AS Jim Messiter walked down River
Front Avenue and tasted the Salt
Chinook which swept across the
bay and mingled with the odor of
the new sawn fir, it struck him with a sharp
glow of pleasure that life had never before
held so much of interest for him. He
looked over the town which he had done so
much to make, and it seemed to him that
his work was good. The distinguishing
features of the town were its rawness and
rustle, but to Jim it had the germ of perfection. Its very newness and crudeness
were proof of its vitality and quick life.
It was typical of the West - pushing, self-assertive, public-spirited. Fortunes were
to be made and lost in a month. Already
it was almost cosmopolitan in its citizens,
and it was just six months old.
Surely Messiter liked the town no less
because it liked him. He had deserved well
of the town, had pushed it insistently in
season and out of season, and had stood by
it manfully when the rival "city" across the
bay had been backed by a certain coast railroad company and had almost beaten Willapa Bend out of existence. He had been
the spokesman of the delegation which had
waited on the president and board of directors of the great Trans-Continental Railroad
to show them why Willapa Bend should be
the terminus of their line, and he had done
his work so well that he had shaken the
president's already formed verdict in favor
of Inverness. When the committee filed into
the room, Willapa Bend had not one chance
in a thousand; but before they left, Messiter
knew that the matter would not be decided
without a more thorough investigation.
Partly on acount of what he had done for
the town and partly because of his native
qualifications, the Board of Trade had asked
him to stand for the nomination for State
Jim viewed the town very much as a
young father views his first-born. Never
was such a town, in Jim's opinion. Every
evidence of young and vigorous activity
filled him with a sense of personal pride and
Up the river, a mile above him, the giant
dredger "Anaconda" was working like a
thing alive, tearing from the river bottom
the accumulated sand and mud of ages and
dropping it on flatboats, which were towed
by wheezy little tugs across the tide flats to
deposit their loads on the flats and thereby
snatch from the sea another bit of ground
valuable for mills and warehouses. At the
water's edge great pile-drivers pounded away
with a steady thump - thump - thump on the
cedar posts which were to form the groundwork for a big ocean wharf. A hundred
men were at work on the "Willapa," a hundred-thousand-dollar hotel in process of erection, and from it drifted the busy hum of
hammer and saw. Behind the hotel a big
hill was succumbing to hydraulic pressure,
and a steady stream of mud and water poured
down into the tide flats below.
All around him and up the street, which
ran parallel with the river, houses, stores,
hotels, and warehouses were going up as fast
as their owneers could send them. Some hundred yards below, two saw-mills were running night and day in a vain attempt to
supply the needs of the growing town. Below the mills, a salmon-canning factory was
already in operation. Some dories just in
were unloading at the factory wharf; a ship
floating the Union Jack was coming into the
harbor two miles out, while a Dutch lumber
schooner passed her on the way out to sea.
The town was still in the midst of its first
"boom," but every man, woman, and child
there took pride in it, and believed loyally
that the town was to be a big city in the near
future. Men were passing to and fro quietly,
buying and selling in a business-like way.
Not a man who was not busy; not one who
did not believe he was on the high road to
fortune; everywhere rustle, life, and hope:
a new country in the making. At least that
was how Messiter saw it as he turned into
the offices of the company, and his opinion
went for a good deal among people who knew
He was a well-set-up young fellow, and
worth a second look, not because he was
pretty or handsome - for he was neither. His
mouth was too large, and his features were
altogether too irregular. The thing that impressed a stranger was his clean-blooded
vitality. He showed alertness and vigor in
every movement of his healthy, athletic body.
There was something about the lines of his
mouth and the expression of his shrewd,
humorous eyes that showed determination
and fertility of resource. Altogether, the
kind of fellow who is never more dangerous
than when he is apparently beaten.
On his desk were a dozen letters from
people in the East who wanted to know all
about Willapa Bend, from the average summer temperature to the altitude of the bay
at that point. But Jim Messiter tossed these
aside and settled himself expectantly to
read a letter in a square envelope bearing
the monogram "E. D." on the seal. One
paragraph he read over several times. Like
its writer, it was as direct and frank as a
If I seem to put the case brutally, you
will pardon me, and will remember that you
have insisted on my speaking frankly. I do
not see how the situation has changed since I
answered you before. I cannot help feeling
that you deliberately ran away from your
responsibilities and duties when you buried
yourself in the West. You had an honorable
career awaiting you here, and you threw it
up to go wandering. I do not see any reason
to modify my previous judgment in regard
to your present course. Leaving out entirely the morality of it, speculating in
"boom" towns cannot be regarded as a
serious business in life, worthy of a man
who has the opportunities that you have
had and still have. So far as I can judge,
your philosophy of life seems to be about
the same that it used to be when you were
at college, and then you regarded it as a
Believe me, I do not intend
to hurt you needlessly, but frankness is
better for us both, as you say. Unless
you can convince me that you are honestly and seriously grappling with the work of
life, my resolution must remain unchanged. If
you can show me I am mistaken, none of
your friends will be so quick to rejoice with
Sincerely, EDITH DELAFIELD.
