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CHAPTER IX.

DEVELOPING THE NEGATIVE.

Jarrod got his Committee of Five together and looked them over. As might be expected they were a queerly assorted lot and promised to be difficult to manage.

The promise was fulfilled during the several meetings of the committee that were quietly held on back porches. Colonel Kerry was the one tower of strength; but a man used to managing thousands of miners and keeping them in order was not likely to be easily managed himself. Kerry was odd as Dick's hat band and had little to say at the meetings. He read Jarrod's purpose clearly, and endorsed it; but the old fellow could n't stand the arguments and wandering suggestions of his fellow members on the committee. While he listened he tore a fragment from an old letter or newspaper and rolled it with infinite care and skill into the inevitable spiral, shaping the thing between his fingers as carefully as if it were something precious. But if anything occurred to annoy him he promptly destroyed the spiral, put on his hat, and walked home without a word. Then Jarrod had to go after him and urge and explain until Kerry consented to come back to the meeting.

The members of the committee were all prominent men. If Kerry could have cursed them freely everything would have been harmonious—as far as he was concerned. As he couldn't swear his only recourse was to quit and go home.

The author fellow, Mr. Wright, was another hard proposition. He was stubborn, loud-mouthed and pig-headed, and wanted to carry everything with a high hand, the way they do in novels. He had about as much diplomacy as a cannon-ball, and his fellow members had to sit on him twice a minute to keep him from spoiling everything. Judge Toodles knew a heap of law but was sure to get tangled in its intricacies, and when he tried to unravel himself was nearly as lucid and logical as a straw in a cocktail. Teekey was an unknown quantity. He owned a fine cottage built on public property, and although he had originally been an "innocent purchaser" his doubtful title so worried him that he was accustomed to obtain from Wilder and Easton a new deed about once a year, and each deed he filed gave him a little more public land. He was reputed a wealthy and eminently respectable gentleman, and the chances of his fighting on the side of the cottagers and jeopardizing his own property to assert the principles of right and justice were considered good—but not gilt-edged.

With this ill-assorted material Jarrod labored until he molded it into shape. For it must be admitted that in the end the members of the committee stood shoulder to shoulder and did their full duty by the cottagers who had appointed them. By these five Tamawaca was redeemed and its incubi unseated.

Meantime Jarrod had reluctantly indulged in several interviews with old Easton. This man was a most peculiar character. He loved to sing hymns and made an excellent exhortation at any religious gathering. Indeed, one milk-fed preacher who lived on the hill was openly jealous of his evangelistic abilities. But the miserly instinct was predominant in Easton's nature and, as Wilder expressed it, he could "squeeze a cent till it hollered." It was this characteristic that subverted all the good in his nature and made him universally detested. Wilder, his partner, pursued his system of graft with the grace and cheeriness of a modern Dick Turpin. Wilder was open-handed and charitable, generous on occasion, always hospitable, and more crafty than roguish. Easton was deliberate and calculating in his extortions and, like the ostrich who hides his head in the sand to escape observation, fondly imagined that no one suspected his persistent brigandage. He derived a fat income from the necessities of the cottagers but pleaded poverty as an excuse for not doing his duty by them. His methods were sly and stealthy and he looked grieved and hurt if any exasperated cottager frankly called him a damned scoundrel.

Jarrod forced himself to cultivate Easton's society in order to study the man, for the elder partner's mild blue eyes and innocent expression puzzled him at first. Easton, for his part, considered Jarrod an impertinent meddler, but resolved to use him as an instrument to carry out a pet scheme he had for dispossessing Wilder.

"With Wilder's interest out of the way," he would observe, "everything would be well at lovely Tamawaca. If I were the sole proprietor here the cottagers would soon find out how dearly I love them. Wilder obstructs all my generous plans to improve conditions, and I'd like to buy him out."

"Why don't you?" enquired Jarrod.

"He won't sell to me," was the reply. "But perhaps we can fool him."

"How?"

"I'll explain—in confidence. You buy out his interest. Tell him you'll make it very uncomfortable for him if he refuses to sell. See? I'll furnish the money, and afterward you can turn the whole thing over to me."

"Would that be fair and honorable?" asked Jarrod, gravely.

