The Taming of Red Butte Western
by Francis Lynde
Charles Scribner's Sons New York, 1916
1910, BY Charles Scribner's Sons Published April, 1910
Mr. CHARLES AUGUSTINE STICKLE
My brother—in deed, though not by blood—this tale of his birthland is affectionately inscribed.
I. Collars-and-Cuffs 3 II. The Red Desert 24 III. A Little Brother of the Cows 38 IV. At the Rio Gloria 59 V. The Outlaws 80 VI. Everyman's Share 102 VII. The Killer 122 VIII. Benson's Bridge-Timbers 141 IX. Judson's Joke 157 X. Flemister and Others 177 XI. Nemesis 187 XII. The Pleasurers 202 XIII. Bitter-Sweet 224 XIV. Blind Signals 248 XV. Eleanor Intervenes 260 XVI. The Shadowgraph 270 XVII. The Dipsomaniac 289 XVIII. At Silver Switch 305 XIX. The Challenge 324 XX. Storm Signals 346 XXI. The Boss Machinist 369 XXII. The Terror 380 XXIII. The Crucible 398
"I'll spend the last dollar of the fortune my father left me, if needful, in finding that man and hanging him!" Frontispiece FACING PAGE
His hand was on the latch of the door-yard gate when a man rose out of the gloom. 138
"Bart's afraid he can't duck without dying." 176
"Well, gentlemen, I'm waiting. Why don't you shoot?" 400
* * * * *
The Taming of Red Butte Western
The windows of the division head-quarters of the Pacific Southwestern at Copah look northward over bald, brown mesas, and across the Pannikin to the eroded cliffs of the Uintah Hills. The prospect, lacking vegetation, artistic atmosphere, and color, is crude and rather harshly aggressive; and to Lidgerwood, glooming thoughtfully out upon it through the weather-worn panes scratched and bedimmed by many desert sandstorms, it was peculiarly depressing.
"No, Ford; I hate to disappoint you, but I'm not the man you are looking for," he said, turning back to things present and in suspense, and speaking as one who would add a reason to unqualified refusal. "I've been looking over the ground while you were coming on from New York. It isn't in me to flog the Red Butte Western into a well-behaved division of the P. S-W."
The grave-eyed man who had borrowed Superintendent Leckhard's pivot-chair nodded intelligence.
"That is what you have been saying, with variations, for the last half-hour. Why?"
"Because the job asks for gifts that I don't possess. At the present moment the Red Butte Western is the most hopelessly demoralized three hundred miles of railroad west of the Rockies. There is no system, no discipline, no respect for authority. The men run the road as if it were a huge joke. Add to these conditions the fact that the Red Desert is a country where the large-calibred revolver is——"
"Yes, I know all that," interrupted the man in the chair. "The road and the region need civilizing—need it badly. That is one of the reasons why I am trying to persuade you to take hold. You are long on civilization, Howard."
"Not on the kind which has to be inculcated by main strength and a cheerful disregard for consequences. I'm no scrapper."
To the eye of appraisal, Lidgerwood's personal appearance bore out the peaceable assertion to the final well-groomed detail. Compactly built and neatly, brawn and bulk were conspicuously lacking; and the thin, intellectual face was made to appear still thinner by the pointed cut of the closely trimmed brown beard. The eyes were alert and not wanting in steadfastness; but they had a trick of seeming to look beyond, rather than directly at, the visual object. A physiognomist would have classified him as a man of studious habit with the leisure to indulge it, and unconsciously he dressed the part.
In his outspoken moments, which were rare, he was given to railing against the fate which had made him a round peg in a square hole; a technical engineer and a man of action, when his earlier tastes and inclinations had drawn him in other directions. But the temperamental qualities; the niceties, the exactness, the thoroughness, which, finding no outlet in an artistic calling, had made him a master in his unchosen profession, were well known to Mr. Stuart Ford, first vice-president of the Pacific Southwestern System. And, it was largely for the sake of these qualities that Ford locked his hands over one knee and spoke as a man and a comrade.
"Let me tell you, Howard—you've no idea what a savage fight we've had in New York, absorbing these same demoralized three hundred miles. You know why we were obliged to have them. If the Transcontinental had beaten us, it meant that our competitor would build over here from Jack's Canyon, divide the Copah business with us, and have a line three hundred miles nearer to the Nevada gold-fields than ours."
"I understand," said Lidgerwood; and the vice-president went on.
"Since the failure of the Red Butte 'pocket' mines, the road and the country it traverses have been practically given over to the cowmen, the gulch miners, the rustlers, and the drift from the big camps elsewhere. In New York and on the Street, Red Butte Western was regarded as an exploded cartridge—a kite without a tail. It was only a few weeks ago that it dawned upon our executive committee that this particular kite without a tail offered us a ready-made jump of three hundred miles toward Tonopah and Goldfield. We began buying quietly for the control with the stock at nineteen. Naturally the Transcontinental people caught on, and in twenty-four hours we were at it, hammer and tongs."
Lidgerwood nodded. "I kept up with it in the newspapers," he cut in.
"The newspapers didn't print the whole story; not by many chapters," was the qualifying rejoinder. "When the stock had gone to par and beyond, our own crowd went back on us; and after it had passed the two-hundred mark, Adair and I were fighting it practically alone. Even President Brewster lost his nerve. He wanted to make a hedging compromise with the Transcontinental brokers just before we swung over the summit with the final five hundred shares we needed."
Again Lidgerwood made the sign of assent.
"Mr. Brewster is a level-headed Westerner. He doubtless knew, to the dotting of an 'i,' the particular brand of trouble you two expansionists were so eager to acquire."
"He did. He has a copper property somewhere in the vicinity of Angels, and he knows the road. He contended that we were buying two streaks of rust and a right-of-way in the Red Desert. More than that, he asserted that the executive officer didn't live who could bring order out of the chaos into which bad management and a peculiarly tough environment had plunged the Red Butte Western. That's where I had him bested, Howard. All through the hot fight I kept saying over and over to myself that I knew the man."
"But you don't know him, Stuart; that is the weak link in the chain."
Lidgerwood turned away to the scratched window-panes and the crude prospect, blurred now by the gathering shadows of the early evening. In the yards below, a long freight-train was pulling in from the west, with a switching-engine chasing it to begin the cutting out of the Copah locals. Over in the Red Butte yard a road-locomotive, turning on the table, swept a wide arc with the beam of its electric headlight in the graying dusk. Through the half-opened door in the despatcher's room came the diminished chattering of the telegraph instruments; this, with the outer clamor of trains and engines, made the silence in the private office more insistent.
When Lidgerwood faced about again after the interval of abstraction there were fine lines of harassment between his eyes, and his words came as if speech were costing him a conscious effort.
"If it were merely a matter of technical fitness, I suppose I might go over to Angels and do what you want done with the three hundred miles of demoralization. But the Red Butte proposition asks for more; for something that I can't give it. Stuart, there is a yellow streak in me that you seem never to have discovered. I am a coward."
The ghost of an incredulous smile wrinkled about the tired eyes of the big man in the pivot-chair.
"You put it with your usual exactitude," he assented slowly; "I hadn't discovered it." Then: "You forget that I have known you pretty much all your life, Howard."
"You haven't known me at all," was the sober reply.
"Oh, yes, I have! Let me recall one of the boyhood pictures that has never faded. It was just after school, one hot day, in the Illinois September. Our crowd had gone down to the pond back of the school-house, and two of us were paddling around on a raft made of sawmill slabs. One of the two—who always had more dare-deviltry than sense under his skull thatch—was silly enough to 'rock the boat,' and it went to pieces. You couldn't swim, Howard, but if you hadn't forgotten that trifling handicap and wallowed in to pull poor Billy Mimms ashore, I should have been a murderer."
Lidgerwood shook his head.
"You think you have made your case, but you haven't. What you say is true enough; I wasn't afraid of drowning—didn't think much about it, either way, I guess. But what I say is true, also. There are many kinds of courage, and quite as many kinds of cowardice. I am a coward of men."
"Oh, no, you're not: you only think you are," protested the one who thought he knew. But Lidgerwood would not let that stand.
"I know I am. Hear me through, and then judge for yourself. What I am going to tell you I have never told to any living man; but it is your right to hear it.... I have had the symptoms all my life, Stuart. You have spoken of the schoolboy days: you may remember how you used to fight my battles for me. You thought I took the bullying of the bigger boys because I wasn't strong enough physically to hold up my end. That wasn't it: it was fear, pure and simple. Are you listening?"
The man in the chair nodded and said, "Go on." He was of those to whom fear, the fear of what other men might do to him, was as yet a thing unlearned, and he was trying to attain the point of view of one to whom it seemed very real.
