In such a chaotic state of affairs, track and train troubles were the rule rather than the exception, and it was a Red Butte Western boast that the fire was never drawn under the wrecking-train engine. For the first few weeks Lidgerwood let McCloskey answer the "hurry calls" to the various scenes of disaster, but when three sections of an eastbound cattle special, ignoring the ten-minute-interval rule, were piled up in the Pinon Hills, he went out and took personal command of the track-clearers.
This happened when the joke was at flood-tide, and the men of the wrecking-crew took a ten-gallon keg of whiskey along wherewith to celebrate the first appearance of the new superintendent in character as a practical wrecking-boss. The outcome was rather astonishing. For one thing, Lidgerwood's first executive act was to knock in the head of the ten-gallon celebration with a striking-hammer, before it was even spiggoted; and for another he quickly proved that he was Gridley's equal, if not his master, in the gentle art of track-clearing; lastly, and this was the most astonishing thing of all, he demonstrated that clean linen and correct garmentings do not necessarily make for softness and effeminacy in the wearer. Through the long day and the still longer night of toil and stress the new boss was able to endure hardship with the best man on the ground.
This was excellent, as far as it went. But later, with the offending cattle-train crews before him for trial and punishment, Lidgerwood lost all he had gained by being too easy.
"We've got him chasin' his feet," said Tryon, one of the rule-breaking engineers, making his report to the roundhouse contingent at the close of the "sweat-box" interview. "It's just as I've been tellin' you mugs all along, he hain't got sand enough to fire anybody."
Likewise Jack Benson, though from a friendlier point of view. The "sweat-box" was Lidgerwood's private office in the Crow's Nest, and Benson happened to be present when the reckless trainmen were told to go and sin no more.
"I'm not running your job, Lidgerwood, and you may fire the inkstand at me if the spirit moves you to, but I've got to butt in. You can't handle the Red Desert with kid gloves on. Those fellows needed an artistic cussing-out and a thirty-day hang-up at the very lightest. You can't hold 'em down with Sunday-school talk."
Lidgerwood was frowning at his blotting-pad and pencilling idle little squares on it—a habit which was insensibly growing upon him.
"Where would I get the two extra train-crews to fill in the thirty-day lay-off, Jack? Had you thought of that?"
"I had only the one think, and I gave you that one," rejoined Benson carelessly. "I suppose it is different in your department. When I go up against a thing like that on the sections, I fire the whole bunch and import a few more Italians. Which reminds me, as old Dunkenfeld used to say when there wasn't either a link or a coupling-pin anywhere within the four horizons: what do you know about Fred Dawson, Gridley's shop draftsman?"
"Next to nothing, personally," replied Lidgerwood, taking Benson's abrupt change of topic as a matter of course. "He seems a fine fellow; much too fine a fellow to be wasting himself out here in the desert. Why?"
"Oh, I just wanted to know. Ever met his mother and sister?"
"Well, you ought to. The mother is one of the only two angels in Angels, and the sister is the other. Dawson, himself, is a ghastly monomaniac."
Lidgerwood's brows lifted, though his query was unspoken.
"Haven't you heard his story?" asked Benson; "but of course you haven't. He is a lame duck, you know—like every other man this side of Crosswater Summit, present company excepted."
"A lame duck?" repeated Lidgerwood.
"Yes, a man with a past. Don't tell me you haven't caught onto the hall-mark of the Red Desert. It's notorious. The blacklegs and tin-horns and sure-shots go without saying, of course, but they haven't a monopoly on the broken records. Over in the ranch country beyond the Timanyonis they lump us all together and call us the outlaws."
"Not without reason," said Lidgerwood.
"Not any," asserted Benson with cheerful pessimism. "The entire Red Butte Western outfit is tarred with the same stick. You haven't a dozen operators, all told, who haven't been discharged for incompetence, or worse, somewhere else; or a dozen conductors or engineers who weren't good and comfortably blacklisted before they climbed Crosswater. Take McCloskey: you swear by him, don't you? He was a chief despatcher back East, and he put two passenger-trains together in a head-on collision the day he resigned and came West to grow up with the Red Desert."
"I know," said Lidgerwood, "and I did not have to learn it at second-hand. Mac was man enough to tell me himself, before I had known him five minutes." Then he suggested mildly, "But you were speaking of Dawson, weren't you?"
"Yes, and that's what makes me say what I'm saying; he is one of them, though he needn't be if he weren't such a hopelessly sensitive ass. He's a B.S. in M.E., or he would have been if he had stayed out his senior year in Carnegie, but also he happened to be a foot-ball fiend, and in the last intercollegiate game of his last season he had the horrible luck to kill a man—and the man was the brother of the girl Dawson was going to marry."
"Heavens and earth!" exclaimed Lidgerwood. "Is he that Dawson?"
"The same," said the young engineer laconically. "It was the sheerest accident, and everybody knew it was, and nobody blamed Dawson. I happen to know, because I was a junior in Carnegie at the time. But Fred took it hard; let it spoil his life. He threw up everything, left college between two days, and came to bury himself out here. For two years he never let his mother and sister know where he was; made remittances to them through a bank in Omaha, so they shouldn't be able to trace him. Care to hear any more?"
