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The Silent Campaign








From: Still Jim

"I have seen that those humans who seek strength from Nature
never fail to find it."

MUSINGS OF THE ELEPHANT.


Suma-theek waited eagerly. "I'll send for Uncle Benny," said Pen. "He'll
leave anything to help Jim."

Suma-theek nodded. "Good medicine. He that fat uncle that love the Big
Boss. I sabez him. You get 'em here quick," and Suma-theek sighed with
the air of one who had accomplished something.

"I'll telephone a night telegram to Cabillo," said Pen. "He ought to be
here in a week. But we mustn't tell the Big Boss or he wouldn't let us
do it."

Suma-theek nodded and strolled off. When Pen returned to the tent Sara
was full of curiosity, but Pen began to get supper with the remark, "I'm
not the proper one to tell you, if you don't know!"

When Pen sent the night telegram, she telephoned to Jane Ames, getting
her promise to come up to the dam the next day. As she took the long
trail back from the store, where she had gone for privacy in sending her
messages, it seemed to Pen that she could not bear to refuse Jim the
comfort for which he had begged.

"My one safeguard," she thought, "is to avoid him except where we are
chaperoned by half the camp. My poor boy, keeping his real troubles to
himself!"

After Sara was asleep that night, Pen slipped over to talk with Mrs.
Flynn. The two women were good friends. Sara's ugliness deprived Pen
here as it had in New York of the friendship of most women. In the camp
were many charming women who had lived lives with their engineering
husbands that made them big of soul and sound of body. But Sara would
have none of them. So Pen fell back on Mrs. Ames and Mrs. Flynn and the
strangely matched trio had many happy hours together.

But Mrs. Flynn was not in her kitchen, nor was she in her little
bedroom. Pen wandered into the living room. Mrs. Flynn was not there,
but Jim was lying on the couch asleep, his hat on the floor beside him.
For many moments Pen stood looking at him. Sleep robbed Jim of his guard
of self-control. The man lying on the couch, with face relaxed, lips
parted, hair tumbled, looked like the boy whom Pen many a time had
wakened on the hearth rug of the old library.

Suddenly, with a little sob, Pen dropped on her knees beside the couch
and laid her cheek against Jim's. She felt him wake with a start, then
she felt a hand that trembled gently laid on her head.

"Heart's dearest, this is mighty good of you!" said Jim huskily.

Pen did not answer, but she put her hand up and smoothed his hair back
from his forehead. Jim seized her fingers and carried them to his lips.

"Sweetheart," he said brokenly, "how am I going to bear it without you
or--or anything. Oh, Pen, let's go back to Exham and begin all over
again!"

Penelope lifted her head and slipped back until she was sitting on the
floor beside the couch, with Jim holding both her hands against his hot
cheek.

"You will do this often, won't you, dear?" asked Jim.

Pen shook her head. "Jimmy, about twice more like this and I'd be
actually thinking seriously of leaving Sara and marrying you. God help
me to keep from ever doing as yellow a thing as that, Still. But,
somehow tonight, I thought that just this once would help us both
through all the hard months to come. And the memory will be mighty
sweet. We--we need a memory to take some of the bitterness out of it
all, Still. If I'm wrong in doing this, why the blame is mine alone."

Jim lay silently, holding her hands closer and closer, looking into her
face with eyes that did not waver.

Pen smiled and disengaged one hand to smooth his hair again. "I'm a poor
preacher. My life is just an endless struggle not to let my mistakes
wreck other people as well as myself. Jim, the thing that will be bigger
than all we've missed is to make you give the world all the fine force
that is in you. We've got to save the dam for you and for the country.
I shall be with you every moment, Jim, no matter where either of us is,
bracing you with all the will I've got. Never forget that!"

Little by little the steel lines crept over Jim's face again. "I shall
not forget, little Pen. How sweet you are! How good! How less than a
lump of dough I'd be if I didn't put up a good fight after
this!--dearest!"

In the silence that followed, they did not take their gaze from each
other. Then Pen started, as Mrs. Flynn came in at the front door and
stopped with her mouth open. But Jim would not free Pen's hand.

"Mother Flynn must have guessed," he said slowly, "and--she knows us
both!"

Mrs. Flynn came over to the couch eagerly. "I do that!" she exclaimed,
"and my heart is wore to a string, God knows, sorrowing for the two of
you."

"I came in to see you and found Jim asleep and--he's got so much trouble
ahead of him, I couldn't help trying to comfort him just this once. I'll
never do it again," said Pen, like a child.