Messiter strolled to the door, an anxious,
harassed look on his square-jawed, boyish
face. Again his eye wandered over the
place, and again it seemed to him that he
was doing something worth while. He was
in the thick of life - in the heart of a big
thing, he admitted to himself impartially,
with an air of satisfaction. He had an
American's appreciation of the man who
does things, and he did not attempt to deny
to himself that he was proud of what he was
doing. He had got to make Edith see it in
that way, even if he had to go to New York
to do so. Through the lines of the letter he
could read the admission that she cared for
him, if only her conscience would approve
of him and his course of life.
He sat down at his desk, and wrote an
immediate answer. First he told her of
what he was doing and of the busy life
around him. Then he read over what he
had written, and proceeded to justify himself. In conclusion he wrote:
The world is not bounded by the State
lines of New York, and a man can get as
much work to do in the West as he can well
handle, notwithstanding the prevailing impression in the Empire State that a resident
of the West is practically out of the world.
I certainly am not "booming" this town
for the money there is to be made in fleecing
innocent buyers. You know me better than
that. If I were following the career you
suggest for me, I should be at the present
time a member of a firm of corporation
lawyers. To open up a new and rich country is a more serviceable work in my opinion.
The country out here is rough and raw,
but it contains wonderful possibilities, and I
do not think that the pioneers who are giving
themselves to its development can be said to
be skulkers in life's battle. I believe in this
country and this town. I intend to stay
here, and I am not trying to induce working
people to invest their money in what I know
to be a cheat and a lie.
I cannot hope to make you
feel about this as I who am in the thick of it do;
but if you could see the progress we
have made, the tide flats that have been
reclaimed, the forests that have been cleared, and
the homes that are being built, I feel sure
that you would not think it useless and futile.
It is, of course, rank, material progress;
but may it not also be that we are
founding another great State for
the nation? I have been asked to stand for
the State senate. For the next week we
shall be straining every nerve to get the
terminus of the Trans-Continental for our town. Whatever else I am doing, I am not
trifling. It is the work I am best fitted for. Yet
if I do not get one little girl in New York to believe in it and
me - You have got to believe in me
and the town, for we are both
tremendously in earnest. I cannot leave my work
now, but may I not come later, say
next month? May I not, dear?
He was just finishing the address when
two visitors dropped into the office. One of
them was the man who wanted to be governor. He introduced his companion as "Mr.
Roberts, looking for a site for some mills.
Thought he ought to see your town, Mr.
"It's the only town he needs to see. A
lumberman has a better chance here than in
any other place in the State, and that means
in the world," retorted Messiter promptly
and as a matter of course.
"Aren't you too modest about your
town?" asked the politician dryly. Throughout the day he continued to speak of Willapa
Bend as "your town," and Messiter accepted
the compliment as an evidence of the politician's discernment.
Presently, as they bowled over the planked
roads in a surrey, Messiter found himself
reeling out by the yard facts, figures, and
prophecies as to the town and surrounding
country. The politician occasionally helped
him out with a remark, for he wanted Messiter's help in a political way at the coming
convention; but the mill-owner smoked his
cigar stolidly, except for an occasional sharp,
"I tell you, sir, this town is bound to
grow; nothing can keep it back. The proposition is just this: we have practically the
only good harbor between 'Frisco and Puget
Sound. Why, sir, the 'City of Panama' got
caught in that February storm just at the
mouth of the Columbia River; tried to cross
the bar, and was nearly beaten to pieces;
beat her way up to the bay here, and came
in handy as you please. No, sir, Portland
isn't in it as a seaport town. Then we tap
one of the richest lumber districts in the
world - and practically untouched. The lumber is easy of access, and can be floated
down the river. You saw it right on the
water's edge, load it from your own wharves,
and send it all over the world. The supply
of lumber is practically unlimited, too. I
don't need to talk to you about the salmon
industry or our farming resources, because
they talk for themselves. And the climate"
"I am not coming for my health," laughed
Roberts. Then he flicked the ashes from his
cigar and said tentatively: "I think of locating at Inverness."