"It followed me up to manhood, and after a time I found myself constantly and consciously deferring to it. It was easy enough after the habit was formed. Twentieth-century civilization is decently peaceable, and it isn't especially difficult to dodge the personal collisions. I have succeeded in dodging them, for the greater part, paying the price in humiliation and self-abasement as I went along. God, Stuart, you don't know what that means!—the degradation; the hot and cold chills of self-loathing; the sickening misery of having your own soul turn upon you to rend and tear you like a rabid dog!"
"No, I don't know what it means," said the other man, moved more than he cared to admit by the abject confession.
"Of course you don't. Nobody else can know. I am alone in my pit of wretchedness, Ford ... as one born out of time; apprehending, as well as you or any one, what is required of a man and a gentleman, and yet unable to answer when my name is called. I said I had been paying the price; I am paying it here and now. This is the fourth time I have had to refuse a good offer that carried with it the fighting chance."
The vice-president's heavy eyebrows slanted in questioning surprise.
"You knew in advance that you were going to turn me down? Yet you came a thousand miles to meet me here; and you admit that you have gone the length of looking the ground over."
Lidgerwood's smile was mirthless.
"A regular recurring phase of the disease. It manifests itself in a determination to break away and do or die in the effort to win a little self-respect. I can't take the plunge. I know beforehand that I can't ... which brings us down to Copah, the present exigency, and the fact that you'll have to look farther along for your Red Butte Western man-queller. The blood isn't in my veins, Stuart. It was left out in the assembling."
The vice-president was still a young man and he was confronting a problem that annoyed him. He had been calling himself, and not without reason, a fair judge of men. Yet here was a man whom he had known intimately from boyhood, who was but just now revealing a totally unsuspected quality.
"You say you have been dodging the collisions. How do you know you wouldn't buck up when the real pinch comes?" he demanded.
"Because the pinch came once—and I didn't buck up. It was over a year ago, and to this good day I can't think calmly about it. You will understand when I say that it cost me the love of the one woman in the world."
The vice-president did understand. Being a married lover himself, he could measure the depth of the abyss into which Lidgerwood was looking. His voice was as sympathetic as a woman's when he said: "Go ahead and ease your mind; tell me about it, if you can, Howard. It's barely possible that you are not the best judge of your own act."
There was something approaching the abandonment of the shameless in Lidgerwood's manner when he went on.
"It was in the Montana mountains. I was going in to do a bit of expert engineering for her father. Incidentally, I was escorting her and her mother from the railroad terminus to the summer camp in the hills, where they were to join a coaching party of their friends for the Yellowstone tour. We had to drive forty miles in a stage, and there were six of us—the two women and four men. On the way the talk turned upon stage-robbings and hold-ups. With the chance of the real thing as remote as a visit from Mars, I could be an ass and a braggart. One of the men, a salesman for a powder company, gave me the rope wherewith to hang myself. He argued for non-resistance, and I remember that I grew sarcastic over the spectacle afforded by a grown man, armed and in possession of his five senses, permitting himself to be robbed without attempting to resist. You can guess what followed?"
"I'd rather hear you tell it," said the listener at Superintendent Leckhard's desk. "Go on."
Lidgerwood waited until the switching-engine, with its pop-valve open and screaming like a liberated devil of the noise pit, had passed.
"Three miles beyond the supper station we had our hold-up; the cut-and-dried, melodramatic sort of thing you read about, or used to read about, in the early days, with a couple of Winchesters poking through the scrub pines to represent the gang in hiding, and one lone, crippled desperado to come down to the footlights in the speaking part. You get the picture?"
"Yes; I've seen the original."
"Of course, it struck every soul of us with the shock of the incredible—the totally unexpected. It was a rank anachronism, twenty-five years out of date in that particular locality. Before anybody realized what was happening, the cripple had us lined up in a row beside the stage, and I was reaching for the stars quite as anxiously as the little Jew hat salesman, who was swearing by all the patriarchs that the twenty-dollar bill in his right-hand pocket was his entire fortune."
"Naturally," Ford commented. "You needn't rawhide yourself for that. You've been West often enough and long enough at a time to know the rules of the game—not to be frivolous when the other fellow has the drop on you."
"Wait," said Lidgerwood. "One minute later the cripple had sized us up for what we were. The other three men were not armed. I was, and Miss El—the young woman knew it. Also the cripple knew it. He tapped the gun bulging in my pocket and said, in good-natured contempt, 'Watch out that thing don't go off and hurt you some time when you ain't lookin', stranger.' Ford, I think I must have been hypnotized. I stood there like a frozen image, and let that crippled cow-rustler rob those two women—take the rings from their fingers!"
"Oh, hold on; there's another side to all that, and you know it," the vice-president began; but Lidgerwood would not listen.
"No," he protested; "don't try to find excuses for me; there were none. The fellow gave me every chance; turned his back on me as an absolutely negligible factor while he was going through the others. I'm quick enough when the crisis doesn't involve a fighting man's chance; and I can handle a gun, too, when the thing to be shot at isn't a human being. But to save my soul from everlasting torments I couldn't go through the simple motions of pulling the pistol from my pocket and dropping that fellow in his tracks; couldn't and didn't."
"Why, of course you couldn't, after it had got that far along," asserted Ford. "I doubt if any one could. That little remark about the gun in your pocket did you up. When a man gets you pacified to the condition in which he can safely josh you, he has got you going and he knows it—and knows you know it. You may be twice as hot and bloodthirsty as you were before, but you are just that much less able to strike back. It's not a theory; it is a psychological demonstration."
"But the fact remained," said Lidgerwood, sparing himself not at all. "I was weighed and found wanting; that is the only point worth considering."
"Well?" queried Ford, when the self-condemned culprit turned again to the dusk-darkened window, "what came of it?"
"That which was due to come. I was told many times and in many different ways what the one woman thought of me. For the few days during which she and her mother waited at her father's mine for the coming of the Yellowstone party, she used me for a door-mat, as I deserved. That was a year ago last spring. I haven't seen her since; haven't tried to."
The vice-president reached up and snapped the key of the electric bulb over the desk, and the lurking shadows in the corners of the room fled away.
"Sit down," he said shortly; and when Lidgerwood had found a chair: "You treat it as an incident closed, Howard. Do you mean to go on leaving it up in the air like that?"
"It was left in the air a year ago last spring. I can't pull it down now."
"Yes, you can. You haven't exaggerated the conditions on the Red Butte line an atom. As you say, the operating force is as godless a lot of outlaws as ever ran trains or ditched them. They all know that the road has been bought and sold, and that pretty sweeping changes are impending. They are looking for trouble, and are quite ready to help make it. If you could discharge them in a body, you couldn't replace them—the Red Desert having nothing to offer as a dwelling-place for civilized men; and this they know, too. Howard, I'm telling you right now that it will require a higher brand of courage to go over to Angels and manhandle the Red Butte Western as a division of the P. S-W. than it would to face a dozen highwaymen, if every individual one of the dozen had the drop on you!"
Lidgerwood left his chair and began to pace the narrow limits of the private office, five steps and a turn. The noisy switching-engine had gone clattering and shrieking down the yard again before he said, "You mean that you are still giving me the chance to make good over yonder in the Red Desert—after what I have told you?"
"I do; only I'll make it more binding. It was optional with you before; it's a sheer necessity now. You've got to go."
Again Lidgerwood took time to reflect, tramping the floor, with his head down and his hands in the pockets of the correct coat. In the end he yielded, as the vice-president's subjects commonly did.
"I'll go, if you still insist upon it," was the slowly spoken decision. "There will doubtless be plenty of trouble, and I shall probably show the yellow streak—for the last time, perhaps. It's the kind of an outfit to kill a coward for the pure pleasure of it, if I'm not mistaken."
"Well," said the man in the swing-chair, calmly, "maybe you need a little killing, Howard. Had you ever thought of that?"
A gray look came into Lidgerwood's face.
"Maybe I do."
A little silence supervened. Then Ford plunged into detail.
"Now that you are fairly committed, sit down and let me give you an idea of what you'll find at Angels in the way of a head-quarters outfit. Draw up here and we'll go over the lay-out together."
A busy hour had elapsed, and the gong of the station dining-room below was adding its raucous clamor to the drumming thunder of the incoming train from Green Butte, when the vice-president concluded his outline sketch of the Red Butte Western conditions.
