Francis Lynde.

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horse-laugh; fell, as it chanced, on a day when the horse-laugh was at
its height. Later, after the storm broke, there were no more quiet
evenings on the cottage porch for a harassed superintendent. Lidgerwood
came and went as before, when the rapidly recurring wrecks did not keep
him out on the line, but he scrupulously left his troubles behind him
when he climbed to the cottage on the mesa.

Quite naturally, his silence on the one topic which was stirring the Red
Desert from the Crosswater Hills to Timanyoni Canyon was a poor mask.
The increasing gravity of the situation wrote itself plainly enough in
his face, and Faith Dawson was sorry for him, giving him silent
sympathy, unasked, if not wholly unexpected. The town talk of Angels,
what little of it reached the cottage, was harshly condemnatory of the
new superintendent; and public opinion, standing for what it was worth,
feared no denial when it asserted that Lidgerwood was doing what he
could to earn his newer reputation.

After the mysterious disappearance of the switching-engine, mystery
still unsolved and apparently unsolvable, he struck fast and hard,
searching painstakingly for the leaders in the rebellion, reprimanding,
suspending, and discharging until McCloskey warned him that, in addition
to the evil of short-handing the road, he was filling Angels with a
growing army of ex-employees, desperate and ripe for anything.

"I can't help it, Mac," was his invariable reply. "Unless they put me
out of the fight I shall go on as I have begun, staying with it until we
have a railroad in fact, or a forfeited charter. Do the best you can,
but let it be plainly and distinctly understood that the man who isn't
with us is against us, and the man who is against us is going to get a
chance to hunt for a new job every time."

Whereupon the trainmaster's homely face would take on added furrowings
of distress.

"That's all right, Mr. Lidgerwood; that is stout, two-fisted talk all
right; and I'm not doubting that you mean every word of it. But, they'll
murder you."

"That is neither here nor there, what they will do to me. I handled them
with gloves at first, but they wanted the bare fist. They've got it now,
and as I have said before, we are going to fight this thing through to
a complete and artistic finish. Who goes east on 202 to-day?"

"It is Judson's run, but he is laying off."

"What is the matter with him, sick?"

"No; just plain drunk."

"Fire him. I won't have a single solitary man in the train service who
gets drunk. Tell him so."

"All right; one more stick of dynamite, with a cap and fuse in it,
turned loose under foot," prophesied McCloskey gloomily. "Judson goes."

"Never mind the dynamite. Now, what has been done with Johnston, that
conductor who turned in three dollars as the total cash collections for
a hundred-and-fifty-mile run?"

"I've had him up. He grinned and said that that was all the money there
was, everybody had tickets."

"You don't believe it?"

"No; Grantby, the superintendent of the Ruby Mine, came in on Johnston's
train that morning and he registered a kick because the Ruby Gulch
station agent wasn't out of bed in time to sell him a ticket. He paid
Johnston on the train, and that one fare alone was five dollars and
sixty cents."

Lidgerwood was adding another minute square to the pencilled
checker-board on his desk blotter.

"Discharge Johnston and hold back his time-check. Then have him
arrested for stealing, and wire the legal department at Denver that I
want him prosecuted."

Again McCloskey's rough-cast face became the outward presentment of a
soul in anxious trouble.

"Call it done - and another stick of dynamite turned loose," he
acquiesced. "Is there anything else?"

"Yes. What have you found out about that missing switch-engine?" This
had come to be the stereotyped query, vocalizing itself every time the
trainmaster showed his face in the superintendent's room.

"Nothing, yet. I'm hunting for proof."

"Against the men you suspect? Who are they, and what did they do with
the engine?"

McCloskey became dumb.

"I don't dare to say part of it till I can say it all, Mr. Lidgerwood.
You hit too quick and too hard. But tell me one thing: have you had to
report the loss of that engine to anybody higher up?"

"I shall have to report it to General Manager Frisbie, of course, if we
don't find it."

"But haven't you already reported it?"

"No; that is, I guess not. Wait a minute."

A touch of the bell-push brought Hallock to the door of the inner
office. The green shade was pulled low over his eyes, and he held the
pen he had been using as if it were a dagger.

"Hallock, have you reported the disappearance of that switching-engine
to Mr. Frisbie?" asked the superintendent.

The answer seemed reluctant, and it was given in the single word of
assent.

"When?" asked Lidgerwood.

