E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE DAUGHTER OF A MAGNATE
FRANK H. SPEARMAN
Author of Whispering Smith, Doctor Bryson, Etc.
[Frontispiece: Gertrude used her glass constantly.]
Grosset & Dunlap Publishers : : New York
Copyright, 1903, by Charles Scribner's Sons
Published, October, 1903
WESLEY HAMILTON PECK, M.D.
I. A JUNE WATER II. AN ERROR AT HEADQUARTERS III. INTO THE MOUNTAINS IV. AS THE DESPATCHER SAW V. AN EMERGENCY CALL VI. THE CAT AND THE RAT VII. TIME BEING MONEY VIII. SPLITTING THE PAW IX. A TRUCE X. AND A SHOCK XI. IN THE LALLA ROOKH XII. A SLIP ON A SPECIAL XIII. BACK TO THE MOUNTAINS XIV. GLEN TARN XV. NOVEMBER XVI. NIGHT XVII. STORM XVIII. DAYBREAK XIX. SUSPENSE XX. DEEPENING WATERS XXI. PILOT XXII. THE SOUTH ARETE XXIII. BUSINESS
The Daughter of a Magnate
A JUNE WATER
The train, a special, made up of a private car and a diner, was running on a slow order and crawled between the bluffs at a snail's pace.
Ahead, the sun was sinking into the foothills and wherever the eye could reach to the horizon barren wastes lay riotously green under the golden blaze. The river, swollen everywhere out of its banks, spread in a broad and placid flood of yellow over the bottoms, and a hundred shallow lakes studded with willowed islands marked its wandering course to the south and east. The clear, far air of the mountains, the glory of the gold on the June hills and the illimitable stretch of waters below, spellbound the group on the observation platform.
"It's a pity, too," declared Conductor O'Brien, who was acting as mountain Baedeker, "that we're held back this way when we're covering the prettiest stretch on the road for running. It is right along here where you are riding that the speed records of the world have been made. Fourteen and six-tenths miles were done in nine and a half minutes just west of that curve about six months ago—of course it was down hill."
Several of the party were listening. "Do you use speed recorders out here?" asked Allen Harrison.
"Do you use speed recorders?"
"Only on our slow trains," replied O'Brien. "To put speed recorders on Paddy McGraw or Jimmie the Wind would be like timing a teal duck with an eight-day clock. Sir?" he asked, turning to another questioner while the laugh lingered on his side. "No; those are not really mountains at all. Those are the foothills of the Sleepy Cat range—west of the Spider Water. We get into that range about two hundred miles from here—well, I say they are west of the Spider, but for ten days it's been hard to say exactly where the Spider is. The Spider is making us all the trouble with high water just now—and we're coming out into the valley in about a minute," he added as the car gave an embarrassing lurch. "The track is certainly soft, but if you'll stay right where you are, on this side, ladies, you'll get the view of your lives when we leave the bluffs. The valley is about nine miles broad and it's pretty much all under water."
Beyond the curve they were taking lay a long tangent stretching like a steel wand across a sea of yellow, and as their engine felt its way very gingerly out upon it there rose from the slow-moving trucks of their car the softened resonance that tells of a sounding-board of waters.
Soon they were drawn among wooded knolls between which hurried little rivers tossed out of the Spider flood into dry waterways and brawling with surprised stones and foaming noisily at stubborn root and impassive culvert. Through the trees the travellers caught passing glimpses of shaded eddies and a wilderness of placid pools. "And this," murmured Gertrude Brock to her sister Marie, "this is the Spider!" O'Brien, talking to the men at her elbow, overheard. "Hardly, Miss Brock; not yet. You haven't seen the river yet. This is only the backwater."
They were rising the grade to the bridge approach, and when they emerged a few moments later from the woods the conductor said, "There!"
The panorama of the valley lay before them. High above their level and a mile away, the long thread-like spans of Hailey's great bridge stretched from pier to pier. To the right of the higher ground a fan of sidetracks spread, with lines of flat cars and gondolas loaded with stone, brush, piling and timbers, and in the foreground two hulking pile-drivers, their leads, like rabbits' ears laid sleekly back, squatted mysteriously. Switch engines puffed impatiently up and down the ladder track shifting stuff to the distant spurs. At the river front an army of men moved like loaded ants over the dikes. Beyond them the eye could mark the boiling yellow of the Spider, its winding channel marked through the waste of waters by whirling driftwood, bobbing wreckage and plunging trees—sweepings of a thousand angry miles. "There's the Spider," repeated the West End conductor, pointing, "out there in the middle where you see things moving right along. That's the Spider, on a twenty-year rampage." The train, moving slowly, stopped. "I guess we've got as close to it as we're going to, for a while. I'll take a look forward."
It was the time of the June water in the mountains. A year earlier the rise had taken the Peace River bridge and with the second heavy year of snow railroad men looked for new trouble. June is not a month for despair, because the mountain men have never yet scheduled despair as a West End liability. But it is a month that puts wrinkles in the right of way clear across the desert and sows gray hairs in the roadmasters' records from McCloud to Bear Dance. That June the mountain streams roared, the foothills floated, the plains puffed into sponge, and in the thick of it all the Spider Water took a man-slaughtering streak and started over the Bad Lands across lots. The big river forced Bucks' hand once more, and to protect the main line Glover, third of the mountain roadbuilders, was ordered off the high-line construction and back to the hills where Brodie and Hailey slept, to watch the Spider.
The special halted on a tongue of high ground flanking the bridge and extending upstream to where the river was gnawing at the long dike that held it off the approach. The delay was tedious. Doctor Lanning and Allen Harrison went forward to smoke. Gertrude Brock took refuge in a book and Mrs. Whitney, her aunt, annoyed her with stories. Marie Brock and Louise Donner placed their chairs where they could watch the sorting and unloading of never-ending strings of flat cars, the spasmodic activity in the lines of laborers, the hurrying of the foremen and the movement of the rapidly shifting fringe of men on the danger line at the dike.
The clouds which had opened for the dying splendor of the day closed and a shower swept over the valley; the conductor came back in his raincoat—his party were at dinner. "Are we to be detained much longer?" asked Mrs. Whitney.
"For a little while, I'm afraid," replied the trainman diplomatically. "I've been away over there on the dike to see if I could get permission to cross, but I didn't succeed."
"Oh, conductor!" remonstrated Louise Donner.
"And we don't get to Medicine Bend to-night," said Doctor Lanning.
"What we need is a man of influence," suggested Harrison. "We ought never to have let your 'pa' go," he added, turning to Gertrude Brock, beside whom he sat.
"Can't we really get ahead?" Gertrude lifted her brows reproachfully as she addressed the conductor. "It's becoming very tiresome."
O'Brien shook his head.
"Why not see someone in authority?" she persisted.
"I have seen the man in authority, and nearly fell into the river doing it; then he turned me down."
"Did you tell him who we were?" demanded Mrs. Whitney.
"I made all sorts of pleas."
"Does he know that Mr. Bucks promised we should be In Medicine Bend to-night?" asked pretty little Marie Brock.
"He wouldn't in the least mind that."
Mrs. Whitney bridled. "Pray who is he?"
"The construction engineer of the mountain division is the man in charge of the bridge just at present."
"It would be a very simple matter to get orders over his head," suggested Harrison.
"Hardly. No orders would take us over that bridge to-night without Glover's permission."
"What an autocrat!" sighed Mrs. Whitney. "No matter; I don't care to go over it, anyway."
"But I do," protested Gertrude. "I don't feel like staying in this water all night, if you please."
"I'm afraid that's what we'll have to do for a few hours. I told Mr. Glover he would be in trouble if I didn't get my people to Medicine Bend to-night."
"Tell him again," laughed Doctor Lanning.
Conductor O'Brien looked embarrassed. "You'd like to ask particular leave of Mr. Glover for us, I know," suggested Miss Donner.
"Well, hardly—the second time—not of Mr. Glover." A sheet of rain drenched the plate-glass windows. "But I'm going to watch things and we'll get out just as soon as possible. I know Mr. Glover pretty well. He is all right, but he's been down here now a week without getting out of his clothes and the river rising on him every hour. They've got every grain bag between Salt Lake and Chicago and they're filling them with sand and dumping them in where the river is cutting."
"Any danger of the bridge going?" asked the doctor.
"None in the world, but there's a lot of danger that the river will go. That would leave the bridge hanging over dry land. The fight is to hold the main channel where it belongs. They're getting rock over the bridge from across the river and strengthening the approach for fear the dike should give way. The track is busy every minute, so I couldn't make much impression on Mr. Glover."
