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Old Jezebel On The Rampage








From: Still Jim

"Old Jezebel is a woman. For years she keeps her appointed
trail until the accumulation of her strength breaks all
bounds and she sweeps sand and men before her."

MUSINGS OF THE ELEPHANT.


There is a butte in the Cabillo country that they call the Elephant.

Picture a country of lavenders and yellows and blues; an open, barren
land, with now a wide sweep of desert, now a chaos of mesa and mountain,
dead volcano and eroded plain. The desert, a buff yellow where blue
distance and black shadow and the purple of volcano spill have not
stained it. The mountains, bronze and lavender, lifting scarred peaks to
a quiet sky; a sky of turquoise blue. The Rio del Norte, a brown streak,
forcing a difficult and roundabout course through ranges and desert.

In a rough desert plain, which is surrounded by ranges, stands a broad
backed butte that was once a volcano. The Rio del Norte sweeps in a
curve about its base. Time and volcanic crumblings and desert wind have
carved the great beast into the semblance of an elephant at rest. The
giant head is slightly bowed. The curved trunk droops, but the eyes are
wide open and the ears are slightly lifted. By day it is a rich, red
bronze. By night, a purple that deepens to black. Watching, brooding,
listening, day or night, the butte dominates here the desert and the
river and the ranges.

This is the butte that they call the Elephant.

Below this butte the Service was building a dam. It was a huge
undertaking. When finished the dam would be as high as a twenty-story
building and as long as two city blocks. It would block the river,
turning it into a lake forty miles long, that would be a perpetual water
supply to over a hundred thousand acres of land in the Rio del Norte
valley.

The borders of the Rio del Norte have been cultivated for centuries.
Long before the Puritans landed in New England, the Spanish who followed
Coronado planted grape vines on the brown river's banks. The Spanish
found Pueblo Indians irrigating little hard-won fields here. The
irrigation ditches these Indians used were of dateless antiquity and yet
there were traces left of still older ditches used by a people who had
gone, leaving behind them only these pitiful dumb traces of heroic human
effort. After the Spanish came the Americans, patrolling their ditches
with guns lest the Apaches devastate their fields.

Spanish, Indians, Americans all fought to bring the treacherous Rio del
Norte under control, but failure came so often that at last they united
in begging the Reclamation Service for aid. It was to help these people
and to open up the untouched lands of the valley as well, that the dam
was being built. And the building of it was Jim's job.

Jim jumped off the bobtailed train that obligingly stopped for him at a
lone shed in the wide desert. In the shed was the adobe splashed
automobile which Jim had left there on his trip out. He threw his suit
case into the tonneau, cranked the engine and was off over the rough
trail that led to the Project Road.

A few miles out he met four hoboes. They turned out for the machine and
Jim stopped.

"Looking for work at the dam?" he asked.

"What are the chances?" asked one of the group.

"Fine! Get in! I'm engineer up there. You're hired."

With broad grins the three clambered aboard. The man who sat beside Jim
said: "We heard flood season was coming on and thought you'd like extra
help. Us boys rode the bumpers up from Cabillo."

Jim grunted. Labor-getting continued to be a constant problem for all
the valuable nucleus formed by the Park. Experts and the offscourings of
the earth drifted to the great government camp and Jim and all his
assistants exercised a constant and rigid sifting process. He did not
talk much to his new help. His eyes were keen to catch the first glimpse
of the river. The men caught his strain and none of them spoke again.
Cottontails quivered out of sight as the automobile rushed on. An
occasional coyote, silhouetted against the sky, disappeared as if by
magic. Swooping buzzards hung motionless to see, then swept on into the
heavens.

Jim was taking right-angled curves at twenty-five miles an hour. The
hoboes clung to the machine wild-eyed and speechless. Up and up, round a
twisted peak and then, far below, the river.

"She's up! The old Jezebel!" said Jim.

The machine slid down the mountainside to the government bridge. The
brown water was just beginning to wash over the floor. Across the
bridge, Jim stopped the machine before a long gray adobe building. It
topped a wide street of tents. Jim scrawled a line on an old envelope
and gave it to one of the hoboes.

"Take that to the steward. Eat all you can hold and report wherever the
steward sends you."

Then he went on. Regardless of turn or precipice the road rose in a
steady grade from the lower camp where the workmen lived, a half mile to
the dam site. Jim whirled to the foot of the cable way towers and jumped
out of the machine.