"Inverness! Well, if you're looking for
a quiet, healthful sort of sanitarium, where
your nerves will get a chance to rest, that's
the place for you. It's dead-dead and
buried. The only live things they have
there are mills and promoters."
Roberts eyed him with an amused smile
as he said slowly:" Willapa Bend's got a
few promoters too.
Messiter laughed quietly at the hit. "Oh,
yes, I'm a promoter all right; but it happens I've got something to promote. This
town will be a city of 50,000 inhabitants in
five years. I may be a promoter, but I am
the kind that means to stay by the town.
Generally speaking, the difference between
us and Inverness is that they believe in their
town because they are pushing it, and we
push ours because we believe in it."
"Well, if I decide to locate here I hope
your town will grow," said Roberts doubtfully.
"I don't think there is any doubt about
that," answered Messiter. "Inverness is going to grow, too, but nothing like as fast
as Willapa Bend. If I told you what I really
thought, I should say one hundred thousand
would be about our size in five years."
"That's the advantage of having an imagination. You can prophesy without being
hampered by facts," said the other dryly.
"That's all right. The facts are going to
justify me. You wait and see. Six months
ago this town consisted of one lone cabin
and a cow-path leading to it through the
timber. That was the whole outfit. You
see it now - two saw-mills, canning factory,
ten-thousand-dollar school projected, hundred-thousand hotel being built, lots anywhere from two hundred to a thousand
apiece. If we can do that in six months,
what can we do in ten years?"
"Well! I confess I like the outlook. I
believe you'll make a town out of it. But I
want to go slow. I've seen boom towns
before. They're all right for the promoter,
but they're pretty rough on the settler."
"I hope you are not going to liken us to
those mushroom prairie towns on the rainless desert. This Washington immigration
movement has come to stay. We've got here
the finest country on the face of God's green
earth, and people have just begun to find it
out. The development of Washington has
just started, and we are in on the ground
floor. I think Willapa Bend and Seattle are
going to be the cities on the northern coast.
I've got a big slice in this town, and I don't
mind admitting that I think I'm a rich man,
as men go in the West. All I have got
to do is to hold on and rustle. It takes two
things to make a town - one is natural advantages, and the other is git-up-and-git,
and we have got them both."
They were back in the office by this time,
and the President of the Willapa Bend Land
and Development Company leaned forward
persuasively, and touched the other man's
knee with his lead pencil.
"See here, Mr. Roberts, I don't usually
talk about private affairs, but I'll tell you
one thing: our company has taken in more
than twelve hundred dollars a day this summer on an average - in cash, that is."
"That's more apt to mean inflated values
than legitimate development. I'd rather hear
that the Trans-Continental was coming this
The two men looked at each other for a
moment, and both smiled a little. They had
got to the controlling lever at last. President Eaton of the Trans-Continental was
married to a sister of Roberts, and it was
beyond doubt that the latter would locate in
the town selected by the railroad company
for its terminus. What Messiter hoped for
was that the mill-owner would be impressed
with the advantages of Willapa Bend and
throw the weight of his influence in favor of
that town. Presently Messiter asked boldly:
"Which way is the Trans-Continental going?"
"I don't think the matter is officially decided," answered Roberts cautiously, "but
I guess Inverness has it pretty well corralled."
Messiter knew quite well that at present
Inverness was a better town than Willapa
Bend. It was a larger, older town, and to
the Michigan man, fresh from the neat
towns of his own State, presented a much
more attractive appearance than Willapa
Bend, rich in charred stumps and blackened
hillsides where the forest fires had run not
three months before. To him the whole
town looked terribly bleak and crude. But
Messiter saw it with the eyes of faith, and
he meant that the other man should also see
it so. Messiter's point of view was that
there ought to be a good town here; therefore it was his business to make one. He
reopened the attack from another side.
"Inverness is an older town than this, and
it looks a good deal prettier just now. It's
getting past the stump age. They are getting the timber cleared out of there pretty
fast. But that isn't what you want, I take
it. You are after a place that has a big
The Michigan man smiled a little in appreciation of the pun, and said, "There's lots
of timber round Inverness yet."
"Yes, there is a lot of timber there, but
there are a dozen big mills, and they either
own or have an option on the most desirable
timber lands. If you go there, you take your
chances, and they won't be of the best, because you are last in the field."
It was Messiter's one valid point, and he
knew it had scored. The mill man smoked
in silence for a minute before he spoke again.
"And if I come here?"