"In the weekly summary for last week; you signed it," said the chief
clerk.

"Did I tell you to include that particular item in the report?"
Lidgerwood did not mean to give the inquiry the tang of an implied
reproof, but the fight with the outlaws was beginning to make his manner
incisive.

"You didn't need to tell me; I know my business," said Hallock, and his
tone matched his superior's.

Lidgerwood looked at McCloskey, and, at the trainmaster's almost
imperceptible nod, said, "That's all," and Hallock disappeared and
closed the door.

"Well?" queried Lidgerwood sharply, when they had privacy again.

McCloskey was shifting uneasily from one foot to the other.

"My name's Scotch, and they tell me I've got Scotch blood in me," he
began. "I don't like to shoot my mouth off till I know what I'm doing. I
suppose I quarrelled with Hallock once a day, regular, before you came
on the job, Mr. Lidgerwood, and I'll say again that I don't like
him - never did. That's what makes me careful about throwing it into him
now."

"Go on," said Lidgerwood.

"Well, you know he wanted to be superintendent of this road. He kept the
wires to New York hot for a week after he found out that the P. S-W. was
in control. He missed it, and you naturally took it over his head - at
least, maybe that's the way he looks at it."

"Take it for granted and get to the point," urged Lidgerwood, always
impatient of preliminary bush-beating.

"There isn't any point, if you don't see any," said McCloskey
stubbornly. "But I can tell you how it would strike me, if I had to be
wearing your shoes just now. You've got a man for your chief clerk who
has kept this whole town guessing for two years. Some say he isn't all
to the bad; some say he is a woman-killer; but they all agree that he's
as spiteful as an Indian. He wanted your job: supposing he still wants
it."

"Stick to the facts, Mac," said the superintendent. "You're theorizing
now, you know."

"Well, by gravels, I will!" rasped McCloskey, pushed over the cautionary
edge by Lidgerwood's indifference to the main question at issue. "What I
know don't amount to much yet, but it all leans one way. Hallock puts in
his daytime scratching away at his desk out there, and you'd think he
didn't know it was this year. But when that desk is shut up, you'll find
him at the roundhouse, over in the freight yard, round the switch
shanties, or up at Biggs's - anywhere he can get half a dozen of the men
together. I haven't found a man yet that I could trust to keep tab on
him, and I don't know what he's doing; but I can guess."

"Is that all?" said Lidgerwood quietly.

"No, it isn't! That switch-engine dropped out two weeks ago last Tuesday
night. I've been prying into this locked-up puzzle-box every way I could
think of ever since. _Hallock knows where that engine went!_"

"What makes you think so?"

"I'll tell you. Robinson, the night-crew engineer, was a little late
leaving her that night. His fireman had gone home, and so had the
yardmen. After he had crossed the yard coming out, he saw a man sneaking
toward the shifter, keeping in the shadow of the coal-chutes. He was
just curious enough to want to know who it was, and he made a little
sneak of his own. When he found it was Hallock, he went home and thought
no more about it till I got him to talk."

Lidgerwood had gone back to the pencil and the blotting-pad and the
making of squares.

"But the motive, Mac?" he questioned, without looking up. "How could the
theft or the destruction of a locomotive serve any purpose that Hallock
might have in view?"

McCloskey did not mean any disrespect to his superior officer when he
retorted: "I'm no 'cyclopædia. There are lots of things I don't know.
But unless you call it off, I'm going to know a few more of them before
I quit."

"I don't call it off, Mac; find out what you can. But I can't believe
that Hallock is heading this organized robbery and rebellion."

"Somebody is heading it, to a dead moral certainty, Mr. Lidgerwood; the
licks are coming too straight and too well-timed."

"Find the man if you can, and we'll eliminate him. And, by the way, if
it comes to the worst, how will Hepburn, the town marshal, stand?"

The trainmaster shook his head.

"I don't know. Jack's got plenty of sand, but he was elected out of the
shops, and by the railroad vote. If it comes to a show-down against the
men who elected him - - "

"That is what I mean," nodded Lidgerwood. "It will come to a show-down
sooner or later, if we can't nip the ringleaders. Young Rufford and a
dozen more of the dropped employees are threatening to get even. That
means train-wrecking, misplaced switches, arson - anything you like. At
the first break there are going to be some very striking examples made of
all the wreckers and looters we can land on."

