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"I've done what I could," snapped McCloskey, seeming to know what was
expected of him, "but nobody knows anything, of course. So far as I
could find out, no one of my men has had occasion to go to the
store-room for a week."

"Who has the keys?"

"I have one, and Spurlock, the line-chief, has one. Hallock has the
third."

"Always Hallock!" was the half-impatient comment. "I hope you don't
suspect him of stealing your wire."

McCloskey tilted his hat over his eyes, and looked truculent enough to
fight an entire cavalry troop.

"That's just what I do," he gritted. "I've got him dead to rights this
time. He was in that store-room day before yesterday, or rather night
before last. Callahan saw him coming out of there."

Lidgerwood sat back in his chair and smiled. "I don't blame you much,
Mac; this thing is getting to be pretty binding upon all of us. But I
think you are mistaken in your conclusion, I mean. Hallock has been
making an inventory of material on hand for the past week or more, and
now that I think of it, I remember having seen your wire and the
telephone sets included in his last sheet of telegraph supplies."

"There it goes again," said the trainmaster sourly. "Every time I get a
half-hitch on that fellow, something turns up to make it slip. But if I
had my way about twenty minutes I'd go and choke him till he'd tell me
what he has done with that wire."

Lidgerwood was smiling again.

"Try to be as fair to him as you can," he advised good-naturedly. "I
know you dislike him, and probably you have good reasons. But have you
stopped to ask yourself what possible use he could make of the stolen
material?"

Again McCloskey's hat went to the pugnacious angle. "I don't know
anything any more; you couldn't prove it by me what day of the week it
is. But I can tell you one thing, Mr. Lidgerwood" - shaking an emphatic
finger - "Flemister has just put a complete system of wiring and
telephones in his mine, and if he had the stuff for the system shipped
in over our railroad, the agent at Little Butte doesn't know anything
about it. I asked Goodloe, by grapples!"

But even this was unconvincing to the superintendent.

"That proves nothing against Hallock, Mac, as you will see when you cool
down a little," he said.

"I know it doesn't," wrathfully; "nothing proves anything any more. I
suppose I've got to say it again: I'm all in, down and out." And he went
away, growling to his hat-brim.

Late in the evening of the same day, Benson returned from the west,
coming in on a light engine that was deadheading from Red Butte to the
Angels shops. He sought out Lidgerwood at once, and flinging himself
wearily into a chair at the superintendent's elbow, made his report of
the day's doings.

"I have, and I haven't," he said, beginning in the midst of things, as
his habit was. "You were right about the track connection at Silver
Switch. It is in; Flemister put it in himself a month ago when he had a
car-load of coal taken up to the back door of his mine."

"Did you go up over the spur?"

"Yes; and I had my trouble for my pains. Before I go any further,
Lidgerwood, I'd like to ask you one question: can we afford to quarrel
with Mr. Pennington Flemister?"

"Benson, we sha'n't hesitate a single moment to quarrel with the biggest
mine-owner or freight-shipper this side of the Crosswater Hills if we
have the right on our side. Spread it out. What did you find?"

Benson sank a little lower in his chair. "The first thing I found was a
couple of armed guards - a pair of tough-looking citizens with guns
sagging at their hips, lounging around the Wire-Silver back door. There
is quite a little nest of buildings at the old entrance to the
Wire-Silver, and a stockade has been built to enclose them. The old spur
runs through a gate in the stockade, and the gate was open; but the two
toughs wouldn't let me go inside. I wrangled with them first, and tried
to bribe them afterward, but it was no go. Then I started to walk around
the outside of the stockade, which is only a high board fence, and they
objected to that. Thereupon I told them to go straight to blazes, and
walked away down the spur, but when I got out of sight around the first
curve I took to the timber on the butte slope and climbed to a point
from which I could look over into Flemister's carefully built
enclosure."

"Well, what did you see?"

"Much or little, just as you happen to look at it. There are half a
dozen buildings in the yard, and two of them are new and unpainted.
Sizing them up from a distance, I said to myself that the lumber in them
hadn't been very long out of the mill. One of them is evidently the
power-house; it has an iron chimney set in the roof, and the power-plant
was running."

For a little time after Benson had finished his report there was
silence, and Lidgerwood had added many squares to the pencillings on his
desk blotter before he spoke again.

"You say two of the buildings are new; did you make any inquiries about
recent lumber shipments to the Wire-Silver?"

"I did," said the young engineer soberly. "So far as our station records
show, Flemister has had no material, save coal, shipped in over either
the eastern or the western spur for several months."

