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The Chaos Of Creation








From: 'firebrand' Trevison

The West saw many "boom" towns. They followed in the wake of "gold
strikes;" they grew, mushroom-like, overnight--garish husks of squalor,
palpitating, hardy, a-tingle with extravagant hopes. A few, it is true,
lived to become substantial cities buzzing with the American spirit,
panting, fighting for progress with an energy that shamed the Old World,
lethargic in its smug and self-sufficient superiority. But many towns died
in their gangling youth, tragic monuments to hopes; but monuments also to
effort, and to the pioneer courage and the dreams of an empire-building
people.

Manti was destined to live. It was a boom town with material reasons for
substantial growth. Behind it were the resources of a railroad company
which would anticipate the development of a section of country bigger than
a dozen Old-world states, and men with brains keen enough to realize the
commercial possibilities it held. It had Corrigan for an advance
agent--big, confident, magnetic, energetic, suave, smooth.

Manti had awaited his coming; he was the magic force, the fulfillment of
the rumored promise. He had stayed away for three weeks, following his
departure on the special car after bringing Judge Lindman, and when he
stepped off the car again at the end of that time Manti was "humming," as
he had predicted. During the three weeks of his absence, the switch at
Manti had never been unoccupied. Trains had been coming in regularly
bearing merchandise, men, tools, machines, supplies. Engineers had
arrived; the basin near Manti, choked by a narrow gorge at its westerly
end (where the dam was to be built) was dotted with tents, wagons, digging
implements, a miscellany of material whose hauling had worn a rutted trail
over the plains and on the slope of the basin, continually active with
wagon-train and pack horse, and articulate with sweating, cursing
drivers.

"She's a pippin!" gleefully confided a sleek-looking individual who might
have been mistaken for a western "parson" had it not been for a certain
sophisticated cynicism that was prominent about him, and which imparted a
distasteful taint of his profession. "Give me a year of this and I'll open
a joint in Frisco! I cleaned out a brace of bull-whackers in the Plaza
last night--their first pay. Afterward I stung a couple of cattlemen for a
hundred each. Look at her hum!"

Notwithstanding that it was midday, Manti was teeming with life and
action. Since the day that Miss Benham had viewed the town from the window
of the private car, Manti had added more than a hundred buildings to its
total. They were not attractive; they were ludicrous in their pitiful
masquerade of substantial types. Here and there a three-story structure
reared aloft, sheathed with galvanized iron, a garish aristocrat seemingly
conscious of its superiority, brazen, in its bid for attention; more
modest buildings seemed dwarfed, humiliated, squatting sullenly and
enviously. There were hotels, rooming-houses, boarding-houses, stores,
dwellings, saloons--and others which for many reasons need not be
mentioned. But they were pulsating with life, electric, eager, expectant.
Taking advantage of the scarcity of buildings, an enterprising citizen had
erected tents in rows on the street line, for whose shelter he charged
enormously--and did a capacity business.

"A hundred came in on the last train," complained the over-worked station
agent. "God knows what they all expect to do here!"

Corrigan had kept his promise to build Judge Lindman a courthouse. It was
a flat-roofed structure, one story high, wedged between a saloon and
Braman's bank building. A sign in the front window of Braman's bank
announced that Jefferson Corrigan, agent of the Land & Improvement
Company, of New York, had office space within, but on the morning of the
day following his return to Manti, Corrigan was seated at one side of a
flat-top desk in the courthouse, talking with Judge Lindman, who sat at
the other side.

"Got them all transcribed?" asked Corrigan.

The Judge drew a thin ledger from his desk and passed it over to Corrigan.
As Corrigan turned the pages and his face lighted, the Judge's grew
correspondingly troubled.

"All right," exulted Corrigan. "This purports to be an accurate and true
record of all the land transactions in this section from the special grant
to the Midland Company, down to date. It shows no intermediate owners from
the Midland Company to the present claimants. As a document arraigning
carelessness on the part of land buyers it cannot be excelled. There isn't
a present owner that has a legal leg to stand on!"

"There is only one weak point in your case," said the Judge, and his eyes
gleamed with satisfaction, which he concealed by bowing his head. "It is
that since these records show no sale of its property by the Midland
Company, the Midland Company can come forward and re-establish its
title."

Corrigan laughed and flipped a legal-looking paper in front of the Judge.
The latter opened it and read, showing eagerness. He laid it down after
reading, his hands trembling.