"Of course, you know that you will have a free hand. We have already cleared the decks for you. As an independent road, the Red Butte line had the usual executive organization in miniature: Cumberley had the title of general superintendent, but his authority, when he cared to assert it, was really that of general manager. Under him, in the head-quarters staff at Angels, there was an auditor—who also acted as paymaster, a general freight and passenger agent, and a superintendent of motive power. Operating the line as a branch of the P. S-W System, we can simplify the organization. We have consolidated the auditing and traffic departments with our Colorado-lines head-quarters at Denver. This will leave you with only the operating, telegraph, train-service, and engineering departments to handle from Angels. With one exception, your authority will be absolute; you will hire and discharge as you see fit, and there will be no appeal from your decision."
"That applies to my own departments—the operating, telegraph, train-service, and engineering; but how about the motive power?" asked the new incumbent.
Ford threw down the desk-knife, with which he had been sharpening a pencil, with a little gesture indicative of displeasure.
"There lies the exception, and I wish it didn't. Gridley, the master-mechanic, will be nominally under your orders, of course; but if it should come to blows between you, you couldn't fire him. In the regular routine he will report to the Colorado-lines superintendent of motive power at Denver. But in a quarrel with you he could make a still longer arm and reach the P. S-W. board of directors in New York."
"How is that?" inquired Lidgerwood.
"It's a family affair. He is a widower, and his wife was a sister of the Van Kensingtons. He got his job through the family influence, and he'll hold it in the same way. But you are not likely to have any trouble with him. He is a brute in his own peculiar fashion; but when it comes to handling shopmen and keeping the engines in service, he can't be beat."
"That is all I shall ask of him," said the new superintendent. "Anything else?" looking at his watch.
"Yes, there is one other thing. I spoke of Hallock, the man you will find holding down the head-quarters office at Angels. He was Cumberley's chief clerk, and long before Cumberley resigned he was the real superintendent of the Red Butte Western in everything but the title, and the place on the pay-roll. Naturally he thought he ought to be considered when we climbed into the saddle, and he has already written to President Brewster, asking for the promotion in fact. He happens to be a New Yorker—like Gridley; and, again like Gridley, he has a friend at court. Magnus knows him, and he recommended him for the superintendency when Mr. Brewster referred the application to me. I couldn't agree, and I had to turn him down. I am telling you this so you'll be easy with him—as easy as you can. I don't know him personally, but if you can keep him on——"
"I shall be only too glad to keep him, if he knows his business and will stay," was Lidgerwood's reply. Then, with another glance at his watch, "Shall we go up-town and get dinner? Afterward you can give me your notion in the large about the future extension of the road across the second Timanyoni, and I'll order out the service-car and an engine and go to my place. A man can die but once; and maybe I shall contrive to live long enough to set a few stakes for some better fellow to drive. Let's go."
* * * * *
At ten o'clock that night Engine 266, Williams, engineer, and Blackmar, fireman, was chalked up on the Red Butte Western roundhouse bulletin-board to go west at midnight with the new superintendent's service-car, running as a special train.
Svenson, the caller, who brought the order from the Copah sub-despatcher's office, unloaded his news upon the circle of R.B.W. engineers, firemen, and roundhouse roustabouts lounging on the benches in the tool-room and speculating morosely upon the probable changes which the new management would bring to pass.
"Ve bane got dem new boss, Ay vant to tal you fallers," he drawled.
"Who is he?" demanded Williams, who had been looking on sourly while the engine-despatcher chalked his name on the board for the night run with the service-car.
"Ay couldn't tal you his name. Bote he is dem young faller bane goin' 'round hare dees two, t'ree days, lukin' lak preacher out of a yob. Vouldn'd dat yar you?"
Williams rose up to his full height of six-feet-two, and flung his hands upward in a gesture that was more expressive than many oaths.
"Collars-and-Cuffs, by God!" he said.
THE RED DESERT
In the beginning the Red Desert, figuring unpronounceably under its Navajo name of Tse-nastci—Circle-of-Red-Stones—was shunned alike by man and beast, and the bravest of the gold-hunters, seeking to penetrate to the placer ground in the hill gulches between the twin Timanyoni ranges, made a hundred-mile detour to avoid it.
Later, the discoveries of rich "pocket" deposits in the Red Butte district lifted the intermontane hill country temporarily to the high plane of a bonanza field. In the rush that followed, a few prudent ones chose the longer detour; others, hardier and more temerarious, outfitted at Copah, and assaulting the hill barrier of the Little Pinons at Crosswater Gap, faced the jornada through the Land of Thirst.
Of these earliest of the desert caravans, the railroad builders, following the same trail and pointing toward the same destination in the gold gulches, found dismal reminders. In the longest of the thirsty stretches there were clean-picked skeletons, and they were not always the relics of the patient pack-animals. In which event Chandler, chief of the Red Butte Western construction, proclaimed himself Eastern-bred and a tenderfoot by compelling the grade contractors to stop and bury them.
Why the railroad builders, with Copah for a starting-point and Red Butte for a terminus, had elected to pitch their head-quarters camp in the western edge of the desert, no later comer could ever determine. Lost, also, is the identity of the camp's sponsor who, visioning the things that were to be, borrowed from the California pioneers and named the halting-place on the desert's edge "Angels." But for the more material details Chandler was responsible. It was he who laid out the division yards on the bald plain at the foot of the first mesa, planting the "Crow's Nest" head-quarters building on the mesa side of the gridironing tracks, and scattering the shops and repair plant along the opposite boundary of the wide right-of-way.
The town had followed the shops, as a sheer necessity. First and always the railroad nucleus, Angels became in turn, and in addition, the forwarding station for a copper-mining district in the Timanyoni foot-hills, and a little later, when a few adventurous cattlemen had discovered that the sun-cured herbage of the desert borders was nutritious and fattening, a stock-shipping point. But even in the day of promise, when the railroad building was at its height and a handful of promoters were plotting streets and town lots on the second mesa, and printing glowing tributes—for strictly Eastern distribution—to the dry atmosphere and the unfailing sunshine, the desert leaven was silently at work. A few of the railroad men transplanted their families; but apart from these, Angels was a man's town with elemental appetites, and with only the coarse fare of the frontier fighting line to satisfy them.
Farther along, the desert came more definitely to its own. The rich Red Butte "pockets" began to show signs of exhaustion, and the gulch and ore mining afforded but a precarious alternative to the thousands who had gone in on the crest of the bonanza wave. Almost as tumultuously as it had swept into the hill country, the tide of population swept out. For the gulch hamlets between the Timanyonis there was still an industrial reason for being; but the railroad languished, and Angels became the weir to catch and retain many of the leavings, the driftwood stranded in the slack water of the outgoing tide. With the railroad, the Copperette Mine, and the "X-bar-Z" pay-days to bring regularly recurring moments of flushness, and with every alternate door in Mesa Avenue the entrance to a bar, a dance-hall, a gambling den, or the three in combination, the elemental appetites grew avid, and the hot breath of the desert fanned slow fires of brutality that ate the deeper when they penetrated to the punk heart of the driftwood.
It was during this period of deflagration and dry rot that the Eastern owners of the railroad lost heart. Since the year of the Red Butte inrush there had been no dividends; and Chandler, summoned from another battle with the canyons in the far Northwest, was sent in to make an expert report on the property. "Sell it for what it will bring," was the substance of Chandler's advice; but there were no bidders, and from this time on a masterless railroad was added to the spoils of war—the inexpiable war of the Red Desert upon its invaders.
At the moment of the moribund railroad's purchase by the Pacific Southwestern, the desert was encroaching more and more upon the town planted in its western border. In the height of Angels's prosperity there had been electric lights and a one-car street tramway, a bank, and a Building and Loan Association attesting its presence in rows of ornate cottages on the second mesa—alluring bait thrown out to catch the potential savings of the railroad colonists.
But now only the railroad plant was electric-lighted; the single ramshackle street-car had been turned into a chile-con-carne stand; the bank, unable to compete with the faro games and the roulette wheels, had gone into liquidation; the Building and Loan directors had long since looted the treasury and sought fresh fields, and the cottages were chiefly empty shells.
Of the charter members of the Building and Loan Association, shrewdest of the many boom-time schemes for the separation of the pay-roll man from his money, only two remained as residents of Angels the decadent. One of these was Gridley, the master-mechanic, and the other was Hallock, chief clerk for a diminishing series of imported superintendents, and now for the third time the disappointed applicant for the headship of the Red Butte Western.
Associated for some brief time in the real-estate venture, and hailing from the same far-away Eastern State and city, these two had been at first yoke-fellows, and afterward, as if by tacit consent, inert enemies. As widely separated as the poles in characteristics, habits, and in their outlook upon life, they had little in common, and many antipathies.
