K. & A. TRAIN-ROBBERY
The Great K. & A. Robbery
Paul Leicester Ford
Author of The Honorable Peter Stirling
New York Dodd, Mead and Company 1897
Copyright, 1896, BY J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY.
Copyright, 1897, BY DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY.
University Press: JOHN WILSON AND SON, CAMBRIDGE, U. S. A.
MY TRAVELLING COMPANIONS
ON SPECIALS 218 AND 97
THIS ENDEAVOR TO WEAVE INTO A STORY SOME OF OUR OVERLAND HAPPENINGS AND ADVENTURES
IS GRATEFULLY AND AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED.
* * * * *
TO MISS GEORGE BARKER GIBBS.
My dear George:
At your request I originally inscribed this skit to our whole party. In its republication, however, I can but feel that the dedication should be more particular. Written because you asked it, first read aloud to beguile our ride across the great American desert, and finally printed because you wished a copy as a souvenir of our journeyings, no one can so naturally be called upon to stand sponsor to the little tale. Should the story but give its readers a fraction of the pleasure I owe to your kindness, its success is assured.
PAUL LEICESTER FORD.
I THE PARTY ON SPECIAL NO. 218 1
II THE HOLDING-UP OF OVERLAND NO. 3 17
III A NIGHT'S WORK ON THE ALKALI PLAINS 30
IV SOME RATHER QUEER ROAD AGENTS 43
V A TRIP TO THE GRAND CANYON 55
VI THE HAPPENINGS DOWN HANCE'S TRAIL 69
VII A CHANGE OF BASE 82
VIII HOW DID THE SECRET LEAK OUT? 93
IX A TALK BEFORE BREAKFAST 107
X WAITING FOR HELP 118
XI THE LETTERS CHANGE HANDS AGAIN 130
XII AN EVENING IN JAIL 140
XIII A LESSON IN POLITENESS 153
XIV "LISTENERS NEVER HEAR ANYTHING GOOD" 165
XV THE SURRENDER OF THE LETTERS 175
XVI A GLOOMY GOOD-BY 186
Great K. & A. Train-Robbery
THE PARTY ON SPECIAL NO. 218
Any one who hopes to find in what is here written a work of literature had better lay it aside unread. At Yale I should have got the sack in rhetoric and English composition, let alone other studies, had it not been for the fact that I played half-back on the team, and so the professors marked me away up above where I ought to have ranked. That was twelve years ago, but my life since I received my parchment has hardly been of a kind to improve me in either style or grammar. It is true that one woman tells me I write well, and my directors never find fault with my compositions; but I know that she likes my letters because, whatever else they may say to her, they always say in some form, "I love you," while my board approve my annual reports because thus far I have been able to end each with "I recommend the declaration of a dividend of — per cent from the earnings of the current year." I should therefore prefer to reserve my writings for such friendly critics, if it did not seem necessary to make public a plain statement concerning an affair over which there appears to be much confusion. I have heard in the last five years not less than twenty renderings of what is commonly called "the great K. & A. train-robbery,"—some so twisted and distorted that but for the intermediate versions I should never have recognized them as attempts to narrate the series of events in which I played a somewhat prominent part. I have read or been told that, unassisted, the pseudo-hero captured a dozen desperadoes; that he was one of the road agents himself; that he was saved from lynching only by the timely arrival of cavalry; that the action of the United States government in rescuing him from the civil authorities was a most high-handed interference with State rights; that he received his reward from a grateful railroad by being promoted; that a lovely woman as recompense for his villany—but bother! it's my business to tell what really occurred, and not what the world chooses to invent. And if any man thinks he would have done otherwise in my position, I can only say that he is a better or a worse man than Dick Gordon.
Primarily, it was football which shaped my end. Owing to my skill in the game, I took a post-graduate at the Sheffield Scientific School, that the team might have my services for an extra two years. That led to my knowing a little about mechanical engineering, and when I left the "quad" for good I went into the Alton Railroad shops. It wasn't long before I was foreman of a section; next I became a division superintendent, and after I had stuck to that for a time I was appointed superintendent of the Kansas & Arizona Railroad, a line extending from Trinidad in Kansas to The Needles in Arizona, tapping the Missouri Western System at the first place, and the Great Southern at the other. With both lines we had important traffic agreements, as well as the closest relations, which sometimes were a little difficult, as the two roads were anything but friendly, and we had directors of each on the K. & A. board, in which they fought like cats. Indeed, it could only be a question of time when one would oust the other and then absorb my road. My head-quarters were at Albuquerque, in New Mexico, and it was there, in October, 1890, that I received the communication which was the beginning of all that followed.
This initial factor was a letter from the president of the Missouri Western, telling me that their first vice-president, Mr. Cullen (who was also a director of my road), was coming out to attend the annual election of the K. & A., which under our charter had to be held in Ash Forks, Arizona. A second paragraph told me that Mr. Cullen's family accompanied him, and that they all wished to visit the Grand Canyon of the Colorado on their way. Finally the president wrote that the party travelled in his own private car, and asked me to make myself generally useful to them. Having become quite hardened to just such demands, at the proper date I ordered my superintendent's car on to No. 2, and the next morning it was dropped off at Trinidad.
The moment No. 3 arrived, I climbed into the president's special, that was the last car on the train, and introduced myself to Mr. Cullen, whom, though an official of my road, I had never met. He seemed surprised at my presence, but greeted me very pleasantly as soon as I explained that the Missouri Western office had asked me to do what I could for him, and that I was there for that purpose. His party were about to sit down to breakfast, and he asked me to join them: so we passed into the dining-room at the forward end of the car, where I was introduced to "My son," "Lord Ralles," and "Captain Ackland." The son was a junior copy of his father, tall and fine-looking, but, in place of the frank and easy manner of his sire, he was so very English that most people would have sworn falsely as to his native land. Lord Ralles was a little, well-built chap, not half so English as Albert Cullen, quick in manner and thought, being in this the opposite of his brother Captain Ackland, who was heavy enough to rock-ballast a road-bed. Both brothers gave me the impression of being gentlemen, and both were decidedly good-looking.
After the introductions, Mr. Cullen said we would not wait, and his remark called my attention to the fact that there was one more place at the table than there were people assembled. I had barely noted this, when my host said, "Here's the truant," and, turning, I faced a lady who had just entered. Mr. Cullen said, "Madge, let me introduce Mr. Gordon to you." My bow was made to a girl of about twenty, with light brown hair, the bluest of eyes, a fresh skin, and a fine figure, dressed so nattily as to be to me, after my four years of Western life, a sight for tired eyes. She greeted me pleasantly, made a neat little apology for having kept us waiting, and then we all sat down.
It was a very jolly breakfast-table, Mr. Cullen and his son being capital talkers, and Lord Ralles a good third, while Miss Cullen was quick and clever enough to match the three. Before the meal was over I came to the conclusion that Lord Ralles was in love with Miss Cullen, for he kept making low asides to her; and from the fact that she allowed them, and indeed responded, I drew the conclusion that he was a lucky beggar, feeling, I confess, a little pang that a title was going to win such a nice American girl.
One of the first subjects spoken of was train-robbery, and Miss Cullen, like most Easterners, seemed to take a great interest in it, and had any quantity of questions to ask me.
"I've left all my jewelry behind, except my watch," she said, "and that I hide every night. So I really hope we'll be held up, it would be such an adventure."
"There isn't any chance of it, Miss Cullen," I told her; "and if we were, you probably wouldn't even know that it was happening, but would sleep right through it."
"Wouldn't they try to get our money and our watches?" she demanded.
I told her no, and explained that the express- and mail-cars were the only ones to which the road agents paid any attention. She wanted to know the way it was done: so I described to her how sometimes the train was flagged by a danger signal, and when it had slowed down the runner found himself covered by armed men; or how a gang would board the train, one by one, at way stations, and then, when the time came, steal forward, secure the express agent and postal clerk, climb over the tender, and compel the runner to stop the train at some lonely spot on the road. She made me tell her all the details of such robberies as I knew about, and, though I had never been concerned in any, I was able to describe several, which, as they were monotonously alike, I confess I colored up a bit here and there, in an attempt to make them interesting to her. I seemed to succeed, for she kept the subject going even after we had left the table and were smoking our cigars in the observation saloon. Lord Ralles had a lot to say about the American lack of courage in letting trains containing twenty and thirty men be held up by half a dozen robbers.
"Why," he ejaculated, "my brother and I each have a double express with us, and do you think we'd sit still in our seats? No. Hang me if we wouldn't pot something."
"You might," I laughed, a little nettled, I confess, by his speech, "but I'm afraid it would be yourselves."