The dam site lay in a valley, a quarter of a mile wide, between two
mountains. Above the dam lay the Elephant. A great cofferdam built near
the Elephant's base diverted the river into a concrete flume that ran
along the foot of one of the mountains. The river bed, bared by the
diverting of the stream, was filled with machinery. An excavation sixty
feet below the river bottom and two hundred feet wide was almost
completed. Indeed, on the side next the flume there already rose above
the river bed a mighty square of concrete, a third the width of the
river. Jim had begun the actual erection of the dam.

The two mountains were topped by huge towers, supporting cables that
swung above the dam site. The cables carried anything from a man to a
locomotive, from the "grab buckets" that bit two tons of sand at a
mouthful from the excavation, to a skid bearing a motion picture outfit.

Work was going on as usual when Jim arrived. The cable ways sang and
shrieked. The concrete mixer roared. Donkey engines puffed and dinkees
squealed. Jim dashed into a telephone booth and called up the office.

"This is Mr. Manning. Where is Williams?"

The telephone girl answered quickly: "Oh, how are you, Mr. Manning?
We're glad you are back. Why, Mr. Williams was called down to Cabillo to
make a deposition for the Washington hearing, several days ago. And they
made Mr. Barton and Mr. Arles go, too. I'm trying to get them on long
distance now. You came by the way of Albuquerque, didn't you? We tried
to reach you in Washington, but couldn't."

Jim groaned. His three best men were gone.

"We didn't expect high water for a week," the girl went on, "or
else----"

"Miss Agnes," Jim interrupted, "call up every engineer on the job and
tell them to report at once to me at Booth A. Whom did Iron Skull leave
on his job?"

"Benson, the head draughtsman."

Jim hung up the receiver and stood a moment in thought. Iron Skull was
now Jim's superintendent and right hand. His mechanical and electrical
engineers were gone, too, leaving only cubs who had never seen a flood.
Benson came running down the trail from the office.

"For the Lord's sake, Benson, have you been asleep?" said Jim.

Benson looked at the roaring flume. "She'll carry it all right, don't
you think? I haven't been able to get in touch with the hydrographer for
twenty-four hours. The water only began to rise an hour ago."

"The poor kid may be drowned!" exclaimed Jim. He turned to the group of
men forming about him. "We're in for a fight, fellows. This flood has
just begun and it's higher now than I've ever seen the water in the
flume. I'm going to fill the excavation with water from the flume and so
avoid the wash from the main flow. Save what you can from the river bed.
Leave the excavation to me."

Five minutes later the river bed swarmed with workmen. The cable ways
groaned with load after load of machinery. Jim ran down the trail,
around the excavation and up onto the great block of concrete. The top
of this was just below the flume edge. The foreman of the concrete gang
was aghast at Jim's orders.

"We may have a couple of hours," Jim finished, "or she may come down on
us as if the bottom had dropped out of the ocean. See that everyone gets
out of the excavation."

The foreman looked a little pitifully at the concrete section.

"That last pouring'll go out like a snow bank, Mr. Manning."

Jim nodded. "Dam builders luck, Fritz. Get busy." He hurried into a
telephone booth, even in the stress of the moment smiling ruefully as he
remembered the complaint at the hearing. The booths had been too well
built. Jim's predecessor had been a government man of the old school in
just one particular. Honest to his heart's core, he still could not
understand the need of economy when working for Uncle Sam.

"Have you heard from Iron Skull?" Jim asked the operator.

"He ought to be here now, Mr. Manning," she replied. "I sent the car
over to the kitchen."

"You are all right, Miss Agnes," said Jim. "Tell Dr. Emmet to be near
the telephone. I don't like the looks of this."

Jim hung up the receiver, pulled off his coat and hurried out to the
edge of the concrete section. A derrick was being spun along the
cableway, just above the excavation. A man was standing on the great
hook from which the derrick was suspended. Men were clambering through
the heavy sand up out of the excavation. The man on the edge of the pit
who was holding the guide rope attached to the swinging derrick was
caught in the rush of workmen. He tripped and dropped the rope, then ran
after it with a shout of warning. For a moment the derrick spun
awkwardly.

The man in the tower rang a hasty signal and the operator of the
cableway reversed with a sudden jerk that threw the derrick from the
hook. The man on the hook clung like a fly on a thread. The derrick
crashed heavily down on the excavation edge, and slid to the bottom,
carrying with it a great sand slide that caught two men as it went.