"Would I propose it, otherwise?" returned Easton, as if surprised at the question. "Mr. Jarrod, my feet are in the straight and narrow way, and I will not diverge from the path of rectitude. But if in that path appears a snake, I am surely justified in scotching it. You buy out Wilder, as I said, and then I'll buy you out. Nothing dishonest in that—eh?"

"I'll think it over," said the lawyer. "I may decide to buy you both out."

"Of course. As a blind. But only as a blind, you understand."

"I don't understand everything just now, Mr. Easton. I must give the matter some careful thought."

During several similar conversations, however, Jarrod came to know his man intimately, and as his knowledge grew his respect for the "Father of Tamawaca" decreased. Neither Easton nor Wilder believed the cottagers would ever assert their rights, and therefore each was scheming desperately to oust his partner and get the control in his own hands.

Finally Jarrod decided the time had arrived to act. He got together his committee of five, explained to them his plans, and received the assurance of their loyal support. Then, a meeting being arranged, they called in a body upon Easton at his office and frankly stated that the partners must sell out to the cottagers all their interests at Tamawaca or prepare to stand a law suit for the recovery of the public lands illegally sold and occupied by them.

Perhaps Easton imagined that Jarrod had taken his cue and was acting upon it. He tried to restrain a smile of triumph in order to listen gravely to the proposition.

Wilder sat in a corner and hugged himself gleefully. The old man was "up against it" at last, and Wilder was responsible for forcing him to "face the music"—at least that was Wilder's belief.

Jarrod, in behalf of the cottagers, began the interview by calmly stating their case. They had been robbed of certain public lands that belong to them in legal equity, and the partners had not only sold these lands to themselves, individually, and built cottages and public buildings upon them, but had conveyed many of these lands to others, giving them warranty deeds in lieu of clear titles. If the matter was brought to the attention of the courts Easton and Wilder would be obliged to make these warrants good; in which case, so extensive had been the fraudulent sales, such an order from the court would involve the partners in financial ruin.

However, it was not the desire of the cottagers to ruin their oppressors. They much preferred to buy out their holdings at Tamawaca, and be rid of them forever. Therefore they offered thirty thousand dollars for the property, assuming in addition to the purchase price some six or eight thousands of standing indebtedness.

Jarrod might be carrying out "the blind," but something in his manner as he made this clear and uncontrovertible statement disturbed Easton's equanimity and rendered him suspicious that the lawyer had not properly swallowed the bait that had been dangled before him. But in this juncture he could think of no way to escape. Whichever way he looked he encountered the cold eyes of the determined and resentful committee of five, and to delay his answer until he could sound Jarrod was impossible. Moreover, Wilder, who acted his part admirably, seemed to Easton to have tumbled blindly into his trap. The junior partner declared that he was willing to dispose of his one-third interest for ten thousand dollars, and the fear that he might retract this offer led Easton to close with the proposition made him by the cottagers. At the worst he could wiggle out of it in some way, he believed; so the one thing to do was to nail Wilder on the spot.

The final result of this serio-comic interview was that Wilder and Easton both signed an option in favor of Jarrod as trustee for the cottagers, agreeing to sell the entire real and personal property in which they were jointly interested for thirty thousand dollars, at any time within thirty days following that date.

When the option was signed and in his pocket Jarrod felt that his purpose was accomplished. His committee had redeemed this beautiful summer resort from all speculative evils, ensuring its future control to the cottagers themselves, whose best interests would now be conserved.

It was indeed a great triumph, and the Committee of Five solemnly shook hands with one another and went home to tell their wives and neighbors of their success.

Wilder, in the seclusion of his own home, danced a jig of jubilation.

"They've got the option," he said to Nora, "but they've got no money. I'll furnish the money to take up the option—and the deed is done!"

"Will they give you the option?" asked Nora.

"Why not? Somebody's got to make the bluff good, and I'm the only one that can afford to. What do these folks want of a summer resort? They could n't run it properly for five minutes. And Easton's the man they hate, because he's always stood in the way of public improvements. Wilder's their friend—eh?—and they'll all be glad when he's the whole thing."

Easton was a bit less sanguine. "The situation," he told his better half, "is not as clear as I wish it was. But I've never yet failed to get my way with the cottagers, and a little diplomacy ought to enable me to win this time. My only fear is that Jarrod may not be honest."