"Aw, you fancy resistance impossible?" drawled Albert Cullen.
"It has been tried," I answered, "and without success. You can see it's like all surprises. One side is prepared before the other side knows there is danger. Without regard to relative numbers, the odds are all in favor of the road agents."
"But I wouldn't sit still, whatever the odds," asserted his lordship. "And no Englishman would."
"Well, Lord Ralles," I said, "I hope for your sake, then, that you'll never be in a hold-up, for I should feel about you as the runner of a locomotive did when the old lady asked him if it wasn't very painful to him to run over people. 'Yes, madam,' he sadly replied: 'there is nothing musses an engine up so.'"
I don't think Miss Cullen liked Lord Ralles's comments on American courage any better than I did, for she said,—
"Can't you take Lord Ralles and Captain Ackland into the service of the K. & A., Mr. Gordon, as a special guard?"
"The K. & A. has never had a robbery yet, Miss Cullen," I replied, "and I don't think that it ever will have."
"Why not?" she asked.
I explained to her how the Canyon of the Colorado to the north, and the distance of the Mexican border to the south, made escape so almost desperate that the road agents preferred to devote their attentions to other routes. "If we were boarded, Miss Cullen," I said, "your jewelry would be as safe as it is in Chicago, for the robbers would only clean out the express- and mail-cars; but if they should so far forget their manners as to take your trinkets, I'd agree to return them to you inside of one week."
"That makes it all the jollier," she cried, eagerly. "We could have the fun of the adventure, and yet not lose anything. Can't you arrange for it, Mr. Gordon?"
"I'd like to please you, Miss Cullen," I said, "and I'd like to give Lord Ralles a chance to show us how to handle those gentry; but it's not to be done." I really should have been glad to have the road agents pay us a call.
We spent that day pulling up the Raton pass, and so on over the Glorietta pass down to Lamy, where, as the party wanted to see Santa Fe, I had our two cars dropped off the overland, and we ran up the branch line to the old Mexican city. It was well-worn ground to me, but I enjoyed showing the sights to Miss Cullen, for by that time I had come to the conclusion that I had never met a sweeter or jollier girl. Her beauty, too, was of a kind that kept growing on one, and before I had known her twenty-four hours, without quite being in love with her, I was beginning to hate Lord Ralles, which was about the same thing, I suppose. Every hour convinced me that the two understood each other, not merely from the little asides and confidences they kept exchanging, but even more so from the way Miss Cullen would take his lordship down occasionally. Yet, like a fool, the more I saw to confirm my first diagnosis, the more I found myself dwelling on the dimples at the corners of Miss Cullen's mouth, the bewitching uplift of her upper lip, the runaway curls about her neck, and the curves and color of her cheeks.
Half a day served to see everything in Santa Fe worth looking at, but Mr. Cullen decided to spend there the time they had to wait for his other son to join the party. To pass the hours, I hunted up some ponies, and we spent three days in long rides up the old Santa Fe trail and to the outlying mountains. Only one incident was other than pleasant, and that was my fault. As we were riding back to our cars on the second afternoon, we had to cross the branch road-bed, where a gang happened to be at work tamping the ties.
"Since you're interested in road agents, Miss Cullen," I said, "you may like to see one. That fellow standing in the ditch is Jack Drute, who was concerned in the D. & R. G. hold-up three years ago."
Miss Cullen looked where I pointed, and seeing a man with a gun, gave a startled jump, and pulled up her pony, evidently supposing that we were about to be attacked. "Sha'n't we run?" she began, but then checked herself, as she took in the facts of the drab clothes of the gang and the two armed men in uniform. "They are convicts?" she asked, and when I nodded, she said, "Poor things!" After a pause, she asked, "How long is he in prison for?"
"Twenty years," I told her.
"How harsh that seems!" she said. "How cruel we are to people for a few moments' wrong-doing, which the circumstances may almost have justified!" She checked her pony as we came opposite Drute, and said, "Can you use money?"
"Can I, lyedy?" said the fellow, leering in an attempt to look amiable. "Wish I had the chance to try."
The guard interrupted by telling her it wasn't permitted to speak to the convicts while out of bounds, and so we had to ride on. All Miss Cullen was able to do was to throw him a little bunch of flowers she had gathered in the mountains. It was literally casting pearls before swine, for the fellow did not seem particularly pleased, and when, late that night, I walked down there with a lantern I found the flowers lying in the ditch. The experience seemed to sadden and distress Miss Cullen very much for the rest of the afternoon, and I kicked myself for having called her attention to the brute, and could have knocked him down for the way he had looked at her. It is curious that I felt thankful at the time that Drute was not holding up a train Miss Cullen was on. It is always the unexpected that happens. If I could have looked into the future, what a strange variation on this thought I should have seen!
The three days went all too quickly, thanks to Miss Cullen, and by the end of that time I began to understand what love really meant to a chap, and how men could come to kill each other for it. For a fairly sensible, hard-headed fellow it was pretty quick work, I acknowledge; but let any man have seven years of Western life without seeing a woman worth speaking of, and then meet Miss Cullen, and if he didn't do as I did, I wouldn't trust him on the tail-board of a locomotive, for I should put him down as defective both in eyesight and in intellect.
THE HOLDING-UP OF OVERLAND NO. 3
On the third day a despatch came from Frederic Cullen telling his father he would join us at Lamy on No. 3 that evening. I at once ordered 97 and 218 coupled to the connecting train, and in an hour we were back on the main line. While waiting for the overland to arrive, Mr. Cullen asked me to do something which, as it later proved to have considerable bearing on the events of that night, is worth mentioning, trivial as it seems. When I had first joined the party, I had given orders for 97 to be kicked in between the main string and their special, so as not to deprive the occupants of 218 of the view from their observation saloon and balcony platform. Mr. Cullen came to me now and asked me to reverse the arrangement and make my car the tail end. I was giving orders for the splitting and kicking in when No. 3 arrived, and thus did not see the greeting of Frederic Cullen and his family. When I joined them, his father told me that the high altitude had knocked his son up so, that he had to be helped from the ordinary sleeper to the special and had gone to bed immediately. Out West we have to know something of medicine, and my car had its chest of drugs: so I took some tablets and went into his state-room. Frederic was like his brother in appearance, though not in manner, having a quick, alert way. He was breathing with such difficulty that I was almost tempted to give him nitroglycerin, instead of strychnine, but he said he would be all right as soon as he became accustomed to the rarefied air, quite pooh-poohing my suggestion that he take No. 2 back to Trinidad; and while I was still urging, the train started. Leaving him the vials of digitalis and strychnine, therefore, I went back, and dined solus on my own car, indulging at the end in a cigar, the smoke of which would keep turning into pictures of Miss Cullen. I have thought about those pictures since then, and have concluded that when cigar-smoke behaves like that, a man might as well read his destiny in it, for it can mean only one thing.
After enjoying the combination, I went to No. 218 to have a look at the son, and found that the heart tonics had benefited him considerably. On leaving him, I went to the dining-room, where the rest of the party were still at dinner, to ask that the invalid have a strong cup of coffee, and after delivering my request Mr. Cullen asked me to join them in a cigar. This I did gladly, for a cigar and Miss Cullen's society were even pleasanter than a cigar and Miss Cullen's pictures, because the pictures never quite did her justice, and, besides, didn't talk.
Our smoke finished, we went back to the saloon, where the gentlemen sat down to poker, which Lord Ralles had just learned, and liked. They did not ask me to take a hand, for which I was grateful, as the salary of a railroad superintendent would hardly stand the game they probably played; and I had my compensation when Miss Cullen also was not asked to join them. She said she was going to watch the moonlight on the mountains from the platform, and opened the door to go out, finding for the first time that No. 97 was the "ender." In her disappointment she protested against this, and wanted to know the why and wherefore.
"We shall have far less motion, Madge," Mr. Cullen explained, "and then we sha'n't have the rear-end man in our car at night."
"But I don't mind the motion," urged Miss Cullen, "and the flagman is only there after we are all in our rooms. Please leave us the view."
"I prefer the present arrangement, Madge," insisted Mr. Cullen, in a very positive voice.
I was so sorry for Miss Cullen's disappointment that on impulse I said, "The platform of 97 is entirely at your service, Miss Cullen." The moment it was out I realized that I ought not to have said it, and that I deserved a rebuke for supposing she would use my car.
Miss Cullen took it better than I hoped for, and was declining the offer as kindly as my intention had been in making it, when, much to my astonishment, her father interrupted by saying,—
"By all means, Madge. That relieves us of the discomfort of being the last car, and yet lets you have the scenery and moonlight."
