Francis Lynde.

The Taming of Red Butte Western online

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me! I should go mad if I had to think back and count up that way every
day. But I asked you what you had been doing."

He spread his hands. "Existing, one way and another. There has always
been my work."

"'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,'" she quoted. "You are
excessively dull to-day, Howard. Hasn't it occurred to you?"

"Thank you for expressing it so delicately. It seems to be my
misfortune to disappoint you, always."

"Yes," she said, quite unfeelingly. Then, with a swift relapse into pure
mockery: "How many times have you fallen in love during the one year,
three months, and eleven days?"

His frown was almost a scowl. "Is it worth while to make an unending
jest of it, Eleanor?"

"A jest? - of your falling in love? No, my dear cousin, several times
removed, no one would dare to jest with you on that subject. But tell
me; I am really and truly interested. Will you confess to three times?
That isn't so very many, considering the length of the interval."

"No."

"Twice, then? Think hard; there must have been at least two little
quickenings of the heartbeats in all that time."

"No."

"Still no? That reduces it to one - the charming Miss Dawson - - "

"You might spare her, even if you are not willing to spare me. You know
well enough there has never been any one but you, Eleanor; that there
never will be any one but you."

The train was passing the western confines of the waterless tract, and a
cool breeze from the snowcapped Timanyonis was sweeping across the open
platform. It blew strands of the red-brown hair from beneath the closely
fitting travelling-hat; blew color into Miss Brewster's cheeks and a
daring brightness into the laughing eyes.

"What a pity!" she said in mock sympathy.

"That I can't measure up to your requirements of the perfect man? Yes,
it is a thousand pities," he agreed.

"No; that isn't precisely what I meant. The pity is that I seem to you
to be unable to appreciate your many excellencies and your - constancy."

"I think you were born to torment me," he rejoined gloomily. "Why did
you come out here with your father? You must have known that I was
here."

"Not from any line you have ever written," she retorted. "Alicia Ford
told me, otherwise I shouldn't have known."

"Still, you came. Why? Were you curious?"

"Why should I be curious, and what about? - the Red Desert? I've seen
deserts before."

"I thought you might be curious to know what disposition the Red Desert
was making of such a failure as I am," he said evenly. "I can forgive
that more easily than I can forgive your bringing of the other man along
to be an on-looker."

"Herbert, you mean? He is a good boy, a nice boy - and perfectly
harmless. You'll like him immensely when you come to know him better."

"You like him?" he queried.

"How can you ask - when you have just called him 'the other man'?"

Lidgerwood turned in his chair and faced her squarely.

"Eleanor, I had my punishment over a year ago, and I have been hoping
you would let it suffice. It was hard enough to lose you without being
compelled to stand by and see another man win you. Can't you understand
that?"

She did not answer him. Instead, she whipped aside from that phase of
the subject to ask a question of her own.

"What ever made you come out here, Howard?"

"To the superintendency of the Red Butte Western? You did."

"I?"

"Yes, you."

"It is ridiculous!"

"It is true."

"Prove it - if you can; but you can't."

"I am proving it day by day, or trying to. I didn't want to come, but
you drove me to it."

"I decline to take any such hideous responsibility," she laughed
lightly. "There must have been some better reason; Miss Dawson,
perhaps."

"Quite likely, barring the small fact that I didn't know there was a
Miss Dawson until I had been a month in Angels."

"Oh!" she said half spitefully. And then, with calculated malice,
"Howard, if you were only as brave as you are clever!... Why can't you
be a man and strike back now and then?"

"Strike back at the woman I love? I'm not quite down to that, I hope,
even if I was once too cowardly to strike for her."

"Always _that!_ Why won't you let me forget?"

"Because you must not forget. Listen: two weeks ago - only two weeks
ago - one of the Angels - er - peacemakers stood up in his place and shot
at me. What I did made me understand that I had gained nothing in a
year."

"Shot at you?" she echoed, and now he might have discovered a note of
real concern in her tone if his ear had been attuned to hear it. "Tell
me about it. Who was it? and why did he shoot at you?"

His answer seemed to be indirection itself.

"How long do you expect to stay in Angels and its vicinity?" he asked.

