Francis Lynde.

The Taming of Red Butte Western online

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will come this way."

Lidgerwood shook his head.

"My stake in the _Nadia_ is precisely the same size as yours, Fred, and
I don't want to risk the buckboard business. We'll do a better thing
than that, if we have to let the president's party make a run for it.
Get your smartest passenger flyer out on the table, head it east, and
when I send for it, rush it over to couple on to the _Nadia_ - with
Williams for engineer. Has Benson had any trouble in the yard?"

"There has been nobody to make any. Tryon came down a few minutes ago,
considerably more than half-seas over, and said he was ready to take
his engine and the first section of the east-bound midnight - which would
have been his regular run. But he went back uptown peaceably when Benson
told him he was down and out."

Lidgerwood did not extend his round to include Benson's post at the yard
office, which was below the coal chutes. Instead, he went over to the
Nadia, thinking pointedly of the two added mysteries: the fact that
Gridley had told a deliberate lie to account for his appearance in
Angels, and the other and more recent fact that the master-mechanic was
conferring, even in terms of profanity, with Rufford's brother, who was
not, and never had been, in his department.

Under the "umbrella roof" of the _Nadia's_ rear platform the young
people of the party were sitting out the early half of the perfect
summer night, the card-tables having been abandoned when Benson had
brought word of the tacit armistice. There was an unoccupied camp-chair,
and Miss Brewster pointed it out to the superintendent.

"Climb over and sit with us, Howard," she said, hospitably. "You know
you haven't a thing in the world to do."

Lidgerwood swung himself over the railing, and took the proffered chair.

"You are right; I haven't very much to do just now," he admitted.

"Has your strike materialized yet?" she asked.

"No; it isn't due until midnight."

"I don't believe there is going to be any."

"Don't you? I wish I might share your incredulity - with reason."

Miss Doty and the others were talking about the curious blending of the
moonlight with the masthead electrics, and the two in the shadowed
corner of the deep platform were temporarily ignored. Miss Brewster took
advantage of the momentary isolation to say, "Confess that you were a
little bit over-wrought this afternoon when you wanted to send us away:
weren't you?"

"I only hope that the outcome will prove that I was," he rejoined
patiently.

"You still believe there will be trouble?"

"Yes."

"Then I'm afraid you are still overwrought," she countered lightly.
"Why, the very atmosphere of this beautiful night breathes peace."

Before he could reply, a man came up to the platform railing, touched
his cap, and said, "Is Mr. Lidgerwood here?"

Lidgerwood answered in person, crossing to the railing to hear Judson's
latest report, which was given in hoarse whispers. Miss Brewster could
distinguish no word of it, but she heard Lidgerwood's reply. "Tell
Benson and Dawson, and say that the engine I ordered had better be sent
up at once."

When Lidgerwood had resumed his chair he was promptly put upon the
question rack of Miss Eleanor's curiosity.

"Was that one of your scouts?" she asked.

"Yes."

"Did he come to tell you that there wasn't going to be any strike?"

"No."

"How lucidly communicative you are! Can't you see that I am fairly
stifling with curiosity?"

"I'm sorry, but you shall not have the chance to say that I was
overwrought twice in the same half-day."

"Howard! Don't be little and spiteful. I'll eat humble pie and call
myself hard names, if you insist; only - gracious goodness! is that
engine going to smash into our car?"

The anxious query hinged itself upon the approach of a big,
eight-wheeled passenger flyer which was thundering down the yard on the
track occupied by the _Nadia_. Within half a car-length of collision,
the air-brake hissed, the siderods clanked and chattered, and the
shuddering monster rolled gently backward to a touch coupling with the
president's car.

Eleanor's hand was on her cousin's arm. "Howard, what does this mean?"
she demanded.

"Nothing, just at present; it is merely a precaution."

"You are not going to take us away from Angels?"

"Not now; not at all, unless your safety demands it." Then he rose and
spoke to the others. "I'm sorry to have to shut off your moon-vista with
that noisy beast, but it may be necessary to move the car, later on.
Don't get out of touch with the _Nadia_, any of you, please."

He had vaulted the hand-rail and was saying good-night, when Eleanor
left her chair and entered the car. He was not greatly surprised to find
her waiting for him at the steps of the forward vestibule when he had
gone so far on his way to his office.

"One moment," she pleaded. "I'll be good, Howard; and I know that there
_is_ danger. Be very careful of yourself, won't you, for my sake."