Miss Cullen looked at her father for a moment as if not believing what she had heard. Lord Ralles scowled and opened his mouth to say something, but checked himself, and only flung his discard down as if he hated the cards.
"Thank you, papa," responded Miss Cullen, "but I think I will watch you play."
"Now, Madge, don't be foolish," said Mr. Cullen, irritably. "You might just as well have the pleasure, and you'll only disturb the game if you stay here."
Miss Cullen leaned over and whispered something, and her father answered her. Lord Ralles must have heard, for he muttered something, which made Miss Cullen color up; but much good it did him, for she turned to me and said, "Since my father doesn't disapprove, I will gladly accept your hospitality, Mr. Gordon," and after a glance at Lord Ralles that had a challenging "I'll do as I please" in it, she went to get her hat and coat. The whole incident had not taken ten seconds, yet it puzzled me beyond measure, even while my heart beat with an unreasonable hope; for my better sense told me that it simply meant that Lord Ralles disapproved, and Miss Cullen, like any girl of spirit, was giving him notice that he was not yet privileged to control her actions. Whatever the scene meant, his lordship did not like it, for he swore at his luck the moment Miss Cullen had left the room.
When Miss Cullen returned we went back to the rear platform of 97. I let down the traps, closed the gates, got a camp-stool for her to sit upon, with a cushion to lean back on, and a footstool, and fixed her as comfortably as I could, even getting a travelling-rug to cover her lap, for the plateau air was chilly. Then I hesitated a moment, for I had the feeling that she had not thoroughly approved of the thing and therefore she might not like to have me stay. Yet she was so charming in the moonlight, and the little balcony the platform made was such a tempting spot to linger on, while she was there, that it wasn't easy to go. Finally I asked,—
"You are quite comfortable, Miss Cullen?"
"Sinfully so," she laughed.
"Then perhaps you would like to be left to enjoy the moonlight and your meditations by yourself?" I questioned. I knew I ought to have just gone away, but I simply couldn't when she looked so enticing.
"Do you want to go?" she asked.
"No!" I ejaculated, so forcibly that she gave a little startled jump in her chair. "That is—I mean," I stuttered, embarrassed by my own vehemence, "I rather thought you might not want me to stay."
"What made you think that?" she demanded.
I never was a good hand at inventing explanations, and after a moment's seeking for some reason, I plumped out, "Because I feared you might not think it proper to use my car, and I suppose it's my presence that made you think it."
She took my stupid fumble very nicely; laughing merrily while saying, "If you like mountains and moonlight, Mr. Gordon, and don't mind the lack of a chaperon, get a stool for yourself, too." What was more, she offered me half of the lap-robe when I was seated beside her.
I think she was pleased by my offer to go away, for she talked very pleasantly, and far more intimately than she had ever done before, telling me facts about her family, her Chicago life, her travels, and even her thoughts. From this I learned that her elder brother was an Oxford graduate, and that Lord Ralles and his brother were classmates, who were visiting him for the first time since he had graduated. She asked me some questions about my work, which led me to tell her pretty much everything about myself that I thought could be of the least interest; and it was a very pleasant surprise to me to find that she knew one of the old team, and had even heard of me from him.
"Why," she exclaimed, "how absurd of me not to have thought of it before! But, you see, Mr. Colston always speaks of you by your first name. You ought to hear how he praises you."
"Trust Harry to praise any one," I said. "There were some pretty low fellows on the old team,—men who couldn't keep their word or their tempers, and would slug every chance they got; but Harry used to insist there wasn't a bad egg among the lot."
"Don't you find it very lonely to live out here, away from all your old friends?" she asked.
I had to acknowledge that it was, and told her the worst part was the absence of pleasant women. "Till you arrived, Miss Cullen," I said, "I hadn't seen a well-gowned woman in four years." I've always noticed that a woman would rather have a man notice and praise her frock than her beauty, and Miss Cullen was apparently no exception, for I could see the remark pleased her.
"Don't Western women ever get Eastern gowns?" she asked.
"Any quantity," I said, "but you know, Miss Cullen, that it isn't the gown, but the way it's worn, that gives the artistic touch." For a fellow who had devoted the last seven years of his life to grades and fuel and rebates and pay-rolls, I don't think that was bad. At least it made Miss Cullen's mouth dimple at the corners.
The whole evening was so eminently satisfactory that I almost believe I should be talking yet, if interruption had not come. The first premonition of it was Miss Cullen's giving a little shiver, which made me ask if she was cold.
"Not at all," she replied. "I only—what place are we stopping at?"
I started to rise, but she checked the movement and said, "Don't trouble yourself. I thought you would know without moving. I really don't care to know."
I took out my watch, and was startled to find it was twenty minutes past twelve. I wasn't so green as to tell Miss Cullen so, and merely said, "By the time, this must be Sanders."
"Do we stop long?" she asked.
"Only to take water," I told her, and then went on with what I had been speaking about when she shivered. But as I talked it slowly dawned on me that we had been standing still some time, and presently I stopped speaking and glanced off, expecting to recognize something, only to see alkali plain on both sides. A little surprised, I looked down, to find no siding. Rising hastily, I looked out forward. I could see moving figures on each side of the train, but that meant nothing, as the train's crew, and, for that matter, passengers, are very apt to alight at every stop. What did mean something was that there was no water-tank, no station, nor any other visible cause for a stop.
"Is anything the matter?" asked Miss Cullen.
"I think something's wrong with the engine or the road-bed, Miss Cullen," I said, "and, if you'll excuse me a moment, I'll go forward and see."
I had barely spoken when "bang! bang!" went two shots. That they were both fired from an English "express" my ears told me, for no other people in this world make a mountain howitzer and call it a rifle.
Hardly were the two shots fired when "crack! crack! crack! crack!" went some Winchesters.
"Oh! what is it?" cried Miss Cullen.
"I think your wish has been granted," I answered hurriedly. "We are being held up, and Lord Ralles is showing us how to—"
My speech was interrupted. "Bang! bang!" challenged another "express," the shots so close together as to be almost simultaneous. "Crack! crack! crack!" retorted the Winchesters, and from the fact that silence followed I drew a clear inference. I said to myself, "That is an end of poor John Bull."
A NIGHT'S WORK ON THE ALKALI PLAINS
I hurried Miss Cullen into the car, and, after bolting the rear door, took down my Winchester from its rack.
"I'm going forward," I told her, "and will tell my darkies to bolt the front door: so you'll be as safe in here as in Chicago."
In another minute I was on my front platform. Dropping down between the two cars, I crept along beside—indeed, half under—Mr. Cullen's special. After my previous conclusion, my surprise can be judged when at the farther end I found the two Britishers and Albert Cullen, standing there in the most exposed position possible. I joined them, muttering to myself something about Providence and fools.
"Aw," drawled Cullen, "here's Mr. Gordon, just too late for the sport, by Jove."
"Well," bragged Lord Ralles, "we've had a hand in this deal, Mr. Superintendent, and haven't been potted. The scoundrels broke for cover the moment we opened fire."
By this time there were twenty passengers about our group, all of them asking questions at once, making it difficult to learn just what had happened; but, so far as I could piece the answers together, the poker-players' curiosity had been aroused by the long stop, and, looking out, they had seen a single man with a rifle, standing by the engine. Instantly arming themselves, Lord Ralles let fly both barrels at him, and in turn was the target for the first four shots I had heard. The shooting had brought the rest of the robbers tumbling off the cars, and the captain and Cullen had fired the rest of the shots at them as they scattered. I didn't stop to hear more, but went forward to see what the road agents had got away with.
I found the express agent tied hand and foot in the corner of his car, and, telling a brakeman who had followed me to set him at liberty, I turned my attention to the safe. That the diversion had not come a moment too soon was shown by the dynamite cartridge already in place, and by the fuse that lay on the floor, as if dropped suddenly. But the safe was intact.
Passing into the mail-car, I found the clerk tied to a post, with a mail-sack pulled over his head, and the utmost confusion among the pouches and sorting-compartments, while scattered over the floor were a great many letters. Setting him at liberty, I asked him if he could tell whether mail had been taken, and, after a glance at the confusion, he said he could not know till he had examined.
