Francis Lynde.

The Taming of Red Butte Western online

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I think you are wrong, Mr. Lidgerwood. You can have my head any time you
want it."

"You think I should break my word and take Judson back?"

"I think, and the few men who are still with us think, that you ought to
give the man who stood in the breach for you a chance to earn bread and
meat for his wife and babies," snapped McCloskey, who had gone too far
to retreat.

Lidgerwood was frowning when he replied: "You don't see the point
involved. I can't reward Judson for what you, yourself, admit was a
personal service. I have said that no drunkard shall pull a train on
this division. Judson is no less a drink-maniac for the fact that he
arrested Rufford when everybody else was afraid to."

McCloskey was mollified a little.

"He says he has quit drinking, and I believe him this time. But this job
I've given him isn't pulling trains."

"No; and if you have cooled off enough, you may remember that I haven't
yet disapproved your action. I don't disapprove. Give him anything you
like where a possible relapse on his part won't involve the lives of
other people. Is that what you want me to say?"

"I was hot," said the trainmaster, gruffly apologetic. "We've got none
too many friends to stand by us when the pinch comes, and we were losing
them every day you held out against Judson."

"I'm still holding out on the original count. Judson can't run an engine
for me until he has proved conclusively and beyond question that he has
quit the whiskey. Whatever other work you can find for him - - "

McCloskey slapped his thigh. "By George! I've got a job right now! Why
on top of earth didn't I think of him before? He's the man to keep tab
on Hallock."

But now Lidgerwood was frowning again.

"I don't like that, Mac. It's a dirty business to be shadowing a man who
has a right to suppose that you are trusting him."

"But, good Lord! Mr. Lidgerwood, haven't you got enough to go on?
Hallock is the last man seen around the engine that disappears; he
spends a lot of his time swapping grievances with the rebels; and he is
out of town and within a few miles of here, as you know, when this
wreck happens. If all that isn't enough to earn him a little
suspicion - - "

"I know; I can't argue the case with you, Mac, But I can't do it."

"You mean you won't do it. I respect your scruples, Mr. Lidgerwood. But
it is no longer a personal matter between you and Hallock: the company's
interests are involved."

Without suspecting it, the trainmaster had found the weak joint in the
superintendent's armor. For the company's sake the personal point of
view must be ignored.

"It is such a despicable thing," he protested, as one who yields
reluctantly. "And if, after all, Hallock is innocent - - "

"That is just the point," insisted McCloskey. "If he is innocent, no
harm will be done, and Judson will become a witness for instead of
against him."

"Well," said Lidgerwood; and what more he would have said about the
conspiracy was cut off by the shrill whistle of a down-coming train.
"That's Williams with the special," he announced, when the whistle gave
him leave. "Is your flag out?"

"Sure. It's up around the hill, with a safe man to waggle it."

Lidgerwood cast an anxious glance toward Dawson's huge derrick-car,
which was still blocking the main line. The hoist tackle was swinging
free, and the jack-beams and outriggers were taken in.

"Better send somebody down to tell Dawson to pull up here to your
temporary siding, Mac," he suggested; but Dawson was one of those
priceless helpers who did not have to be told in detail. He had heard
the warning whistle, and already had his train in motion.

By a bit of quick shifting, the main line was cleared before Williams
swung cautiously around the hill with the private car. In obedience to
Lidgerwood's uplifted finger the brakes were applied, and the _Nadia_
came to a full stop, with its observation platform opposite the end of
the wrecking-track.

A big man, in a soft hat and loose box dust-coat, with twinkling little
eyes and a curling brown beard that covered fully three-fourths of his
face, stood at the hand-rail.

"Hello, Howard!" he called down to Lidgerwood. "By George! I'd totally
forgotten that you were out here. What are you trying to do? Got so many
cars and engines that you have to throw some of them away?"

Lidgerwood climbed up the embankment to the track, and McCloskey
carefully let him do it alone. The "Hello, Howard!" had not been thrown
away upon the trainmaster.

"It looks a little that way, I must admit, Cousin Ned," said the culprit
who had answered so readily to his Christian name. "We tried pretty hard
to get it cleaned up before you came along, but we couldn't quite make
it."

"Oho! tried to cover it up, did you? Afraid I'd fire you? You needn't
be. My job as president merely gets me passes over the road. Ford's your
man; he's the fellow you want to be scared of."