Jim gasped, "My God! I hate a derrick!" and ran down into the
excavation, the foreman at his heels. Men turned in their tracks and
wallowed back after Jim.

The derrick had fallen in such a way that its broken boom held back a
portion of the slide. From under the boom protruded a brown hand with
almond-shaped nails; unmistakably the hand of an Indian. The least
movement of the boom would send the sand down over the wreckage of the
derrick.

Uncontrollably moved for a moment, Jim dropped to his knees and crawled
close to touch the inert hand. "Don't move!" he shouted. "We will get
you out!" For just a moment, an elm shaded street and a dismantled
mansion flashed across his vision. Then he got a grip on himself and
crawled out.

"Get a bunch of men with shovels!" he cried. "Dig as if you were digging
in dynamite."

"They are dead under there, Boss!" pleaded the foreman. "And they ain't
nothing but an Injun and a Mexican, an ornery hombre! And if you don't
let the flume in this whole place'll wash out like flour. It'll take an
hour to get them out."

Jim's lips tightened. "You weren't up on the Makon, Fritz. My rule is,
fight to save a life at any cost. Keep those fellows digging like the
devil."

He hurried back up onto the section, thence up to the flume edge. Then
he gave an exclamation. The brown water had risen an inch while he was
in the excavation. He ran for the telephone again.

In a moment a new form of activity began in the river bed. Every man who
was not digging gingerly at the sand slide was turned to throwing bags
of sand on cofferdam and flume edge to hold back the river as long as
might be. Jim stood on the concrete section and issued his orders. His
voice was steel cool. His orders came rapidly but without confusion. He
concentrated every force of his mind on driving his army of workmen to
the limit of their strength, yet on keeping them cool headed that every
moment might count.

It was an uneven fight at that. Old Jezebel gathered strength minute by
minute. The brown water was dripping over onto the concrete when
someone caught Jim's arm.

"Where shall I go, Boss Still?"

"Thank God, Iron Skull!" exclaimed Jim. "Go down and get that hombre
and Apache out."

Iron Skull ran down into the excavation. The brown water began to seep
over the edge of the pit. The men who were digging above the slide swore
and threw down their shovels. Jim tossed his megaphone to the cement
engineer and ran to meet the men.

"Get back there," he said quietly. The men looked at his face, then
turned sheepishly back.

Jim picked up a shovel. Iron Skull already was digging like a madman.

One of the workmen, who never had ceased digging, snarled to another:
"What does he want to let the whole dam go to hell for two nigger
rough-necks for?"

"Bosses' rule," panted the other. "Up on the Makon we'd risk our lives
to the limit and fight for the other fellows just as quick. How'd you
like to be under there? Never know who's turn's next!"

The brown water rose steadily, running faster and faster over into the
excavation. The water was touching the brown hand which now twitched and
writhed, when Jim said:

"Now, boys, catch the cable hook to the boom and give the signal."

The derrick swung up into the air. Jim and a Makon man seized the
Indian, Iron Skull and another man the hombre. Both of them were alive
but helpless. The cement engineer shouted an order through the megaphone
and just as a lifting brown wave showed its fearful head beyond the
Elephant, the river bed was cleared of human beings.

Up around the cable tower foot was gathered a great crowd of workmen,
women and children. Jim, greeted right and left as he relinquished his
burden, looked about eagerly. Penelope must have heard of the flood and
have come to see it. But surrounded by his friends, Jim missed the
girlish figure that had hovered on the outskirts of the crowd and that,
after he had reached the tower foot in safety, disappeared up the trail.

Jim, with his arm across Iron Skull's shoulder, turned to watch the
river. The moving brown wall had filled the excavation. It rushed like a
Niagara over the flume edge. In half an hour it ran from bank to bank,
with a roar of satisfaction at having once more regained its bed.

Jim sighed and said to Iron Skull: "She's taken a hundred thousand
dollars at a mouthful. I'll put that in my expense account for my trip
to Washington."

Iron Skull grunted: "We'll be lucky if we get off that cheap. This will
make talk for every farmer on the Project. They'll all be up to tell you
how you should have done it."

Jim shrugged his shoulders. "This isn't the first flood we've weathered,
Iron Skull. Come up to the house while I change my clothes."

The two started along the road that wound up to the low mountain top
where the group of adobe cottages known as "officers' quarters" was
located. The cottages were occupied by Jim's associate engineers and
their families.