"It shows that the Midland Company--James Marchmont,
president--transferred to Jefferson Corrigan, on a date prior to these
other transactions, one-hundred thousand acres of land here--the Midland
Company's entire holdings. Why, man, it is forgery!"

"No," said Corrigan quietly. "James Marchmont is alive. He signed his name
right where it is. He'll confirm it, too, for he happens to be in
something of the fix that you are in. Therefore, there being no records of
any sales on your books--as revised, of course--" he laughed; "Jeff
Corrigan is the legal possessor of one-hundred thousand acres of land
right in the heart of what is going to be the boom section of the West!"
He chuckled, lit a cigar, leaned back in his chair and looked at the
Judge. "All you have to do now is to enter that transaction on your
records."

"You don't expect the present owners to yield their titles without a
fight, do you?" asked the Judge. He spoke breathlessly.

Corrigan grunted. "Sure; they'll fight. But they'll lose. I've got them.
I've got the power--the courts--the law, behind me. I've got them, and
I'll squeeze them. It means a mint of money, man. It will make you. It's
the biggest thing that any man ever attempted to pull off in this
country!"

"Yes, it's big," groaned the Judge; "it's stupendous! It's frightful! Why,
man, if anything goes wrong, it would mean--" He paused and shivered.

Corrigan smiled contemptuously. "Where's the original record?" he asked.

"I destroyed it," said the Judge. He did not look at Corrigan. "How?"
demanded the latter.

"Burned it."

"Good." Corrigan rubbed his palms together. "It's too soon to start
anything. Things are booming, and some of these owners will be trying to
sell. Hold them off--don't record anything. Give them any excuse that
comes to your mind. Have you heard from Washington?"

"The establishment of the court here has been confirmed."

"Quick work," laughed Corrigan. He got up, murmuring something about
having to take care of some leases. When he turned, it was to start and
stand rigid, his jaws set, his face pale. A man stood in the open
doorway--a man of about fifty apparently, furtive-eyed, slightly shabby,
though with an atmosphere about him that hinted of past dignity of
carriage.

"Jim Marchmont!" said Corrigan. He stepped forward, threateningly, his
face dark with wrath. Without speaking another word he seized the newcomer
by the coat collar, snapping his head back savagely, and dragged him back
of a wooden partition. Concealed there from any of the curious in the
street, he jammed Marchmont against the wall of the building, held him
there with one hand and stuck a huge fist into his face.

"What in hell are you doing here?" he demanded. "Come clean, or I'll tear
you apart!"

The other laughed, but there was no mirth in it, and his thin lips were
curved queerly, and were stiff and white. "Don't get excited, Jeff," he
said; "it won't be healthy." And Corrigan felt something hard and cold
against his shirt front. He knew it was a pistol and he released his hold
and stepped back.

"Speaking of coming clean," said Marchmont. "You crossed me. You told me
you were going to sell the Midland land to two big ranch-owners. I find
that you're going to cut it up into lots and make big money--loads of it.
You handed me a measly thousand. You stand to make millions. I want my
divvy."

"You've got your nerve," scoffed Corrigan. "You got your bit when you sold
the Midland before. You're a self-convicted crook, and if you make a peep
out here I'll send you over the road for a thousand years!"

"Another thousand now," said Marchmont: "and ten more when you commence to
cash in. Otherwise, a thousand years or not, I'll start yapping here and
queer your game."

Corrigan's lips were in an ugly pout. For an instant it seemed he was
going to defy his visitor. Then without a word to him he stepped around
the partition, walked out the door and entered the bank. A few minutes
later he passed a bundle of greenbacks to Marchmont and escorted him to
the front door, where he stood, watching, his face unpleasant, until
Marchmont vanished into one of the saloons.

"That settles you, you damned fool!" he said.

He stepped down into the street and went into the bank. Braman fawned on
him, smirking insincerely. Corrigan had not apologized for striking the
blow, had never mentioned it, continuing his former attitude toward the
banker as though nothing had happened. But Braman had not forgiven him.
Corrigan wasted no words:

"Who's the best gun-man in this section?"

Braman studied a minute. "Clay Levins," he said, finally.

"Can you find him?"

"Why, he's in town today; I saw him not more than fifteen minutes ago,
going into the Elk!"

"Find him and bring him here--by the back way," directed Corrigan.

Braman went out, wondering. A few minutes later he returned, coming in at
the front door, smiling with triumph. Shortly afterward Corrigan was
opening the rear door on a tall, slender man of thirty-five, with a thin
face, a mouth that drooped at the corners, and alert, furtive eyes. He
wore a heavy pistol at his right hip, low, the bottom of the holster tied
to the leather chaps, and as Corrigan closed the door he noted that the
man's right hand lingered close to the butt of the weapon.