Gridley was a large man, virile of face and figure, and he marched in the ranks of the full-fed and the self-indulgent. Hallock was big-boned and cadaverous of face, but otherwise a fair physical match for the master-mechanic; a dark man with gloomy eyes and a permanent frown. Jovial good-nature went with the master-mechanic's gray eyes twinkling easily to a genial smile, but it stopped rather abruptly at the straight-lined, sensual mouth, and found a second negation in the brutal jaw which was only thinly masked by the neatly trimmed beard. Hallock's smile was bitter, and if he had a social side no one in Angels had ever discovered it. In a region where fellowship in some sort, if it were only that of the bottle and the card-table, was any man's for the taking, he was a hermit, an ascetic; and his attitude toward others, all others, so far as Angels knew, was that of silent and morose ferocity.
It was in an upper room of the "Crow's Nest" head-quarters building that these two, the master-mechanic and the acting superintendent, met late in the evening of the day when Vice-President Ford had kept his appointment in Copah with Lidgerwood.
Gridley, clad like a gentleman, and tilting comfortably in his chair as he smoked a cigar that neither love nor money could have bought in Angels, was jocosely sarcastic. Hallock, shirt-sleeved, unkempt, and with the permanent frown deepening the furrow between his eyes, neither tilted nor smoked.
"They tell me you have missed the step up again, Hallock," said the smoker lazily, when the purely technical matter that had brought him to Hallock's office had been settled.
"Who tells you?" demanded the other; and a listener, knowing neither, would have remarked the curious similarity of the grating note in both voices as infallibly as a student of human nature would have contrasted the two men in every other personal characteristic.
"I don't remember," said Gridley, good-naturedly refusing to commit his informant, "but it's on the wires. Vice-President Ford is in Copah, and the new superintendent is with him."
Hallock leaned forward in his chair.
"Who is the new man?" he asked.
"Nobody seems to know him by name. But he is a friend of Ford's all right. That is how he gets the job."
Hallock took a plug of black tobacco from his pocket, and cut a small sliver from it for a chew. It was his one concession to appetite, and he made it grudgingly.
"A college man, I suppose," he commented. "Otherwise Ford wouldn't be backing him."
"Oh, yes, I guess it's safe to count on that."
"And a man who will carry out the Ford policy?"
Gridley's eyes smiled, but lower down on his face the smile became a cynical baring of the strong teeth.
"A man who may try to carry out the Ford idea," he qualified; adding, "The desert will get hold of him and eat him alive, as it has the others."
"Maybe," said Hallock thoughtfully. Then, with sudden heat, "It's hell, Gridley! I've hung on and waited and done the work for their figure-heads, one after another. The job belongs to me!"
This time Gridley's smile was a thinly veiled sneer.
"What makes you so keen for it, Hallock?" he asked. "You have no use for the money, and still less for the title."
"How do you know I don't want the salary?" snapped the other. "Because I don't have my clothes made in New York, or blow myself across the tables in Mesa Avenue, does it go without saying that I have no use for money?"
"But you haven't, you know you haven't," was the taunting rejoinder. "And the title, when you have, and have always had, the real authority, means still less to you."
"Authority!" scoffed the chief clerk, his gloomy eyes lighting up with slow fire, "this maverick railroad don't know the meaning of the word. By God! Gridley, if I had the club in my hands for a few months I'd show 'em!"
"Oh, I guess not," said the cigar-smoker easily. "You're not built right for it, Hallock; the desert would give you the horse-laugh."
"Would it? Not before I had squared off a few old debts, Gridley; don't you forget that."
There was a menace in the harsh retort, and the chief clerk made no attempt to conceal it.
"Threatening, are you?" jeered the full-fed one, still good-naturedly sarcastic. "What would you do, if you had the chance, Rankin?"
"I'd kill out some of the waste and recklessness, if it took the last man off the pay-rolls; and I'd break even with at least one man over in the Timanyoni, if I had to use the whole Red Butte Western to pry him loose!"
"Flemister again?" queried the master-mechanic. And then, in mild deprecation, "You are a bad loser, Hallock, a damned bad loser. But I suppose that is one of your limitations."
A silence settled down upon the upper room, but Gridley made no move to go. Out in the yards the night men were making up a westbound freight, and the crashing of box-cars carelessly "kicked" into place added its note to the discord of inefficiency and destructive breakage.
Over in the town a dance-hall piano was jangling, and the raucous voice of the dance-master calling the figures came across to the Crow's Nest curiously like the barking of a distant dog. Suddenly the barking voice stopped, and the piano clamor ended futilely in an aimless tinkling. For climax a pistol-shot rang out, followed by a scattering volley. It was a precise commentary on the time and the place that neither of the two men in the head-quarters upper room gave heed to the pistol-shots, or to the yelling uproar that accompanied them.
It was after the shouting had died away in a confused clatter of hoofs, and the pistol cracklings were coming only at intervals and from an increasing distance, that the corridor door opened and the night despatcher's off-trick man came in with a message for Hallock.
It was a mere routine notification from the line-end operator at Copah, and the chief clerk read it sullenly to the master-mechanic.
"Engine 266, Williams, engineer, and Blackmar, fireman, with service-car Naught-One, Bradford, conductor, will leave Copah at 12:01 A.M., and run special to Angels. By order of Howard Lidgerwood, General Superintendent."
Gridley's pivot-chair righted itself with a snap. But he waited until the off-trick man was gone before he said, "Lidgerwood! Well, by all the gods!" then, with a laugh that was more than half a snarl, "There is a chance for you yet, Rankin."
"Why, do you know him?"
"No, but I know something about him. I've got a line on New York, the same as you have, and I get a hint now and then. I knew that Lidgerwood had been considered for the place, but I was given to understand that he would refuse the job if it were offered to him."
"Why should he refuse?" demanded Hallock.
"That is where my wire-tapper fell down; he couldn't tell."
"Then why do you say there is still a chance for me?"
"Oh, on general principles, I guess. If it was an even break that he would refuse, it is still more likely that he won't stay after he has seen what he is up against, don't you think?"
Hallock did not say what he thought. He rarely did.
"Of course, you made inquiries about him when you found out he was a possible; I'd trust you to do that, Gridley. What do you know?"
"Not much that you can use. He is out of the Middle West; a young man and a graduate of Purdue. He took the Civil degree, but stayed two years longer and romped through the Mechanical. He ought to be pretty well up on theory, you'd say."
"Theory be damned!" snapped the chief clerk. "What he'll need in the Red Desert will be nerve and a good gun. If he has the nerve, he can buy the gun."
"But having the gun he couldn't always be sure of buying the nerve, eh? I guess you are right, Rankin; you usually are when you can forget to be vindictive. And that brings us around to the jumping-off place again. Of course, you will stay on with the new man—if he wants you to?"
"I don't know. That is my business, and none of yours."
It was a bid for a renewal of the quarrel which was never more than half veiled between these two. But Gridley did not lift the challenge.
"Let it go at that," he said placably. "But if you should decide to stay, I want you to let up on Flemister."
The morose antagonism died out of Hallock's eyes, and in its place came craft.
"I'd kill Flemister on sight, if I had the sand; you know that, Gridley. Some day it may come to that. But in the meantime——"
"In the meantime you have been snapping at his heels like a fice-dog, Hallock; holding out ore-cars on him, delaying his coal supplies, stirring up trouble with his miners. That was all right, up to yesterday. But now it has got to stop."
"Not for any orders that you can give," retorted the chief clerk, once more opening the door for the quarrel.
The master-mechanic got up and flicked the cigar ash from his coat-sleeve with a handkerchief that was fine enough to be a woman's.
"I am not going to come to blows with you. Rankin—not if I can help it," he said, with his hand on the door-knob. "But what I have said will have to go as it lies. Shoot Flemister out of hand, if you feel like it, but quit hampering his business."
Hallock stood up, and when he was on his feet his big frame made him look still more a fair match physically for the handsome master-mechanic.
"Why?" The single word shot out of the loose-lipped mouth like an explosive bullet.
Gridley opened the door and turned upon the threshold.
"I might borrow the word from you and say that Flemister's business and mine are none of yours. But I won't do that. I'll merely say that Flemister may need a little Red Butte Western nursing in the Ute Valley irrigation scheme he is promoting, and I want you to see that he gets it. You may take that as a word to the wise, or as a kicked-in hint to a blind mule; whichever you please. You can't afford to fight me, Hallock, and you know it. Sleep on it a few hours, and you'll see it in that way, I'm sure. Good-night."
A LITTLE BROTHER OF THE COWS
Crosswater Gap, so named because the high pass over which the railroad finds its way is anything but a gap, and, save when the winter snows are melting, there is no water within a day's march, was in sight from the loopings of the eastern approach. Lidgerwood, scanning the grades as the service-car swung from tangent to curve and curve to tangent up the steep inclines, was beginning to think of breakfast. The morning air was crisp and bracing, and he had been getting the full benefit of it for an hour or more, sitting under the umbrella roof at the observation end of the car.