Having taken stock of the harm done, I began asking questions. Just after we had left Sanders, two masked men had entered the mail-car, and while one covered the clerk with a revolver the other had tied and "sacked" him. Two more had gone forward and done the same to the express agent. Another had climbed over the tender and ordered the runner to hold up. All this was regular programme, as I had explained to Miss Cullen, but here had been a variation which I had never heard of being done, and of which I couldn't fathom the object. When the train had been stopped, the man on the tender had ordered the fireman to dump his fire, and now it was lying in the road-bed and threatening to burn through the ties; so my first order was to extinguish it, and my second was to start a new fire and get up steam as quickly as possible. From all I could learn, there were eight men concerned in the attempt; and I confess I shook my head in puzzlement why that number should have allowed themselves to be scared off so easily.
My wonderment grew when I called on the conductor for his tickets. These showed nothing but two from Albuquerque, one from Laguna, and four from Coolidge. This latter would have looked hopeful but for the fact that it was a party of three women and a man. Going back beyond Lamy didn't give anything, for the conductor was able to account for every fare as either still in the train or as having got off at some point. My only conclusion was that the robbers had sneaked onto the platforms at Sanders; and I gave the crew a good dressing down for their carelessness. Of course they insisted it was impossible; but they were bound to do that.
Going back to 97, I got my telegraph instrument, though I thought it a waste of time, the road agents being always careful to break the lines. I told a brakeman to climb the pole and cut a wire. While he was struggling up, Miss Cullen joined me.
"Do you really expect to catch them?" she asked.
"I shouldn't like to be one of them," I replied.
"But how can you do it?"
"You could understand better, Miss Cullen, if you knew this country. You see every bit of water is in use by ranches, and those fellows can't go more than fifty miles without watering. So we shall have word of them, wherever they go."
"Line cut, Mr. Gordon," came from overhead at this point, making Miss Cullen jump with surprise.
"What was that?" she asked.
I explained to her, and, after making connections, I called Sanders. Much to my surprise, the agent responded. I was so astonished that for a moment I could not believe the fact.
"This is the queerest hold-up of which I ever heard," I remarked to Miss Cullen.
"Aw, in what respect?" asked Albert Cullen's voice, and, looking up, I found that he and quite a number of the passengers had joined us.
"The road agents make us dump our fire," I said, "and yet they haven't cut the wires in either direction. I can't see how they can escape us."
"What fun!" cried Miss Cullen.
"I don't see what difference either makes in their chance of escaping," said Lord Ralles.
While he was speaking, I ticked off the news of our being held up, and asked the agent if there had been any men about Sanders, or if he had seen any one board the train there. His answer was positive that no one could have done so, and that settled it as to Sanders. I asked the same questions of Allantown and Wingate, which were the only places we had stopped at after leaving Coolidge, getting the same answers. That eight men could have remained concealed on any of the platforms from that point was impossible, and I began to suspect magic. Then I called Coolidge, and told of the holding up, after which I telegraphed the agent at Navajo Springs to notify the commander at Fort Defiance, for I suspected the road agents would make for the Navajo reservation. Finally I called Flagstaff as I had Coolidge, directed that the authorities be notified of the facts, and ordered an extra to bring out the sheriff and posse.
"I don't think," said Miss Cullen, "that I am a bit more curious than most people, but it has nearly made me frantic to have you tick away on that little machine and hear it tick back, and not understand a word."
After that I had to tell her what I had said and learned.
"How clever of you to think of counting the tickets and finding out where people got on and off! I never should have thought of either," she said.
"It hasn't helped me much," I laughed, rather grimly, "except to eliminate every possible clue."
"They probably did steal on at one of the stops," suggested a passenger.
I shook my head. "There isn't a stick of timber nor a place of concealment on these alkali plains," I replied, "and it was bright moonlight till an hour ago. It would be hard enough for one man to get within a mile of the station without being seen, and it would be impossible for seven or eight."
"How do you know the number?" asked a passenger.
"I don't," I said. "That's the number the crew think there were; but I myself don't believe it."
"Why don't you believe the men?" asked Miss Cullen.
"First, because there is always a tendency to magnify, and next, because the road agents ran away so quickly."
"I counted at least seven," asserted Lord Ralles.
"Well, Lord Ralles," I said, "I don't want to dispute your eyesight, but if they had been that strong they would never have bolted, and if you want to lay a bottle of wine, I'll wager that when I catch those chaps we'll find there weren't more than three or four of them."
"Done!" he snapped.
Leaving the group, I went forward to get the report of the mail agent. He had put things to rights, and told me that, though the mail had been pretty badly mixed up, only one pouch at worst had been rifled. This—the one for registered mail—had been cut open, but, as if to increase the mystery, the letters had been scattered, unopened, about the car, only three out of the whole being missing, and those very probably had fallen into the pigeon-holes and would be found on a more careful search.
I confess I breathed easier to think that the road agents had got away with nothing, and was so pleased that I went back to the wire to send the news of it, that the fact might be included in the press despatches. The moon had set, and it was so dark that I had some difficulty in finding the pole. When I found it, Miss Cullen was still standing there. What was more, a man was close beside her, and as I came up I heard her say, indignantly,—
"I will not allow it. It is unfair to take such advantage of me. Take your arm away, or I shall call for help!"
That was enough for me. One step carried my hundred and sixty pounds over the intervening ground, and, using the momentum of the stride to help, I put the flat of my hand against the shoulder of the man and gave him a shove. There are three or four Harvard men who can tell what that means, and they were braced for it, which this fellow wasn't. He went staggering back as if struck by a cow-catcher, and lay down on the ground a good fifteen feet away. His having his arm around Miss Cullen's waist unsteadied her so that she would have fallen too if I hadn't put my hand against her shoulder. I longed to put it about her, but by this time I didn't want to please myself, but to do only what I thought she would wish, and so restrained myself.
Before I had time to finish an apology to Miss Cullen, the fellow was up on his feet, and came at me with an exclamation of anger. In my surprise at recognizing the voice as that of Lord Ralles, I almost neglected to take care of myself; but, though he was quick with his fists, I caught him by the wrists as he closed, and he had no chance after that against a fellow of my weight.
"Oh, don't quarrel!" cried Miss Cullen.
Holding him, I said, "Lord Ralles, I overheard what Miss Cullen was saying, and, supposing some man was insulting her, I acted as I did." Then I let go of him, and, turning, I continued, "I am very sorry, Miss Cullen, if I did anything the circumstances did not warrant," while cursing myself for my precipitancy and for not thinking that Miss Cullen would never have been caught in such a plight with a man unless she had been half willing; for a girl does not merely threaten to call for help if she really wants aid.
Lord Ralles wasn't much mollified by my explanation. "You're too much in a hurry, my man," he growled, speaking to me as if I were a servant. "Be a bit more careful in the future."
I think I should have retorted—for his manner was enough to make a saint mad—if Miss Cullen hadn't spoken.
"You tried to help me, Mr. Gordon, and I am deeply grateful for that," she said. The words look simple enough set down here. But the tone in which she said them, and the extended hand and the grateful little squeeze she gave my fingers, all seemed to express so much that I was more puzzled over them than I was over the robbery.
SOME RATHER QUEER ROAD AGENTS
"You had better come back to the car, Miss Cullen," remarked Lord Ralles, after a pause.
But she declined to do so, saying she wanted to know what I was going to telegraph; and he left us, for which I wasn't sorry. I told her of the good news I had to send, and she wanted to know if now we would try to catch the road agents. I set her mind at rest on that score.
"I think they'll give us very little trouble to bag," I added, "for they are so green that it's almost pitiful."
"In not cutting the wires?" she asked.
"In everything," I replied. "But the worst botch is their waiting till we had just passed the Arizona line. If they had held us up an hour earlier, it would only have been State's prison."
"And what will it be now?"
"What?" cried Miss Cullen.
"In New Mexico train-robbing is not capital, but in Arizona it is," I told her.
"And if you catch them they'll be hung?" she asked.
"That seems very hard."
The first signs of dawn were beginning to show by this time, and as the sky brightened I told Miss Cullen that I was going to look for the trail of the fugitives. She said she would walk with me, if not in the way, and my assurance was very positive on that point. And here I want to remark that it's saying a good deal if a girl can be up all night in such excitement and still look fresh and pretty, and that she did.
I ordered the crew to look about, and then began a big circle around the train. Finding nothing, I swung a bigger one. That being equally unavailing, I did a larger third. Not a trace of foot or hoof within a half-mile of the cars! I had heard of blankets laid down to conceal a trail, of swathed feet, even of leathern horse-boots with cattle-hoofs on the bottom, but none of these could have been used for such a distance, let alone the entire absence of any signs of a place where the horses had been hobbled. Returning to the train, the report of the men was the same.
"We've ghost road agents to deal with, Miss Cullen," I laughed. "They come from nowhere, bullets touch them not, their lead hurts nobody, they take nothing, and they disappear without touching the ground."
