THE president engaged rooms at the hotel beside the railroad track at Topaz, and stayed over the next day. Tarvin and Sheriff took possession of him, and showed him the town, and what they called its ‘natural resources.’ Tarvin caused the president to hold rein when he had ridden with him to a point outside the town, and discoursed, in the midst of the open plain, and in the face of the snow-capped mountains, on the reasonableness and necessity of making Topaz the end of a division for the new railroad, and putting the division superintendent, the workshops, and the round-house here.
In his heart he knew the president to be absolutely opposed to bringing the railroad to Topaz at all; but he preferred to assume the minor point. It was much easier, as a matter of fact, to show that Topaz ought to be made a junction, and the end of a division, than it was to show that it ought to be a station on the Three C.’s. If it was anything it would have to be a junction; the difficulty was to prove that it ought to be anything.
Tarvin knew the whole Topaz situation forward and back, as he might have known the multiplication table. He was not president of the board of trade and the head of a land and improvement company, organised with a capital of a million on a cash basis of $2000, for nothing. Tarvin’s company included all the solid men of the town; it owned the open plain from Topaz to the foothills, and had laid it out in streets, avenues, and public parks. One could see the whole thing on a map hung in the company’s office on Connecticut Avenue, which was furnished in oak, floored with mosaic, carpeted with Turkish rugs, and draped with silk. There one could buy town lots at any point within two miles of the town; there, in fact, Tarvin had some town lots to sell. The habit of having them to sell had taught him the worst and the best that could be said about the place; and he knew to an exactitude all that he could make a given man believe about it.
He was aware, for example, that Rustler not only had richer mines in its near neighbourhood than Topaz, but that it tapped a mining country behind it of unexplored and fabulous wealth; and he knew that the president knew it. He was equally familiar with other facts–as, for example, that the mines about Topaz were fairly good, though nothing remarkable in a region of great mineral wealth; and that, although the town lay in a wide and well-irrigated valley, and in the midst of an excellent cattle country, these were limited advantages, and easily matched elsewhere. In other words, the natural resources of Topaz constituted no such claim for it as a ‘great railroad centre’ as he would have liked any one to suppose who heard him talk.
But he was not talking to himself. His private word to himself was that Topaz was created to be a railroad town, and the way to create it was to make it a railroad town. This proposition,. which could not have been squared to any system of logic, proceeded on the soundest system of reasoning. As thus: Topaz was not an existence at all; Topaz was a hope. Very well! And when one wished to make such hopes realities in the West, what did one do? Why, get some one else to believe in them, of course. Topaz was valueless without the Three C.’s. Then what was its value to the Three C.’s? Obviously the value that the Three C.’s would give it.
Tarvin’s pledge to the president amounted to this: that if he would give them the chance, they would be worthy of it; and he contended that, in essence, that was all that any town could say. The point for the president to judge was which place would be most likely to be worthy of such an opportunity—Topaz or Rustler—and he claimed there could be no question about that. When you came to size it up, he said, it was the character of the inhabitants that counted. They were dead at Rustler—dead and buried. Everybody knew that: there was no trade, no industry, no life, no energy, no money there. And look at Topaz! The president could see the character of her citizens at a glance as he walked the streets. They were wide awake down here. They meant business. They believed in their town, and they were ready to put their money on her. The president had only to say what he expected of them. And then he broached to him his plan for getting one of the Denver smelters to establish a huge branch at Topaz; he said that he had an agreement with one of them in his pocket, conditioned solely on the Three C.’s coming their way. The company couldn’t make any such arrangement with Rustler; he knew that. Rustler hadn’t the flux, for one thing. The smelter people had come up from Denver at the expense of Topaz, and had proved Topaz’s allegation that Rustler couldn’t find a proper flux for smelting its ore nearer to her own borders than fifteen miles—in other words, she couldn’t find it this side of Topaz.
Tarvin went on to say that what Topaz wanted was an outlet for her products to the Gulf of Mexico, and the Three C.’s was the road to furnish it. The president had, perhaps, listened to such statements before, for the entire and crystalline impudence of this drew no retort from his stolidity. He seemed to consider, it as he considered the other representations made to him, without hearing it. A railroad president, weighing the advantages of rival towns, could not find it within his conception of dignity to ask which of the natural products of Topaz sought relief through the Gulf. But if Mutrie could have asked such a question, Tarvin would have answered unblushingly, ‘Rustler’s.’ He implied this freely in the suggestion which he made immediately in the form of a concession. Of course, he said, if the road wanted to tap the mineral wealth of the country behind Rustler it would be a simple matter to run a branch road up there, and bring down the ore to be smelted at Topaz. Rustler had a value to the road as a mining centre; he didn’t pretend to dispute that. But a mineral road would bring down all the ore as well as a main line, make the same traffic for the road, and satisfy all proper claims of Rustler to considerations while leaving the junction where it belonged by virtue of natural position.