"I don't know. This is partly a pleasure trip for us younger folk.
Father was coming out alone, and I - that is, mamma decided to come and
make a car-party of it. We may stay two or three weeks, if the others
wish it. But you haven't answered me. I want to know who the man was,
and why he shot at you."

"Exactly; and you have answered yourself. If you stay two weeks, or two
days, in Angels you will doubtless hear all you care to about my
troubles. When the town isn't talking about what it is going to do to
me, it is gossiping about the dramatic arrest of my would-be assassin."

"You are most provoking!" she declared. "Did you make the arrest?"

"Don't shame me needlessly; of course I didn't. One of our locomotive
engineers, a man whom I had discharged for drunkenness, was the hero. It
was a most daring thing. The desperado is known in the Red Desert as
'The Killer,' and he has had the entire region terrorized so completely
that the town marshal of Angels, a man who has never before shirked his
duty, refused to serve the warrant. Judson, the engineer, made the
capture - took the 'terror' from his place in a gambling-den, disarmed
him, and brought him in. Judson himself was unarmed, and he did the
trick with a little steel wrench such as engineers use about a
locomotive."

Miss Brewster, being Colorado-born, was deeply interested.

"Now you are no longer dull, Howard!" she exclaimed. "Tell me in words
just how Mr. Judson did it."

"It was an old dodge, so old that it seemed new to everybody. As I told
you, Judson was discharged for drunkenness. All Angels knows him for a
fighter to the finish when he is sober, and for the biggest fool and the
most harmless one when he is in liquor. He took advantage of this,
reeled into the gambling-place as if he were too drunk to see straight,
played the fool till he got behind his man - after which the matter
simplified itself. Rufford, the desperado, had no means of knowing that
the cold piece of metal Judson was pressing against his back was not the
muzzle of a loaded revolver, and he had every reason for supposing that
it was; hence, he did all the things Judson told him to do."

Miss Eleanor did not need to vocalize her approval of Judson; the dark
eyes were alight with excitement.

"How fine!" she applauded. "Of course, after that, you took Mr. Judson
back into the railway service?"

"Indeed, I did nothing of the sort; nor shall I, until he demonstrates
that he means what he says about letting the whiskey alone."

"'Until he demonstrates' - don't be so cold-blooded, Howard! Possibly he
saved your life."

"Quite probably. But that has nothing to do with his reinstatement as an
engineer of passenger-trains. It would be much better for Rufford to
kill me than for me to let Judson have the chance to kill a train-load
of innocent people."

"And yet, a few moments ago, you called yourself a coward, cousin mine.
Could you really face such an alternative without flinching?"

"It doesn't appeal to me as a question involving any special degree of
courage," he said slowly. "I am a great coward, Eleanor - not a little
one, I hope."

"It doesn't appeal to you? - dear God!" she said. "And I have been
calling you ... but would you do it, Howard?"

He smiled at her sudden earnestness.

"How generous your heart is, Eleanor, when you let it speak for itself!
If you will promise not to let it change your opinion of me - you
shouldn't change it, you know, for I am the same man whom you held up to
scorn the day we parted - if you will promise, I'll tell you that for
weeks I have gone about with my life in my hands, knowing it. It hasn't
required any great amount of courage; it merely comes along in the line
of my plain duty to the company - it's one of the things I draw my salary
for."

"You haven't told me why this desperado wanted to kill you - why you are
in such a deep sea of trouble out here, Howard," she reminded him.

"No; it is a long story, and it would bore you if I had time to tell it.
And I haven't time, because that is Williams's whistle for the Angels
yard."

He had risen and was helping his companion to her feet when Mrs.
Brewster came to the car door to say:

"Oh, you are out here, are you, Howard? I was looking for you to let you
know that we dine in the _Nadia_ at seven. If your duties will
permit - - "

Lidgerwood's refusal was apologetic but firm.

"I am very sorry, Cousin Jessica," he protested. "But I left a deskful
of stuff when I ran away to the wreck this morning, and really I'm
afraid I shall have to beg off."

"Oh, don't be so dreadfully formal!" said the president's wife
impatiently. "You are a member of the family, and all you have to do is
to say bluntly that you can't come, and then come whenever you can while
we are here. Carolyn Doty is dying to ask you a lot more questions about
the Red Desert. She confided to me that you were the most interesting
talker - - "

Miss Eleanor's interruption was calculated to temper the passed-on
praise.

