Francis Lynde.

The Taming of Red Butte Western online

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At the outer door he turned up the long platform, instead of down, and
walked quickly to the _Nadia_, persuading himself that he must, in
common decency, tell the president that he was going away; persuading
himself that it was this, and not at all the desire to warm his hands at
the ungrateful fire of Eleanor's mockery, that was making him turn his
back for the moment upon the waiting special train.




XV

ELEANOR INTERVENES


The president's private car was side-tracked on the short spur at the
eastern end of the Crow's Nest, and when Lidgerwood reached it he found
the observation platform fully occupied. The night was no more than
pleasantly cool, and the half-grown moon, which was already dipping to
its early extinguishment behind the upreared bulk of the Timanyonis,
struck out stark etchings in silver and blackest shadow upon a ground of
fallow dun and vanishing grays. On such nights the mountain desert hides
its forbidding face, and the potent spell of the silent wilderness had
drawn the young people of the _Nadia's_ party to the out-door
trysting-place.

"Hello, Mr. Lidgerwood, is that you?" called Van Lew, when the
superintendent came across to the spur track. "I thought you said this
was a bad man's country. We have been out here for a solid hour, and
nobody has shot up the town or even whooped a single lonesome war-whoop;
in fact, I think your village with the heavenly name has gone
ingloriously to bed. We're defrauded."

"It does go to bed pretty early - that part of it which doesn't stay up
pretty late," laughed Lidgerwood. Then he came closer and spoke to Miss
Brewster. "I am going west in my car, and I don't know just when I shall
return. Please tell your father that everything we have here is entirely
at his service. If you don't see what you want, you are to ask for it."

"Will there be any one to ask when you are gone?" she inquired, neither
sorrowing nor rejoicing, so far as he could determine.

"Oh, yes; McCloskey, my trainmaster, will be in from the wreck before
morning, and he will turn flip-flaps trying to make things pleasant for
you, if you will give him the chance."

She made the adorable little grimace which always carried him swiftly
back to a certain summer of ecstatic memories; to a time when her
keenest retort had been no more than a playful love-thrust and there had
been no bitterness in her mockery.

"Will he make dreadful faces at me, as he did at you this morning when
you went down among the smashed cars at the wreck to speak to him?" she
asked.

"So you were looking out of the window, too, were you? You are a close
observer and a good guesser. That was Mac, and - yes, he will probably
make faces at you. He can't help it any more than he can help
breathing."

Miss Brewster was running her fingers along the hand-rail as if it were
the key-board of a piano. "You say you don't know how long you will be
away?" she asked.

"No; but probably not more than the night. I was only providing for the
unexpected, which some people say is what always happens."

"Will your run take you as far as the Timanyoni Canyon?"

"Yes; through it, and some little distance beyond."

"You have just said that we are to ask for what we want. Did you mean
it?"

"Surely," he replied unguardedly.

"Then we may as well begin at once," she said coolly; and turning
quickly to the others: "O all you people; listen a minute, will you?
Hush, Carolyn! What do you say to a moonlight ride through one of the
grandest canyons in the West in Mr. Lidgerwood's car? It will be
something to talk about as long as you live. Don't all speak at once,
please."

But they did. There was an instant and enthusiastic chorus of approval,
winding up rather dolefully, however, with Miss Doty's, "But your mother
will never consent to it, Eleanor!"

"Mr. Lidgerwood will never consent, you mean," put in Miriam Holcombe
quietly.

Lidgerwood said what he might without being too crudely inhospitable.
His car was entirely at the service of the president's party, of course,
but it was not very commodious compared with the _Nadia_. Moreover, he
was going on a business trip, and at the end of it he would have to
leave them for an hour or two, or maybe longer. Moreover, again, if they
got tired they would have to sleep as they could, though possibly his
state-room in the service-car might be made to accommodate the three
young women. All this he said, hoping and believing that Mrs. Brewster
would not only refuse to go herself but would promptly veto an
unchaperoned excursion.

But this was one time when his distantly related kinswoman disappointed
him. Mrs. Brewster, cajoled by her daughter, yielded a reluctant
consent, going to the car door to tell Lidgerwood that she would hold
him responsible for the safe return of the trippers.

