The Mask Ball
From: Still Jim
"I have seen in the coyote pack that coyotes who will not
hunt and fight for the pack must starve and die."
MUSINGS OF THE ELEPHANT.
"You are not!" returned Pen flatly. "You don't see the human side of
your problem at all. You have made Oscar Ames hate you. Yet no man could
live the life and do the things that Oscar has and not have developed a
fine big side to his nature. You never see that. And the dam is more
Oscar's than it is yours. It is for him. Still, somehow you have got
to make every farmer on the Project your partner. Make them feel that
you and the dam are theirs. Show them how to take care of the things the
dam will produce. Jim, dear, make your thumb print in the hearts of men
as well as in concrete, if you would have your work endure."
Jim paced the floor steadily. Old visions were passing before his eyes.
Once more he saw the degraded mansions on the elm-shaded streets. Old
Exham, with its lost ideals. Ideals of what? Was Pen right? Was it the
ideal of national responsibility that Exham had lost--the ideal that had
built the town meeting house and the public school, that had produced
the giants of those early days, giants who had ruled the nation with an
integrity long lost to these later times.
"My father said to me, 'Somehow we Americans have fallen down on our
jobs!'" said Jim, pausing before Pen, finally. "Pen, I wonder if he
would have thought your reason the right one?"
Then he lifted Pen's chin to look long into her eyes. Slowly his wistful
smile illumined his face. "Thank you, dear," he said and, turning, he
went out into the night.
The next night was given the Mask Ball in honor of the committee. Nobody
knew what conclusion the eminent gentleman had reached in regard to Jim
and his associates. But everyone did his best to contribute to the
hilarity of the occasion.
The gray adobe building where the unmarried office men and engineers
lived was gay with colored lights and cedar festoons. The hall in the
rear of the building had an excellent dancing floor. The orchestra was
composed of three Mexicans--hombres--with mandolins and a guitar, and an
Irish rough-neck who brought from the piano a beauty of melody that was
like a memory of the Sod. The four men produced dance music that New
York might have envied.
Several Cabillo couples attended the dance. Oscar Ames and Jane and one
or two other ranchers and their wives were there. All the wives of the
officers' camp came and the bachelors searched both the upper and lower
camps for partners, with some very charming results. Mrs. Flynn sat with
Sara, and Jim insisted that instead of going with Jane and Oscar, as she
had planned, that he be allowed to take Pen to the first ball she had
attended since her marriage.
Henderson had ordered that the costumes be kept a great secret. Through
a Los Angeles firm he provided dominoes for the five committeemen. But
there were half a dozen other dominoes at the ball, so the committee
quickly lost its identity. Oscar Ames came as a hobo. Henderson had a
policeman's uniform, while the two cub engineers wore, one, a cowboy
outfit; the other, an Indian chief's. Mrs. Henderson was dressed as a
Penelope wore a flower girl's costume, improvised from the remains of
the chintz she had brought from New York. Jim viewed her with great
complaisance. No one could look like Pen, he thought, and he would dance
with her all the evening. Jim went as a monk. To his chagrin, when they
reached the hall he found that Pen had made Mrs. Ames a costume exactly
like her own, and with the complete face masks they wore, they might
have been twins. They were just of a height and Mrs. Ames danced well.
The children and the phonograph had long ago attended to that.
There was nothing stupid about the ball from the very start. The
policeman ended the grand march by arresting the hobo, who put up a
fight that included two of the dominoes. The orchestra swung into "La
Paloma" and in a moment the hall was full of swaying colors, drifting
through the golden desert dust that filled the room. There were twice as
many men at the ball as women. The latter were popular to the point of
Henderson looked over the tallest domino, seized him by the throat and
with wild flourishes of his club, backed him into a corner.
"Say, Boss Still Jim," he whispered, "that old nut of a chairman
doesn't look as if he had anything but skim milk in his veins. But do
you sabez he's danced three times with that little fat ballet girl and
he's hugging the daylights out of her. He'd ought to be investigated."
The tall domino looked at the couple indicated. "I'll start
investigating, myself," he whispered.
"Wish I could get a dance with her, but I can't," said Henderson. "My
Missis knows who I am. I ain't got her spotted yet, though. Yes, I have.
That flower girl's her. I'd know the way she jerks her shoulders
He cut neatly in and separated the flower girl from the monk. "Look
here, Minnie," he said gently. "You ain't called on to dance like a
broncho, you know. Remember, you're the mother of a family! Cut out
having too many dances with that monk. He holds you too tight. I think
he's one of the committee men. You floss up to the tallest domino and
give him a good time. That's the Boss."