"How curious it is!" she exclaimed. "One would almost suppose it a dream."
"Hold on," I said. "We do have something tangible, for if they disappeared they left their shells behind them." And I pointed to some cartridge-shells that lay on the ground beside the mail-car. "My theory of aerial bullets won't do."
"The shells are as hollow as I feel," laughed Miss Cullen.
"Your suggestion reminds me that I am desperately hungry," I said. "Suppose we go back and end the famine."
Most of the passengers had long since returned to their seats or berths, and Mr. Cullen's party had apparently done the same, for 218 showed no signs of life. One of my darkies was awake, and he broiled a steak and made us some coffee in no time, and just as they were ready Albert Cullen appeared, so we made a very jolly little breakfast. He told me at length the part he and the Britishers had borne, and only made me marvel the more that any one of them was alive, for apparently they had jumped off the car without the slightest precaution, and had stood grouped together, even after they had called attention to themselves by Lord Ralles's shots. Cullen had to confess that he heard the whistle of the four bullets unpleasantly close.
"You have a right to be proud, Mr. Cullen," I said. "You fellows did a tremendously plucky thing, and, thanks to you, we didn't lose anything."
"But you went to help too, Mr. Gordon," added Miss Cullen.
That made me color up, and, after a moment's hesitation, I said,—
"I'm not going to sail under false colors, Miss Cullen. When I went forward I didn't think I could do anything. I supposed whoever had pitched into the robbers was dead, and I expected to be the same inside of ten minutes."
"Then why did you risk your life," she asked, "if you thought it was useless?"
I laughed, and, though ashamed to tell it, replied, "I didn't want you to think that the Britishers had more pluck than I had."
She took my confession better than I hoped she would, laughing with me, and then said, "Well, that was courageous, after all."
"Yes," I confessed, "I was frightened into bravery."
"Perhaps if they had known the danger as well as you, they would have been less courageous," she continued; and I could have blessed her for the speech.
While we were still eating, the mail clerk came to my car and reported that the most careful search had failed to discover the three registered letters, and they had evidently been taken. This made me feel sober, slight as the probable loss was. He told me that his list showed they were all addressed to Ash Forks, Arizona, making it improbable that their contents could be of any real value. If possible, I was more puzzled than ever.
At six-ten the runner whistled to show he had steam up. I told one of the brakemen to stay behind, and then went into 218. Mr. Cullen was still dressing, but I expressed my regrets through the door that I could not go with his party to the Grand Canyon, told him that all the stage arrangements had been completed, and promised to join him there in case my luck was good. Then I saw Frederic for a moment, to see how he was (for I had nearly forgotten him in the excitement), to find that he was gaining all the time, and preparing even to get up. When I returned to the saloon, the rest of the party were there, and I bade good-by to the captain and Albert. Then I turned to Lord Ralles, and, holding out my hand, said,—
"Lord Ralles, I joked a little the other morning about the way you thought road agents ought to be treated. You have turned the joke very neatly and pluckily, and I want to apologize for myself and thank you for the railroad."
"Neither is necessary," he retorted airily, pretending not to see my hand.
I never claimed to have a good temper, and it was all I could do to hold myself in. I turned to Miss Cullen to wish her a pleasant trip, and the thought that this might be our last meeting made me forget even Lord Ralles.
"I hope it isn't good-by, but only au revoir," she said. "Whether or no, you must let us see you some time in Chicago, so that I may show you how grateful I am for all the pleasure you have added to our trip." Then, as I stepped down off my platform, she leaned over the rail of 218, and added, in a low voice, "I thought you were just as brave as the rest, Mr. Gordon, and now I think you are braver."
I turned impulsively, and said, "You would think so, Miss Cullen, if you knew the sacrifice I am making." Then, without looking at her, I gave the signal, the bell rang, and No. 3 pulled off. The last thing I saw was a handkerchief waving off the platform of 218.
When the train dropped out of sight over a grade, I swallowed the lump in my throat and went to the telegraph instrument. I wired Coolidge to give the alarm to Fort Wingate, Fort Apache, Fort Thomas, Fort Grant, Fort Bayard, and Fort Whipple, though I thought the precaution a mere waste of energy. Then I sent the brakeman up to connect the cut wire.
"Two of the bullets struck up here, Mr. Gordon," the man called from the top of the pole.
"Surely not!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, sir," he responded. "The bullet-holes are brand-new."
I took in the lay of the land, the embers of the fire showing me how the train had lain. "I don't wonder nobody was hit," I exclaimed, "if that's a sample of their shooting. Some one was a worse rattled man than I ever expect to be. Dig the bullets out, Douglas, so that we can have a look at them."
He brought them down in a minute. They proved to be Winchesters, as I had expected, for they were on the side from which the robbers must have fired.
"That chap must have been full of Arizona tangle-foot, to have fired as wild as he did," I ejaculated, and walked over to where the mail-car had stood, to see just how bad the shooting was. When I got there and faced about, it was really impossible to believe any man could have done so badly, for raising my own Winchester to the pole put it twenty degrees out of range and nearly forty degrees in the air. Yet there were the cartridge-shells on the ground, to show that I was in the place from which the shots had been fired.
While I was still cogitating over this, the special train I had ordered out from Flagstaff came in sight, and in a few moments was stopped where I was. It consisted of a string of three flats and a box car, and brought the sheriff, a dozen cowboys whom he had sworn in as deputies, and their horses. I was hopeful that with these fellows' greater skill in such matters they could find what I had not, but after a thorough examination of the ground within a mile of the robbery they were as much at fault as I had been.
"Them cusses must have a dugout nigh abouts, for they couldn't 'a' got away without wings," the sheriff surmised.
I didn't put much stock in that idea, and told the sheriff so.
"Waal, round up a better one," was his retort.
Not being able to do that, I told him of the bullets in the telegraph pole, and took him over to where the mail car had stood.
"Jerusalem crickets!" was his comment as he measured the aim. "If that's where they put two of their pills, they must have pumped the other four inter the moon."
"What other four?" I asked.
"Shots," he replied sententiously.
"The road agents only fired four times," I told him.
"Them and your pards must have been pretty nigh together for a minute, then," he said, pointing to the ground.
I glanced down, and sure enough, there were six empty cartridge-shells. I stood looking blankly at them, hardly able to believe what I saw; for Albert Cullen had said distinctly that the train-robbers had fired only four times, and that the last three Winchester shots I had heard had been fired by himself. Then, without speaking, I walked slowly back, searching along the edge of the road-bed for more shells; but, though I went beyond the point where the last car had stood, not one did I find. Any man who has fired a Winchester knows that it drops its empty shell in loading, and I could therefore draw only one conclusion,—namely, that all seven discharges of the Winchesters had occurred up by the mail-car. I had heard of men supposing they had fired their guns through hearing another go off; but with a repeating rifle one has to fire before one can reload. The fact was evident that Albert Cullen either had fired his Winchester up by the mail-car, or else had not fired it at all. In either case he had lied, and Lord Ralles and Captain Ackland had backed him up in it.
A TRIP TO THE GRAND CANON
I stood pondering, for no explanation that would fit the facts seemed possible. I should have considered the young fellow's story only an attempt to gain a little reputation for pluck, if in any way I could have accounted for the appearance and disappearance of the robbers. Yet to suppose—which seemed the only other horn to the dilemma—that the son and guests of the vice-president of the Missouri Western, and one of our own directors, would be concerned in train-robbery was to believe something equally improbable. Indeed, I should have put the whole thing down as a practical joke of Mr. Cullen's party, if it had not been for the loss of the registered letters. Even a practical joker would hardly care to go to the length of cutting open government mail-pouches; for Uncle Sam doesn't approve of such conduct.
Whatever the explanation, I had enough facts to prevent me from wasting more time on that alkali plain. Getting the men and horses back onto the cars, I jumped up on the tail-board and ordered the runner to pull out for Flagstaff. It was a run of seven hours, getting us in a little after eight, and in those hours I had done a lot of thinking which had all come to one result,—that Mr. Cullen's party was concerned in the hold-up.
The two private cars were on a siding, but the Cullens had left for the Grand Canyon the moment they had arrived, and were about reaching there by this time. I went to 218 and questioned the cook and waiter, but they had either seen nothing or else had been primed, for not a fact did I get from them. Going to my own car, I ordered a quick supper, and while I was eating it I questioned my boy. He told me that he had heard the shots, and had bolted the front door of my car, as I had ordered when I went out; that as he turned to go to a safer place, he had seen a man, revolver in hand, climb over the off-side gate of Mr. Cullen's car, and for a moment he had supposed it a road agent, till he saw that it was Albert Cullen.