"I am," laughed Lidgerwood. The big man's heartiness was always
infectious. Then: "Coming over to camp with us awhile? If you are, I
hope you carry your commissary along. Angels will starve you,
otherwise."

"Don't tell me about that tin-canned tepee village, Howard - I _know_.
I've been there before. How are we doing over in the Timanyoni
foot-hills? Getting much ore down from the Copperette? Climb up here and
tell me all about it. Or, better still, come on across the desert with
us. They don't need you here."

The assertion was quite true. With Dawson, the trainmaster, and an
understudy Judson for bosses, there was no need of a fourth. Yet
intuition, or whatever masculine thing it is that stands for intuition,
prompted Lidgerwood to say:

"I don't know as I ought to leave. I've just come out from Angels, you
know."

But the president was not to be denied.

"Climb up here and quit trying to find excuses. We'll give you a better
luncheon than you'll get out of the dinner-pails; and if you carry
yourself handsomely, you may get a dinner invitation after we get in.
That ought to tempt any man who has to live in Angels the year round."

Lidgerwood marked the persistent plural of the personal pronoun, and a
great fear laid hold upon him. None the less, the president's invitation
was a little like the king's - it was, in some sense, a command.
Lidgerwood merely asked for a moment's respite, and went down to
announce his intention to McCloskey and Dawson. Curiously enough, the
draftsman seemed to be trying to ignore the private car. His back was
turned upon it, and he was glooming out across the bare hills, with his
square jaw set as if the ignoring effort were painful.

"I'm going back to Angels with the president," said the superintendent,
speaking to both of them. "You can clean up here without me."

The trainmaster nodded, but Dawson seemed not to have heard. At all
events, he made no sign. Lidgerwood turned and ascended the embankment,
only to have the sudden reluctance assail him again as he put his foot
on the truck of the _Nadia_ to mount to the platform. The hesitation was
only momentary, this time. Other guests Mr. Brewster might have, without
including the one person whom he would circle the globe to avoid.

"Good boy!" said the president, when Lidgerwood swung over the high
hand-rail and leaned out to give Williams the starting signal. And when
the scene of the wreck was withdrawing into the rearward distance, the
president felt for the door-knob, saying: "Let's go inside, where we
shan't be obliged to see so much of this God-forsaken country at one
time."

One half-minute later the superintendent would have given much to be
safely back with McCloskey and Dawson at the vanishing curve of
scrap-heaps. In that half-minute Mr. Brewster had opened the car door,
and Lidgerwood had followed him across the threshold.

The comfortable lounging-room of the _Nadia_ was not empty; nor was it
peopled by a group of Mr. Brewster's associates in the copper combine,
the alternative upon which Lidgerwood had hopefully hung the "we's" and
the "us's."

Seated on a wicker divan drawn out to face one of the wide side-windows
were two young women, with a curly-headed, clean-faced young man between
them. A little farther along, a rather austere lady, whose pose was of
calm superiority to her surroundings, looked up from her magazine to
say, as her husband had said: "Why, Howard! are you here?" Just beyond
the austere lady, and dozing in his chair, was a white-haired man whose
strongly marked features proclaimed him the father of one of the young
women on the divan.

And in the farthest corner of the open compartment, facing each other
companionably in an "S"-shaped double chair, were two other young
people - a man and a woman.... Truly, the heavens had fallen! For the
young woman filling half of the _tête-à-tête_ chair was that one person
whom Lidgerwood would have circled the globe to avoid meeting.




XIII

BITTER-SWEET


Taking his cue from certain passages in the book of painful memories,
Lidgerwood meant to obey his first impulse, which prompted him to follow
Mr. Brewster to the private office state-room in the forward end of the
car, disregarding the couple in the _tête-à-tête_ contrivance. But the
triumphantly beautiful young woman in the nearer half of the
crooked-backed seat would by no means sanction any such easy solution of
the difficulty.

"Not a word for me, Howard?" she protested, rising and fairly compelling
him to stop and speak to her. Then: "For pity's sake! what have you been
doing to yourself to make you look so hollow-eyed and anxious?" After
which, since Lidgerwood seemed at a loss for an answer to the
half-solicitous query, she presented her companion of the "S"-shaped
chair. "Possibly you will shake hands a little less abstractedly with
Mr. Van Lew. Herbert, this is Mr. Howard Lidgerwood, my cousin, several
times removed. He is the tyrant of the Red Butte Western, and I can
assure you that he is much more terrible than he looks - aren't you,
Howard?"