The flower girl sniggered and Henderson pushed her from him with marital
impatience and took an Indian squaw away from the hobo.
"Come on, little girl," he said. "You can dance all right. If my wife
wasn't here I'd show you a time."
The squaw stiffened and the monk swung her away from Jack, who
immediately arrested old Dad Robins, the night watchman, who was taking
a sly peak off his beat at the festivities. Henderson forced the
delighted old man through a waltz, with himself as a very languishing
The hobo, dancing with one of the flower girls, said: "Jane, I've been
trying to get a chance to warn you not to say anything to Mrs. Penelope
about that deal with Freet. I was a fool to let you see that letter
tonight. Now I'm getting into national politics, you've got to learn to
keep your mouth shut."
"How'd you know me?" whispered the flower girl.
"You don't dance as good as Mrs. Pen," he replied.
Here the monk stole the flower girl and danced off with her, firmly.
"Remember the dance at Coney Island and how mean you were to me?" he
"And how bossy and high-handed you were about the bathing? How did you
The monk hugged the flower girl to him. "You haven't lived in my heart
for all these years without my getting to know you!"
And the flower girl sighed ecstatically.
The tall domino, dancing with the other flower girl, felt the strains of
Espanita creeping up his backbone, and he said,
"There is something in the air out here that is almost intoxicating!"
The flower girl answered: "It'll do more than that for you, if you'll
give it a chance. It will make you see things."
"I don't understand you," replied the domino in a dignified way.
"I mean you'd see if you stayed here long enough that what Jim Manning
needs is help, not investigating."
"How do you know I'm not Manning?"
The flower girl sniffed. "I'm an old woman so I can tell you that no
woman would ever mistake him for anyone else after she'd once danced
"He is making a most regrettable record here," very stiffly from the
"Shucks! Why don't you fire Arthur Freet? I warn you right now that he's
trying to get his hooks into this dam."
"The Service might well dispense with both of them, I believe," said the
The flower girl sniffed again. "You politicians--" she began, when she
was interrupted by a call at the door.
The music stopped. A white-faced boy had mounted a chair and was
shouting hysterically: "Where's the Boss? The hombres have shot my
"It's Dad Robins' boy! Why, the old man was here a bit ago!" cried
The monk pulled off his mask and flung his robe in the corner. "Oscar,"
he said to the hobo, who had unmasked, "see to Mrs. Penelope."
Then he grasped young Robins by the arm and rushed with him from the
Oscar hurried Pen and Jane up to the tent house with scant ceremony,
then ran for the lower town. Mrs. Flynn and Sara were greatly surprised
by the early return of the merrymakers. The four waited eagerly for
news. Sara would not let any of the women stir from the tent, saying
that it was unsafe until they knew what had happened. At midnight Oscar
"They got poor old Dad. After he left the hall, he was going past a
lighted tent in the lower town when he heard sounds of a fight. He went
in and found two drunken Mexicans fighting over a flask of whiskey. He
took the whiskey and told them to go to bed. He started out into the
street and the two jumped him and started to stab him to death. He
yelled and the sheriff and his boy was the only folks in all that town
dared to go help him. The two hombres shot the sheriff in the arm before
he located them and got away. They had finished poor old Dad, though.
Mr. Manning's got posses out and will start more at daylight. If you'll
put Jane up for the night, Mrs. Flynn, I'll go back to the lower town.
You'd ought to see those committeemen. Three of them would have gone out
with a posse, I'll bet, if they hadn't remembered their dignity in
Jim had his hands full. By daylight the next morning there was every
prospect of a wholesale battle between the Americans and the Mexicans.
The camp was at fever pitch with excitement. The two shifts not at work
swarmed the streets of the lower camp, the Mexicans at the far end, the
Americans at the upper end near Dad Robins' house, whence came the sound
of an old woman's hard sobs. After a hurried breakfast at the lower
mess, Jim joined this crowd. The men circled round him, all talking at
once. Jim listened for a time, then he raised his arm for silence. "It
was booze did it! Booze and nothing else! Am I right?"
Reluctant nods went around the crowd. "And yet," Jim went on, "there's
hardly a white man in the camp who hasn't fought me on my ruling that
liquor must not come within the government lines. You all know what
booze means in a place like this. Those of you who were with me at Makon
know what we suffered from it up there. I know you fellows, decent,
kindly men now, in spite of your threats to lynch the hombres. But if
you could get booze, you'd make this camp a hell on earth right now. No
better than a drunken Mexican is a drunken white. Am I right?"
