The Thumb Print
From: Still Jim
"I have been buffeted by the ages until I dominate the
desert. So do the ages buffet one another until they produce
a dominating man."
MUSINGS OF THE ELEPHANT.
Uncle Denny was on the platform before Marshall had ceased speaking.
"Friends, Mr. Marshall has said the thing we had in mind to present to
this meeting. It was to be me share to ask you for a petition. 'Twill be
the pride of Still Jim's life that the request came from a farmer and
not from me. If all here will sign and if every man here will make
himself responsible for the signatures of his neighbors, the thing can
be done in a few days and we will wire the matter to the Secretary of
the Interior. Friends, I'd rather see the tide turn for Jim than to see
Home Rule in Ireland!"
The tide had turned. One of those marvelous changes of sentiment that
sometimes sweep a community began in the wild applause that greeted the
tender little closing of Uncle Denny's speech. When Fleckenstein arrived
an hour late, he found an empty hall. His audience had dispersed to
scour the valleys for signatures for Jim.
Uncle Denny came home to the dam, tired but with the first ray of hope
in his heart that he had had for a long time. The petition might not
influence the authorities and yet the sentiment it raised might defeat
Fleckenstein at the last. At any rate, it was something to work for
these last hard days of Jim's regime.
Jim had seen the last farmer and was devoting the final days of his stay
on the dam to urging the work forward that he might leave as full a
record behind him as his broken term permitted. Wrapped in his work and
his grief, Jim did not hear of the existence of the petition. Henderson
had spread word among the workmen of Jim's intended departure. No one
cared to speak of the matter to Jim. Something in his stern, sad young
face forbade it. But there was not a man on the job from associate
engineer to mule driver who did not throw himself into his work with an
abandon of energy that drove the work forward with unbelievable
rapidity. All that his men could do to help Jim's record was to be done.
For three days before the election Henderson scarcely slept. He tried to
be on all three shifts. "I even eat my meals from a nose bag," he told
Uncle Denny sadly.
"And what's a nose bag?" asked Uncle Denny.
"A nose bag is the thing you tie on a horse for him to get his grub
from. Also it's the long yellow bag the cook puts the night shift's
lunch in. But I'd starve if 'twould keep the Boss on the job. I'd even
drink one of Babe's cocktails."
Henderson waited for Uncle Denny's "Go ahead with the story," then he
"Algernon Dove was Babe's real name. He was an English remittance-man
here in the early days. The Smithsonian folks came down here and wanted
to get someone to go out with them to collect desert specimens,
rattlers, Gila monsters, hydrophobia skunks and such trash. Babe and
Alkali Ike, his running mate, went with them. They took a good outfit,
the Smithsonian folks did, and in one wagon they took a barrel of
alcohol and dumped the reptiles into it as fast as they found them. They
got a good bunch, little by little, snakes and horned toads and
hydrophobia skunks. In about two weeks they was ready to come back. Then
they noticed the bad smell."
Henderson paused. "What was the matter?" asked Uncle Denny.
"Babe and Ike had been drinking the alcohol, day by day," he answered in
his musical voice. "The barrel just did 'em two weeks. Just because I
talk foolish talk, Mr. Dennis, ain't a sign that I don't feel bad. I
don't want the Boss to speak to me or I'll cry."
The day of the election was a long one for Jim. He packed his trunk and
his personal papers and Mrs. Flynn began to wrap the legs of the chairs
in newspapers. Her tears threatened to reduce each wrapping to pulp
before she completed it. In the afternoon, Jim started for a last tour
of the dam. He covered the work slowly, looking his last at the details
over which he had toiled and dreamed so long. He walked slowly up from
the lower town. The men who passed him glanced away as if they would not
intrude on his trouble.
The work on the dam was going forward as though life and death depended
on the amount accomplished by this particular shift. Jim was
inexpressibly touched by this display of the men's good will, but he
could think of no way to show his feeling.
Just at sunset he climbed the Elephant's back. But he was not to have
this last call alone. Old Suma-theek was sitting on the edge of the
crater, his fine face turned hawklike toward the distance. Jim nodded to
his friend, then sat down in his favorite spot where, far across the
canyon, he could see the flag, rippling before the office.
After a time, the old Indian came over to sit beside him. He followed
Jim's gaze and said softly:
"That flag it heap pretty but wherever Injun see it he see sorrow and
death for Injun."
Jim answered slowly: "Perhaps we're being paid for what we've done to
you, Suma-theek. The white tribe that made the flag is going, just as we
have made you go. The flag will always look the same, but the dream it
was made to tell will go."