"That was just after I had got off?" I asked.
"Then it couldn't have been Mr. Cullen, Jim," I declared, "for I found him up at the other end of the car."
"Tell you it wuz, Mr. Gordon," Jim insisted. "I done seen his face clar in de light, and he done go into Mr. Cullen's car whar de old gentleman wuz sittin'."
That set me whistling to myself, and I laughed to think how near I had come to giving nitroglycerin to a fellow who was only shamming heart-failure; for that it was Frederic Cullen who had climbed on the car I hadn't the slightest doubt, the resemblance between the two brothers being quite strong enough to deceive any one who had never seen them together. I smiled a little, and remarked to myself, "I think I can make good my boast that I would catch the robbers; but whether the Cullens will like my doing it, I question. What is more, Lord Ralles will owe me a bottle." Then I thought of Madge, and didn't feel as pleased over my success as I had felt a moment before.
By nine o'clock the posse and I were in the saddle and skirting the San Francisco peaks. There was no use of pressing the ponies, for our game wasn't trying to escape, and, for that matter, couldn't, as the Colorado River wasn't passable within fifty miles. It was a lovely moonlight night, and the ride through the pines was as pretty a one as I remember ever to have made. It set me thinking of Madge and of our talk the evening before, and of what a change twenty-four hours had brought. It was lucky I was riding an Indian pony, or I should probably have landed in a heap. I don't know that I should have cared particularly if a prairie-dog burrow had made me dash my brains out, for I wasn't happy over the job that lay before me.
We watered at Silver Spring at quarter-past twelve. From that point we were clear of the pines and out on the plain, so we could go a better pace. This brought us to the half-way ranch by two, where we gave the ponies a feed and an hour's rest. We reached the last relay station just as the moon set, about three-forty; and, as all the rest of the ride was through Coconino forest, we held up there for daylight, getting a little sleep meanwhile.
We rode into the camp at the Grand Canyon a little after eight, and the deserted look of the tents gave me a moment's fright, for I feared that the party had gone. Tolfree explained, however, that some had ridden out to Moran Point, and the rest had gone down Hance's trail. So I breakfasted and then took a look at Albert Cullen's Winchester. That it had been recently fired was as plain as the Grand Canyon itself; throwing back the bar, I found an empty cartridge shell, still oily from the discharge. That completed the tale of seven shots. I didn't feel absolutely safe till I had asked Tolfree if there had been any shooting of echoes by the party, but his denial rounded out my chain of evidence.
Telling the sheriff to guard the bags of the party carefully, I took two of the posse and rode over to Moran's Point. Sure enough, there were Mr. Cullen, Albert, and Captain Ackland. They gave a shout at seeing me, and even before I had reached them they called to know how I could come so soon, and if I had caught the robbers. Mr. Cullen started to tell his pleasure at my rejoining the party, but my expression made him pause, and it seemed to dawn on all three that the Winchester across my saddle, and the cowboys' hands resting nonchalantly on the revolvers in their belts, had a meaning.
"Mr. Cullen," I explained, "I've got a very unpleasant job on hand, which I don't want to make any worse than need be. Every fact points to your party as guilty of holding up the train last night and stealing those letters. Probably you weren't all concerned, but I've got to go on the assumption that you are all guilty, till you prove otherwise."
"Aw, you're joking," drawled Albert.
"I hope so," I said, "but for the present I've got to be English and treat the joke seriously."
"What do you want to do?" asked Mr. Cullen.
"I don't wish to arrest you gentlemen unless you force me to," I said, "for I don't see that it will do any good. But I want you to return to camp with us."
They assented to that, and, single file, we rode back. When there I told each that he must be searched, to which they submitted at once. After that we went through their baggage. I wasn't going to have the sheriff or cowboys tumbling over Miss Cullen's clothes, so I looked over her bag myself. The prettiness and daintiness of the various contents were a revelation to me, and I tried to put them back as neatly as I had found them, but I didn't know much about the articles, and it was a terrible job trying to fold up some of the things. Why, there was a big pink affair, lined with silk, with bits of ribbon and lace all over it, which nearly drove me out of my head, for I would have defied mortal man to pack it so that it shouldn't muss. I had a funny little feeling of tenderness for everything, which made fussing over it all a pleasure, even while I felt all the time that I was doing a sneak act and had really no right to touch her belongings. I didn't find anything incriminating, and the posse reported the same result with the other baggage. If the letters were still in existence, they were either concealed somewhere or were in the possession of the party in the Canyon. Telling the sheriff to keep those in the camp under absolute surveillance, I took a single man, and saddling a couple of mules, started down the trail.
We found Frederic and "Captain" Hance just dismounting at the Rock Cabin, and I told the former he was in custody for the present, and asked him where Miss Cullen and Lord Ralles were. He told me they were just behind; but I wasn't going to take any risks, and, ordering the deputy to look after Cullen, I went on down the trail. I couldn't resist calling back,—
"How's your respiration, Mr. Cullen?"
He laughed, and called, "Digitalis put me on my feet like a flash."
"He's got the most brains of any man in this party," I remarked to myself.
The trail at this point is very winding, so that one can rarely see fifty feet in advance, and sometimes not ten. Owing to this, the first thing I knew I plumped round a curve on to a mule, which was patiently standing there. Just back of him was another, on which sat Miss Cullen, and standing close beside her was Lord Ralles. One of his hands held the mule's bridle; the other held Madge's arm, and he was saying, "You owe it to me, and I will have one. Or if—"
I swore to myself, and coughed aloud, which made Miss Cullen look up. The moment she saw me she cried, "Mr. Gordon! How delightful!" even while she grew as red as she had been pale the moment before. Lord Ralles grew red too, but in a different way.
"Have you caught the robbers?" cried Miss Cullen.
"I'm afraid I have," I answered.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
I smiled at the absolute innocence and wonder with which she spoke, and replied, "I know now, Miss Cullen, why you said I was braver than the Britishers."
"How do you know?"
I couldn't resist getting in a side-shot at Lord Ralles, who had mounted his mule and sat scowling. "The train-robbers were such thoroughgoing duffers at the trade," I said, "that if they had left their names and addresses they wouldn't have made it much easier. We Americans may not know enough to deal with real road agents, but we can do something with amateurs."
"What are we stopping here for?" snapped Lord Ralles.
"I'm sure I don't know," I responded. "Miss Cullen, if you will kindly pass us, and then if Lord Ralles will follow you, we will go on to the cabin. I must ask you to keep close together."
"I stay or go as I please, and not by your orders," asserted Lord Ralles, snappishly.
"Out in this part of the country," I said calmly, "it is considered shocking bad form for an unarmed man to argue with one who carries a repeating rifle. Kindly follow Miss Cullen." And, leaning over, I struck his mule with the loose ends of my bridle, starting it up the trail.
When we reached the cabin the deputy told me that he had made Frederic strip and had searched his clothing, finding nothing. I ordered Lord Ralles to dismount and go into the cabin.
"For what?" he demanded.
"We want to search you," I answered.
"I don't choose to be searched," he protested. "You have shown no warrant, nor—"
I wasn't in a mood towards him to listen to his talk. I swung my Winchester into line and announced, "I was sworn in last night as a deputy-sheriff, and am privileged to shoot a train-robber on sight. Either dead or alive, I'm going to search your clothing inside of ten minutes; and if you have no preference as to whether the examination is an ante- or post-mortem affair, I certainly haven't."
That brought him down off his high horse,—that is, mule,—and I sent the deputy in with him with directions to toss his clothes out to me, for I wanted to keep my eye on Miss Cullen and her brother, so as to prevent any legerdemain on their part.
One by one the garments came flying through the door to me. As fast as I finished examining them I pitched them back, except—Well, as I have thought it over since then, I have decided that I did a mean thing, and have regretted it. But just put yourself in my place, and think of how Lord Ralles had talked to me as if I was his servant, had refused my apology and thanks, and been as generally "nasty" as he could, and perhaps you won't blame me that, after looking through his trousers, I gave them a toss which, instead of sending them back into the hut, sent them over the edge of the trail. They went down six hundred feet before they lodged in a poplar, and if his lordship followed the trail he could get round to them, but there would then be a hundred feet of sheer rock between the trail and the trousers. "I hope it will teach him to study his Lord Chesterfield to better purpose, for if politeness doesn't cost anything, rudeness can cost considerable," I chuckled to myself.
My amusement did not last long, for my next thought was, "If those letters are concealed on any one, they are on Miss Cullen." The thought made me lean up against my mule, and turn hot and cold by turns.
A nice situation for a lover!