Mrs. Flynn threw her apron over her head, then pulled it down again to
say, "God knows I'm a good Catholic, but I'm glad you did it. Don't I
know what a touch of the hand means to remember? Is there a day of my
life I don't live over every caress Timothy Flynn ever gave me? Would I
sit in judgment on two as fine as I know the both of you are? I'm going
to make us a cup of tea for our nerves."

Jim swung his long legs off the couch and lifted Pen to her feet. "The
two of you have tea," he said. "I've had a better tonic. I'm going out
for a look at the night shift."

By the time that Mrs. Flynn had bustled about and produced the tea, Pen
had regained her composure and was ready to tell Mrs. Flynn of the
errand that had brought her to the house, which was that when Jane Ames
came up on the morrow the three were to have a council of war on how to
help Jim. Wild horse could not have dragged from her what Suma-theek had
told her, since Jim so evidently wanted it kept a secret. Nevertheless,
all that a woman could do, possessing that knowledge, Pen was going to
do.

The next afternoon, while Oscar joined Murphy and Jim, who were having a
long talk in Jim's living room, Pen and Mrs. Ames and Mrs. Flynn went up
onto the Elephant's back.

Pen's plan was simple. It was merely that she and Jane go among the
farmers' wives and campaign against Fleckenstein. "Women's opinions do
count, you know," she said.

"Mine didn't use to," said Jane, "but they do now. I ain't felt so young
in years as I have since Oscar and I had that clearing up. It's a
splendid idea."

"Where do I come in?" asked Mrs. Flynn, jealously.

"I wanted you to keep an eye on Sara, the days I am away," said Pen.
"You are the only one he will let come near him except me."

"Sure I'll do it," said Mrs. Flynn. "I'd take care of a Gila monster if
I thought it would do the Boss any good. And Mr. Sara don't sass me so
much since I told him what I thought of the Greek church. No! No! I
won't tell the Boss. God knows I'm worried thin as a knitting needle now
over his worrying."

"Then I'll come down tomorrow, Jane," said Pen. "Bill Evans will take us
round. He charges----" Pen blushed and stopped. "I--I--to tell the
truth, I have to ask Sara for what I want and I don't know just how to
get round it, this time."

Jane in her turn went red. "I'll ask Oscar. I hadn't begun to break him
in on that yet. But he's been so nice lately."

Mrs. Flynn stood eying the two women. "Of all the fools, women are the
worst," she snorted. "You bet Tim never kept the purse and there never
was a happier pair than him and me. Just you wait."

As she spoke, Jim's near mother was exploring the region within her
gingham waist and finally she tugged out a chamois skin bag that bulged
with bills. "I ain't been down to the bank at Cabillo for months, and
that angel boy pays me regular as a clock. How much do you want?"

"Oh, but we can't let you pay out anything, Mrs. Flynn," protested
Penelope.

Neither Pen nor Mrs. Ames had seen Mrs. Flynn angry before. "I mustn't,
mustn't I?" she shrieked. "Who's got a better right? Who feeds him and
launders him and mends him? Don't he call me Mother Flynn? God knows I
never thought to see the day to be told I could not do for him! I expect
to be doing for him till I die and if God lets me live to spare my life,
that'll be a long time yet!"

Pen threw her arms round Mrs. Flynn and kissed her plump cheek. "Bless
your dear heart, you shall spend all you want to on Jim."

Mother Flynn sobbed a little. "God knows I'm an old fool, girls! Take
what you want and come back for more."

And thus the campaign for Jim among the farmers' wives was launched.

Neither Oscar nor Murphy had any faith in Jim's "silent campaign." But
his own quiet fervor was such that after that Sunday afternoon's talk,
both men pledged themselves to help him. Murphy was to play the part of
watchdog. Oscar was to work among the farmers.

Oscar Ames never did anything by halves. With Jane urging him from
without and his new found faith in Jim urging him from within, he turned
his ranch over to the foreman and devoted himself utterly to Jim. The
days now were busy ones in the valley as well as on the dam. Jim's
eighteen hours a day often stretched into twenty, though he sometimes
dozed in his office chair or in the automobile with Oscar, reveling in
his new-learned accomplishment, driving at a snail's pace.

During this period Pen saw him only infrequently, for she was much
occupied with Sara, who was not so well, when she was not in the valley
with Jane Ames. Even when Pen did see Jim, he talked very little. It
seemed to her that in his fear lest the secret of his dismissal escape
him, he had gone into himself and shut the door even against her.

They did not speak again of watching Sara, but Pen knew that no mail
left their tent, no visitor came and went without surveillance. If Sara
knew of this, he made no comment. In fact, he did very little now save
smoke and stare idly out the door.