He stopped short, and his arms went out to her. Then his self-control
returned and his rejoinder was almost bitter.

"Eleanor, you must not! you tempt me past endurance! Go back to Van - to
the others, and, whatever happens, don't let any one leave the car."

"I'll do anything you say, only you _must_ tell me where you are going,"
she insisted.

"Certainly; I am going up to my office - where you found me this
afternoon. I shall be there from this on, if you wish to send any word.
I'll see that you have a messenger. Good-by."

He left her before her sympathetic mood should unman him, his soul
crying out at the kindness which cut so much more deeply than her
mockery. At the top of the corridor stair McCloskey was waiting for him.

"Judson has told you what's due to happen?" queried the trainmaster.

"He told me to look for swift trouble; that somebody had betrayed your
strike-breaking scheme."

"He says they'll try to keep the east-bound freights from going out."

"That would be a small matter. But we mustn't lose the moral effect of
taking the first trick in the game. Are the sections all in line on the
long siding?"

"Yes."

"Good. We'll start them a little ahead of time; and let them kill back
to schedule after they get out on the road. Send Bogard down with their
clearance orders, and 'phone Benson at the yard office to couple them up
into one train, engine to the caboose in front, and send them out solid.
When they have cleared the danger limit, they can split up and take the
proper time intervals - ten minutes apart."

"Call it done," said the trainmaster, and he went to carry out the
order. Two minutes later Bogard, the night-relief operator off duty,
darted out of the despatcher's room with the clearance-cards for the
three sections. Lidgerwood stopped him in mid-flight.

"One second, Robert: when you have done your errand, come back to the
president's car, ask for Miss Brewster, and say that I sent you. Then
stay within call and be ready to do whatever she wants you to do."

Bogard did the first part of his errand swiftly, and he was taking the
duplicate signatures of the engineer and conductor of the third and last
section when Benson came up to put the solid-train order into effect.
The couplings were made deftly and without unnecessary stir. Then Benson
stepped back and gave the starting signal, twirling his lantern in rapid
circles. Synchronized as perfectly as if a single throttle-lever
controlled them all, the three heavy freight-pullers hissed, strained,
belched fire, and the long train began to move out.

It was Lidgerwood's challenge to the outlaws, and as if the blasts of
the three tearing exhausts had been the signal it was awaiting, the
strike storm broke with the suddenness and fury of a tropical hurricane.
From a hundred hiding-places in the car-strewn yard, men came running,
some to swarm thickly upon the moving engines and cabooses, others
swinging by the drawheads to cut the air-brake hose.

Benson was swept aside and overpowered before he could strike a blow.
Bogard, speeding across to take his post beside the _Nadia_, was struck
down before he could get clear of the pouring hornet swarm. Shots were
fired; shrill yells arose. Into the midst of the clamor the great siren
whistle at the shops boomed out the fire alarm, and almost at the the
same instant a red glow, capped by a rolling nimbus of sooty oil smoke,
rose to beacon the destruction already begun in the shop yards. And
while the roar of the siren was still jarring upon the windless night
air, the electric-light circuits were cut out, leaving the yards and the
Crow's Nest in darkness, and the frantic battle for the trains to be
lighted only by the moon and the lurid glow of destruction spreading
slowly under its black canopy of smoke.

In the Crow's Nest the sudden coup of the strikers had the effect which
its originator had doubtless counted upon. It was some minutes after the
lights were cut off, and the irruption had swept past the captured and
disabled trains to the shops, before Lidgerwood could get his small
garrison together and send it, with McCloskey for its leader, to
reinforce the shop guard, which was presumably fighting desperately for
the control of the power plant and the fire pumps.

Only McCloskey's protest and his own anxiety for the safety of the
_Nadia's_ company, kept Lidgerwood from leading the little relief column
of loyal trainmen and head-quarters clerks in person. The lust of battle
was in his blood, and for the time the shrinking palsy of physical fear
held aloof.

When the sally of the trainmaster and his forlorn-hope squad had left
the office-story of the head-quarters building almost deserted, it was
the force of mere mechanical habit that sent Lidgerwood back to his room
to close his desk before going down to order the _Nadia_ out of the zone
of immediate danger. There was a chair in his way, and in the darkness
and in his haste he stumbled over it. When he recovered himself, two
men, with handkerchief masks over their faces, were entering from the
corridor, and as he turned at the sound of their footsteps, they sprang
upon him.

