Francis Lynde.

The Taming of Red Butte Western online

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about him over in Copah."

Lidgerwood dropped the master-mechanic as he had dropped the offending
trainmen who had put Train 71 in the ditch at Gloria where, according to
McCloskey, there should be no ditch.

"I'll go and run through my desk mail and fill Hallock up while you are
making ready," he said. "Call me when the train is made up."

Passing through the corridor on the way to his private office back of
Hallock's room, Lidgerwood saw that the wreck call had already reached
the shops. A big, bearded man with a soft hat pulled over his eyes was
directing the make-up of a train on the repair track, and the yard
engine was pulling an enormous crane down from its spur beyond the
coal-chutes. Around the man in the soft hat the wrecking-crew was
gathering: shopmen for the greater part, as a crew of a master
mechanic's choosing would be.

As the event proved, there was little time for the doing of the
preliminary work which Lidgerwood had meant to do. In the midst of the
letter-sorting, McCloskey put his head in at the door of the private

"We're ready when you are, Mr. Lidgerwood," he interrupted; and with a
few hurried directions to Hallock, Lidgerwood joined the trainmaster on
the Crow's Nest platform. The train was backing up to get its
clear-track orders, and on the tool-car platform stood the big man whom
Lidgerwood had already identified presumptively as Gridley.

McCloskey would have introduced the new superintendent when the train
paused for the signal from the despatcher's window, but Gridley did not
wait for the formalities.

"Come aboard, Mr. Lidgerwood," he called, genially. "It's too bad we
have to give you a sweat-box welcome. If there are any of Seventy-one's
crew left alive, you ought to give them thirty days for calling you out
before you could shake hands with yourself."

Being by nature deliberate in forming friendships, and proportionally
tenacious of them when they were formed, Lidgerwood's impulse was to
hold all men at arm's length until he was reasonably assured of
sincerity and a common ground. But the genial master-mechanic refused to
be put on probation. Lidgerwood made the effort while the rescue train
was whipping around the hill shoulders and plunging deeper into the
afternoon shadows of the great mountain range. The tool-car was
comfortably filled with men and working tackle, and for seats there were
only the blocking timbers, the tool-boxes, and the coils of rope and
chain cables. Sharing a tool-box with Gridley and smoking a cigar out of
Gridley's pocket-case, Lidgerwood found it difficult to be less than

It was to little purpose that he recalled Ford's qualified
recommendation of the man who had New York backing and who, in Ford's
phrase, was a "brute after his own peculiar fashion." Brute or human,
the big master-mechanic had the manners of a gentleman, and his easy
good-nature broke down all the barriers of reserve that his somewhat
reticent companion could interpose.

"You smoke good cigars, Mr. Gridley," said Lidgerwood, trying, as he
had tried before, to wrench the talk aside from the personal channel
into which it seemed naturally to drift.

"Good tobacco is one of the few luxuries the desert leaves a man capable
of enjoying. You haven't come to that yet, but you will. It is a savage
life, Mr. Lidgerwood, and if a man hasn't a good bit of the blood of his
stone-age ancestors in him, the desert will either kill him or make a
beast of him. There doesn't seem to be any medium."

The talk was back again in the personal channel, and this time
Lidgerwood met the issue fairly.

"You have been saying that, in one form or another, ever since we left
Angels: are you trying to scare me off, Mr. Gridley, or are you only
giving me a friendly warning?" he asked.

The master-mechanic laughed easily.

"I hope I wouldn't be impudent enough to do either, on such short
acquaintance," he protested. "But now that you have opened the door,
perhaps a little man-to-man frankness won't be amiss. You have tackled a
pretty hard proposition, Mr. Lidgerwood."

"Technically, you mean?"

"No, I didn't mean that, because, if your friends tell the truth about
you, you can come as near to making bricks without straw as the next
man. But the Red Butte Western reorganization asks for something more
than a good railroad officer."

"I'm listening," said Lidgerwood.

Gridley laughed again.

"What will you do when a conductor or an engineer whom you have called
on the carpet curses you out and invites you to go to hell?"

"I shall fire him," was the prompt rejoinder.

"Naturally and properly, but afterward? Four out of five men in this
human scrap-heap you've inherited will lay for you with a gun to play
even for the discharge. What then?"