Reports of Jim's campaign reached Pen quite regularly, however. Oscar
was a very steady source of information.


"He don't say much, you know, and that's what makes a hit," Oscar told
Pen and Jane. "For instance, he went over to old Miguel's ranch.
Miguel's one of the fellow's been accusing the Boss of raising the cost
of the dam so's he could steal the money. Boss, he found old Miguel
looking over his ditch that's over a hundred years old. And the Boss, he
says as common as an old shoe:

"'Wish I owned the place my fathers built a hundred years ago, Senor
Miguel.'

"Miguel, he had had his mind made up for a fight, but started off
telling the Boss about old Spanish days in the valley and the Boss, he
sits nodding and smoking Miguel's rotten cigarettes and smiling at him
sort of sad and friendly like until old Miguel he thinks the Boss is the
only man he ever met that understood him. After two straight hours of
this, the Boss he says he'll have to go, but he wishes old Miguel would
come up and spend the day and dine with him. Says he's got some serious
problems he'd like old Miguel's opinion on. And old Miguel, he follows
us clear out to the main road, where we left the machine, and he tells
the Boss his house is his and his wife and his daughters and sons are
his and his horses and cattle are his and that he will be glad to come
up and show him how to build the dam."

"Mrs. Flynn says he's having some farmer up to supper nearly every
night," said Jane. "Oscar, how comes it you always speak of Mr. Manning
as the Boss, now? You never would call any other man that?"

Oscar squared his big shoulders. "He's the only man I ever met I thought
knew more than I do. You ought to hear the things he can tell you about
dam building. And he's full of other ideas, too. A lot of what you folks
put down as stuckupedness is just quietness on his part while he thinks.
I'm trying to pound that into these bullheaded ranchers round here. I
tell 'em how to make sand-cement, for instance, and then ask 'em if a
fellow didn't have to keep his mouth shut and saw wood while he thought
a thing like that out. I'm willing to call him Boss, all right. He's
got more in his head than sand cement, too. Last night, we was coming
home just before supper. He's been on the job since four in the morning
and I knew he had to get back and work half the night on office work.
And I says:

"'Boss, what will you get out of it to pay you for half killing yourself
this way?'

"He didn't answer me for a long time, then he begun to tell me a story
about how he and another fellow went through the Makon canyon and how
that other fellow felt about it and how he was drowned and how he had
some verses that that fellow taught him printed on his gravestone.
Thought I'd remember those lines. They made me feel more religious than
anything I've heard at church. Something about Sons of Martha."

Pen had been listening, her heart in her eyes, trying not to envy Oscar
his long days with Jim. Now she leaned forward eagerly.

"Oh, I know what he quoted to you:

"'Lift ye the stone or cleave the wood to make a path more or flat,
Lo, it is black already with blood, some Son of Martha spilled for that.
Not as a ladder from Earth to Heaven, not as an altar to any creed,
But simple Service, simply given, to their own kind, in their
common need.'"

The three sat silent for a moment, then Oscar nodded. "That's them. He
said he never got their full meaning till just lately and now he's
trying to live up to 'em. I'm perfectly willing to call him Boss."

Pen and Jane were not finding the farmers' wives easy to influence.
Their task was a double one. First they had to rouse interest in the
coming election and then they had to persuade the women that their
husbands were wrong. Moreover, after the first week or so, they found
that Penelope's presence was a hindrance rather than a help. It was
after their call on Mrs. Hunt that they reluctantly reached this
conclusion.

Bill rattled them up to a bungalow on one of the new ranches. The Hunts
were newcomers, having bad luck with their first attempts at irrigation.
Mrs. Hunt was a hearty looking woman of forty. Pen stated the object of
the call.

"I never had any interest in politics," said Mrs. Hunt. "I was always
too busy with my family to gallivant around."

Jane and Pen plunged earnestly into explanations. When they had
finished, Mrs. Hunt said:

"I can see why Mrs. Ames is so interested. But why should you be, Mrs.
Sardox? I heard your husband was backing Fleckenstein."

"I don't agree with my husband's ideas," said Pen. "I am doing this
because I think Fleckenstein's election will do the valley a deadly
wrong."

"Oh, you are one of those eastern women that thinks they know more than
their husbands! I am not! I prefer to let my husband do my thinking in
politics for me. Does Mr. Manning know you're doing this?"

"Oh, no!" cried Jane. "You don't understand this, Mrs. Hunt."

"I'm no fool," returned Mrs. Hunt. "And I tell you it don't look well
for a good-looking young married woman to go round fighting against her
husband for a handsome young bachelor like Manning. So there!"