Again reluctant nods and half-sheepish grins.
"Now, you fellows forget your lynching bee. Commons, Ralston, Schwartz,
you make a committee to raise enough money to send Mrs. Robins and the
boy back to New Hampshire with the body. Here is ten to start with. They
must leave this noon. Tom Weeks, you make the funeral arrangements. I'll
see that transportation is ready at noon. Bill Underwood, you get a
posse of fifty men and quarantine this camp for booze."
A little laugh went through the crowd. Billy Underwood had been the
chief malcontent under Jim's liquor ruling. Bill did not laugh. He began
to pick his men with the manner of a general.
"One word more," said Jim. "You all know that the United States
Reclamation Service is under the suspicion of the nation. They call you
and me a bunch of grafters. It's up to you as much as it is to me to
show today that we are men and not lawless hoboes."
A little murmur of applause swept through the crowd as Jim turned on his
heel. He made his way into the Mexican end of the camp. There was noise
here of talking and quarreling. Jim walked up to a tall Mexican who was
in a way a padrone among the hombres.
"Garces," said Jim, "send the night shift to bed."
Garces eyed Jim through half-shut eyes. Jim did not move a muscle.
"Why?" asked the Mexican.
"Because I shall put them to bed unless they are gone in five minutes."
Jim pulled out his watch. In just four minutes, after a shouted order
from Garces, the street was cleared of more than half the hombres.
"Now," said Jim, "except when the shifts change, you are to keep your
people this side of the ditch," pointing to the line that separated the
Mexican and American camps. "I have fifty men scouring the camp for
whiskey. Anybody found with liquor will be arrested. If there is a
particle of trouble over it in your camp, I'll let the Gringos loose.
Garces shivered a little. "Yes, senor," he said.
Jim took a turn up and down the street on his horse, then started for
the dam site. As he cantered up the road, Billy Underwood, mounted on a
moth-eaten pony, saluted with dignity.
"Boss, that saloon keeper up the canyon has got a billion bottles of
booze. Worst whiskey you ever smelled. He says he's laying for you and
if you cross his doorstep, he'll shoot you up."
Jim looked at Bill meditatively. "Bill, I'm going to call his bluff!"
"Us fellows in my posse'll shoot his place up if you say the word,"
cried Bill eagerly.
"No, that won't do," replied Jim. "But I have an idea that he's a
four-flusher. Keep your eye on 'Mexico City,' Bill. I am afraid of
trouble, though I've got Garces buffaloed so far."
Jim turned his horse and cantered back through Mexico City along the
narrow river trail to Cactus Canyon. Just off the government reserve was
a tent with a sheet iron roof. The trail to the tent was well worn. Jim
dropped the reins over the pony's head and walked into the tent. There
was a rough bar across one end, behind which stood a quiet-faced man
with a black mustache. Drinking at the bar were two white men whom Jim
recognized as foremen.
"You two fellows are fired," drawled Jim. "Turn in your time and leave
camp this afternoon."
The Big Boss is king on a project. The two men meekly set down their
glasses and filed out of the tent. It was something to have been fired
by the big boss himself.
"And who are you?" asked the saloonkeeper.
"Don't you recognize me, Murphy?" asked Jim, pleasantly. "I have the
advantage of you there. My name is Manning."
The saloonkeeper made a long-armed reach for a gun that stood in the
"One moment, please," said Jim. As he spoke he jumped over the bar,
bearing the saloonkeeper down with him before the long-armed reach
encompassed the gun. Jim removed Murphy's knife, then picked up the gun
Murphy started for the door with a jump. "Break nothing!" he yelled.
"I'll have the law of New Mexico on you for this."
Murphy leaped directly into Bill Underwood's arms. "Hello, sweetie,"
said Bill, holding Murphy close. "Thought I'd come up and see how you
was making it, Boss."
"Nicely, thanks," said Jim. "I'll be finished as soon as he breaks up
"It'll be some punishment for me to watch a job like that," said Bill,
"but I'm with you, Boss."
He shifted his gun conspicuously as he released Murphy. Bill owed the
saloonkeeper something over six weeks' pay. The occasion had an unholy
joy for him. Murphy looked Jim over, scratched his head and started to
whistle nonchalantly. In ten minutes he had destroyed his stock in
trade. When he had finished, he handed Jim the key of the tent with a
"Now," said Jim, "drop a match on the floor."
When the flames were well caught Jim said, "See that he leaves camp,
Bill." Then he mounted and rode away.