There was light talk of a deputation to the dike, followed by the resignation of travellers, cards afterward, and ping-pong. With the deepening of the night the rain fell harder, and the wind rising in gusts drove it against the glass. When the women retired to their compartments the train had been set over above the bridge where the wind, now hard from the southeast, sung steadily around the car.
Gertrude Brock could not sleep. After being long awake she turned on the light and looked at her watch; it was one o'clock. The wind made her restless and the air in the stateroom had become oppressive. She dressed and opened her door. The lights were very low and the car was silent; all were asleep.
At the rear end she raised a window-shade. The night was lighted by strange waves of lightning, and thunder rumbled in the distance unceasingly. Where she sat she could see the sidings filled with cars, and when a sharper flash lighted the backwater of the lakes, vague outlines of far-off bluffs beetled into the sky.
She drew the shade, for the continuous lightning added to her disquiet. As she did so the rain drove harshly against the car and she retreated to the other side. Feeling presently the coolness of the air she walked to her stateroom for her Newmarket coat, and wrapping it about her, sunk into a chair and closed her eyes. She had hardly fallen asleep when a crash of thunder split the night and woke her. As it rolled angrily away she quickly raised the window-curtain.
The heavens were frenzied. She looked toward the river. Electrical flashes charging from end to end of the angry sky lighted the bridge, reflected the black face of the river and paled flickering lights and flaming torches where, on vanishing stretches of dike, an army of dim figures, moving unceasingly, lent awe to the spectacle.
She could see smoke from the hurrying switch engines whirled viciously up into the sweeping night and above her head the wind screamed. A gale from the southwest was hurling the Spider against the revetment that held the eastern shore and the day and the night gangs together were reinforcing it. Where the dike gave under the terrific pounding, or where swiftly boiling pools sucked under the heavy piling, Glover's men were sinking fresh relays of mattresses and loading them with stone.
At moments laden flat cars were pushed to the brink of the flood, and men with picks and bars rose spirit-like out of black shadows to scramble up their sides and dump rubble on the sunken brush. Other men toiling in unending procession wheeled and slung sandbags upon the revetment; others stirred crackling watchfires that leaped high into the rain, and over all played the incessant lightning and the angry thunder and the flying night.
She shut from her eyes the strangely moving sight, returned to her compartment, closed her door and lay down. It was quieter within the little room and the fury of the storm was less appalling.
Half dreaming as she lay, mountains shrouded in a deathly lightning loomed wavering before her, and one, most terrible of all, she strove unwillingly to climb. Up she struggled, clinging and slipping, a cramping fear over all her senses, her ankles clutched in icy fetters, until from above, an apparition, strange and threatening, pushed her, screaming, and she swooned into an awful gulf.
"Gertrude! Gertrude! Wake up!" cried a frightened voice.
The car was rocking in the wind, and as Gertrude opened her door Louise Donner stumbled terrified into her arms. "Did you hear that awful, awful crash? I'm sure the car has been struck."
"No, no, Louise."
"It surely has been. Oh, let us waken the men at once, Gertrude; we shall be killed!"
The two clung to one another. "I'm afraid to stay alone, Gertrude," sobbed her companion.
"Stay with me, Louise. Come." While they spoke the wind died and for a moment the lightning ceased, but the calm, like the storm, was terrifying. As they stood breathless a report like the ripping of a battery burst over their heads, a blast shook the heavy car and howled shrilly away.
Sleep was out of the question. Gertrude looked at her watch. It was four o'clock. The two dressed and sat together till daylight. When morning broke, dark and gray, the storm had passed and out of the leaden sky a drizzle of rain was falling. Beside the car men were moving. The forward door was open and the conductor in his stormcoat walked in.
"Everything is all right this morning, ladies," he smiled.
"All right? I should think everything all wrong," exclaimed Louise. "We have been frightened to death."
"They've got the cutting stopped," continued O'Brien, smiling. "Mr. Glover has left the dike. He just told me the river had fallen six inches since two o'clock. We'll be out of here now as quick as we can get an engine: they've been switching with ours. There was considerable wind in the night——"
"You didn't notice it, did you? Glover loaded the bridge with freight trains about twelve o'clock and I'm thinking it's lucky, for when the wind went into the northeast about four o'clock I thought it would take my head off. It snapped like dynamite clear across the valley."
"Oh, we heard!"
"When the wind jumped, a crew was dumping stone into the river. The men were ordered off the flat cars but there were so many they didn't all get the word at once, and while the foreman was chasing them down he was blown clean into the river."
"No, he was not. He crawled out away down by the bridge, though a man couldn't have done it once in a thousand times. It was old Bill Dancing—he's got more lives than a cat. Do you remember where we first pulled up the train in the afternoon? A string of ten box cars stood there last night and when the wind shifted it blew the whole bunch off the track."
"Oh, do let us get away from here," urged Gertrude. "I feel as if something worse would happen if we stayed. I'm sorry we ever left McCloud yesterday."
The men came from their compartments and there was more talk of the storm. Clem and his helpers were starting breakfast in the dining-car and the doctor and Harrison wanted to walk down to see where the river had cut into the dike. Mrs. Whitney had not appeared and they asked the young ladies to go with them. Gertrude objected. A foggy haze hung over the valley.
"Come along," urged Harrison; "the air will give you an appetite."
After some remonstrating she put on her heavy coat, and carrying umbrellas the four started under the conductor's guidance across to the dike. They picked their steps along curving tracks, between material piles and through the debris of the night. On the dike they spent some time looking at the gaps and listening to explanations of how the river worked to undermine and how it had been checked. Watchers hooded in yellow stickers patrolled the narrow jetties or, motionless, studied the eddies boiling at their feet.
Returning, the party walked around the edge of the camp where cooks were busy about steaming kettles. Under long, open tents wearied men lying on scattered hay slept after the hardship of the night. In the drizzling haze half a dozen men, assistants to the engineer—rough looking but strong-featured and quick-eyed—sat with buckets of steaming coffee about a huge campfire. Four men bearing a litter came down the path. Doctor Lanning halted them. A laborer had been pinched during the night between loads of piling projecting over the ends of flat cars and they told the doctor his chest was hurt. A soiled neckcloth covered his face but his stertorous breathing could be heard, and Gertrude Brock begged the doctor to go to the camp with the injured man and see whether something could not be done to relieve him until the company surgeon arrived. The doctor, with O'Brien, turned back. Gertrude, depressed by the incident, followed Louise and Allen Harrison along the path which wound round a clump of willows flanking the campfire.
On the sloping bank below the trees and a little out of the wind a man on a mattress of willows lay stretched asleep. He was clad in leather, mud-stained and wrinkled, and the big brown boots that cased his feet were strapped tightly above his knees. An arm, outstretched, supported his head, hidden under a soft gray hat. Like the thick gloves that covered his clasped hands, his hat and the handkerchief knotted about his neck were soaked by the rain, falling quietly and trickling down the furrows of his leather coat. But his attitude was one of exhaustion, and trifles of discomfort were lost in his deep respiration.
"Oh!" exclaimed Gertrude Brock under her breath, "look at that poor fellow asleep in the rain. Allen?"
Allen Harrison, ahead, was struggling to hold his umbrella upright while he rolled a cigarette. He turned as he passed the paper across his lips.
"Throw your coat over him, Allen."
Harrison pasted the paper roll, and putting it to his mouth felt for his matchcase. "Throw my coat over him!"
Allen took out a match. "Well, I like that. That's like you, Gertrude. Suppose you throw your coat over him."
Gertrude looked silently at her companion. There is a moment when women should be humored; not all men are fortunate enough to recognize it. Louise, still walking ahead, called, "Come on," but Gertrude did not move.
"Allen, throw your coat over the poor fellow," she urged. "You wouldn't let your dog lie like that in the rain."
"But, Gertrude—do me the kindness"—he passed his umbrella to her that he might better manage the lighting—"he's not my dog."
If she made answer it was only in the expression of her eyes. She handed the umbrella back, flung open her long coat and slipped it from her shoulders. With the heavy garment in her hands she stepped from her path toward the sleeper and noticed for the first time an utterly disreputable-looking dog lying beside him in the weeds. The dog's long hair was bedraggled to the color of the mud he curled in, and as he opened his eyes without raising his head, Gertrude hesitated; but his tail spoke a kindly greeting. He knew no harm was meant and he watched unconcernedly while, determined not to recede from her impulse, Gertrude stepped hastily to the sleeper's side and dropped her coat over his shoulders.
