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The Strength Of The Pack








From: Still Jim

"The lone hunter finds the best hunting but he must fight
and die alone."

MUSINGS OF THE ELEPHANT.


That night, when Iron Skull Williams stopped at Jim's tent to speak of
some detail of the work, Jim told him about the conversation with Freet.

"Iron Skull," he said in closing, "if I've got to mix up in politics,
I'll quit, that's all. It's not my idea of engineering. My heavens! If
the engineers of the country are not going to be left unsmirched to do
their work, what's going to become of civilization? You know how I've
always admired Arthur Freet. You know how I appreciate the chances he's
given me to get ahead. And now----"

Iron Skull grunted. "I guess he hasn't hurt his own reputation any by
letting you do a lot of his work for him while he played another end of
the game. You are a great pipe dreamer, Boss Still. You want to remember
that the Service is made up of human beings."

"Do you mean there is graft in the Service?" asked Jim sharply.

The older man answered gently, for he knew he was hurting Jim. "The
Service is the cleanest bureau in the government. I'll bet you can count
on one hand the men in it who don't toe quite straight."

Jim drew a quick breath. "I don't believe there is a crook in the
Service."

"How about the sale of the water power up at Green Mountain?" asked
Williams. "Do you think that was an open deal? Did the farmers have
their chance?"

Jim flushed. "I never let myself think about it," he muttered.

Iron Skull nodded. "You've lived in a fool's paradise, Boss Still, and I
for one don't see that you help the Service by shutting your eyes. You
know as well as I do that the United States Reclamation Service is
developing some mighty important water power propositions. Do you think
it's like poor old human nature to argue that the Water Power Trust
ain't going to get hold of that power if it can or try to destroy the
Service if it can't?"

Jim rubbed his forehead drearily. "Iron Skull, isn't there anything a
fellow can keep his faith in?"

"Pshaw!" answered Williams, "you can keep your faith in the Service!
This here is just like finding out that, though your wife is a mighty
fine woman, she has her weak points!"

Jim stared at the lamp for a long time.

"What you looking at, partner?" asked Iron Skull.

"Oh, I was seeing the Green Mountain dam the way I first saw it and I
was seeing Charlie Tuck and those days of ours in the canyon and
thinking of what he said about the Service. He believed in it the way I
have. And then I was thinking about the bunch of men who've stuck
together and by me for five years, like a pack of wolves, by jove! And I
was thinking of those lines, you know, 'The strength of the pack is the
wolf and the strength of the wolf is the pack.' That is what the Service
ought to be like, the Pack, and if one man goes bad the strength of the
pack is hurt."

The older man nodded. Then he said, "What are you going to do about it
all, Boss Still?"

Jim brought his fist down on the table. "I'm an engineer. I deal with
hard facts, not intrigues. Freet must take me so or not at all."

"Well, you are half right and half wrong," commented Iron Skull, rising.

"What do you mean?" asked Jim.

"I mean that you have got an awful lot to learn yet before you will be
of big value to the Service, but you've got to learn it with your elbows
and sweating blood. You're that kind. Nothing I can say will help you.
Good night, partner!"

The next morning Jim reported at Freet's office. "Mr. Freet," he said
carefully, "I have a lot of pride in the reputation of the Reclamation
Service. If we put a canal through Mellin's place it'll give people a
real cause for complaint. I shall have to resign if you insist on my
doing it."

Freet laughed sardonically. "The Service can't afford to lose you, even
if you do live in the clouds! Why, I broke you in myself, Manning, and
you are one of the best men in the Service today, bar none. We will let
the Mellin matter rest for a while."

Jim blushed furiously under his chief's praise and with a brief "Thank
you," he turned away.

It was a little over two months later that Jim received an order from
Washington to proceed to the Cabillo Project in the Southwest. The
engineer in charge there was in poor health and Jim was to act as his
assistant. Jim was torn between pleasure at his promotion and
displeasure over Freet's obvious purpose of getting him away from the
Makon.

