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Ferdinand Heinrich Grautoff.

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through the window in the rear wall of the shanty.

"Don't let them run away from you," warned Tom; "horses as fresh as
those generally skip off when the express passes by."

"Nothing like that!" said Bill Parker, glancing again through the open
window, "but they are unusually restless just the same."

... "He was willing to give twenty dollars, was he?" asked Tom, resuming
the former conversation.

But Bill gave no answer and continued to stare out of the window.

"Here's how, gentlemen!" cried Tom encouragingly, touching Bill's tin
cup with his shaving-cup.

"Excuse me a minute," answered the latter; "I want to look after my - "
He had got up and was moving toward the door, but stopped halfway,
staring fixedly at the open window with a glassy expression in his eyes.
The other two regarded him with unfeigned astonishment, but when they
followed the direction of his glance, they also started with fright as
they looked through the window.

Yes, it was the same window as before, and beyond it stood the same team
of stamping, snorting horses before the same cart; but on the ledge of
the window there rested two objects like black, bristling hedgehogs, and
under their prickly skins glistened two pairs of hostile eyes, and
slowly and cautiously two gun-barrels were pushed over the ledge of the
window into the room. At the same moment the door-knob moved, the door
was pushed open, and in the blinding sunlight which suddenly poured into
the room appeared two more men in khaki clothes and also armed with
guns. "Hands up, gentlemen!" cried one of them threateningly.

The three obeyed the order mechanically, Tom unconsciously holding up
his shaving-cup as well, so that the good whisky flowed down his arm
into his coat. He looked utterly foolish. Bill was the first to
recover, and inquired with apparent nonchalance: "What are you gentlemen
after?" In the meantime he had noticed that the two men at the door wore
soldiers' caps with broad peaks, and he construed this as a new holdup
trick.

The men outside were conversing in an unintelligible lingo, and their
leader, who was armed only with a Browning pistol, looked into the hut
and asked: "Which of you gentlemen is the station-master?" Tom lowered
his shaving-cup and took a step forward, whereupon he was at once halted
by the sharp command: "Hands up!"

But this one step toward the door had enabled Tom to see that there were
at least a dozen of these brown fellows standing behind the wall of his
shanty. At the same time he saw his dog slinking about outside with his
tail between his legs and choking over something. He called the dog, and
the poor creature crept along the ground toward him, evidently making
vain attempts to bark.

"The damned gang," growled Tom to himself; "they have evidently given
the poor beast something to eat which prevents his barking."

The man with the Browning pistol now turned to Tom and said: "Has the
express passed yet?"

"No."

"No? I thought it was due at 9.30." The highwayman looked at his watch.
"Past ten already," he said to himself. "And when is the local train
from Umatilla expected?"

"It ought to be here at 10.30."

"The express goes through without stopping, doesn't it?" began the other
again. "Good! Now you go out as if nothing had happened and let the
express pass! The other two will remain here in the meantime and my men
will see that they don't stir. One move and you can arrange your funeral
for to-morrow."

The two bristly-headed chaps at the window remained motionless, and
followed the proceedings with a broad grin. The two men from Swallowtown
were compelled to stand with uplifted hands against the wall opposite
the window, so that the gun-barrels on the window-sill were pointing
straight at them. Winston had had sufficient time to study the two
highwaymen at the window and it gradually dawned upon him what sort of
robbers they were; in a low tone of voice he said to Tom: "They're
Japs."

The man with the Browning overheard the remark; he turned around quickly
and repeated in a determined voice: "If you move you'll die on the
spot."

Then he allowed Tom to leave the station, and showed him how two of his
men opened the shutters of the windows that looked out on the tracks and
cut two oblong holes in them down on the side, through which they stuck
the barrels of their guns. Then Bill's cart was pushed forward, so that
only the horses were hidden by the station. One of the men held the
horses to prevent their running away when the train came, and two armed
men climbed into the cart and kneeled ready to shoot, concealing
themselves from the railroad side behind two large bags of corn.
Thereupon the leader told Tom once more that he was to stand in front of
the station as usual when the train approached. If he attempted to make
any sign which might cause the train to stop, or if he merely opened his
mouth, not only he, but also the occupants of the train, would have to
pay for it with their lives.