With the breakfast thought came the thing itself, or the invitation to it. As a parting kindness the night before, Ford had transferred one of the cooks from his own private car to Lidgerwood's service, and the little man, Tadasu Matsuwari by name, and a subject of the Mikado by race and birth, came to the car door to call his new employer to the table.
It was an attractive table, well appointed and well served; but Lidgerwood, temperamentally single-eyed in all things, was diverted from his reorganization problem for the moment only. Since early dawn he had been up and out on the observation platform, noting, this time with the eye of mastership, the physical condition of the road; the bridges, the embankments, the cross-ties, the miles of steel unreeling under the drumming trucks, and the object-lesson was still fresh in his mind.
To a disheartening extent, the Red Butte demoralization had involved the permanent way. Originally a good track, with heavy steel, easy grades compensated for the curves, and a mathematical alignment, the roadbed and equipment had been allowed to fall into disrepair under indifferent supervision and the short-handing of the section gangs—always an impractical directory's first retrenchment when the dividends begin to fail. Lidgerwood had seen how the ballast had been suffered to sink at the rail-joints, and he had read the record of careless supervision at each fresh swing of the train, since it is the section foreman's weakness to spoil the geometrical curve by working it back, little by little, into the adjoining tangent.
Reflecting upon these things, Lidgerwood's comment fell into speech over his cup of coffee and crisp breakfast bacon.
"About the first man we need is an engineer who won't be too exalted to get down and squint curves with the section bosses," he mused, and from that on he was searching patiently through the memory card-index for the right man.
At the summit station, where the line leaves the Pannikin basin to plunge into the western desert, there was a delay. Lidgerwood was still at the breakfast-table when Bradford, the conductor, black-shirted and looking, in his slouch hat and riding-leggings, more like a horse-wrangler than a captain of railroad trains, lounged in to explain that there was a hot box under the 266's tender. Bradford was not of any faction of discontent, but the spirit of morose insubordination, born of the late change in management, was in the air, and he spoke gruffly. Hence, with the flint and steel thus provided, the spark was promptly evoked.
"Were the boxes properly overhauled before you left Copah?" demanded the new boss.
Bradford did not know, and the manner of his answer implied that he did not care. And for good measure he threw in an intimation that roundhouse dope kettles were not in his line.
Lidgerwood passed over the large impudence and held to the matter in hand.
"How much time have we on 201?" he asked, Train 201 being the westbound passenger overtaken and left behind in the small hours of the morning by the lighter and faster special.
"Thirty minutes, here," growled the little brother of the cows; after which he took himself off as if he considered the incident sufficiently closed.
Fifteen minutes later Lidgerwood finished his breakfast and went back to his camp-chair on the observation platform of the service-car. A glance over the side rail showed him his train crew still working on the heated axle-bearing. Another to the rear picked up the passenger-train storming around the climbing curves of the eastern approach to the summit. There was a small problem impending for the division despatcher at Angels, and the new superintendent held aloof to see how it would be handled.
It was handled rather indifferently. The passenger-train was pulling in over the summit switches when Bradford, sauntering into the telegraph office as if haste were the last thing in the world to be considered, asked for his clearance card, got it, and gave Williams the signal to go.
Lidgerwood got up and went into the car to consult the time-table hanging in the office compartment. Train 201 had no dead time at Crosswater; hence, if the ten-minute interval between trains of the same class moving in the same direction was to be preserved, the passenger would have to be held.
The assumption that the passenger-train would be held aroused all the railroad martinet's fury in the new superintendent. In Lidgerwood's calendar, time-killing on regular trains stood next to an infringement of the rules providing for the safety of life and property. His hand was on the signal-cord when, chancing to look back, he saw that the passenger-train had made only the momentary time-card stop at the summit station, and was coming on.
This turned the high crime into a mere breach of discipline, common enough even on well-managed railroads when the leading train can be trusted to increase the distance interval. But again the martinet in Lidgerwood protested. It was his theory that rules were made to be observed, and his experience had proved that little infractions paved the way for great ones. In the present instance, however, it was too late to interfere; so he drew a chair out in line with one of the rear observation windows and sat down to mark the event.
Pitching over the hilltop summit, within a minute of each other, the two trains raced down the first few curving inclines almost as one. Mile after mile was covered, and still the perilous situation remained unchanged. Down the short tangents and around the constantly recurring curves the special seemed to be towing the passenger at the end of an invisible but dangerously short drag-rope.
Lidgerwood began to grow uneasy. On the straight-line stretches the following train appeared to be rushing onward to an inevitable rear-end collision with the one-car special; and where the track swerved to right or left around the hills, the pursuing smoke trail rose above the intervening hill-shoulders near and threatening. With the parts of a great machine whirling in unison and nicely timed to escape destruction, a small accident to a single cog may spell disaster.
Lidgerwood left his chair and went again to consult the time-table. A brief comparison of miles with minutes explained the effect without excusing the cause. Train 201's schedule from the summit station to the desert level was very fast; and Williams, nursing his hot box, either could not, or would not, increase his lead.
At first, Lidgerwood, anticipating rebellion, was inclined to charge the hazardous situation to intention on the part of his own train crew. Having a good chance to lie out of it if they were accused, Williams and Bradford might be deliberately trying the nerve of the new boss. The presumption did not breed fear; it bred wrath, hot and vindictive. Two sharp tugs at the signal-cord brought Bradford from the engine. The memory of the conductor's gruff replies and easy impudence was fresh enough to make Lidgerwood's reprimand harsh.
"Do you call this railroading?" he rasped, pointing backward to the menace. "Don't you know that we are on 201's time?"
Bradford scowled in surly antagonism.
"That blamed hot box—" he began, but Lidgerwood cut him off short.
"The hot box has nothing to do with the case. You are not hired to take chances, or to hold out regular trains. Go forward and tell your engineer to speed up and get out of the way."
"I got my clearance at the summit, and I ain't despatchin' trains on this jerk-water railroad," observed the conductor coolly. Then he added, with a shade less of the belligerent disinterest: "Williams can't speed up. That housin' under the tender is about ready to blaze up and set the woods afire again, right now."
Once more Lidgerwood turned to the time-card. It was twenty miles farther along to the next telegraph station, and he heaped up wrath against the day of wrath in store for a despatcher who would recklessly turn two trains loose and out of his reach under such critical conditions, for thirty hazardous mountain miles.
Bradford, looking on sullenly, mistook the new boss's frown for more to follow, with himself for the target, and was moving away. Lidgerwood pointed to a chair with a curt, "Sit down!" and the conductor obeyed reluctantly.
"You say you have your clearance card, and that you are not despatching trains," he went on evenly, "but neither fact relieves you of your responsibility. It was your duty to make sure that the despatcher fully understood the situation at Crosswater, and to refuse to pull out ahead of the passenger without something more definite than a formal permit. Weren't you taught that? Where did you learn to run trains?"
It was an opening for hard words, but the conductor let it pass. Something in the steady, business-like tone, or in the shrewdly appraisive eyes, turned Bradford the potential mutineer into Bradford the possible partisan.
"I reckon we are needing a rodeo over here on this jerk-water mighty bad, Mr. Lidgerwood," he said, half humorously. "Take us coming and going, about half of us never had the sure-enough railroad brand put onto us, nohow. But, Lord love you! this little pasear we're making down this hill ain't anything! That's the old 210 chasin' us with the passenger, and she couldn't catch Bat Williams and the '66 in a month o' Sundays if we didn't have that doggoned spavined leg under the tender. She sure couldn't."
Lidgerwood smiled in spite of his annoyance, and wondered at what page in the railroad primer he would have to begin in teaching these men of the camps and the round-ups.
"But it isn't railroading," he insisted, meeting his first pupil half-way, and as man to man. "You might do this thing ninety-nine times without paying for it, and the hundredth time something would turn up to slow or to stop the leading train, and there you are."
"Sure!" said the ex-cowboy, quite heartily.
"Now, if there should happen to be——"
The sentence was never finished. The special, lagging a little now in deference to the smoking hot box, was rounding one of the long hill curves to the left. Suddenly the air-brakes ground sharply upon the wheels, shrill whistlings from the 266 sounded the stop signal, and past the end of the slowing service-car a trackman ran frantically up the line toward the following passenger, yelling and swinging his stripped coat like a madman.
Lidgerwood caught a fleeting glimpse of a section gang's green "slow" flag lying toppled over between the rails a hundred feet to the rear. Measuring the distance of the onrushing passenger-train against the life-saving seconds remaining, he called to Bradford to jump, and then ran forward to drag the Japanese cook out of his galley.
