Jim Plans A Last Fight
From: Still Jim
"The coyotes are going leaving behind them bleaching bones.
The Indians are going leaving a few arrow heads and water
vessels. What will the whites leave?"
MUSINGS OF THE ELEPHANT.
Jim was angry. All night he lay staring into the dark with his wrath
accumulating until it finally focused itself, not on the Director or on
Sara or on the farmers, but on himself! He reviewed the years
mercilessly. He saw how he had refused again and again to shoulder the
responsibilities that belonged to him--belonged, because of his fitness
to carry them. Charlie Tuck and Iron Skull both had done what they could
to make him see, but wrapped in his futile dreams he had refused to
look, and, he told himself, long before he had left Exham, his father
had tried to set him on the right path but he always had put off the
quest on which his father had sent him, always thrust it over into
tomorrow when today was waiting for his start.
The very peak of his anger was reached when it suddenly came home to Jim
that he had failed his father, had proved renegade to old Exham.
Three months! A cool dismissal after over eight years of his heart's
blood had been given to the Service! Jim groaned, then sat erect.
"Serves you right, you dreaming fool! Nobody to blame but yourself!
Three months! And in that time the farmers will elect Fleckenstein to
Congress and the open fight for repudiation will be on!"
Jim groaned again. Then abruptly he jumped out of bed, turned on the
light, and looked at the little picture of Pen on the wall.
"Pen," he said, "Fleckenstein shan't be elected! I'm going out of this
Project, fighting like a hound. I've been a quitter all my life, I'll
admit, but I'm going to put up my fists at the end. I'll rush the work
here and I'll keep Fleckenstein out of Congress. I'll spend no time
belly-aching but I'll stand up to this like a man. Honestly, I will,
Dawn was coming in at the window. Jim filled the bathtub and took a cold
plunge. The sun was just rimming the mountains when he began to tune up
his automobile. He filled the tank with gasoline and cranked the engine
and was starting out the door when old Suma-theek appeared. Jim stopped.
"Where you go, Boss?" asked the Indian.
A sudden desire to talk to Iron Skull's old friend made Jim say, "Get in
and ride to the bridge with me, Suma-theek."
The chief clambered into the seat by Jim. "Suma-theek, the Big Boss at
Washington has given me three months before I must leave the dam."
"Why?" asked Suma-theek.
"Because I darn well deserve it. I've got everybody here sore at me.
Everybody on this Project hates me, so he's afraid it will hurt all the
dams the Big Sheriff at Washington wants to build for all the whites."
"He's a heap fool, that Big Boss at Washington. All the people that know
you love you in their hearts. It hurt your heart because you have leave
Jim nodded. The old Indian eyed him keenly. Then his lean, bronze face
turned sad. "Why you suppose Great Spirit no care how much heart aches?
Why you suppose he let that little To-hee bird all time sing love to
you, then no let you have your love? Maybe, Boss Still, all those things
you believe, all those things you work for, Great Spirit think no use.
"The Great Spirit didn't explain anything to us, Suma-theek, but he gave
us our dreams. I want to fix my tribe's dream so firmly it can never be
forgotten. As for my own little dream of love, what does it matter?"
Suma-theek responded to Jim's wistful smile with an old man's smile of
lost illusions. "Dreams are always before or behind. They are never
here. You are young. Yours are before. Suma-theek is old. His are
behind. Boss Still, you no sabez one thing. All great dreams of any
tribe they built by man for love of woman."
Jim stared for a moment at the purple shadow of the Elephant. Then he
stopped the machine at the bridge to let Suma-theek out. In a moment the
machine was climbing the mesa on the road to Cabillo.
Jim always thrilled to his first view of Cabillo as he swung down into
the valley. It is a little town lying on a desert plain three thousand
feet above the sea. Flood or drought or utter loneliness had not
prevailed to keep men from settling there. It is set in the vivid green
of alfalfa field, of vineyards, and of orchards. Around about the town,
the desert lies, rich, yellow, and to the east rise mountains that stand
like deep purple organ pipes against the blue desert sky. It seemed to
Jim this morning that the pipes had forever murmured with the wordless
brooding music of the desert winds. That age after age they had been
uttering vast harmonies too deep for human ears to hear, uttering them
to countless generations of men who had come and gone like the desert
In Cabillo Jim went, after a hasty breakfast, to see John Haskins.