"See, now, how fatally easy it is for one to promise more - oh, so very
much more! - than one has any idea of performing," murmured the
president's daughter, dropping out to walk beside the victim when the
party trooped down the long platform of the Crow's Nest to the
service-car. And when he did not reply: "Please don't be grumpy."

"It was the maddest notion!" he protested. "Whatever made you suggest
it?"

"More churlishness?" she said reproachfully. And then, with ironical
sentiment: "There was a time when you would have moved heaven and earth
for a chance to take me somewhere with you, Howard."

"To be with you; yes, that is true. But - - "

Her rippling laugh was too sweet to be shrill; none the less it held in
it a little flick of the whip of malice.

"Listen," she said. "I did it out of pure hatefulness. You showed so
plainly this afternoon that you wished to be quit of me - of the entire
party - that I couldn't resist the temptation to pay you back with good,
liberal interest. Possibly you will think twice before you snub me
again, Howard, dear."

Quickly he stopped and faced her. The others were a few steps in
advance; were already boarding the service-car.

"One word, Eleanor - and for Heaven's sake let us make it final. There
are some things that I can endure and some others that I cannot - will
not. I love you; what you said to me the last time we were together made
no difference; nothing you can ever say will make any difference. You
must take that fact into consideration while you are here and we are
obliged to meet."

"Well?" she said, and there was nothing in her tone to indicate that she
felt more than a passing interest in his declaration.

"That is all," he ended shortly. "I am, as I told you this afternoon,
the same man that I was a year ago last spring, as deeply infatuated
and, unhappily, just as far below your ideal of what your lover should
be. In justice to me, in justice to Van Lew - "

"I think your conductor is waiting to speak to you," she broke in
sweetly, and he gave it up, putting her on the car and turning to
confront the man with the green-shaded lantern who proved to be
Bradford.

"Any special orders, Mr. Lidgerwood?" inquired the reformed
cattle-herder, looking stiff and uncomfortable in his new service
uniform - one of Lidgerwood's earliest requirements for men on duty in
the train service.

"Yes. Run without stop to Little Butte, unless the despatcher calls you
down. Time yourself to make Little Butte by eleven o'clock, or a little
later. Who is on the engine?"

"Williams."

"Williams? How does it come that he is doubling out with me? He has just
made the run over the Desert Division with the president's car."

"So have I, for that matter," said Bradford calmly; "but we both got a
hurry call about fifteen minutes ago."

Lidgerwood held his watch to the light of the green-shaded lantern. If
he meant to keep the wire appointment with Flemister, there was no time
to call out another crew.

"I don't like to ask you and Williams to double out of your turn,
especially when I know of no necessity for it. But I'm in a rush. Can
you two stand it?"

"Sure," said the ex-cow-man. Then he ventured a word of his own. "I'll
ride up ahead with Williams - you're pretty full up, back here in the
car, anyway - and then you'll know that two of your own men are keepin'
tab on the run. With the wrecks we're enjoying - - "

Lidgerwood was impatient of mysteries.

"What do you mean, Andy?" he broke in. "Anything new?"

"Oh, nothing you could put your finger on. Same old rag-chewin' going on
up at Cat Biggs's and the other waterin' troughs about how you've got to
be done up, if it costs money."

"That isn't new," objected Lidgerwood irritably.

"Tumble-weeds," said Bradford, "rollin' round over the short-grass. But
they show which way the wind's comin' from, and give you the jumps when
you wouldn't have 'em natural. Williams had a spell of 'em a few minutes
ago when he went over to take the 266 out o' the roundhouse and found
one of the back-shop men down under her tinkerin' with her trucks."

"What's that?" was the sharp query.

"That's all there was to it," Bradford went on imperturbably. "Williams
asked the shopman politely what in hell he was doing under there, and
the fellow crawled out and said he was just lookin' her over to see if
she was all right for the night run. Now, you wouldn't think there was
any tumble-weed in that to give a man the jumps, but Williams had 'em,
all the same. Says he to me, tellin' me about it just now: 'That's all
right, Andy, but how in blue blazes did he, or anybody else except
Matthews and the caller, know that the 266 was goin' out? that's what
I'd like to know.' And I had to pass it up."

Lidgerwood asked a single question.

"Did Williams find that anything had been tampered with?"