"Yes, go on," said the superintendent.
"I found him," chuckled Benson, "and I took the liberty of piping his little game off to the harrowed women. Next thing he knew they dropped in on him; and he is just crazy enough to stay here, and to keep them here. That wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't for Gridley, Fred's boss and your peach of a master-mechanic."
"Why 'peach'? Gridley is a pretty decent sort of a man-driver, isn't he?" said Lidgerwood, doing premeditated and intentional violence to what he had come to call his unjust prejudice against the handsome master-mechanic.
"You won't believe it," said Benson hotly, "but he has actually got the nerve to make love to Dawson's sister! and he a widow-man, old enough to be her father!"
Lidgerwood smiled. It is the privilege of youth to be intolerant of age in its rival. Gridley was, possibly, forty-two or three, but Benson was still on the sunny slope of twenty-five. "You are prejudiced, Jack," he criticized. "Gridley is still young enough to marry again, if he wants to—and to live long enough to spoil his grandchildren."
"But he doesn't begin to be good enough for Faith Dawson," countered the young engineer, stubbornly.
"Isn't he? or is that another bit of your personal grudge? What do you know against him?"
Pressed thus sharply against the unyielding fact, Benson was obliged to confess that he knew nothing at all against the master-mechanic, nothing that could be pinned down to day and date. If Gridley had the weaknesses common to Red-Desert mankind, he did not parade them in Angels. As the head of his department he was well known to be a hard hitter; and now and then, when the blows fell rather mercilessly, the railroad colony called him a tyrant, and hinted that he, too, had a past that would not bear inspection. But even Benson admitted that this was mere gossip.
Lidgerwood laughed at the engineer's failure to make his case, and asked quizzically, "Where do I come in on all this, Jack? You have an axe to grind, I take it."
"I have. Mrs. Dawson wants me to take my meals at the house. I'm inclined to believe that she is a bit shy of Gridley, and maybe she thinks I could do the buffer act. But as a get-between I'd be chiefly conspicuous by my absence."
"Sorry I can't give you an office job," said the superintendent in mock sympathy.
"So am I, but you can do the next best thing. Get Fred to take you home with him some of these fine evenings, and you'll never go back to Maggie Donovan and the Celestial's individual hash-holders; not if you can persuade Mrs. Dawson to feed you. The alternative is to fire Gridley out of his job."
"This time you are trying to make the tail wag the dog," said Lidgerwood. "Gridley has twice my backing in the P. S-W. board of directors. Besides, he is a good fellow; and if I go up on the mesa and try to stand him off for you, it will be only because I hope you are a better fellow."
"Prop it up on any leg you like, only go," said Benson simply. "I'll take it as a personal favor, and do as much for you, some time. I suppose I don't have to warn you not to fall in love with Faith Dawson yourself—or, on second thought, perhaps I had better."
This time Lidgerwood's laugh was mirthless.
"No, you don't have to, Jack. Like Gridley, I am older than I look, and I have had my little turn at that wheel; or rather, perhaps I should say that the wheel has had its little turn at me. You can safely deputize me, I guess."
"All right, and many thanks. Here's 202 coming in, and I'm going over to Navajo on it. Don't wait too long before you make up to Dawson. You'll find him well worth while, after you've broken through his shell."
The merry jest on the Red Butte Western ran its course for another week after the three-train wreck in the Pinons—for a week and a day. Then Lidgerwood began the drawing of the net. A new time-card was strung with McCloskey's cooperation, and when it went into effect a notice on all bulletin boards announced the adoption of the standard "Book of Rules," and promised penalties in a rising scale for unauthorized departure therefrom.
Promptly the horse-laugh died away and the trouble storm was evoked. Grievance committees haunted the Crow's Nest, and the insurrectionary faction, starting with the trainmen and spreading to the track force, threatened to involve the telegraph operators—threatened to become a protest unanimous and in the mass. Worse than this, the service, haphazard enough before, now became a maddening chaos. Orders were misunderstood, whether wilfully or not no court of inquiry could determine; wrecks were of almost daily occurrence, and the shop track was speedily filled to the switches with crippled engines and cars.
In such a storm of disaster and disorder the captain in command soon finds and learns to distinguish his loyal supporters, if any such there be. In the pandemonium of untoward events, McCloskey was Lidgerwood's right hand, toiling, smiting, striving, and otherwise approving himself a good soldier. But close behind him came Gridley; always suave and good-natured, making no complaints, not even when the repair work made necessary by the innumerable wrecks grew mountain-high, and always counselling firmness and more discipline.
"This is just what we have been needing for years, Mr. Lidgerwood," he took frequent occasion to say. "Of course, we have now to pay the penalty for the sins of our predecessors; but if you will persevere, we'll pull through and be a railroad in fact when the clouds roll by. Don't give in an inch. Show these muckers that you mean business, and mean it all the time, and you'll win out all right."