Murphy looked after him curiously. "Some man, ain't he?" he said to
"I'll eat out of his hand any time," replied Bill. "Get your pony,
"I'll join your posse," suggested Murphy. "I bet I can ferret out more
booze than any three of you."
"Nothing doing!" growled Bill. "Should think you would have better taste
than to wanta do that."
Murphy shrugged his shoulders. "I want you to let me go up to that Greek
fellow's place before I go," he said.
Bill stared but made no comment.
As Jim rode back through the lower town he stopped young Hartman, the
"Hartman," he asked, "have the films for the movies come in yet?"
"Came in yesterday, Mr. Manning."
"Good work! Hartman, will you give us a show this evening?"
"The hall's in pretty rough shape but if you want it----"
"I want it to keep things quiet, Hartman, till we find those hombres and
get them in jail at Cabillo."
The young fellow nodded. "I'll have things ready at seven. After the
funeral, I'll get the word out."
Jim rode on to his neglected work at the office. There he found the
members of the committee awaiting him. Even the chairman was eager to
know details of occurrences since they had gone reluctantly to bed after
When Jim had finished his story, the Vermont man said pompously: "You
seem to manage men rather well, Mr. Manning. In behalf of my colleagues
I wish to thank you for your hospitality to us. As you know, we must
leave this afternoon."
Jim nodded. "I shall have my superintendent take you over to the train.
You will understand that I do not want to leave the camp myself."
"I wish we could stay and see the end of this," said one of the members.
"It's like life in a dime novel."
"My chief regret is that we only had half of the Mask Ball. After this,
when my constituents are tempted to give me a dinner, I shall urge a
Mask Ball instead. Never had one given for me before and no debutante
ever had anything on my feelings last night," said another.
"Henderson should have been a country squire," said Jim. "He's a perfect
The camp was quiet during the afternoon. Jim saw the committee off at
five o'clock, then went up to the tent house. Sara and he glanced at
each other coolly and nodded. Pen started the conversation hurriedly.
"What word from the two hombres?"
Jim shook his head. "One posse got away last night before I warned them.
I'm afraid that if the murderers are brought into camp I can't avert a
Pen shivered. Sara grunted. "You'd think Pen had lived in a convent all
of her life instead of a death pen like New York."
"It's so lonesome out here, human life means more to you," said Jim.
"Some philosopher you are," sneered Sara. "Fine lot of drool you got off
at the hearing. Why didn't you keep to the main issue? The yokels are
still saying with the rest of us, He must be dishonest or he'd give an
honest 'No' to our accusations."
Jim answered slowly: "When a man says that sort of thing to me I usually
knock him down, or completely ignore him."
"You can't knock us all down and the time is rapidly coming when we will
be ignoring you, minus a job."
"Still," pleaded Pen, "he couldn't understand your speech. Once and for
all, Jim, give him and all the rest the lie."
Jim ground his teeth and did not speak. Sara was obviously enjoying
"You are mistaken, Pen. Jim and I have often discussed the divine origin
of the New Englander. They are a pathetic lot of pifflers. They have no
one to blame but themselves that they are going. Everywhere else the
Anglo-Saxon has gone he has insisted that he had the divine right to
rule and has kept it. Outsiders have had to conform or get out. But over
here he promulgated the Equality idea. Isaac Gezinsky and Hans Hoffman
and Pedro Patello are as fit to rule according to the Equality idea as
anyone else. It didn't take much over two hundred years of this to
crowd the New Englander out of the running. And who cares?"
"I do," said Jim, "because I believe in the things my race has stood
for. Emerson says it's not chance but race that put and keeps the
millions of India under the rule of a remote island in the north of
Europe. Race is a thing to be reckoned with. Nations progress as their
"Emerson!" jibed Sara. "Another inefficient highbrow!"
"I can't help believing," replied Jim doggedly, "that the world will
lose in the submerging of the New England element in America."
"And yet right here, in your America," said Sara, "the leaders of the
money trust are descendants of Puritans."
Jim winced. "'The strength of the pack is the wolf,' When we produced
men of that type we should have recognized them and have controlled
them. They are helping the pack down hill, all right. Be satisfied,
Sara! Only you will not get me off this Project until it is finished."
"No?" sneered Sara.
Pen interrupted nervously: "A couple of men are coming up the trail."
Bill Underwood appeared at the tent door. Murphy was with him. "Boss,"
said Bill, "Murphy has got to see your Greek friend. I got him started
south this noon, but he circled on me and I just picked him up on the
mesa, headed this way. He wanted to come here on the quiet, but I
brought him up in the open."
Next: The Day's Work
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