Francis Lynde.

The Taming of Red Butte Western online

. (page 10 of 20)
Online LibraryFrancis LyndeThe Taming of Red Butte Western → online text (page 10 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Being at the moment deeply immersed in the voluminous papers of a claim
for stock killed, he was quite oblivious of the placement of the car,
and of everything else, until the incoming of the fast main-line mail
from the east warned him that another hour had passed. When the mail was
gone on its way westward, the midnight silence settled down again, with
nothing but the minimized crashings of freight cars in the lower
shifting-yard to disturb it. The little Japanese had long since made up
his bunk in one of the spare state-rooms, the train crew had departed
with the engine, and the last mail-wagon had driven away up-town.
Lidgerwood had closed his desk and was taking a final pull at the short
pipe which was his working companion, when the car door opened silently
and he saw an apparition.

Standing in the doorway and groping with her hands held out before her
as if she were blind, was a woman. Her gown was the tawdry half-dress of
the dance-halls, and the wrap over her bare shoulders was a gaudy
imitation in colors of the Spanish mantilla. Her head was without
covering, and her hair, which was luxuriant, hung in disorder over her
face. One glance at the eyes, fixed and staring, assured Lidgerwood
instantly that he had to do with one who was either drink-maddened or

"Where is he?" the intruder asked, in a throaty whisper, staring, not at
him, as Lidgerwood was quick to observe, but straight ahead at the
portieres cutting off the state-room corridor from the open compartment.
And then: "I told you I would come, Rankin; I've been watching years and
years for your car to come in. Look - I want you to see what you have
made of me, you and that other man."

Lidgerwood sat perfectly still. It was quite evident that the woman did
not see him. But his thoughts were busy. Though it was by little more
than chance, he knew that Hallock's Christian name was Rankin, and
instantly he recalled all that McCloskey had told him about the chief
clerk's marital troubles. Was this poor painted wreck the woman who
was, or who had been, Hallock's wife? The question had scarcely
formulated itself before she began again.

"Why don't you answer me? Where are you?" she demanded, in the same
husky whisper; "you needn't hide - I know you are here. _What have you
done to that man?_ You said you would kill him; you promised me that,
Rankin: have you done it?"

Lidgerwood reached up cautiously behind him, and slowly turned off the
gas from the bracket desk-lamp. Without wishing to pry deeper than he
should into a thing which had all the ear-marks of a tragedy, he could
not help feeling that he was on the verge of discoveries which might
have an important bearing upon the mysterious problems centring in the
chief clerk. And he was afraid the woman would see him.

But he was not permitted to make the discoveries. The woman had taken
two or three steps into the car, still groping her way as if the
brightly lighted interior were the darkest of caverns, when some one
swung over the railing of the observation platform, and Superintendent
Leckhard appeared at the open door. Without hesitation he entered and
touched the woman on the shoulder. "Hello, Madgie," he said, not
ungently, "you here again? It's pretty late for even your kind to be
out, isn't it? Better trot away and go to bed, if you've got one to go
to; he isn't here."

The woman put her hands to her face, and Lidgerwood saw that she was
shaking as if with a sudden chill. Then she turned and darted away like
a frightened animal. Leckhard was drawing a chair up to face Lidgerwood.

"Did she give you a turn?" he asked, when Lidgerwood reached up and
turned the desk-lamp on full again.

"Not exactly that, though it was certainly startling enough. I had no
warning at all; when I looked up, she was standing pretty nearly where
she was when you came in. She didn't seem to see me at all, and she was
talking crazily all the time to some one else - some one who isn't here."

"I know," said Leckhard; "she has done it before."

"Whom is she trying to find?" asked Lidgerwood, wishing to have his
suspicion either denied or confirmed.

"Didn't she call him by name? - she usually does. It's your chief clerk,
Hallock. She is - or was - his wife. Haven't you heard the ghastly story

"No; and, Leckhard, I don't know that I care to hear it. It can't
possibly concern me."

"It's just as well, I guess," said the main-line superintendent
carelessly. "I probably shouldn't get it straight anyway. It's a rather
horrible affair, though, I believe. There is another man mixed up in
it - the man whom she is always asking if Hallock has killed. Curiously
enough, she never names the other man, and there have been a good many
guesses. I believe your head boiler-maker, Gridley, has the most votes.
He's been seen with her here, now and then - when he's on one of his
'periodicals.' By Jove! Lidgerwood, I don't envy you your job over
yonder in the Red Desert a little bit.... But about the consolidation of
the yards here: I got a telegram after I wired you, making it necessary
for me to go west on main-line Twenty-seven early in the morning, so I
stayed up to talk this yard business over with you to-night."

