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Flowing Gold

Flowing Gold

Author:Rex Beach


Room service at the Ajax is of a quality befitting the newest, the largest, and the most expensive hotel in Dallas. While the standard of excellence is uniformly high...
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  Room service at the Ajax is of a quality befitting the newest, thelargest, and the most expensive hotel in Dallas. While the standard ofexcellence is uniformly high, nevertheless some extra care usuallyattaches to a breakfast ordered from the Governor's suite--most elegantand most expensive of all the suites--hence the waiter checked over hiscard and made a final, fluttering examination to be sure that thechilled fruit was chilled and that the hot plates were hot before herapped on the door. A voice, loud and cheery, bade him enter.

  Would the gentleman wish his breakfast served in the parlor or--No, thegentleman would have it right in his bedroom; but first, where were hiscigarettes? He hoped above all things that the waiter had not forgottenhis cigarettes. Some people began their days with cold showers--nothingless than a cruel shock to a languid nervous system. An atrociouspractice, the speaker called it--a relic of barbarism--a fetish ofignorance. Much preferable was a hygienic, stimulating cigarette whichserved the same purpose and left no deleterious aftereffects.

  The pajama-clad guest struck a light, inhaled with abundantsatisfaction, and then cast a hungry eye over the contents of therubber-tired breakfast table. He, too, tested the temperature of themelon and felt the cover of the toast plate.

  "Splendid!" he cried. "Nice rooms, prompt service, a pleasant-facedwaiter. Why, I couldn't fare better in my best club. Thanks to you, myfirst impression of Dallas is wholly delightful." He seated himself ina padded boudoir chair, unfolded a snowy serviette and attacked hisbreakfast with the enthusiasm of a perfectly healthy animal.

  "Is this your first visit here, sir?"

  "Absolutely. Dallas is as foreign to me as Lhasa. It is the Baghdad ofmy dreams and its streets are strange. Perhaps they are full ofadventure for me. I hope so. Anything exciting can happen in a townwhere one has neither friends nor acquaintances, eh? You are awell-read man, I take it."

  "I? Why--"

  "At any rate, you have heard it said that this is a small world."

  "Yes, sir."

  "Good! I merely wish to deny authorship of the saying, for it is false.This is a large world. What is more, it is a world full of cities likeDallas where men like you and me, Heaven be praised, have neitherfriends, acquaintances, nor relatives. In that respect, it is a fineworld and we should devoutly give thanks for its Dallases andits--Dalsatians. Jove! This ham is delicious!"

  The waiter was accustomed to "morning talkers," but this gentleman wasdifferent. He had an air of consequence, and his voice, so deep, sowell modulated, so pleasant, invested him with unusual distinction.Probably he was an actor! But no! Not in the Governor's suite. Morelikely he was one of the big men of the Standard, or the Gulf, or theTexas. To make sure, the waiter inquired:

  "May I ask if you are in oil, sir?"

  "In oil? Bless me, what a nauseating question--at this hour of the day!"

  "'Most everybody here is in oil. We turn dozens away every day, we'rethat full. It's the boom. I'm in oil myself--in a small way, of course.It's like this: sometimes gentlemen like--well, like you, sir--give metips. They drop a hint, like, about their stocks, and I've donewell--in a small way, of course. It doesn't cost them anythingand--some of them are very kind. You'd really be surprised."

  "Oh, not at all." The occupant of the Governor's suite leaned back inhis chair and smiled widely. "As a matter of fact, I am flattered, forit is evident that you are endowed with the money-making instinct andthat you unerringly recognize it in others. Very well, I shall see whatI can do for you. But while we are on the subject of tips, would youmind helping yourself to a dollar out of my trousers pocket?"

  The waiter proceeded to do as directed, but a moment later announced,apologetically: "Here's all I find, sir. It's mostly pennies." Heexposed a handful of small coins.

  "Look in my coat, if you will."

  But the second search resulted as had the first. "Strange!" murmuredthe guest, without rising. "I must have been robbed. I remember now, afellow crowded me as I left my train. Um--m! Robbed--at the very gatesof Baghdad! Dallas _is_ a City of Adventure. Please add your tip to thecheck, and--make it two dollars. I'd like to have you serve me everymorning, for I cannot abide an acid face at breakfast. It sours mywhole day."

  Calvin Gray finished his breakfast, smoked a second cigarette as hescanned the morning paper, then he dressed himself with meticulouscare. He possessed a tall, erect, athletic form, his perfectly fittingclothes had that touch of individuality affected by a certain few ofNew York's exclusive tailors, and when he finally surveyed himself inthe glass, there was no denying the fact that he presented anappearance of unusual distinction. As he turned away, his eyes fellupon the scanty handful of small coins which the waiter had removedfrom his pocket and for a moment he stared at them reflectively, thenhe scooped them into his palm and, with a smile, announced to his image:

  "It would seem that it is time for us to introduce ourselves to themanagement."