But the utter relief in not having to fight the Mellin matter to a
finish triumphed over the displeasure and Jim left the Makon for the
Southwest with Iron Skull, while trailing after him came the Pack who,
to a man, suddenly felt an overwhelming desire to winter in the desert.

Jim missed the Makon very much at first. He had all the love of a father
for his first born for the Project, for which Charlie Tuck had died. At
first, he felt very much a stranger on this new Project. Watts, the
engineer in charge, was a sick man. He was a gentle, lovable fellow of
fifty, and he was taking very much to heart the heckling that the
Service was receiving on his Project. His illness had caused the work on
the dam to fall behind. Jim closed his ears and his mouth, placed Iron
Skull and his Pack judiciously on the works and started full steam ahead
to build the Cabillo dam.

Six months after Jim's arrival Watts died and Jim succeeded to his job,
which day by day grew more complicated. The old simple life of the Makon
when, heading his faithful rough-necks, Jim ate up the work, with no
thought save for the work, was gone. Jim's job on the Cabillo was not
that of engineer alone. He had not only to build the dam but to rule an
organization of two thousand souls. He was sole ruler of an isolated
desert community and he was the buffer between the office at Washington
and all the contending and jealous forces that were rapidly developing
in the valley.

The United States Reclamation Service is in the Department of the
Interior. Jim had been at Cabillo two years when the new Secretary of
the Interior summoned him to Washington.

The new Secretary had found his office flooded with complaints about the
Reclamation Service. He had found, too, a report from the Congressional
Committee which had the year before investigated several of the
Projects. Being of a patient and inquiring turn of mind, the Secretary
had decided to go to the heart of the matter. Therefore he invited the
complainants to come to Washington to see him. He summoned the Director
and Jim with several other of the Project engineers, Arthur Freet among
them, to appear before him, with the complainants.

May in Washington is apt to be very warm, although very lovely to look
upon. Jim, so long accustomed to the naked height and sweep of the
desert country, felt half suffocated by the low hot streets of the
capitol. He went directly from the train to the Hearing, which was held
in one of the Secretary's offices. The room was large and square, with a
desk at one end, where the Secretary was sitting. When Jim entered, the
place already was filled to overflowing with irrigation farmers or their
lawyers, with land speculators, with Congressmen and reporters.

The Secretary was a large man with a smooth shaven, inscrutable face and
blue eyes that were set far apart under overhanging brows. He looked at
Jim keenly as the young engineer made his way to his seat in the front
of the room. He saw the same Jim that had said good-bye to the little
group in the station eight years before; the same Jim, with some
important modifications.

He was tanned to bronze, of course. He had sun wrinkles at the corners
of his eyes. His mouth was thinner and the corners not so deep. The old
scowl between his eyes had traced two permanent lines there. The mass of
brown hair still swept his dreamer's forehead. His jaws had become the
jaws of a man of action.

Jim sat down, folded his arms and crossed his knees, fixing his gaze on
the patch of blue sky above the building opposite the open window. For
five days he sat so, without answering a charge that was brought against
him.

For five days the Secretary sat with entire patience urging every man to
speak his mind fully and freely. And if bitterness toward the Service
betokened free speaking, the complainants held back nothing.

A heavy set man, tanned and cheaply dressed, said: "Mr. Secretary, I was
born in Hungary. I am a tinner by trade. I lived in Sioux City. I have a
wife and six children. I got consumption and a real estate man fixed it
up with a friend of his on the Makon Project that I go out there, see?
It took all I saved but they told me crops the first year will pay all
my living expenses. I buy forty acres.

"Mr. Secretary, I get no crops for five years. I hauled every drop of
water we use seven miles from a spring for five years. Some days we got
nothing to eat. Me and my oldest boy, we work for Mellin when we can
and we stayed alive till the water come. I get cured of my consumption.
But my money is gone. I can buy no tools, no nothing. And, Mr.
Secretary, when the canal do come they run it through Mellin's place. My
money is gone and I can't afford to dig the long ditch to Mellin's.
Mellin's place is green and mine is still desert."