McCloskey's chair faced the window, and he was scowling and mouthing at
the tall chimney of the shop power-plant across the tracks. Where had he
fallen upon the idea that this carefully laundered gentleman, who never
missed his daily plunge and scrub, and still wore immaculate linen,
lacked the confidence of his opinions and convictions? The trainmaster
knew, and he thought Lidgerwood must also know, that the first blow of
the vengeful ones would be directed at the man rather than at the
company's property.

"I guess maybe Hepburn will do his duty when it comes to the pinch," he
said finally. And the subject having apparently exhausted itself, he
went about his business, which was to call up the telegraph operator at
Timanyoni to ask why he had broken the rule requiring the conductor and
engineer, both of them, to sign train orders in his presence.

Thereupon, quite in keeping with the militant state of affairs on a
harassed Red Butte Western, ensued a sharp and abusive wire quarrel at
long range; and when it was over, Timanyoni was temporarily stricken
from the list of night telegraph stations pending the hastening forward
of a relief operator, to take the place of the one who, with many
profane objurgations curiously clipped in rattling Morse, had wired his
opinion of McCloskey and the new superintendent, closely interwoven with
his resignation.

It was after dark that evening when Lidgerwood closed his desk on the
pencilled blotting-pad and groped his way down the unlighted stair to
the Crow's Nest platform.

The day passenger from the east was in, and the hostler had just coupled
Engine 266 to the train for the night run to Red Butte. Lidgerwood
marked the engine's number, and saw Dawson talking to Williams, the
engineer, as he turned the corner at the passenger-station end of the
building. Later, when he was crossing the open plaza separating the
railroad yard from the town, he thought he heard the draftsman's step
behind him, and waited for Dawson to come up.

[Illustration: His hand was on the latch of the door-yard gate when a
man rose out of the gloom.]

The rearward darkness, made blacker by contrast with the white beam of
the 266's headlight, yielding no one and no further sounds, he went on,
past the tar-paper-covered hotel, past the flanking of saloons and the
false-fronted shops, past the "Arcade" with its crimson sidewalk eye
setting the danger signal for all who should enter Red-Light Sammy's,
and so up to the mesa and to the cottage of seven-o'clock dinners.

His hand was on the latch of the dooryard gate when a man rose out of
the gloom - out of the ground at his feet, as it appeared to
Lidgerwood - and in the twinkling of an eye the night and the starry dome
of it were effaced for the superintendent in a flash of red lightning
and a thunder-clap louder than the crash of worlds.

When he began to realize again, Dawson was helping him to his feet, and
the draftsman's mother was calling anxiously from the door.

"What was it?" Lidgerwood asked, still dazed and half blinded.

"A man tried to kill you," said Dawson in his most matter-of-fact tone.
"I happened along just in time to joggle his arm. That, and your quick
drop, did the business. Not hurt, are you?"

Lidgerwood was gripping the gate and trying to steady himself. A chill,
like a violent attack of ague, was shaking him to the bone.

"No," he returned, mastering the chattering teeth by the supremest
effort of will. "Thanks to you, I guess - I'm - not hurt. Who w-was the
man?"

"It was Rufford. He followed you from the Crow's Nest. Williams saw him
and put me on, so I followed him."

"Williams? Then he isn't - - "

"No," said Dawson, anticipating the query. "He is with us, and he is
swinging the best of the engineers into line. But come into the house
and let me give you a drop of whiskey. This thing has got on your nerves
a bit - and no wonder."

But Lidgerwood clung to the gate-palings for yet another steadying
moment.

"Rufford, you said: you mean the discharged telegraph operator?"

"Worse luck," said Dawson. "It was his brother Bart, the 'lookout' at
Red-Light Sammy's; the fellow they call 'The Killer'."




VIII

BENSON'S BRIDGE-TIMBERS


It was on the morning following the startling episode at the Dawsons'
gate that Benson, lately arrived from the west on train 204, came into
the superintendent's office with the light of discovery in his eye. But
the discovery, if any there were, was made to wait upon a word of
friendly solicitude.

"What's this they were telling me down at the lunch-counter just
now - about somebody taking a pot-shot at you last night?" he asked.
"Dougherty said it was Bart Rufford; was it?"

Lidgerwood confirmed the gossip with a nod. "Yes, it was Rufford, so
Dawson says. I didn't recognize him, though; it was too dark."

