Uncle Denny Gets Busy
From: Still Jim
"Coyotes breed only with coyotes. Men talk much of pride of
race, yet they will breed with any color."
MUSINGS OF THE ELEPHANT.
Pen clung to Uncle Denny with a breathless sob. She had not realized how
heavy her burden was until Uncle Denny had come to share it.
"Uncle Denny! You didn't answer my telegram and I didn't dare hope you
would get here."
"Where is Jim, Penny, and how is me boy?"
"I'll take you to him now. He has no idea of your coming. Bill, we will
walk. Take the trunk on up to Mr. Manning's house, will you?"
"I was afraid 'twould get out and I knew he'd never stand for me coming
out to help. That's why I sent you no word," said Uncle Denny, beginning
to puff up the trail beside Pen.
"He's just the same old Jim," said Pen, "but under a terrific strain
just now, of course. You can understand from my letters just how great
"And Sara?" asked Uncle Denny.
"Not so well," replied Pen. "He is very quiet, these days. There is the
first glimpse of the dam, Uncle Denny."
Uncle Denny stopped and wiped the sweat out of his eyes with his silk
handkerchief. He gazed in silence for a moment at the mammoth
foundations, over which the workmen ran like ants.
"'Twas but a hole in the ground when I last saw it," he said. "Pen, it's
so big you can't compass it in your mind. And they are pecking at me boy
while he builds mountains!"
"There he is!" exclaimed Pen, pointing to the tower foot.
"It is! It's Still Jim! Is me collar entirely wilted?"
Pen laughed. "Uncle Denny, you're as fussed as a girl at meeting her
sweetheart! You look beautiful and you know it. There! He sees us!"
Uncle Denny lost a little of his color and stood still. Jim came
striding down the road. His eyes were black with feeling. Without a word
he threw his arms around Uncle Dennis and hugged that rotund person off
"Still Jim, me boy!" cried Uncle Denny. "I've come out to lick the world
Jim loosened his bear hug and stepped back. His smile was brilliant.
"Uncle Denny, you look like a tailor's ad! Doesn't he, little Penelope?"
There was something in Jim's voice as he spoke Pen's name that Michael
Dennis understood as clearly as if Jim had shouted his feeling for Pen
in his ear.
"I'm starving to death," he said hastily. "Take me home, Still. Come
Mrs. Flynn was surveying the trunk as it stood on end in the living
room. She was talking rapidly to herself and as the three came up on the
porch she cried:
"I said 'twas you, Mr. Dennis! I told myself fifty times 'twas your
trunk and still myself kept contradicting me. You are as handsome as a
Donegal dude. Leave me out to the kitchen till I get an early supper!"
After supper Jim and Dennis sat for a short time over their pipes before
Jim left for some office work.
"Tell me what to do first, Still," said Uncle Denny, "and I'll start a
campaign against Fleckenstein that'll turn the valley upside down.
That's what I came out for. I'll fix them, the jackals!"
"Uncle Denny, it won't do," answered Jim slowly. "The uncle of a Project
engineer can't carry on a political campaign in his behalf. You'd just
get me in deeper with the public."
Uncle Denny stared. "But I came out for that very thing."
"I thought you had just come out for one of your usual visits. It won't
do, dear Uncle Denny. I can't say anything against Fleckenstein nor must
"Me boy," said Michael Dennis, "all the public sentiment on earth can't
keep me from fighting Fleckenstein. Pen sent for me and I'm here."
"Pen sent for you?" repeated Jim. "Why, Pen should not have done that."
"This is a poor welcome, Jim," said Uncle Denny, immeasurable reproach
in his voice.
Jim sprang to his feet and put a long brown hand on Uncle Denny's
shoulder. "You can't mean that, Uncle Denny. It's meat and drink to me
to have you here. You can't doubt it."
"I can't, indeed," agreed Dennis heartily. "And somehow, I'm going to
help. Go get your work done and then call for me at Pen's house."