"Then you believe that he took your bridge-timbers and sawed them up
into lumber?"

"I do - as firmly as I believe that the sun will rise to-morrow. And that
isn't all of it, Lidgerwood. He is the man who has your switch-engine.
As I have said, the power-plant was running while I was up there to-day.
The power is a steam engine, and if you'd stand off and listen to it
you'd swear it was a locomotive pulling a light train up an easy grade.
Of course, I'm only guessing at that, but I think you will agree with me
that the burden of proof lies upon Flemister."

Lidgerwood was nodding slowly. "Yes, on Flemister and some others. Who
are the others, Benson?"

"I have no more guesses coming, and I am too tired to invent any.
Suppose we drop it until to-morrow. I'm afraid it means a fight or a
funeral, and I am not quite equal to either to-night."

For a long time after Benson had gone, Lidgerwood sat staring out of his
office window at the masthead electrics in the railroad yard. Benson's
news had merely confirmed his own and McCloskey's conclusion that some
one in authority was in collusion with the thieves who were raiding the
company. Sooner or later it must come to a grapple, and he dreaded it.

It was deep in the night when he closed his desk and went to the little
room partitioned off in the rear of the private office as a
sleeping-apartment. When he was preparing to go to bed, he noticed that
the tiny relay on the stand at his bed's head was silent. Afterward,
when he tried to adjust the instrument, he found it ruined beyond
repair. Some one had connected its wiring with the electric lighting
circuit, and the tiny coils were fused and burned into solid little
cylinders of copper.




IX

JUDSON'S JOKE


Barton Rufford, ex-distiller of illicit whiskey in the Tennessee
mountains, ex-welsher turned informer and betraying his neighbor
law-breakers to the United States revenue officers, ex-everything which
made his continued stay in the Cumberlands impossible, was a man of
distinction in the Red Desert.

In the wider field of the West he had been successively a claim-jumper,
a rustler of unbranded cattle, a telegraph operator in collusion with a
gang of train-robbers, and finally a faro "lookout": the armed guard
who sits at the head of the gaming-table in the untamed regions to kill
and kill quickly if a dispute arises.

Angels acknowledged his citizenship without joy. A cold-blooded
murderer, with an appalling record; and a man with a temper like smoking
tow, an itching trigger-finger, the eye of a duck-hawk, and cat-like
swiftness of movement, he tyrannized the town when the humor was on
him; and as yet no counter-bully had come to chase him into oblivion.

For Lidgerwood to have earned the enmity of this man was considered
equivalent to one of three things: the superintendent would throw up his
job and leave the Red Desert, preferably by the first train; or Rufford
would kill him; or he must kill Rufford. Red Butte Western opinion was
somewhat divided as to which horn of the trilemma the victim of
Rufford's displeasure would choose, all admitting that, for the moment,
the choice lay with the superintendent. Would Lidgerwood fight, or run,
or sit still and be slain? In the Angels roundhouse, on the second
morning following the attempt upon Lidgerwood's life at the gate of the
Dawson cottage, the discussion was spirited, not to say acrimonious.

"I'm telling you hyenas that Collars-and-Cuffs ain't going to run away,"
insisted Williams, who was just in from the all-night trip to Red Butte
and return. "He ain't built that way."

Lester, the roundhouse foreman, himself a man-queller of no mean repute,
thought differently. Lidgerwood would, most likely, take to the high
grass and the tall timber. The alternative was to "pack a gun" for
Rufford - an alternative quite inconceivable to Lester when it was
predicated of the superintendent.

"I don't know about that," said Judson, the discharged - and consequently
momentarily sobered - engineer of the 271. "He's fooled everybody more
than once since he lit down in the Red Desert. First crack everybody
said he didn't know his business, 'cause he wore b'iled shirts: he
_does_ know it. Next, you could put your ear to the ground and hear that
he didn't have the sand to round up the maverick R.B.W. He's doing it. I
don't know but he might even run a bluff on Bart Rufford, if he felt
like it."

"Come off, John!" growled the big foreman. "You needn't be afraid to
talk straight over here. He hit you when you was down, and we all know
you're only waitin' for a chance to hit back."

Judson was a red-headed man, effusively good-natured when he was in
liquor, and a quick-tempered fighter of battles when he was not.