  He was humming a tune as he strode out of his richly furnished quarters.

  The Governor's suite at the Ajax is on the mezzanine floor, at the headof the grand staircase. As Gray descended the spacious marble steps, hesaw that the hotel was indeed doing a big business, for already thelobby was thickly peopled and at the desk a group of new arrivals wereplaintively arguing with a bored and supercilious room clerk.

  Some men possess an effortless knack of commanding attention andinspiring courtesy. Calvin Gray was one of these. Before many moments,he was in the manager's office, explaining, suavely, "Now that I haveintroduced myself, I wish to thank you for taking care of me upon suchshort notice."

  "It was the only space we had. If you wish, I'll have your roomschanged as soon as--"

  "Have you something better?"

  Haviland, the manager, laughed and shook his head. "Scarcely! Thatsuite is our pet and our pride. There's nothing to beat it in the wholeSouthwest."

  "It is very nice. May I inquire the rate?"

  "Twenty-five dollars a day."

  "Quite reasonable." Mr. Gray beamed his satisfaction.

  "It is the only suite we have left. We've put beds in the parlors ofthe others, and frequently we have to double up our guests. This oilexcitement is a blessing to us poor innkeepers. I presume it's oil thatbrings you here?"

  Gray met the speaker's interrogatory gaze with a negative shake of thehead and a smile peculiarly noncommittal. "No," he declared. "I'm notin the oil business and I have no money to invest in it. I don't evenrepresent a syndicate of Eastern capitalists. On the contrary, I am apenniless adventurer whom chance alone has cast upon your hospitablegrand staircase." These words were spoken with a suggestion of mockmodesty that had precisely the effect of a deliberate wink, and Mr.Haviland smiled and nodded his complete comprehension.

  "I get you," said he. "And you're right. The lease hounds would devilyou to death if you gave them a chance. Now then, if there's any way inwhich I can be of service--"

  "There is." Gray's tone was at once businesslike. "Please give me thenames of your leading bankers. I mean the strongest and the most--well,discreet."

  During the next few minutes Gray received and swiftly tabulated in hismind a deal of inside information usually denied to the averagestranger; the impression his swift, searching questions made upon thehotel manager was evident when the latter told him as he rose to go:

  "Don't feel that you have to identify yourself at the banks to-day. Ifwe can accommodate you--cash a check or the like--"

  "Thank you." The caller shook his head and smiled his appreciation ofthe offer. "Your manner of conducting a hotel impresses me deeply, andI shall speak of it to some of my Eastern friends. Live executives arehard to find."

  It is impossible to analyze or to describe that quality of magneticcharm which we commonly term personality, nevertheless it is the mostpotent influence in our social and our business lives. It is a gift ofthe gods, and most conspicuous successes, in whatever line, are due toit. Now and then comes an individual who is cold, even repellent, andyet who rises to full accomplishment by reason of pure intellectualforce or strength of character; but nine times out of ten the man whogets ahead, be he merchant, banker, promoter, or crook, does so byreason of this abstract asset, this intangible birthright.

  Gray possessed that happy quality. It had made itself felt by thewaiter who brought his breakfast and by the manager of the hotel; itseffect was equally noticeable upon the girl behind the cigar counter,where he next went. An intimate word or two and she was in a flutter.She sidetracked her chewing gum, completely ignored her othercustomers, and helped him select a handful of her choicest sixty-centHavanas. When he finally decided to have her send the rest of the boxof fifty up to his room and signed for them, she considered thetransaction a tribute to her beauty rather than to her ability as asaleswoman. Her admiring eyes followed him clear across the lobby.

  Even the blase bell-captain, by virtue of his calling a person of fewenthusiasms and no illusions, edged up to the desk and inquired thename of the distinguished stranger "from the No'th."

  Gray appeared to know exactly what he wanted to do, for he stopped atthe telephone booths, inquired the number of the leading afternoonnewspaper, and put in a call for it. When it came through he asked forthe city editor. He closed the sound-proof door before voicing hismessage, then he began, rapidly:

  "City editor? Well, I'm from the Ajax Hotel, and I have a tip for you.I'm one of the room clerks. Listen! Calvin Gray is registered here--gotin last night, on gum shoes.... Gray! _Calvin Gray_! Better shoot areporter around and get a story.... You _don't_? Well, other peopleknow him. He's a character--globe trotter, soldier of fortune,financier. He's been everywhere and done everything, and you can get agreat story if you've got a man clever enough to make him talk. But hewon't loosen easily.... Oil, I suppose, but--... Sure! Under cover.Mystery stuff! Another big syndicate probably.... Oh, that's all right.I'm an old newspaper man myself. Don't mention it."