"He has been simply boring me to death, mamma, until just a few minutes
ago. I shall tell Carolyn that she is too easily pleased."

Mrs. Brewster, being well used to Eleanor's flippancies, paid no
attention to her daughter.

"You will come to us whenever you can, Howard; that is understood," she
said. And so the social matter rested.

Lidgerwood was half-way down the platform of the Crow's Nest, heading
for his office and the neglected desk, when Williams's engine came
backing through one of the yard tracks on its way to the roundhouse. At
the moment of its passing, a little man with his cap pulled over his
eyes dropped from the gangway step and lounged across to the
head-quarters building.

It was Judson; and having seen him last toiling away man-fashion at the
wreck in the Crosswater Hills, Lidgerwood hailed him.

"Hello, Judson! How did you get here? I thought you were doing a turn
with McCloskey."

The small man's grin was ferocious.

"I was, but Mac said he didn't have any further use for me - said I was
too much of a runt to be liftin' and pullin' along with growed-up men. I
came down with Williams on the '66."

Lidgerwood turned away. He remembered his reluctant consent to
McCloskey's proposal touching the espial upon Hallock, and was sorry he
had given it. It was too late to recall it now; but neither by word nor
look did the superintendent intimate to the discharged engineer that he
knew why McCloskey had sent him back to Angels on the engine of the
president's special.




XIV

BLIND SIGNALS


Lidgerwood was not making the conventional excuse when he gave the
deskful of work as a reason for not accepting the invitation to dine
with the president's party in the _Nadia_. Being the practical as well
as the nominal head of the Red Butte line, and the only official with
complete authority west of Copah, his daily mail was always heavy, and
during his frequent absences the accumulations stored up work for every
spare hour he could devote to it.

It was this increasing clerical burden which had led him to ask the
general manager for a stenographer, and during one of the later absences
the young man had come - a rapid, capable young fellow with the gift of
knowing how to make himself indispensable to a superior, coupled with
the ability to take care of much of the routine correspondence without
specific instructions, and with a disposition to be loyal to his salt.

Climbing the stair to his office on the second floor of the Crow's Nest
after the brief exchange of question and answer with Judson, Lidgerwood
found his new helper hard at work grinding through the day's train mail.

"Don't scamp your meals, Grady," was his greeting to the stenographer,
as he opened his own desk. "This is a pretty busy shop, but it is well
to remember that there is always another day coming, and if there isn't,
it won't make any difference how much or how little is left undone."

"Colgan wired that you were on Mr. Brewster's special, and I was waiting
on the chance that you might want to rush something through when you got
in," returned the young Irishman, reaching mechanically for his
note-book.

"I shall want to rush a lot of it through after a while, but you'd
better go and get your supper now and come back fresh for it," said the
superintendent, who was always humane to every one but himself. "Was
there anything special in to-day's mail?"

"Only this," turning up a letter marked "Immediate" and bearing the
cancellation stamp of the postal car which had passed eastward on Train
202.

Lidgerwood read the marked letter twice before he placed it face down
in the "unanswered" basket. It was from Flemister, and it called for a
decision which the superintendent was willing to postpone for the
moment. After he had read thoughtfully through everything else on the
waiting list, he took up the mine-owner's letter again. All things
considered, it was a little puzzling. He had not seen Flemister since
the day of the rather spiteful conversation, with the building-and-loan
theft for a topic, and on that occasion the mine-owner had gone away
with threats in his mouth. Yet his letter was distinctly friendly,
conveying an offer of neighborly help.

The occasion for the neighborliness arose upon a right-of-way
involvement. Acting under instructions from Vice-President Ford,
Lidgerwood had already begun to move in the matter of extending the Red
Butte Western toward the Nevada gold-fields, and Benson had been running
preliminary surveys and making estimates of cost. Of the two more
feasible routes, that which left the main line at Little Butte, turning
southward up the Wire-Silver gulch, had been favorably reported on by
the engineer. The right of way over this route, save for a few miles
through an upland valley of cattle ranches, could be acquired from the
government, and among the ranch owners only one was disposed to fight
the coming of the railroad - for a purely mercenary purpose, Benson
declared.