It was well along in the small hours when the roll of blue-print maps
was finally laid aside, and Leckhard rose yawning. "We'll carry it out
as you propose, and divide the expense between the two divisions," he
said in conclusion. "Frisbie has left it to us, and he will approve
whatever we agree upon. Will you go up to the hotel with me, or bunk
down here?"

Lidgerwood said he would stay with his car; or, better still, now that
the business for which he had come to Copah was despatched, he would
have the roundhouse night foreman call a Red Butte Western crew and go
back to his desert.

"We are in the thick of things over on the jerk-water just now," he
explained, "and I don't like to stay away any longer than I have to."

"Having a good bit of trouble with the sure-shots?" asked Leckhard.
"What was that story I heard about somebody swiping one of your

"It was true," said Lidgerwood, adding, "But I think we shall recover
the engine - and some other things - presently." He liked Leckhard well
enough, but he wished he would go. There are exigencies in which even
the comments of a friend and well-wisher are superfluous.

"You have a pretty tough gang to handle over these," the well-wisher
went on. "I wouldn't touch a job like yours with a ten-foot pole, unless
I could shoot good enough to be sure of hitting a half-dollar nine times
out of ten at thirty paces. Somebody was telling me that you have
already had trouble with that fellow Rufford."

"Nobody was hurt, and Rufford is in jail," said Lidgerwood, hoping to
kill the friendly inquiry before it should run into details.

"Oh, well, it's all in the day's work, I suppose, which reminds me: my
day's work to-morrow won't amount to much if I don't go and turn in.

When Leckhard was gone, Lidgerwood climbed the stair in the station
building to the despatcher's office and gave orders for the return of
his car to Angels. Half an hour later the one-car special was retracing
its way westward up the valley of the Tumbling Water, and Lidgerwood was
trying to go to sleep in the well-appointed little state-room which it
was Tadasu Matsuwari's pride to keep spick and span and spotlessly
clean. But there were disturbing thoughts, many and varied, to keep him
awake, chief among them those which hung upon the dramatic midnight
episode with the demented woman for its central figure. Through what
dreadful Valley of Humiliation had she come to reach the abysmal depths
in which the one cry of her soul was a cry for vengeance? Who was the
unnamed man whom Hallock had promised to kill? How much or how little
was this tragedy figuring in the trouble storm which was brooding over
the Red Desert? And how much or how little would it involve one who was
anxious only to see even-handed justice prevail?

These and similar insistent questions kept Lidgerwood awake long after
his train had left the crooked pathway marked out by the Tumbling Water,
and when he finally fell asleep the laboring engine of the one-car
special was storming the approaches to Crosswater Summit.



The freight wreck in the Crosswater Hills, coming a fortnight after
Rufford's arrest and deportation to Copah and the county jail, rudely
marked the close of the short armistice in the conflict between law and
order and the demoralization which seemed to thrive the more lustily in
proportion to Lidgerwood's efforts to stamp it out.

Thirty-two boxes, gondolas, and flats, racing down the Crosswater grades
in the heart of a flawless, crystalline summer afternoon at the heels of
Clay's big ten-wheeler, suddenly left the steel as a unit to heap
themselves in chaotic confusion upon the right-of-way, and to round out
the disaster at the moment of impact by exploding a shipment of giant
powder somewhere in the midst of the debris.

Lidgerwood was on the western division inspecting, with Benson, one of
the several tentative routes for a future extension of the Red Butte
line to a connection with the Transcontinental at Lemphi beyond the
Hophras, when the news of the wreck reached Angels. Wherefore, it was
not until the following morning that he was able to leave the
head-quarters station, on the second wrecking-train, bringing the big
100-ton crane to reinforce McCloskey, who had been on the ground with
the lighter clearing tackle for the better part of the night.

With a slowly smouldering fire to fight, and no water to be had nearer
than the tank-cars at La Guayra, the trainmaster had wrought miracles.
By ten o'clock the main line was cleared, a temporary siding for a
working base had been laid, and McCloskey's men were hard at work
picking up what the fire had spared when Lidgerwood arrived.