"Who sabez the way of the Great Spirit? He make you go. He make Injun
go. He make nigger and Chinamans stay. Perhaps they right, you and Injun
wrong. Who sabez?"
"I'd like to have finished my dam," Jim muttered. "Somehow we are
inadequate. I woke up too late." And suddenly a deeper significance came
to him of Pen's verse--
"Too late for love, too late for joy;
Too late! Too late!
You loitered on the road too long,
You trifled at the gate----"
"When you old like Suma-theek," said the Indian, "you sabez then nothing
matter except man make his tribe live. Have children or die! That the
Great Spirit's law for tribes."
Jim said no more. The daily miracle of the sunset was taking place. An
early snow had capped the far mountain peaks and these now flashed an
unearthly silver radiance against the crimson heavens. Old Jezebel
wandered remotely, a black scratch across a desert of blood red.
Distance indefinable, beauty indescribable, once more these quickened
Jim's pulse. Almost, almost he seemed to catch the key to the Master
Dream and then--the scarlet glow changed to purple, and night began its
march across the sands.
Jim made his way down the trail and up to his house. Waiting at his door
were three of his workmen. They were young fellows, fresh shaved and
wearing white collars. Jim invited them in and they followed awkwardly.
They took the cigars he offered and then shifted uneasily while Jim
stood on the hearth rug regarding them with his wistful smile. He was
not so very many years older than they.
"Boss," finally began one of the men, "us fellows heard a few days ago
that you were going to leave. We wanted to do something to show we liked
you and what a--d--doggone shame it is you're going and--and we didn't
have time to buy anything, but we made up a purse. Every rough-neck on
the job contributes, Boss; they wanted to. Here's about two hundred
dollars. We'd like to have you buy something you can remember us by."
The spokesman stopped, perspiring and breathless. His two companions
came forward and one of them laid on the table a cigar box which, when
opened, showed a pile of bills and coins. Jim's face worked.
"Boys," said Jim huskily, "boys--I'm no speaker! What can I say to you
except that this kindness takes away some of the sting of going. I'll
buy something I can take with me wherever I go."
"Don't try to say nothing, Boss," said the spokesman. "I know what it
is. I laid awake all night fixing up what I just said."
"It was a darned good speech," replied Jim. "Don't forget me, boys. When
you finish the dam remember it was my pipe dream to have finished it
The three shook hands with Jim and made for the door. Jim stood staring
at the money, smiling but with wet eyes, when Bill Evans' automobile
exploded up to the house. Uncle Denny was sitting in the tonneau with
two other men. Jim walked slowly out to the road. One of the men was the
Secretary of the Interior; the other, a slender, keen-faced young man,
was his private secretary. Jim's face was white in the dusk.
"Well, young man," said the Secretary, "you have been having some
strenuous times since the Hearing. And for a man reputed to be
unpopular, you have some good friends."
Bill Evans, almost bursting with importance, undid the binding wire that
fastened the door of the tonneau and the Secretary arose.
"If you had telegraphed me, Mr. Secretary," Jim began with a reproachful
glance at Uncle Denny.
"On me soul, Jimmy," said Uncle Denny, "I didn't know. I went over with
Bill to meet someone else and----"
The Secretary laughed as he followed Jim. As Jim held open the door he
said: "I didn't want to wire you, Mr. Manning. I wanted to find you on
the ground, steeped in your iniquities. You have nice quarters," he
added, sitting down comfortably before the grate fire. Then his eye fell
on the cigar box full of money. "Ah, is that a part of the loot I hear
you've been getting?"
Jim looked at the Secretary uncertainly. He was a large man with the
keen blue eyes and the firm mouth in a smooth-shaven face that Jim
remembered was like a fine set mask. Jim got nothing from staring into
his distinguished guest's quiet eyes.
"This is a gift from the workmen on the dam," said Jim. "I am to buy
something to remember them by. There are about two hundred dollars
there, they tell me."
The Secretary nodded. "I am glad to hear that the men like you, Mr.
Manning. What have you--Come in, madam!" The Secretary nodded to Mrs.
Flynn, who had paused in the door with a tray load of dishes. She paused
and looked uncertainly at Jim.
"Supper for four tonight, Mrs. Flynn," said Jim. "We have the Secretary
of the Interior with us."
"My heavens!" gasped Mrs. Flynn. "God knows I never meant to intrude."
The Secretary laughed so richly and so heartily that all but Mrs. Flynn
joined him. She gave the group of men a look of utter scorn, and said:
"I suppose if the Lord and the twelve disciples had dropped in
unexpected, you men would think it funny and me with me legs all wrapped
up in newspapers!" Then she bolted for the kitchen.