"Nothing that you could shoot up the back-shop man for. One of the truck
safety-chains - the one on the left side, back - was loose. But it
couldn't have hurt anything if it had been taken off. We ain't runnin'
on safety-chains these days."

"Safety-chain loose, you say? - so if the truck should jump and swing it
would keep on swinging? You tell Williams when you go up ahead that I
want that machinist's name."

"H'm," said Bradford; "reckon it was meant to do that?"

"God only knows what isn't meant, these times, Andy. Hold on a minute
before you give Williams the word to go." Then he turned to young
Jefferis, who had come out on the car platform to light a cigarette.
"Will you ask Miss Brewster to step out here for a moment?"

Eleanor came at the summons, and Jefferis gave the superintendent a
clear field by dropping off to ask Bradford for a match.

"You sent for me, Howard?" said the president's daughter, and honey
could not have matched her tone for sweetness.

"Yes. I shall have to anticipate the Angels gossips a little by telling
you that we are in the midst of a pretty bitter labor fight. That is why
people go gunning for me. I can't take you and your friends over the
road to-night."

"Why not?" she inquired.

"Because it may not be entirely safe."

"Nonsense!" she flashed back. "What could happen to us on a little
excursion like this?"

"I don't know, but I wish you would reconsider and go back to the
_Nadia_."

"I shall do nothing of the sort," she said, wilfully. And then, with
totally unnecessary cruelty, she added: "Is it a return of the old
malady? Are you afraid again, Howard?"

The taunt was too much. Wheeling suddenly, Lidgerwood snapped out a
summons to Jefferis: "Get aboard, Mr. Jefferis; we are going."

At the word Bradford ran forward, swinging his lantern, and a moment
later the special train shot away from the Crow's Nest platform and out
over the yard switches, and began to bore its way into the westward
night.




XVI

THE SHADOWGRAPH


Forty-two miles south-west of Angels, at a point where all further
progress seems definitely barred by the huge barrier of the great
mountain range, the Red Butte Western, having picked its devious way to
an apparent _cul-de-sac_ among the foot-hills and hogbacks, plunges
abruptly into the echoing canyon of the Eastern Timanyoni.

For forty added miles the river chasm, throughout its length a narrow,
tortuous crevice, with sheer and towering cliffs for its walls, affords
a precarious footing for the railway embankment, leading the double line
of steel with almost sentient reluctance, as it seems, through the
mighty mountain barrier. At its western extremity the canyon forms the
gate-way to a shut-in valley of upheaved hills and inferior mountains
isolated by wide stretches of rolling grassland. To the eastward and
westward of the great valley rise the sentinel peaks of the two
enclosing mountain ranges; and across the shut-in area the river
plunges from pool to pool, twisting and turning as the craggy and
densely forested lesser heights constrain it.

Red Butte, the centre of the evanescent mining excitement which was
originally responsible for the building of the railroad, lies
high-pitched among the shouldering spurs of the western boundary range.
Seeking the route promising the fewest cuts and fills and the easiest
grades, Chandler, the construction chief of the building company, had
followed the south bank of the river to a point a short distance beyond
the stream-fronting cliffs of the landmark hill known as Little Butte;
and at the station of the same name he had built his bridge across the
Timanyoni and swung his line in a great curve for the northward climb
among the hogbacks to the gold-mining district in which Red Butte was
the principal camp.

Elsewhere than in a land of sky-piercing peaks and continent-cresting
highlands, Little Butte would have been called a true mountain. On the
engineering maps of the Red Butte Western its outline appears as a
roughly described triangle with five-mile sides, the three angles of the
figure marked respectively by Silver Switch, Little Butte station and
bridge, and the Wire-Silver mine.

Between Silver Switch and the bridge station, the main line of the
railroad follows the base of the triangle, with the precipitous bluffs
of the big hill on the left and the torrenting flood of the Timanyoni on
the right. Along the eastern side of the triangle, and leaving the main
track at Silver Switch, ran the spur which had formerly served the
Wire-Silver when the working opening of the mine had been on the eastern
slope of the ridge-like hill. For some years previous to the summer of
overturnings this spur had been disused, though its track, ending among
a group of the old mine buildings five miles away, was still in
commission.