Pen and Jane withdrew with as much dignity as they could muster. It was
the sixth rebuff they had received that day. Pen was almost in tears.

"Jane, what are we to do?"

Jane fastened up her linen duster firmly. "One thing is sure, you can't
go round with me. One way, you can't blame 'em for looking at it so,
drat 'em! I'll just have to carry on this campaign by myself. I wish Mr.
Manning could go with me. I don't think he has any idea that he has a
way with women. He just sits around looking as if he had a deep-hidden
sorrow and all us women fall for it. You and I aren't a bit more
sensible than Mrs. Flynn. Here I got a Chinese cook in the house Oscar
lugged home. I'd as soon have a rat in the house as one of the nasty
yellow things, but Oscar says I got to have him or a dish washing
machine, so, after all, I've said I'm up against it. And here I am
dashing round the country for Mr. Manning, when I know that Chink is
making opium pills in my kitchen."

But Pen was not to be distracted. "What can I do, Jane? Must I just sit
with folded hands while the rest of you work?"

"You do your share in supplying ideas, Penelope," said Jane.

Pen answered with a little sob, "I get tired of that job! I want to be
on the firing line, just once!"

That night they consulted with Oscar. At first he was very hostile to
the thought of either of them undertaking such work. Then in the midst
of his tirade on woman's sphere, he stopped with a roar of laughter.

"And I'm a fine example of what a woman can do with a man when she gets
busy! All right, Jane, go ahead. Hanged if I ain't proud of you! But
Mrs. Pen is hurting the cause. The women folks won't stand for you, Mrs.
Pen; you are too pretty."

So Pen withdrew from the campaign and Jane and Bill Evans went on alone.

When Oscar was not with Jim, he brought visitors to the dam. These
visitors were farmers and business men from the entire Project. Ames was
careful to time the visits, so that about the time he strolled up to the
dam site with the callers, Jim would be on his tour of inspection. Oscar
would then follow unostentatiously in Jim's wake, but close enough to
get a good idea of the ground that Jim covered. Often he would make Jim
stop and give an explanation of some point the visitors could not
understand. Penelope, consumed with curiosity, joined the touring party
one day.

"I wish you could see him in full action," Oscar was saying. "Like the
day of the flood or the night Dad Robins was killed. He can handle
fifteen hundred men better'n I handle my three. Now you watch him. Those
there fellows he's joshing have been with him seven years. You ought to
hear their stories about driving the tunnel up on the Makon. Say, he'd
go right in with 'em. Never asked 'em to go somewhere he wouldn't go
himself. They all laugh at us farmers, those rough-necks. Say, we don't
know a real man when we see one."

The bronzed elderly man who was with Oscar listened intently. Oscar went
on:

"The details on a place like this are enough to drive a man crazy. He
dassent let 'em pour concrete without him or his cement expert is
round. If the rocks aren't just right or the surface of the section
isn't just right or they slip up a little on the mixture, the whole
thing will go to thunder some day. He's got to spend ten million dollars
with eighty million people watching him and all us farmers kicking every
minute. How'd you like his job?"

"He was over at my place the other day," said the farmer. "I see how he
got his nickname. But he's awful easy to talk to. I got to telling him
what a hard time I had the first year or two I was irrigating alfalfa
and how I get five good cuttings a year now, regular. He wants me to
show that new fellow Hunt how I did it. Guess I will. I always thought
Manning hated the farmers. But I guess he was just busy with his own
troubles."

Pen fell back and climbed the trail to a point where she could look down
on Jim. He was listening to his master mechanic, interjecting a word now
and then at which his subordinate nodded eagerly. Pen wondered sadly,
what Jim would do with his life when he could no longer work for the
Projects. The thought of this sudden thwarting of all his plans haunted
her and she longed almost unbearably to talk to him about it, but his
silence on the subject she felt that she must respect. As she sauntered
on along the trail to meet Bill Evans exploding into camp with the mail,
she was thinking back over Jim's life and of how much of it had been
spent in listening rather than in speaking. His silence, she thought,
was a part of his great personal charm. From it his companions got a
sense of a keen, sympathetic intelligence focused entirely on their own
problems that was very attractive. Somehow, Pen had faith that his
campaign of silence would defeat Fleckenstein.

Bill had a lone passenger in his tonneau. Pen's pulse quickened. As the
machine reached her side, Bill stopped with his usual flourish, and
Uncle Denny, without waiting to open the door which was fastened with
binding wire, climbed out over the front seat.

"Pen! Pen! The door of me heart has hung sagging and open ever since you
left!"





Next: Uncle Denny Gets Busy

Previous: Jim Plans A Last Fight



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