Lidgerwood shook hands cordially enough with the tall young athlete who,
it seemed, would never have done increasing his magnificent stature as
he rose up out of his half of the lounging-seat.

"Glad to meet you, Mr. Lidgerwood, I'm sure," said the young man,
gripping the given hand until Lidgerwood winced. "Miss Eleanor has been
telling me about you - marooned out here in the Red Desert. By Jove!
don't you know I believe I'd like to try it awhile myself. It's ages
since I've had a chance to kill a man, and they tell me - - "

Lidgerwood laughed, recognizing Miss Brewster's romancing gift, or the
results of it.

"We shall have to arrange a little round-up of the bad men from Bitter
Creek for you, Mr. Van Lew. I hope you brought your armament along - the
regulation 45's, and all that."

Miss Brewster laughed derisively.

"Don't let him discourage you, Herbert," she mocked. "Bitter Creek is in
Wyoming - or is it in Montana?" this with a quick little eye-stab for
Lidgerwood, "and the name of Mr. Lidgerwood's refuge is Angels. Also,
papa says there is a hotel there called the 'Celestial.' Do you live at
the Celestial, Howard?"

"No, I never properly lived there. I existed there for a few weeks until
Mrs. Dawson took pity on me. Mrs. Dawson is from Massachusetts."

"Hear him!" scoffed Miss Eleanor, still mocking. "He says that as if to
be 'from Massachusetts' were a patent of nobility. He knows I had the
cruel misfortune to be born in Colorado. But tell me, Howard, is Mrs.
Dawson a charming young widow?"

"Mrs. Dawson is a very charming middle-aged widow, with a grown son and
a daughter," said Lidgerwood, a little stiffly. It seemed entirely
unnecessary that she should ridicule him before the athlete.

"And the daughter - is she charming, too? But that says itself, since she
must also date 'from Massachusetts.'" Then to Van Lew: "Every one out
here in the Red Desert is 'from' somewhere, you know."

"Miss Dawson is quite beneath your definition of charming, I imagine,"
was Lidgerwood's rather crisp rejoinder; and for the third time he made
as if he would go on to join the president in the office state-room.

"You are staying to luncheon with us, aren't you?" asked Miss Brewster.
"Or do you just drop in and out again, like the other kind of angels?"

"Your father commands me, and he says I am to stay. And now, if you will
excuse me - - "

This time he succeeded in getting away, and up to the luncheon hour
talked copper and copper prospects to Mr. Brewster in the seclusion of
the president's office compartment. The call for the midday meal had
been given when Mr. Brewster switched suddenly from copper to silver.

"By the way, there were a few silver strikes over in the Timanyonis
about the time of the Red Butte gold excitement," he remarked. "Some of
them have grown to be shippers, haven't they?"

"Only two, of any importance," replied the superintendent: "the Ruby, in
Ruby Gulch, and Flemister's Wire-Silver, at Little Butte. You couldn't
call either of them a bonanza, but they are both shipping fair ore in
good quantities."

"Flemister," said the president reflectively. "He's a character. Know
him personally, Howard?"

"A little," the superintendent admitted.

"A little is a-plenty. It wouldn't pay you to know him very well,"
laughed the big man good-naturedly. "He has a somewhat paralyzing way
of getting next to you financially. I knew him in the old Leadville
days; a born gentleman, and also a born buccaneer. If the men he has
held up and robbed were to stand in a row, they'd fill a Denver street."

"He is in his proper longitude out here, then," said Lidgerwood rather
grimly. "This is the 'hold-up's heaven.'"

"I'll bet Flemister is doing his share of the looting," laughed the
president. "Is he alone in the mine?"

"I don't know that he has any partners. Somebody told me, when I first
came over here, that Gridley, our master-mechanic, was in with him; but
Gridley says that is a mistake - that he thinks too much of his
reputation to be Flemister's partner."

"Hank Gridley," mused the president; "Hank Gridley and 'his reputation'!
It would certainly be a pity if that were to get corroded in any way.
There is a man who properly belongs to the Stone Age - what you might
call an elemental 'scoundrel."

"You surprise me!" exclaimed Lidgerwood. "I didn't like him at first,
but I am convinced now that it was only unreasoning prejudice. He
appeals to me as being anything but a scoundrel."

