Informational Site NetworkInformational Site Network
Privacy
 
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories


Jim Makes A Speech








From: Still Jim

"I am permanent so I cannot fully understand the tragedy
that haunts humans from their birth, the tragedy of their
own transitoriness."

MUSINGS OF THE ELEPHANT.


Jim drank his tea, staring the while at the envelope that lay on the
tray. Then he opened the envelope and read:

"DEAR STILL: Don't say that I must go away. I want to stay
and help you. I promised Iron Skull that I would. I don't
want to add one breath to your pain--nor to my own!--and yet
I feel as if we ought to forget ourselves and think only of
the dam. No one knows you as I do, dear Jim. Iron Skull
felt, and so do I, that somehow, sometime I can help you to
be the big man you were meant to be. I have grown to feel
that it was for that purpose I have lived through the last
eight years. If it will not hurt you too much, please, Jim,
let me stay.

PENELOPE."

Jim answered the note immediately.

"DEAREST PEN: Give me a day or so to get braced and we will
go on as before. Stand by me, Pen. I need you, dear.

JIM."

But it was nearly two weeks before Jim talked with Pen again. For a
number of days he devoted himself day and night to the preparations for
starting the second section of the dam in the completed excavation. Then
formal notice came that the Congressional committee would arrive at the
dam nearly a week before it had been expected and Jim was overwhelmed in
preparations for its reception. The first three days of the
investigation were to be devoted to inspecting the dam. Jim brought the
committee to the dam from the station himself.

There were five men on the committee, two New Englanders and three far
westerners. They were the same five men who a year before had
investigated Arthur Freet's projects and they were baffled and
suspicious. And Jim's silence irritated them far more than Arthur
Freet's loquacity. The members from the West and from Massachusetts
were, in spite of this, open-minded, eager for information and
interested in the actual work of the dam building. The member from
Vermont pursued Jim with the bitterness of a fanatic.

"A Puritan hang-over is what ails him," Jim remarked to Henderson. "He
would burn a woman for a witch for having three moles on her back, as
easy as--as he'd fire me!"

Henderson snorted: "I wish he was fat. I'd take him to ride in Bill
Evans' machine. But, gee! he's so thin he'd stick in the seat like a
sliver!"

Henderson had devoted himself to the entertainment of the visitors. He
had organized a picnic to a far canyon where the "officers" and their
wives offered the committee a wonderful camp supper, by a camp fire
that lighted the desert for miles. He had induced the Mexicans in the
lower camp to give one of their religious plays for the second night's
entertainment. The moving picture hall was turned into a theater and the
play, in queer Spanish, a strange mixture of miracle-play and
buffoonery, delighted the hombres and astounded the whites. But the
consummation of Henderson's art as an entertainment provider was to be
the Mask Ball. This was to take place after the hearing at Cabillo was
finished.

Jim gave all his time to the committee. He turned the office and its
force over to them; gave them the freedom of the account books and the
safe. Let them rummage the warehouse and its system. Explained his
engineering mistakes to them. Went over and over the details of the
flood, of the weathering abutments, of the concrete that did not come up
to specifications, of the new system of concrete mixture that he and his
cement engineer were evolving and which Jim believed in so ardently that
he was using it on the dam. But in regard to Freet or to any graft in
the Service he was persistently silent.

The Hearing was like and yet unlike the May hearing. It lacked the
dignity of the first occasion and the Vermont member who presided was
not the calm, inscrutable judge that the Secretary had been. The hall in
Cabillo was packed with farmers and their wives and sweethearts and with
Del Norte citizens.

The main effort of the speakers at the Hearing was to prove the
inordinate extravagance and incompetence of Jim and his associates. For
three days Jim answered questions quietly and as briefly as possible.
But he was not able to compass the cool indifference that had kept him
staring out the window of the Interior Department. There was growing
within him an overwhelming desire to protest. He saw that, however fair
the other members of the committee were inclined to be, their certainty
of Freet's dishonesty, coupled with the fact that he was a pupil of
Freet's, would be used by the restless vindictiveness of the Vermont
member without doubt, to bring about his dismissal.

He felt an increasing desire to make a last stand against the wall of
the nation's indifference, to make the people of the Project and the
people of the world understand his viewpoint. But words failed him until
the last day of the Hearing.

On this last day, Sara and Pen attended the hearing, as guests of
Fleckenstein, who had sent his great touring car for them. Jim nodded to
them across the room but made no attempt to speak to them. It was
nearing five o'clock when Fleckenstein closed his testimony.

