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her gaze from the empty plain of Los Muertos, she saw
young Annixter stopping his horse by the carriage steps.
But the sight of him only diverted her mind to the other
trouble. She could not but regard him with aversion.
He was one of the conspirators, was one of the leaders
in the battle that impended; no doubt, he had come to
make a fresh attempt to win over Magnus to the unholy
alliance.

However, there was little trace of enmity in her greet-
ing. Her hair was still spread, like a broad patch of
brown sea-weed, upon the white towel over the chair-
back, and she made that her excuse for not getting up.
In answer to Annixter's embarrassed inquiry after Mag-
nus, she sent the Chinese cook to call him from the office;

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and Annixter, after tying his horse to the ring driven
into the trunk of one of the eucalyptus trees, came up to
the porch, and, taking off his hat, sat down upon the
steps.

"Is Harran anywhere about?" he asked. "I'd like to
see Harran, too."

"No," said Mrs. Derrick, "Harran went to Bonne-
ville early this morning."

She glanced toward Annixter nervously, without turn-
ing her head, lest she should disturb her outspread
hair.

'What is it you want to see Mr. Derrick about?" she
inquired hastily. "Is it about this plan to elect a Rail-
road Commission? Magnus does not approve of it," she
declared with energy. "He told me so last night."

Annixter moved about awkwardly where he sat,
smoothing down with his hand the one stiff lock of yel-
low hair that persistently stood up from his crown like an
Indian's scalp-lock. At once his suspicions were all
aroused. Ah! this feemale woman was trying to get a
hold on him, trying to involve him in a petticoat mess,
trying to cajole him. Upon the instant, he became very
crafty; an excess of prudence promptly congealed his
natural impulses. In an actual spasm of caution, he
scarcely trusted himself to speak, terrified lest he should
commit himself to something. He glanced about appre-
hensively, praying that Magnus might join them speed-
ily, relieving the tension.

"I came to see about giving a dance in my new barn,"
he answered, scowling into the depths of his hat, as
though reading from notes he had concealed there. "I
wanted to ask how I should send out the /wvites. I
thought of just putting an ad. in the Mercury''

But as he spoke, Presley had come up behind An-
nixter in time to get the drift of the conversation, and
now observed:

*75



THE OCTOPUS

"That's nonsense. Buck. You're not giving a public
ball. You must send out invitations."

"Hello, Presley, you there?" exclaimed Annixter,
turning round. The two shook hands.

"Send out invitations?" repeated Annixter uneasily.
"Why must I?"

"Because that's the only way to do."

'It is, is it?" answered Annixter, perplexed and
troubled. No other man of his acquaintance could have
so contradicted Annixter without provoking a quarrel
upon the instant. Why the young rancher, irascible, ob-
stinate, belligerent, should invariably defer to the poet,
was an inconsistency never to be explained. It was with
great surprise that Mrs. Derrick heard him continue:

'Well, I suppose you know what you're talking about,
Pres. Must have written mvites, hev?"

* *

"Of course."

"Typewritten?"

'Why, what an ass you are, Buck," observed Presley
calmly. "Before you get through with it, you will prob-
ably insult three fourths of the people you intend to in-
vite, and have about a hundred quarrels on your hands,
and a lawsuit or two."

However, before Annixter could reply, Magnus came
out on the porch, erect, grave, freshly shaven. Without
realizing what he was doing, Annixter instinctively rose
to his feet. It was as though Magnus was a commander-
in-chief of an unseen army, and he a subaltern. There
was some little conversation as to the proposed dance,
and then Annixter found an excuse for drawing the Gov-
ernor aside. Mrs. Derrick watched the two with eyes
full of poignant anxiety, as they slowly paced the length
of the gravel driveway to the road gate, and stood there,
leaning upon it, talking earnestly; Magnus tall, thin-
lipped, impassive, one hand in the breast of his frock
coat, his head bare, his keen blue eyes fixed upon An-

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A STORY OF CALIFORNIA

nixter's face. Annixter came at once to the main point.

"I got a wire from Osterman this morning, Gover-
nor, and, well we've got Disbrow. That means that
the Denver, Pueblo, and Mojave is back of us. There's
half the fight won, first off."

"Osterman bribed him, I suppose," observed Magnus.