"Don't you make any such mistake!" he snapped. "That's what McCloskey
said when he handed me the 'good-by.' 'You'll be one more to go round
feelin' for Mr. Lidgerwood's throat, I suppose,' says he. By cripes!
what I said to Mac I'm sayin' to you, Bob Lester. I know good and well
a-plenty when I've earned my blue envelope. If I'd been in the super's
place, the 271 would have had a new runner a long time ago!"

"Oh, hell! _I_ say he'll chase his feet," puffed Broadbent, the fat
machinist who was truing off the valve-seats of the 195. "If Rufford
doesn't make him, there's some others that will."

Judson flared up again.

"Who you quotin' now, Fatty? One o' the shop 'prentices? Or maybe it's
Rank Hallock? Say, what's he doin' monkeyin' round the back shop so much
lately? I'm goin' to stay round here till I get a chance to lick that
scrub."

Broadbent snorted his derision of all mere enginemen.

"You rail-pounders'd better get next to Rankin Hallock," he warned.
"He's the next sup'rintendent of the R.B.W. You'll see the 'pointment
circular the next day after that jim-dandy over in the Crow's Nest gets
moved off'n the map."

"Well, I'm some afeared Bart Rufford's likely to move him," drawled
Clay, the six-foot Kentuckian who was filing the 195's brasses at the
bench. "Which the same I ain't rejoicin' about, neither. That little
cuss is shore a mighty good railroad man. And when you ain't rubbin' his
fur the wrong way, he treats you white."

"For instance?" snapped Hodges, a freight engineer who had been thrice
"on the carpet" in Lidgerwood's office for over-running his orders.

"Oh, they ain't so blame' hard to find," Clay retorted. "Last week, when
we was out on the Navajo wreck, me and the boy didn't have no
dinner-buckets. Bradford was runnin' the super's car, and when Andy just
sort o' happened to mention the famine up along, the little man made
that Jap cook o' his'n get us up a dinner that'd made your hair frizzle.
He shore did."

"Why don't you go and take up for him with Bart Rufford?" sneered
Broadbent, stopping his facing machine to set in a new cut on the
valve-seat.

"Not me. I've got cold feet," laughed the Kentuckian. "I'm like the
little kid's daddy in the Sunday-school song: I ain't got time to die
yet - got too much to do."

It was Williams's innings, and what he said was cautionary.

"Dry up, you fellows; here comes Gridley."

The master-mechanic was walking down the planked track from the back
shop, carrying his years, which showed only in the graying mustache and
chin beard, and his hundred and eighty pounds of well-set-up bone and
muscle, jauntily. Now, as always, he was the beau ideal of the
industrial field-officer; handsome in a clean-cut masculine way, a type
of vigor - but also, if the signs of the full face and the eager eyes
were to be regarded, of the elemental passions.

Angelic rumor hinted that he was a periodic drunkard: he was both more
and less than that. Like many another man, Henry Gridley lived a double
life; or, perhaps it would be nearer the truth to say that there were
two Henry Gridleys. Lidgerwood, the Dawsons, the little world of Angels
at large, knew the virile, accomplished mechanical engineer and master
of men, which was his normal personality. What time the other
personality, the elemental barbarian, yawned, stretched itself, and came
awake, the unspeakable dens of the Copah lower quarter engulfed him
until the nether-man had gorged himself on degradation.

To his men, Gridley was a tyrant, exacting, but just; ruling them, as
the men of the desert could only be ruled, with the mailed fist. Yet
there was a human hand inside of the steel gauntlet, as all men knew.
Having once beaten a bullying gang-boss into the hospital at Denver, he
had promptly charged himself with the support of the man's family. Other
generous roughnesses were recorded of him, and if the attitude of the
men was somewhat tempered by wholesome fear, it was none the less
loyal.

Hence, when he entered the roundhouse, industrious silence supplanted
the discussion of the superintendent's case. Glancing at the group of
enginemen, and snapping out a curt criticism of Broadbent's slowness on
the valve-seats, he beckoned to Judson. When the discharged engineer had
followed him across the turn-table, he faced about and said, not too
crisply, "So your sins have found you out one more time, have they,
John?"

Judson nodded.

"What is it this time, thirty days?"

Judson shook his head gloomily. "No, I'm down and out."

"Lidgerwood made it final, did he? Well, you can't blame him."

"You hain't heard me sayin' anything, have you?" was the surly
rejoinder.

"No, but it isn't in human nature to forget these little things." Then,
suddenly: "Where were you day before yesterday between noon and one
o'clock, about the time you should have been taking your train out?"

Judson had a needle-like mind when the alcohol was out of it, and the
sudden query made him dissemble.