"If you come here you are practically
first in the field. I don't count these two
mills already here, because they are small,
single-barreled affairs, running without
much capital. There is plenty of timber all
round here. What's the matter with your
sending agents out to buy up big quantities
of the most desirable timber land? You can
get it almost at your own price now."
Messiter waited for the other to speak;
but as he did not appear to intend to make
a beginning, Jim continued:
"There is a lot of timber yet in the Sound
country, but they have to go back from salt
water to get it now. You will not find a
place on earth where timber is handier than
here. Assuming that we get the Trans-Continental" - Roberts smiled at the calmness
with which Messiter assumed the point at
issue - "the bulk of your carrying will be
done by water on account of the saving in
expense. If ships from Sydney and Calcutta
can drop in here and get their lumber, it does
not stand to reason that they will try to
make the difficult Straits passage into Puget
Sound. Those tramp schooners aren't taking extra risks for the pleasure there is in
Again the president of the W. B. L. & D.
Company had scored a hit. He knew the
arguments that counted most with Roberts,
and no matter how much he might diverge,
he always came back in the end to the fine
harbor and the abundance of timber within
When Roberts left for Seattle a few days
later, Messiter knew that what influence the
mill man had with his brother-in-law would
be exerted in favor of Willapa Bend, but
that whichever town was selected by the
railroad company for its terminus would
also be the town to get the large mills of
the Michigan man.
It was two or three days later that Jim
got his answer from New York. It bade him
come to her after he had secured the Trans-Continental for his town.
"Guess I bragged too much about what I
was doing," reflected Jim with a grin; "but
I've got to get the railroad now, if I have to
hold up the president for it."
As events turned out, that was about what
he did, though the president never suspected
it. When Messiter got the telegram in
cipher from Chicago announcing the departure of President Eaton for Inverness, he
tossed it over to his partner with the remark, "Gay outlook, isn't it?"
"I should remark. Lets us out good and
plenty," answered Barry after he had read it.
Messiter sat drumming with his fingers on
the desk in front of him, a thoughtful frown
on his abstracted face. He knew very well
that, if Inverness got hold of the president
first, it would be all up with his chances. At
all cost, Eaton must be kept away from Inverness for a time. He thought about it
quite a while, casting over various plans in
his mind, and the immediate result of his
thinking was that he rose with a smile on
his face, and said easily, "Oh, I don't know.
We'll see about that. Send for Heaton, and
let's have a pow-wow.
There had been heavy rain in western
Washington for weeks, and temporary, but
vicious, rivers were running all over the land
seeking what they could devour. It was one
of these that ditched the express. Still, it
is a little strange that the track had held for
miles against a heavy pressure and should
finally be swept away by a stream not six
inches deep nor ten feet wide. That is, it
would be strange if it were not so easily
President Eaton felt the train slow down.
Then it stopped with a jar that sent him forward heavily against the chair in front of
him. He looked out of the window, and saw
the train hands gathered round the engine.
He divined at once that there had been a
washout, and strolled forward to see the extent of the damage. The engineer was explaining excitedly how it had happened. "I
slowed down pretty slow at the curve here,
knowin' there was a bad place jest this side.
Soon as I got round, I seen there was a
washout, and threw on the mergency brakes;
but the' wa'ant time to stop, and she waltzed
The damage was very slight, but it would
be impossible to proceed for many hours; in
fact, until after the arrival of a wrecking
crew. The railroad magnate was not in a
particular hurry; still, he did not view with
particular equanimity the prospect of a long
wait in the dreary forest. At this opportune moment, Jim Messiter and his surrey
came in sight. The engineer saw him first,
and deliberately winked at Jim.
"Most harmless accident you ever saw,
Mr. Messiter," suggested the conductor with
Messiter was, of course, surprised to meet
Mr. Eaton, but had a way to suggest out of
the difficulty. "Jump into my surrey, Mr.
Eaton, and I'll take you to Willapa Bend.
You can look over our town, and to-morrow
I'll take you across the bay to Inverness in
The railroad president reflected that this
would save him from making a special trip
to Willapa Bend. He could take it in on his
way to Inverness, and then he could tell
Roberts that he had seen the town, which
the latter gentleman had strongly urged him
The Belt Line passed fully eight miles
from Willapa Bend, so that Messiter had
plenty of time to size up his man before they
reached town. During the past few weeks
he had omitted no opportunity to find out all
he could about the man who held the fate of
Willapa Bend in his hand. As a result of
his inquiries, he had learned that Eaton was
a quiet, reserved man, who hated above all
things fuss and pompous display. He
dressed quietly, but well, and liked a good
dinner as well as most men, though he sometimes suffered from it afterward.