Louise was too far ahead to notice the incident. After breakfast she asked Gertrude what the matter was.
"Nothing. Allen and I had our first quarrel this morning."
As she spoke, the train, high in the air, was creeping over the Spider bridge.
AN ERROR AT HEADQUARTERS
When the Brock-Harrison party, familiarly known—among those with whom they were by no means familiar—as the Steel Crowd, bought the transcontinental lines that J. S. Bucks, the second vice-president and general manager, had built up into a system, their first visit to the West End was awaited with some uneasiness. An impression prevailed that the new owners might take decided liberties with what Conductor O'Brien termed the "personal" of the operating department.
But week after week followed the widely heralded announcement of the purchase without the looked-for visit from the new owners. During the interval West End men from the general superintendent down were admittedly on edge—with the exception of Conductor O'Brien. "If I go, I go," was all he said, and in making the statement in his even, significant way it was generally understood that the trainman that ran the pay-cars and the swell mountain specials had in view a superintendency on the New York Central. On what he rested his confidence in the opening no one certainly knew, though Pat Francis claimed it was based wholly on a cigar in a glass case once given to the genial conductor by Chauncey M. Depew when travelling special to the coast under his charge.
Be that as it may, when the West End was at last electrified by the announcement that the Brock-Harrison syndicate train had already crossed the Missouri and might be expected any day, O'Brien with his usual luck was detailed as one of the conductors to take charge of the visitors.
The pang in the operating department was that the long-delayed inspection tour should have come just at a time when the water had softened things until every train on the mountain division was run under slow-orders.
At McCloud Vice-president Bucks, a very old campaigner, had held the party for two days to avoid the adverse conditions in the west and turned the financiers of the party south to inspect branches while the road was drying in the hills. But the party of visitors contained two distinct elements, the money-makers and the money-spenders—the generation that made the investment and the generation that distributed the dividends. The young people rebelled at branch line trips and insisted on heading for sightseeing and hunting straight into the mountains. Accordingly, at McCloud the party split, and while Henry S. Brock and his business associates looked over the branches, his private cars containing his family and certain of their friends were headed for the headquarters of the mountain division, Medicine Bend.
Medicine Bend is not quite the same town it used to be, and disappointment must necessarily attend efforts to identify the once familiar landmarks of the mountain division. Improvement, implacable priestess of American industry, has well-nigh obliterated the picturesque features of pioneer days. The very right of way of the earliest overland line, abandoned for miles and miles, is seen now from the car windows bleaching on the desert. So once its own rails, vigorous and aggressive, skirted grinning heaps of buffalo bones, and its own tangents were spiked across the grave of pony rider and Indian brave—the king was: the king is.
But the Sweetgrass winds are the same. The same snows whiten the peaks, the same sun dies in western glory, and the mountains still see nestling among the tracks at the bend of the Medicine River the first headquarters building of the mountain division, nicknamed The Wickiup. What, in the face of continual and unrelenting changes, could have saved the Wickiup? Not the fact that the crazy old gables can boast the storm and stress of the mad railroad life of another day than this—for every deserted curve and hill of the line can do as much. The Wickiup has a better claim to immortality, for once its cracked and smoky walls, raised solely to house the problems and perplexities of the operating department, sheltered a pair of lovers, so strenuous in their perplexities that even yet in the gleam of the long night-fires of the West End their story is told.
In that day the construction department of the mountain division was cooped up at one end of the hall on the second floor of the building. Bucks at that time thought twice before he indorsed one of Glover's twenty-thousand-dollar specifications. Now, with the department occupying the entire third floor and pushing out of the dormer windows, a million-dollar estimate goes through like a requisition for postage stamps.
But in spite of his hole-in-the-wall office, Glover, the construction engineer of that day, was a man to be reckoned with in estimates of West End men. They knew him for a captain long before he left his mark on the Spider the time he held the river for a straight week at twenty-eight feet, bitted and gagged between Hailey's piers, and forced the yellow tramp to understand that if it had killed Hailey there were equally bad men left on the mountain pay-roll. Glover, it may be said, took his final degrees in engineering in the Grand Canyon; he was a member of the Bush party, and of the four that got back alive to Medicine one was Ab Glover.
Glover rebuilt the whole system of snowsheds on the West End, practically everything from the Peace to the Sierras. Every section foreman in the railroad Bad Lands knew Glover. Just how he happened to lose his position as chief engineer of the system—for he was a big man on the East End when he first came with the road—no one certainly knew. Some said he spoke his mind too freely—a bad trait in a railroad man; others said he could not hold down the job. All they knew in the mountains was that as a snow fighter he could wear out all the plows on the division, and that if a branch line were needed in haste Glover would have the rails down before an ordinary man could get his bids in.
Ordinarily these things are expected from a mountain constructionist and elicit no comment from headquarters, but the matter at the Spider was one that could hardly pass unnoticed. For a year Glover had been begging for a stenographer. Writing, to him, was as distasteful as soda-water, and one morning soon after his return from the valley flood a letter came with the news that a competent stenographer had been assigned to him and would report at once for duty at Medicine Bend.
Glover emerged from his hall-office in great spirits and showed the letter to Callahan, the general superintendent, for congratulations. "That is right," commented Callahan cynically. "You saved them a hundred thousand dollars last month—they are going to blow ten a week on you. By the way, your stenographer is here."
"She is. Your stenographer, a very dignified young lady, came in on Number One. You had better go and get shaved. She has been in to inquire for you and has gone to look up a boarding-place. Get her started as soon as you can—I want to see your figures on the Rat Canyon work."
A helper now would be a boon from heaven. "But she won't stay long after she sees this office," Glover reflected ruefully as he returned to it. He knew from experience that stenographers were hard to hold at Medicine Bend. They usually came out for their health and left at the slightest symptoms of improvement. He worried as to whether he might possibly have been unlucky enough to draw another invalid. And at the very moment he had determined he would not lose his new assistant if good treatment would keep her he saw a trainman far down the gloomy hall pointing a finger in his direction—saw a young lady coming toward him and realized he ought to have taken time that morning to get shaved.
There was nothing to do but make the best of it; dismissing his embarrassment he rose to greet the newcomer. His first reflection was that he had not drawn an invalid, for he had never seen a fresher face in his life, and her bearing had the confidence of health itself.
"I heard you had been here," he said reassuringly as the young lady hesitated at his door.
"I heard you had been here," he repeated with deference.
"I wish to send a despatch," she replied with an odd intonation. Her reply seemed so at variance with his greeting that a chill tempered his enthusiasm. Could they possibly have sent him a deaf stenographer?—one worn in the exacting service at headquarters? There was always a fly somewhere in his ointment, and so capable and engaging a young lady seemed really too good to be true. He saw the message blank in her hand. "Let me take it," he suggested, and added, raising his voice, "It shall go at once." The young lady gave him the message and sitting down at his desk he pressed an electric call. Whatever her misfortunes she enlisted his sympathy instantly, and as no one had ever accused him of having a weak voice he determined he would make the best of the situation. "Be seated, please," he said. She looked at him curiously. "Pray, be seated," he repeated more firmly.
"I desire only to pay for my telegram."
"Not at all. It isn't necessary. Just be seated!"
In some bewilderment she sat down on the edge of the chair beside which she stood.
"We are cramped for room at present in the construction department," he went on, affixing his frank to the telegram. "Here, Gloomy, rush this, my boy," said he to the messenger, who came through a door connecting with the operator's room. "But we have the promise of more space soon," he resumed, addressing the young lady hopefully. "I have had your desk placed there to give you the benefit of the south light."
The stenographer studied the superintendent of construction with some surprise. His determination to provide for her comfort was most apparent and his apologies for his crowded quarters were so sincere that they could not but appeal to a stranger. Her expression changed. Glover felt that he ought to ask her to take off her hat, but could not for his life. The frankness of her eyes was rather too confusing to support very much of at once, and he busied himself at sorting the blueprints on his table, guiltily aware that she was alive to his unshaven condition. He endeavored to lead the conversation. "We have excellent prospects of a new headquarters building." As he spoke he looked up. Her eyes were certainly extraordinary. Could she be laughing at him? The prospect of a new building had been, it was true, a joke for many years and evidently she put no more confidence in the statement than he did himself. "Of course, you are aware," he continued to bolster his assertion, "that the road has been bought by an immensely rich lot of Pittsburg duffers——"
The stenographer half rose in her chair. "Will it not be possible for me to pay for my message at once?" she asked somewhat peremptorily.