Annixter raised a shoulder vexatiously.
'You've got to pay for what you get," he returned.
'You don't get something for nothing, I guess. Gov-
ernor," he went on, " I don't see how you can stay out of
this business much longer. You see how it will be.
We're going to win, and I don't see how you can feel
that it's right of you to let us do all the work and stand
all the expense. There's never been a movement of any
importance that went on around you that you weren't
the leader in it. All Tulare County, all the San Joaquin,
for that matter, knows you. They want a leader, and
they are looking to you. I know how you feel about
politics nowadays. But, Governor, standards have
changed since your time; everybody plays the game
now as we are playing it the most honourable men.
You can't play it any other way, and, pshaw! if the
right wins out in the end, that's the main thing. We
want you in this thing, and we want you bad. You've
been chewing on this affair now a long time. Have you
made up your mind? Do you come in? I tell you what,
you've got to look at these things in a large way. You've
got to judge by results. W 7 ell, now, what do you think?
Do you come in?"

Magnus's glance left Annixter's face, and for an in-
stant sought the ground. His frown lowered, but now it
was in perplexity, rather than in anger. His mind was
troubled, harassed with a thousand dissensions.

But one of Magnus's strongest instincts, one of his
keenest desires, was to be, if only for a short time, the
master. To control men had ever been his ambition;

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THE OCTOPUS

submission of any kind, his greatest horror. His energy
stirred within him, goaded by the lash of his anger, his
sense of indignity, of insult. Oh, for one moment to be
able to strike back, to crush his enemy, to defeat the rail-
road, hold the Corporation in the grip of his fist, put
down S. Behrman, rehabilitate himself, regain his self-
respect. To be once more powerful, to command, to
dominate. His thin lips pressed themselves together,
the nostrils of his prominent hawk-like nose dilated, his
erect, commanding figure stiffened unconsciously. For
a moment, he saw himself controlling the situation,
the foremost figure in his State, feared, respected,
thousands of men beneath him, his ambition at length
gratified; his career, once apparently brought to naught,
completed; success a palpable achievement. What if
this were his chance, after all, come at last after all these
years. His chance! The instincts of the old-time gam-
bler, the most redoubtable poker player of El Dorado
County, stirred at the word. Chance! To know it when
it came, to recognize it as it passed fleet as a wind-flurry,
grip at it, catch at it, blind, reckless, staking all upon
the hazard of the issue, that was genius. Was this his
Chance? All of a sudden, it seemed to him that it was,
But his honour! His cherished, lifelong integrity, the
unstained purity of his principles? At this late date, were
they to be sacrificed? Could he now go counter to all
the firm-built fabric of his character? How, afterward,
could he bear to look Harran and Lyman in the face?
And, yet and, yet back swung the pendulum to neg-
lect his Chance meant failure; a life begun in promise,
and ended in obscurity, perhaps in financial ruin, pov-
erty even. To seize it meant achievement, fame, influ-
ence, prestige, possibly great wealth.

"I am so sorry to interrupt," said Mrs. Derrick, as
she came up. "I hope Mr. Annixter will excuse me, but
I want Magnus to open the safe for me. I have lost the



A STORY OF CALIFORNIA

combination, and I must have some money. Phelps is
going into town, and I want him to pay some bills for
me. Can't you come right away, Magnus? Phelps is
ready and waiting."

Annixter struck his heel into the ground with a sup-
pressed oath. Always these fool feemale women came
between him and his plans, mixing themselves up in his
affairs. Magnus had been on the very point of saying
something, perhaps committing himself to some course
of action, and, at precisely the wrong moment, his wife
had cut in. The opportunity was lost. The three re-
turned toward the ranch house; but before saying good-
bye, Annixter had secured from Magnus a promise to
the effect that, before coming to a definite decision in the
matter under discussion, he would talk further with him.

Presley met him at the porch. He was going into
town with Phelps, and proposed to Annixter that he
should accompany them.

"I want to go over and see old Broderson," Annixter
objected.

But Presley informed him that Broderson had gone
to Bonneville earlier in the morning. He had seen him
go past in his buckboard. The three men set off, Phelps
and Annixter on horseback, Presley on his bicycle.

When they had gone, Mrs. Derrick sought out her
husband in the office of the ranch house. She was at
her prettiest that morning, her cheeks flushed with ex-
citement, her innocent, wide-open eyes almost girlish.
She had fastened her hair, still moist, with a black rib-
bon tied at the back of her head, and the soft mass of
light brown reached to below her waist, making her look
very young.