"About ten o'clock I was playin' pool in Rafferty's place with the butt
end of the cue. After that, things got kind o'hazy."

"Well, I want you to buckle down and think hard. Don't you remember
going over to Cat Biggs's about noon, and sitting down at one of the
empty card-tables to drink yourself stiff?"

Judson could not have told, under the thumbscrews, why he was prompted
to tell Gridley a plain lie. But he did it.

"I can't remember," he denied. Then then needle-pointed brain got in its
word, and he added, "Why?"

"I saw you there when I was going up to dinner. You called me in to tell
me what you were going to do to Lidgerwood if he slated you for getting
drunk. Don't you remember it?"

Judson was looking the master-mechanic fairly in the eyes when he said,
"No, I don't remember a thing about that."

"Try again," said Gridley, and now the shrewd gray eyes under the brim
of the soft-rolled felt hat held the engineer helpless.

"I guess - I do - remember it - now," said Judson, slowly, trying, still
ineffectually, to break Gridley's masterful eyehold upon him.

[Illustration: "Bart's afraid he can't duck without dying."]

"I thought you would," said the master-mechanic, without releasing him.
"And you probably remember, also, that I took you out into the street
and started you home."

"Yes," said Judson, this time without hesitation.

"Well, keep on remembering it; you went home to Maggie, and she put you
to bed. That is what you are to keep in mind."

Judson had broken the curious eye-grip at last, and again he said,
"Why?"

Gridley hooked his finger absently in the engineer's buttonhole.

"Because, if you don't, a man named Rufford says he'll start a lead mine
in you. I heard him say it last night - overheard him, I should say.
That's all."

The master-mechanic passed on, going out by the great door which opened
for the locomotive entering-track. Judson hung upon his heel for a
moment, and then went slowly out through the tool-room and across the
yard tracks to the Crow's Nest.

He found McCloskey in his office above stairs, mouthing and grimacing
over the string-board of the new time-table.

"Well?" growled the trainmaster, when he saw who had opened and closed
the door. "Come back to tell me you've sworn off? That won't go down
with Mr. Lidgerwood. When he fires, he means it."

"You wait till I ask you for my job back again, won't you, Jim
McCloskey?" said the disgraced one hotly. "I hain't asked it yet; and
what's more, I'm sober."

"Sure you are," muttered McCloskey. "You'd be better-natured with a
drink or two in you. What's doing?"

"That's what I came over here to find out," said Judson steadily. "What
is the boss going to do about this flare-up with Bart Rufford?"

The trainmaster shrugged.

"You've got just as many guesses as anybody, John. What you can bet on
is that he will do something different."

Judson had slouched to the window. When he spoke, it was without turning
his head.

"You said something yesterday morning about me feeling for the boss's
throat along with that gang up-town that's trying to drink itself up to
the point of hitting him back. It don't strike me that way, Mac."

"How does it strike you?"

Judson turned slowly, crossed the room, and sat down in the only vacant
chair.

"You know what's due to happen, Mac. Rufford won't try it on again the
way he tried it night before last. I heard up-town that he has posted
his de-fi: Mr. Lidgerwood shoots him on sight or he shoots Mr.
Lidgerwood on sight. You can figure that out, can't you?"

"Not knowing Mr. Lidgerwood much better than you do, John, I'm not sure
that I can."

"Well, it's easy. Bart'll walk up to the boss in broad daylight, drop
him, and then fill him full o'lead after he's down. I've seen him - saw
him do it to Bixby, Mr. Brewster's foreman at the Copperette."

"Say the rest of it," commanded McCloskey.

"I've been thinking. While I'm laying round with nothing much to do, I
believe I'll keep tab on Bart for a little spell. I don't love him much,
nohow."

McCloskey's face contortion was intended to figure as a derisive smile.
"Pshaw, John!" he commented, "he'd skin you alive. Why, even Jack
Hepburn is afraid of him!"

"Jack is? How do you know that?"

McCloskey shrugged again.

"Are you with us, John?" he asked cautiously.

"I ain't with Bart Rufford and the tin-horns," said Judson negatively.

"Then I'll tell you a fairy tale," said the trainmaster, lowering his
voice. "I gave you notice that Mr. Lidgerwood would do something
different: he did it, bright and early this morning; went to Jake
Schleisinger, who had to try twice before he could remember that he was
a justice of the peace, and swore out a warrant for Rufford's arrest, on
a charge of assault with intent to kill."