"I have already franked it."
"But I did not——"
"Don't mention it. All I will ask in return is that you will help me get some letters out of the way to-day," returned Glover, laying a pencil and note-book on the desk before her. "The other work may go till to-morrow. By the way, have you found a boarding-place?"
"I understand you were looking for one."
"I have one."
"The first letter is to Mr. Bucks—I fancy you know his address—" She did not begin with alacrity. Their eyes met, and in hers there was a queerish expression.
"I'm not at all sure I ought to undertake this," she said rapidly and with a touch of disdainful mischief.
"Give yourself no uneasiness—" he began.
"It is you I fear who are giving yourself uneasiness," she interrupted.
"No, I dictate very slowly. Let's make a trial anyway." To avoid embarrassment he looked the other way when he saw she had taken up the pencil.
"My Dear Bucks," he began. "Your letter with programme for the Pittsburg party is received. Why am I to be nailed to the cross with part of the entertaining? There's no hunting now. The hair is falling off grizzlies and Goff wouldn't take his dogs out at this season for the President of the United States. What would you think of detailing Paddy McGraw to give the young men a fast ride—they have heard of him. I talked yesterday with one of them. He wanted to see a train robber and I introduced him to Conductor O'Brien, but he never saw the joke, and you know how depressing explanations are. Don't, my dear Bucks, put me on a private car with these people for four weeks—my brother died of paresis——"
"Oh!" He turned. The stenographer's cheeks were burning; she was astonishingly pretty. "I'm going too fast, I'm afraid," said Glover.
"I do not think I had better attempt to continue," she answered, rising. Her eyes fairly burned the brown mountain engineer.
"As you like," he replied, rising too, "It was hardly fair to ask you to work to-day. By the way, Mr. Bucks forgot to give me your name."
"Is it necessary that you should have my name?"
"Not in the least," returned Glover with insistent consideration, "any name at all will do, so I shall know what to call you."
For an instant she seemed unable to catch her breath, and he was about to explain that the rarefied air often affected newcomers in that way when she answered with some intensity, "I am Miss Brock. I never have occasion to use any other name."
Whatever result she looked for from her spirited words, his manner lost none of its urbanity. "Indeed? That's the name of our Pittsburg magnate. You ought to be sure of a position under him—you might turn out to be a relation," he laughed, softly.
"Do not return this afternoon," he continued as she backed away from him. "This mountain air is exhausting at first——"
"Your letters?" she queried with an expression that approached pleasant irony.
"They may wait."
She courtesied quaintly. He had never seen such a woman in his life, and as his eyes fixed on her down the dim hall he was overpowered by the grace of her vanishing figure.
Sitting at his table he was still thinking of her when Solomon, the messenger, came in with a telegram. The boy sat down opposite the engineer, while the latter read the message.
"That Miss Brock is fine, isn't she?"
Glover scowled. "I took a despatch over to the car yesterday and she gave me a dollar," continued Solomon.
"Her car. She's in that Pittsburg party."
"The young lady that sat here a moment ago?"
"Sure; didn't you know? There she goes now to the car again." Glover stepped to the east window. A young lady was gathering up her gown to mount the car-step and a porter was assisting her. The daintiness of her manner was a nightmare of conviction. Glover turned from the window and began tearing up papers on his table. He tore up all the worthless papers in sight and for months afterward missed valuable ones. When he had filled the waste-basket he rammed blue-prints down into it with his foot until he succeeded in smashing it. Then he sat down and held his head between his hands.
She was entitled to an apology, or an attempt at one at least, and though he would rather have faced a Sweetgrass blizzard than an interview he set his lips and with bitterness in his heart made his preparations. The incident only renewed his confidence in his incredible stupidity, but what he felt was that a girl with such eyes as hers could never be brought to believe it genuine.
An hour afterward he knocked at the door of the long olive car that stood east of the station. The hand-rails were very bright and the large plate windows shone spotless, but the brown shades inside were drawn. Glover touched the call-button and to the uniformed colored man who answered he gave his card asking for Miss Brock.
An instant during which he had once waited for a dynamite blast when unable to get safely away, came back to him. Standing on the handsome platform he remembered wondering at that time whether he should land in one place or in several places. Now, he wished himself away from that door even if he had to crouch again on the ledge which he had found in a deadly moment he could not escape from. On the previous occasion the fuse had mercifully failed to burn. This time when he collected his thoughts the colored man was smilingly telling him for the second time that Miss Brock was not in.
INTO THE MOUNTAINS
"You put me in an awkward position," muttered Bucks, looking out of the window.
"But it is grace itself compared with the position I should be in now among the Pittsburgers," objected Glover, shifting his legs again.
"If you won't go, I must, that's all," continued the general manager. "I can't send Tom, Dick, or Harry with these people, Ab. Gentlemen must be entertained as such. On the hunting do the best you can; they want chiefly to see the country and I can't have them put through it on a tourist basis. I want them to see things globe-trotters don't see and can't see without someone like you. You ought to do that much for our President—Henry S. Brock is not only a national man, and a big one in the new railroad game, but besides being the owner of this whole system he is my best friend. We sat at telegraph keys together a long time before he was rated at sixty million dollars. I care nothing for the party except that it includes his own family and is made up of his friends and associates and he looks to me here as I should look to him in the East were circumstances reversed."
Bucks paused. Glover stared a moment. "If you put it in that way let us drop it," said he at last. "I will go."
"The blunder was not a life and death matter. In the mountains where we don't see one woman a year it might happen that any man expecting one young lady should mistake another for her. Miss Brock is full of mischief, and the temptation to her to let you deceive yourself was too great, that's all. If I could go without sacrificing the interests of all of us in the reorganization I shouldn't ask you to go."
"Let it pass."
The day had been planned for the little reception to the visitors. The arrival of two more private cars had added the directors, the hunting party and more women to the company. The women were to drive during the day, and the men had arranged to inspect the roundhouse, the shops, and the division terminals and to meet the heads of the operating department.
In the evening the railroad men were to call on their guests at the train. This was what Glover had hoped he should escape until Bucks arriving in the morning asked him not only to attend the reception but to pilot Mr. Brock's own party through a long mountain trip. To consent to the former request after agreeing to the latter was of slight consequence.
In the evening the special train twinkling across the yard looked as pretty as a dream. The luxury of the appointments, subdued by softened lights, and the simple hospitality of the Pittsburgers—those people who understand so well how to charm and bow to repel—was a new note to the mountain men. If self-consciousness was felt by the least of them at the door it could hardly pass Mr. Brock within; his cordiality was genuine.
Following Bucks came some of his mountain staff, whom he introduced to the men whose interests they now represented. Morris Blood, the superintendent, was among those he brought forward, and he presented him as a young railroad man and a rising one. Glover followed because he was never very far from the mountain superintendent and the general manager when the two were in sight.
For Glover there was an uncomfortable moment prospect, and it came almost at once. Mr. Brock, in meeting him as the chief of construction who was to take the party on the mountain trip, left his place and took him with Blood black to his own car to be introduced to his sister, Mrs. Whitney. The younger Miss Brock, Marie, the invalid, a sweet-faced girl, rose to meet the two men. Mrs. Whitney introduced them to Miss Donner. At the table Gertrude Brock was watching a waiter from the dining-car who was placing a coffee urn.
She turned to meet the young men that were coming forward with her father, and Glover thought the awful moment was upon him; yet it happened that he was never to be introduced to Gertrude Brock.
Marie was already engaging him where he stood with gentle questions, and to catch them he had to bend above her. When the waiter went away, Morris Blood was helping Gertrude Brock to complete her arrangements. Others came up; the moment passed. But Glover was conscious all the time of this graceful girl who was so frankly cordial to those near her and so oblivious of him.
He heard her laughing voice in her conversation with his friends and noted in the utterance of her sister and her aunt the same unusual inflections that he had first heard from her in his office. To his surprise these Eastern women were very easy to talk to. They asked about the mountains, and as their train conductor had long ago hinted when himself apologizing for mountain stories, well told but told at second hand—Glover knew the mountains.
Discussing afterward the man that was to plan the summer trip for them, Louise Donner wished it might have been the superintendent, because he was a Boston Tech man.
"Oh, but I think Mr. Glover is going to be interesting," declared Mrs. Whitney. "He drawls and I like that sort of men; there's always something more to what they say, after you think they're done, don't you know? He drank two cups of coffee, didn't he, Gertrude? Didn't you like him?"
