stay as long as she chooses, for these quarters are as much hers as ours. I hope you will be nice to her."

Mrs. Gerard made no answer, but later in the morning sought Gordon in his private office.

"I preferred not to discuss the Golden woman before Natalie," she explained, coldly, "but--you don't really intend to have her here, do you?"

"Most assuredly!"

"Then I shall have to tell her she is not welcome."

"You will do nothing of the sort, my dear: you will assume the duties of hostess, for which no one is more charmingly qualified."

Mrs. Gerard's lips were white with anger as she retorted:

"I shall not allow that woman under the same roof with Natalie."

"As usual, you choose the most inconvenient occasion for insisting upon your personal dislikes."

"My dislike has nothing to do with the matter. I overlooked her behavior with you last year--as I have overlooked a good many things in the past--but this is asking too much."

Gordon's coldness matched her own as he said:

"I repeat, this is no time for jealousy--"

"Jealousy! It's an insult to Natalie."

"Miss Golden is one of our largest stockholders."

"That's not true! I had Denny look up the matter."

"So!" Gordon flared up angrily. "Denny has been showing you the books, eh! He had no more right to do that than you had to pry into my affairs. While Miss Golden's investment may not be so large as some others', she has influential friends. She did yeoman service in the cause, and I can't allow your foolish fancies to interfere with my plans."

"Fancies!" cried the woman, furiously. "You behaved like a school-boy with her. It was disgraceful. I refuse to let her associate with my daughter."

"Aren't we drawing rather fine distinctions?" Gordon's lip curled. "In the first place, Natalie has no business here. Since she came, uninvited, for the second time, she must put up with what she finds. I warned you last summer that she might suspect--"

"She did. She does. She discovered the truth a year ago." Mrs. Gerard's usually impassive face was distorted and she voiced her confession with difficulty.

"The devil!" ejaculated Gordon.

The woman nodded. "She accused me last night. I tried to--lie, but--God! How I have lived through these hours I'll never know."

"Hm-m!" Gordon reflected, briefly. "Perhaps, after all, it's just as well that she knows; she would have found it out sooner or later, and there's some satisfaction in knowing that the worst is over."

Never before had his callous cynicism been so frankly displayed. It chilled her and made the plea she was about to voice seem doubly difficult.

"I wish I looked upon the matter as you do," she said, slowly. "But other people haven't the same social ideas as we. I'm-- crushed, and she--Poor child! I don't know how she had the courage to face it. Now that she has heard the truth from my own lips I'm afraid it will kill her."

Gordon laughed. "Nonsense! Natalie is a sensible girl. Disillusionment is always painful, but never fatal. Sooner or later the young must confront the bald facts of life, and I venture to say she will soon forget her school-girl morality. Let me explain my views of--"

"Never!" cried the woman, aghast. "If you do I shall--" She checked herself and buried her face in her hands. "I feel no regrets for myself--for I drifted with my eyes open--but this-- this is different. Don't you understand? I am a mother. Or are you dead to all decent feeling?"

"My dear, I'm the most tender-hearted of men. Of course I shall say nothing, if you prefer, for I am subservient to your commands in all things. But calm yourself. What is done cannot be undone."

In more even tones Mrs. Gerard said, "You seem to think the matter is ended, but it isn't. Natalie will never allow us to continue this way, and it isn't just to her that we should. We can't go on, Curtis."

"You mean I must marry you?"

She nodded.

He rose and paced the room before answering. "I always supposed you understood my views on that subject. Believe me, they are unalterable, and in no way the result of a pose."

"Nevertheless, for my sake and Natalie's you will do it. I can't lose the one thing I love best in the world."

"It would seem that Natalie has filled your head with silly notions," he exclaimed, impatiently.

"She has awakened me. I have her life to consider as well as my own."

"We are all individuals, supreme in ourselves, responsible only to ourselves. We must all live our own lives; she cannot live yours, nor you hers."

"I am familiar with your arguments," Mrs. Gerard said, wearily, "but I have thought this all out and there is no other way."

He frowned in his most impressive manner and his chest swelled ominously.

"I will not be coerced. You know I can't be bullied into a thing. I deny that you have any right to demand--"

"I'm not demanding anything. I merely ask this--this favor, the first one I have ever asked. You see, my pride is crumbling. Don't answer now; let's wait until we are both calmer. The subject came up--at least she approached it, by asking about the coal claims. She is worried about them."