Haskins was a banker and a Harvard man who had come to Cabillo thirty
years before with bad lungs. He was, Jim thought, an impartial, though
keen, observer of events in the valley. He was in the banker's office
but a few minutes.
"Mr. Haskins," he said, "do you consider fifty dollars an acre too heavy
a debt for the farmers to carry on their farms?"
"Not for the experienced irrigation farmer," replied Haskins.
Jim paused thoughtfully. "Experienced! And not twenty per cent. of them
will be experienced." He made an entry in his notebook, then asked, "Is
ten years too short a time to give the farmers to pay for the dam?"
"Not with wise cropping."
"Is it possible to find sufficient water power market to practically pay
for the dam, without reference to the crops?" Jim went on.
"Yes," answered Haskins.
"If a group of farmers and business men will assume a debt,
voluntarily, then repudiate it, are they sufficiently responsible
persons to assume for all time the handling of the irrigation system and
water power the government is developing for them?" Jim's voice was slow
Haskins answered clearly, "No!"
Jim's last question made Haskins smile. "Is this an intelligent group of
men, these farmers and business men?"
"Unusually so, especially the men who have been long in the desert and
have struggled with its vicissitudes. Some of the Mexican farmers are
difficult to handle, though, because they don't understand what the
government is trying to do. For heaven's sake, Manning, why this
Jim laughed. "Oh, I want your opinion to quote. I'm about to put up a
fight against Fleckenstein."
"But that will be hardly proper, will it, considering your job? Not but
what I think Fleckenstein ought to be fought!"
"Oh, I'm not going on the stump. I'm merely going to fight him by
attending to certain portions of my job that I've always neglected."
Jim rose and Haskins shook his head ruefully. "More power to your elbow,
old man. But nothing can beat Fleckenstein now, I'm afraid."
"I'm going to mighty well try it," said Jim as he hurried out the door.
His next visit was along the irrigation canal to a point where his
irrigation engineer was watching the work on a small power station.
"Hello, Marlow, how is Murphy doing?"
Marlow laughed. "I made him timekeeper. He's assumed the duties of
policeman, ward boss and of advertising agent for you."
"Where is he?" asked Jim.
"Coming right along the road there now."
Jim started the machine on to meet the stocky figure that Marlow pointed
Murphy grinned broadly as Jim invited him into the machine. "I want to
talk to you, Murphy? How does the job go?"
"Aw, it's no job! It's a joy ride. I thought I knew every farmer in the
county but I didn't. A new one turns up every day to tell the Little
Boss how to irrigate."
"Murphy," said Jim, "how do you size up Fleckenstein?"
Murphy looked at Jim curiously. "Just like everyone else does, as a
"How much pull has he with the farmers?"
Murphy shrugged his shoulders. "How much pull would the devil himself
have if he promised repudiation? Tell me that, Boss!"
"Is the chap who is running against him any good?"
"Who, Ives? Is a bag of jelly an implement of war? What have you got on
your mind, Boss?"
"Well, to tell the truth, Murphy, I've just come to! The election is
just three months off, isn't it? I am going to try to lick Fleckenstein
in that time."
"Can't be done, Boss, unless you'll take the stump yourself."
"Of course, that's out of the question," replied Jim. "But this is what
I'm going to do. I'm going to see every farmer in the valley and have a
good talk with him. I'm going to make him see this Project as I do. And
I'm going to send for half a dozen of the best men in the Department of
Agriculture to come out here and get the newcomers interested in
scientific farming. I'm not going to mention Fleckenstein's name."
Murphy looked at Jim, then out at the irrigating ditch along which the
machine was moving slowly. "Boss," he said, "go ahead if it'll ease you
up any, but you might as well try to fight a hydrophobia skunk with a
perfume atomizer as to try them high-brow methods on Fleckenstein."
Jim laughed. "Well, do you know of a better method, Murphy?"
"Yes, the good, old-fashioned way of putting up more whisky, more money
and more free rides than the other fellow does."
Jim turned the machine back toward the power station. "Of course, you
know that that is out of the question, Murphy."
"Well, what do you want me to do, Boss?" asked Murphy.