Thus the master-mechanic; and McCloskey, with more at stake and a less insulated point of view, took it out in good, hard blows, backing his superior like a man. Indeed, in the small head-quarters staff, Hallock was the only non-combatant. From the beginning of hostilities he seemed to have made a pact with himself not to let it be known by any act or word of his that he was aware of the suddenly precipitated conflict. The routine duties of a chief clerk's desk are never light; Hallock's became so exacting that he rarely left his office, or the pen-like contrivance in which he entrenched himself and did his work.
When the fight began, Lidgerwood observed Hallock closely, trying to discover if there were any secret signs of the satisfaction which the revolt of the rank and file might be supposed to awaken in an unsuccessful candidate for the official headship of the Red Butte Western. There were none. Hallock's gaunt face, with the loose lips and the straggling, unkempt beard, was a blank; and the worst wreck of the three which promptly followed the introduction of the new rules, was noted in his reports with the calm indifference with which he might have jotted down the breakage of a section foreman's spike-maul.
McCloskey, being of Scottish blood and desert-seasoned, was a cool in-fighter who could take punishment without wincing overmuch. But at the end of the first fortnight of the new time-card, he cornered his chief in the private office and freed his mind.
"It's no use, Mr. Lidgerwood; we can't make these reforms stick with the outfit we've got," he asserted, in sharp discouragement. "The next thing on the docket will be a strike, and you know what that will mean, in a country where the whiskey is bad and nine men out of every ten go fixed for trouble."
"I know; nevertheless the reforms have got to stick," returned Lidgerwood definitively. "We are going to run this railroad as it should be run, or hang it up in the air. Did you discharge that operator at Crow Canyon? the fellow who let Train 76 get by him without orders night before last?"
"Dick Rufford? Oh yes, I fired him, and he came in on 202 to-day lugging a piece of artillery and shooting off his mouth about what he was going to do to me ... and to you. I suppose you know that his brother Bart, they call him 'the killer', is the lookout at Red-Light Sammy Faro's game, and the meanest devil this side of the Timanyonis?"
"I didn't know it, but that cuts no figure." Lidgerwood forced himself to say it, though his lips were curiously dry. "We are going to have discipline on this railroad while we stay here, Mac; there are no two ways about that."
McCloskey tilted his hat to the bridge of his nose, his characteristic gesture of displeasure.
"I promised myself that I wouldn't join the gun-toters when I came out here," he said, half musingly, "but I've weakened on that. Yesterday, when I was calling Jeff Cummings down for dropping that new shifting-engine out of an open switch in broad daylight, he pulled on me out of his cab window. What I had to take while he had me 'hands up' is more than I'll take from any living man again."
As in other moments of stress and perplexity, Lidgerwood was absently marking little pencil squares on his desk blotter.
"I wouldn't get down to the desert level, if I were you, Mac," he said thoughtfully.
"I'm down there right now, in self-defence," was the sober rejoinder. "And if you'll take a hint from me you'll heel yourself, too, Mr. Lidgerwood. I know this country better than you do, and the men in it. I don't say they'll come after you deliberately, but as things are now you can't open your face to one of them without taking the chance of a quarrel, and a quarrel in a gun-country——"
"I know," said Lidgerwood patiently, and the trainmaster gave it up.
It was an hour or two later in the same day when McCloskey came into the private office again, hat tilted to nose, and the gargoyle face portraying fresh soul agonies.
"They've taken to pillaging now!" he burst out. "The 316, that new saddle-tank shifting-engine, has disappeared. I saw Broderick using the '95, and when I asked him why, he said he couldn't find the '16."
"Couldn't find it?" echoed Lidgerwood.
"No; nor I can't, either. It's nowhere in the yards, the roundhouse, or back shop, and none of Gridley's foremen know anything about it. I've had Callahan wire east and west, and if they're all telling the truth, nobody has seen it or heard of it."
"Where was it, at last accounts?"
"Standing on the coal track under chute number three, where the night crew left it at midnight, or thereabouts."
"But certainly somebody must know where it has gone," said Lidgerwood.
"Yes; and by grapples! I think I know who the somebody is."
"Who is it?"
"If I should tell you, you wouldn't believe it, and besides I haven't got the proof. But I'm going to get the proof," shaking a menacing forefinger, "and when I do——"
The interruption was the entrance of Hallock, coming in with the pay-rolls for the superintendent's approval. McCloskey broke off short and turned to the door, but Lidgerwood gave him a parting command.
"Come in again, Mac, in about half an hour. There is another matter that I want to take up with you, and to-day is as good a time as any."
The trainmaster nodded and went out, muttering curses to the tilted hat brim.
"This switching-engine mystery opens up a field that I've been trying to get into for some little time, Mac," the superintendent began, after the half-hour had elapsed and the trainmaster had returned to the private office. "Sit down and we'll thresh it out. Here are some figures showing loss and expense in the general maintenance account. Look them over and tell me what you think."
"Wastage, you mean?" queried the trainmaster, glancing at the totals in the auditor's statement.
"That is what I have been calling it; a reckless disregard for the value of anything and everything that can be included in a requisition. There is a good deal of that, I know; the right-of-way is littered from end to end with good material thrown aside. But I'm afraid that isn't the worst of it."
