The Forbidden Way
George Gibbs

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The Forbidden Way
George Gibbs

George Gibbs

The Forbidden Way



The young man in the swivel chair drummed with his toes against the desk, while he studied the gaudy fire insurance calendar on the wall before him. His pipe hung bowl downward from his lips, and the long fingers of one hand toyed with a legal document in his lap.

"Something new is hatching in this incubator," he muttered at last, dipping his pen in the ink bottle again. "And I think – I think it's an ugly duckling. Of course, it's no business of mine, but – " He looked up suddenly as a bulky figure darkened the doorway. "Hello, Jeff!"

Jeff Wray nodded and walked to the water cooler.

"Mulrennan's been here to see you three times," said the man in the swivel chair. "Each time he's been getting madder. I wish you'd keep your appointments or get another office-boy. That man's vocabulary is a work of genius. Even you, in your happiest humors – why, what's the matter with your face?"

Wray put his fingers up. Four red streaks ran parallel across his cheek bone. He touched the marks with his hand, then looked at his finger tips.

"Oh, that? Seems like I must have butted into something." He gave a short, unmirthful laugh. "Don't make me look any prettier, does it? Funny I didn't feel it before." And then, as he turned to the inner office, "Is Mulrennan coming back?" he asked.

"Yes, at five."

Wray glanced at the clock. "Has Bent been in?"


"When will those papers be ready?"

"To-night, if you want them."

"Good!" Wray turned, with his hand on the knob of the door. "When Pete comes, send him back. Will you, Larry?"

Larry Berkely nodded, and Wray went into the back office and closed the door behind him. He took out his keys and unlocked the desk, but, instead of sitting at once, he went over to a cracked mirror in the corner and examined his face, grinning at his image and touching the red marks with his fingers.

"That was a love-tap for fair," he said. "I reckon I deserved it. But she oughtn't to push a man too far. She was sure angry. Won't speak now for a while." He turned with a confident air. "She'll come around, though," he laughed. "You just bet she will." Then he sat down at his desk, took a photograph in a brass frame out of the drawer, put it up against the pen-rack before him, and, folding his arms across the blotter, gazed at it steadily for a moment.

"It was a mean trick, wasn't it, Camilla girl?" he muttered, half aloud. "I'm sorry. But you've got to learn who you belong to. There can't be any fooling of other fellows around Jeff Wray's girl. I just had to kiss you – had to put my seal on you, Camilla. I reckon you put yours on me, too, black and blue." He laughed ruefully. "You'll forgive me, though. A diamond necklace or so will square that. You bet it will!"

He put the picture down, hid it away, and took up some papers that lay before him. But when, a while later, Larry Berkely showed Mulrennan in, they found him sitting with his face to the window, looking out with his baby stare over the hundred thousand acres of the Hermosa Company.

"Come in, Pete, and shut the door. You don't mind, Larry? Mulrennan and I have got some private business." Then, when the door was closed, he said in a half-whisper, "Well? What did you find out about the 'Lone Tree'?"

Mr. Mulrennan carefully sought the cuspidor, then wiped his brow with a dirty red handkerchief. "What didn't I find out? God, Jeff! that mine's lousy with sylvanite. The watchman was asleep, and we got in scrumpshus-like. It's half way down that short winze they made last fall. Max had put some timbers up to hide it, and we pulled 'em down. We only had matches to strike and couldn't see much, but what we saw was a-plenty. It's the vein, all right. Holy Mother! but it started my mouth to watherin' – I haven't had a wink of shlape. Where in h – l have you been all day?"

"Business," said Jeff vaguely, "in the mountains."

"It's no time to be potherin' about wid little matthers." Mulrennan brought his huge fist down on the table. "You've got to nail this deal, Jeff, to-day."

"To-day? Bent hasn't been back."

"Well, you've got to find him – now."