Jim had been in the office but a few minutes when he came out again and
stood on the edge of the canyon, staring at the silhouette of the
Elephant against the night stars. After a moment he turned up the trail
toward the tent house. He entered without ceremony and stood a tall,
slender, commanding figure against the white of the tent wall. His eyes
were big and bright. His lips were stiff as he looked at Sara and said:
"You are fully even now, Saradokis. I've a notion to kill you as I would
The tent was bright with lamplight. The red and black Navajo across
Sara's cot was as motionless over the outline of his great legs as
though it covered a dead man. Uncle Denny stared at Jim without
stirring. His florid face paled a little and his bright Irish eyes did
Pen could see a tiny patch that Mrs. Flynn had put on the knee of Jim's
riding breeches. There swept over her a sudden appreciation of Jim's
utter simplicity and sincerity under all the stupendous responsibilities
he had assumed not only in the building of the dam, but in his less
tangible building for the nation. As he stood before them she saw him
not as a man but as the boy Uncle Denny often had described to her,
announcing the vast discovery of his life work. Would he, had he known
the bitter years ahead of him, have chosen the same, she wondered.
"I found two interesting communications in my mail tonight," said Jim,
slowly. "One is a letter from the Washington Office containing clippings
from eastern papers. Some reporter announces that he has discovered a
fully developed scheme of mine and Freet's to sell out to the
Transatlantic people. He gives a twisted version of the conversation
here, the other night, that sounds like conclusive evidence. The matter
is so well handled that even the Washington office is convinced that I'm
a crook. The local papers will, of course, copy this."
Sara did not stir. Jim moistened his lips. "While I knew that I lived
under a cloud of suspicion," he said, "I thought to be able to leave the
Service with nothing worse than suspicion on my name. I shall never be
able to live this down. Yet this is not the worst. I received tonight an
anonymous letter. It states that unless I drop my silent campaign, the
name of the wife of my crippled friend will be coupled with mine in an
Pen's eyes were for a moment horror-stricken. Then they blazed with
anger. And so suddenly that Jim and Dennis hardly saw her leave her
chair. She sprang over to Sara's couch and struck him across the mouth
with her open hand. The stillness in the room for a second was complete,
except that Sara breathed heavily as he rose to his elbow.
"I may or may not have produced the newspaper copy, but so help me the
God I have blasphemed, I have never used Pen's name," said Sara.
"But you have," said Jim. "You used it before Freet. You probably have
cursed me out before Fleckenstein as you did before him and Ames!"
"And there was my trying to help Jane Ames in the valley!" cried Pen
suddenly. "She's talking with the farmers' wives for Jim and I went with
her until the women were cattish. Oh, Jim, what have we done to you,
Sara and I?"
"I shall have to give up the fight a little earlier, that is all,"
answered Jim. "Don't feel badly, Pen. If I only had some way of
punishing Sara and stopping his mischief! Though it's too late now."
"Just be patient, Jim," said Sara. "My mischief will soon end."
Pen had heard only Jim, the first sentence of Jim's remarks. She stood
beside the table, white to the lips. "Jim, if you want to wreck my life,
stop the fight! Do you suppose, except for the moment's shame, I care
what they say about me? If you will only go on with your fight, Jim, let
them say what they will. I can stand it. My strength--my strength----"
Pen paused with a little sob, as if Uncle Denny reminded her of her
girlhood dreams, "my strength is in the eternal hills!"
"I have lived with George Saradokis all these years," Pen went on, "and
he's almost broken my faith in life. When I found I could help you, Jim,
I thought that I was making up for some of the wrong of my marriage. I
even thought that I'd be willing to go through my marriage again because
it had taught me how to help you fight. Jim, it will ruin my life if you
And Pen suddenly dropped her face in her hands and broke down entirely.
Jim never had seen Pen cry. He took a step toward her, then looked
pitifully at Uncle Denny.
Uncle Denny sprang from his chair.
"Go on out, Jim," he said. Then he folded Pen in his arms. "Rest here,
sweet, tired bird," he said in his rich voice. "Rest here, for I love
you with all me soul."