He boldly asked the president how he expected to get up steam and speed for the climb over the Pass, if he made Rustler the end of the division, and changed engines there. The place was already in the mountains; as a practical railroad-man the president must know that his engines could get no start from Rustler. The heavy grade by which the railroad would have to get out of the place, beginning in the town itself, prohibited the idea of making it the end of a division. If his engines, by good luck, weren’t stalled on the grade, what did he think of the annual expense involved in driving heavy trains daily at a high mountain from the vantage-ground of a steep slope? What the Three C.’s wanted for the end of their division and their last stop before the climb over the Pass was a place like Topaz, designed for them by nature, built in the centre of a plain, which the railroad could traverse at a level for five miles before attacking the hills.
This point Tarvin made with the fervour and relief born of dealing with one solid and irrefragable fact. It was really his best argument, and he saw that it had reached the president as the latter took up his reins silently, and led the way back to town. But another glance at Mutrie’s face told him that he had failed hopelessly in his main contention. The certainty of this would have been heart-breaking if he had not expected to fail. Success lay elsewhere; but before trying that he had determined to use every other means.
Tarvin’s eye rested lovingly on his town as they turned their horses again toward the cluster of dwellings scattered irregularly in the midst of the wide valley. She might be sure that he would see her through.
Of course the Topaz of his affections melted in and out of the Topaz of fact, by shadings and subtleties which no measurement could record. The relation of the real Topaz to Tarvin’s Topaz, or to the Topaz of any good citizen of the place, was a matter which no friendly observer could wish to press. In Tarvin’s own case it was impossible to say where actual belief stopped and willingness to believe went on. What he knew was that he did believe; and with him the best possible reason for faith in Topaz would have been that it needed to be believed in hard. The need would have been only another reason for liking it.
To the ordered Eastern eye the city would have seemed a raw, untidy, lonely collection of ragged wooden buildings sprawling over a level plain. But this was only another proof that one can see only what one brings to the seeing. It was not so that Tarvin saw it; and he would not have thanked the Easterner who should have taken refuge in praise of his snow-whitened hills, walling the valley in a monstrous circle. The Easterner might keep his idea that Topaz merely blotted a beautiful picture; to Tarvin the picture was Topaz’s-scenery, and the scenery only an incident of Topaz. It was one of her natural advantages—her own, like her climate, her altitude, and her board of trade.
He named the big mountains to the president as they rode; he showed him where their big irrigating ditch led the water down out of the heights, and where it was brought along under the shadow of the foothills before it started across the plain toward Topaz; he told him the number of patients in their hospital, decently subduing his sense of their numerousness, as a testimony to the prosperity of the town; and as they rode into the streets he pointed out the opera-house, the postoffice, the public school, and the court-house, with the modesty a mother summons who shows her first-born.
It was at least as much to avoid thinking as to exploit the merits of Topaz that he spared the president nothing. Through all his advocacy another voice had made itself heard, and now, in the sense of momentary failure, the bitterness of another failure caught him with a fresh twinge; for since his return he had seen Kate, and knew that nothing short of a miracle would prevent her from starting for India within three days. In contempt of the man who was making this possible, and in anger and desperation, he had spoken at last directly to Sheriff, appealing to him by all he held most dear to stop this wickedness. But there are limp rags which no buckram can stiffen; and Sheriff, willing as he was to oblige, could not take strength into his fibre from the outside, though Tarvin offered him all of his. His talk with Kate, supplemented by this barren interview with her father, had given him a sickening sense of powerlessness from which nothing but a large success in another direction could rescue him. He thirsted for success, and it had done him good to attack the president, even with the foreknowledge that he must fail with him.
He could forget Kate’s existence while he fought for Topaz, but he remembered it with a pang as he parted from Mutrie. He had her promise to make one of the party he was taking to the Hot Springs that afternoon; if it had not been for that he could almost have found it in his heart to let Topaz take care of herself for the remainder of the president’s stay. As it was, he looked forward to the visit to the Springs as a last opening to hope. He meant to make a final appeal; he meant to have it out with Kate, for he could not believe in defeat, and he could not think that she would go.
The excursion to the Hot Springs was designed to show the president and Mrs. Mutrie what a future Topaz must have as a winter resort, if all other advantages failed her; and they had agreed to go with the party which Tarvin had hastily got together. With a view to a little quiet talk with Kate, he had invited three men besides Sheriff Maxim, the postmaster; Heckler, the editor of the Topaz Telegram (both his colleagues on the board of trade); and a pleasant young Englishman, named Carmathan. He expected them to do some of the talking to the president, and to give him half an hour with Kate, without detriment to Mutrie’s impressions of Topaz. It had occurred to him that the president might be ready by this time for a fresh view of the town, and Heckler was the man to give it to him.
