Read CHAPTER XXI - DICK MAKES A BOLD VENTURE of Brandon of the Engineers , free online book, by Harold Bindloss, on

Some delicate and important work was being done, and Stuyvesant had had his lunch sent up to the dam.  Bethune and Dick joined him afterwards, and sat in the shade of a big traveling crane.  Stuyvesant and Dick were hot and dirty, for it was not their custom to be content with giving orders when urgent work was going on.  Bethune looked languid and immaculately neat.  His speciality was mathematics, and he said he did not see why the man with mental talents should dissipate his energy by using his hands.

“It’s curious about that French liner,” Stuyvesant presently remarked.  “I understand her passengers have been waiting since yesterday and she hasn’t arrived.”

“The last boat cut out Santa Brigida without notice,” Bethune replied.  “My opinion of the French is that they’re a pretty casual lot.”

“On the surface.  They smile and shrug where we set our teeth, but when you get down to bed-rock you don’t find much difference.  I thought as you do, until I went over there and saw a people that run us close for steady, intensive industry.  Their small cultivators are simply great.  I’d like to put them on our poorer land in the Middle West, where we’re content with sixteen bushels of wheat that’s most fit for chicken feed to the acre.  Then what they don’t know about civil engineering isn’t worth learning.”

Bethune made a gesture of agreement.  “They’re certainly fine engineers and they’re putting up a pretty good fight just now, but these Latins puzzle me.  Take the Iberian branch of the race, for example.  We have Spanish péons here who’ll stand for as much work and hardship as any Anglo-Saxon I’ve met.  Then an educated Spaniard’s hard to beat for intellectual subtlety.  Chess is a game that’s suited to my turn of mind, but I’ve been badly whipped in Santa Brigida.  They’ve brains and application, and yet they don’t progress.  What’s the matter with them, anyway?”

“I expect they can’t formulate a continuous policy and stick to it, and they keep brains and labor too far apart; the two should coordinate.  But I wonder what’s holding up the mail boat.”

“Do they know when she left the last port?” Dick, who had listened impatiently, asked with concealed interest.

“They do.  It’s a short run and she ought to have arrived yesterday morning.”

“The Germans can’t have got her.  They have no commerce-destroyers in these waters,” Bethune remarked, with a glance at Dick.  “Your navy corralled the lot, I think.”

Dick wondered why Bethune looked at him, but he answered carelessly:  “So one understands.  But it’s strange the French company cut out the last call.  There was a big quantity of freight on the mole.”

“It looks as if the agent had suspected something,” Stuyvesant replied.  “However, that’s not our affair, and you want to get busy and have your specifications and cost-sheets straight when Fuller comes.”

“Then Fuller is coming back!” Dick exclaimed.

“He’ll be here to-morrow night.  I imagined Bethune had told you about the cablegram he sent.”

“He didn’t; I expect he thought his getting a scratch lunch more important,” Dick replied, looking at his watch.  “Well, I must see everything’s ready before the boys make a start.”

He went away with swift, decided steps through the scorching heat, and Stuyvesant smiled.

“There you have a specimen of the useful Anglo-Saxon type.  I don’t claim that he’s a smart man all round, but he can concentrate on his work and put over what he takes in hand.  You wouldn’t go to him for a brilliant plan, but give him an awkward job and he’ll make good.  I expect he’ll get a lift up when Fuller has taken a look round.”

“He deserves it,” Bethune agreed.

Though the heat was intense and the glare from the white dam dazzling, Dick found work something of a relief.  It was his habit to fix his mind upon the task in which he was engaged; but of late his thoughts had been occupied by Clare and conjectures about the Adexe coaling station and the strange black-funnel boat.  The delay in the French liner’s arrival had made the matter look more urgent, but he had now an excuse for putting off its consideration.  His duty to his employer came first.  There were detailed plans that must be worked out before Fuller came and things he would want to know, and Dick sat up late at night in order to have the answers ready.

Fuller arrived, and after spending a few days at the works came to Dick’s shack one evening.  For an hour he examined drawings and calculations, asking Jake a sharp question now and then, and afterwards sent him away.

“You can put up the papers now,” he said.  “We’ll go out on the veranda.  It’s cooler there.”