"Are there no small farmers or settlers who are succeeding on the Makon
Project?" asked the Secretary.

"Yes, sir," replied the man, "many, but also, many like me."

"Then is your complaint against the real estate sharks or the
government?" persisted the Secretary.

"Against both!" cried the man. "Why did that Freet give Mellin and the
other big fellow first choice in everything? Why must I pay for what I
can't get?"

There were several farmers from different projects who had stories that
matched the ex-tinner's. When they had finished, the Secretary called on
a real estate man who had come with a protest about the running of the
canals on the Makon.

"What was the net value of the crops on the Makon Project last year,"
asked the Secretary.

"About $500,000, I think."

"What was it, say the year before the Reclamation Service went in
there?"

"Perhaps $100,000."

"We are to believe, then, that some people have found the Service
useful?"

"Oh, yes, Mr. Secretary, there are a whole lot of contented farmers up
there who are too busy with their bumper crops to come to Washington,
even if they wanted to."

The real estate man sat down and the Secretary called on the Chairman of
the Congressional investigating committee to make a brief summary of his
charges.

The Chairman said, succinctly: "I charge the Service with graft, gross
extravagance and inefficiency. I call on you to remove the Director and
four of his engineers, including Arthur Freet and James Manning, who are
present."

"Of what specific things do you accuse Mr. Manning?" asked the
Secretary, with a glance at Jim's impassive face.

"His Project is full of mistakes, some of them small, that,
nevertheless, aggregate big and show the trend of the Service. Up on the
Makon he made a road at a cost of a hundred thousand dollars that only
the Service used. He's put a thousand dollars into telephone booths
where two hundred would have been ample. Some of the canal concrete work
has had to be dynamited out and done over and over again. The farmer
pays for all this. Manning refuses to take any advice from the farmers
on the Project, men who were irrigating before he was born. His every
idea seems hostile to the farmer, whose land the farmer himself is
paying him to irrigate. Manning was trained by Freet, Mr. Secretary."

The Secretary tapped his desk softly for several moments, as if turning
over in his mind the opposing evidence brought out during the several
days of the Hearing. Jim had not been called on but Arthur Freet and two
other Project engineers had spent an entire day on the stand, quizzed
unmercifully by everyone in the room. They had disclaimed every
accusation. The Director of the Service, a quiet man of marvelous
executive ability, had made a bitter return attack on the Congressional
Committee, the farmers, the real estate men and the lawyers, accusing
them of being the conscious or unconscious tools of the Water Power
Trust, whose object was to destroy the Service.

An elderly Senator had risen and had addressed the Hearing. "I was one
of the fathers of the Reclamation Act. One of the fundamental ideas of
the Act was that it was not governmental charity but that every farmer
whose arid acres were watered would be willing to pay for it. I see but
one thing in all these protests against the Service and that is the
attempt to repudiate the debt incurred by the farmers to the Service.
And the attempt to repudiate is most bitter with the very men who
pleaded most loudly with the Government to irrigate their land and who
voluntarily pledged themselves to pay back during an easy period of
years the cost of the Projects. If it is a fact that this tainted idea
of Repudiation is creeping among the land owners on the Projects, I warn
you all that I shall use all my influence to have the Reclamation Act
repealed."

As the old Senator had finished half the men in the room had risen to
their feet, angrily denying any thought of repudiation.

Now, after tapping his desk thoughtfully, the Secretary looked at Jim.

"Mr. Manning, please take the stand."

Jim unfolded his long legs and strode up beside the Secretary's desk. He
stood there struggling for words that would not come. For five days he
had sat thinking of the three Projects that he knew. He recalled Charlie
Tuck and the two other engineers who had laid down their lives for the
dams. He pictured again the drowned and mangled workmen at the cost of
whose lives the Makon tunnel had been driven. A slow, bitter anger had
risen in him against Freet. It seemed to Jim a fearful thing that one
crooked man could taint such faithfulness and sacrifice as he had known,
could blind intelligent men to the marvel of engineering work that
marked the progress of the Reclamation Service through the arid country.
But when Jim's words came, they were futile.