Jim's lips quivered. He went out into the night and once more climbed
the Elephant's back. For a long time he sat, too exhausted by his
emotions to think. With head resting on his arms, he let the night wind
sweep across him until little by little his brain cleared and he looked
about him. Far and wide, the same wonder of the desert night; the stars,
so low, so tender, so inscrutable, the sky so deep, so utterly
compassionate; the far black scratch of the river on the silver desert,
the distant black lift of the mountains--Pen's eternal hills!
Over the flagpole on the office the flag rippled and floated, sank and
rose, dancing like a child in the joy of living. Jim looked at it
wistfully. Flag that his forefathers had fashioned from the fabric of
their vision, must the vision be forgotten? It was a great vision, fit
to cover the yearnings of the world. His grandfather had fought for it
at Antietam. His father had lost it and had died, bewildered and hungry
of soul. Was he himself to lose it, son of vision seekers?
The Elephant beneath him seemed to listen for Jim's reply. "God knows,"
he said at last, "I would not deny the vision to all the immigrant
world. All I wish is that we who made the vision had kept it and had
taught it to these others to whom our heritage must go. You can scoff,
old Elephant, but the struggle is worth while. You can say that
nothing matters but Time. I tell you that eternity is made up of soul
fights like mine and Pen's!"
Suddenly there came to him the fragment that Pen had quoted to him days
"What though the field be lost?
All is not lost--the unconquerable will,
And courage never to submit nor yield;
And what is else, not to be overcome!"
Jim suddenly rose with his blood quickened. "Not to be overcome! And
God, what stakes to fight for! To build my father's dream in stone and
to make a valley empire out of the tragedy of a woman's soul!"
With renewed strength Jim went down the trail, crossed the canyon and
went up to his house.
Uncle Denny was waiting for him. It was nearly midnight. He had kindled
a fire in the grate and was brewing some tea. "Mrs. Flynn would have it
you'd fallen off a peak but I got her to bed. Have some tea, me boy."
Uncle Denny's voice was cheerful, though his eyes were red. He watched
"You should have gone to bed yourself, Uncle Denny. I have a letter to
write, then I'm going to turn in."
Uncle Denny's hand shook as he poured the tea. "I had to see you, Still,
because I promised Pen I'd go back over there tonight and tell her what
your decision was."
Jim caught up his hat. "I'll go!"
But Uncle Denny laid his hand on Jim's arm. "No, me boy. Pen's had all
she can stand tonight. I'll take her your word. What shall it be,
Jim brought his fist down on the table. "Tell her, with her help, I'll
keep up the fight!"
Uncle Denny's blue eyes blazed. "I'm prouder of the two of you than I am
of me Irish name," he said, and, seizing his hat, he hurried out.
While he was gone Jim wrote this note:
"My dear Mr. Secretary:--Some time ago I wrote you that I did not think
an engineer should be asked to build the dam and at the same time handle
the human problems connected with the Project. Subsequent events lead me
to believe that as your letter suggests it is the duty of the government
to look on these Projects not as engineering problems so much as the
building of small democracies that may become the living nuclei for the
rebirth of all that America once stood for. I do not believe that I am
big enough for such a job, but I am putting up a fight. I have been
asked to resign within a few weeks from now. I think, looking at the
matter from the point of view I have just expressed, that I am dismissed
with justice. This letter is to ask you to see that my successor is
chosen with the care that you would give to the founder of a colony."
Uncle Denny returned and waited until Jim had finished his letter. Then
"Sara spoke just once after you left. He denied any knowledge of the
"I'm going to put it up to Fleckenstein," said Jim. "The newspaper dope,
of course, was Sara's. I can only ignore that except to answer any
questions the farmers may put to me about it. How is Pen?"
"She cried it out on me shoulder after you left and felt better for the
tears. Your message will send her to sleep. Still Jim, if I had a jury
of atheists and could put Pen on the stand and make her give her
philosophy as she has sweated it out of her young soul, I could make
them all believe in the eternal God and His mighty plans. To be bigger
than circumstance, that's the acid test for human character."