  All American cities, these days, are much the same. Character,atmosphere, distinctiveness, have been squeezed out in the generalmold. For all Calvin Gray could see, as he made his first acquaintancewith Dallas, he might have been treading the streets of Los Angeles, ofIndianapolis, of Portland, Maine, or of Portland, Oregon. A Californiabrightness and a Florida warmth to the air, a New England alertness tothe pedestrians, a Manhattan majesty to some of the newer officebuildings, these were the most outstanding of his first impressions.

  Into the largest and the newest of these buildings Gray went, a whitetile and stone skyscraper, the entire lower floor of which was devotedto an impressive banking room. He sent his card in to the president,and spent perhaps ten minutes with that gentleman. He had called merelyto get acquainted, so he explained; he wished to meet only the heads ofthe strongest financial institutions; he had no favors to ask--as yet,and he might have no business whatever with them. On the otherhand--well, he was a slow and careful investigator, but when he moved,it was with promptitude and vigor, and in such an event he wished themto know who he was. Meanwhile, he desired no publicity, and he hopedhis presence in Dallas would not become generally known--it mightseriously interfere with his plans.

  Before he left the bank Gray had met the other officers, and from theirmanner he saw that he had created a decided impression upon them. Thebank president himself walked with him to the marble railing, then said:

  "I'd like to have you wait and meet my son, Lieutenant Roswell. He'sjust back from overseas, and--the boy served with some distinction. Afather's pride, you understand?"

  "Was Lieutenant Roswell in France?" Gray inquired, quickly.

  "Oh yes. He'll be in at any minute."

  A shadow of regret crossed the caller's face. "I'm sorry, but I'vearranged to call on the mayor, and I've no time to lose. What unit wasyour son with?"

  "The Ninety-eighth Field Artillery."

  The shadow fled. Mr. Gray was vexed at the necessity for haste, but hewould look forward to meeting the young hero later.

  "And meanwhile," Roswell, senior, said, warmly, "if we can be ofservice to you, please feel free to call upon us. I dare say we'd besafe in honoring a small check." He laughed pleasantly and clapped hiscaller on the back.

  A fine man, Gray decided as he paused outside the bank. And here wasanother offer to cash a check--the second this morning. Good addressand an expensive tailor certainly did count: with them as capital, aman could take a profit at any time. Gray's fingers strayed to thesmall change in his trousers pocket and he turned longing eyes backtoward the bank interior. Without doubt it was a temptation, especiallyinasmuch as at that moment his well-manicured right hand held in itsgrasp every cent that he possessed.

  This was not the first time he had been broke. On the contrary, duringhis younger days he had more than once found himself in that conditionand had looked upon it as an exciting experience, as a not unpleasantform of adventure. To be strapped in a mining camp, for instance, wasno more than a mild embarrassment. But to find oneself thirty-eightyears old, friendless and without funds in a city the size ofDallas--well, that was more than an adventure, and it afforded a sortof excitement that he believed he could very well do without. Dallaswas no open-handed frontier town; it was a small New York, where lifeis settled, where men are suspicious, and where fortunes are slow inthe making. He wondered now if hard, fast living had robbed him of thepunch to make a new beginning; he wondered, too, if the vague plans atthe back of his mind had anything to them or if they were entirelyimpracticable. Here was opportunity, definite, concrete, and spelledwith a capital O, here was a deliberate invitation to avail himself ofa short cut out of his embarrassment. A mere scratch of a pen and hewould have money enough to move on to some other Dallas, and there gainthe start he needed--enough, at least, so that he could tip his waiterand pay cash for his Coronas. Business men are too gullible, any how;it would be a good lesson to Roswell and Haviland. Why not--?

  Calvin Gray started, he recoiled slightly, the abstracted stare waswiped from his face, for an officer in uniform had brushed past him andentered the bank. That damned khaki again! Those service stripes! Theywere forever obtruding themselves, it seemed. Was there no place whereone could escape the hateful sight of them? His chain of thought hadbeen snapped, and he realized that there could be no short cut for him.He had climbed through the ropes, taken his corner, and the gong hadrung; it was now a fight to a finish, with no quarter given. He squaredhis shoulders and set out for the hotel, where he felt sure he wouldfind a reporter awaiting him.