"What for? See here, Pete, cool down. Can't you see if I go after him he'll get suspicious – and then good-bye to everything. You leave this deal to me. He'll sign. Larry's drawing the lease and bond now. Maybe to-morrow – "

"To-morrow? To-morrow will be too late. That's what I'm gettin' at. Max is ugly – "

Wray clenched his bony fingers over the chair arm and leaned across the desk.

"Max!" he whispered angrily. "What – ?"

"He's afther more money. He talked pretty big last night, but this mornin' – " He broke off breathlessly. "Oh, I've had the h – l of a day – "

"What did he say?"

"He's talkin' of goin' to the mine owner. He says, after all, Cort Bent never harmed him any, and it's only a matter of who gives him the most."

Wray got to his feet and took two or three rapid turns up and down the room.

"D – n him!" he muttered. And then suddenly, "Where is he now?"

"Up the bar playing pinochle with Fritz."

"Are you sure?"

"He was twenty minutes ago. I haven't left him a minute except to come here. Fritz is losin' money to him. I told him to. That will kape him for a while."

But Wray had already taken up his hat. "Come, let's go up there. We've got to shut his mouth some way," he said, through set lips.

"I've been promisin' myself sick, but he's a sharp one – God! But I wish them papers was signed," sighed Mulrennan.

As they passed through the office Jeff stopped a moment.

"If Bent comes in, Larry, tell him I'll be back in half an hour. Understand? Don't seem anxious. Just tell him I'm going to Denver and want to settle that deal one way or another as soon as possible."

Berkely nodded and watched the strange pair as they made their way up the street. Wray, his head down and hands in his pockets, and the Irishman using his arms in violent gestures.

"I'm sure it's an ugly duckling," commented the sage.

* * * * *

It was three years now since Berkely had come to Colorado for his health, and two since Fate had sent him drifting down to Mesa City and Jeff Wray. Mesa City was a "boom" town. Three years ago, when the "Jack Pot" mine was opened, it had become the sudden proud possessor of five hotels (and saloons), three "general" stores, four barber shops, three pool rooms, a livery stable, and post office. Its main (and only) street was a quarter of a mile in length, and the plains for a half mile in every direction had been dotted with the camps of the settlers. It had almost seemed as if Saguache County had found another Cripple Creek.

A time passed, and then Mesa City awoke one morning to find that the gamblers, the speculators, and the sporting men (and women) had gone forth to other fields, and left it to its fate, and the town knew that it was a failure.

But Jeff Wray stayed on. And when Berkely came, he stayed, too, partly because the place seemed to improve his health, but more largely on account of Jeff Wray. What was it that had drawn him so compellingly toward the man? He liked him – why, he could not say – but he did – and that was the end of it. There was a directness in the way Wray went after what he wanted which approached nothing Berkely could think of so much as the unhesitating self-sufficiency of a child. He seemed to have an intuition for the right thing, and, though he often did the wrong one, Berkely was aware that he did it open-eyed and that no book wisdom or refinement would have made the slightest difference in the consummation of his plans. Berkely was sure, as Wray was sure, that the only reason Jeff hadn't succeeded was because opportunity hadn't yet come knocking at his door. He liked Wray because he was bold and strong, because he looked him in the eye, because he gave a sense of large areas, because his impulses, bad as well as good, were generous and big, like the mountains and plains of which he was a part. His schemes showed flashes of genius, but neither of them had money enough to put them into practice. He was always figuring in hundreds of thousands or even in millions, and at times it seemed to Berkely as though he was frittering his life away over small problems when he might have been mastering big ones. At others he seemed very like Mulberry Sellers, Munchausen, and D'Artagnan all rolled into one.

What was happening now, Berkely could not determine, so he gave up the problem and, when his work was done, filled his pipe, strolled to the door, and watched the changing colors on the mountains to the east of him, as the sun, sinking lower, found some clouds and sent their shadows scurrying along the range to the southward. With his eye he followed the line of the trail up the cañon, and far up above the cottonwoods that skirted the town he could see two figures on horseback coming down. He recognized them at once, even at that distance, for they were a sight to which Mesa City had become accustomed.
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