Jim nodded and looked into the fire. This suggestion that he might be
the instrument of a mighty plan, he and Pen and Uncle Denny, awed him.
Uncle Denny eyed the fine drooping brown head for a moment.
"Ah, me boy! Me boy!" he said tenderly. "The old house at Exham is not a
futile ruin. 'Tis the cocoon that gave birth to the butterfly wings of a
great hope. Look up, Still! You've friends with you till the end of the
Jim reached for Michael Dennis' hand and held it with both his own,
while he said: "Stay with me for a month or two, Uncle Denny. Don't go
away. I need you. I've neither wife nor father and I haven't the gift of
speech that makes a man friends."
Jim was off the next morning before daylight. Uncle Denny slept late and
while he was eating his breakfast, the ex-saloonkeeper, Murphy, came in.
"The Big Boss sent me up to spend the day with you, Mr. Dennis. He can't
get back till late in the afternoon. He told me to talk Project politics
to you. My name is Murphy. I'm timekeeper down below, but I've left the
job for a while for reasons of my own."
Uncle Denny pulled a chair out for Murphy and looked at him
"Do you know this jackal, Fleckenstein?"
"I do. The Boss showed me that letter. I suppose you know how a man like
Mr. Manning would take to a fellow like Fleckenstein?"
"Know!" snorted Uncle Denny. "Why, young fellow, I'd know Jim's
disembodied soul if I met it in an uninhabited desert."
Murphy raised his eyebrows. "You're Irish, I take it."
"You take it right."
"I was born in Dublin myself."
The two men shook hands and Murphy went on. "I told the Boss to forget
that letter. I know Fleckenstein. I know all his secrets just as I do
about every other man's in the valley. I know their shames and their
business grafts. In fact I know everything but the best side of 'em.
I've been in the saloon business in this valley for twenty years, Mr.
"Ah!" said Uncle Denny. "I understand now!"
"All I've got to do," said Murphy, "is to drop in on Fleckenstein and
mention this letter and suggest that my own information is what you
might call detailed. 'Twill be enough."
"Of course, it might not be Fleckenstein," said Dennis.
"Never mind! My warning will reach the proper party, if I go to
Fleckenstein," said Murphy. He smacked his lips over the cup of coffee
Mrs. Flynn set before him.
"And how came you to be helping the Boss instead of distributing booze?"
asked Uncle Denny.
"I was about ready to quit, anyhow," said Murphy. "A man gets sick of
crooked deals if you give him time. And time was when a man could keep a
saloon in this section and still be the leading citizen and his wife
could hold up her head with the banker's wife. That time's gone. I've
been thinking for a long time of marrying and settling down. Then the
Boss cleaned me out." Murphy chuckled.
"How was that?" asked Dennis. Mrs. Flynn began to clear the table very
"Well, this is the way of it," and Murphy told the story of his first
meeting with Jim. "I've seen him in action, you see," he concluded, "and
I'd be sorry for Fleckenstein if he crosses the Boss's path."
"Jim'll never trouble himself to kick the jackal!" said Uncle Denny.
"Huh! You don't know that boy. There was a look in his eye this
morning--God help Fleckenstein if he meets the Big Boss--but he'll avoid
the Boss like poison."
Uncle Denny shook his head. "What kind is Fleckenstein?"
"What kind of a man would be countenancing a letter like that?" Then
Murphy laughed. "The first time I ever saw Fleckenstein he was riding in
the stage that ran west from Cabillo. Bill Evans was driving and
Fleckenstein got to knocking this country and telling about the real
folks back East. Bill stood it for an hour, then he turned round and
said: 'Why, damn your soul, we make better men than you in this country
out of binding wire! What do you say to that?' And Fleckenstein shut
Uncle Denny chuckled. "Have a cigar? Is Jim making any headway in this
'silent campaign' I'm hearing about?"