"I don't know," he said in his father's casual drawl, "that I have
anything to say to the specific charges against me. The Director has
covered the ground better than I can. I have the feeling that if the
actual work we have done out west, the actual acreage we have brought to
profitable bearing won't speak to you people who have seen it, nothing
else will. The flood season is coming on, Mr. Secretary. I would suggest
that you send either me or my successor out to my dam."

The Secretary's face was quite as inscrutable as Jim's. "Mr. Manning,
why do you put so much money into roads?"

Jim's eyes fired a little. "I believe that one of the functions of
government is to build good roads. Actually, the heavy freightage that
must pass over these roads makes it essential that they be first class.
A cheap road would be expensive in time and breakage."

"How about the accusations of mismanagement?"

"I have made mistakes," replied Jim, "and some of them have been
expensive ones in lives and money. Many of our engineering problems are
entirely new and we have to solve them without precedent. The punishment
for a bad guess in engineering is always sure and hard. One can make a
bad political guess and escape."

"How about the accusation of graft?" continued the Secretary.

Jim whitened a little. He looked over the Secretary's head out at the
patch of blue sky and then back at the room full of hostile faces.

"If any man in the Service," he said slowly, "can be shown to be
dishonest, no punishment can be too severe for him." Jim paused and then
went on, half under his breath as if he had forgotten his audience. "The
strength of the pack is the wolf. It's disloyalty in the pack that's
helping the old American spirit down hill."

The Secretary's eyes deepened but he repeated, quietly, "And as to
your graft, Mr. Manning?"

Jim hesitated and whitened again under his bronze. If ever a man looked
guilty, Jim did.

There was at this point a sudden scraping of a chair, the clatter of an
overturned cuspidor and a stout, elderly man at the rear of the room
jumped to his feet.

"Mr. Secretary," he cried, "may I say a word?"

"Who are you?" asked the Secretary.

"I'm a New York lawyer, but I know the Projects like the back of me
hand. And I know Jim Manning as I know me own soul. You've let everyone
have free speech here. Manning didn't know till this minute that I was
in town. My name is Michael Dennis, your honor."

The Secretary smiled ever so slightly as he glanced from Jim's face to
that of the speaker. Jim's jaw was dropped. He was shaking his head
furiously at Uncle Denny while the latter nodded as furiously at Jim.

"Mr. Manning seems unwilling to speak for himself. Since you know him so
well, Mr. Dennis, we'll hear what you have to say. You may be seated,
Mr. Manning."

Jim moved back to his place reluctantly and Uncle Denny made his way to
the front, talking as he went.

"Of course, he won't speak for himself, Mr. Secretary. He never could.
Still Jim we call him. Still Jim they name him on all the Projects and
Still Jim he is here before this crowd of mixed jackals and jackasses.
He never could waste his energy in speech, as I'm doing now. I've often
thought he had some fine inner sense that taught him even as a child
that if it's hard to speak truth, its next to impossible to hear it. So
he just keeps still.

"You've heard him accused of graft, Mr. Secretary, and of inefficiency
and of any other black phrase that came handy to these people. Your
honor, it's impossible! It's not in his breed of mind! If you could have
seen him as I have! A child of fifteen working in the pit of a
skyscraper and crying himself to sleep nights for memory of his father
he'd seen killed at like work, yet refusing money from me till I married
his mother and made him take it. If you had seen him out on your
Projects, cutting himself off from civilization in the flower of his
youth and giving his young life blood to his dams! I know he's received
offers of five times his salary from a corporation and stayed by his
dam. I've seen him hang by a frayed cable with the flood round his arm
pits, arguing, heartening the rough-necks for twenty-four hours at a
stretch, the last man to give in, for his dam! I've seen him take
chances that meant life or death for him and a hundred workmen and ten
thousand dollars worth of material and win for his dam, for a pile of
stones that was to bring money to the very men here who are howling him
down. For his dam, that's wife and child to him, and they accuse him of
prostituting it! Bah! You fools! Don't you know no money-getter works
that way? He's a trail builder, Mr. Secretary. He's the breed that opens
the way for idiots like these and they follow in and trample him
underfoot on the very trail he has made for them!"