"Pretty clean sweep this time, eh, Mac?" was the superintendent's
greeting, when he had penetrated to the thick of things where McCloskey
was toiling and sweating with his men.

"So clean that we get nothing much but scrap-iron out of what's left,"
growled McCloskey, climbing out of the tangle of crushed cars and bent
and twisted iron-work to stand beside Lidgerwood on the main-line
embankment. Then to the men who were making the snatch-hitch for the
next pull: "A little farther back, boys; farther yet, so she won't
overbalance on you; that's about it. Now, _wig_ it!"

"You seem to be getting along all right with the outfit you've got," was
Lidgerwood's comment. "If you can keep this up we may as well go back to

"No, don't!" protested the trainmaster. "We can snake out these
scrap-heaps after a fashion, but when it comes to resurrecting the
195 - did you notice her as you came along? We kept the fire from getting
to her, but she's dug herself into the ground like a dog after a

Lidgerwood nodded. "I looked her over," he said. "If she'd had a little
more time and another wheel-turn or two to spare, she might have
disappeared entirely - like that switching-engine you can't find. I'm
taking it for granted that you haven't found it yet - or have you?"

"No, I haven't!" grated McCloskey, and he said it like a man with a
grievance. Then he added: "I gave you all the pointers I could find two
weeks ago. Whenever you get ready to put Hallock under the hydraulic
press, you'll squeeze what you want to know out of him."

This was coming to be an old subject and a sore one. The trainmaster
still insisted that Hallock was the man who was planning the robberies
and plotting the downfall of the Lidgerwood management, and he wanted
to have the chief clerk systematically shadowed. And it was Lidgerwood's
wholly groundless prepossession for Hallock that was still keeping him
from turning the matter over to the company's legal department - this in
spite of the growing accumulation of evidence all pointing to Hallock's
treason. Subjected to a rigid cross-examination, Judson had insisted
that a part, at least, of his drunken recollection was real - that part
identifying the voices of the two plotters in Cat Biggs's back room as
those of Rufford and Hallock. Moreover, it was no longer deniable that
the chief clerk was keeping in close touch with the discharged
employees, for some purpose best known to himself; and latterly he had
been dropping out of his office without notice, disappearing, sometimes,
for a day at a time.

Lidgerwood was recalling the last of these disappearances when the
second wrecking-train, having backed to the nearest siding to admit of a
reversal of its make-up order and the placing of the crane in the lead,
came up to go into action. McCloskey shaded his eyes from the sun's
glare and looked down the line.

"Hello!" he exclaimed. "Got a new wrecking-boss?"

The superintendent nodded. "I have one in the making. Dawson wanted to
come along and try his hand."

"Did Gridley send him?"

"No; Gridley is away somewhere."

"So Fred's your understudy, is he? Well, I've got one, too. I'll show
him to you after a while."

They were walking back over the ties toward the half-buried 195. The
ten-wheeler was on its side in the ditch, nuzzling the opposite bank of
a low cutting. Dawson had already divided his men: half of them to place
the huge jack-beams and outriggers of the self-contained steam lifting
machine to insure its stability, and the other half to trench under the
fallen engine and to adjust the chain slings for the hitch.

"It's a pretty long reach, Fred," said the superintendent. "Going to try
it from here?"

"Best place," said the reticent one shortly.

Lidgerwood was looking at his watch.

"Williams will be due here before long with a special from Copah. I
don't want to hold him up," he remarked.

"Thirty minutes?" inquired the draftsman, without taking mind or eye off
his problem.

"Oh, yes; forty or fifty, maybe."

"All right, I'll be out of the way," was the quiet rejoinder.

"Yes, you will!" was McCloskey's ironical comment, when the draftsman
had gone around to the other side of the great crane.

"Let him alone," said Lidgerwood. "It lies in my mind that we are
developing a genius, Mac."

"He'll fall down," grumbled the trainmaster. "That crane won't pick up
the '95 clear the way she's lying."

"Won't it?" said Lidgerwood. "That's where you are mistaken. It will
pick up anything we have on the two divisions. It's the biggest and best
there is made. How did you come to get a tool like that on the Red Butte

McCloskey grinned.

"You don't know Gridley yet. He's a crank on good machinery. That crane
was a clean steal."