The trainmaster was nursing a knee and screwing his face into the reflective scheme of distortion.
"Those things are always hard to prove. Short of a military guard, for instance, you couldn't prevent Angels from raiding the company's coal-yard for its cook-stoves. That's one leak, and the others are pretty much like it. If a company employee wants to steal, and there isn't enough common honesty among his fellow-employees to hold him down, he can steal fast enough and get away with it."
"By littles, yes, but not in quantity," pursued Lidgerwood.
"'Mony a little makes a mickle,' as my old grandfather used to say," McCloskey went on. "If everybody gets his fingers into the sugar-bowl——"
Lidgerwood swung his chair to face McCloskey.
"We'll pass up the petty thieveries, for the present, and look a little higher," he said gravely. "Have you found any trace of those two car-loads of company lumber lost in transit between here and Red Butte two weeks ago?"
"No, nor of the cars themselves. They were reported as two Transcontinental flats, initials and numbers plainly given in the car-record. They seem to have disappeared with the lumber."
"Which means?" queried the superintendent.
"That the numbers, or the initials, or both, were wrongly reported. It means that it was a put-up job to steal the lumber."
"Exactly. And there was a mixed car-load of lime and cement lost at about the same time, wasn't there?"
Lidgerwood's swing-chair "righted itself to the perpendicular with a snap."
"Mac, the Red Butte mines are looking up a little, and there is a good bit of house-building going on in the camp just now: tell me, what man or men in the company's service would be likely to be taking a flyer in Red Butte real estate?"
"I don't know of anybody. Gridley used to be interested in the camp. He went in pretty heavily on the boom, and lost out—so they all say. So did your man out there in the pig-pen desk," with a jerk of his thumb to indicate the outer office.
"They are both out of it," said Lidgerwood shortly. Then: "How about Sullivan, the west-end supervisor of track? He has property in Red Butte, I am told."
"Sullivan is a thief, all right, but he does it openly and brags about it; carries off a set of bridge-timbers, now and then, for house-sills, and makes a joke of it with anybody who will listen."
Lidgerwood dismissed Sullivan abruptly.
"It is an organized gang, and it must have its members pretty well scattered through the departments—and have a good many members, too," he said conclusively. "That brings us to the disappearance of the switching-engine again. No one man made off with that, single-handed, Mac."
"It was this gang we are presupposing—the gang that has been stealing lumber and lime and other material by the car-load."
"I believe we'll get to the bottom of all the looting on this switching-engine business. They have overdone it this time. You can't put a locomotive in your pocket and walk off with it. You say you've wired Copah?"
"Who was at the Copah key—Mr. Leckhard?"
"No. I didn't want to advertise our troubles to a main-line official. I got the day-despatcher, Crandall, and told him to keep his mouth shut until he heard of it some other way."
"Good. And what did Crandall say?"
"He said that the '16 had never gone out through the Copah yards; that it couldn't get anywhere if it had without everybody knowing about it."
Lidgerwood's abstracted gaze out of the office window became a frown of concentration.
"But the object, McCloskey—what possible profit could there be in the theft of a locomotive that can neither be carried away nor converted into salable junk?"
The trainmaster shook his head. "I've stewed over that till I'm threatened with softening of the brain," he confessed.
"Never mind, you have a comparatively easy job," Lidgerwood went on. "That engine is somewhere this side of the Crosswater Hills. It is too big to be hidden under a bushel basket. Find it, and you'll be hot on the trail of the car-load robbers."
McCloskey got upon his feet as if he were going at once to begin the search, but Lidgerwood detained him.
"Hold on; I'm not quite through yet. Sit down again and have a smoke."
The trainmaster squinted sourly at the extended cigar-case. "I guess not," he demurred. "I cut it out, along with the toddies, the day I put on my coat and hat and walked out of the old F. & P.M. offices without my time-check."
"If it had to be both or neither, you were wise; whiskey and railroading don't go together very well. But about this other matter. Some years ago there was a building and loan association started here in Angels, the ostensible object being to help the railroad men to own their homes. Ever hear of it?"
"Yes, but it was dead and buried before my time."
"Dead, but not buried," corrected Lidgerwood. "As I understand it, the railroad company fathered it, or at all events, some of the officials took stock in it. When it died there was a considerable deficit, together with a failure on the part of the executive committee to account for a pretty liberal cash balance."
"I've heard that much," said the trainmaster.
"Then we'll bring it down to date," Lidgerwood resumed. "It appears that there are twenty-five or thirty of the losers still in the employ of this company, and they have sent a committee to me to ask for an investigation, basing the demand on the assertion that they were coerced into giving up their money to the building and loan people."
"I've heard that, too," McCloskey admitted. "The story goes that the house-building scheme was promoted by the old Red Butte Western bosses, and if a man didn't take stock he got himself disliked. If he did take it, the premiums were held out on the pay-rolls. It smells like a good, old-fashioned graft, with the lid nailed on."