Along the western side of the triangle, with Little Butte station for
its point of divergence from the main line, ran the new spur, built to
accommodate Flemister after he had dug through the hill, ousted the
rightful owner of the true Wire-Silver vein, and had transferred his
labor hamlet and his plant - or the major part of both - to the western
slope of the butte, at this point no more than a narrow ridge separating
the eastern and western gulches.

Train 205, with ex-engineer Judson apparently sound asleep in one of the
rearward seats of the day coach, was on time when it swung out of the
lower canyon portal and raced around the curves and down the grades in
its crossing of Timanyoni Park. At Point-of-Rocks Judson came awake
sufficiently to put his face to the window, with a shading hand to cut
off the car lights; but having thus located the train's placement in the
Park-crossing race, he put his knees up against the back of the
adjoining seat, pulled his cap over his eyes, and to all outward
appearances went to sleep again. Four or five miles farther along,
however, there came a gentle grinding of brake-shoes upon the chilled
wheel-treads that aroused him quickly. Another flattening of his nose
against the window-pane showed him the familiar bulk of Little Butte
looming black in the moonlight, and a moment later he had let himself
silently into the rear vestibule of the day coach, and was as silently
opening the folding doors of the vestibule itself.

Hanging off by the hand-rails, he saw the engine's headlight pick up the
switch-stand of the old spur. The train was unmistakably slowing now,
and he made ready to jump if the need should arise, picking his place at
the track side as the train lights showed him the ground. As the speed
was checked, Judson saw what he was expecting to see. Precisely at the
instant of the switch passing, a man dropped from the forward step of
the smoker and walked swiftly away up the disused track of the old
spur. Judson's turn came a moment later, and when his end of the day
coach flicked past the switch-stand he, too, dropped to the ground, and,
waiting only until he could follow without being detected, set out after
the tall figure, which was by that time scarcely more than an indistinct
and retreating blur in the moonlight.

The chase led directly up the old spur, but it did not continue quite to
the five-mile-distant end of it. A few hundred yards short of the
stockade enclosing the old buildings the shadowy figure took to the
forest and began to climb the ridge, going straight up, as nearly as
Judson could determine. The ex-engineer followed, still keeping his
distance. From the first bench above the valley level he looked back and
down into the stockade enclosure. All of the old buildings were dark,
but one of the two new and unpainted ones was brilliantly lighted, and
there were sounds familiar enough to Judson to mark it as the
Wire-Silver power-house. Notwithstanding his interest in the chase,
Judson was curious enough to stand a moment listening to the sharply
defined exhausts of the high-speeded steam-engine driving the
generators.

"Say!" he ejaculated, under his breath, "if that engine ain't a dead
match for the old 216 pullin' a grade, I don't want a cent! Double
cylinder, set on the quarter, and _choo-chooin_' like it ought to have a
pair o' steel rails under it. If I had time I'd go down yonder and break
a winder in that power-shack; blamed if I wouldn't!"

But, unhappily, there was no time to spare; as it was, he had lingered
too long, and when he came out upon the crest of the narrow ridge and
attained a point of view from which he could look down upon the
buildings clustering at the foot of the western slope, he had lost the
scent. The tall man had disappeared as completely and suddenly as if the
earth had opened and swallowed him.

This, in Judson's prefiguring, was a small matter. The tall man, whom
the ex-engineer had unmistakably recognized at the moment of
train-forsaking as Rankin Hallock, was doubtless on his way to
Flemister's head-quarters at the foot of the western slope. Why he
should take the roundabout route up the old spur and across the
mountain, when he might have gone on the train to Little Butte station
and so have saved the added distance and the hard climb, was a question
which Judson answered briefly: for some reason of his own, Hallock did
not wish to be seen going openly to the Wire-Silver head-quarters. Hence
the drop from the train at Silver Switch and the long tramp up the
gulch and over the ridge.

Forecasting it thus, Judson lost no time on the summit of mysterious
disappearances. Choosing the shortest path he could find which promised
to lead him down to the mining hamlet at the foot of the
westward-fronting slope, he set his feet in it and went stumbling down
the steep declivity, bringing up, finally, on a little bench just above
the mine workings. Here he stopped to get his breath and his bearings.
From his halting-place the mine head-quarters building lay just below
him, at the right of the tunnel entrance to the mine. It was a long log
building of one story, with warehouse doors in the nearer gable and
lighted windows to mark the location of the offices at the opposite end.