"The tall one? I didn't notice; he is amazingly homely, isn't he?"
"Don't abuse him, for he is delightful," interposed Marie.
"I accused him right soon of being a Southerner," Mrs. Whitney went on. "He admitted he was a Missourian. When I confessed I liked his drawl he told me I ought to hear his brother, a lawyer, who stutters. Mr. Glover says he wins all his cases through sympathy. He stumbles along until everyone is absolutely convinced that the poor fellow would have a perfectly splendid case if he could only stammer through it; then, of course, he gets the verdict."
The party had not completed the first day out of Medicine Bend under Glover's care before they realized that Mrs. Whitney was right. Glover could talk and he could listen. With the men it was mining or railroading or shooting. If things lagged with the ladies he had landmarks or scenery or early-day stories. With Mrs. Whitney he could in extremity discuss St. Louis. Marie Brock he could please by placing her in marvellous spots for sketching. As for Gertrude and Louise Donner the men of their own party left them no dull moments.
The first week took the party north into the park country. Two days of the time, on horses, partly, put everyone in love with the Rockies. On Saturday they reached the main line again, and at Sleepy Cat, Superintendent Blood joined the party for the desert run to the Heart Mountains. Glover already felt the fatigue of the unusual week, nor could any ingenuity make the desert interesting to strenuous people. Its beauties are contemplative rather than pungent, and the travellers were frankly advised to fall back on books and ping-pong. Crawling across an interminable alkali basin in the late afternoon their train was laid out a long time by a freight wreck.
Weary of the car, Gertrude Brock, after the sun had declined, was walking alone down the track when Glover came in sight. She started for the train, but Glover easily overtook her. Since he had joined the party they had not exchanged one word.
"I wonder whether you have ever seen anything like these, Miss Brock?" he asked, coming up to her. She turned; he had a handful of small, long-stemmed flowers of an exquisite blue.
"How beautiful!" she exclaimed, moved by surprise. "What are they?"
"Such a blue."
"You expressed a regret this morning——"
"Oh, you heard——"
"What are they called?"
"I haven't an idea. But once in the Sioux country—" They were at the car-step. "Marie? See here," she called to her sister within.
"Won't you take them?" asked Glover.
"No, no. I——"
"With an apology for my——"
"Marie, dear, do look here——"
"—Stupidity the other day?"
"How shall I ever reach that step?" she exclaimed, breaking in upon her own words and obstinately buffeting his own as she gazed with more than necessary dismay at the high vestibule tread.
"Would you hold the flowers a moment—" he asked—her sister appeared at the door—"so I may help you?" continued the patient railroad man.
"See, Marie, these dear flowers!" Marie clapped her hands as she ran forward. He held the flowers up. "Are they for me?" she cried.
"Will you take them?" he asked, as she bent over the guard-rail. "Oh, gladly." He turned instantly, but Gertrude had gained the step. "Thank you, thank you," exclaimed Marie. "What is their name, Mr. Glover?"
"I don't know any name for them except an Indian name. The Sioux, up in their country, call them sky-eyes."
"Sky-eyes! Isn't that dear? sky-eyes."
"You are heated," continued Marie, looking at him, "you have walked a long way. Where in all this desolate, desolate country could you find flowers such as these?"
"Back a little way in a canyon."
"Are there many in a desert like this?"
"I know of none—at least within many miles—yet there may be others in nearby hiding-places. The desert is full of surprises."
"You are so warm, are you not coming up to sit down while I get a bowl?"
"I will go forward, thank you, and see when we are to get away. Your sister," he added, looking evenly at Marie as Gertrude stood beside her, "asked this morning why there were no flowers in this country, and while we were delayed I happened to recollect that canyon and the sky-eyes."
"I think your stupid man the most interesting we have met since we left home, Gertrude," remarked Marie at her embroidery after dinner.
"I told you he would be," said Mrs. Whitney, suppressing a yawn. Gertrude was playing ping-pong with Doctor Lanning. "But isn't he homely?" she exclaimed, sending a cut ball into the doctor's watch-chain.
Louise returned soon with Allen Harrison from the forward car.
"The programme for the evening is arranged," she announced, "and it's fine. We are to have a big campfire over near that butte—right out under the stars. And Mr. Blood is going to tell a story, and while he's telling it, Mr. Glover—oh, drop your ping-pong, won't you, and listen—has promised to make taffy and we are to pull it—won't that be jolly? and then the coyotes are to howl."
A little later all left the car together. Above the copper edge of the desert ranges the moon was rising full and it brought the nearer buttes up across the stretches of the night like sentinels. In the sky a multitude of stars trembled, and wind springing from the south fanned the fire growing on the plateau just off the right of way.
The party disposed themselves in camp-chairs and on ties about the big fire. Near at hand, Glover, who already had a friend in Clem, the cook, was feeding chips into a little blaze under a kettle slung with his taffy mixture, which the women in turn inspected, asked questions about, and commented sceptically upon.
Doctor Lanning brought his banjo, and when the party had settled low about the fire it helped to keep alive the talk. Every few minutes the taffy and the coyotes were demanded in turn, and Glover was kept busy apologizing for the absence of the wolves and the slowness of his kettle, under which he fed the small chips regularly.
As the night air grew sharper more wraps were called for. When Doctor Lanning and Mrs. Whitney started after them they asked Gertrude what they should bring her, but she said she needed nothing.
As she sat, she could see Glover, her sister Marie on a stool beside him, watching the boiling taffy. With one foot doubled under him for a seat, and an elbow supported on his knee he steadied himself like a camp cook behind his modest fire; but even as he crouched the blaze threw him up astonishingly tall. Heedless of the chatter around the big fire the man whose business was to bridle rivers, fight snowslides, raze granite hills, and dispute for their dizzy passes with the bighorn and the bear, bent patiently above his pot of molasses, a coaxing stick in one hand and a careful chip in the other.
"Where, pray, Mr. Glover, did you learn that?" demanded Marie Brock. He had been explaining the chemical changes that follow each stage of the boiling in sugar. "I learned the taffy business from the old negro mammy that 'raised' me down on the Mississippi, Aunt Chloe. She taught me everything I know—except mathematics—and mathematics I don't know anyway." Mrs. Whitney was distributing the wraps. "I would have brought your Newmarket if I could have found it, Gertrude."
"Her Newmarket!" exclaimed Allen Harrison. "Gertrude hasn't told the Newmarket story, eh? She threw it over a tramp asleep in the rain down at the Spider Water bridge."
"—And was going to disown me because I wouldn't give up my overcoat for a tarpaulin."
"Gertrude Brock!" exclaimed Mrs. Whitney. "Your Newmarket! Then you deserve to freeze," she declared, settling under her fur cape. "What will she do next? Now, Mr. Blood, we are all here; what about that story?"
Morris Blood turned. Glover, Marie Brock watching, tested the foaming candy. Doctor Lanning, on a cushion, strummed his banjo.
In front of Gertrude, Harrison, inhaling a cigarette, stretched before the fire. Declining a stool, Gertrude was sitting on a chair of ties. One, projecting at her side, made a rest for her elbow and she reclined her head upon her hand as she watched the flames leap.
"The incident Miss Donner asked about occurred when I was despatching," began the superintendent.
"Oh, are you a despatcher, too?" asked Louise, clasping her hands upon her knee as she leaned forward.
"They would hardly trust me with a train-sheet now; this was some time ago."
AS THE DESPATCHER SAW
"If you can recollect the blizzard that Roscoe Conkling went down in one March day in the streets of New York, it will give you the date; possibly call to your mind the storm. I had the River Division then, and we got through the whole winter without a single tie-up of consequence until March.
"The morning was still as June. When the sky went heavy at noon it looked more like a spring shower than a snow-storm; only, I noticed over at the government building they were flying a black flag splashed with a red centre. I had not seen it before for years, and I asked for ploughs on every train out after two o'clock.
"Even then there was no wickedness abroad; it was coming fairly heavy in big flakes, but lying quiet as apple-blossoms. Toward four o'clock I left the office for the roundhouse, and got just about half-way across the yard when the wind veered like a scared semaphore. I had left the depot in a snow-storm; I reached the roundhouse in a blizzard.
"There was no time to wait to get back to the keys. I telephoned orders over from the house, and the boys burned the wires, east and west, with warnings. When the wind went into the north that day at four o'clock, it was murder pure and simple, with the snow sweeping the flat like a shroud and the thermometer water-logged at zero.