"Tomorrow is Sunday," said Jim. "I want you to come up to my house and
discuss with me the characteristics of every man in the valley. I don't
know anyone better qualified to know them."
"I'll be there," said Murphy, climbing from the machine. He watched Jim
drive away. "There's something about him that gets under my skin," said
the ex-saloonkeeper. "I'll be holding his hand, next. Poor snoozer!
Think of him trying to fight mud like Fleckenstein. But I'll back him if
it'll relieve his mind any."
Jim was back at the dam by mid-afternoon. He found Pen with Mrs. Flynn
in the shining little kitchen of his adobe.
"Penelope," he said, "is there any way we can rob Sara of his poison
fangs? Certainly sending him away will do little good. I have been
thinking of giving him his choice of being under espionage or of being
turned over to the government. I've played with him, Pen, a little too
long. Now that it's too late, I'm going to lock the door."
Mrs. Flynn looked frightened. She never had seen this expression on
Jim's face before. The scowl between his eyes was deep, his jaw was
tense and his eyes were too large and too bright. But Pen's face flushed
"You are angry at last, Jimmy! Thank heaven for that! We can watch Sara,
easily, if you will use your authority. And oh, I do so want to stay and
help! Your temper is touched at last, Jim. I am thankful to Freet for
Jim nodded grimly. "Will you go over to the tent with me? Or had I
better have it out with Sara alone?"
"Neither," said Pen. "I'll settle him myself. I feel like having a scrap
with someone. What else are you going to do, Still? Shall you report
"That's out of the question. Freet is the least of my troubles, anyhow.
I'll tell you all my plans." He looked from Mrs. Flynn, whose anxious
eyes did not leave his face, to Pen, with her cheeks showing the scarlet
of excitement. Something in their tense interest in him was suddenly
very comforting to Jim and he smiled at them. And though it was a
little strained it was the old flashing, sweet smile that those who
knew him loved.
"I don't know how I'm to get through the next few weeks," he said,
"unless you two are very kind and polite to me."
Mrs. Flynn suddenly threw her apron over her head. "God knows," she
sobbed, "I've waited for you to smile this weary time! I've washed and
mended all your clothes and cleaned your room and cooked everything I
ever heard of and not a smile could I get. I thought you had something
Jim made a long stride across the room and hugged Mrs. Flynn, boyishly.
"Didn't you tell me you felt like my mother? Don't you know mothers have
to see through their boy's stupidity and selfishness down to the real
trouble that lies underneath? No one will do it but a mother!"
Mrs. Flynn wiped her eyes on her apron. "God knows I'm an old fool," she
said. "Change that dirty khaki suit so's I can wash it."
Jim chuckled and turned to Pen. She was watching the little tableau with
all her hungry heart in her eyes.
"Pen! Oh, my dearest!" breathed Jim. Then he paused with a glance at his
near-mother, who immediately began to rattle the stove lids.
"Get out and take a walk, the two of you. God knows I'm a good Catholic,
but there's some things--get out, the two of you! Let your nerves ease
up a bit. Sure we all pound and twang like a wet tent in the wind."
Out on the trail Jim spoke a little breathlessly: "Pen! If you would
just let me put my head down on your shoulder, if you'd put your dear
cheek on mine and smooth my hair, the heaven of it would carry me
through the next few weeks. Just that much, Pen, is all I'd ask for!"
Tears were in Pen's eyes as she looked up into the fine, pleading face.
"Jim, I can't!"
"You wouldn't be taking it from Sara."
"Sara! Poor Sara! He wants no embraces from anyone! I'm no more married
to Sara than a nurse to her patient. But I mean that as long as things
are as they are, the honest thing, the safe thing, is for me not
to--to--Oh, Jim, it's not square to any of us. We must keep on the
straight, clear basis of friendship!"
But Jim had seen Pen's heart in her eyes and the call of it was almost
more than his lonely heart could bear.
"Great heavens, Pen!" he cried. "Life is so short! We need each other
so! What does it profit us or the world that all your wealth of
tenderness should go untouched and all my hunger for it unsatisfied? If
your touch on my hair will brace me for the fight of my life, why should
you deny it to me?"
Pen tried to laugh. "Still, what's happened to your morals?"