THE HAPPENINGS DOWN HANCE'S TRAIL
Miss Cullen was sitting on a rock apart from her brother and Hance, as I had asked her to do when I helped her dismount. I went over to where she sat, and said, boldly,—
"Miss Cullen, I want those letters."
"What letters?" she asked, looking me in the eyes with the most innocent of expressions. She made a mistake to do that, for I knew her innocence must be feigned, and so didn't put much faith in her face for the rest of the interview.
"And what is more," I continued, with a firmness of manner about as genuine as her innocence, "unless you will produce them at once, I shall have to search you."
"Mr. Gordon!" she exclaimed, but she put such surprise and grief and disbelief into the four syllables that I wanted the earth to swallow me then and there.
"Why, Miss Cullen," I cried, "look at my position. I'm being paid to do certain things, and—"
"But that needn't prevent your being a gentleman," she interrupted.
That made me almost desperate. "Miss Cullen," I groaned, hurriedly, "I'd rather be burned alive than do what I've got to, but if you won't give me those letters, search you I must."
"But how can I give you what I haven't?" she cried, indignantly, assuming again her innocent expression.
"Will you give me your word of honor that those letters are not concealed in your clothes?"
"I will," she answered.
I was very much taken aback, for it would have been so easy for Miss Cullen to have said so before that I had become convinced she must have them.
"And do you give me your word?"
"I do," she affirmed, but she didn't look me in the face as she said it.
I ought to have been satisfied, but I wasn't, for, in spite of her denial, something forced me still to believe she had them, and looking back now, I think it was her manner. I stood reflecting for a minute, and then requested, "Please stay where you are for a moment." Leaving her, I went over to Fred.
"Mr. Cullen," I said, "Miss Cullen, rather than be searched, has acknowledged that she has the letters, and says that if we men will go into the hut she'll get them for me."
He rose at once. "I told my father not to drag her in," he muttered, sadly. "I don't care about myself, Mr. Gordon, but can't you keep her out of it? She's as innocent of any real wrong as the day she was born."
"I'll do everything in my power," I promised. Then he and Hance went into the cabin, and I walked back to the culprit.
"Miss Cullen," I said, gravely, "you have those letters, and must give them to me."
"But I told you—" she began.
To spare her a second untruth, I interrupted her by saying, "I trapped your brother into acknowledging that you have them."
"You must have misunderstood him," she replied, calmly, "or else he didn't know that the arrangement was changed."
Her steadiness rather shook my conviction, but I said, "You must give me those letters, or I must search you."
"You never would!" she cried, rising and looking me in the face.
On impulse I tried a big bluff. I took hold of the lapel of her waist, intending to undo just one button. I let go in fright when I found there was no button,—only an awful complication of hooks or some other feminine method for keeping things together,—and I grew red and trembled, thinking what might have happened had I, by bad luck, made anything come undone. If Miss Cullen had been noticing me, she would have seen a terribly scared man.
But she wasn't, luckily, for the moment my hand touched her dress, and before she could realize that I snatched it away, she collapsed on the rock, and burst into tears. "Oh! oh!" she sobbed, "I begged papa not to, but he insisted they were safest with me. I'll give them to you, if you'll only go away and not—" Her tears made her inarticulate, and without waiting for more I ran into the hut, feeling as near like a murderer as a guiltless man could.
Lord Ralles by this time was making almost as much noise as an engine pulling a heavy freight up grade under forced draft, swearing over his trousers, and was offering the cowboy and Hance money to recover them. When they told him this was impossible he tried to get them to sell or hire a pair, but they didn't like the idea of riding into camp minus those essentials any better than he did. While I waited they settled the difficulty by strapping a blanket round him, and by splitting it up the middle and using plenty of cord they rigged him out after a fashion; but I think if he could have seen himself and been given an option he would have preferred to wait till it was dark enough to creep into camp unnoticed.
Before long Miss Cullen called, and when I went to her she handed me, without a word, three letters. As she did so she crimsoned violently, and looked down in her mortification. I was so sorry for her that, though a moment before I had been judging her harshly, I now couldn't help saying,—
"Our positions have been so difficult, Miss Cullen, that I don't think we either of us are quite responsible for our actions."
She said nothing, and, after a pause, I continued,—
"I hope you'll think as leniently of my conduct as you can, for I can't tell you how grieved I am to have pained you."
Cullen joined us at this point, and, knowing that every moment we remained would be distressing to his sister, I announced that we would start up the trail. I hadn't the heart to offer to help her mount, and after Frederic had put her up we fell into single file behind Hance, Lord Ralles coming last.
As soon as we started I took a look at the three letters. They were all addressed to Theodore E. Camp, Esq., Ash Forks, Arizona,—one of the directors of the K. & A. and also of the Great Southern. With this clue, for the first time things began to clear up to me, and when the trail broadened enough to permit it, I pushed my mule up alongside of Cullen and asked,—
"The letters contain proxies for the K. & A. election next Friday?"
He nodded his head. "The Missouri Western and the Great Southern are fighting for control," he explained, "and we should have won but for three blocks of Eastern stock that had promised their proxies to the G. S. Rather than lose the fight, we arranged to learn when those proxies were mailed,—that was what kept me behind,—and then to hold up the train that carried them."
"Was it worth the risk?" I ejaculated.
"If we had succeeded, yes. My father had put more than was safe into Missouri Western and into California Central. The G. S. wants control to end the traffic agreements, and that means bankruptcy to my father."
I nodded, seeing it all as clear as day, and hardly blaming the Cullens for what they had done; for any one who has had dealings with the G. S. is driven to pretty desperate methods to keep from being crushed, and when one is fighting an antagonist that won't regard the law, or rather one that, through control of legislatures and judges, makes the law to suit its needs, the temptation is strong to use the same weapons one's self.
"The toughest part of it is," Fred went on, "that we thought we had the whole thing 'hands down,' and that was what made my father go in so deep. Only the death of one of the M. W. directors, who held eight thousand shares of K. & A., got us in this hole, for the G. S. put up a relation to contest the will, and so delayed the obtaining of letters of administration, blocking his executors from giving a proxy. It was as mean a trick as ever was played."
"The G. S. is a tough customer to fight," I remarked, and asked, "Why didn't you burn the letters?" really wishing they had done so.
"We feared duplicate proxies might get through in time, and thought that by keeping these we might cook up a question as to which were legal, and then by injunction prevent the use of either."
"And those Englishmen," I inquired, "are they real?"
"Oh, certainly," he rejoined. "They were visiting my brother, and thought the whole thing great larks." Then he told me how the thing had been done. They had sent Miss Cullen to my car, so as to get me out of the way, though she hadn't known it. He and his brother got off the train at the last stop, with the guns and masks, and concealed themselves on the platform of the mail-car. Here they had been joined by the Britishers at the right moment, the disguises assumed, and the train held up as already told. Of course the dynamite cartridge was only a blind, and the letters had been thrown about the car merely to confuse the clerk. Then while Frederic Cullen, with the letters, had stolen back to the car, the two Englishmen had crept back to where they had stood. Here, as had been arranged, they opened fire, which Albert Cullen duly returned, and then joined them. "I don't see now how you spotted us," Frederic ended.
I told him, and his disgust was amusing to see. "Going to Oxford may be all right for the classics," he growled, "but it's destructive to gumption."
We rode into camp a pretty gloomy crowd, and those of the party waiting for us there were not much better; but when Lord Ralles dismounted and showed up in his substitute for trousers there was a general shout of laughter. Even Miss Cullen had to laugh for a moment. And as his lordship bolted for his tent, I said to myself, "Honors are easy."
I told the sheriff that I had recovered the lost property, but did not think any arrests necessary as yet; and, as he was the agent of the K. & A. at Flagstaff, he didn't question my opinion. I ordered the stage out, and told Tolfree to give us a feed before we started, but a more silent meal I never sat down to, and I noticed that Miss Cullen didn't eat anything, while the tragic look on her face was so pathetic as nearly to drive me frantic.
We started a little after five, and were clear of the timber before it was too dark to see. At the relay station we waited an hour for the moon, after which it was a clear track. We reached the half-way ranch about eleven, and while changing the stage horses I roused Mrs. Klostermeyer, and succeeded in getting enough cold mutton and bread to make two rather decent-looking sandwiches. With these and a glass of whiskey and water I went to the stage, to find Miss Cullen curled up on the seat asleep, her head resting in her brother's arms.
"She has nearly worried herself to death ever since you told her that road agents were hung," Frederic whispered; "and she's been crying to-night over that lie she told you, and altogether she's worn out with travel and excitement."