It was all over in a moment. There was time enough for Lidgerwood to rush the little Tadasu to the forward vestibule, to fling him into space, and to make his own flying leap for safety before the crisis came. Happily there was no wreck, though the margin of escape was the narrowest. Williams stuck to his post in the cab of the 266, applying and releasing the brakes, and running as far ahead as he dared upon the loosened timbers of the culvert, for which the section gang's slowflag was out. Carter, the engineer on the passenger-train, jumped; but his fireman was of better mettle and stayed with the machine, sliding the wheels with the driver-jams, and pumping sand on the rails up to the moment when the shuddering mass of iron and steel thrust its pilot under the trucks of Lidgerwood's car, lifted them, dropped them, and drew back sullenly in obedience to the pull of the reverse and the recoil of the brake mechanism.
It was an excellent opportunity for eloquence of the explosive sort, and when the dust had settled the track and trainmen were evidently expecting the well-deserved tongue-lashing. But in crises like this the new superintendent was at his self-contained best. Instead of swearing at the men, he gave his orders quietly and with the brisk certainty of one who knows his trade. The passenger-train was to keep ten minutes behind its own time until the next siding was passed, making up beyond that point if its running orders permitted. The special was to proceed on 201's time to the siding in question, at which point it would side-track and let the passenger precede it.
Bradford was in the cab of 266 when Williams eased his engine and the service-car over the unsafe culvert, and inched the throttle open for the speeding race down the hill curves toward the wide valley plain of the Red Desert.
"Turn it loose, Andy," said the big engineman, when the requisite number of miles of silence had been ticked off by the space-devouring wheels. "What-all do you think of Mister Collars-and-Cuffs by this time?"
Bradford took a leisurely minute to whittle a chewing cube from his pocket plug of hard-times tobacco.
"Well, first dash out o' the box, I allowed he was some locoed; he jumped me like a jack-rabbit for takin' a clearance right under Jim Carter's nose that-a-way. Then we got down to business, and I was just beginning to get onto his gait a little when the green flag butted in."
"Gait fits the laundry part of him?" suggested Williams.
"It does and it don't. I ain't much on systems and sure things, Bat, but I can make out to guess a guess, once in a while, when I have to. If that little tailor-made man don't get his finger mashed, or something, and have to go home and get somebody to poultice it, things are goin' to have a spell of happenings on this little old cow-trail of a railroad. That's my ante."
"What sort of things?" demanded Williams.
"When it comes to that, your guess is as good as mine, but they'll spell trouble for the amatoors and the trouble-makers, I reckon. I ain't placin' any bets yet, but that's about the way it stacks up to me."
Williams let the 266 out another notch, hung out of his window to look back at the smoking hot box, and, in the complete fulness of time, said, "Think he's got the sand, Andy?"
"This time you've got me goin'," was the slow reply. "Sizing him up one side and down the other when he called me back to pull my ear, I said, 'No, my young bronco-buster; you're a bluffer—the kind that'll put up both hands right quick when the bluff is called.' Afterward, I wasn't so blamed sure. One kind o' sand he's got, to a dead moral certainty. When he saw what was due to happen back yonder at the culvert, he told me '23,' all right, but he took time to hike up ahead and yank that Jap cook out o' the car-kitchen before he turned his own little handspring into the ditch."
The big engineer nodded, but he was still unconvinced when he made the stop for the siding at Last Chance. After the fireman had dropped off to set the switch for the following train, Williams put the unconvincement into words.
"That kind of sand is all right in God's country, Andy, but out here in the nearer edges of hell you got to know how to fight with pitchforks and such other tools as come handy. The new boss may be that kind of a scrapper, but he sure don't look it. You know as well as I do that men like Rufford and 'Cat' Biggs and Red-Light Sammy'll eat him alive, just for the fun of it, if he can't make out to throw lead quicker'n they can. And that ain't saying anything about the hobo outfit he'll have to go up against on this make-b'lieve railroad."
"No," agreed Bradford, ruminating thoughtfully. And then, by way of rounding out the subject: "Here's hopin' his nerve is as good as his clothes. I don't love a Mongolian any better'n you do, Bat, but the way he hustled to save that little brown man's skin sort o' got next to me; it sure did. Says I, 'A man that'll do that won't go round hunting a chance to kick a fice-dog just because the fice don't happen to be a blooded bull-terrier.'"
Williams, brawny and broad-chested, leaned against his box, his bare arms folded and his short pipe at the disputatious angle.
"He'd better have nerve, or get some," he commented. "T'otherways it's him for an early wooden overcoat and a trip back home in the express-car. After which, let me tell you, Andy, that man Ford'll sift this cussed country through a flour-shaker but what he'll cinch the outfit that does it. You write that out in your car-report."
Back in the service-car Lidgerwood was sitting quietly in the doorway, smoking his delayed after-breakfast cigar, and timing the up-coming passenger-train, watch in hand. Carter was ten minutes, to the exact second, behind his schedule time when the train thundered past on the main track, and Lidgerwood pocketed his watch with a smile of satisfaction. It was the first small victory in the campaign for reform.
Later, however, when the special was once more in motion westward, the desert laid hold upon him with the grip which first benumbs, then breeds dull rage, and finally makes men mad. Mile after mile the glistening rails sped backward into a shimmering haze of red dust. The glow of the breathless forenoon was like the blinding brightness of a forge-fire. To right and left the great treeless plain rose to bare buttes, backed by still barer mountains. Let the train speed as it would, there was always the same wearying prospect, devoid of interest, empty of human landmarks. Only the blazing sun swung from side to side with the slow veerings of the track: what answered for a horizon seemed never to change, never to move.
At long intervals a siding, sometimes with its waiting train, but oftener empty and deserted, slid into view and out again. Still less frequently a telegraph station, with its red, iron-roofed office, its water-tank cars and pumping machinery, and its high-fenced corral and loading chute, moved up out of the distorting heat haze ahead, and was lost in the dusty mirages to the rear. But apart from the crews of the waiting trains, and now and then the desert-sobered face of some telegraph operator staring from his window at the passing special, there were no signs of life: no cattle upon the distant hills, no loungers on the station platforms.
Lidgerwood had crossed this arid, lifeless plain twice within the week on his preliminary tour of inspection, but both times he had been in the Pullman, with fellow-passengers to fill the nearer field of vision and to temper the awful loneliness of the waste. Now, however, the desert with its heat, its stillness, its vacancy, its pitiless barrenness, claimed him as its own. He wondered that he had been impatient with the men it bred. The wonder now was that human virtue of any temper could long withstand the blasting touch of so great and awful a desolation.
It was past noon when the bowl-like basin, in which the train seemed to circle helplessly without gaining upon the terrifying horizons, began to lose its harshest features. Little by little, the tumbled hills drew nearer, and the red-sand dust of the road-bed gave place to broken lava. Patches of gray, sun-dried mountain grass appeared on the passing hill slopes, and in the arroyos trickling threads of water glistened, or, if the water were hidden, there were at least paths of damp sand to hint at the blessed moisture underneath.
Lidgerwood began to breathe again; and when the shrill whistle of the locomotive signalled the approach to the division head-quarters, he was thankful that the builders of Angels had pitched their tents and driven their stakes in the desert's edge, rather than in its heart.
Truly, Angels was not much to be thankful for, as the exile from the East regretfully admitted when he looked out upon it from the windows of his office in the second story of the Crow's Nest. A many-tracked railroad yard, flanked on one side by the repair shops, roundhouse, and coal-chutes; and on the other by a straggling town of bare and commonplace exteriors, unpainted, unfenced, treeless, and wind-swept: Angels stood baldly for what it was—a mere stopping-place in transit for the Red Butte Western.
The new superintendent turned his back upon the depressing outlook and laid his hand upon the latch of the door opening into the adjoining room. There was a thing to be said about the reckless bunching of trains out of reach of the wires, and it might as well be said now as later, he determined. But at the moment of door-opening he was made to realize that a tall, box-like contrivance in one corner of the office was a desk, and that it was inhabited.
The man who rose up to greet him was bearded, heavy-shouldered, and hollow-eyed, and he was past middle age. Green cardboard cones protecting his shirt-sleeves, and a shade of the same material visoring the sunken eyes, were the only clerkly suggestions about him. Since he merely stood up and ran his fingers through his thick black hair, with no more than an abstracted "Good-afternoon" for speech, Lidgerwood was left to guess at his identity.
"You are Mr. Hallock?" Lidgerwood made the guess without offering to shake hands, the high, box-like desk forbidding the attempt.
"Yes." The answer was neither antagonistic nor placatory; it was merely colorless.
"My name is Lidgerwood. You have heard of my appointment?"
Again the colorless "Yes."