The Secretary wiped his eyes. "I hope I haven't seriously upset your
household," he said to Jim.
Jim shook his head. "Your coming will be one of the great events of her
life. Supper will be late but it will be well worth eating."
"Then," said the Secretary, "let us continue our private hearing. What
have you been trying to do here on the dam, Mr. Manning?"
Jim stood on the hearth rug and glanced at each of the three men seated
before him, his gaze finally resting on the Secretary's face.
"At first," he said, "I merely wanted to build the dam. I called it the
Thumb-print that I would leave on the map, that should be emblematic of
the old trail-making Puritan. But by a persistent indifference to their
prejudices and to their personal wishes and welfare, I antagonized all
the farmers on the Project."
Jim paused, hesitated and then went on. "The woman whom I shall one day
marry pointed out to me that my attitude here was typical of the general
attitude of the so-called Old Stock here in America. She said that I was
willing to build the dam but unwilling to sacrifice time or effort to
administering it, to showing the farmer how to handle the fine,
essentially democratic, idea that was in the Reclamation idea. She said
that we had formed the government in America and left it to others to
administer and that of this we were dying."
Jim stopped and the Secretary said, "She seems intelligent, this young
Jim's smile was flashing and tender as he said, "She is!" Then he went
on, "You wrote me that the human element was the important matter here
on the dam. This--friend--of----" Jim hesitated for a name for Pen.
"--of your heart," suggested the Secretary.
"Thank you," replied Jim gravely, "--of my heart said that I was doing
only half a man's part and that that was what was losing me my job. So I
have been trying to enlarge my Thumb-print. I want to leave it not only
in concrete but in the idea that the Project shall embody the rebirth of
the old New England ideal of equality not in freedom alone, but in
responsibility. I hoped I might make every individual here feel
responsible for the building of the dam, for the payment of the debt,
and for the development of the Project for the best good of every human
being on it."
Jim stopped, and the Secretary said, "Well?"
Again Jim's wistful smile. "I woke too late to get my idea across. My
successor comes tomorrow."
The Secretary shook his head. "I had no idea you were to leave so soon,
though I will admit that after I read of your interview with Freet I
rather lost interest in your doings. You know, I suppose, that Freet was
asked for his resignation at the same time you were? Last week, however,
just before we started on a tour of the Projects, a young lady called on
me. She was very good looking and my secretary is not ah--impervious--to
externals, so he allowed her quite a long interview with me."
The Secretary's eyes twinkled and young Allen laughed. "You see, that
the Secretary took note of her personal appearance himself!"
Jim's face was flushed and amazed. The Secretary went on: "This young
lady told me the details of the Freet visit and a good many other
details that I'll not take time to mention. She was so clear and cool,
yet so in earnest that I decided that I would leave my party at Cabillo
and come on up for a talk with you, incognito, as it were, before they
got here. To cap the climax, at Chicago I had a most remarkable telegram
from a man named Gluck. I knew that a German engineer was looking over
The Secretary smiled at the helpless expression on Jim's face. "Gluck,
in about a thousand words, for which I hope his government will pay,
told me that I was an enfeebled idiot or what amounted to that to let an
engineering treasure like you leave the dam. I liked you, Mr. Manning,
when I saw you at Washington. I thought, then, though, that you were on
the wrong track and I hoped you could be lured onto the right one. I
admit that I was much disappointed with your answer to my first letter
and delighted with your second. I might have known that a woman had had
her hand in so radical a change!" The Secretary's smile was very human
as he said this.
"I don't know that I agree with you in your feeling of sadness about the
going of the Old Stock. I am an enthusiast over the Melting Pot idea
myself. But whatever the motive power within you, I heartily endorse
your ideals for the Projects. But I am still not convinced that you are
the man for your job, in spite of your engineering ability. Engineering
ability is not rare. A great many engineers could build a dam. But a man
to do the work you have outlined must have several rare qualities and
not the least among these is the capacity for making many friends
easily, of getting his ideas to the other man."
Jim's jaw set a little, but he answered frankly, "I know it, Mr.
Secretary, and that is just what I lack."
This was too much for Uncle Denny. "Mr. Secretary, those that know Jim
are bound to him by ribs of steel. They----"
"Uncle Denny! Uncle Denny!" interrupted Jim, sadly, "even your faithful
love cannot make a popular man of me! You must not try to influence the
Secretary by your personal prejudice!"