It was just here that Lidgerwood, staring absently at the passing
panorama of shifting hill shoulders framing itself in the open side-door
of the tool-car, missed a point. If he had been less absorbed in the
personal problem he could scarcely have failed to mark the searching
scrutiny in the shrewd eyes shaded by Gridley's soft hat.

"I don't know," he said, half hesitantly. "Civilization means
something - or it should mean something - even in the Red Desert, Mr.
Gridley. I suppose there is some semblance of legal protection in
Angels, as elsewhere, isn't there?"

The master-mechanic's smile was tolerant.

"Surely. We have a town marshal, and a justice of the peace; one is a
blacksmith and the other the keeper of the general store."

The good-natured irony in Gridley's reply was not thrown away upon his
listener, but Lidgerwood held tenaciously to his own contention.

"The inadequacy of the law, or of its machinery, hardly excuses a lapse
into barbarism," he protested. "The discharged employee, in the case you
are supposing, might hold himself justified in shooting at me; but if I
should shoot back and happen to kill him, it would be murder. We've got
to stand for something, Mr. Gridley, you and I who know the difference
between civilization and savagery."

Gridley's strong teeth came together with a little snap.

"Certainly," he agreed, without a shade of hesitation; adding, "I've
never carried a gun and have never had to." Then he changed the subject
abruptly, and when the train had swung around the last of the hills and
was threading its tortuous way through the great canyon, he proposed a
change of base to the rear platform from which Chandler's marvel of
engineering skill could be better seen and appreciated.

The wreck at Gloria Siding proved to be a very mild one, as railway
wrecks go. A broken flange under a box-car had derailed the engine and a
dozen cars, and there were no casualties - the report about the
involvement of the two enginemen being due to the imagination of the
excited flagman who had propelled himself on a hand-car back to Little
Butte to send in the call for help.

Since Gridley was on the ground, Lidgerwood and McCloskey stood aside
and let the master-mechanic organize the attack. Though the problem of
track-clearing, on level ground and with a convenient siding at hand for
the sorting and shifting, was a simple one, there was still a chance for
an exhibition of time-saving and speed, and Gridley gave it. There was
never a false move made or a tentative one, and when the huge
lifting-crane went into action, Lidgerwood grew warmly enthusiastic.

"Gridley certainly knows his business," he said to McCloskey. "The Red
Butte Western doesn't need any better wrecking-boss than it has right

"He can do the job, when he feels like it," admitted the trainmaster

"But he doesn't often feel like it? You can't blame him for that.
Picking up wrecks isn't fairly a part of a master-mechanic's duty."

"That is what he says, and he doesn't trouble himself to go when it
isn't convenient. I have a notion he wouldn't be here to-day if you

It was plainly evident that McCloskey meant more than he said, but once
again Lidgerwood refused to go behind the returns. He felt that he had
been prejudiced against Gridley at the outset, unduly so, he was
beginning to think, and even-handed fairness to all must be the
watchword in the campaign of reorganization.

"Since we seem to be more ornamental than useful on this job, you might
give me another lesson in Red Butte geography, Mac," he said, purposely
changing the subject. "Where are the gulch mines?"

The trainmaster explained painstakingly, squatting to trace a rude map
in the sand at the track-side. Hereaway, twelve miles to the westward,
lay Little Butte, where the line swept a great curve to the north and so
continued on to Red Butte. Along the northward stretch, and in the
foot-hills of the Little Timanyonis, were the placers, most of them
productive, but none of them rich enough to stimulate a rush.

Here, where the river made a quick turn, was the butte from which the
station of Little Butte took its name - the superintendent might see its
wooded summit rising above the lower hills intervening. It was a long,
narrow ridge, more like a hogback than a true mountain, and it held a
silver mine, Flemister's, which was a moderately heavy shipper. The vein
had been followed completely through the ridge, and the spur track in
the eastern gulch, which had originally served it, had been abandoned
and a new spur built up along the western foot of the butte, with a main
line connection at Little Butte. Up here, ten miles above Little Butte,
was a bauxite mine, with a spur; and here....

McCloskey went on, industriously drawing lines in the sand, and
Lidgerwood sat on a cross-tie end and conned his lesson. Below the
siding the big crane was heaving the derailed cars into line with
methodical precision, but now it was Gridley's shop foreman who was
giving the orders. The master-mechanic had gone aside to hold converse
with a man who had driven up in a buckboard, coming from the direction
in which Little Butte lay.