"Thanks," said Murphy. "Well, he is and he ain't. He's got a great
personality and everybody who gets his number will eat sand for him. He
made a great speech at Cabillo, time of the Hearing. He said the dam
was his thumb-print--kind of like the mounds the Injuns left, I guess.
People are kind of coupling that speech up now with him when they meet
him and they are beginning to have their doubts about his dishonesty.
But I don't believe he can get his other idea across on the farmers and
rough-necks in time to lick Fleckenstein."
"And what is his other idea?" asked Dennis.
Murphy smoked and stared into space for a time before he answered. "I
can best tell you that by giving you an incident. I went with Ames and
the Boss while he called on a farmer named Marshall. Marshall is a
bright man and no drinker. He has been loud in his howls about the Boss
being incompetent and kicking about the farmer having to pay the
building charges. Marshall was cleaning his buckboard and the Boss, sort
of easy like, picks up a brush and starts to brush the cushion.
"'My father used to make me sweep the chicken coop,' says the Boss. 'We
were too poor to keep a horse. If I couldn't build a dam better than I
used to sweep that coop, I'd deserve all you folks say about me.'
"He says this so sort of sad like that Marshall can't help laughing, and
he starts in telling how he used to sojer when he was a kid. And once
started, with the Boss looking like his heart would melt out of his
eyes, Marshall kept it up till the whole of his life lay before the Boss
like an illustrated Sunday Supplement.
"'You've had great experiences,' says the Boss. 'I've not had much
experience in dealing with men as you have. I'm wondering if you would
help me get this idea across with the folks round here. I want them to
see this; that America has never made a more magnificent experiment to
see if us folks can handle our own big business and pay a debt
contracted by ourselves. I'd like to see this done, Marshall,' he says
sad like, 'as a sort of last legacy of the New England spirit, for we
old New Englanders are going, Marshall, same as the buffalo and the
"Something about the way he said it sort of made your eyes sting and
Marshall says, rough-like, 'I'll think it over and I'd just as soon tell
what you said to the neighbors,' Then, while the Boss went up to the
house to get a drink of water, Marshall says to us, 'He's got a good
shaped head. I wouldn't a made so many fool cracks about him if I'd
known he could be so sort of friendly and decent.'"
During this recital, Mrs. Flynn had drawn near and now with eyes on
Murphy she was absently polishing the teaspoons with the dustcloth.
"Why don't you send some of those folks to me?" she cried. "I'd tell 'em
a thing or two about the Big Boss. There's a letter over there now on
the desk from the German government, asking him questions and offering
him a job. Incompetent!"
"How do you know what's in the letter, Mrs. Flynn?" asked Uncle Denny,
with a wink at Murphy.
"Because I read it," returned Mrs. Flynn, with shameless candor.
"Somebody's got to keep track of the respects that's paid that poor boy
or nobody'd ever know it. God knows I hate the Dutch, but they know a
good man when they hear of one better than the Americans. And I wish you
two'd get out of here while I set the table for dinner."
The two men laughed and got their hats. "I'll meet you at the office
shortly," said Uncle Denny. "I've a call to make."
Pen was sitting on the doorstep when Uncle Denny came up. She was
looking very tired and her cheeks were flushed. She rose and led him
away from the tent.
"Sara is very sick, Uncle Denny. I've given him some morphine, but he'll
be coming out of it soon. Will you telephone from the office for the
"Is it the same old pain?" asked Dennis.
"Yes, only worse. I--I am to blame, in a way. He has been growing worse
lately and any excitement is dreadful for him. And then, I struck him,
Uncle Denny! I shall never forgive myself for that. And yet, this
morning he laughed at it. He said he never had thought so much of me as
he had for that slap."
Uncle Denny nodded. "He's deserved it a hundred times, Penny! That never
made him worse. But this is no place for him. When I go back to New
York, you and he must go with me."
"Yes, I have felt the same way, about the excitement here. We'll go when
you say, Uncle Denny."
"Is the doctor here a good one?"
"Splendid! A Johns Hopkins man here for his health."