It was about this man, James Grofield, that Flemister wrote. The
ranchman, so the letter stated, had passed through Little Butte early in
the day, on his way to Red Butte. He would be returning by the
accommodation late in the afternoon, and would stop at the Wire-Silver
mine, where he had stabled his horses. For some reason he had taken a
dislike to Benson, but if Lidgerwood could make it convenient to come
over to Little Butte on the evening passenger-train from Angels, the
writer of the letter would arrange to keep Grofield over-night, and the
right-of-way matter could doubtless be settled satisfactorily.

This was the substance of the mine-owner's letter, and if Lidgerwood
hesitated it was partly because he was suspicious of Flemister's sudden
friendliness. Then the motive - Flemister's motive - suggested itself, and
the suspicion was put to sleep. The Wire-Silver mine was five miles
distant from the main line at Little Butte, at the end of a spur; if the
extension should be built, it would be a main-line station, with all the
advantages accruing therefrom. Flemister was merely putting the
personal animosities aside for a good and sufficient business reason.

Lidgerwood looked at his watch. If Grady should not be gone too long, he
might be able to work through the pile of correspondence and get away on
the evening passenger; and when the stenographer came back the work was
attacked with that end in view. But after an hour's rapid dictating, a
long-drawn whistle signal announced the incoming of the train he was
trying to make and warned him that the race against time had failed.

"It's no use; we'll have to make two bites of it," he said to Grady, and
then he left his desk to go downstairs for a breathing moment and the
cup of coffee which he meant to substitute for the dinner which the lack
of time had made him forego.

Train 205, the train Flemister had suggested that he might take, was
just pulling in from the long run across the desert when he reached the
foot of the stairs. That it was too late to take this means of reaching
Little Butte and the Wire-Silver mine was a small matter; it merely
meant that he would be obliged to order out the service-car and go
special, if he should finally decide to act upon Flemister's suggestion.

Angels being a meal station, there was a twenty-minute stop for all
trains, and the passengers from 205 were crowding the platform and
hurrying to the dining-room and lunch-counter when Lidgerwood made his
way to the station end of the building. In the men's room, whither he
went to order his cup of coffee, there was a mixed throng of travellers,
with a sprinkling of trainmen and town idlers, among the latter a number
of the lately discharged railroad employees. Lidgerwood marked a group
of the trouble-makers withdrawing to a corner of the room as he entered,
and while the waiter was serving his coffee, he saw Hallock join the
group. It was only a straw, but straws are significant when the wind is
blowing from a threatening quarter. Once again Lidgerwood remembered
McCloskey's proposal, and his own reluctant assent to it, and now he was
not too greatly conscience-stricken when he saw Judson quietly working
his way through the crowded room to a point of espial upon the group in
the corner.

"Your coffee's getting cold, Mr. Lidgerwood," the man behind the counter
warned him, and Lidgerwood whirled around on the pivot stool and turned
his back upon the malcontents and their watcher. The keen inner sense,
which neither the physiologists nor the psychologists have yet been
able to define or to name, apprised him of a threat developing in the
distant corner, but he resolutely ignored it, drank his coffee, and
presently went his way around the peopled end of the building and back
to the office entrance, meaning to go above stairs and put in another
hour with Grady before he should decide definitely about making the
night run to Little Butte.

His foot was on the threshold of the stairway door when Judson overtook
him.

"Mac told me to report to you when I couldn't get at him," the
ex-engineman began abruptly. "There's something hatching, but I can't
find out what it is. Are you thinking about goin' out on the road
anywhere to-night, Mr. Lidgerwood?"

Lidgerwood's decision was taken on the instant.

"Yes; I think I shall go west in my car in an hour or so. Why?"

"There ain't any 'why,' I guess, if you feel like goin'. But what I
don't savvy is why them fellows back yonder in the waitin'-room are so
dead anxious to find out if you _are_ goin'."

As he spoke, a man who had been skulking behind a truck-load of express
freight, so near that he could have touched either of them with an
out-stretched arm, withdrew silently in the direction of the lunch-room.
He was a tall man with stooping shoulders, and his noiseless retreat
was cautiously made, yet not quite cautiously enough, since Judson's
sharp eyes marked the shuffling figure vanishing in the shadow cast by
the over-hanging shelter roof of the station.