For the first rememberable time in his life, Howard Lidgerwood met the
challenge of violence joyfully, with every muscle and nerve singing the
battle-song, and a huge willingness to slay or be slain arming him for
the hand-to-hand struggle. Twice he drove the lighter of the two to the
wall with well-planted blows, and once he got a deadly wrestler's hold
on the tall man and would have killed him if the free accomplice had not
torn his locked fingers apart by main strength. But it was two against
one; and when it was over, the conflagration light reddening the
southern windows sufficed for the knotting of the piece of hemp lashing
with which the two masked garroters were binding their victim in his
chair.

Meanwhile, the pandemonium raging at the shops was beginning to surge
backward into the railway yard. Some one had fired a box-car, and the
upblaze centred a fresh fury of destruction. Up at the head of the
three-sectioned freight train a mad mob was cutting the leading
locomotive free.

Dawson, crouching in the roundhouse door directly opposite, knew all
that Judson could tell him, and he instantly divined the purpose of the
engine thieves. They were preparing to send the freight engine eastward
on the Desert Division main line to collide with and wreck whatever
coming thing it was that they feared.

The threatened deed wrought itself out before the draftsman could even
attempt to prevent it. A man sprang to the footboard of the freed
locomotive, jerked the throttle open, stayed at the levers long enough
to hook up to the most effective cut-off for speed, and jumped for his
life.

Dawson was deliberate, but not slow-witted. While the abandoned engine
was, as yet, only gathering speed for the eastward dash, he was dodging
the straggling rioters in the yard, racing purposefully for the only
available locomotive, ready and headed to chase the runaway - namely, the
big eight-wheeler coupled to the president's car. He set the switch to
the main line as he passed it, but there was no time to uncouple the
engine from the private car, even if he had been willing to leave the
woman he loved, and those with her, helpless in the midst of the
rioting.

So there was no more than a gasped-out word to Williams as he climbed to
the cab before the eight-wheeler, with the _Nadia_ in tow, shot away
from the Crow's Nest platform. And it was not until the car was
growling angrily over the yard-limit switches that Van Lew burst into
the central compartment like a man demented, to demand excitedly of the
three women who were clinging, terror-stricken, to Judge Holcombe:

"Who has seen Miss Eleanor? Where is Miss Eleanor?"




XXIII

THE CRUCIBLE


Only Miss Brewster herself could have answered the question of her
whereabouts at the exact moment of Van Lew's asking. She was left
behind, standing aghast in the midst of tumults, on the platform of the
Crow's Nest. Terrified, like the others, at the sudden outburst of
violence, she had ventured from the car to look for Lidgerwood's
messenger, and in the moment of frightened bewilderment the _Nadia_ had
been whisked away.

Naturally, her first impulse was to fly, and the only refuge that
offered was the superintendent's office on the second floor. The
stairway door was only a little distance down the platform, and she was
presently groping her way up the stair, praying that she might not find
the offices as dark and deserted as the lower story of the building
seemed to be.

The light of the shop-yard fire, and that of the burning box-car nearer
at hand, shone redly through the upper corridor windows, enabling her
to go directly to the open door of the superintendent's office. But when
she reached the door and looked within, the trembling terror returned
and held her spell-bound, speechless, unable to move or even to cry out.

What she saw fitted itself to nothing real; it was more like a scene
clipped from a play. Two masked men were covering with revolvers a
third, who was tied helpless in a chair. The captive's face was ghastly
and blood-stained, and at first she thought he was dead. Then she saw
his lips move in curious twitchings that showed his teeth. He seemed to
be trying to speak, but the ruffian at his right would not give him
leave.

"This is where you pass out, Mr. Lidgerwood," the man was saying
threateningly. "You give us your word that you will resign and leave the
Red Butte Western for keeps, or you'll sit in that chair till somebody
comes to take you out and bury you."

The twitching lips were controlled with what appeared to be an almost
superhuman effort, but the words came jerkily.

"What would my word, extorted - under such conditions - be worth to you?"

Eleanor could hear, in spite of the terror that would not let her cry
out or run for help. He was yielding to them, bargaining for his life!

"We'll take it," said the spokesman coolly. "If you break faith with us
there are more than two of us who will see to it that you don't live
long enough to brag about it. You've had your day, and you've got to
go."