"What was it he was saying to you just now?" she
exclaimed, as she came through the gate in the green-
painted wire railing of the office. "What was Mr. An-
nixter saying? I know. He was trying to get you to

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THE OCTOPUS

join him, trying to persuade you to be dishonest, wasn't
that it? Tell me, Magnus, wasn't that it?"

Magnus nodded.

His wife drew close to him, putting a hand on his
shoulder.

"But you won't, will you? You won't listen to him
again; you won't so much as allow him anybody to
even suppose you would lend yourself to bribery? Oh,
Magnus, I don't know what has come over you these last
few weeks. Why, before this, you would have been in-
sulted if anyone thought you would even consider any-
thing like dishonesty. Magnus, it would break my heart
if you joined Mr. Annixter and Mr. Osterman. Why,
you couldn't be the same man to me afterward; you, who
have kept yourself so clean till now. And the boys;
what would Lyman say, and Harran, and everyone who
knows you and respects you, if you lowered yourself to
be just a political adventurer!"

For a moment, Derrick leaned his head upon his hand,
avoiding her gaze. At length, he said, drawing a deep
breath:

"I am troubled, Annie. These are the evil days. I
have much upon my mind."

"Evil days or not," she insisted, "promise me this
one thing, that you will not join Mr. Annixter's scheme."

She had taken his hand in both of hers and was look-
ing into his face, her pretty eyes full of pleading.

"Promise me," she repeated; "give me your word.
Whatever happens, let me always be able to be proud of
you, as I always have been. Give me your word. I
know you never seriously thought of joining Mr. An-
nixter, but I am so nervous and frightened sometimes.
Just to relieve my mind, Magnus, give me your word."

"Why you are right," he answered. "No, I never
thought seriously of it. Only for a moment, I was am-
bitious to be I don't know what what I had hoped to

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A STORY OF CALIFORNIA

be once well, that is over now. Annie, your husband is
a disappointed man."

"Give me your word," she insisted. "We can talk
about other things afterward."

Again Magnus wavered, about to yield to his better
instincts and to the entreaties of his wife. He began to
see how perilously far he had gone in this business. He
was drifting closer to it every hour. Already he was
entangled, already his foot was caught in the mesh that
was being spun. Sharply he recoiled. Again all his
instincts of honesty revolted. No, whatever happened,
he would preserve his integrity. His wife was right.
Always she had influenced his better side. At that mo-
ment,, Magnus's repugnance of the proposed political
campaign was at its pitch of intensity. He wondered
how he had ever allowed himself to so much as entertain
the idea of joining with the others. Now, he would
wrench free, would, in a single instant of power, clear
himself of all compromising relations. He turned to his
wife. Upon his lips trembled the promise she implored.
But suddenly there came to his mind the recollection of
his new-made pledge to Annixter. He had given his
word that before arriving at a decision he would have a
last interview with him. To Magnus, his given word
was sacred. Though now he wanted to, he could not as
yet draw back, could not promise his wife that he would
decide to do right. The matter must be delayed a few
days longer.

Lamely, he explained this to her. Annie Derrick
made but little response when he had done. She kissed
his forehead and went out of the room, uneasy, de-
pressed, her mind thronging with vague fears, leaving
Magnus before his office desk, his head in his hands,
thoughtful, gloomy, assaulted by forebodings.

Meanwhile, Annixter, Phelps, and Presley continued
on their way toward Bonneville. In a short time they

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THE OCTOPUS

had turned into the County Road by the great watering-
tank, and proceeded onward in the shade of the inter-
minable line of poplar trees, the wind-break that
stretched along the roadside bordering the Broderson
ranch. But as they drew near to Caraher's saloon and
grocery, about half a mile outside of Bonneville, they
recognized Harran's horse tied to the railing in front of
it. Annixter left the others and went in to see Harran.

"Harran," he said, when the two had sat down on
either side of one of the small tables, "you've got to
make up your mind one way or another pretty soon.
What are you going to do? Are you going to stand by
and see the rest of the Committee spending money by
the bucketful in this thing and keep your hands in your
pockets? If we win, you'll benefit just as much as the
rest of us. I suppose you've got some money of your
own you have, haven't you? You are your father's
manager, aren't you?"

Disconcerted at Annixter's directness, Harran stam-
mered an affirmative, adding:

"It's hard to know just what to do. It's a mean posi-
tion for me, Buck. I want to help you others, but I do
want to play fair. I don't know how to play any other
way. I should like to have a line from the Governor as
to how to act, but there's no getting a word out of him
these days. He seems to want to let me decide for
myself."

