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The Spirit Of Manti








From: 'firebrand' Trevison

The Benham private car had clacked eastward over the rails three weeks
before, bearing with it as a passenger only the negro autocrat. At the
last moment, discovering that she could not dissuade Rosalind from her mad
decision to stay at Blakeley's ranch, Agatha had accompanied her. The
private car was now returning, bearing the man who had poetically declared
to his fawning Board of Directors: "Our railroad is the magic wand that
will make the desert bloom like the rose. We are embarked upon a project,
gentlemen, so big, so vast, that it makes even your president feel a pulse
of pride. This project is nothing more nor less than the opening of a
region of waste country which an all-wise Creator has permitted to slumber
for ages, for no less purpose than to reserve it to the horny-handed son
of toil of our glorious country. It will awaken to the clarion call of our
wealth, our brains, and our genius." He then mentioned Corrigan and the
Midland grant--another reservation of Providence, which a credulous and
asinine Congress had bestowed, in fee-simple, upon a certain suave
gentleman, named Marchmont--and disseminated such other details as a
servile board of directors need know; and then he concluded with a flowery
peroration that left his hearers smirking fatuously.

And today J. Chalfant Benham was come to look upon the first fruits of his
efforts.

As he stepped down from the private car he was greeted by vociferous
cheers from a jostling and enthusiastic populace--for J. C. had very
carefully wired the time of his arrival and Corrigan had acted
accordingly, knowing J. C. well. J. C. was charmed--he said so, later,
in a speech from a flimsy, temporary stand erected in the middle of the
street in front of the Plaza--and in saying so he merely told the
truth. For, next to money-making, adulation pleased him most. He would
have been an able man had he ignored the latter passion. It seared his
intellect as a pernicious habit blasts the character. It sat on his
shoulders--extravagantly squared; it shone in his eyes--inviting
inspection; his lips, curved with smug complacence, betrayed it as,
sitting in Corrigan's office after the conclusion of the festivities,
he smiled at the big man.

"Manti is a wonderful town--a wonderful town!" he declared. "It may be
said that success is lurking just ahead. And much of the credit is due to
your efforts," he added, generously.

Corrigan murmured a polite disclaimer, and plunged into dry details. J. C.
had a passion for dry details. For many hours they sat in the office,
their heads close together. Braman was occasionally called in. Judge
Lindman was summoned after a time. J. C. shook the Judge's hand warmly and
then resumed his chair, folding his chubby hands over his corpulent
stomach.

"Judge Lindman," he said; "you thoroughly understand our position in this
Midland affair."

The Judge glanced at Corrigan. "Thoroughly."

"No doubt there will be some contests. But the present claimants have no
legal status. Mr. -- (here J. C. mentioned a name that made the Judge's
eyes brighten) tells me there will be no hitch. There could not be, of
course. In the absence of any court record of possible transfers, the
title to the land, of course, reverts to the Midland Company. As Mr.
Corrigan has explained to me, he is entirely within his rights, having
secured the title to the land from Mr. Marchmont, representing the
Midland. You have no record of any transfers from the Midland to the
present claimants or their predecessors, have you? There is no such
record?"

The Judge saw Corrigan's amused grin, and surmised that J. C. was merely
playing with him.

"No," he said, with some bitterness.

"Then of course you are going to stand with Mr. Corrigan against the
present claimants?"

"I presume so."

"H'm," said J. C. "If there is any doubt about it, perhaps I had better
remind you--"

The Judge groaned in agony of spirit. "It won't be necessary to remind
me."

"So I thought. Well, gentlemen--" J. C. arose "--that will be all for this
evening."

Thus he dismissed the Judge, who went to his cot behind a partition in the
courthouse, while Corrigan and J. C. stepped outside and walked slowly
toward the private car. They lingered at the steps, and presently J. C.
called and a negro came out with two chairs. J. C. and Corrigan draped
themselves in the chairs and smoked. Dusk was settling over Manti; lights
appeared in the windows of the buildings; a medley of noises reached the
ears of the two men. By day Manti was lively enough, by night it was a
maelstrom of frenzied action. A hundred cow-ponies were hitched to rails
that skirted the street in front of store and saloon; cowboys from
ranches, distant and near, rollicked from building to building, touching
elbows with men less picturesquely garbed; the strains of crude music
smote the flat, dead desert air; yells, shouts, laughter filtered through
the bedlam; an engine, attached to a train of cars on the main track near
the private car, wheezed steam in preparation for its eastward trip, soon
to begin.

Benham had solemn thoughts, sitting there, watching.

"That crowd wouldn't have much respect for law. They're living at such a
pitch that they'd lose their senses entirely if any sudden crisis should
arise. I'd feel my way carefully, Corrigan--if I were you."

Corrigan laughed deeply. "Don't lose any sleep over it. There are fifty
deputy marshals in that crowd--and they're heeled. The rear room in the
bank building is a young arsenal."

Benham started. "How on earth--" he began.

"Law and order," smiled Corrigan. "A telegram did it. The territory wants
a reputation for safety."

"By the way," said Benham, after a silence; "I had to take that Trevison
affair out of your hands. We don't want to antagonize the man. He will be
valuable to us--later."

"How?"

"Carrington, the engineer I sent out here to look over the country before
we started work, did considerable nosing around Trevison's land while in
the vicinity. He told me there were unmistakable signs of coal of a good
quality and enormous quantity. We ought to be able to drive a good bargain
with Trevison one of these days--if we handle him carefully."