Lidgerwood saw no good end to be subserved by postponing the inevitable.
"Mr. Ford spoke to me about you last night. He told me that you had been Mr. Cumberley's chief clerk, and that since Cumberley's resignation you have been acting superintendent of the Red Butte Western. Do you want to stay on as my lieutenant?"
For the long minute that Hallock took before replying, the loose-lipped mouth under the shaggy mustache seemed to have lost the power of speech. But when the words finally came, they were shorn of all euphemism.
"I suppose I ought to tell you to go straight to hell, Mr. Lidgerwood, put on my coat and walk out," said this most singular of all railway subordinates. "By all the rules of the game, this job belongs to me. What I've gone through to earn it, you nor any other man will ever know. If I stay, I'll wish I hadn't; and so will you. You'd better give me a time-check and let me go."
Lidgerwood walked to the window and once more stared out upon the dreary prospect, bounded by the bluffs of the second mesa. A horseman was ambling down the single street of the town, weaving in his saddle, and giving vent to a series of Indian war-whoops. Lidgerwood saw the drunken cowboy only with the outward eye. And when he turned back to the man in the rifle-pit desk, he could not have told why the words of regret and dismissal which he had made up his mind to say, refused to come. But they did refuse, and what he said was not at all what he had intended to say.
"If I can't quite match your frankness, Mr. Hallock, it is because my early education was neglected. But I'll say this: I appreciate your disappointment; I know what it means to a man situated as you are. Notwithstanding, I want you to stay with me. I'll say more; I shall take it as a personal favor if you will stay."
"You'll be sorry for it if I do," was the ungracious rejoinder.
"Not because you will do anything to make me sorry, I am sure," said the new superintendent, in his evenest tone. And then, as if the matter were definitely settled: "I'd like to have a word with the trainmaster, Mr. McCloskey. May I trouble you to tell me which is his office?"
Hallock waved a hand toward the door which Lidgerwood had been about to open a few minutes earlier.
"You'll find him in there," he said briefly, adding, with his altogether remarkable disregard for the official proprieties: "If he gives you the same chance that I did, don't take him up. He is the one man in this outfit worth more than the powder it would take to blow him to the devil."
AT THE RIO GLORIA
The matter to be taken up with McCloskey, master of trains and chief of the telegraph department, was not altogether disciplinary. In the summarizing conference at Copah, Vice-President Ford had spoken favorably of the trainmaster, recommending him to mercy in the event of a general beheading in the Angels head-quarters. "A lame duck, like most of the desert exiles, and the homeliest man west of the Missouri River," was Ford's characterization. "He is as stubborn as a mule, but he is honest and outspoken. If you can win him over to your side, you will have at least one lieutenant whom you can trust—and who will, I think, be duly grateful for small favors. Mac couldn't get a job east of the Crosswater Hills, I'm afraid."
Lidgerwood had not inquired the reason for the eastern disability. He had lived in the West long enough to know that it is an ill thing to pry too curiously into any man's past. So there should be present efficiency, no man in the service should be called upon to recite in ancient history, much less one for whom Ford had spoken a good word.
Like all the other offices in the Crow's Nest, that of the trainmaster was bare and uninviting. Lidgerwood, passing beyond the door of communication, found himself in a dingy room, with cobwebs festooning the ceiling and a pair of unwashed windows looking out upon the open square called, in the past and gone day of the Angelic promoters, the "railroad plaza." Two chairs, a cheap desk, and a pine table backed by the "string-board" working model of the current time-table, did duty as the furnishings, serving rather to emphasize than to relieve the dreariness of the place.
McCloskey was at his desk at the moment of door-opening, and Lidgerwood instantly paid tribute to Vice-President Ford's powers of characterization. The trainmaster was undeniably homely—and more; his hard-featured face was a study in grotesques. There was fearless honesty in the shrewd gray eyes, and a good promise of capability in the strong Scotch jaw and long upper lip, but the grotesque note was the one which persisted, and the trainmaster seemed wilfully to accentuate it. His coat, in a region where shirt-sleeves predominated, was a close-buttoned gambler's frock, and his hat, in the country of the sombrero and the soft Stetson, was a derby.
Lidgerwood was striving to estimate the man beneath these outward eccentricities when McCloskey rose and thrust out a hand, great-jointed and knobbed like a laborer's.
"You're Mr. Lidgerwood, I take it?" said he, tilting the derby to the back of his head. "Come to tell me to pack my kit and get out?"
"Not yet, Mr. McCloskey," laughed Lidgerwood, getting his first real measure of the man in the hearty hand-grip. "On the contrary, I've come to thank you for not dropping things and running away before the new management could get on the ground."
The trainmaster's rejoinder was outspokenly blunt. "I've nowhere to run to, Mr. Lidgerwood, and that's no joke. Some of the backcappers will be telling you presently that I was a train despatcher over in God's country, and that I put two trains together. It's your right to know that it's true."
"Thank you, Mr. McCloskey," said Lidgerwood simply; "that sounds good to me. And take this for yourself: the man who has done that once won't do it again. That is one thing, and another is this: we start with a clean slate on the Red Butte Western. No man in the service who will turn in and help us make a real railroad out of the R.B.W. need worry about his past record: it won't be dug up against him."
"That's fair—more than fair," said the trainmaster, mouthing the words as if the mere effort of speech were painful, "and I wish I could promise you that the rank and file will meet you half-way. But I can't. You'll find a plucked pigeon, Mr. Lidgerwood—with plenty of hawks left to pick the bones. The road has been running itself for the past two years and more."
"I understand," said Lidgerwood; and then he spoke of the careless despatching.
"That will be Callahan, the day man," McCloskey broke in wrathfully. "But that's the way of it. When we get through the twenty-four hours without killing somebody or smashing something, I thank God, and put a red mark on that calendar over my desk."
"Well, we won't go back of the returns," declared Lidgerwood, meaning to be as just as he could to his predecessors in office. "But from now on——"
The door leading into the room beyond the trainmaster's office opened squeakily on dry hinges, and a chattering of telegraph instruments heralded the incoming of a disreputable-looking office-man, with a green patch over one eye and a blackened cob-pipe between his teeth. Seeing Lidgerwood, he ducked and turned to McCloskey. Bradley, reporting in, had given his own paraphrase of the new superintendent's strictures on Red Butte Western despatching and the criticism had lost nothing in the recasting.
"Seventy-one's in the ditch at Gloria Siding," he said, speaking pointedly to the trainmaster. "Goodloe reports it from Little Butte; says both enginemen are in the mix-up, but he doesn't know whether they are killed or not."
"There you are!" snarled McCloskey, wheeling upon Lidgerwood. "They couldn't let you get your chair warmed the first day!"
With the long run from Copah to Angels to his credit, and with all the head-quarters loose ends still to be gathered up, Lidgerwood might blamelessly have turned over the trouble call to his trainmaster. But a wreck was as good a starting-point as any, and he took command at once.
"Go and clear for the wrecking-train, and have some one in your office notify the shops and the yard," he said briskly, compelling the attention of the one-eyed despatcher; and when Callahan was gone: "Now, Mac, get out your map and post me. I'm a little lame on geography yet. Where is Gloria Siding?"
McCloskey found a blue-print map of the line and traced the course of the western division among the foot-hills to the base of the Great Timanyonis, and through the Timanyoni Canyon to a park-like valley, shut in by the great range on the east and north, and by the Little Timanyonis and the Hophras on the west and south. At a point midway of the valley his stubby forefinger rested.
"That's Gloria," he said, "and here's Little Butte, twelve miles beyond."
"Good ground?" queried Lidgerwood.
"As pretty a stretch as there is anywhere west of the desert; reminds you of a Missouri bottom, with the river on one side and the hills a mile away on the other. I don't know what excuse those hoboes could find for piling a train in the ditch there."
"We'll hear the excuse later," said Lidgerwood. "Now, tell me what sort of a wrecking-plant we have?"
"The best in the bunch," asserted the trainmaster. "Gridley's is the one department that has been kept up to date and in good fighting trim. We have one wrecking-crane that will pick up any of the big freight-pullers, and a lighter one that isn't half bad."
"Who is your wrecking-boss?"
"Gridley—when he feels like going out. He can clear a main line quicker than any man we've ever had."
"He will go with us to-day?"
"I suppose so. He is in town and he's—sober."
The new superintendent caught at the hesitant word.
"Drinks, does he?"
"Not much while he is on the job. But he disappears periodically and comes back looking something the worse for wear. They tell tough stories about him over in Copah."
Lidgerwood dropped the master-mechanic as he had dropped the offending trainmen who had put Train 71 in the ditch at Gloria where, according to McCloskey, there should be no ditch.