Jim replied indignantly: "You can't apply a system of ethics to your
cheek against mine except to say it's all wrong that I can't have you
now, in my great need. And I warn you, Pen, I shall come to you thirsty
until at last you give me what is mine. Only your cheek to mine is all I
ask for, Penny."
Pen looked up at the pleading beauty of Jim's eyes. "Don't plead with
me, Jim," she half whispered, "or I think my heart will break."
The two looked away from each other to the Elephant. The great beast
seemed to sleep in the afternoon sun.
"Tell me about your plans, Still," said Pen, her voice not altogether
"Murphy thinks I'm a fool," said Jim. "Perhaps I am. But Oscar Ames has
been a good deal of a surprise to me: Just as soon as I took the trouble
to explain the concrete matter to him, he got it instantly. And in a way
he got my talk about the new social obligations you showed me."
Pen interrupted eagerly: "You don't know how much you did in that talk,
Jim. Oscar has discovered you and he's as proud as Columbus. He has made
me tell him everything I know about you. You see you have that rare
capacity for making anyone you will take the trouble to talk to feel as
if he was your only friend and confidant. Oscar has discovered that you
are misunderstood, that he is the only person that really understands
you and he's out now explaining to his neighbors how little they really
know about concrete."
Jim looked surprised. "I don't know what I did, except to follow your
instructions, but if it worked on Ames, it ought to work on the rest. I
believe that after a few more talks with Ames, he will work against
Fleckenstein, Pen, and that I will accomplish it by just talking the dam
to him until he understands the technical side of it and the ideal I
have about it. And if it will influence him, why not the others?"
Pen looked at him thoughtfully. "I believe you can do it, Jim. A sort of
silent campaign, eh? And then what?"
"Well, if I can keep Fleckenstein out of Congress by those means, I
believe that this project will never repudiate its debt! I am going to
get the Department of Agriculture to send a group of experts out here at
once. They will help not only the old farmers who over-irrigate but the
new farmers who can't farm. And I'm going to get the farmers who have
been successful to co-operate with the farmers who have failed. If I
only had more time!
"You have three months before election," said Pen. "A lot can be done in
Jim shrugged his shoulders. "I can only do my limit. Among other things
I'm going to try to get the bankers and business men in Cabillo to fight
the inflation of land values here on the Project. Incidentally, I'm
going to keep on building my dam."
"How can I help?" asked Pen.
"I've told you how," said Jim, quietly.
"Oh, Still, that's not fair!" exclaimed Pen.
"Why not?" asked Jim, coolly. Pen flushed and looked away. They were
nearing the tent house and she spoke hastily:
"I'll go in and talk with Sara."
"Better let me," said Jim.
"No," said Pen, "every woman has an inalienable right to bully and
intimidate her own husband."
Jim laughed and left her, reluctantly. Pen went into the tent. Sara was
looking flushed and tired. The look had been growing on him of late. He
had been unusually tractable for a day or so and Pen's heart smote her
as she greeted him. No matter how he tried her, Sara never ceased to be
a pitiful and a tragic figure to her in his wrecked and aborted youth.
"Sara," she said, her voice very gentle and her touch very tender as
she held a glass of water for him, "Jim wanted to come in and talk to
you but I wouldn't let him."
Sara pushed the glass away. "Why not?"
"Because you and he quarrel so. Sara, it's a fair fight. You warned Jim
that you would ruin him. He says you may have your choice of being
watched or turned over to the authorities."
"He is a mutton head!" said Sara. "I suppose he thinks the crux of the
matter is that seance with Freet. As if I'd do as coarse work as that!
That's what I'd like, to be turned over to the authorities. Couldn't I
tell a pretty story about the meeting with Freet up here? Freet actually
thought Jim would come across with the contract! But that wasn't what I
"Sara, when you talk like that, I despise you," said Pen.
"You despise me because I'm a cripple," returned Sara. "Why can't you be
honest about it?"
"Don't you know me yet, Sara?" asked Pen, sitting down on the foot of
his couch and looking at him entreatingly. "Don't you know that if you
had taken your injury like a man, you'd have gotten a hold on my
tenderness and respect that nothing could have destroyed? Sara, I've
watched you degenerate for eight years, but I never realized to what a
depth you had sunk until you came to the Project."
"What do you see in the Project," said Sara. "What does it really matter
whether private or public interests control it? Who really cares?"
"Lots of people care. Jim cares."