Uncle Denny, with obvious effort, closed his lips, then opened them to
say, "Still! Still! You break me old heart!"
The Secretary looked from the handsome old Irishman to the tall young
engineer, whose face was too sad for his years and something a little
misty softened the Secretary's keen blue eyes.
"You agree with me, Mr. Manning," he said gently, "that the capacity you
seem to lack is essential for so heavy a task as you have outlined. It
is a great pity to lose you to the Service, yet I cannot see how you can
bring the Project to its best. I am considering how it will be possible
to find men who have your engineering ability, your idealism, and this
last rare, marvelous capacity for popularity."
Jim flushed under his tan. For the first time he spoke tensely. "Mr.
Secretary, it's crucifying me to think I've fallen down on this."
"Don't let it break you," said the Secretary, looking at Jim with eyes
that had looked long and understandingly on human nature. "Make up your
mind to turn your forces into other channels. I want you to understand
my position, Mr. Manning. Personally, I would do anything for you, for I
like you. I hope always to count you as a friend. But as Secretary of
the Interior, I must be a man of iron, always looking ahead to the
future of our country. I dare not let myself show partiality here, lest
our children's children suffer from my weakness."
Jim answered steadily, "Do you suppose I would hold my job as a favor,
"I know you wouldn't," replied the Secretary. "That is why I took the
trouble to come to you personally. I told you that I was proud to feel
myself your friend. And if you have lost, you have lost as a man must
prefer to lose, Mr. Manning, in full flight, with the heat of battle
thick upon you and not dragging out your days in a slow paralysis of
"I thank you, Mr. Secretary," said Jim huskily.
"Can I put supper on now, Mr. Dennis?" asked Mrs. Flynn, in a stage
"You may," said the Secretary emphatically. "I don't like to seem
impatient, Mrs. Flynn, but I'm famished."
Mrs. Flynn beamed, though eyes and nose were red from weeping. "I'll
have it on in three minutes, your honor. Just hold your hand on your
stomach, that always helps me, your honor. Boss," in another stage
whisper, "I laid a clean shirt on your bed for you and you had better
ask his honor if he don't want to wash up."
The Secretary was charmed. He rose with alacrity. "Mrs. Flynn, if you
ever leave Mr. Manning, come straight to me. You are a woman after my
Mrs. Flynn curtseyed with the sugar bowl in her hand. "I thank you, your
honor, but if God lets me live to spare my life, I'll never leave the
Big Boss. He's my family! I'd rather rub my hand over that silky brown
head of his than over a king's. God knows when I'll see him next,
though----" and Mrs. Flynn's face worked and she dashed from the room.
After the wonderful supper which Mrs. Flynn at last produced, Jim
exerted himself, with Uncle Denny's help, to entertain the Secretary.
Young Mr. Allen went to call on the cement engineer, who was an old
friend. It was not difficult to amuse the Secretary. He was as
interested in details of the life on the Project as a boy of fifteen.
Uncle Denny sent him into peals of laughter with an Irish version of
Henderson's stories, and Jim's story of Iron Skull moved him deeply.
It was drawing toward nine o'clock when once more Bill Evans' rattle of
gasolene artillery sounded before the door. A familiar voice called,
"Good-night, Bill!" and Penelope came into the room.
The men jumped to their feet and Uncle Denny hurried to take her bag.
Jim did not seem able to speak. Pen shook hands with the Secretary.
"You are here, Mr. Secretary," she said. "I'm so glad!"
"So am I," said the Secretary, smiling appreciatively at Pen. In her
traveling suit of brown, with her shining hair and her great eyes
brilliant while her color came and went, Pen was very beautiful. She
turned from the Secretary to Jim and shook hands with him, with
"Hello, Still!" she said.
"Hello, Penelope!" replied Jim.
"Pen!" cried Uncle Denny breathlessly. "What's the news? As I promised,
I've not been near the telephone, nor have I said a word here, though
it's most suffocated me."
"Fleckenstein is defeated," said Pen.
"Oh, thank God for that!" cried Jim.
"How did it happen?" asked the Secretary.
Uncle Denny began to walk the floor. Pen answered. "A week ago, Mr.
Secretary, a farmer named Marshall at a Fleckenstein meeting suggested
that a petition be sent you to keep Mr. Manning here."
Uncle Denny interrupted. "Mrs. Saradokis here already had telegraphed us
to do that same thing, Mr. Secretary, but we were glad to have the
farmers get the same idea."