"Well, look here," put in Annixter. "Suppose you
keep out of the thing till it's all over, and then share and
share alike with the Committee on campaign expenses."

Harran fell thoughtful, his hands in his pockets, frown-
ing moodily at the toe of his boot. There was a silence.
Then:

"I don't like to go it blind," he hazarded. "I'm sort
of sharing the responsibility of what you do, then. I'm
a silent partner. And, then I don't want to have any

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difficulties with the Governor. We've always got along
well together. He wouldn't like it, you know, if I did
anything like that."

"Say," exclaimed Annixter abruptly, "if the Gover-
nor says he will keep his hands off, and that you can do
as you please, will you come in? For God's sake, let us
ranchers act together for once. Let's stand in with each
other in one fight."

Without knowing it, Annixter had touched the right
spring.

"I don't know but what you're right," Harran mur-
mured vaguely. His sense of discouragement, that feel-
ing of what's-the-use, was never more oppressive. All
fair means had been tried. The wheat grower was at
last with his back to the wall. If he chose his own means
of fighting, the responsibility must rest upon his
enemies, not on himself.

'It's the only way to accomplish anything," he con-
tinued, "standing in with each other . . . well, . . . go
ahead and see what you can do. If the Governor is
willing, I'll come in for my share of the campaign fund."

'That's some sense," exclaimed Annixter, shaking
him by the hand. "Half the fight is over already. We've
got Disbrow, you know; and the next thing is to get hold
of some of those rotten San Francisco bosses. Oster-
man will ' But Harran interrupted him, making a
quick gesture with his hand.

;< Don't tell me about it," he said. "I don't want to
know what you and Osterman are going to do. If I did,
I shouldn't come in."

Yet, for all this, before they said good-bye Annixter
had obtained Harran's promise that he would attend the
next meeting of the Committee, when Osterman should
return from Los Angeles and make his report. Harran
went on toward Los Muertos. Annixter mounted and
rode into Bonneville.

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THE OCTOPUS

Bonneville was very lively at all times. It was a little
city of some twenty or thirty thousand inhabitants,
where, as yet, the city hall, the high school building, and
the opera house were objects of civic pride. It was well
governed, beautifully clean, full of the energy and strenu-
ous young life of a new city. An air of the briskest ac-
tivity pervaded its streets and sidewalks. The business
portion of the town, centring about Main Street, was
always crowded. Annixter, arriving at the post-office,
found himself involved in a scene of swiftly shifting
sights and sounds. Saddle horses, farm wagons the in-
evitable Studebakers -buggies grey with the dust of
country roads, buckboards with squashes and grocery
packages stowed under the seat, two-wheeled sulkies and
training carts, were hitched to the gnawed railings and
zinc-sheathed telegraph poles along the curb. Here and
there, on the edge of the sidewalk, were bicycles
wedged into bicycle racks painted with cigar advertise-
ments. Upon the asphalt sidewalk itself, soft and sticky
with the morning's heat, was a continuous movement.
Men with large stomachs, wearing linen coats but no
vests, laboured ponderously up and down. Girls in lawn
skirts, shirt waists, and garden hats, went to and fro, in-
variably in couples, coming in and out of the drug store,
the grocery store, and haberdasher's, or lingering in
front of the post-office, which was on a corner under the
I.O.O.F. hall. Young men, in shirt sleeves, with brown
wicker cuff-protectors over their forearms and pencils
behind their ears, bustled in front of the grocery store,
anxious and preoccupied. A very old man, a Mexican,
in ragged white trousers and bare feet, sat on a horse-
block in front of the barber shop, holding a horse by a
rope around its neck. A Chinaman went by, teetering
under the weight of his market baskets slung on a pole
across his shoulders. In the neighbourhood of the
hotel, the Yosemite House, travelling salesmen, drum-

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mers for jewellery firms of San Francisco, commercial
agents, insurance men, well-dressed, metropolitan, deb-
onair, stood about cracking jokes, or hurried in and
out of the flapping white doors of the Yosemite bar-
room. The Yosemite 'bus and City 'bus passed up the
street, on the way from the morning train, each with its
two or three passengers. A very narrow wagon, be-
longing to the Cole & Colemore Harvester Works, went
by, loaded with long strips of iron that made a horrible
din as they jarred over the unevenness of the pavement.
The electric car line, the city's boast, did a brisk business,
its cars whirring from end to end of the street, with a
jangling of bells and a moaning plaint of gearing. On
the stone bulkheads of the grass plat around the new
City Hall, the usual loafers sat, chewing tobacco,
swapping stories. In the park were the inevitable array
of nursemaids, skylarking couples, and ragged little boys.
A single policeman, in grey coat and helmet, friend and
acquaintance of every man and woman in the town,
stood by the park entrance, leaning an elbow on the
fence post, twirling his club.