I screwed the cover on the travelling-glass, and put it with the sandwiches in the bottom of the stage. "It's a long and a rough ride," I said, "and if she wakes up they may give her a little strength. I only wish I could have spared her the fatigue and anxiety."
"She thought she had to lie for father's sake, but she's nearly broken-hearted over it," he continued.
I looked Frederic in the face as I said, "I honor her for it," and in that moment he and I became friends.
"Just see how pretty she is!" he whispered, with evident affection and pride, turning back the flap of the rug in which she was wrapped.
She was breathing gently, and there was just that touch of weariness and sadness in her face that would appeal to any man. It made me gulp, I'm proud to say; and when I was back on my pony, I said to myself, "For her sake, I'll pull the Cullens out of this scrape, if it costs me my position."
A CHANGE OF BASE
We did not reach Flagstaff till seven, and I told the stage-load to take possession of their car, while I went to my own. It took me some time to get freshened up, and then I ate my breakfast; for after riding seventy-two miles in one night even the most heroic purposes have to take the side-track. I think, as it was, I proved my devotion pretty well by not going to sleep, since I had been up three nights, with only such naps as I could steal in the saddle, and had ridden over a hundred and fifty miles to boot. But I couldn't bear to think of Miss Cullen's anxiety, and the moment I had made myself decent, and finished eating, I went into 218.
The party were all in the dining-room, but it was a very different-looking crowd from the one with which that first breakfast had been eaten, and they all looked at me as I entered as if I were the executioner come for victims.
"Mr. Cullen," I began, "I've been forced to do a lot of things that weren't pleasant, but I don't want to do more than I need. You're not the ordinary kind of road agents, and, as I presume your address is known, I don't see any need of arresting one of our own directors as yet. All I ask is that you give me your word, for the party, that none of you will try to leave the country."
"Certainly, Mr. Gordon," he responded. "And I thank you for your great consideration."
"I shall have to report the case to our president, and, I suppose, to the Postmaster-General, but I sha'n't hurry about either. What they will do, I can't say. Probably you know how far you can keep them quiet."
"I think the local authorities are all I have to fear, provided time is given me."
"I have dismissed the sheriff and his posse, and I gave them a hundred dollars for their work, and three bottles of pretty good whiskey I had on my car. Unless they get orders from elsewhere, you will not hear any further from them."
"You must let me reimburse what expense we have put you to, Mr. Gordon. I only wish I could as easily repay your kindness."
Nodding my head in assent, as well as in recognition of his thanks, I continued, "It was my duty, as an official of the K. & A., to recover the stolen mail, and I had to do it."
"We understand that," said Mr. Cullen, "and do not for a moment blame you."
"But," I went on, for the first time looking at Madge, "it is not my duty to take part in a contest for control of the K. & A., and I shall therefore act in this case as I should in any other loss of mail."
"And that is—?" asked Frederic.
"I am about to telegraph for instructions from Washington," I replied. "As the G. S. by trickery has dishonestly tied up some of your proxies, they ought not to object if we do the same by honest means; and I think I can manage so that Uncle Sam will prevent those proxies from being voted at Ash Forks on Friday."
If a galvanic battery had been applied to the group about the breakfast table, it wouldn't have made a bigger change. Madge clapped her hands in joy; Mr. Cullen said "God bless you!" with real feeling; Frederic jumped up and slapped me on the shoulder, crying, "Gordon, you're the biggest old trump breathing;" while Albert and the captain shook hands with each other, in evident jubilation. Only Lord Ralles remained passive.
"Have you breakfasted?" asked Mr. Cullen, when the first joy was over.
"Yes," I said. "I only stopped in on my way to the station to telegraph the Postmaster-General."
"May I come with you and see what you say?" cried Fred, jumping up.
I nodded, and Miss Cullen said, questioningly, "Me too?" making me very happy by the question, for it showed that she would speak to me. I gave an assent quite as eagerly and in a moment we were all walking towards the platform. Despite Lord Ralles, I felt happy, and especially as I had not dreamed that she would ever forgive me.
I took a telegraph blank, and, putting it so that Miss Cullen could see what I said, wrote,—
"Postmaster-General, Washington, D. C. I hold, awaiting your instructions, the three registered letters stolen from No. 3 Overland Missouri Western Express on Monday, October fourteenth, loss of which has already been notified you."
Then I paused and said, "So far, that's routine, Miss Cullen. Now comes the help for you," and I continued:—
"The letters may have been tampered with, and I recommend a special agent. Reply Flagstaff, Arizona. RICHARD GORDON, Superintendent K. & A. R. R."
"What will that do?" she asked.
"I'm not much at prophecy, and we'll wait for the reply," I said.
All that day we lay at Flagstaff, and after a good sleep, as there was no use keeping the party cooped up in their car, I drummed up some ponies and took the Cullens and Ackland over to the Indian cliff-dwellings. I don't think Lord Ralles gained anything by staying behind in a sulk, for it was a very jolly ride, or at least that was what it was to me. I had of course to tell them all how I had settled on them as the criminals, and a general history of my doings. To hear Miss Cullen talk, one would have inferred I was the greatest of living detectives.
"The mistake we made," she asserted, "was not securing Mr. Gordon's help to begin with, for then we should never have needed to hold the train up, or if we had we should never have been discovered."
What was more to me than this ill-deserved admiration were two things she said on the way back, when we two had paired off and were a bit behind the rest.
"The sandwiches and the whiskey were very good," she told me, "and I'm so grateful for the trouble you took."
"It was a pleasure," I said.
"And, Mr. Gordon," she continued, and then hesitated for a moment,—"my—Frederic told me that you—you said you honored me for—?"
"I do," I exclaimed energetically, as she paused and colored.
"Do you really?" she cried. "I thought Fred was only trying to make me less unhappy by saying that you did."
"I said it, and I meant it," I told her.
"I have been so miserable over that lie," she went on; "but I thought if I let you have the letters it would ruin papa. I really wouldn't mind poverty myself, Mr. Gordon, but he takes such pride in success that I couldn't be the one to do it. And then, after you told me that train-robbers were hung, I had to lie to save them. I ought to have known you would help us."
I thought this a pretty good time to make a real apology for my conduct on the trail, as well as to tell her how sorry I was at not having been able to repack her bag better. She accepted my apology very sweetly, and assured me her belongings had been put away so neatly that she had wondered who did it. I knew she only said this out of kindness, and told her so, telling also of my struggles over that pink-beribboned and belaced affair, in a way which made her laugh. I had thought it was a ball gown, and wondered at her taking it to the Canyon; but she explained that it was what she called a "throw"—which I told her accounted for the throes I had gone through over it. It made me open my eyes, thinking that anything so pretty could be used for the same purposes for which I use my crash bath-gown, and while my eyes were open I saw the folly of thinking that a girl who wore such things would, or in fact could, ever get along on my salary. In that way the incident was a good lesson for me, for it made me feel that, even if there had been no Lord Ralles, I still should have had no chance.
On our return to the cars there was a telegram from the Postmaster-General awaiting me. After a glance at it, as the rest of the party looked anxiously on, I passed it over to Miss Cullen, for I wanted her to have the triumph of reading it aloud to them. It read,—
"Hold letters pending arrival of special agent Jackson, due in Flagstaff October twentieth."
"The election is the eighteenth," Frederic laughed, executing a war dance on the platform. "The G. S.'s dough is cooked."
"I must waltz with some one," cried Madge, and before I could offer she took hold of Albert and the two went whirling about, much to my envy. The Cullens were about the most jubilant road agents I had ever seen.
After consultation with Mr. Cullen, we had 218 and 97 attached to No. 1 when it arrived, and started for Ash Forks. He wanted to be on the ground a day in advance, and I could easily be back in Flagstaff before the arrival of the special agent.
I took dinner in 218, and they toasted me, as if I had done something heroic instead of merely having sent a telegram. Later four sat down to poker, while Miss Cullen, Fred, and I went out and sat on the platform of the car while Madge played on her guitar and sang to us. She had a very sweet voice, and before she had been singing long we had the crew of a "dust express"—as we jokingly call a gravel train—standing about, and they were speedily reinforced by many cowboys, who deserted the medley of cracked pianos or accordions of the Western saloons to listen to her, and who, not being over-careful in the terms with which they expressed their approval, finally by their riotous admiration drove us inside. At Miss Cullen's suggestion we three had a second game of poker, but with chips and not money. She was an awfully reckless player, and the luck was dead in my favor, so Madge kept borrowing my chips, till she was so deep in that we both lost account. Finally, when we parted for the night she held out her hand, and, in the prettiest of ways, said,—