"And if I refuse?" Eleanor made sure that the voice was steadier now.

"It's this, here and now," grated the taller man who had hitherto kept
silence, and he cocked his revolver and jammed the muzzle of it against
the bleeding temple of the man in the chair.

The captive straightened himself as well as his bonds would let him.

"You - you've let the psychological moment go by, gentlemen: I - I've got
my second wind. You may burn and destroy and shoot as you please, but
while I'm alive I'll stay with you. Blaze away, if that's what you want
to do."

The horror-stricken watcher at the door covered her face with her hands
to shut out the sight of the murder. It was not until Lidgerwood's
voice, calm and even-toned and taunting, broke the silence that she
ventured to look again.

[Illustration: "Well, gentlemen, I'm waiting. Why don't you shoot?"]

"Well, gentlemen, I'm waiting. Why don't you shoot? You are greater
cowards than I have ever been, with all my shiverings and
teeth-chatterings. Isn't the stake big enough to warrant your last
desperate play? I'll make it bigger. You are the two men who broke the
rail-joint at Silver Switch. Ah, that hits you, doesn't it?"

"Shut up!" growled the tall man, with a frightful imprecation. But the
smaller of the two was silent.

Lidgerwood's grin was ghastly, but it was nevertheless a teeth-baring of
defiance.

"You curs!" he scoffed. "You haven't even the courage of your own
necessities! Why don't you pluck up the nerve to shoot, and be done with
it? I'll make it still more binding upon you: if you don't kill me now,
while you have the chance, as God is my witness I'll hang you both for
those murders last night at Silver Switch. I know you, in spite of your
flimsy disguise: _I can call you both by name_!"

Out in the yard the yellings and shoutings had taken on a new note, and
the windows of the upper room were jarring with the thunder of incoming
trains. Eleanor Brewster heard the new sounds vaguely: the jangle and
clank of the trains, the quick, steady tramp of disciplined men,
snapped-out words of command, the sudden cessation of the riot clamor,
and now a shuffling of feet on the stairway behind her.

Still she could not move; still she was speechless and spell-bound, but
no longer from terror. Her cousin - her lover - how she had misjudged him!
He a coward? This man who was holding his two executioners at bay,
quelling them, cowing them, by the sheer force of the stronger will, and
of a courage that was infinitely greater than theirs?

The shuffling footsteps came nearer, and once again Lidgerwood
straightened himself in his chair, this time with a mighty struggle that
broke the knotted cords and freed him.

"I said I could name you, and I will!" he cried, springing to his feet.
"You," pointing to the smaller man, "you are Pennington Flemister; and
you," wheeling upon the tall man and lowering his voice, "you are Rankin
Hallock!"

The light of the fire in the shop yard had died down until its red glow
no longer drove the shadows from the corners of the room. Eleanor shrank
aside when a dozen men pushed their way into the private office. Then,
suddenly the electric lights went on, and a gruff voice said, "Drop them
guns, you two. The show's over."

It was McCloskey who gave the order, and it was obeyed sullenly. With
the clatter of the weapons on the floor, the door of the outer office
opened with a jerk, and Judson thrust a hand-cuffed prisoner of his own
capturing into the lighted room.

"There he is, Mr. Lidgerwood," snarled the engineer-constable. "I nabbed
him over yonder at the fire, workin' to put it out, just as if he hadn't
told his gang to go and set it!"

"Hallock!" exclaimed the superintendent, starting as if he had seen a
ghost. "How is this? Are there two of you?"

Hallock looked down moodily. "There were two of us who wanted your job,
and the other one needed it badly enough to wreck trains and to kill
people, and to lead a lot of pig-headed trainmen and mechanics into a
riot to cover his tracks."

Lidgerwood turned quickly. "Unmask those men, McCloskey."

It was the signal for a tumult. The tall man fought desperately to
preserve his disguise, but Flemister's mask was torn off in the first
rush. Then came a diversion, sudden and fiercely tragic. With a cry of
rage that was like the yell of a madman, Hallock flung himself upon the
mine-owner, beating him down with his manacled hands, choking him,
grinding him into the dust of the floor. And when the avenger of wrongs
was pulled off and dragged to his feet, Lidgerwood, looking past the
death grapple, saw the figure of a woman swaying at the corridor door;
saw the awful horror in her eyes. In the turning of a leaf he had fought
his way to her.