He dropped into a canvas chair, for the air was stagnant and enervating, and looked down at the clustering lights beside the sea for a time.  Then he said abruptly:  “Jake seems to know his business.  You have taught him well.”

“He learned most himself,” Dick answered modestly.

“Well,” said Fuller with some dryness, “that’s the best plan, but you put him on the right track and kept him there; I guess I know my son.  Has he made trouble for you in other ways?”

“None worth mentioning.”

Fuller gave him a keen glance and then indicated the lights of the town.

“That’s the danger-spot.  Does he go down there often?”

“No.  I make it as difficult as possible, but can’t stop him altogether.”

Fuller nodded.  “I guess you used some tact, because he likes you and you’d certainly have had trouble if you’d snubbed him up too hard.  Anyway, I’m glad to acknowledge that you have put me in your debt.  You can see how I was fixed.  Bethune’s not the man to guide a headstrong lad, and Stuyvesant’s his boss.  If he’d used any official pressure, Jake would have kicked.  That’s why I wanted a steady partner for him who had no actual authority.”

“In a sense, you ran some risk in choosing me.”

“I don’t know that I chose you, to begin with,” Fuller answered with a twinkle.  “I imagine my daughter made me think as I did, but I’m willing to state that her judgment was good.  We’ll let that go.  You have seen Jake at his work; do you think he’ll make an engineer?”

“Yes,” said Dick, and then recognizing friendship’s claim, added bluntly:  “But he’ll make a better artist.  He has the gift.”

“Well,” said Fuller, in a thoughtful tone, “we’ll talk of it again.  In the meantime, he’s learning how big jobs are done and dollars are earned, and that’s a liberal education.  However, I’ve a proposition here I’d like your opinion of.”

Dick’s heart beat as he read the document his employer handed him.  It was a formal agreement by which he engaged his services to Fuller until the irrigation work was completed, in return for a salary that he thought remarkably good.

“It’s much more than I had any reason to expect,” he said with some awkwardness.  “In fact, although I don’t know that I have been of much help to Jake, I’d sooner you didn’t take this way of repaying me.  One would prefer not to mix friendship with business.”

“Yours is not a very common view,” Fuller replied, smiling.  “However, I’m merely offering to buy your professional skill, and want to know if you’re satisfied with my terms.”

“They’re generous,” said Dick with emotion, for he saw what the change in his position might enable him to do.  “There’s only one thing:  the agreement is to stand until the completion of the dam.  What will happen afterwards?”

“Then if I have no more use for you here, I think I can promise to find you as good or better job.  Is that enough?”

Dick gave him a grateful look.  “It’s difficult to tell you how I feel about it, but I’ll do my best to make good and show that you have not been mistaken.”

“That’s all right,” said Fuller, getting up.  “Sign the document when you can get a witness and let me have it.”

He went away and Dick sat down and studied the agreement with a beating heart.  He found his work engrossing, he liked the men he was associated with, and saw his way to making his mark in his profession, but there was another cause for the triumphant thrill he felt.  Clare must be separated from Kenwardine before she was entangled in his dangerous plots, and he had brooded over his inability to come to her rescue.  Now, however, one obstacle was removed.  He could offer her some degree of comfort if she could be persuaded to marry him.  It was obvious that she must be taken out of her father’s hands as soon as possible, and he determined to try to gain her consent next morning, though he was very doubtful of his success.

When he reached the house, Clare was sitting at a table in the patio with some work in her hand.  Close by, the purple creeper spread across the wall, and the girl’s blue eyes and thin lilac dress harmonized with its deeper color.  Her face and half-covered arms showed pure white against the background, but the delicate pink that had once relieved the former was now less distinct.  The hot, humid climate had begun to set its mark on her, and Dick thought she looked anxious and perplexed.

She glanced up when she heard his step, and moving quietly forward he stopped on the opposite side of the table with his hand on a chair.  He knew there was much against him and feared a rebuff, but delay might be dangerous and he could not wait.  Standing quietly resolute, he fixed his eyes on the girl’s face.

“Is your father at home, Miss Kenwardine?” he asked.

“No,” said Clare.  “He went out some time ago, and I cannot tell when he will come back.  Do you want to see him?”

“I don’t know yet.  It depends.”