"That isn't important, Uncle Denny," said Pen. "Marshall himself wrote
the petition. The farmers' wives caught the idea as eagerly as their
husbands and you will find in many cases the signatures of whole
families. Of course no man was going to petition for Mr. Manning, and
then vote for Fleckenstein. So he was defeated. Here is the petition,
Pen drew from her suitcase a fold of legal cap papers which she opened
and passed to the Secretary. Her voice vibrated as she said: "It is
signed by nearly every farmer on the Project, Mr. Secretary. Even the
Mexicans wanted Jim to stay."
The Secretary put on his glasses and unfolded the numerous sheets. He
looked them through very deliberately, then without a word, passed them
The petition was a short one: "We the undersigned residents of the
Cabillo Project petition that James Manning be retained as engineer in
charge of the Project. We ask this because we like him and trust him
and believe he will do more than any other man could do for the farmers'
There was no sound in the room save the crackling of the papers as Jim's
trembling fingers turned them. He was white to the lips. The Secretary
looked from Jim to Pen, who was standing with close-clasped fingers, her
deep eyes shining as she watched Jim. From Pen he looked at Uncle Denny,
who was walking round and round the dining room table as though on a
wager. Then the Secretary looked back at Jim.
"This petition pleases me greatly, Mr. Manning, and it will please the
Director. He has grieved very much over the seeming necessity of letting
you go. Of course this petition disproves all our statements about your
capacity for making friends and for making your friends get your ideas."
The Secretary chuckled. "Mrs. Flynn can remove the newspapers from all
her legs tomorrow!"
Jim could not speak. He looked from face to face and his lips moved, but
only his wistful smile came forth.
"Mr. Dennis," said the Secretary, "supposing you and I have a quiet
smoke here while the Project engineer allows this young lady to take him
out and explain to him how she came here."
"Mr. Secretary, you must have a drop of Irish blood in you!" cried Uncle
He pushed Pen and Jim toward the door. And Jim took Pen's hand and went
out into the night.
They walked silently under the stars to the edge of the canyon and stood
there looking across at the black outline of the Elephant.
"I went down to see the Secretary in Washington," said Pen, "and he was
very kind, but I couldn't move him from his decision about your
dismissal. Then when I wired Oscar about the petition, I decided that I
was going to be in at the finish and present it to the Secretary myself.
We came up from Cabillo on the same train. I made Bill drop me at the
Hendersons' because I wanted to surprise you. Good old Bill! He went
down to Cabillo and brought the petition up to me."
Jim held Pen's hand close in his own. "I can't seem to understand it
all," he said. "I don't deserve it. Think of the farmers doing this!
Aren't they a fine lot of fellows, though! Gee, Penny, there is going to
be some great team work on this Project from now on! The water power
trust won't be able to get in here with a hydraulic ram! What can they
do with a prosperous and responsible group of farmers like these!"
"Jim," cried Penelope, "there is no limit to what I want you to do! This
is just the beginning. After you have finished here, you must go to
other Projects and after that, you must go to Congress and it will be
war to the knife all the time. It's a wonderful future you are going to
have, Still Jim."
Jim laughed happily. "And where will you be all this time, Penny? I
understand that you are quite, quite through with marriage, and it will
be very improper for you to keep on taking such an active interest in a
bachelor's affairs. And yet this bachelor just can't go on without you!"
Pen answered evasively. "That's open to discussion. Jimmy, some day, you
will buy back the old house at Exham."
"It would never be the same, with dad gone," said Jim.
"Even if your father were alive, Jimmy, it couldn't be the same,"
answered Pen. "It's just that the thought of the old house will always
renew your old instincts, Still. You can't return Exham's old sweet days
to it. But Exham has done its work, I believe, out here on this
Pen's smile was very sweet in the starlight. Jim put both his hands on
"Do you love me, dear?" he asked.
Pen looked up into his eyes long and earnestly.
"I always have, Still Jim," she said.
"Do you want to know how I love you? Oh, sweetheart, I have so little to
offer you!" he went on, brokenly, without waiting for Pen's answer,
"except abiding love and passionate love and adoring love! And you are
so very beautiful, Penelope. I've hungered for you for a long, long
time, dear. Bitter, bitter nights and days up on the Makon and hopeless
nights and days here on the Cabillo." His hands tightened on her
shoulders. "Did you come back to me, sweetheart?"
"Still," whispered Pen, "I missed you so! I had to come back."
Then Jim drew Pen to him and folded her close in his strong arms and
laid his lips to hers in a long kiss.
And the flag fluttered lightly behind them and the desert wind whispered
above their heads:
"O yahee! O yahai!
Sweet as arrow weed in spring!"
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