"All night it blew, with never a minute's let-up. By ten o'clock half our wires were down, trains were failing all over the division, and before midnight every plough on the line was bucking snow—and the snow was coming harder. We had given up all idea of moving freight, and were centring everything on the passenger trains, when a message came from Beverly that the fast mail was off track in the cut below the hill, and I ordered out the wrecking gang and a plough battery for the run down.
"It was a fearful night to make up a train in a hurry—as much as a man's life was worth to work even slow in the yard a night like that. But what limit is set to a switchman's courage I have never known, because I've never known one to balk at a yardmaster's order.
"I went to work clearing the line, and forgot all about everything outside the train-sheet till a car-tink came running in with word that a man was hurt in the yard.
"Some men get used to it; I never do. As much as I have seen of railroad life, the word that a man's hurt always hits me in the same place. Slipping into an ulster, I pulled a storm-cap over my ears and hurried down stairs buttoning my coat. The arc-lights, blinded in the storm, swung wild across the long yard, and the wind sung with a scream through the telegraph wires. Stumbling ahead, the big car-tink, facing the storm, led me to where between the red and the green lamps a dozen men hovered close to the gangway of a switch engine. The man hurt lay under the forward truck of the tender.
"They had just got the wrecking train made up, and this man, running forward after setting a switch, had flipped the tender of the backing engine and slipped from the footboard. When I bent over him, I saw he was against it. He knew it, too, for the minute they shut off and got to him he kept perfectly still, asking only for a priest.
"I tried every way I could think of to get him free from the wheels. Two of us crawled under the tender to try to figure it out. But he lay so jammed between the front wheel and the hind one, and tender trucks are so small and the wheels so close together that to save our lives we could neither pull ahead nor back the engine without further mutilating him.
"As I talked to him I took his hand and tried to explain that to free him we should have to jack up the truck. He heard, he understood, but his eyes, glittering like the eyes of a wounded animal with shock, wandered uneasily while I spoke, and when I had done, he closed them to grapple with the pain. Presently a hand touched my shoulder; the priest had come, and throwing open his coat knelt beside us. He was a spare old man—none too good a subject himself, I thought, for much exposure like that—but he did not seem to mind. He dropped on his knees and, with both hands in the snow, put his head in behind the wheel close to the man's face. What they said to each other lasted only a moment, and all the while the boys were keying like madmen at the jacks to ease the wheel that had crushed the switchman's thigh. When they got the truck partly free, they lifted the injured man back a little where we could all see his face. They were ready to do more, but the priest, wiping the water and snow from the failing man's lips and forehead, put up his fingers to check them.
"The wind, howling around the freight-cars strung about us, sucked the guarded lantern flames up into blue and green flickers in the globes; they lighted the priest's face as he took off his hat and laid it beside him, and lighted the switchman's eyes looking steadily up from the rail. The snow, curling and eddying across the little blaze of lamps, whitened everything alike, tender and wheel and rail, the jackscrews, the bars, and the shoulders and caps of the men. The priest bent forward again and touched the lips and the forehead of the switchman with his thumb: then straightening on his knees he paused a moment, his eyes lifted up, raised his hand and slowly signing through the blinding flakes the form of the cross, gave him the sacrament of the dying.
"I have forgotten the man's name. I have never seen the old priest, before or since. But, sometime, a painter will turn to the railroad life. When he does, I may see from his hand such a picture as I saw at that moment—the night, the storm, the scant hair of the priest blown in the gale, the men bared about him; the hush of the death moment; the wrinkled hand raised in the last benediction."
AN EMERGENCY CALL
In the morning the Brock special bathed in sunshine lay in the Bear Dance yard. When it was learned at breakfast that during the night Morris Blood had disappeared there was a protest. He had taken a train east, Glover told them.
"But you should not have let him run away," objected Marie Brock, "we've barely made his acquaintance. I was going to ask him ever so many questions about mines this morning. Tell him, Mr. Glover, when you telegraph, that he has had a peremptory recall, will you? We want him for dinner to-morrow night; papa and Mr. Bucks are to join us, you know."
Mr. Brock arrived the following evening but the general manager failed them, and it was long after hope of Morris Blood had been given up that Glover brought him in with apologies for his late arrival.
The two cars were sidetracked at Cascade, the heart of the sightseeing country, and Glover had a trip laid out for the early morning on horses up Cabin Creek.
When he sat down to explain to Marie where he meant to take the party the following day Gertrude Brock had a book under the banquet lamp at the lower end of the car. The doctor and Harrison with Mrs. Whitney were gathered about Louise, who among the couch pillows was reading hands. As Morris Blood, after some talk with Mr. Brock, approached, Louise nodded to him. "We shall take no apologies for spoiling our dinner party," said she, "but you may sit down. I haven't been able, Mr. Blood, to get your story out of my head since you told it: none of us have. Do you believe in palmistry? Now, Mr. Harrison, do sit still till I finish your hand. Oh, here's another engagement in it! Why, Allen Harrison!"
"How many is that?" asked Gertrude, looking over.
"Three; and here is further excitement for you, Mr. Harrison——"
"How soon?" demanded Allen.
"Very soon, I should think; just as soon as you get home."
"Well timed," said Marie; she and Glover had come up. "I think that's all, this time," concluded Louise, studying the lines carefully. "Go slow on mining for one year, remember." She looked at Morris Blood. "Am I to have the pleasure of reading your hand?"
"There isn't a bit of excitement in my hand, Miss Donner, no fortunes, no adventures, no engagements——"
"You mean in your life. Very good; that's just the sort of hand I love to read. The excitement is all ahead. Really I should like to read your hand."
"If you insist," he said, putting out his left hand.
"Your right, please," smiled Louise.
"I have no right," he answered. She looked mystified, but held out her hand smilingly for his right.
"I have no right hand," he repeated, smiling, too.
None had observed before that the superintendent never offered his hand in greeting. A conscious instant fell on the group. It was barely an instant, for Glover, who heard, turned at once from an answer to Marie Brock and laying a hand on his companion's shoulder spoke easily to Louise. "He gave his right hand for me once, Miss Donner, that's the reason he has none. May I offer mine for him?"
He put out his own right hand as he asked, and his lightly serious words bridged the momentary embarrassment.
"Oh, I can read either hand," laughed Louise, recovering and putting Glover's hand aside. "Let me have your left, Mr. Blood—your turn presently, Mr. Glover. Be seated. Now this is the sort of hand I like," she declared, leaning forward as she looked into the left—"full of romance, Mr. Blood. Here is an affair of the heart the very first thing. Now don't laugh, this is serious." She studied the palm a moment and glanced mischievously around her. "If I were to disclose all the delicate romances I find here," she declared with an air of mystery, "they would laugh at both of us. I'm not going to give them a chance. I give private readings, too, Mr. Blood, and you shall have a private reading at the other end or the car after a while. Now is there another 'party'? Oh, to be sure; come, Mr. Glover, are all railroad men romantic? This is growing interesting—let me see your palm. Oh!"
"Now what have I done?" asked Glover as Louise, studying his palm, started. "I have changed my name—I admit that; but I have always denied killing anyone in the States. Are you going to tell the real facts? Won't someone lend me a hand for a few minutes? Or may I withdraw this entry before exposure?"
"Mr. Glover! of all the hands! I'm not surprised you were chosen to show the sights. There's something happening in your hand every few minutes. Adventures, heart affairs, fortunes, perils—such a life-line, Mr. Glover. On my word there you are hanging by a hair—a hair—on the verge of eternity——"
Glover laughed softly.
"Oh, come, Louise," protested Mrs. Whitney. "Touch on lighter lines, please."
"Lighter lines! Why, Mr. Glover's heart-line is a perfect canyon." The laughter did not daunt her. "A perfect canyon. I've read about hands like this, but I never saw one. No more to-night, Mr. Glover, you are too exciting."
"But about hanging on the verge—has it anything to do with a lynching, do you think, Miss Donner?" asked Glover. "The hair rope might be a lariat——"
"Mr. Glover!"—the train conductor opened the car door. "Is Mr. Glover in this car?"
"May I be excused for a moment?" said Glover, rising.
"What did I tell you?" exclaimed Louise, "a telegram! Something has happened already."
THE CAT AND THE RAT
At five o'clock that evening, snow was falling at Medicine Bend, but Callahan, as he studied the weather bulletins, found consolation in the fact that it was not raining, and resting his heels on a table littered with train-sheets he forced the draft on a shabby brier and meditated.