"There wouldn't seem to be any reasonable doubt about the graft," said the superintendent. "But my duty is clear. Of course, the Pacific Southwestern Company isn't responsible for the side-issue schemes of the old Red Butte Western officials. But I want to do strict justice. These men charge the officials of the building and loan company with open dishonesty. There was a balance of several thousand dollars in the treasury when the explosion came, and it disappeared."
"Well?" said the trainmaster.
"The losers contend that somebody ought to make good to them. They also call attention to the fact that the building and loan treasurer, who was never able satisfactorily to explain the disappearance of the cash balance, is still on the railroad company's pay-rolls."
McCloskey sat up and tilted the derby to the back of his head. "Gridley?" he asked.
"No; for some reasons I wish it were Gridley. He is able to fight his own battles. It comes nearer home, Mac. The treasurer was Hallock."
McCloskey rose noiselessly, tiptoed to the door of communication with the outer office, and opened it with a quick jerk. There was no one there.
"I thought I heard something," he said. "Didn't you think you did?"
Lidgerwood shook his head.
"Hallock has gone over to the storekeeper's office to check up the time-rolls. He won't be back to-day."
McCloskey closed the door and returned to his chair.
"If I say what I think, you'll be asking me for proofs, Mr. Lidgerwood, and I have none. Besides, I'm a prejudiced witness. I don't like Hallock."
Quite unconsciously Lidgerwood picked up a pencil and began adding more squares to the miniature checker-board on his desk blotter. It was altogether subversive of his own idea of fitness to be discussing his chief clerk with his trainmaster, but McCloskey had proved himself an honest partisan and a fearless one, and Lidgerwood was at a pass where the good counsel of even a subordinate was not to be despised.
"I don't want to do Hallock an injustice," he went on, after a hesitant pause, "neither do I wish to dig up the past, for him or for anybody. I was hoping that you might know some of the inside details, and so make it easier for me to get at the truth. I can't believe that Hallock was culpably responsible for the disappearance of the money."
By this time McCloskey had his hat tilted to the belligerent angle.
"I'm not a fair witness," he reiterated. "There's been gossip, and I've listened to it."
"About this building and loan mess?"
"No; about the wife."
"To Hallock's discredit, you mean?"
"You'd think so: there was a scandal of some sort; I don't know what it was—never wanted to know. But there are men here in Angels who hint that Hallock killed the woman and sunk her body in the Timanyoni."
"Heavens!" exclaimed Lidgerwood, under his breath. "I can't believe that, Mac."
"I don't know as I do, but I can tell you a thing that I do know, Mr. Lidgerwood: Hallock is a devil out of hell when it comes to paying a grudge. There was a freight-conductor named Jackson that he had a shindy with in Mr. Ferguson's time, and it came to blows. Hallock got the worst of the fist-fight, but Ferguson made a joke of it and wouldn't fire Jackson. Hallock bided his time like an Indian, and worked it around so that Jackson got promoted to a passenger run. After that it was easy."
"It was the devil's own game. Jackson was a handsome young fellow, and Hallock set a woman on him—a woman out of Cat Biggs's dance-hall. From that to holding out fares to get more money to squander was only a step for the young fool, and he took it. Having baited the trap and set it, Hallock sprung it. One fine day Jackson was caught red-handed and turned over to the company lawyers. There had been a good bit of talk and they made an example of him. He's got a couple of years to serve yet, I believe."
Lidgerwood was listening thoughtfully. The story which had ended so disastrously for the young conductor threw a rather lurid sidelight upon Jackson's accuser. Fairness was the superintendent's fetish, and the revenge which would sleep on its wrongs and go about deliberately and painstakingly to strike a deadly blow in the dark was revolting to him. Yet he was just enough to distinguish between gross vindictiveness and an evil which bore no relation to the vengeful one.
"A financially honest man might still have a weakness for playing even in a personal quarrel," he commented. "Your story proves nothing more than that."
"I know it."
"But I am going to run the other thing down, too," Lidgerwood insisted. "Hallock shall have a chance to clear himself, but if he can't do it, he can't stay with me."
At this the trainmaster changed front so suddenly that Lidgerwood began to wonder if his estimate of the man's courage was at fault.
"Don't do that, Mr. Lidgerwood, for God's sake don't stir up the devil in that long-haired knife-fighter at such a time as this!" he begged. "The Lord knows you've got trouble enough on hand as it is, without digging up something that belongs to the has-beens."
"I know, but justice is justice," was the decisive rejoinder. "The question is still a live one, as the complaint of the grievance committee proves. If I dodge, my refusal to investigate will be used against us in the labor trouble which you say is brewing. I'm not going to dodge, McCloskey."
The contortions of the trainmaster's homely features indicated an inward struggle of the last-resort nature. When he had reached a conclusion he spat it out.
"You haven't asked my advice, Mr. Lidgerwood, but here it is anyway. Flemister, the owner of the Wire-Silver mine over in Timanyoni Park, was the president of that building and loan outfit. He and Hallock are at daggers drawn, for some reason that I've never understood. If you could get them together, perhaps they could make some sort of a statement that would quiet the kickers for the time being, at any rate."
Lidgerwood looked up quickly. "That's odd," he said. "No longer ago than yesterday, Gridley suggested precisely the same thing."