Ding - ding - ding - ding went the railway telegraph,
ding - ding - ding - ding. The man with the Browning consulted his
note-book and asked Tom: "What signal is that? Where is the express
now?"

Tom did not answer.

"Go out on the platform!" commanded the other. With a hasty glance along
the tracks, Tom assured himself that the spot back there, where the two
tracks, which glittered like silver in the sun, crossed, was still
empty. So there was still a little more time to think. Then he began to
stroll slowly up and down. Fifteen steps forward, fifteen back, eighteen
forward, twenty back. Suppose he ran to meet the train - -

"Halloo! Where are you going?" shouted the leader to him. "Don't you
dare go five steps beyond the station house!"

Fifteen steps forward, fifteen back. And suppose now that he did jump
across and run along the tracks? What would it matter - he, one among
millions, without wife or child? Yes, he would warn the engineer; and if
they shot at him, perhaps the people on the train also had revolvers.
The express must come soon - it must be nearly half past ten.
Mechanically, he read the name Swallowtown on the old box-lid.

Not a sound from the interior of the station. Would they hit him or miss
him when the train came? He examined the rickety old shutters. Yes,
there was a white incision in the wood near the bottom, and above it the
tin was bent back almost imperceptibly, while below it there was a
small, blackish-brown ring. On the other side there was another little
hole, and here the tin was bent back rather more, showing a second
small, blackish-brown ring. And suppose he did call out as the train
rushed by? He would call out! - A burst of flame from the two
blackish-brown rings - If he could only first explain everything to the
engineer - then they could shoot all they wanted to.

Horrid to be wounded in the back! Long ago at school there had often
been talk about wounds in the back and in the chest - the former were
disgraceful, because they were a sign of running away. But this was not
running away - this was an effort to save others.

Were the rails vibrating? Four steps more, then a quiet turn, one look
into the air, one far away over the prairie. He knew that the eyes
behind the dark-brown rings were following his every movement. Now along
the tracks - is there anything coming way back there? No, not yet. He
walked past the station, then along the tracks again, and looked to the
left across the prairie.

Now his glance rested on the cart. It stood perfectly still. Sure
enough, there, between the sacks, was another one of those bristly
heads! Where on earth had the fellows come from, and what in the world
did they want? Winston had said they were Japs.

Could this be war? Nonsense! How could the fellows have come so far
across country? A short time ago some one had said that a troop of Japs
had been seen far away, down in Nevada, but that they had all
disappeared in the mountains. That was two months ago. Could these be
the same?

But it couldn't be a war. War begins at the borders of a country, not
right in the middle. It is true that the Japanese immigrants were all
said to be drilled soldiers. Had they brought arms along? These
certainly had!

Now the turn again. Ah! there was the train at last. Far away along the
tracks a black square rose and quite slowly became wider and higher.
Good God! if the next ten minutes were only over - if one could only wipe
such a span as this out of one's life! Only ten minutes older! If one
could only look back on those ten minutes from the other side! But no;
one must go through the horror, second by second, taste every moment of
it. What would happen to the two inside? This didn't matter much after
all - they couldn't, in any case, overpower the others without weapons. A
thousand yards more perhaps and then the train would be there! And then
a thousand yards more, and he would either be nothing but an unconscious
mass of flesh and bones, or - -

Now the rails were reverberating - from far away he heard the rumble of
the approaching mass of iron and steel. And now, very low but distinct,
the ringing of the bell could be distinguished - gang, gang, gang, gang,
gang, gang - He threw a hasty glance at the two blackish-brown rings;
four steps further and he could again see the cart. The next time - -

"Stand straight in front of the station and let the train pass!" sounded
close behind him. He obeyed mechanically.

"Nearer to the house - right against the wall!" He obeyed.

All his muscles tightened. If he could now take a leap forward and
manage to get hold of something - a railing or something - as the train
rushed by, then they could shoot as much as they liked. A rumbling and
roaring noise reached his ears, and he could hear the increasing thunder
of the wheels on the rails, the noise of the bell - gang, gang,
gang - growing more and more distinct. The engine, with its long row of
clattering cars behind, assumed gigantic dimensions before his wide-open
eyes.