"Goodloe told me the wreck-wagons were here, and I thought you would
probably be along," the buckboard driver was saying. "How are things
shaping up? I haven't cared to risk the wires since Bigsby leaked on

Gridley put a foot on the hub of the buckboard wheel and began to
whittle a match with a penknife that was as keen as a razor.

"The new chum is in the saddle; look over your shoulder to the left and
you'll see him sitting on a cross-tie beside McCloskey," he said.

"I've seen him before. He was over the road last week, and I happened to
be in Goodloe's office at Little Butte when he got off to look around,"
was the curt rejoinder. "But that doesn't help any. What do you know?"

"He is a gentleman," said Gridley slowly.

"Oh, the devil! what do I care about - - "

"And a scholar," the master-mechanic went on imperturbably.

The buckboard driver's black eyes snapped. "Can you add the rest of
it - 'and he isn't very bright'?"

"No," was the sober reply.

"Well, what are we up against?"

Gridley snapped the penknife shut and began to chew the sharpened end of
the match.

"Your pop-valve is set too light; you blow off too easily, Flemister,"
he commented. "So far we - or rather you - are up against nothing worse
than the old proposition. Lidgerwood is going to try to make a silk
purse out of a sow's ear, beginning with the pay-roll contingent. If I
have sized him up right, he'll be kept busy; too busy to remember your
name - or mine."

"What do you mean? in just so many words."

"Nothing more than I have said. Mr. Lidgerwood is a gentleman and a

"Ha!" said the man in the buckboard seat. "I believe I'm catching on,
after so long a time. You mean he hasn't the sand."

Gridley neither denied nor affirmed. He had taken out his penknife again
and was resharpening the match.

"Hallock is the man to look to," he said. "If we could get him
interested ..."

"That's up to you, damn it; I've told you a hundred times that I can't
touch him!"

"I know; he doesn't seem to love you very much. The last time I talked
to him he mentioned something about shooting you off-hand, but I guess
he didn't mean, it. You've got to interest him in some way, Flemister."

"Perhaps you can tell me how," was the sarcastic retort.

"I think perhaps I can, now. Do you remember anything about the
sky-rocketing finish of the Mesa Building and Loan Association, or is
that too much of a back number for a busy man like you?"

"I remember it," said Flemister.

"Hallock was the treasurer," put in Gridley smoothly.

"Yes, but - - "

"Wait a minute. A treasurer is supposed to treasure something, isn't he?
There are possibly twenty-five or thirty men still left in the Red Butte
Western service who have never wholly quit trying to find out why
Hallock, the treasurer, failed so signally to treasure anything."

"Yah! that's an old sore."

"I know, but old sores may become suddenly troublesome - or useful - as
the case may be. For some reason best known to himself, Hallock has
decided to stay and continue playing second fiddle."

"How do you know?"

The genial smile was wrinkling at the corners of Gridley's eyes.

"There isn't very much going on under the sheet-iron roof of the Crow's
Nest that I don't know, Flemister, and usually pretty soon after it
happens. Hallock will stay on as chief clerk, and, naturally, he is
anxious to stand well with his new boss. Are you beginning to see

"Not yet."

"Well, we'll open the shutters a little wider. One of the first things
Lidgerwood will have to wrestle with will be this Loan Association
business. The kickers will put it up to him, as they have put it up to
every new man who has come out here. Ferguson refused to dig into
anybody's old graveyard, and so did Cumberley. But Lidgerwood won't
refuse. He is going to be the just judge, if not the very terrible."

"Still, I don't see," persisted Flemister.

"Don't you? Hallock will be obliged to justify himself to Lidgerwood,
and he can't. In fact, there is only one man living to-day who could
fully justify him."

"And that man is - - "

" - Pennington Flemister, ex-president of the defunct Building and Loan.
You know where the money went, Flemister."

"Maybe I do. What of that?"

"I can only offer a suggestion, of course. You are a pretty smooth liar,
Pennington; it wouldn't be much trouble for you to fix up a story that
would satisfy Lidgerwood. You might even show up a few documents, if it
came to the worst."


"That's all. If you get a good, firm grip on that club, you'll have
Hallock, coming and going. It's a dead open and shut. If he falls in
line, you'll agree to pacify Lidgerwood; otherwise the law will have to
take its course."