Making a détour to dodge the electric-lighted tunnel mouth, Judson
carefully reconnoitred the office end of the head-quarters building.
There was a door, with steps giving upon the down-hill side, and there
were two windows, both of which were blank to the eye by reason of the
drawn-down shades. Two persons, at least, were in the lighted room;
Judson could hear their voices, but the thick log walls muffled the
sounds to an indistinct murmur. On the mountain-facing side of the
building, which was in shadow, the ex-engineer searched painstakingly
for some open chink or cranny between the logs, but there was no avenue
of observation either for the eye or the ear. Just as he had made up his
mind to risk the moonlight on the other side of the head-quarters, a
sound like the moving of chairs on a bare floor made him dodge quickly
behind the bole of a great mountain pine which had been left standing at
the back of the building. The huge tree was directly opposite one of the
windows, and when Judson looked again the figure of a man sitting in a
chair was sharply silhouetted on the drawn window-shade.

Judson stared, rubbed his eyes, and stared again. It had never occurred
to him before that the face of a man, viewed in blank profile, could
differ so strikingly from the same face as seen eye to eye. That the man
whose shadow was projected upon the window-shade was Rankin Hallock, he
could not doubt. The bearded chin, the puffy lips, the prominent nose
were all faithfully outlined in the exaggerated shadowgraph. But the hat
was worn at an unfamiliar angle, and there was something in the erect,
bulking figure that was still more unfamiliar. Judson backed away and
stared again, muttering to himself. If he had not traced Hallock almost
to the door of Flemister's quarters, there might have been room for the
thin edge of the doubt wedge. The unfamiliar pose and the rakish tilt of
the soft hat were not among the chief clerk's remembered
characteristics; but making due allowance for the distortion of the
magnified facial outline, the profile was Hallock's.

Having definitely settled for himself the question of identity, Judson
renewed his search for some eavesdropping point of vantage. Risking the
moonlight, he twice made the circuit of the occupied end of the
building. There was a line of light showing under the ill-fitting door,
and with the top step of the down-hill flight for a perching-place one
might lay an ear to the crack and overhear. But door and steps were
sharply struck out in the moonlight, and they faced the mining hamlet
where the men of the day shift were still stirring.

Judson knew the temper of the Timanyoni miners. To be seen crouching on
the boss's doorstep would be to take the chance of making a target of
himself for the first loiterer of the day shift who happened to look his
way. Dismissing the risky expedient, he made a third circuit from
moon-glare to shadow, this time upon hands and knees. To the lowly come
the rewards of humility. Framed level upon stout log pillars on the
down-hill side, the head-quarters warehouse and office sheltered a space
beneath its floor which was roughly boarded up with slabs from the
log-sawing. Slab by slab the ex-engineer sought for his rat-hole, trying
each one softly in its turn. When there remained but three more to be
tugged at, the loosened one was found. Judson swung it cautiously aside
and wriggled through the narrow aperture left by its removal. A crawling
minute later he was crouching beneath the loosely jointed floor of the
lighted room, and the avenue of the ear had broadened into a fair
highway.

Almost at once he was able to verify his guess that there were only two
men in the room above. At all events, there were only two speakers. They
were talking in low tones, and Judson had no difficulty in identifying
the rather high-pitched voice of the owner of the Wire-Silver mine. The
man whose profile he had seen on the window-shade had the voice which
belonged to the outlined features, but the listener under the floor had
a vague impression that he was trying to disguise it. Judson knew
nothing about the letter in which Flemister had promised to arrange for
a meeting between Lidgerwood and the ranchman Grofield. What he did know
was that he had followed Hallock almost to the door of Flemister's
office, and that he had seen a shadowed face on the office window-shade
which could be no other than the face of the chief clerk. It was in
spite of all this that the impression that the second speaker was trying
to disguise his voice persisted. But the ex-engineer of fast
passenger-trains was able to banish the impression after the first few
minutes of eavesdropping.

Judson had scarcely found his breathing space between the floor timbers,
and had not yet overheard enough to give him the drift of the low-toned
talk, when the bell of the private-line telephone rang in the room


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