"Well, perhaps the word is a bit too savage," admitted Gridley's
accuser. "What I meant was that he has capabilities that way, and not
much moral restraint. He is the kind of man to wade through fire and
blood to gain his object, without the slightest thought of the
consequences to others. Ever hear the story of his marriage? No? Remind
me of it some time, and I'll tell you. But we were speaking of
Flemister. You say the Wire-Silver has turned out pretty well?"

"Very well indeed, I believe. Flemister seems to have money to burn."

"He always has, his own or somebody else's. It makes little difference
to him. The way he got the Wire-Silver would have made Black-Beard the
pirate turn green with envy. Know anything about the history of the
mine?"

Lidgerwood shook his head.

"Well, I do; just happen to. You know how it lies - on the western slope
of Little Butte ridge?"

"Yes."

"That is where it lies now. But the original openings were made on the
eastern slope of the butte. They didn't pan out very well, and Flemister
began to look for a victim to whom he could sell. About that time a man,
whose name I can never recall, took up a claim on the western slope of
the ridge directly opposite Flemister. This man struck it pretty rich,
and Flemister began to bully him on the plea that the new discovery was
only a continuation of his own vein straight through the hill. You can
guess what happened."

"Fairly well," said Lidgerwood. "Flemister lawed the other man out."

"He did worse than that; he drove straight into the hill, past his own
lines, and actually took the money out of the other man's mine to use as
a fighting fund. I don't know how the courts sifted it out, finally; I
didn't follow it up very closely. But Flemister put the other man to the
wall in the end - 'put it all over him,' as your man Bradford would say.
There was some domestic tragedy involved, too, in which Flemister played
the devil with the other man's family; but I don't know any of the
details."

"Yet you say Flemister is a born gentleman, as well as a born
buccaneer?"

"Well, yes; he behaves himself well enough in decent company. He isn't
exactly the kind of man you can turn down short - he has education, good
manners, and all that, you know; but if he were hard up I shouldn't let
him get within roping distance of my pocket-book, or, if I had given him
occasion to dislike me, within easy pistol range."

"Wherein he is neither better nor worse than a good many others who
take the sunburn of the Red Desert," was Lidgerwood's comment, and just
then the waiter opened the door a second time to say that luncheon was
served.

"Don't forget to remind me that I'm to tell you Gridley's story,
Howard," said the president, rising out of the depths of his
lounging-chair and stripping off the dust-coat, "Reads like a
romance - only I fancy it was anything but a romance for poor Lizzie
Gridley. Let's go and see what the cook has done for us."

At luncheon Lidgerwood was made known to the other members of the
private-car party. The white-haired old man who had been dozing in his
chair was Judge Holcombe, Van Lew's uncle and the father of the prettier
of the two young women who had been entertaining Jefferis, the
curly-headed collegian. Jefferis laughingly disclaimed relationship with
anybody; but Miss Carolyn Doty, the less pretty but more talkative of
the two young women, confessed that she was a cousin, twice removed, of
Mrs. Brewster.

Quite naturally, Lidgerwood sought to pair the younger people when the
table gathering was complete, and was not entirely certain of his
prefiguring. Eleanor Brewster and Van Lew sat together and were
apparently absorbed in each other to the exclusion of all things
extraneous. Jefferis had Miss Doty for a companion, and the affliction
of her well-balanced tongue seemed to affect neither his appetite nor
his enjoyment of what the young woman had to say.

Miriam Holcombe had fallen to Lidgerwood's lot, and at first he thought
that her silence was due to the fact that young Jefferis had gotten upon
the wrong side of the table. But after she began to talk, he changed his
mind.

"Tell me about the wrecked train we passed a little while ago, Mr.
Lidgerwood," she began, almost abruptly. "Was any one killed?"

"No; it was a freight, and the crew escaped. It was a rather narrow
escape, though, for the engineer, and fireman."

"You were putting it back on the track?" she asked.

"There isn't much of it left to put back, as you may have observed,"
said Lidgerwood. Then he told her of the explosion and the fire.

She was silent for a few moments, but afterward she went on,
half-gropingly he thought.

"Is that part of your work - to get the trains on the track when they run
off?"

He laughed. "I suppose it is - or at least, in a certain sense, I'm
responsible for it. But I am lucky enough to have a wrecking-boss - two
of them, in fact, and both good ones."

She looked up quickly, and he was sure that he surprised something more
than a passing interest in the serious eyes - a trouble depth, he would
have called it, had their talk been anything more than the ordinary
conventional table exchange.