"Indeed?"

"She was told by a friend in the Land Office that our rights had been forfeited. I assured her--"

"I refused to heed the absurd rulings of the Department, if that is what she refers to."

"Then we--have lost?" Mrs. Gerard's pallor increased.

"Technically, yes! In reality I shall show that our titles were good and that our patents should issue."

"But"--the woman's bloodless fingers were tightly interlaced-- "all I have, all Natalie has, is in those claims."

"Yes! And it would require another fortune the size of both to comply with the senseless vagaries of the Interior Department and to protect your interests. I grew weary of forever sending good hard-earned dollars after bad ones, merely because of the shifting whim of some theorist five thousand miles away."

"Then I am afraid--" Mrs. Gerard's voice trailed out miserably. "It is all we have, and you told me--"

Gordon broke in irritably: "My dear Gloria, spare me this painful faultfinding. If I can win for you, I shall do so, and then you will agree that I acted wisely. If I lose--it will merely be the luck of the average investor. We played for big returns, and of course the risks were great."

"But Mr. O'Neil told her his claims--"

Gordon's blazing eyes warned her. "O'Neil, eh? So, he is the 'friend in the Land Office'! No doubt he also gave Natalie the suggestion that led to her scene with you. Tell her to occupy herself less with affairs which do not concern her and more with her own conduct. Her actions with that upstart have been outrageous."

"What about your own actions with the Golden woman?" cried Mrs. Gerard, reverting with feminine insistence to the subject of their first difference. "What are you going to do about her?"

"Nothing."

"Remember, I refuse to share the same roof with her. You wouldn't ask it of your wife."

Now this second reference to a disagreeable subject was unfortunate. Gordon was given to the widest vagaries of temper, and this interview had exasperated him beyond measure, for he was strained by other worries. He exploded harshly:

"Please remember that you are not my wife! My ideas on matrimony will never change. You ought to know by this time that I am granite."

"I can't give up Natalie. I would give up much, for we women don't change, but--"

"A fallacy!" He laughed disagreeably. "Pardon me, Gloria, if I tell you that you do change; that you have changed; that time has left its imprint upon even you--a cruel fact, but true." He took a savage pleasure in her trembling, for she had roused all the devils in him and they were many.

"You are growing tired!"

"Not at all. But you have just voiced the strongest possible argument against marriage. We grow old! Age brings its alterations! I have ever been a slave to youth and beauty and the years bring to me only an increasing appreciation, a more critical judgment, of the beautiful. If I chose to marry--well, frankly, the mature charms of a woman of my own age would have slight attraction for me."

"Then--I will go," said Mrs. Gerard, faintly.

"Not by any wish of mine," he assured her. "You are quite welcome to stay. Things will run along in the usual way--more smoothly, perhaps, now that we have attained a complete understanding. You have no place to go, nor means with which to insure a living for yourself and Natalie. I would hate to see you sacrifice yourself and her to a Puritanical whim, for I owe you much happiness and I'm sure I should miss you greatly. Some one must rule, and since nature has given me the right I shall exercise it. We will have no more rebellion."

Mrs. Gerard left the room dazed and sick with despair.

"We must go! We must go!" she kept repeating, but her tragic look alarmed Natalie far more than her words.

"Yes, yes!" The girl took her in her arms and tried to still the ceaseless trembling which shook the mother's frame, while her own tears fell unheeded.

"We must go! Now!"

"Yes, dearest! But where?"

"You--love me still?" asked Gloria. "I suppose you need me, too, don't you? I hadn't thought of that."

"Every hour!" The round young arms pressed her closer. "You won't think of--of leaving me."

Mrs. Gerard shook her head slowly. "No! I suppose that must be part of the price. But--Penniless! Friendless! Where can we go?"

"Mr. O'Neil--my Irish Prince," faltered the daughter through her tears. "Perhaps he would take us in."

"Omar Khayyam," said Eliza Appleton, entering O'Neil's office briskly, "you are the general trouble man, so prepare to listen to mine."

"Won't the kitchen flue draw, or has a hinge come off the bungalow door?" Murray smiled. He was harassed by endless worries, a dozen pressing matters called for his instant attention; yet he showed no trace of annoyance. "If so, I'll be right up and fix it."

"The kitchen chimney has a draught that threatens to draw Dan's salary out with the smoke every time I cook a meal, and the house is dandy. This is a real man's-size tribulation, so of course I run to you. Simon Legree is at his tricks again."