McCloskey was on his feet again and fumbling behind him for the door-knob.
"I'm all in," he grimaced. "When it comes to figuring with Gridley and Flemister and Hallock all in the same breath, I'm done."
Lidgerwood made a memorandum on his desk calendar to take the building and loan matter up with Hallock the following day. But another wreck intervened, and after the wreck a conference with the Red Butte mine-owners postponed all office business for an additional twenty-four hours. It was late in the evening of the third day when the superintendent's special steamed home from the west, and Lidgerwood, who had dined in his car, went directly to his office in the Crow's Nest.
He had scarcely settled himself at his desk for an attack upon the accumulation of mail when Benson came in. It was a trouble call, and the young engineer's face advertised it.
"It's no use talking, Lidgerwood," he began, "I can't do business on this railroad until you have killed off some of the thugs and highbinders."
Lidgerwood flung the paper-knife aside and whirled his chair to face the new complaint.
"What is the matter now, Jack?" he snapped.
"Oh, nothing much—when you're used to it; only about a thousand dollars' worth of dimension timber gone glimmering. That's all."
"Tell it out," rasped the superintendent. The mine-owners' conference, from which he had just returned, had been called to protest against the poor service given by the railroad, and knowing his present inability to give better service, he had temporized until it needed but this one more touch of the lash to make him lose his temper hopelessly.
"It's the Gloria bridge," said Benson. "We had the timbers all ready to pull out the old and put in the new, and the shift was to be made to-day between trains. Last night every stick of the new stock disappeared."
Lidgerwood was not a profane man, but what he said to Benson in the coruscating minute or two which followed resolved itself into a very fair imitation of profanity, inclusive and world-embracing.
"And you didn't have wit enough to leave a watchman on the job!" he chafed—this by way of putting an apex to the pyramid of objurgation. "By heavens! this thing has got to stop, Benson. And it's going to stop, if we have to call out the State militia and picket every cursed mile of this rotten railroad!"
"Do it," said Benson gruffly, "and when it's done you notify me and I'll come back to work." And with that he tramped out, and was too angry to remember to close the door.
Lidgerwood turned back to his desk, savagely out of humor with Benson and with himself, and raging inwardly at the mysterious thieves who were looting the company as boldly as an invading army might. At this, the most inauspicious moment possible, his eye fell upon the calendar memorandum, "See Hallock about B/L.," and his finger was on the chief clerk's bell-push before he remembered that it was late, and that there had been no light in Hallock's room when he had come down the corridor to his own door.
The touch of the push-button was only a touch, and there was no answering skirl of the bell in the adjoining room. But, as if the intention had evoked it, a shadow crossed behind the superintendent's chair and came to rest at the end of the roll-top desk. Lidgerwood looked up with his eyes aflame. It was Hallock who was standing at the desk's end, and he was pointing to the memorandum on the calendar pad.
"You made that note three days ago," he said abruptly. "I saw your train come in and your light go on. What bill of lading was it you wanted to see me about?"
For an instant Lidgerwood failed to understand. Then he saw that in abbreviating he had unconsciously used the familiar sign, "B/L," the common abbreviation of "bill of lading." At another time he would have turned Hallock's very natural mistake into an easy introduction to a rather delicate subject. But now he was angry.
"Sit down," he rapped out. "That isn't 'bill of lading'; it's 'building and loan.'"
Hallock dragged the one vacant chair into the circle illuminated by the shaded desk-electric, and sat on the edge of it, with his hands on his knees. "Well?" he said, in the grating voice that was so curiously like the master-mechanic's.
"We can cut out the details," this from the man who, under other conditions, would have gone diplomatically into the smallest details. "Some years ago you were the treasurer of the Mesa Building and Loan Association. When the association went out of business, its books showed a cash balance in the treasury. What became of the money?"
Hallock sat as rigid as a carved figure flanking an Egyptian propylon, which his attitude suggested. He was silent for a time, so long a time that Lidgerwood burst out impatiently, "Why don't you answer me?"
"I was just wondering if it is worth while for you to throw me overboard," said the chief clerk, speaking slowly and quite without heat. "You are needing friends pretty badly just now, if you only knew it, Mr. Lidgerwood."
The cool retort, as from an equal in rank, added fresh fuel to the fire.
"I'm not buying friends with concessions to injustice and crooked dealing," Lidgerwood exploded. "You were in the railroad service when the money was paid over to you, and you are in the railroad service now. I want to know where the money went."
"It is none of your business, Mr. Lidgerwood," said the carved figure with the gloomy eyes that never blinked.
"By heavens! I'm making it my business, Hallock! These men who were robbed say that you are an embezzler, a thief. If you are not, you've got to clear yourself. If you are, you can't stay in the Red Butte service another day: that's all."
Again there was a silence surcharged with electric possibilities. Lidgerwood bit the end from a cigar and lost three matches before he succeeded in lighting it. Hallock sat perfectly still, but the sallow tinge in his gaunt face had given place to a stony pallor. When he spoke, it was still without anger.
"I don't care a damn for your chief clerkship," he said calmly, "but for reasons of my own I am not ready to quit on such short notice. When I am ready, you won't have to discharge me. Upon what terms can I stay?"