"Sure," said Judson, "that's what any man would do in a civilized
country, ain't it?"

"Yes, but not here, John - not in the red-colored desert, with Bart
Rufford's name in the body of the warrant."

"I don't know why not," insisted the engineer stubbornly. "But go on
with the story; it ain't any fairy tale, so far."

"When he'd got the warrant, Schleisinger protesting all the while that
Bart'd kill him for issuing it, Mr. Lidgerwood took it to Hepburn and
told him to serve it. Jack backed down so fast that he fell over his
feet. Said to ask him anything else under God's heavens and he'd do
it - anything but that."

"Huh!" said Judson. "If I'd took an oath to serve warrants I'd serve
'em, if it did make me sick at my stomach." Then he got up and shuffled
away to the window again, and when next he spoke his voice was the voice
of a broken man.

"I lied to you a minute ago, Mac. I did want my job back. I came over
here hopin' that you and Mr. Lidgerwood might be seein' things a little
different by this time. I've quit the whiskey."

McCloskey wagged his shaggy head.

"So you've said before, John, and not once or twice either."

"I know, but every man gets to the bottom, some time. I've hit bed-rock,
and I've just barely got sense enough to know it. Let me tell you, Mac,
I've pulled trains on mighty near every railroad in this country - and
then some. The Red Butte is my last ditch. With my record I couldn't get
an engine anywhere else in the United States. Can't you see what I'm up
against?"

The trainmaster nodded. He was human.

"Well, it's Maggie and the babies now," Judson went on. "They don't
starve, Mac, not while I'm on top of earth. Don't you reckon you could
make some sort of a play for me with the boss, Jim? He's got bowels."

McCloskey did not resent the familiarity of the Christian name, neither
did he hold out any hope of reinstatement.

"No, John. One or two things I've learned about Mr. Lidgerwood: he
doesn't often hit when he's mad, and he doesn't take back anything he
says in cold blood. I'm afraid you've cooked your last goose."

"Let me go in and see him. He ain't half as hard-hearted as you are,
Jim."

The trainmaster shook his head. "No, it won't do any good. I heard him
tell Hallock not to let anybody in on him this morning."

"Hallock be - Say, Mac, what makes him keep that - " Judson broke off
abruptly, pulled his hat over his eyes, and said, "Reckon it's worth
while to shove me over to the other side, Jim McCloskey?"

"What other side?" demanded McCloskey.

Judson scoffed openly. "You ain't making out like you don't know, are
you? Who was behind that break of Rufford's last night?"

"There didn't need to be anybody behind it. Bart thinks he has a kick
coming because his brother was discharged."

"But there was somebody behind it. Tell me, Mac, did you ever see me too
drunk to read my orders and take my signals?"

"No, don't know as I have."

"Well, I never was. And I don't often get too drunk to hear straight,
either, even if I do look and act like the biggest fool God ever let
live. I was in Cat Biggs's day before yesterday noon, when I ought to
have been down here taking 202 east. There were two men in the back room
putting their heads together. I don't know whether they knew I was on
the other side of the partition or not. If they did, they probably
didn't pay any attention to a drivellin' idiot that couldn't wrap his
tongue around an order for more whiskey."

"Go on!" snapped McCloskey, almost viciously.

"They were talking about 'fixing' the boss. One of 'em was for the slow
and safe way: small bets and a good many of 'em. The other was for
pulling a straight flush on Mr. Lidgerwood, right now. Number One said
no, that things were moving along all right, and it wasn't worth while
to rush. Then something was said about a woman; I didn't catch her name
or just what the hurry man said about her, only it was something about
Mr. Lidgerwood's bein' in shape to mix up in it. At that Number One
flopped over. 'Pull it off whenever you like!' says he, savage-like."

McCloskey sprang from his chair and towered over the smaller man.

"One of those men was Bart Rufford: who was the other one, Judson?"

Judson was apparently unmoved. "You're forgettin' that I was plum' fool
drunk, Jim. I didn't see either one of 'em."

"But you heard?"

"Yes, one of 'em was Rufford, as you say, and up to a little bit ago I'd
'a' been ready to swear to the voice of the one you haven't guessed. But
now I can't."

"Why can't you do it now?"

"Sit down and I'll tell you. I've been jarred. Everything I've told you
so far, I can remember, or it seems as if I can, but right where I broke
off a cog slipped. I must 'a' been drunker than I thought I was. Gridley
says he was going by and he says I called him in and told him,
fool-wise, all the things I was going to do to Mr. Lidgerwood. He says


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