The man in the buckboard was silent for a long minute before he said:
"It won't work, Gridley. Hallock's grudge against me is too bitter. You
know part of it, and part of it you don't know. He'd hang himself in a
minute if he could get my neck in the same noose."

The master-mechanic threw the whittled match away, as if the argument
were closed.

"That is where you are lame, Flemister: you don't know your man. Put it
up to Hallock barehanded: if he comes in, all right; if not, you'll put
him where he'll wear stripes. That will fetch him."

The men of the derrick gang were righting the last of the derailed
box-cars, and the crew of the wrecking-train was shifting the cripples
into line for the return run to Angels.

"We'll be going in a few minutes," said the master-mechanic, taking his
foot from the wheel-hub. "Do you want to meet Lidgerwood?"

"Not here - or with you," said the owner of the Wire-Silver; and he had
turned his team and was driving away when Gridley's shop foreman came up
to say that the wrecking-train was ready to leave.

Lidgerwood found a seat for himself in the tool-car on the way back to
Angels, and put in the time smoking a short pipe and reviewing the
events of his first day in the new field.

The outlook was not wholly discouraging, and but for the talk with
Gridley he might have smoked and dozed quite peacefully on his coiled
hawser, in the corner of the car. But, try as he would, the importunate
demon of distrust, distrust of himself, awakened by the
master-mechanic's warning, refused to be quieted; and when, after the
three hours of the slow return journey were out-worn, McCloskey came to
tell him that the train was pulling into the Angels yard, the explosion
of a track torpedo under the wheels made him start like a nervous woman.



For the first few weeks after the change in ownership and the arrival of
the new superintendent, the Red Butte Western and its nerve-centre,
Angels, seemed disposed to take Mr. Howard Lidgerwood as a rather
ill-timed joke, perpetrated upon a primitive West and its people by some
one of the Pacific Southwestern magnates who owned a broad sense of

During this period the sardonic laugh was heard in the land, and the
chuckling appreciation of the joke by the Red Butte rank and file, and
by the Angelic soldiers of fortune who, though not upon the company's
pay-rolls, still throve indirectly upon the company's bounty, lacked
nothing of completeness. The Red Desert grinned like the famed Cheshire
cat when an incoming train from the East brought sundry boxes and
trunks, said to contain the new boss's wardrobe. Its guffaws were long
and uproarious when it began to be noised about that the company
carpenters and fitters were installing a bath and other civilizing and
softening appliances in the alcove opening out of the superintendent's
sleeping-room in the head-quarters building.

Lidgerwood slept in the Crow's Nest, not so much from choice as for the
reason that there seemed to be no alternative save a room in the town
tavern, appropriately named "The Hotel Celestial." Between his
sleeping-apartment and his private office there was only a thin board
partition; but even this gave him more privacy than the Celestial could
offer, where many of the partitions were of building-paper, muslin

It is a railroad proverb that the properly inoculated railroad man eats
and sleeps with his business; Lidgerwood exemplified the saying by
having a wire cut into the despatcher's office, with the terminals on a
little table at his bed's head, and with a tiny telegraph relay
instrument mounted on the stand. Through the relay, tapping softly in
the darkness, came the news of the line, and often, after the strenuous
day was ended, Lidgerwood would lie awake listening.

Sometimes the wire gossiped, and echoes of Homeric laughter trickled
through the relay in the small hours; as when Ruby Creek asked the night
despatcher if it were true that the new boss slept in what translated
itself in the laborious Morse of the Ruby Creek operator as
"pijjimmies"; or when Navajo, tapping the same source of information,
wished to be informed if the "Chink" - doubtless referring to Tadasu
Matsuwari - ran a laundry on the side and thus kept His Royal Highness in
collars and cuffs.

At the tar-paper-covered, iron-roofed Celestial, where he took his
meals, Lidgerwood had a table to himself, which he shared at times with
McCloskey, and at other times with breezy Jack Benson, the young
engineer whom Vice-President Ford had sent, upon Lidgerwood's request
and recommendation, to put new life into the track force, and to make
the preliminary surveys for a possible western extension of the road.

When the superintendent had guests, the long table on the opposite side
of the dining-room restrained itself. When he ate alone, Maggie Donovan,
the fiery-eyed, heavy-handed table-girl who ringed his plate with the
semicircle of ironstone portion dishes, stood between him and the men
who were still regarding him as a joke. And since Maggie's displeasure
manifested itself in cold coffee and tough cuts of the beef, the long
table made its most excruciating jests elaborately impersonal.