Not a sound came from the house; now the rails trembled; now he heard
the hissing of the steam and the rattle of the rods; he saw the little
curls of steam playing above the dome of the boiler. Like a black wall,
the express came nearer, rushing, rumbling, hammering along the tracks.
Yes, he would jump now - now that the engine was almost in front of him!
The rush of air almost took his breath away. Now!

The engineer popped his head out of the little cab-window. Now! Tom bent
double, and, with one tremendous leap he was across the narrow platform
in front of his shanty, and flew like a ball against the line of rushing
cars, of railings and steps and wheels. He felt his hand touching
something - nothing but flat, smooth surfaces. At last! He had caught
hold of something! With a tremendous swing, Tom's body was torn to the
left, and his back banged against something. Something in his body
seemed to give way. As in a dream, he heard two shots ring out above the
fearful noise of the roaring train.

Too late! Tom was clinging to a railing between two cars and being
dragged relentlessly along. He was almost unconscious, but could hear
the wheels squeaking under the pressure of the brakes as he was hurled
to and fro. But his hand held fast as in a vise. The wheels scraped,
squeaked, and groaned. The train began to slow down! He had won! The
train stood still.

Tom's body fell on the rail between two cars, almost lifeless; he heard
a lot of steps all about him; people spoke to him and asked him
questions. But his jaws were shut as if paralyzed; he couldn't speak a
word. He felt the neck of a bottle being pushed between his lips, and
the liquid running down his throat. It was something strong and
invigorating, and he drank greedily. And then he suddenly shouted out
loud, so that all the people stepped back horrified: "The station has
been attacked by Japs."

Excited questions poured in from all sides. "Where from? What for?" Tom
only cried: "Save the two others; they're shut up in the station!" More
people collected round him. "Quick, quick!" he cried. "Run the train
back and try to save them!"

Tom was lifted into a car and stretched out on a soft end-seat. Some of
the passengers stood round him with their revolvers: "Tell us where it
is! Tell us where they are!" Slowly the train moved back, slowly the
telegraph poles slipped past the windows in the opposite direction.

Now they were there, and Tom heard wild cries on the platform. Then a
door was pulled open and some one asked: "Where are the robbers?" Tom
was lifted out, for his right shin-bone had been smashed and he couldn't
stand. A stretcher was improvised, and he was carried out. Dozens of
people were standing round the station. The wagon was gone, and so were
the horses. Where to? The wide, deserted prairie gave no answer. A great
many footprints in the sand showed at least that Tom had spoken the
truth. He pointed out the holes made in the shutters by the bandits, and
told the whole story a dozen times, until at last he fainted away again.
When he came to half an hour later it all seemed like a horrible
dream - like a scene from a robber's tale. He found himself in a
comfortable Pullman car on the way to Umatilla, where he had to tell his
story all over again, in order that the fairly hopeless pursuit of the
highwaymen might be begun from there.




_Chapter IV_

ECHOES IN NEW YORK


WALLA WALLA, May 7.

"This morning, at ten o'clock, the station Swallowtown, on the Oregon
line, was surprised by bandits. They captured the station in order to
hold up the express train to Umatilla. The plot was frustrated by the
decisive action of the station official, who jumped on the passing
train and warned the passengers. Unfortunately, the robbers succeeded
in escaping, but the Umatilla police have started in pursuit. The
majority of the bandits are said to have been Japanese."

In these words the attack on Swallowtown was wired to New York, and when
John Halifax went to the office of the _New York Daily Telegraph_ at
midnight, to work up the telegrams which had come in during Sunday for
the morning paper, his chief drew his attention in particular to the
remark at the end of the message, and asked him to make some reference
in his article to the dangers of the Japanese immigration, which seemed
to be going on unhindered over the Mexican and Canadian frontiers. John
Halifax would have preferred to comment editorially on the necessity of
night rest for newspaper men, but settled down in smothered wrath to
write up the highwaymen who had committed the double crime of
desecrating the Sabbath and robbing the train.