"Legree!"

The girl nodded her blond head vigorously.

"Yes! He's stolen Mrs. St. Claire's slaves, and she and Little Eva are out in the cold."

"What the deuce are you talking about?"

"Gordon, of course, and the two Gerards, Natalie and Gloria-- 'Town Hall, To-night. Come one, Come all!'"

"Oh!" O'Neil's eyes brightened.

"There have been terrible goings-on over at Hope. I went up yesterday, in my official capacity, to reconnoiter the enemy's position and to give him a preliminary skirmish, but the great man was sulking in his tent and sent word by a menial for me to begone or look out for the bloodhounds. Isn't he the haughty thing? I don't like to 'begone'--I refuse to git when I'm told, so, of course, I paid my respects to Natalie and her mother. But what do you think I found? Mrs. St. Claire desolated, Eva dissolved in tears and her hair down."

"Will you talk sense?"

"Just try a little nonsense, and see. Well, the great eruption has taken place and the loss of life was terrible. Among those buried in the cinders are the dusky-eyed heroine and her friend mother. It seems Eva had a hand in the overseer's exposure--"

"Yes, yes! It's about those coal claims. I knew it was coming."

"She told her mother of the horrid treachery, and mother lugged the complaint to Gordon and placed it in his lap. Result, confession and defiance from him. Even the family jewels are gone."

"Is Gordon broke?"

"He's weltering in money, but the coal claims are lost, and he wants to know what they're going to do about it. The women are ruined. He magnanimously offers them his bounty, but of course they refuse to accept it."

"Hasn't he made any provision for them?"

"Coffee and cakes, three times a day. That's all! He won't even provide transportation, and the troupe can't walk home. They refuse to stay there, but they can't get away. I've cabled The Review, overdrawing my salary scandalously, and Dan is eager to help, but the worst of it is neither of those women knows how to make a living. Natalie wants to work, but the extent of her knowledge is the knack of frosting a layer cake, and her mother never even sewed on a button in all her life. It would make a lovely Sunday story, and it wouldn't help Curtis Gordon with his stockholders."

"You won't write it, of course!"

"Oh, I suppose not, but it's maddening not to be able to do something. Since there's a law against manslaughter, the pencil is my only weapon. I'd like to jab it clear through that ruffian." Eliza's animated face was very stern, her generous mouth was set firmly.

"You can leave out the personal element," he told her. "There's still a big story there, if you realize that it runs back to Washington and involves your favorite policy of conservation. Those claims belonged to Natalie and her mother. I happen to know that their locations were legal and that there was never any question of fraud in the titles, hence they were entitled to patents years ago. Gordon did wrong, of course, in refusing to obey the orders of the Secretary of the Interior even though he knew those orders to be senseless and contradictory, but the women are the ones to suffer. The Government froze them out. This is only one instance of what delay and indecision at headquarters has done. I'll show you others before we are through. As for those two--You say they want to do something?"

"It's not a question of wanting; they've GOT to do something--or starve. They would scrub kitchens if they knew how."

"Why didn't they come to me?"

"Do you need a cook and a dishwasher?"

Murray frowned. "Our new hotel is nearly finished; perhaps Mrs. Gerard would accept a position as--as hostess."

"HOSTESS! In a railroad-camp hotel! Who ever heard of such a thing?" Eliza eyed him incredulously.

O'Neil's flush did not go unnoticed as he said, quietly:

"It IS unusual, but we'll try it. She might learn to manage the business, with a competent assistant. The salary will be ample for her and Natalie to live on."

Eliza laid a hand timidly upon his arm and said in an altered tone:

"Omar Khayyam, you're a fine old Persian gentleman! I know what it will mean to those two poor women, and I know what it will mean to you, for of course the salary will come out of your pocket."

He smiled down at her. "It's the best I can offer, and I'm sure you won't tell them."

"Of course not. I know how it feels to lose a fortune, too, for I've been through the mill--Don't laugh! You have a load on your shoulders heavier than Mr. Sinbad's, and it's mighty nice of you to let me add to the burden. I--I hope it won't break your poor back. Now I'm going up to your bungalow and lock myself into your white bedroom, and--"

"Have a good cry!" he said, noting the suspicious moisture in her eyes.

"Certainly not!" Eliza exclaimed, indignantly. "I'm not the least bit sentimental."

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