On the line, and in the roundhouse and repair-shops, the joke was far
too good to be muzzled. The nickname, "Collars-and-Cuffs," became
classical; and once, when Brannagan and the 117 were ordered out on the
service-car, the Irishman wore the highest celluloid collar he could
find in Angels, rounding out the clownery with a pair of huge wickerware
cuffs, which had once seen service as the coverings of a pair of
Maraschino bottles.

No official notice having been taken of Brannagan's fooling, Buck Tryon,
ordered out on the same duty, went the little Irishman one better,
decorating his engine headlight and handrails with festoonings of
colored calico, the decoration figuring as a caricature of Lidgerwood's
college colors, and calico being the nearest approach to bunting
obtainable at Jake Schleisinger's emporium, two doors north of Red-Light
Sammy's house of call.

All of which was harmless enough, one would say, however subversive of
dignified discipline it might be. Lidgerwood knew. The jests were too
broad to be missed. But he ignored them good-naturedly, rather thankful
for the playful interlude which gave him a breathing-space and time to
study the field before the real battle should begin.

That a battle would have to be fought was evident enough. As yet, the
demoralization had been scarcely checked, and sooner or later the
necessary radical reforms would have to begin. Gridley, whose attitude
toward the new superintendent continued to be that of a disinterested
adviser, assured Lidgerwood that he was losing ground by not opening the
campaign of severity at once.

"You'll have to take a club to these hoboes before you can ever hope to
make railroad men out of them," was Gridley's oft-repeated assertion;
and the fact that the master-mechanic was continually urging the warfare
made Lidgerwood delay it.

Just why Gridley's counsel should have produced such a contrary effect,
Lidgerwood could not have explained. The advice was sound, and the man
who gave it was friendly and apparently ingenuous. But prejudices, like
prepossessions, are sometimes as strong as they are inexplicable, and
while Lidgerwood freely accused himself of injustice toward the
master-mechanic, a certain feeling of distrust and repulsion, dating
back to his first impressions of the man, died hard.

Oddly enough, on the other hand, there was a prepossession, quite as
unreasoning, for Hallock. There was absolutely nothing in the chief
clerk to inspire liking, or even common business confidence; on the
contrary, while Hallock attended to his duties and carried out his
superior's instructions with the exactness of an automaton, his attitude
was distinctly antagonistic. As the chief subaltern on Lidgerwood's
small staff he was efficient and well-nigh invaluable. But as a man,
Lidgerwood felt that he might easily be regarded as an enemy whose
designs could never be fathomed or prefigured.

In spite of Hallock's singular manner, which was an abrupt challenge to
all comers, Lidgerwood acknowledged a growing liking for the chief
clerk. Under the crabbed and gloomy crust of the man the superintendent
fancied he could discover a certain savage loyalty. But under the
loyalty there was a deeper depth - of misery, or tragedy, or both; and to
this abysmal part of him there was no key that Lidgerwood could find.

McCloskey, who had served under Hallock for a number of months before
the change in management, confessed that he knew the gloomy chief clerk
only as a man in authority, and exceedingly hard to please. Questioned
more particularly by Lidgerwood, McCloskey added that Hallock was
married; that after the first few months in Angels his wife, a
strikingly beautiful young woman, had disappeared, and that since her
departure Hallock had lived alone in two rooms over the freight station,
rooms which no one, save himself, ever entered.

These, and similar bits of local history, were mere gatherings by the
way for the superintendent, picked up while the Red Desert was having
its laugh at the new bath-room, the pajamas, and the clean linen. They
weighed lightly, because the principal problem was, as yet, untouched.
For while the laugh endured, Lidgerwood had not found it possible to
breach many of the strongholds of lawlessness.

Orders, regarded by disciplined railroad men as having the immutability
of the laws of the Medes and Persians, were still interpreted as loosely
as if they were but the casual suggestions of a bystander. Rules were
formulated and given black-letter emphasis in their postings on the
bulletin boards, only to be coolly ignored when they chanced to conflict
with some train crew's desire to make up time or to kill it. Directed to

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Online LibraryFrancis LyndeThe Taming of Red Butte Western → online text (page 4 of 20)