He thought she was surprised and curious, but she said nothing, and nerving himself for the plunge, he resumed:  “I came to see you in the first place.  I’m afraid you’ll be astonished, Clare, but I want to know if you will marry me.”

She moved abruptly, turned her head for a moment, and then looked up at him while the color gathered in her face.  Her expression puzzled Dick, but he imagined that she was angry.

“I am astonished.  Isn’t it a rather extraordinary request, after what you said on board the launch?”

“No,” said Dick, “it’s very natural from my point of view.  You see, I fell in love with you the first time we met; but I got into disgrace soon afterwards and have had a bad time since.  This made it impossible for me to tell you what I felt; but things are beginning to improve ­”

He stopped, seeing no encouragement in her expression, for Clare was fighting a hard battle.  His blunt simplicity made a strong appeal.  She had liked and trusted him when he had with callow but honest chivalry offered her his protection one night in England and he had developed fast since then.  Hardship had strengthened and in a sense refined him.  He looked resolute and soldierlike as he waited.  Still, for his sake as well as hers, she must refuse.

“Then you must be easily moved,” she said.  “You knew nothing about me.”

“I’d seen you; that was quite enough,” Dick declared and stopped.  Her look was gentler and he might do better if he could lessen the distance between them and take her hand; he feared he had been painfully matter-of-fact.  Perhaps he was right, but the table stood in the way, and if he moved round it, she would take alarm.  It was exasperating to be baulked by a piece of furniture.

“Besides,” he resumed, “when everybody doubted me, you showed your confidence.  You wrote and said ­”

“But you told me you tore up the letter,” Clare interrupted.

Dick got confused.  “I did; I was a fool, but the way things had been going was too much for me.  You ought to understand and try to make allowances.”

“I cannot understand why you want to marry a girl you think a thief.”

Pulling himself together, Dick gave her a steady look.  “I can’t let that pass, though if I begin to argue I’m lost.  In a way, I’m at your mercy, because my defense can only make matters worse.  But I tried to explain on board the launch.”

“The explanation wasn’t very convincing,” Clare remarked, turning her head.  “Do you still believe I took your papers?”

“The plans were in my pocket when I reached your house,” said Dick, who saw he must be frank.  “I don’t know that you took them, and if you did, I wouldn’t hold you responsible; but they were taken.”

“You mean that you blame my father for their loss?”

Dick hesitated.  He felt that she was giving him a last opportunity, but he could not seize it.

“If I pretended I didn’t blame him, you would find me out and it would stand between us.  I wish I could say I’d dropped the papers somewhere or find some other way; but the truth is best.”

Clare turned to him with a hot flush and an angry sparkle in her eyes.

“Then it’s unthinkable that you should marry the daughter of the man whom you believe ruined you.  Don’t you see that you can’t separate me from my father?  We must stand together.”

“No,” said Dick doggedly, knowing that he was beaten, “I don’t see that.  I want you; I want to take you away from surroundings and associations that must jar.  Perhaps it was foolish to think you would come, but you helped to save my life when I was ill, and I believe I was then something more to you than a patient.  Why have you changed?”

She looked at him with a forced and rather bitter smile.  “Need you ask?  Can’t you, or won’t you, understand?  Could I marry my victim, which is what you are if your suspicions are justified?  If they are not, you have offered me an insult I cannot forgive.  It is unbearable to be thought the daughter of a thief.”

Dick nerved himself for a last effort.  “What does your father’s character matter?  I want you.  You will be safe from everything that could hurt you if you come to me.”  He hesitated and then went on in a hoarse, determined voice:  “You must come.  I can’t let you live among those plotters and gamblers.  It’s impossible.  Clare, when I was ill and you thought me asleep, I watched you sitting in the moonlight.  Your face was wonderfully gentle and I thought ­”

She rose and stopped him with a gesture.  “There is no more to be said, Mr. Brandon.  I cannot marry you, and if you are generous, you will go.”

Dick, who had been gripping the chair hard, let his hand fall slackly and turned away.  Clare watched him cross the patio, and stood tensely still, fighting against an impulse to call him back as he neared the door.  Then as he vanished into the shadow of the arch she sat down with sudden limpness and buried her hot face in her hands.