But in the centre of the best business block of the
street was a three-story building of rough brown stone,
set off with plate-glass windows and gold-lettered signs,
One of these latter read, "Pacific and Southwestern
Railroad, Freight and Passenger Office," while another,
much smaller, beneath the windows of the second story,
bore the inscription, "P. and S. W. Land Office."

Annixter hitched his horse to the iron post in front of
this building, and tramped up to the second floor, letting
himself into an office where a couple of clerks and book-
keepers sat at work behind a high wire screen. One of
these latter recognized him and came forward.

"Hello," said Annixter abruptly, scowling the while.
'Is your boss in? Is Ruggles in?"

The bookkeeper led Annixter to the private office in

185



THE OCTOPUS

an adjoining room, ushering him through a door on
the frosted glass of which was painted the name, "Cyrus
Blakelee Ruggles." Inside, a man in a frock coat, shoe-
string necktie, and Stetson hat, sat writing at a roller-
top desk. Over this desk was a vast map of the railroad
holdings in the country about Bonneville and Guadala-
jara, the alternate sections belonging to the Corporation
accurately plotted.

Ruggles was cordial in his welcome of Annixter. He
had a way of fiddling with his pencil continually while he
talked, scribbling vague lines and fragments of words
and names on stray bits of paper, and no sooner had An-
nixter sat down than he had begun to write, in full-
bellied script, Ann Ann all over his blotting pad.

"I want to see about those lands of mine I mean of
yours of the railroad's," Annixter commenced at once.
"I want to know when I can buy. I'm sick of fooling
along like this."

"Well, Mr. Annixter," observed Ruggles, writing
a great L before the Ann, and finishing it off with a
flourishing d. "The lands" he crossed out one of the
ns and noted the effect with a hasty glance " the lands
are practically yours. You have an option on them in-
definitely, and, as it is, you don't have to pay the taxes."

"Rot your option! I want to own them," Annixter
declared. "What have you people got to gain by putting
off selling them to us? Here this thing has dragged
along for over eight years. When I came in on Quien
Sabe, the understanding was that the lands your alter-
nate sections were to be conveyed to me within a few
months."

"The land had hot been patented to us then," an-
swered Ruggles.

"Well, it has been now, I guess," retorted Annixter.

"I'm sure I couldn't tell you, Mr. Annixter."

Annixter crossed his legs weariedly.

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A STORY OF CALIFORNIA

"Oh, what's the good of lying, Ruggles? You know
better than to talk that way to me."

Ruggles's face flushed on the instant, but he checked
his answer and laughed instead.

"Oh, if you know so much about it ' he observed.

"Well, when are you going to sell to me?"

"I'm only acting for the General Office, Mr. An-
nixter," returned Ruggles. 'Whenever the Directors
are ready to take that matter up, I'll be only too glad
to put it through for you."

"As if you didn't know. Look here, you're not talk
ing to old Broderson. Wake up, Ruggles. What's all
this talk in Genslinger's rag about the grading of the
value of our lands this winter and an advance in the
price?"

Ruggles spread out his hands with a deprecatory
gesture.

'I don't own the Mercury" he said.

'Well, your company does."

"If it does, I don't know anything about it."

*'Oh, rot! As if you and Genslinger and S. Behrman
didn't run the whole show down here. Come on, let's
have it, Ruggles. What does S. Behrman pay Gen-
slinger for inserting that three-inch ad. of the P. and
S. W. in his paper? Ten thousand a year, hey?"

"Oh, why not a hundred thousand and be done with
it?" returned the other, willing to take it as a joke.

Instead of replying, Annixter drew his check-book
from his inside pocket.

"Let me take that fountain pen of yours," he said.
Holding the book on his knee he wrote out a check, tore
it carefully from the stub, and laid it on the desk in
front of Ruggles.

"What's this?" asked Ruggles.

' Three- fourths payment for the sections of railroad
land included in my ranch, based on a valuation of two

187



THE OCTOPUS

dollars and a half per acre. You can have the balance
in sixty-day notes."



Online LibraryFrank NorrisThe octopus → online text (page 14 of 47)