There were times when snow had been received with strong words at the Wickiup: but when summer fairly opened Callahan preferred snow to rain as strongly as he preferred genuine Lone Jack to the spurious compounds that flooded the Western market.
The chief element of speculation in his evening reflections was as to what was going on west of the range, for Callahan knew through cloudy experience that what happens on one side of a mountain chain is no evidence as to what is doing on the other—and by species of warm weather depravity that night something was happening west of the range.
"It is curious," mused Callahan, as Morrison, the head operator, handed him some McCloud messages—"curious, that we get nothing from Sleepy Cat."
Sleepy Cat, it should be explained, is a new town on the West End; not only that, but a division town, and though one may know something about the Mountain Division he may yet be puzzled at Callahan's mention of Sleepy Cat. When gold was found in the Pilot range and camps grew up and down Devil's Gap like mushrooms, a branch was run from Sleepy Cat through the Pilot country, and the tortoise-like way station became at once a place of importance. It takes its name from the neighboring mountain around the base of which winds the swift Rat River. At Sleepy Cat town the main line leaves the Rat, and if a tenderfoot brakeman ask a reservation buck why the mountain is called Sleepy Cat the Indian will answer, always the same, "It lets the Rat run away."
"Now it's possible," suggested Hughie Morrison, looking vaguely at the stove, "that the wires are down."
"Nonsense," objected Callahan.
"It is raining at Soda Sink," persisted Morrison, mildly.
"What?" demanded the general superintendent, pulling his pipe from his mouth. Hughie Morrison kept cool. His straight, black hair lay boyishly smooth across his brow. There was no guile in his expression even though he had stunned Callahan, which was precisely what he had intended. "It is raining at Soda Sink," he repeated.
Now there is no day in the mountains that goes back of the awful tradition concerning rain at Soda Sink. Before Tom Porter, first manager; before Brodie, who built the bridges; before Sikes, longest in the cab; before Pat Francis, oldest of conductors, runs that tradition about rain at the Sink—which is desert absolute—where it never does rain and never should. When it rains at Soda Sink, this say the Medicine men, the Cat will fall on the Rat. It is Indian talk as old as the foothills.
Of course no railroad man ever gave much heed to Indian talk; how, for instance, could a mountain fall on a river? Yet so the legend ran, and there being one superstitious man on the force at Medicine Bend one man remembered it—Hughie Morrison.
Callahan studied the bulletin to which the operator called his attention and resumed his pipe sceptically, but he did make a suggestion. "See if you can't get Sleepy Cat, Hughie, and find out whether that is so."
Morris Blood was away with the Pittsburgers and Callahan had foolishly consented to look after his desk for a few days. At the moment that Morrison took hold of the key Giddings opened the door from the despatchers' room. "Mr. Callahan, there's a message coming from Francis, conductor of Number Two. They've had a cloudburst on Dry Dollar Creek," he said, excitedly; "twenty feet of water came down Rat Canyon at five o'clock. The track's under four feet in the canyon."
As a pebble striking an anthill stirs into angry life a thousand startled workers, so a mountain washout startles a division and concentrates upon a single point the very last reserve of its activities and energies.
For thirty minutes the wires sung with Callahan's messages. When his special for a run to the Rat Canyon was ready all the extra yardmen and both roadmasters were in the caboose; behind them fumed a second section with orders to pick up along the way every section man as they followed. It was hard on eight o'clock when Callahan stepped aboard. They double-headed for the pass, and not till they pulled up with their pony truck facing the water at the mouth of the big canyon did they ease their pace.
In the darkness they could only grope. Smith Young, roadmaster of the Pilot branch, an old mountain boy, had gone down from Sleepy Cat before dark, and crawling over the rocks in the dusk had worked his way along the canyon walls to the scene of the disaster.
Just below where Dry Dollar Creek breaks into the Rat the canyon is choked on one side by a granite wall two hundred feet high. On the other, a sheer spur of Sleepy Cat Mountain is thrust out like a paw against the river. It was there that the wall of water out of Dry Dollar had struck the track and scoured it to the bedrock. Ties, steel, ballast, riprap, roadbed, were gone, and where the heavy construction had run below the paw of Sleepy Cat the river was churning in a channel ten feet deep.
The best news Young had was that Agnew, the division engineer who happened to be at Sleepy Cat, had made the inspection with him and had already returned to order in men and material for daybreak.
Leaving the roadmasters to care for their incoming forces, Callahan, with Smith Young's men for guides, took the footpath on the south side to the head of the canyon, where, above the break, an engine was waiting to run him to Sleepy Cat. When he reached the station Agnew was up at the material yard, and Callahan sat down in his shirt sleeves to take reports on train movements. The despatchers were annulling, holding the freights and distributing passenger trains at eating stations. But an hour's work at the head-breaking problem left the division, Callahan thought, in worse shape than when the planning began, and he got up from the keg in a mental whirl when Duffy at Medicine Bend sent a body blow in a long message supplementary to his first report.
"Bear Dance reports the fruit extras making a very fast run. First train of eighteen cars has just pulled in: there are seven more of these fruit extras following close, should arrive at Sleepy Cat at four A.M."
Callahan turned from the message with his hand in his hair. Of all bad luck this was the worst. The California fruit trains, not due for twenty-four hours, coming in a day ahead of time with the Mountain Division tied up by the worst washout it had ever seen. In a heat he walked out of the operators' office to find Agnew; the two men met near the water tank.
"Hello, Agnew. This puts us against it, doesn't it? How soon can you give us a track?" asked Callahan, feverishly.
Agnew was the only man on the division that was always calm. He was thorough, practical, and after he had cut his mountain teeth in the Peace River disaster, a hardheaded man at his work.
"It will take forty-eight hours after I get my material here——"
"Forty-eight hours!" echoed Callahan. "Why, man, we shall have eight trains of California fruit here by four o'clock."
"I'm on my way to order in the filling, now," said Agnew, "and I shall push things to the limit, Mr. Callahan."
"Limit, yes, your limit—but what about my limit? Forty-eight hours' delay will put every car of that fruit into market rotten. I've got to have some kind of a track through there—any kind on earth will do—but I've got to have it by to-morrow night."
Agnew looked at him as a sympathizing man looks at a lunatic, and calmly shook his head. "I can't get rock here till to-morrow morning. What is the use talking impossibilities?"
Callahan ground his heel in the ballast. Agnew only asked him if he realized what a hole there was to fill. "It's no use dumping gravel in there," he explained patiently, "the river will carry it out faster than flat cars can carry it in."
Callahan waved his hand. "I've got to have track there by to-morrow night."
"I've got to dump a hundred cars of rock in there before we shall have anything to lay track on; and I've got to pick the rock up all the way from here to Goose River."
They walked together to the station.
When the night grew too dark for Callahan he had but one higher thought—Bucks. Bucks was five hundred miles away at McCloud, but he already had the particulars and was waiting at a key ready to take up the trouble of his favorite division. Callahan at the wire in Sleepy Cat told his story, and Bucks at the other end listened and asked questions. He listened to every detail of the disaster, to the cold hard figures of Agnew's estimates—which nothing could alter, jot or tittle—and to Callahan's despairing question as to how he could possibly save the unlooked-for avalanche of fruit.
For some time after the returns were in, Bucks was silent; silent so long that the copper-haired man twisted in his chair, looked vacantly around the office and chewed a cigar into strings. Then the sounder at his hand clicked. He recognized Bucks sending in the three words lightly spelled on his ear and jumped from his seat. Just three words Bucks had sent and signed off. What galvanized Callahan was that the words were so simple, so all-covering, and so easy. "Why didn't I think of that?" groaned Callahan, mentally.
Then he reflected that he was nothing but a redheaded Irishman, anyway, while Bucks was a genius. It never showed more clearly, Callahan thought, than when he received the three words, "Send for Glover."
TIME BEING MONEY
Sleepy Cat town was but just rubbing its eyes next morning when the Brock train pulled in from Cascade. Clouds rolling loosely across the mountains were pushing the night into the west, and in the east wind promise of day followed, soft and cool.
On the platform in the gray light three men were climbing into the gangway of a switch-engine, the last man so long and so loosely put together that he was taking, as he always took when he tried to get into small quarters, the chaffing of his companions on his size. He smiled languidly at Callahan's excited greeting, and as they ran down the yard listened without comment to the story of the washout. No words were needed to convey to Glover or to Blood the embarrassment of the situation. Freight trains crowded every track in the yard, and the block of twelve hours indicated what a two-day tie-up would mean. In the canyon the roadmasters were already taking measurements and section men were lining up track that had been lifted and wrenched by the water. Callahan and Blood did the talking, but when they left the flooded roadbed and Glover took a way up the canyon wall it became apparent what the mountain engineer's long legs were for. He led, a quick, sure climber, and if he meant by rapidly scaling the bowlders to shut off Callahan's talk the intent was effective. Nothing more was said till the three men, followed by the roadmasters, had gained a ledge, fifty feet above the water, that commanded for a quarter of a mile a view of the canyon.