"The Reclamation Service," he said, "is like every other department of
the government. It is a refuge for the incompetent whose one skill is in
grafting. The cost of this dam has jumped over the estimates by hundreds
of thousands. Forty dollars an acre is what the farmers of this project
must pay the government instead of the estimated thirty. I do not lay
the whole blame on Mr. Manning, even though he is Freet's pupil. Part of
it is due to the criminal ignorance and weakness of Mr. Manning's
predecessor. We farmers----"

"Stop!" thundered Jim. He jumped to his feet. Fleckenstein gasped. Jim
threw back his hair. His gray eyes were black. His thin brown face was
flushed. Under his khaki riding suit his long steel muscles were tense.

"My predecessor was Frederick Watts. I grew to know him well. He was a
master mind in his profession, but he was gentle and sensitive and, like
many men who have lived long in the open, silent. About the time that he
started to build this dam the money interests in this country decided
that the nation was getting too much water power control. They decided
that the best way to stop the nation's growth in this direction was to
discredit the Service. Frederick Watts was one of their first targets.
By means too subtle for me to understand, they set machinery going in
this vicinity by which every step that Watts took was made a kick
against him.

"They never let up on him. They hounded him. They put him to shame with
the nation and in the privacy of his own family. Watts was over fifty
years old. He was no fighter. All he wanted was a chance to build his
dam. He was gentle and silent. He went into nervous prostration and
died, still silent, a broken-hearted man.

"Up in the big silent places you will find his monuments; dams high in
mountain fastnesses, an imperishable part of the mountains; trestles
that bridge canyons which birds feared to cross. He spent his life in
utter hardships making ways easy for others to follow. These monuments
will stand forever. But the name of their builder has become a blackened
thing for rats like Fleckenstein to handle with dirty claws.

"And now they are after me. And you, many of you, in this audience, are
the sometimes innocent and sometimes paid instruments of my downfall.
You accuse me of grafting, of lying and stealing. You don't understand."

Jim paused and moistened his lips. The room was breathless. Pen could
hear her heart beat. She dug her fingernails into her palm. Could he,
could he find the words? Even if these people did not understand,
could he not say something that would teach her how to help him? Jim did
not see the crowded room. Before him was his father's dying face and
Iron Skull's. His hands felt their dying fingers.

"I am a New Englander. My people came to New England 250 years ago and
fought the wilderness for a home. We were Anglo-Saxons. We were trail
makers, lawmakers, empire builders. We founded this nation. We threw
open the doors to the world and then we were unable to withstand the
flood that answered our invitation. The New Englander in America is as
dead as the Indian or the buffalo. My people have failed and died with
the rest. I am the last of my line.

"But I have the craving of my ancestry with something more. I can see
the tragedy of my race. I know that the day will come when the
civilization of America will be South European; that our every
institution will be altered to suit the needs of the South European and
Asiatic mind.

"I want to leave an imperishable Anglo-Saxon thumb print on the map; a
thumb print that no future changes can obliterate, a thumb print that
shall be less transitory than the pyramids because it will be a part of
the fundamental needs of a people as long as they hunger or thirst.

"Look at the roster of the Reclamation Service. You will find it a
roster of men whom the old vision has sent into dam building and road
making. Here in the Service you will find the last stand of the
Anglo-Saxon trail makers.

"I want to build this dam. I want to build it so that, by God, it shall
be standing and delivering water when the law that makes it possible
shall have passed from the memory of man! And you won't let me build it.
You, some of you Anglo-Saxons yourselves, destined to be obliterated as
I shall be, are fighting me. You say that I am stealing. I, fighting
to leave a thumb print!"

Jim dropped into his seat and for a moment there was such silence in the
room that the palm leaves outside the window could be heard rattling
softly in the breeze. Then there broke forth a great round of
handclapping, and during this Jim slipped out. He was not much deceived
by the applause. He knew that it would take more than a burst of
eloquence to overcome the influences at work against the Service.

He returned to the dam that night, Pen and Sara came up the next day and
that evening Jim went over to call. It was his first word with Pen since
the walk to Wind Ridge. He found Sara sleeping heavily. Pen greeted him
casually.

"Hello, Still! Sara was suffering so frightfully after his trip that he
took his morphine. It was insane of him to go to the Hearing, but he
would do it. Sit down. We won't disturb him a bit."

She pulled the blanket over the unconscious man in her usual tender way.

"You are mighty good to him, Pen," said Jim.

"I try to be. I guess I'm as good to him as he'll let me be, poor
fellow. Jim, he was fine in his college days, wasn't he?"