"I've stated them," said the one who was angry. "Discharge your trust; make good in dollars and cents, or show cause why you were caught with an empty cash-box."
For the first time in the interview the chief clerk switched the stare of the gloomy eyes from the memorandum desk calendar, and fixed it upon his accuser.
"You seem to take it for granted that I was the only grafter in the building and loan business," he objected. "I wasn't; on the contrary, I was only a necessary cog in the wheel. Somebody had to make the deductions from the pay-rolls, and——"
"I'm not asking you to make excuses," stormed Lidgerwood. "I'm telling you that you've got to make good! If the money was used legitimately, you, or some of your fellow-officers in the company, should be able to show it. If the others left you to hold the bag, it is due to yourself, to the men who were held up, and to me, that you set yourself straight. Go to Flemister—he was your president, wasn't he?—and get him to make a statement that I can show to the grievance committee. That will let you out, and me, too."
Hallock stood up and leaned over the desk end. His saturnine face was a mask of cold rage, but his eyes were burning.
"If I thought you knew what you're saying," he began in the grating voice, "but you don't—you can't know!" Then, with a sudden break in the fierce tone: "Don't send me to Flemister for my clearance—don't do it, Mr. Lidgerwood. It's playing with fire. I didn't steal the money; I'll swear it on a stack of Bibles a mile high. Flemister will tell you so if he is paid his price. But you don't want me to pay the price. If I do——"
"Go on," said Lidgerwood, frowning, "if you do, what then?"
Hallock leaned still farther over the desk end.
"If I do, you'll get what you are after—and a good deal more. Again I am going to ask you if it is worth while to throw me overboard."
Lidgerwood was still angry enough to resent this advance into the field of the personalities.
"You've had my last word, Hallock, and all this talk about consequences that you don't explain is beside the mark. Get me that statement from Flemister, and do it soon. I am not going to have it said that we are fighting graft in one place and covering it up in another."
Hallock straightened up and buttoned his coat.
"I'll get you the statement," he said, quietly; "and the consequences won't need any explaining." His hand was on the door-knob when he finished saying it, and Lidgerwood had risen from his chair. There was a pause, while one might count five.
"Well?" said the superintendent.
"I was thinking again," said the man at the door. "By all the rules of the game—the game as it is played here in the desert—I ought to be giving you twenty-four hours to get out of gunshot, Mr. Lidgerwood. Instead of that I am going to do you a service. You remember that operator, Rufford, that you discharged a few days ago?"
"Bart Rufford, his brother, the 'lookout' at Red Light's place, has invited a few of his friends to take notice that he intends to kill you. You can take it straight. He means it. And that was what brought me up here to-night—not that memorandum on your desk calendar."
For a long time after the door had jarred to its shutting behind Hallock, Lidgerwood sat at his desk, idle and abstractedly thoughtful. Twice within the interval he pulled out a small drawer under the roll-top and made as if he would take up the weapon it contained, and each time he closed the drawer to break with the temptation to put the pistol into his pocket.
Later, after he had forced himself to go to work, a door slammed somewhere in the despatcher's end of the building, and automatically his hand shot out to the closed drawer. Then he made his decision and carried it out. Taking the nickel-plated thing from its hiding-place, and breaking it to eject the cartridges, he went to the end door of the corridor, which opened into the unused space under the rafters, and flung the weapon to the farthest corner of the dark loft.
Lidgerwood had found little difficulty in getting on the companionable side of Dawson, so far as the heavy-muscled, silent young draftsman had a companionable side; and an invitation to the family dinner-table at the Dawson cottage on the low mesa above the town had followed, as a matter of course.
Once within the home circle, with Benson to plead his cause with the meek little woman whose brown eyes held the shadow of a deep trouble, Lidgerwood had still less difficulty in arranging to share Benson's permanent table welcome. Though Martha Dawson never admitted it, even to her daughter, she stood in constant terror of the Red Desert and its representative town of Angels, and the presence of the superintendent as the member of the household promised to be an added guaranty of protection.
Lidgerwood's acceptance as a table boarder in the cottage on the mesa being hospitably prompt, he was coming and going as regularly as his oversight of the three hundred miles of demoralization permitted before the buffoonery of the Red Butte Western suddenly laughed itself out, and war was declared. In the interval he had come to concur very heartily in Benson's estimate of the family, and to share—without Benson's excuse, and without any reason that could be set in words—the young engineer's opposition to Gridley as Miss Faith's possible choice.
There was little to be done in this field, however. Gridley came and went, not too often, figuring always as a friend of the family, and usurping no more of Miss Dawson's time and attention than she seemed willing to bestow upon him. Lidgerwood saw no chance to obstruct and no good reason for obstructing. At all events, Gridley did not furnish the reason. And the first time Lidgerwood found himself sitting out the sunset hour after dinner on the tiny porch of the mesa cottage, with Faith Dawson as his companion—this while the joke was still running its course—his talk was not of Gridley, nor yet of Benson; it was of himself.