"I mean it. It was ordered for one of the South American railroads, and
was on its way to the Coast over the P. S-W. About the time it got as
far as Copah, we happened to have a mix-up in our Copah yards, with a
ditched engine that Gridley couldn't pick up with the 60-ton crane we
had on the ground. So he borrowed this one out of the P. S-W. yards,
used it, liked it, and kept it, sending our 60-ton machine on to the
South Americans in its place."

"What rank piracy!" Lidgerwood exclaimed. "I don't wonder they call us
buccaneers over here. How could he do it without being found out?"

"That puzzled more than two or three of us; but one of the men told me
some time afterward how it was done. Gridley had a painter go down in
the night and change the lettering - on our old crane and on this new
one. It happened that they were both made by the same manufacturing
company, and were of substantially the same general pattern. I suppose
the P. S-W. yard crew didn't notice particularly that the crane they had
lent us out of the through westbound freight had shrunk somewhat in the
using. But I'll bet those South Americans are saying pleasant things to
the manufacturers yet."

"Doubtless," Lidgerwood agreed, and now he was not smiling. The little
side-light on the former Red-Butte-Western methods - and upon
Gridley - was sobering.

By this time Dawson had got his big lifter in position, with its huge
steel arm overreaching the fallen engine, and was giving his orders
quietly, but with clean-cut precision.

"Man that hand-fall and take slack! Pay off, Darby," to the hoister
engineer. "That's right; more slack!"

The great tackling-hook, as big around as a man's thigh, settled
accurately over the 195.

"There you are!" snapped Dawson. "Now make your hitch, boys, and be
lively about it. You've got just about one minute to do it in!"

"Heavens to Betsey!" said McCloskey. "He's going to pick it up at one
hitch - and without blocking!"

"Hands off, Mac," said Lidgerwood good-naturedly. "If Fred didn't know
this trade before, he's learning it pretty rapidly now."

"That's all right, but if he doesn't break something before he gets
through - - "

But Dawson was breaking nothing. Having designed locomotives, he knew to
the fraction of an inch where the balancing hitch should be made for
lifting one. Also machinery, and the breaking strains of it, were as his
daily bread. While McCloskey was still prophesying failure, he was
giving the word to Darby, the hoister engineer.

"Now then, Billy, try your hitch! Put the strain on a little at a time
and often. Steady! - now you've got her - keep her coming!"

Slowly the big freight-puller rose out of its furrow in the gravel,
righting itself to the perpendicular as it came. Anticipating the inward
swing of it, Dawson was showing his men how to place ties and rails for
a short temporary track, and when he gave Darby the stop signal, the
hoisting cables were singing like piano strings, and the big engine was
swinging bodily in the air in the grip of the crane tackle, poised to a
nicety above the steel placed to receive it.

Dawson climbed up to the main-line embankment where Darby could see him,
and where he could see all the parts of his problem at once. Then his
hands went up to beckon the slacking signals. At the lifting of his
finger there was a growling of gears and a backward racing of machinery,
a groan of relaxing strains, and a cry of "All gone!" and the 195 stood
upright, ready to be hauled out when the temporary track should be
extended to a connection with the main line.

"Let's go up to the other end and see how your understudy is making it,
Mac," said the gratified superintendent. "It is quite evident that we
can't tell this young man anything he doesn't already know about picking
up locomotives."

On the way up the track he asked about Clay and Green, the engineer and
fireman who were in the wreck.

"They are not badly hurt," said the trainmaster. "They both jumped - on
Green's side, luckily. Clay was bruised considerably, and Green says he
knows he plowed up fifty yards of gravel with his face before he
stopped - and he looked it. They both went home on 201."

Lidgerwood was examining the cross-ties, which were cut and scarred by
the flanges of many derailed wheels.

"You have no notion of what did it?" he queried, turning abruptly upon

"Only a guess, and it couldn't be verified in a thousand years. The '95
went off first, and Clay and Green both say it felt as if a rail had
turned over on the outside of the curve."

"What did you find when you got here?"

"Chaos and Old Night: a pile of scrap with a hole torn in the middle of
it as if by an explosion, and a fire going."

"Of course, you couldn't tell anything about the cause, under such

"Not much, you'd say; and yet a queer thing happened. The entire train
went off so thoroughly that it passed the point where the trouble began
before it piled up. I was able to verify Clay's guess - a rail had turned
over on the outside of the curve."