They were standing above the mouth of Dry Dollar Creek, opposite the point of rocks called the Cat's Paw, and Glover, pulling his hat brim into a perspective, looked up and down the river. The roadmasters had taken some measurements and these they offered him, but he did no more than listen while they read their figures as if mentally comparing them with notes in his memory. Once he questioned a figure, but it was not till the roadmaster insisted he was right that Glover drew from one of his innumerable pockets an old field-book and showed the man where he had made his error of ten feet in the disputed measurement.
"Bucks said last night you knew all this track work," remarked Callahan.
"I helped Hailey a little here when he rebuilt three years ago. The track was put in then as well as it ever can be put in. The fact simply is this, Callahan, we shall never be safe here. What must be done is to tunnel Sleepy Cat, get out of the infernal canyon with the main line and use this for the spur around the tunnel. When your message came last night, Morris and I took the chance to tell Mr. Brock so, and he is here this morning to see what things look like after a cloudburst. A tunnel will save two miles of track and all the double-heading."
"But, Glover, what's that got to do with this fruit? Confound your tunnel, what I want is a track. By heavens, if it's going to take three days to get one in we might as well dump a hundred cars of fruit into the river now—and Bucks is looking to you to save them."
"Looking to me?" echoed Glover, raising his brows. "What's the matter with Agnew?"
"Oh, hang Agnew!"
"If you like. But he is in charge of this division. I can't do anything discourteous or unprofessional, Callahan."
"You are not required to."
"It looks very much as if I am being called in to instruct Agnew how to do his work. He is a perfectly competent engineer."
"That point has been covered. Bucks had a long talk with Agnew over the wire last night. He is needed all the time at the Blackwood bridge and he is relieved here when you arrive. Now what's the matter with you?"
"Nothing whatever if that is the situation. I'd much rather keep out of it, but there isn't work enough here for two engineers.
"What do you mean?"
"This isn't very bad."
"Not very bad! Well, how much time do you want to put a track in here?"
Glover's eyes were roaming up and down the canyon. "How much can you give me?" he asked.
Glover looked at his watch. "Then get two hundred and fifty men in here inside of an hour."
"We've picked up about seventy-five section men so far, but there aren't two hundred and fifty men within a hundred miles."
Glover pointed north. "Ed Smith's got two hundred men not over three miles from here on the irrigation ditch."
"That only shows I've no business in this game," remarked Callahan, looking at Morris Blood. "This is where you take hold."
Blood nodded. "Leave that to me. Let's have the orders all at once, Ab. Say where you want headquarters."
The engineer stretched a finger toward the point of rocks across the canyon. "Right above the Cat's Paw."
"Tell Bill Dancing to cut in the wrecking instrument and put an operator over there for Glover's orders," directed Blood, turning to Smith Young.
"I'm off for something to eat," said Callahan, "and by the way, what shall I tell Bucks about the chances?"
"Can you get Ed Smith's outfit?" asked Glover, speaking to Blood. "Well, I know you can—Ed's a Denver man." He meditated another moment; "We need his whole outfit, mind you."
"I'll get it or resign. If I succeed, when can you get a train through?"
"By midnight." Callahan staggered. Glover raised his finger. "If you back off the ledge they will need a new general superintendent."
"I think so."
"You can't get your rock in by that time?"
"Agnew says it will take a hundred cars."
"That's not far out of the way. On flat cars you won't average much over ten yards to the car, will you, Morris?"
Like two wary gamblers Callahan and the chief of construction on the mountain lines coldly eyed each other, Glover standing pat and the general superintendent disinclined through many experiences to call.
"I'm not doing the talking now," said Callahan at length with a sidewise glance, "but if you get a hundred cars of rock into that hole by twelve o'clock to-night—not to speak of laying steel—you can have my job, old man."
"Then look up another right away, for I'll have the rock in the river long before that. Now don't rubber, but get after the men and the drills——"
"I said the whole outfit."
"Would it be proper to ask what you are going to drill?"
"Perfectly proper." Glover pointed again to the shelving wall across the river. "It will save time and freight to tumble the Cat's Paw into the river—there's ten times the rock we need right there—I can dump a thousand yards where we need it in thirty seconds after I get my powder in. That will give us our foundation and your roadmasters can lay a track over it in six hours that will carry your fruit—I wouldn't recommend it for dining-cars, but it will do for plums and cherries. And by the way, Morris," called Glover—Blood already twenty feet away was scrambling down the path—"if Ed Smith's got any giant powder borrow sticks enough to spring thirty or forty holes with, will you? I've got plenty of black up at Pilot. You can order it down by the time we are ready to blast."
In another hour the canyon looked as if a hive of bees were swarming on the Cat's Paw. With shovels, picks, bars, hammers, and drills, hearty in miners' boots and pied in woollen shirts the first of Ed Smith's men were clambering into place. The field telegraph had been set up on the bench above the point: every few moments a new batch of irrigation men appeared stringing up the ledge, and with the roadmasters as lieutenants, Glover, on the apex of the low spur of the mountain, taking reports and giving orders, surveyed his improvised army.
At the upper and lower ends of the track where the roadbed had not completely disappeared the full force of section men, backed by the irrigation laborers, were busy patching the holes.
At the point where the break was complete and the Rat River was viciously licking the vertical face of the rock a crew of men, six feet above the track level, were drilling into the first ledge a set of six-foot holes. On the next receding ledge, twelve feet above the old track level, a second crew were tamping a set of holes to be sunk twelve feet. Above them the drills were cutting into the third ledge, and still higher and farther back, at twenty feet, the largest of all the crews was sinking the eighteen-foot holes to complete the fracture of the great wall. Above the murmuring of the steel rang continually the calls of the foremen, and hour after hour the shock of the drills churned up and down the narrow canyon.
During each hour Glover was over every foot of the work, and inspecting the track building. If a track boss couldn't understand what he wanted the engineer could take a pick or a bar and give the man an object lesson. He patrolled the canyon walls, the roadmasters behind him, with so good an eye for loose bowlders, and fragments such as could be moved readily with a gad, that his assistants before a second round had spotted every handy chunk of rock within fifty feet of the water. He put his spirit into the men and they gave their work the enthusiasm of soldiers. But closest of all Glover watched the preparations for the blast on the Cat's Paw.
Morris Blood in the meantime was sweeping the division for stone, ballast, granite, gravel, anything that would serve to dump on Glover's rock after the blast, and the two men were conferring on the track about the supplies when a messenger appeared with word for Glover that Mr. Brock's party were coming down the canyon.
When Glover intercepted the visitors they had already been guided to the granite bench where his headquarters were fixed. With Mr. Brock had come the young men, Miss Donner, and Mrs. Whitney. Mrs. Whitney signalized her arrival by sitting down on a chest of dynamite—having intimidated the modest headquarters custodian by asking for a chair so imperiously that he was glad to walk away at her suggestion that he hunt one up—though there was not a chair within several miles. It had been no part of Glover's plan to receive his guests at that point, and his first efforts after the greetings were to coax them away from the interest they expressed in the equipment of an emergency headquarters, and get them back to where the track crossed the river. But when the young people learned that the blue-eyed boy at the little table on the rock could send a telegram or a cablegram for them to any part of the world, each insisted on putting a message through for the fun of the thing, and even Mrs. Whitney could hardly be coaxed from the illimitable possibilities just under her.
With a feeling of relief he got them away from the giant powder which Ed Smith's men were still bringing in, and across the river to the ledge that commanded the whole scene, and was safely removed from its activities.
Glover took ten minutes to point out to the president of the system the difficulties that would always confront the operating department in the canyon. He charted clearly for Mr. Brock the whole situation, with the hope that when certain very heavy estimates went before the directors one man at least would understand the necessity for them. Mr. Brock was a good questioner, and his interest turned constantly from the general observations offered by Glover to the work immediately in hand, which the engineer had no mind to exploit. The young people, however, were determined to see the blast, and it was only by strongly advising an early dinner and promising that they should have due notice of the blast that Glover got rid of his visitors at all.