"How long is it going to be before you are able to forget that I am constructively your brother's boss, Miss Faith?" he asked, when she had brought him a cushion for the back of the hard veranda chair in which he was trying to be luxuriously lazy.
"Oh, do I remember it?—disagreeably?" she laughed. And then, with charming naivete: "I am sure I try not to."
"I am beginning to wish you would try a little harder," he ventured, endeavoring to put her securely upon the plane of companionship. "It is pretty lonesome sometimes, up here on the top round of the Red-Butte-Western ladder of authority."
"You mean that you would like to leave your official dignity behind you when you come to us here on the mesa?" she asked.
"That's the idea precisely. You have no conception how strenuous it is, wearing the halo all the time, or perhaps I should say, the cap and bells."
She smiled. Frederic Dawson, the reticent, had never spoken of the attitude of the Red Butte Western toward its new boss, but Gridley had referred to it quite frequently and had made a joke of it. Without knowing just why, she had resented Gridley's attitude; this notwithstanding the master-mechanic's genial affability whenever Lidgerwood and his difficulties were the object of discussion.
"They are still refusing to take you seriously?" she said. "I hope you don't mind it too much."
"Personally, I don't mind it at all," he assured her—which was sufficiently true at the moment. "The men are acting like a lot of foolish schoolboys bent on discouraging the new teacher. I am hoping they will settle down to a sensible basis after a bit, and take me and the new order of things for granted."
Miss Dawson had something on her mind; a thing not gathered from Gridley or from any one else in particular, but which seemed to take shape of itself. The effect of setting it in speech asked for a complete effacement of Lidgerwood the superintendent, and that was rather difficult. But she compassed it.
"I don't think you ought to take them so much for granted—the men, I mean," she cautioned. "I can't help feeling afraid that some of the joking is not quite good-natured."
"I fancy very little of it is what you would call good-natured," he rejoined evenly. "Very much of it is thinly disguised contempt."
"For your authority?"
"For me, personally, first; and for my authority as a close second."
"Then you are anticipating trouble when the laugh is over?"
He shook his head. "I'm hoping No, as I said a moment ago, but I'm expecting Yes."
"And you are not afraid?"
It would have been worth a great deal to him if he could have looked fearlessly into the clear gray eyes of questioning, giving her a brave man's denial. But instead, his gaze went beyond her and he said: "You surely wouldn't expect me to confess it if I were afraid, would you? Don't you despise a coward, Miss Dawson?"
The sun was sinking behind the Timanyonis, and the soft glow of the western sky suffused her face, illuminating it with rare radiance. It was not, in the last analysis, a beautiful face, he told himself, comparing it with another whose outlines were bitten deeply and beyond all hope of erasure into the memory page. Yet the face warming softly in the sunset glow was sweet and winsome, attractive in the best sense of the overworked word. At the moment Lidgerwood rather envied Benson—or Gridley, whichever one of the two it was for whom Miss Dawson cared the most.
"There are so many different kinds of cowards," she said, after the reflective interval.
"But they are all equally despicable?" he suggested.
"The real ones are, perhaps. But our definitions are often careless. My grandfather, who was a captain of volunteers in the Civil War, used to say that real cowardice is either a psychological condition or a soul disease, and that what we call the physical symptoms of it are often misleading."
"For example?" said Lidgerwood.
"Grandfather used to be fond of contrasting the camp-fire bully and braggart, as one extreme, with the soldier who was frankly afraid of getting killed, as the other. It was his theory that the man who dodged the first few bullets in a battle was quite likely to turn out to be the real hero."
Lidgerwood could not resist the temptation to probe the old wound.
"Suppose, under some sudden stress, some totally unexpected trial, a man who was very much afraid of being afraid found himself morally and physically unable to do the courageous thing. Wouldn't he be, to all intents and purposes, a real coward?"
She took time to think.
"No," she said finally, "I wouldn't say that. I should wait until I had seen the same man tried under conditions that would give him time, to think first and to act afterward."
"Would you really do that?" he asked doubtfully.
"Yes, I should. A trial of the kind you describe isn't quite fair. Acute presence of mind in an emergency is not a supreme test of anything except of itself; least of all, perhaps, is it a test of courage—I mean courage of that quality which endures to-day and faces without flinching the threatening to-morrow."
"And you think the man who might be surprised into doing something very disgraceful on the spur of the moment might still have that other kind of courage, Miss Faith?"
"Certainly." She was far enough from making any personal application of the test case suggested by the superintendent. But in a world which took its keynote from the harsh discords of the Red Desert, these little thoughtful talks with a man who was most emphatically not of the Red Desert were refreshing. And she could scarcely have been Martha Dawson's daughter or Frederic Dawson's sister without having a thoughtful cast of mind.
Lidgerwood rose and felt in his pockets for his after-dinner cigar.
"You are much more charitable than most women, Miss Dawson," he said gravely; after which he left abruptly, and went back to his desk in the Crow's Nest.
As we have seen, this bit of confidential talk between the superintendent and Faith Dawson fell in the period of the jesting 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 'cyclopaedia. 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.
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'."
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?"
"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.
"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.
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?"
"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.
"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."