"Well, I'm mighty glad to see that he didn't get you. What was the row?"

"I don't know, definitely; I suppose it was because I told McCloskey to
discharge his brother a while back. The brother has been hanging about
town and making threats ever since he was dropped from the pay-rolls,
but no one has paid any attention to him."

"A pretty close call, wasn't it? - or was Dougherty only putting on a few
frills to go with my cup of coffee?"

"It was close enough," admitted Lidgerwood half absently. He was
thinking not so much of the narrow escape as of the fresh and
humiliating evidence it had afforded of his own wretched unreadiness.

"All right; you'll come around to my way of thinking after a while. I
tell you, Lidgerwood, you've got to heel yourself when you live in a gun
country. I said I wouldn't do it, but I have done it, and I'll tell you
right now, when anybody in this blasted desert makes monkey-motions at
me, I'm going to blow the top of his head off, quick."

Lidgerwood's gaze was resting on the little drawer in his desk which now
contained nothing but a handful of loose cartridges.

"Hasn't it ever occurred to you, Jack, that I am the one man in the
desert who cannot afford to go armed? I am supposed to stand for law and
order. What would my example be worth if it should be noised around that
I, too, had become a 'gun-toter'?"

"Oh, I'm not going to argue with you," laughed Benson. "You'll go your
own way and do as you please, and probably get yourself comfortably shot
up before you get through. But I didn't come up here to wrangle with you
about your theoretical notions of law and order. I came to tell you that
I have been hunting for those bridge-timbers of mine."

"Well?" queried Lidgerwood; "have you found them?"

"No, and I don't believe anybody will ever find them. It's going to be
another case of Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be
comforted because they are not."

"But you have discovered something?"

"Partly yes, and partly no. I think I told you at the time that they
vanished between two days like a puff of smoke, leaving no trace behind
them. How it was done I couldn't imagine. There is a wagon-road
paralleling the river over there at the Siding, as you know, and the
first thing I did the next morning was to look for wagon-tracks. No set
of wheels carrying anything as heavy as those twelve-by-twelve
twenty-fours had gone over the road."

"How were they taken, then? They couldn't have been floated off down the
river, could they?"

"It was possible, but not at all probable," said the engineer. "My
theory was that they were taken away on somebody's railroad car. There
were only two sources of information, at first - the night operator at
Little Butte twelve miles west, and the track-walker at Point-of-Rocks,
whose boat goes down to within two or three miles of the Gloria bridge.
Goodloe, at Little Butte, reports that there was nothing moving on the
main line after the passing of the midnight freight east; and
Shaughnessy, the track-walker, is just a plain, unvarnished liar: he
knows a lot more than he will tell."

"Still, you are looking a good bit more cheerful than you were last
week," was Lidgerwood's suggestion.

"Yes; after I got the work started again with a new set of timbers, I
spent three or four days on the ground digging for information like a
dog after a woodchuck. There are some prospectors panning on the bar
three miles up the Gloria, but they knew nothing - or if they knew they
wouldn't tell. That was the case with every man I talked to on our side
of the river. But over across the Timanyoni, nearly opposite the mouth
of the Gloria, there is a little creek coming in from the north, and on
this creek I found a lone prospector - a queer old chap who hails from
my neck of woods up in Michigan."

"Go on," said Lidgerwood, when the engineer stopped to light his pipe.

"The old man told me a fairy tale, all right," Benson went on. "He was
as full of fancies as a fig is of seeds. I have been trying to believe
that what he told me isn't altogether a pipe-dream, but it sounds
mightily like one. He says that about two o'clock in the morning of
Saturday, two weeks ago, an engine and a single car backed down from the
west to the Gloria bridge, and a crowd of men swarmed off the train,
loaded those bridge-timbers, and ran away with them, going back up the
line to the west. He tells it all very circumstantially, though he
neglected to explain how he happened to be awake and on guard at any
such unearthly hour."

"Where was he when he saw all this?"

"On his own side of the river, of course. It was a dark night, and the
engine had no headlight. But the loading gang had plenty of lanterns,
and he says they made plenty of noise."

"You didn't let it rest at that?" said the superintendent.