"That's all right," said Corrigan; "you're perfectly safe here."

He talked in low tones to the man, so that Braman could not hear. Levins
departed shortly afterwards, grinning crookedly, tucking a piece of paper
into a pocket, upon which Corrigan had transcribed something that had been
written on the cuff of his shirt sleeve. Corrigan went to his desk and
busied himself with some papers. Over in the courthouse, Judge Lindman
took from a drawer in his desk a thin ledger--a duplicate of the one he
had shown Corrigan--and going to the rear of the room opened the door of
an iron safe and stuck the ledger out of sight under a mass of legal
papers.

* * * * *

When Marchmont left Corrigan he went straight to the Plaza, where he
ordered a lunch and ate heartily. After finishing his meal he emerged from
the saloon and stood near one of the front windows. One of the hundred
dollar bills that Corrigan had given him he had "broke" in the Plaza,
getting bills of small denomination in change, and in his right trousers'
pocket was a roll that bulked comfortably in his hand. The feel of it made
him tingle with satisfaction, as, except for the other thousand that
Corrigan had given him some months ago, it was the only money he had had
for a long time. He knew he should take the next train out of Manti; that
he had done a hazardous thing in baiting Corrigan, but he was lonesome and
yearned for the touch and voice of the crowds that thronged in and out of
the saloons and the stores, and presently he joined them, wandering from
saloon to saloon, drinking occasionally, his content and satisfaction
increasing in proportion to the quantity of liquor he drank.

And then, at about three o'clock, in the barroom of the Plaza, he heard
a discordant voice at his elbow. He saw men crowding, jostling one another
to get away from the spot where he stood--crouching, pale of face, their
eyes on him. It made him feel that he was the center of interest, and he
wheeled, staggering a little--for he had drunk much more than he had
intended--to see what had happened. He saw Clay Levins standing close to
him, his thin lips in a cruel curve, his eyes narrowed and glittering, his
body in a suggestive crouch. The silence that had suddenly descended smote
Marchmont's ears like a momentary deafness, and he looked foolishly around
him, uncertain, puzzled. Levins' voice shocked him, sobered him, whitened
his face:

"Fork over that coin you lifted from me in the Elk, you light-fingered
hound!" said Levins.

Marchmont divined the truth now. He made his second mistake of the day. He
allowed a flash of rage to trick him into reaching for his pistol. He got
it into his hand and almost out of the pocket before Levins' first bullet
struck him, and before he could draw it entirely out the second savage
bark of the gun in Levins' hand shattered the stillness of the room.
Soundlessly, his face wreathed in a grin of hideous satire, Marchmont sank
to the floor and stretched out on his back.

Before his body was still, Levins had drawn out the bills that had reposed
in his victim's pocket. Crumpling them in his hand he walked to the bar
and tossed them to the barkeeper.

"Look at 'em," he directed. "I'm provin' they're mine. Good thing I got
the numbers on 'em." While the crowd jostled and crushed about him he read
the numbers from the paper Corrigan had given him, grinning coldly as the
barkeeper confirmed them. A deputy sheriff elbowed his way through the
press to Levins' side, and the gun-man spoke to him, lightly: "I reckon
everybody saw him reach for his gun when I told him to fork the coin
over," he said, indicating his victim. "So you ain't got nothin' on me.
But if you're figgerin' that the coin ain't mine, why I reckon a guy named
Corrigan will back up my play."

The deputy took him at his word. They found Corrigan at his desk in the
bank building.

"Sure," he said when the deputy had told his story; "I paid Levins the
money this morning. Is it necessary for you to know what for? No? Well, it
seems that the pickpocket got just what he deserved." He offered the
deputy a cigar, and the latter went out, satisfied.

Later, Corrigan looked appraisingly at Levins, who still graced the
office.

"That was rather an easy job," he said. "Marchmont was slow with a gun.
With a faster man--a man, say--" he appeared to meditate "--like Trevison,
for instance. You'd have to be pretty careful--"

"Trevison's my friend," grinned Levins coldly as he got to his feet.
"There's nothin' doin' there--understand? Get it out of your brain-box,
for if anything happens to 'Firebrand,' I'll perforate you sure as hell!"

He stalked out of the office, leaving Corrigan looking after him,
frowningly.





Next: Straight Talk

Previous: Two Letters Go East



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