He said this over and over. It ran like a refrain through every conversation he had with anyone. He preached the gospel of labor. And he did work himself; there was no shadow of doubt as to that. He had struck oil himself, and had made a goodly extra pile. Now, unknown to young Jones, he was casting envious eyes on his ranch; and when the war came and Gilbert went overseas in a burst of fine patriotism, and later came other disasters, he was quick to snatch his opportunity.
Why go to Bisbee, he told Jones, to see who would take up his mortgage? What were neighbors for, if not to come in handy in such unpleasant emergencies? And he laughed.
The long and short of it was that Hardy took an option on Gilbert’s property, and held it at this very moment. It was better so, thought Gilbert. Better to be foreclosed by a friendly neighbor, who might hesitate to drive one out at the last moment, than under the thumb of some unknown individual way down the valley.
Four years of it—and he had come to this! Well, he’d take his medicine like a man. He had done his best, and no one could do more.
Wherein, far away, another man hears whispers of the wealth along the border, and comes down to see about it
Up North there was a man with a jaw like a rock, and hard, steel-gray eyes. He had his fingers on the pulse of business, and employed agents everywhere to serve his interests. His office in New York, in the heart of the great financial district, was like a telephone exchange—he the central who controlled the wires, put in and drew out the plugs, and played the fascinating game of connecting himself with any “party” he thought worth while. A shrewd, inveterate gambler, he was without scruples. He lived for one purpose: to make money. For one person: Morgan Pell.
There had been whispers concerning his methods. They were often questionable, to say the least; but, like all men who work quietly beneath the surface of the world of business, Pell covered up his tracks with as much genius as he displayed in consummating a big deal. There should be no loose ends if he was ever charged with corruption. Down in his soul he knew he was a coward. He could not face disgrace, any more than he could face the guns of battle. If his pillow was not always a restful one at night; if he tossed more than he should at his age—he was but thirty-eight—no one knew it. His conscience smote him now and then. In his earlier days he had tricked a widow and caused her to be separated from her last penny. Afterwards, he learned she had committed suicide. He shuddered. In fact, he suffered a little for two long years. Then he forgot about her. Life was life, and though it played unfairly with some, to others it gave beds of roses; and after all we were but puppets of fate, and each must take his chances, and not complain if he did not hold the winning hand. There were only so many to go around. A lottery—that’s what it was. And just as people left a card table, a few widows and orphans had to clear out of the big gambling-hall of life. It was as plain as day.