"Oh, no, indeed! I put in the entire afternoon that day on a hand-car
with four of my men to pump it for me, and if there is a foot of the
main line, side-tracks, or spurs, west of the Gloria bridge, that I
haven't gone over, I don't know where it is. The next night I crossed
the Timanyoni and tackled the old prospector again. I wanted to check
him up - see if he had forgotten any of the little frills and details. He
hadn't. On the contrary, he was able to add what seems to me a very
important detail. About an hour after the disappearance of the one-car
train with my bridge-timbers, he heard something that he had heard many
times before. He says it was the high-pitched song of a circular saw. I
asked him if he was sure. He grinned and said he hadn't been brought up
in the Michigan woods without being able to recognize that song wherever
he might hear it."

"Whereupon you went hunting for saw-mills?" asked Lidgerwood.

"That is just what I did, and if there is one within hearing distance of
that old man's cabin on Quartz Creek, I couldn't find it. But I am
confident that there is one, and that the thieves, whoever they were,
lost no time in sawing my bridge-timbers up into board-lumber, and I'll
bet a hen worth fifty dollars against a no-account yellow dog that I
have seen those boards a dozen times within the last twenty-four hours,
without knowing it."

"Didn't see anything of our switch-engine while you were looking for
your bridge-timbers and saw-mills and other things, did you?" queried
Lidgerwood.

"No," was the quick reply, "no, but I have a think coming on that, too.
My old prospector says he couldn't make out very well in the dark, but
it seemed to him as if the engine which hauled away our bridge-timbers
didn't have any tender. How does that strike you?"

Lidgerwood grew thoughtful. The missing engine was of the "saddle-tank"
type, and it had no tender. It was hard to believe that it could be
hidden anywhere on so small a part of the Red Butte Western system as
that covered by the comparatively short mileage in Timanyoni Park. Yet
if it had not been dumped into some deep pot-hole in the river, it was
unquestionably hidden somewhere.

"Benson, are you sure you went over all the line lying west of the
Gloria bridge?" he asked pointedly.

"Every foot of it, up one side and down the other ... No, hold on, there
is that old spur running up on the eastern side of Little Butte; it's
the one that used to serve Flemister's mine when the workings were on
the eastern slope of the butte. I didn't go over that spur. It hasn't
been used for years; as I remember it, the switch connections with the
main line have been taken out."

"You're wrong about that," said Lidgerwood definitely. "McCloskey
thought so too, and told me that the frogs and point-rails had been
taken out at Silver Switch - at both of the main-line ends of the
'Y', - but the last time I was over the line I noticed that the old
switch stands were there, and that the split rails were still in place."

Benson had been tilting comfortably in his chair, smoking his pipe, but
at this he got up quickly and looked at his watch.

"Say, Lidgerwood, I'm going back to the Park on Extra 71, which ought to
leave in about five minutes," he said hurriedly. "Tell me half a dozen
things in just about as many seconds. Has Flemister used that spur since
you took charge of the road?"

"No."

"Have you ever suspected him of being mixed up in the looting?"

"I haven't known enough about him to form an opinion."

Benson stepped to the door communicating with the outer office, and
closed it quietly.

"Your man Hallock out there; how is he mixed up with Flemister?"

"I don't know. Why?"

"Because, the day before yesterday, when I was on the Little Butte
station platform, talking with Goodloe, I saw Flemister and Hallock
walking down the new spur together. When they saw me, they turned around
and began to walk back toward the mine."

"Hallock had business with Flemister, I know that much, and he took half
a day off Thursday to go and see him," said the superintendent.

"Do you happen to know what the business was?"

"Yes, I do. He went at my request."

"H'm," said Benson, "another string broken. Never mind; I've got to
catch that train."

"Still after those bridge-timbers?"

"Still after the boards they have probably been sawed into. And before I
get back I am going to know what's at the upper end of that old Silver
Switch 'Y' spur."

The young engineer had been gone less than half an hour, and Lidgerwood
had scarcely finished reading his mail, when McCloskey opened the door.
Like Benson, the trainmaster also had the light of discovery in his eye.

"More thievery," he announced gloomily. "This time they have been
looting my department. I had ten or twelve thousand feet of high-priced,
insulated copper wire, and a dozen or more telephone sets, in the
store-room. Mr. Cumberley had a notion of connecting up all the Angels
departments by telephone, and it got as far as the purchasing of the
material. The wire and all those telephone sets are gone."

"Well?" said Lidgerwood, evenly. The temptation to take it out upon the
nearest man was still as strong as ever, but he was growing better able
to resist it.


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