"Pshaw!" sneered Sara. "All Jim Manning really cares about is his own
pigheaded sense of race and nationality."
"Jim needs that sense for his propelling power," said Pen. "I believe
that just as soon as a man loses his sense of nationality, he loses a
lot of his social force. Love of country--a man that hasn't it lacks
something very fine, like family pride and honor. Jim's sense of race is
the keynote to his character. And just as much as the New Englanders
have lost that sense, have they lost their grip on the trend of the
nation. They are the type that can't do without it."
Sara eyed Pen curiously. She had turned to look out over the desert
distances so that Sara saw her profile clean cut against the sky. She
was only a girl and yet she had lived through much. Sara looked at her
noble head, high arched above her ears; at her short nose and full soft
mouth, at her straight brow, all blending in an outline that was that of
the thinker, infinitely sad in its intelligence.
"That was a very highbrow statement of yours, Pen," he said, less
harshly than usual. "How did you come to think about these things?"
Pen turned to look at him. "Marrying you made me," she said. "I had to
use my mind. I had no family. I had no talents. I had to teach myself a
sense of proportion that would keep you from wrecking me. I wanted to
get to look at myself as one human living with millions of other humans
and not as Pen, the center of her own universe." Pen laughed a little
wistfully. "Since I couldn't mother children of my own, naturally, I had
to mother the world."
Sara grunted. "Huh! Who can say my life has been altogether a failure?"
Sudden tears sprang to Pen's eyes. "Why, Sara, what a dear thing to say!
And I thought you would remove my hair because of Jim's message."
The sneer returned to Sara's voice. "You ask Jim if he ever heard of
locking the barn too late? Tell him to bring on his 'armed guards.'"
Pen was startled. "Sara, what have you done?"
Sara laughed. "If you and Jim don't know, I'm not the proper one to tell
you! One of your gentleman friends is outside, evidently waiting for
Pen looked out. Old Suma-theek was standing on the trail, arms folded,
watching the tent patiently. He had had one interview with Sara soon
after the crippled man had appeared at the dam. The talk had been
desultory and in Pen's presence, but never after could the old Indian be
induced to come into the tent.
"He like a broken backed snake, your buck," he had said calmly to Pen,
whom he had obviously adored from the first.
Pen came down the trail to see what Suma-theek wanted. She knew there
was no hurrying him, so she sat down on a stone and waited. Suma-theek
seated himself beside her and rolled a cigarette. After he had smoked
half of it, he said:
"Boss Still Jim, he heap sad in his heart."
"You love him, Pen Squaw?" asked Suma-theek, earnestly.
"We all do," replied Pen. "He and I have known each other many, many
"Don't talky-talk!" cried Suma-theek impatiently. "I mean you love him
with a big love?"
Pen looked into Suma-theek's face. She had grown very close to the old
Indian. And then, as if the flood in her heart was beyond her control,
"You will never tell, Suma-theek?" and as the Apache shook his head she
went on eagerly, "I love him so much that after a while I must go away,
old friend, or my heart will break!"
The old Indian shook his head wonderingly. "Whites are crazy fools," he
groaned. "You sabez he be here only three months more?"
Pen started. "What do you mean, Suma-theek?"
"You no tell 'em!" warned the old chief. "He tell Suma-theek this
morning. Big Boss in Washington tell 'em he only stay three months, then
be on any Projects no more."
Pen sat appalled. "Oh, Suma-theek, that can't be true! You couldn't have
heard right. I'll go and ask him now."
Suma-theek laid a hand on her arm. "You no talk to him about it! You
last one he want to know. I tell you so you go love him, then he no care
"Oh, Suma-theek, you don't understand! He loves the dam. It will break
his heart to leave it. Even I couldn't comfort him for that. Are you
sure you are right?"
Yet even as she repeated the question, Pen's own sick heart answered.
This was what had put the new strain into Jim's face, the new pleading
into his voice.
"How shall I help him," she moaned.
"You no tell him, you sabez," repeated Suma-theek. "He want you think he
Boss here long as he can. All men's like that with their squaw."
"I won't tell him," promised Pen. "But what shall I do?" She clasped
and unclasped her fingers, then she sprang to her feet. "I know! I know!
It will be like a strong arm under his poor overburdened shoulders!"
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