"That proves nothing more than poor spike-holds in a few dry-rotted
cross-ties," Lidgerwood objected.

"No; there were a number of others farther along also turned over and
broken and bent. But the first one was the only freak."

"How was that?"

"Well, it wasn't either broken or bent; but when it turned over it not
only unscrewed the nuts of the fish-plate bolts and threw them away - it
pulled out every spike on both sides of itself and hid them."

Lidgerwood nodded gravely. "I should say your guess has already verified
itself. All it lacks is the name of the man who loosened the fish-plate
bolts and pulled the spikes."

"That's about all."

The superintendent's eyes narrowed.

"Who was missing out of the Angels crowd of trouble-makers yesterday,

"I hate to say," said the trainmaster. "God knows I don't want to put it
all over any man unless it belongs to him, but I'm locoed every time it
comes to that kind of a guess. Every bunch of letters I see spells just
one name."

"Go on," said Lidgerwood sharply.

"Hallock came somewhere up this way on 202 yesterday."

"I know," was the quick reply. "I sent him out to Navajo to meet
Cruikshanks, the cattleman with the long claim for stock injured in the
Gap wreck two weeks ago."

"Did he stop at Navajo?" queried the trainmaster.

"I suppose so; at any rate, he saw Cruikshanks."

"Well, I haven't got any more guesses, only a notion or two. This is a
pretty stiff up-grade for 202 - she passes here at two-fifty - just about
an hour before Clay found that loosened rail - and it wouldn't be
impossible for a man to drop off as she was climbing this curve."

But now the superintendent was shaking his head.

"It doesn't hold together, Mac; there are too many parts missing. Your
hypothesis presupposes that Hallock took a day train out of Angels, rode
twelve miles past his destination, jumped off here while the train was
in motion, pulled the spikes on this loosened rail, and walked back to
Navajo in time to see the cattleman and get in to Angels on the delayed
Number 75 this morning. Could he have done all these things without
advertising them to everybody?"

"I know," confessed the trainmaster. "It doesn't look reasonable."

"It isn't reasonable," Lidgerwood went on, arguing Hallock's case as if
it were his own. "Bradford was 202's conductor; he'd know if Hallock
failed to get off at Navajo. Gridley was a passenger on the same train,
and he would have known. The agent at Navajo would be a third witness.
He was expecting Hallock on that train, and was no doubt holding
Cruikshanks. Your guesses prefigure Hallock failing to show up when the
train stopped at Navajo, and make it necessary for him to explain to the
two men who were waiting for him why he let Bradford carry him by so far
that it took him several hours to walk back. You see how incredible it
all is?"

"Yes, I see," said McCloskey, and when he spoke again they were several
rail-lengths nearer the up-track end of the wreck, and his question went
back to Lidgerwood's mention of the expected special.

"You were saying something to Dawson about Williams and a special train;
is that Mr. Brewster coming in?"

"Yes. He wired from Copah last night. He has Mr. Ford's car - the

The trainmaster's face-contortion was expressive of the deepest chagrin.

"Suffering Moses! but this is a nice thing for the president of the
road to see as he comes along! Wouldn't the luck we're having make a dog

Lidgerwood shook his head. "That isn't the worst of it, Mac. Mr.
Brewster isn't a railroad man, and he will probably think this is all in
the day's work. But he is going to stop at Angels and go over to his
copper mine, which means that he will camp right down in the midst of
the mix-up. I'd cheerfully give a year's salary to have him stay away a
few weeks longer."

McCloskey was not a swearing man in the Red Desert sense of the term,
but now his comment was an explosive exclamation naming the conventional
place of future punishment. It was the only word he could find
adequately to express his feelings.

The superintendent changed the subject.

"Who is your foreman, Mac?" he inquired, as a huge mass of the tangled
scrap was seen to rise at the end of the smaller derrick's grapple.

"Judson," said McCloskey shortly. "He asked leave to come along as a
laborer, and when I found that he knew more about train-scrapping than I
did, I promoted him." There was something like defiance in the
trainmaster's tone.

"From the way in which you say it, I infer that you don't expect me to
approve," said Lidgerwood judicially.

McCloskey had been without sleep for a good many hours, and his
patience was tenuous. The derby hat was tilted to its most contentious
angle when he said:

"I can't fight for you when you're right, and not fight against you when

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryFrancis LyndeThe Taming of Red Butte Western → online text (page 10 of 20)