Corrigan frowned and grunted. "His land is included in that of the Midland
grant. He shall be treated like the others. If that is your only
objection--"

"It isn't," said Benham. "I have discovered that 'Brand' Trevison is
really Trevison Brandon, the disgraced son of Orrin Brandon, the
millionaire."

The darkness hid Corrigan's ugly pout. "How did you discover that?" he
said, coolly, after a little.

"My daughter mentioned it in one of her letters to me. I confirmed, by
quizzing Brandon, senior. Brandon is powerful and obstinate. If he should
discover what our game is he would fight us to the last ditch. The whole
thing would go to smash, perhaps."

"You didn't tell him about his son being out here?"

"Certainly not!"

"Good!"

"What do you mean?"

"That it's my land; that I'm going to take it away from Trevison, father
or no father. I'm going to break him. That's what I mean!" Corrigan's big
hands were clenched on the arms of his chair; his eyes gleamed balefully
in the semi-darkness. J. C. felt a tremor of awed admiration for him. He
laughed, nervously. "Well," he said, "if you think you can handle it--"

They sat there for a long time, smoking in silence. One thought dominated
Corrigan's mind: "Three weeks, and exchanging confidences--damn him!"

* * * * *

A discordant note floated out of the medley of sound in palpitating Manti,
sailed over the ridiculous sky line and smote the ears of the two on the
platform. The air rocked an instant later with a cheer, loud, pregnant
with enthusiasm. And then a mass of men, close-packed, undulating, moved
down the street toward the private car.

Benham's face whitened and he rose from his chair. "Good God!" he said;
"what's happened?" He felt Corrigan's hand on his shoulder, forcing him
back into his chair.

"It can't concern us," said the big man; "wait; we'll know pretty soon.
Something's broke loose."

The two men watched--Benham breathless, wide-eyed; Corrigan with close-set
lips and out-thrust chin. The mass moved fast. It passed the Plaza, far
up the street, receiving additions each second as men burst out of doors
and dove to the fringe; and grew in front as other men skittered into it,
hanging to its edge and adding to the confusion. But Corrigan noted that
the mass had a point, like a wedge, made by three men who seemed to lead
it. Something familiar in the stature and carriage of one of the men
struck Corrigan, and he strained his eyes into the darkness the better to
see. He could be sure of the identity of the man, presently, and he set
his jaws tighter and continued to watch, with bitter malignance in his
gaze, for the man was Trevison. There was no mistaking the broad
shoulders, the set of the head, the big, bold and confident poise of the
man. At the point of the wedge he looked what he was--the leader; he
dominated the crowd; it became plain to Corrigan as the mass moved closer
that he was intent on something that had aroused the enthusiasm of his
followers, for there were shouts of: "That's the stuff! Give it to them!
Run 'em out!"

For an instant as the crowd passed the Elk saloon, its lights revealing
faces in its glare, Corrigan thought its destination was the private car,
and his hand went to his hip. It was withdrawn an instant later, though,
when the leader swerved and marched toward the train on the main track. In
the light also, Corrigan saw something that gave him a hint of the
significance of it all. His laugh broke the tension of the moment.

"It's Denver Ed and Poker Charley," he said to Benham. "It's likely
they've been caught cheating and have been invited to make themselves
scarce." And he laughed again, with slight contempt, at Benham's sigh of
relief.

The mass surged around the rear coach of the train. There was some
laughter, mingled with jeers, and while this was at its height a man broke
from the mass and walked rapidly toward Corrigan and Benham. It was
Braman. Corrigan questioned him.

"It's two professional gamblers. They've been fleecing Manti's easy marks
with great facility. Tonight they had Clay Levins in the back room of the
Belmont. He had about a thousand dollars (the banker looked at Corrigan
and closed an eye), and they took it away from him. It looked square, and
Levins didn't kick. Couldn't anyway--he's lying in the back room of the
Belmont now, paralyzed. I think that somebody told Levins' wife about
him shooting Marchmont yesterday, and Mrs. Levins likely sent Trevison
after hubby--knowing hubby's appetite for booze. Levins isn't giving the
woman a square deal, so far as that is concerned," went on the banker;
"she and the kids are in want half the time, and I've heard that
Trevison's helped them out on quite a good many occasions. Anyway,
Trevison appeared in town this afternoon, looking for Levins. Before he
found him he heard these two beauties framing up on him. That's the
result--the two beauties go out. The crowd was for stringing them up, but
Trevison wouldn't have it."

"Marchmont?" interrupted Benham. "It isn't possible--"

"Why not?" grinned Corrigan. "Yes, sir, the former president of the
Midland Company was shot to death yesterday for pocket-picking."

"Lord!" said Benham.

"So Levins' wife sent Trevison for hubby," said Corrigan, quietly. "She's
that thick with Trevison, is she?"

"Get that out of your mind, Jeff," returned the banker, noting Corrigan's
tone. "Everybody that knows of the case will tell you that everything's
straight there."

"Well," Corrigan laughed, "I'm glad to hear it."

The train steamed away as they talked, and the crowd began to break up and
scatter toward the saloons. Before that happened, however, there was a
great jam around Trevison; he was shaking hands right and left. Voices
shouted that he was "all there!" As he started away he was forced to shove
his way through the press around him.

Benham had been watching closely this evidence of Trevison's popularity;
he linked it with some words that his daughter had written to him
regarding the man, and as a thought formed in his mind he spoke it.

"I'd reconsider about hooking up with that man Trevison, Corrigan. He's
one of those fellows that win popularity easily, and it won't do you any
good to antagonize him."

"That's all right," laughed Corrigan, coldly.





Next: For The Kiddies

Previous: Straight Talk



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