Uncle Denny stopped. There was a moment's hush in the room. Jim watched
the patch of blue with unseeing eyes. As Uncle Denny started back to his
seat there rose an angry buzz, but the Secretary raised his hand.

"Gentlemen! Gentlemen! Turn about is fair play. Remember that you have
called the Reclamation Engineers some very foul names. Mr. Manning, I
cannot see why you should not return to the flood at your dam and you
other engineers to your respective posts, there to await word from your
Director as to the results of this Hearing. You yourselves must realize
after hearing all sides that I can take action only after careful
deliberation. I thank you all for your frankness and patience with me."

As the room cleared, Uncle Denny puffed down on Jim. "Still Jim, me boy,
don't be sore at me. I should have spoken if I'd been a deaf mute!"

Jim took Uncle Denny's hands. "Uncle Denny! Uncle Denny! You shouldn't
have done it, yet how can I be sore at you!"

"That's right," said Uncle Denny. "You can't be! Oh, I tell you, I feel
about you as I do about Ireland! I'm aching for some blundering fool to
say something that I may knock his block off! When are you going back?"

"Tonight," replied Jim. "Come up to the hotel and talk while I pack. I
can't wait an hour on the flood. How are mother and Pen?"

"Fine! Your mother and I are the most comfortable couple on earth. We
took it for granted you'd come up to New York. You got me letter about
Sara and Pen before you left the dam, didn't you?"

"No. What letter?" asked Jim.

The two were walking up to the hotel now. Uncle Denny threw up both his
hands. "Soul of me soul! They are out there by now. It all happened very
unexpectedly and I did me best to head him off. I must admit Pen was no
help to me there."

"But what----" exclaimed Jim.

Uncle Denny interrupted. "I don't know, meself. You gave Sara's name to
Freet some time ago, two years ago, when he wanted to do some real
estate business in New York. Well, ever since Sara has had the western
land speculation bug, and lately nothing would do but he must get out to
your Project. They are waiting there now for you if Sara killed no one
en route. There is so much peace in the old brownstone front now, Still
Jim, that your mother and I fear we will have to keep a coyote in the
parlor to howl us to sleep!"

Jim turned a curiously shaken face on Dennis. "Do you mean that Pen,
Pen is out at the Dam? That she will be there when I get back?"

Uncle Denny nodded. "Pen and Sara! Don't forget Sara. Me heart
misgives me as to his purpose in going."

"Penelope at my dam?" repeated Jim.

Uncle Denny looked at Jim's tanned face. Then he looked away and his
Irish eyes were tear-dimmed. He said no more until they were in Jim's
room at the hotel. Jim began to pack rapidly and Uncle Denny remarked,
casually:

"Penelope is Saradokis' wife, you know."

Jim's drawl was razor-edged. "Uncle Denny, she never was and never will
be Saradokis' wife."

"Oh, I know! Only in name! But--I may as well tell you that I think she
was unwise in going to you."

Jim walked over to the window, then slowly back again. His clear gray
eyes searched the kindly blue ones. "Uncle Denny, why do you suppose
this thing happened to Pen?"

The Irishman's voice was a little husky as he answered: "To make a grand
woman of her. She's developed qualities that nothing else on earth could
have developed in her. It's because of her having grown to be what she
is that I didn't want her to go to you. I--Oh, Still Jim, me boy! Me
boy!"

For just a moment Jim's lips quivered, then he said, "We shall see what
the desert does for us," and he closed his suitcase with a snap.





Next: Old Jezebel On The Rampage

Previous: The Makon Road



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