"I never saw a more magnificent physique," answered Jim. "He was a great
athlete and I used to believe he was a greater financier than Morgan."

Pen looked at Jim gratefully. "And if it hadn't been for the accident he
would have been just as easy to get along with as the average man."

Jim chuckled. "I don't know whether that's a compliment to Sara or an
insult to the average man. What have you done with yourself during the
investigation?"

"Taken care of Sara, communed with my soul and the laundry problem and
had several nice talks with Jane Ames. She is a dear."

Jim nodded. Then he pulled the Secretary's letter from his pocket with a
copy of his own answer and handed them to Pen. "I've come for advice and
comment," he said.

Pen read both and her cheeks flushed. "Have you sent your answer?"

Jim nodded.

Pen stared at him a moment with her mouth open, then she said, with
heartfelt sincerity, "Jim, I'm perfectly disgusted with you!"

Jim gasped.

"Like the average descendant of the Puritan," Pen sniffed, "you are
lying down on your job. Thank God, I'm Irish!"

"Gee, Pen, you're actually cross!"

"I am! If I were not a perfect lady I'd slap you and put my tongue out
at you, anything that would adequately express my disdain! For
pig-headed bigotry, bounded on the north by high principles and on the
south by big dreams, give me a New Englander! You make me tired!"

"For the Lord's sake, Pen!"

Pen laid down her bit of sewing and looked at Jim long and earnestly,
then she said, quietly, "Jim, why don't you go to work?"

Jim looked flushed and bewildered. "I work eighteen hours a day."

Pen groaned. "I'm talking about your capacity, not your output. You are
only using half of what is in you, Still. You build the dam and you
refuse to do anything else. Why, with your kind of creative, engineering
mind, you are perfectly capable of administering the dam, too. Of
handling all the problems connected with it in a cool, scientific way
that would come very near being ideal justice. You know that the
projects are an experiment in government activity. You know that the
people who will control them have no experience or training that will
fit them for handling the projects. Yet you refuse to help them. You are
just as stupid and just as selfish as if you had built a complicated
machine and had turned it over to children to run, refusing them all
explanation or guidance."

Pen paused, breathless, her cheeks scarlet, her eyes glowing. Jim
watched her, his face pitifully eager. Perhaps, he thought, Pen was
actually going to lay her finger on the cause of his inadequacy.

"Instead of antagonizing every farmer on the Project, you ought to be
making them feel that you are their partner and friend in a mighty
difficult business. You told us yesterday that your ancestors not only
made the trail but also the law of the trail. What are you doing? It's
your own fault if you lose your job, Still!"

Pen got up and turned Sara's pillow and shaded the light from his face,
mechanically.

"You are just like all the rest of what you call the Anglo-Americans.
You go about feeling superior and abused and calling the immigrants hard
names. You are just a lot of quitters. You have refused national
service. If you are a dying race and you are convinced that the
world can't afford to lose your institutions, how low down you are not
to feel that your last duty to society is to show by personal example
the value of your institutions."

"I don't see what I can do," protested Jim.

"That's just what I'm trying to show you," retorted Pen. "I have to plow
through your ignorance first--clear the ground, you know! After you
Anglo-Americans founded the government most of you went to money making
and left it to be administered by people who were racially and
traditionally different from you. You left your immigration problems to
sentimentalists and money-makers. You left the law-making to
money-makers. You refused to serve the nation in a disinterested,
future-seeing way which was your duty if you wanted your institutions to
live. You descendants of New England are quitters. And you are going to
lose your dam because of that simple fact."

Jim began to pace the floor. "Did you ever talk this over with Uncle
Denny, Penelope?"

"No!" she gave a scornful sniff. "If ever I had dared to criticize you,
he'd have turned me out of the house. No one can live in New York and
not think a great deal about immigration problems. And--I have been with
you much in the past eight years, Jimmy. I can't tell you how much I
have thought about you and your work. And then, just before old Iron
Skull was killed, he turned you over to me."

Jim paused before her. "He was worried about you, too," she went on. "He
said you were not getting the big grasp on things that you ought and
that I must help you."

"I wonder if that was what he was trying to tell me when he was killed,"
said Jim. "The dear old man! Go on, Pen."

"I've just this much more to say, Jim, and that is that if the
Reclamation Service idea fails, it's more the fault of you engineers
than of anyone else. The sort of thing you engineers do on the dam is
typical of the Anglo-American in the whole country. You are quitters!"

"Pen, don't you say that again!" exclaimed Jim, sharply. "I'm doing all
I can!"





Next: The Mask Ball

Previous: Too Late For Love



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 465