"What else can I do?" asked Uncle Denny. "Shall I come in and sit with
"No; ask Mrs. Flynn to come over after dinner. You go out and see the
dam and be proud of your boy."
"And of me girl," said Uncle Denny. He had been standing with his hat in
his hand and now he bent and kissed Pen's cheek.
"Erin go bragh!" said Pen. "Uncle Denny, I'm tired! I feel as if I were
running on one cylinder and three punctured tires. I have to talk that
way after my close association with Bill Evans!"
Uncle Denny had a delightful trip over the Project with Murphy. He dined
with the upper mess so that Mrs. Flynn could devote herself to Pen.
After eating, he started down the great road to the tower foot to meet
Before he came to the tower, however, he came on a group of men hovering
over the canyon edge. Uncle Denny gave an exclamation of pity. A mule
with a pack on its back had slipped off the road and hung far below by
the rope halter that had caught around a projecting rock. The hombre who
had been driving the mule had gone for ropes.
"See how still he keeps, the old cuss," said Jack Henderson gently. "A
horse would have kicked himself to death long ago. That mule knows just
what's holding him. A mule forgets more in a minute than a horse knows
in a year."
Uncle Denny almost wept. The mule pressed his helpless forelegs against
the wall and except that he panted with fright and that his ears moved
back and forth as he listened for his hombre's voice, he was motionless.
His liquid eyes were fastened on the group above with an appeal that
touched every man there.
"What can you do for the poor brute!" cried Uncle Denny.
"Wait till the hombre gets back," said Henderson. "If he can hang on
that long, we can save him. Nothing like this happens to a mule very
often. You can't get a mule to try a trail that isn't wide enough for
his pack. They can reason, the old fools! Bill Evans' auto shoved this
fellow over. The steering gear broke."
At this moment a panting hombre arrived with two coils of rope. The men
hastily fastened one rope under the Mexican's arms. He seized the other
and they lowered him into the canyon. He talked to the mule in soft
Spanish all the way down and the great beast began to answer him with
deep groans. With infinite care, the hombre cut the packs loose and they
went crashing into the river bed. Still the mule did not move. His
driver carefully made the rope fast round the mule. The waiting men then
drew the little Mexican up, and when he was safe all hands, including
Uncle Denny, drew the mule up. When the big gray reached the road, he
tried each leg with a gentle shake, walked over to the inside edge of
the road and lifted his voice in a bray that shook the heavens.
The men laughed and patted him. "When I was in the Verde river country
one spring, years ago," said Henderson, in his tender, singing voice, "I
had a mule train up in the hills. They was none of them broke and they
wouldn't cross the river till I took off my clothes and swam with 'em,
one at a time. It was fearful cold. The water was just melted snow and I
was some mad. But I finally got all but one across. He was a big gray
like this. I was so cold and so hungry and so mad, I tied his head up a
tree and swam off and left him to die.
"I made camp across the river and two or three times in the night I woke
up and thought of that old gray mule. I was still sore at him, but I
made up my mind I wouldn't go off and leave him to starve to death,
that I'd shoot him in the morning. But in the morning I got to looking
at him and I was afraid a shot from across the river would just wound
him. I wouldn't risk my gun again in the water, so I takes off my
clothes, takes my knife in my teeth and," Henderson's voice was very
sweet as he scratched the mule's ear, "and swims back to cut his throat.
When I got up to him I cussed him out good. And I says, 'I'll give you
one more chance. Either you swim or I cut your throat.' I untied him and
that old gray walked down to the water's edge and you'd ought to see him
hustle in and swim! He'd reasoned out I was a man of my word!"
Jim had come up in time to hear the story and when Henderson had
finished he said: "I've always claimed it was the mules that built the
government dams. What would we have done with our fearful trails and
distance and heavy freight without the mule? Some day when I get time,
I'll write a rhapsody on the mule."
The men laughed and made way for the doctor on his horse. But the doctor
stopped and spoke very gravely to Uncle Denny.
"Mrs. Saradokis wants you. Her husband is very low."
Next: Sara Goes On A Journey
Previous: The Silent Campaign