Messiter knew too much to consign his
guest to the tender mercies of any of the
hotels in the young town. He drove straight
to the office, where Barry met them and insisted on their dining with him. Mrs. Barry
was a housekeeper among a thousand, but
that day she fairly outdid herself. Eaton
admitted to himself that a town six months
old able to furnish an impromptu dinner like
the one he was eating wasn't so far out of
the world after all.
After dinner, Barry and Messiter took him
round to the club, and again the railroad
man opened his eyes. The appointments and
service were in excellent taste, and the few
men he met were altogether different from
the men he had expected to meet. Presently
he found himself at whist with three men
who knew the game as well as he did himself. They attended strictly to their game,
and seemed to have forgotten that there was
such a railroad in existence as the Trans-Continental. He was very fond of whist,
and it was a genuine pleasure to meet people in this dropping-off place who knew
enough to play by rule.
Messiter's fine hand was in evidence
throughout the evening. Of the dozen men
who knew thaat the president of the Trans-Continental was in town, not one of them
mentioned the town except incidentally, and
then not by way of business. One of them
grumbled about it to Heaton of the "Journal": "Seems to me we're losing valuable
time. We ought to talk the town up when
we have the chance," he said.
"Jim Messiter is running this show. He'll
pull us through if anybody can, I guess. All
we have to do is to take our cue and play up
to him. There's lots of time to talk business
to-morrow. What we want to do to-night is
to give Eaton a good time," replied the
When Eaton left with Messiter in the
launch next day, he was surprised to find
that he left the town with some regret.
Instead of the anticipated bore, his visit had
been quite a pleasure. He didn't care much
for the town itself, but there were some nice
people in it, he thought.
The rain began about the time the launch
reached Inverness, and continued in torrents
for several days. Eaton and Messiter put
up at the nearest hotel, where the rain kept
them pretty close prisoners. The cooking
was wretched, and at the end of the second
day Eaton was suffering badly from dyspepsia.
About this time the mayor of Inverness, a
large, effusive man with a bad manner, who
had been haunting the depot for a day or
two in a vain search for Mr. Eaton, discovered their presence at the hotel. Without
the knowledge of the railroad president, he
ordained for him a public reception. The
railroad owner was dragged off to meet a
few friends, and three hours later found
himself still limply shaking hands with men
he never expected to meet again and listening to inane banalities.
The mayor of Inverness, good, amiable
man, was in his element, and believed he
was making an impression. He certainly
made one at the close of the reception, when
he attempted a confidential whisper and trod
heavily on Eaton's gouty toe. Messiter, in a
far corner, smiled blandly, and repeated to
himself softly, " He's digging a grave - he's
digging a grave - and I think Inverness is
going to be the corpse."
Very few men can judge dispassionately
and apart from their individual likes and
dislikes. As President Eaton, after a
wretched night's rest, looked out of the
hotel window at the rain still streaming
down, he contrasted the pleasure he had had
at Willapa Bend with the dismalness of Inverness and the thoroughly disagreeable experience the place had given him. At that
moment he would not have voted to give
Inverness a wayside depot, far less to make
it the terminus of his line. He felt he could
not stand the place another hour. Suddenly
he turned to Messiter and announced his
intention of leaving that morning for
Chicago. The young man asked when he
might expect to hear what the decision of
the company was in regard to the terminus.
"You can hear now," answered the President abruptly. Then he asked quickly:
"How about a bridge across the Willapa, if
we run in from the north - will you guarantee to raise the money from the town?"
"Yes, sir, - if I pay every cent myself."
"You will give us a right of way into
your town, and plenty of room for yards
and shops?" he asked sharply.
"All the room you want."
"And a good site for an ocean wharf?"
"Wherever you want it."
"Then. Mr. Messiter, the terminus of the
Trans-Continental is yours."
The room grew altogether too small for
Messiter. He wanted to hug his portly vis-
a'-vis; he had a desire to improvise the highland fling with variations; he bethought him
of his college yell, and wondered what Eaton
would think if he were to let out a "Hi-O-Hi." He did none of these things. He
waited a moment till his voice was under
control, then said quietly: "We'll try to be
worthy of the chance you have given us."
Half an hour later two telegrams went
over the wires from Messiter. The one to
Barry was in cipher, but interpreted it read:
Willapa Bend gets the Trans-Continental.
Letter follows. Wake things up to-night.
The other was to New York. To the girl
who opened it the message said:
I hand you the Trans-Continental on a
silver platter with my best bow. Start East
to-night. J. M.
© RailroadStories, 2001.