Carmathan had come to Topaz two years before in his capacity of colonising younger son, to engage in the cattle business, equipped with a riding-crop, top-boots, and $2000 in money. He had lost the money; but he knew now that riding-crops were not used in punching cattle, and he was at the moment using this knowledge, together with other information gathered on the same subject, in the calling of cow-boy on a neighbouring range. He was getting $30 a month, and was accepting his luck with the philosophy which comes to the adoptive as well as to the native-born citizens of the West. Kate liked him for the pride and pluck which did not allow him the easy remedy of writing home, and for other things; and for the first half of their ride to the Hot Springs they rode side by side, while Tarvin made Mr. and Mrs. Mutrie look up at the rocky heights between which they began to pass. He showed them the mines burrowing into the face of the rock far aloft, and explained the geological formation with the purely practical learning of a man who buys and sells mines. The road, which ran alongside the track of the railroad already going through Topaz, wandered back and forth over it from time to time, as Tarvin said, at the exact angle which the Three C.’s would be choosing later. Once a train laboured past them, tugging up the heavy grade that led to the town. The narrowing gorge was the first closing in of the hills, which, after widening again, gathered in the great cliffs of the canon twenty miles below, to face each other across the chasm. The sweep of pictured rock above their heads lifted itself into strange, gnarled crags, or dipped suddenly and swam on high in straining peaks; but for the most part it was sheer wall—blue and brown and purplish-red umber, ochre, and the soft hues between.
Tarvin dropped back, and ranged his horse beside Kate’s. Carmathan, with whom he was in friendly relation, gave place to him instantly, and rode forward to join the others in advance.
She lifted her speaking eyes as he drew rein beside her, and begged him silently to save them both the continuance of a hopeless contest; but Tarvin’s jaw was set, and he would not have listened to an angel’s voice.
‘I tire you by talking of this thing, Kate. I know it. But I’ve got to talk of it. I’ve got to save you.’
‘Don’t try any more, Nick,’ she answered gently. ‘Please don’t. It’s my salvation to go. It is the one thing I want to do. It seems to me sometimes, when I think of it, that it was perhaps the thing I was sent into the world to do. We are all sent into the world to do something, don’t you think so, Nick, even if it’s ever so tiny and humble and no account? I’ve got to do it, Nick. Make it easy for me.’
‘I’ll be—hammered if I will! I’ll make it hard. That’s what I’m here for. Every one else yields to that vicious little will of yours. Your father and mother let you do what you like. They don’t begin to know what you are running your precious head into. I can’t replace it. Can you? That makes me positive. It also makes me ugly.’
‘It does make you ugly, Nick. But I don’t mind. I think I like it that you should care. If I could stay at home for any one, I’d do it for you. Believe that, won’t you?’
‘Oh, I’ll believe, and thank you into the bargain. But what good will it do me? I don’t want belief. I want you.’
‘I know, Nick. I know. But India wants me more—or not me, but what I can do, and what women like me can do. There’s a cry from Macedonia, “Come over and help us!” While I hear that cry I can find no pleasure in any other good. I could be your wife, Nick. That’s easy. But with that in my ears I should be in torture every moment.’
‘That’s rough on me,’ suggested Tarvin, glancing ruefully at the cliffs above them.
‘Oh no. It has nothing to do with you.’
‘Yes,’ returned he, shutting his lips, ‘that’s just it.’
She could not help smiling a little again at his face.
‘I will never marry any one else, if it helps you any to know that, Nick,’ she said, with a sudden tenderness in her voice.
‘But you won’t marry me?’
‘No,’ she said quietly, firmly, simply.
He meditated this answer a moment in bitterness. They were riding at a walk, and he let the reins drop on his pony’s neck as he said, ‘Oh, well. Don’t matter about me. It isn’t all selfishness, dear. I do want you to stay for my own sake, I want you for my very own, I want you always beside me, I want you—want you; but it isn’t for that I. ask you to stay. It’s because I can’t think of you throwing yourself into the dangers and horrors of that life alone, unprotected, a girl. I can’t think of it and sleep nights. I daren’t think of it. The thing’s monstrous. It’s hideous. It’s absurd. You won’t do it!’
‘I must not think of myself,’ she answered in a shaken voice. ‘I must think of them.’
‘But I must think of you. And you shan’t bribe me, you shan’t tempt me, to think of any one else. You take it all too hard. Dearest girl,’ he entreated, lowering his voice, ‘are you in charge of the misery of the earth? There is misery elsewhere, too, and pain. Can you stop it.? You’ve got to live with the sound of the suffering of millions in your ears all your life, whatever you do. We’re all in for that. We can’t get away from it. We pay that price for daring to be happy for one little second.’