"By cripes! - look at that, will you?" he exclaimed, pointing to the
retreating figure. "That's Hallock, and he was listening!"

Lidgerwood shook his head.

"No, that isn't Hallock," he denied. And then, with a bit of the
man-driving rasp in his voice: "See here, Judson, don't you let
McCloskey's prejudices run away with you; make a memorandum of that and
paste it in your hat. I know what you have been instructed to do, and I
have given my consent, but it is with the understanding that you will be
at least as fair as you would be if McCloskey's bias happened to run the
other way. I don't want you to make a case against Hallock unless you
can get proof positive that he is disloyal to the company and to me; and
I'll tell you here and now that I shall be much better pleased if you
can bring me the assurance that he is a true man."

"But that _was_ Hallock," insisted Judson, "or else it was his livin'
double."

"No; follow him and you'll see for yourself. It was more like that Ruby
Gulch operator who quit in a quarrel with McCloskey a week or two ago.
What is his name? - Sheffield."

Judson hastened down the platform to satisfy himself, and Lidgerwood
mounted the stair to his office. Grady was still pounding the keys of
the type-writer on the batch of letters given him in the busy hour
following his return from supper, and the superintendent turned his back
upon the clicking activities and went to stand at the window, from which
he could look down upon the platform with the waiting passenger-train
drawn up beside it.

Seeing the cheerful lights in the side-tracked _Nadia_, he fell to
thinking of Eleanor, opening the door of conscious thought to her and
saying to himself that she was never more than a single step beyond the
threshold of that door. Looking across to the _Nadia_, he knew now why
he had hesitated so long before deciding to go on the night trip to
Timanyoni Park. Chilled hearts follow the analogy of cold hands. When
the fire is near, a man will go and spread his fingers to the blaze,
though he may be never so well assured that they will ache for it
afterward.

But with this thought came another and a more manly one - the woman he
loved was in Angels, and she would doubtless remain in Angels or its
immediate vicinity for some time; that was unpreventable; but he could
still resolve that there should not be a repetition of the old tragedy
of the moth and the candle. It was well that at the very outset a duty
call had come to enable him to break the spell of her nearness, and it
was also well that he had decided not to disregard it.

The train conductor's "All aboard!" shouted on the platform just below
his window, drew his attention from the _Nadia_ and the distracting
thought of Eleanor's nearness. Train 205 was ready to resume its
westward flight, and the locomotive bell was clanging musically. A
half-grown moon, hanging low in the black dome of the night, yellowed
the glow of the platform incandescents. The last few passengers were
hurrying up the steps of the cars, and the conductor was swinging his
lantern in the starting signal for the engineer.

At the critical moment, when the train was fairly in motion, Lidgerwood
saw Hallock - it was unmistakably Hallock this time - spring from the
shadow of a baggage-truck and whip up to the step of the smoker, and a
scant half-second later he saw Judson race across the wide platform and
throw himself like a self-propelled projectile against and through the
closing doors of the vestibule at the forward end of the sleeper.

Judson's dash and his capture of the out-going train were easily
accounted for: he had seen Hallock. But where was Hallock going?
Lidgerwood was still asking himself the question half-abstractedly when
he crossed to his desk and touched the buzzer-push which summoned an
operator from the despatcher's room.

"Wire Mr. Pennington Flemister, care of Goodloe, at Little Butte, that I
am coming out with my car, and should be with him by eleven o'clock.
Then call up the yard office and tell Matthews to let me have the car
and engine by eight-thirty, sharp," he directed.

The operator made a note of the order and went out, and the
superintendent settled himself in his desk-chair for another hour's hard
work with the stenographer. At twenty-five minutes past eight he heard
the wheel-grindings of the up-coming service-car, and the weary
short-hand man snapped a rubber band upon the notes of the final letter.

"That's all for to-night, Grady, and it's quite enough," was the
superintendent's word of release. "I'm sorry to have to work you so
late, but I'd like to have those letters written out and mailed before
you lock up. Are you good for it?"

"I'm good for anything you say, Mr. Lidgerwood," was the response of the
one who was loyal to his salt, and the superintendent put on his light
coat and went out and down the stair.


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