"I suppose you learned that your friends came," said Iron Skull. "They
wanted a tent for his health, so I put them in the tent house back on
the level behind the quarters.

"I didn't know of their coming until I was leaving Washington," said
Jim. "How are they?"

"She stood the trip fine. He was pretty well used up, poor cus! She is
awful patient with him. She's all you've said about her and then some.
The ladies have all called on her but he don't encourage them. I stood a
good deal from him, then I just told him to go to hell. Not when she was
round, of course."

Jim listened intently. He knew the whole camp must be alive with gossip
and curiosity over his two guests. An event of this order was a godsend
in news value to the desert camp.

"Much obliged to you," was Jim's comment.

"How'd the Hearing go?" asked Iron Skull.

Jim shook his head and sighed. "They are convinced down there, I guess,
that the Service is rotten. I kept my mouth shut and sawed wood. The
Secretary is good medicine. You should have heard Uncle Denny jump in
and make a speech. Bless him. I felt like a fool. What the Secretary
thinks about the whole thing nobody knows."

Iron Skull grunted. After a moment he said: "Folks down at Cabillo are
peeved at the way you are making the main canal. Old Suma-theek is back
with fifty Apaches. That's one of them we pulled out of the sand. I've
fixed a separate mess for them. I think we can reorganize one of the
shifts so as to reduce the number of foremen."

Jim paused before the door of his little gray adobe. "Will you come in,
Iron Skull?"

"I'll wait for you in the office," replied Williams. He turned down the
mountainside toward a long adobe with a red roof.

Jim walked in at the open door of his house. The living room was long
and low, with an adobe fireplace at one end. The walls were left in the
delicate creamy tint of the natural adobe. On the floor were a black
bearskin from Makon and a brilliant Navajo that Suma-theek had given
him. The walls were hung with Indian baskets and pottery, with
photographs of the Green Mountain and the Makon, with guns and canteens
and a great rack of pipes. This was the first home that Jim had had
since he had left the brownstone front and he was very proud of it. He
had inherited his predecessor's housekeeper, who ruled him firmly.

Jim dropped his suit case and called, "Hello, Mrs. Flynn!"

A door at the end of the room opened and a very stout woman came in, her
ruddy face a vast smile, her gray hair flying. She was wiping her hands
on her apron.

"Oh, Boss Still, but I'm glad to see you! You look pindlin'. Ain't it
awful about the dam! I bet you're hungry this minute. God knows, if I'd
thought you'd be here for another hour I'd have had something against
your coming. And if God lets me live to spare my life, it won't happen
again."

She talked very rapidly and as she talked she was patting Jim's arm,
turning him round and round to look him over like a mother.

Jim flashed his charming smile on her. "Bless you, Mother Flynn! I know
it's a hundred years since you've told me what God knows! I'll have a
bath and go down to the office. I've had nothing to eat since morning."
This last very sadly.

It had the expected effect on Mrs. Flynn, whose idea of purgatory was of
a place where one had to miss an occasional meal.

She groaned: "Leave me into the kitchen! At six o'clock exactly there
will be fried chicken on this table!"

Mrs. Flynn made breathlessly for the kitchen pausing at the door to call
back: "And how's your mother and your Uncle Denny? I've been doing the
best I can for your company. They ate stuff I took 'em only the first
day, then she went to housekeeping."

"Thank you," said Jim, absently. He went into his bedroom. This, too,
was uncolored. It was a simple little room with only a cot, a bureau and
a chair in it. The walls were bare except for the little old photograph
of Pen in her tennis clothes.

In half an hour Jim had splashed in and out of his bath, was shaved and
clad in camp regalia; a flannel shirt, Norfolk coat and riding breeches
of tan khaki, leather puttees and a broad-brimmed Stetson. At his office
awaiting him were his engineer associates and Iron Skull, and he put in
a long two hours with them, his mind far less on the flood and the
Hearing than on the fact that Penelope was waiting for him, up in the
little tent house.

It was not quite eight o'clock when Jim stood before the tent house,
waiting for courage to rap.

Suddenly he heard Sara's voice. "I won't have women coming up here to
snoop! Understand that, Pen, right now. Hand me the paper and be quick
about it."

Jim felt himself stiffened as he listened for Pen's voice in answer.





Next: The Tent House

Previous: The Strength Of The Pack



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