But scarcely had he begun his article under the large headlines
"Japanese Bandits - A Danger no longer Confined to the Frontier, but
Stalking about in the Heart of the Country," - he was just on the point
of setting off Tom's brave deed against the rascality of the bandits,
when another package of telegrams was laid on the table. He was going to
push them irritably aside when his glance fell on the top telegram,
which began with the words, "This morning at ten o'clock the station at
Connell, Wash., was attacked by robbers, who - - "

"Hm!" said John Halifax, "there seems to be some connection here, for
they probably meant to hold up the express at Connell, too." He turned
over a few more telegrams; the next message began: "This morning at
eleven o'clock - " and the two following ones: "This morning at twelve
o'clock - " They all reported the holding up of trains, which had in
almost every instance been successful. John Halifax got up, and with the
bundle of telegrams went over to the map hanging on the wall and marked
with a pencil the places where the various attacks had taken place. The
result was an irregular line through the State of Washington running
from north to south, along which the train robbers, apparently working
in unison, had begun their operations at the same time. Nowhere had it
been possible to capture them.

John Halifax threw his article into the waste basket and began again
with the headlines, "A Gang of Train-Robbers at Work in Washington," and
then gave a list of the places where the gang had held up the trains. He
wrote a spirited article, which closed with a warning to the police in
Washington and Oregon to put an end to this state of affairs as soon as
possible, and if necessary to call upon the militia for aid in catching
the bandits. While Halifax was writing, the news was communicated from
the electric bulletin-board to the people hurrying through the streets
at that late hour.

John Halifax read the whole story through once more with considerable
satisfaction, and was pleased to think that the _New York Daily
Telegraph_ would treat its readers Monday morning to a thoroughly
sensational bit of news. When he had finished, it struck him that all
these attacks had been directed against trains running from west to
east, and that the train held up at Swallowtown was the only one going
in the opposite direction. He intended in conclusion to add a suggestive
remark about this fact, but it slipped out of his mind somehow, and,
yawning loudly, he threw his article as it was into the box near his
writing table, touched a button, and saw the result of his labors
swallowed noiselessly by a small lift. Then the author yawned again,
and, going over to his chief, reported that he had finished, wished him
a gruff "good morning," and started on his way home.

As he left the newspaper offices he observed the same sight that had met
his eyes night after night for many years - a crowd of people standing on
the opposite side of the street, with their heads thrown back, staring
up at the white board upon which, in enormous letters, appeared the
story of how Tom, with his bold leap, had saved the train. The last
sentence, explaining that the robbers had been recognized as Japanese,
elicited vigorous curses against the "damned Japs."

High up in the air the apparatus noiselessly and untiringly flashed
forth one message after the other in big, black letters on the white
ground - telling of one train attack after another. But of that living
machine in the far West, working with clocklike regularity and slowly
adding one link after the other to the chain, that machine which at this
very moment had already separated three of the States by an impenetrable
wall from the others and had thus blotted out three of the stars on the
blue field of the Union flag - of that uncanny machine neither John
Halifax nor the people loitering opposite the newspaper building in
order to take a last sensation home with them, had the remotest idea.
Not till the next morning was the meaning of these first flaming signs
to be made clear.

* * * * *

At ten o'clock the telephone bell rang noisily beside John Halifax's
bed. He seized the receiver and swore under his breath on learning that
important telegrams required his presence at the office. "There isn't
any reason why Harry Springley shouldn't go on with those old
train-robbers," he grumbled; "I don't see what they want of me, but I
suppose the stupid fellow doesn't know what to do, as usual."

An hour later, when he entered the editorial rooms of the _New York
Daily Telegraph_, he found his colleagues in a great state of
excitement. Judging by the loud talk going on in the conference room, he
concluded at once that something out of the common must have happened.
The editor-in-chief quickly explained to him that an hour ago the news,
already disseminated through an "extra," had arrived, that not only were
all messages from the Pacific coast, especially from San Francisco, held
up, but the Canadian wire had furnished the news that a foreign strange
squadron had been observed on Sunday at Port Townsend, and that it had
continued its voyage through Puget Sound toward Seattle. In addition the
news came from Walla Walla that since Sunday noon all telegraphic
communication between Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland had been broken off.
Attempts to reach Seattle and Tacoma over the Canadian wire had also
proved vain while, on the other hand, the report came from Ogden that
no trains from the west, from the direction of San Francisco, had
arrived since Sunday noon, and that the noon express had been attacked
this side of Reno by bandits, some of whom had been distinctly
recognized as Japanese.