‘I know, I know. I’m not trying to save myself. I’m not trying to stifle the sound.’
‘No, but you are trying to stop it, and you can’t. It’s like trying to scoop up the ocean with a dipper. You can’t do it. But you can spoil your life in trying; and if you’ve got a scheme by which you can come back and have a spoiled life over again, I know some one who hasn’t. O Kate, I don’t ask anything for myself—or, at least, I only ask everything—but do think of that a moment sometimes when you are putting your arms around the earth, and trying to lift it up in your soft little hands—you are spoiling more lives than your own. Great Scot, Kate, if you are looking for some misery to set right, you needn’t go off this road. Begin on me.’
She shook her head sadly. ‘I must begin where I see my duty, Nick. I don’t say that I shall make much impression on the dreadful sum of human trouble, and I don’t say it is for every body to do what I’m going to try to do; but it’s right for me. I know that, and that’s all any of us can know. Oh, to be sure that people are a little better—if only a little better—because you have lived,’ she exclaimed, the look of exaltation coming into her eyes; ‘to know that you have lessened by the slightest bit the sorrow and suffering that must go on all the same, would be good. Even you must feel that, Nick,’ she said, gently laying her hand on his arm as they rode.
Tarvin compressed his lips. ‘Oh yes, I feel it,’ he said desperately.
‘But you feel something else. So do I.’
‘Then feel it more. Feel it enough to trust yourself to me. I’ll find a future for you. You shall bless everybody with your goodness. Do you think I should like you without it? And you shall begin by blessing me.’
‘I can’t! I can’t!’ she cried in distress.
‘You can’t do anything else. You must come to me at last. Do you think I could live if I didn’t think that? But I want to save you all that lies between. I don’t want you to be driven into my arms, little girl. I want you to come—and come now.’
For answer to this she only bowed her head on the sleeve of her riding-habit, and began to cry softly. Nick’s fingers closed on the hand with which she nervously clutched the pommel of her saddle.
‘You can’t, dear?’
The brown head was shaken vehemently. Tarvin ground his teeth.
‘All right; don’t mind:’
He took her yielding hand into his, speaking gently, as he would have spoken to a child in distress. In the silent moment that lengthened between them Tarvin gave it up—not Kate, not his love, not his changeless resolve to have her for his own, but just the question of her going to India. She could go if she liked. There would be two of them.
When they reached the Hot Springs he took an immediate opportunity to engage the willing Mrs. Mutrie in talk, and to lead her aside, while Sheriff showed the president the water steaming out of the ground, the baths, and the proposed site of a giant hotel. Kate, willing to hide her red eyes from Mrs. Mutrie’s sharp gaze, remained with her father.
When Tarvin had led the president’s wife to the side of the stream that went plunging down past the Springs to find a tomb at last in the canon below, he stopped short in the shelter of a clump of cottonwoods.
‘ Do you really want that necklace?’ he asked her abruptly.
She laughed again, gurglingly, amusedly, this time, with the little air of spectacle which she could not help lending to all she did.
‘Want it?’ she repeated. ‘Of course I want it. I want the moon, too.’
Tarvin laid a silencing hand upon her arm.
‘You shall have this,’ he said positively.
She ceased laughing, and grew almost pale at his earnestness.
‘What do you mean?’ she asked quickly.
‘It would please you? You would be glad of it?’ he asked. ‘What would you do to get it?’
‘Go back to Omaha on my hands and knees,’ she answered with equal earnestness. ‘Crawl to India.’
‘All right,’ returned Tarvin vigorously. ‘That settles it. Listen! I want the Three C.’s to come to Topaz. You want this. Can we trade?’
‘But you can never——’
‘No matter; I’ll attend to my part. Can you do yours?’
‘You mean——’ she began.
‘Yes,’ nodded her companion decisively; ‘I do. Can you fix it?’
Tarvin, fiercely repressed and controlled, stood before her with clenched teeth, and hands that drove the nails into his palms, awaiting her answer.
She tilted her fair head on one side with deprecation, and regarded him out of the vanishing angle of one eye provocatively, with a lingering, tantalising look of adequacy.
‘I guess what I say to Jim goes,’ she said at last with a dreamy smile.
‘Then it’s a bargain?’
‘Yes,’ she answered.
‘Shake hands on it.’
They joined hands. For a moment they stood confronted, penetrating each other’s eyes.
‘You’ll really get it for me?’
‘You won’t go back on me?’
He pressed her hand so that she gave a little scream.
‘Ouch! You hurt.’
‘All right,’ he said hoarsely, as he dropped her hand. ‘It’s a trade. I start for India tomorrow.’