"We saw you go down to speak to two of your men: one who wore his hat
pulled down over his eyes and made dreadful faces at you as he
talked - - "

"That was McCloskey, our trainmaster," he cut in.

"And the other - - ?"

"Was wrecking-boss Number Two," he told her, "my latest apprentice, and
a very promising young subject. This was his first time out under my
administration, and he put McCloskey and me out of the running at once."

"What did he do?" she asked, and again he saw the groping wistfulness in
her eyes, and wondered at it.

"I couldn't explain it without being unpardonably technical. But perhaps
it can best be summed up in saying that he is a fine mechanical
engineer with the added gift of knowing how to handle men."

"You are generous, Mr. Lidgerwood, to - to a subordinate. He ought to be
very loyal to you."

"He is. And I don't think of him as a subordinate - I shouldn't even if
he were on my pay-roll instead of on that of the motive-power
department. I am glad to be able to call him my friend, Miss Holcombe."

Again a few moments of silence, during which Lidgerwood was staring
gloomily across at Miss Brewster and Van Lew. Then another curiously
abrupt question from the young woman at his side.

"His college, Mr. Lidgerwood; do you chance to know where he was
graduated?"

At another moment Lidgerwood might have wondered at the young woman's
persistence. But now Benson's story of Dawson's terrible misfortune was
crowding all purely speculative thoughts out of his mind.

"He took his engineering course in Carnegie, but I believe he did not
stay through the four years," he said gravely.

Miss Holcombe was looking down the table, down and across to where her
father was sitting, at Mr. Brewster's right. When she spoke again the
personal note was gone; and after that the talk, what there was of it,
was of the sort that is meant to bridge discomforting gaps.

In the dispersal after the meal, Lidgerwood attached himself to Miss
Doty; this in sheer self-defense. The desert passage was still in its
earlier stages, and Miss Carolyn's volubility promised to be the less of
two evils, the greater being the possibility that Eleanor Brewster might
seek to re-open a certain spring of bitterness at which he had been
constrained to drink deeply and miserably in the past.

The self-defensive expedient served its purpose admirably. For the
better part of the desert run, the president slept in his state-room,
Mrs. Brewster and the judge dozed in their respective easy-chairs, and
Jefferis and Miriam Holcombe, after roaming for an uneasy half-hour from
the rear platform to the cook's galley forward, went up ahead, at one of
the stops, to ride - by the superintendent's permission - in the engine
cab with Williams. Miss Brewster and Van Lew were absorbed in a book of
plays, and their corner of the large, open compartment was the one
farthest removed from the double divan which Lidgerwood had chosen for
Miss Carolyn and himself.

Later, Van Lew rolled a cigarette and went to the smoking-compartment,
which was in the forward end of the car; and when next Lidgerwood broke
Miss Doty's eye-hold upon him, Miss Brewster had also disappeared - into
her state-room, as he supposed. Taking this as a sign of his release, he
gently broke the thread of Miss Carolyn's inquisitiveness, and went out
to the rear platform for a breath of fresh air and surcease from the
fashery of a neatly balanced tongue.

When it was quite too late to retreat, he found the deep-recessed
observation platform of the _Nadia_ occupied. Miss Brewster was not in
her state-room, as he had mistakenly persuaded himself. She was sitting
in one of the two platform camp-chairs, and she was alone.

"I thought you would come, if I only gave you time enough," she said,
quite coolly. "Did you find Carolyn very persuasive?"

He ignored the query about Miss Doty, replying only to the first part of
her speech.

"I thought you had gone to your state-room. I hadn't the slightest idea
that you were out here."

"Otherwise you would not have come? How magnificently churlish you can
be, upon occasion, Howard!"

"It doesn't deserve so hard a name," he rejoined patiently. "For the
moment I am your father's guest, and when he asked me to go to Angels
with him - - "

- "He didn't tell you that mamma and Judge Holcombe and Carolyn and
Miriam and Herbert and Geof. Jefferis and I were along," she cut in
maliciously. "Howard, don't you know you are positively spiteful, at
times!"

"No," he denied.

"Don't contradict me, and don't be silly." She pushed the other chair
toward him. "Sit down and tell me how you've been enduring the interval.
It is more than a year, isn't it?"

"Yes. A year, three months, and eleven days." He had taken the chair
beside her because there seemed to be nothing else to do.

"How mathematically exact you are!" she gibed. "To-morrow it will be a
year, three months, and twelve days; and the day after to-morrow - mercy


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