John Halifax recalled the first message of the evening before, in which
there was a mention of the Japanese. He quickly put the separate news
items together, and, after having glanced hurriedly at the messages in
the extra, turned to the managing editor and in a low voice, which
sounded strange and hard even to himself, said: "I believe this means
war!"

The latter slapped him on the back in his brusque fashion, crying: "John
Halifax, we're not making war on Japan."

"But they're making war on us," answered Halifax.

"Do you mean to imply that the Japanese are surprising us?" asked the
editor, staring at Halifax.

"Exactly, and it makes no difference whether you believe it or not," was
the reply.

"The Japanese fleet is lying off the Pacific coast, there's no doubt
about that," remarked a reporter.

"And, what's more, they're right in our country," said Halifax, looking
up.

"Who? The fleet?" inquired Harry Springley in a lame effort to be funny.

"No, the enemy," answered Halifax coldly; "the so-called bandits," he
added sarcastically.

"But if you really mean it," began the editor again, "then it must be a
gigantic plot. If you think that the bandits - the Japanese - - " he said,
correcting himself.

"The Japanese outposts," interposed Halifax.

"Well, yes, the Japanese outposts, if you wish; if they have succeeded
in destroying all railway connections with the West, then the enemy is
no longer off our coast, but - - "

A stenographer now rushed into the room with a new message. The editor
glanced over it and then handed it to Halifax, who took the paper in
both hands, and, while all listened attentively, read aloud the
following telegram from Denver:

"According to uncertain dispatches, Sunday's attacks on trains were not
made by gangs of robbers, but by detachments of Japanese troops, who
have suddenly and in the most incomprehensible manner sprung up all over
the country. Not only have single stations on the Union Pacific line
been seized, but whole towns have been occupied by hostile regiments,
the inhabitants having been taken so completely by surprise, that no
resistance could be offered. The rumor of a battle between the Japanese
ships and the coast defences at San Francisco has gained considerable
currency. The concerted attacks on the various trans-continental lines
have cut off the western States entirely from telegraphic communication
and in addition interrupted all railway traffic."

The telegram shook in John Halifax's hands; he ran his fingers through
his hair and looked at the editor, who could only repeat the words
spoken by Halifax a few minutes before: "Gentlemen, I fear this means
war."

Halifax collected the telegrams and went silently into his room, where
he dropped into the chair before his desk, and sat staring in front of
him with his head, full of confused thoughts, resting on his hands.
"This means war," he repeated softly. Mechanically he took up his pen
with the intention of putting his thoughts on paper, but not a line, not
a word could he produce under the stress of these whirling sensations.
Unable to construct a single sentence, he drew circles and meaningless
figures on the white paper, scribbled insignificant words, only to cross
them out immediately afterwards, and repeated again and again: "This
means war."

Outside in the halls people hurried past; some one seized the door-knob,
so he got up and locked himself in. Then he sat down again. The fresh,
mild air blew in through the wide open windows, and the dull roar of the
immense crowds in the street, now swelling and now retreating, floated
up to him. His thoughts flew to the far West, and everywhere he could
see the eager, industrious Asiatics pouring like a yellow flood over his
country. He saw Togo's gray ships, with the sun-banner of Nippon,
ploughing the waves of the Pacific; he saw the tremendous many-hued
picture of a great international struggle; he saw regiments rush upon
each other and clash on the vast prairies; he saw bayonets flashing in
the sun; and he saw glittering troops of cavalry galloping over the
bleak plains. High up in the air, over the two great opposing hosts, he
saw the white smoke of bursting shells. He saw this gigantic drama of a


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Online LibraryFerdinand Heinrich GrautoffBanzai! by Parabellum → online text (page 5 of 23)