"Good heavens, Eleanor!" he gasped. "What are you doing here?" and he
faced her about quickly and led her into the corridor lest she should
see the distorted features of the victim of Hallock's vengeance.

"I came - they took the car away, and I - I was left behind," she
faltered. And then: "Oh, Howard! take me away; hide me somewhere! It's
too horrible!"

There was a bull-bellow of rage from the room they had just left, and
Lidgerwood hurried his companion into the first refuge that offered,
which chanced to be the trainmaster's room. Out of the private office
and into the corridor came the taller of the two garroters, holding his
mask in place as he ran, with McCloskey, Judson, and all but one or two
of the others in hot pursuit.

Notwithstanding, the fugitive gained the stair and fell, rather than
ran, to the bottom. There was the crash of a bursting door, a soldierly
command of "Halt!" the crack of a cavalry rifle, and McCloskey came
back, wiping his homely face with a bandanna.

"They got him," he said; and then, seeing Eleanor for the first time,
his jaw dropped and he tried to apologize. "Excuse me, Miss Brewster; I
didn't have the least idea you were up here."

"Nothing matters now," said Eleanor, pale to the lips. "Come in here and
tell us about it. And - and - is mamma safe?"

"She's down-stairs in the _Nadia_, with the others - where I supposed you
were," McCloskey began; but Lidgerwood heard the feet of those who were
carrying Flemister's body from the chamber of horrors, and quickly
shutting the door on sight and sounds, started the trainmaster on the
story which must be made to last until the way was clear of things a
woman should not see.

"Who was the tall man?" he asked. "I thought he was Hallock - I called
him Hallock."

The trainmaster shook his head. "They're about the same build; but we
were all off wrong, Mr. Lidgerwood - 'way off. It's been Gridley: Gridley
and his side-partner, Flemister, all along. Gridley was the man who
jumped the passenger at Crosswater Hills, and took up the rail to ditch
Clay's freight - with Hallock chasing him and trying to prevent it.
Gridley was the man who helped Flemister last night at Silver
Switch - with Hallock trying again to stop him, and Judson trying to
keep tab on Hallock, and getting him mixed up with Gridley at every
turn, even to mistaking Gridley's voice and his shadow on the
window-curtain for Hallock's. Gridley was the man who stole the
switch-engine and ran it over the old Wire-Silver spur to the mine to
sell it to Flemister for his mine power-plant - they've got it boxed up
and running there, right now. Gridley is the man who has made all this
strike trouble, bossing the job to get you out and to get himself in, so
he could cover up his thieveries. Gridley was the man who put up the job
with Bart Rufford to kill you, and Judson mistook his voice for
Hallock's that time, too. Gridley was - - "

"Hold on, Mac," interrupted the superintendent; "how did you learn all
this?"

"Part of it through some of his men, who have been coming over to us in
the last half-hour and giving him away; part of it through Dick Rufford,
who was keeping tab on him for the money he could squeeze out of him
afterward."

"How did Rufford come to tell you?"

"Why, Bradford - that is - er - the two Ruffords started a little shooting
match with Andy, and - m-m - well, Bart passed out for keeps, this time,
but Dick lived long enough to tell Bradford a few things - for old
cow-boy times' sake, I suppose. I'll never put it all over any man,
again, as long as I live, Mr. Lidgerwood, after rubbing it into Hallock
the way I did, when he was doing his level best to help us out. But it's
partly his own fault. He wanted to play a lone hand, and he was scheming
to get them both into the same frying-pan - Gridley and Flemister."

Lidgerwood nodded. "He had a pretty bitter grudge against Flemister."

"The worst a man could have," said McCloskey soberly. Then he added:
"I've got a few thousand dollars saved up that says that Rankin Hallock
isn't going to hang for what he did in the other room a few minutes ago.
I knew it would come to that if the time ever ripened right suddenly,
and I tried to find Judson to choke him off. But John got in ahead of
me."

Lidgerwood switched the subject abruptly in deference to Eleanor's deep
breathing.

"I must take Miss Brewster to her friends. You say the _Nadia_ is back?
Who moved it without orders?"

"Yes, she's back, all right, and Dawson is the man who comes in for the
blessing. He wanted an engine - needed one right bad - and he couldn't
wait to uncouple the car. It was Hallock who sent that message to Mr.
Leckhard that we've been hearing so much about, and it was a beg for


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