"I'll go and run through my desk mail and fill Hallock up while you are making ready," he said. "Call me when the train is made up."
Passing through the corridor on the way to his private office back of Hallock's room, Lidgerwood saw that the wreck call had already reached the shops. A big, bearded man with a soft hat pulled over his eyes was directing the make-up of a train on the repair track, and the yard engine was pulling an enormous crane down from its spur beyond the coal-chutes. Around the man in the soft hat the wrecking-crew was gathering: shopmen for the greater part, as a crew of a master mechanic's choosing would be.
As the event proved, there was little time for the doing of the preliminary work which Lidgerwood had meant to do. In the midst of the letter-sorting, McCloskey put his head in at the door of the private office.
"We're ready when you are, Mr. Lidgerwood," he interrupted; and with a few hurried directions to Hallock, Lidgerwood joined the trainmaster on the Crow's Nest platform. The train was backing up to get its clear-track orders, and on the tool-car platform stood the big man whom Lidgerwood had already identified presumptively as Gridley.
McCloskey would have introduced the new superintendent when the train paused for the signal from the despatcher's window, but Gridley did not wait for the formalities.
"Come aboard, Mr. Lidgerwood," he called, genially. "It's too bad we have to give you a sweat-box welcome. If there are any of Seventy-one's crew left alive, you ought to give them thirty days for calling you out before you could shake hands with yourself."
Being by nature deliberate in forming friendships, and proportionally tenacious of them when they were formed, Lidgerwood's impulse was to hold all men at arm's length until he was reasonably assured of sincerity and a common ground. But the genial master-mechanic refused to be put on probation. Lidgerwood made the effort while the rescue train was whipping around the hill shoulders and plunging deeper into the afternoon shadows of the great mountain range. The tool-car was comfortably filled with men and working tackle, and for seats there were only the blocking timbers, the tool-boxes, and the coils of rope and chain cables. Sharing a tool-box with Gridley and smoking a cigar out of Gridley's pocket-case, Lidgerwood found it difficult to be less than friendly.
It was to little purpose that he recalled Ford's qualified recommendation of the man who had New York backing and who, in Ford's phrase, was a "brute after his own peculiar fashion." Brute or human, the big master-mechanic had the manners of a gentleman, and his easy good-nature broke down all the barriers of reserve that his somewhat reticent companion could interpose.
"You smoke good cigars, Mr. Gridley," said Lidgerwood, trying, as he had tried before, to wrench the talk aside from the personal channel into which it seemed naturally to drift.
"Good tobacco is one of the few luxuries the desert leaves a man capable of enjoying. You haven't come to that yet, but you will. It is a savage life, Mr. Lidgerwood, and if a man hasn't a good bit of the blood of his stone-age ancestors in him, the desert will either kill him or make a beast of him. There doesn't seem to be any medium."
The talk was back again in the personal channel, and this time Lidgerwood met the issue fairly.
"You have been saying that, in one form or another, ever since we left Angels: are you trying to scare me off, Mr. Gridley, or are you only giving me a friendly warning?" he asked.
The master-mechanic laughed easily.
"I hope I wouldn't be impudent enough to do either, on such short acquaintance," he protested. "But now that you have opened the door, perhaps a little man-to-man frankness won't be amiss. You have tackled a pretty hard proposition, Mr. Lidgerwood."
"Technically, you mean?"
"No, I didn't mean that, because, if your friends tell the truth about you, you can come as near to making bricks without straw as the next man. But the Red Butte Western reorganization asks for something more than a good railroad officer."
"I'm listening," said Lidgerwood.
Gridley laughed again.
"What will you do when a conductor or an engineer whom you have called on the carpet curses you out and invites you to go to hell?"
"I shall fire him," was the prompt rejoinder.
"Naturally and properly, but afterward? Four out of five men in this human scrap-heap you've inherited will lay for you with a gun to play even for the discharge. What then?"
It was just here that Lidgerwood, staring absently at the passing panorama of shifting hill shoulders framing itself in the open side-door of the tool-car, missed a point. If he had been less absorbed in the personal problem he could scarcely have failed to mark the searching scrutiny in the shrewd eyes shaded by Gridley's soft hat.
"I don't know," he said, half hesitantly. "Civilization means something—or it should mean something—even in the Red Desert, Mr. Gridley. I suppose there is some semblance of legal protection in Angels, as elsewhere, isn't there?"
The master-mechanic's smile was tolerant.
"Surely. We have a town marshal, and a justice of the peace; one is a blacksmith and the other the keeper of the general store."
The good-natured irony in Gridley's reply was not thrown away upon his listener, but Lidgerwood held tenaciously to his own contention.
"The inadequacy of the law, or of its machinery, hardly excuses a lapse into barbarism," he protested. "The discharged employee, in the case you are supposing, might hold himself justified in shooting at me; but if I should shoot back and happen to kill him, it would be murder. We've got to stand for something, Mr. Gridley, you and I who know the difference between civilization and savagery."
Gridley's strong teeth came together with a little snap.
"Certainly," he agreed, without a shade of hesitation; adding, "I've never carried a gun and have never had to." Then he changed the subject abruptly, and when the train had swung around the last of the hills and was threading its tortuous way through the great canyon, he proposed a change of base to the rear platform from which Chandler's marvel of engineering skill could be better seen and appreciated.
The wreck at Gloria Siding proved to be a very mild one, as railway wrecks go. A broken flange under a box-car had derailed the engine and a dozen cars, and there were no casualties—the report about the involvement of the two enginemen being due to the imagination of the excited flagman who had propelled himself on a hand-car back to Little Butte to send in the call for help.
Since Gridley was on the ground, Lidgerwood and McCloskey stood aside and let the master-mechanic organize the attack. Though the problem of track-clearing, on level ground and with a convenient siding at hand for the sorting and shifting, was a simple one, there was still a chance for an exhibition of time-saving and speed, and Gridley gave it. There was never a false move made or a tentative one, and when the huge lifting-crane went into action, Lidgerwood grew warmly enthusiastic.
"Gridley certainly knows his business," he said to McCloskey. "The Red Butte Western doesn't need any better wrecking-boss than it has right now."
"He can do the job, when he feels like it," admitted the trainmaster sourly.
"But he doesn't often feel like it? You can't blame him for that. Picking up wrecks isn't fairly a part of a master-mechanic's duty."
"That is what he says, and he doesn't trouble himself to go when it isn't convenient. I have a notion he wouldn't be here to-day if you weren't."
It was plainly evident that McCloskey meant more than he said, but once again Lidgerwood refused to go behind the returns. He felt that he had been prejudiced against Gridley at the outset, unduly so, he was beginning to think, and even-handed fairness to all must be the watchword in the campaign of reorganization.
"Since we seem to be more ornamental than useful on this job, you might give me another lesson in Red Butte geography, Mac," he said, purposely changing the subject. "Where are the gulch mines?"
The trainmaster explained painstakingly, squatting to trace a rude map in the sand at the track-side. Hereaway, twelve miles to the westward, lay Little Butte, where the line swept a great curve to the north and so continued on to Red Butte. Along the northward stretch, and in the foot-hills of the Little Timanyonis, were the placers, most of them productive, but none of them rich enough to stimulate a rush.
Here, where the river made a quick turn, was the butte from which the station of Little Butte took its name—the superintendent might see its wooded summit rising above the lower hills intervening. It was a long, narrow ridge, more like a hogback than a true mountain, and it held a silver mine, Flemister's, which was a moderately heavy shipper. The vein had been followed completely through the ridge, and the spur track in the eastern gulch, which had originally served it, had been abandoned and a new spur built up along the western foot of the butte, with a main line connection at Little Butte. Up here, ten miles above Little Butte, was a bauxite mine, with a spur; and here....
McCloskey went on, industriously drawing lines in the sand, and Lidgerwood sat on a cross-tie end and conned his lesson. Below the siding the big crane was heaving the derailed cars into line with methodical precision, but now it was Gridley's shop foreman who was giving the orders. The master-mechanic had gone aside to hold converse with a man who had driven up in a buckboard, coming from the direction in which Little Butte lay.
"Goodloe told me the wreck-wagons were here, and I thought you would probably be along," the buckboard driver was saying. "How are things shaping up? I haven't cared to risk the wires since Bigsby leaked on us."
Gridley put a foot on the hub of the buckboard wheel and began to whittle a match with a penknife that was as keen as a razor.
"The new chum is in the saddle; look over your shoulder to the left and you'll see him sitting on a cross-tie beside McCloskey," he said.
"I've seen him before. He was over the road last week, and I happened to be in Goodloe's office at Little Butte when he got off to look around," was the curt rejoinder. "But that doesn't help any. What do you know?"
"He is a gentleman," said Gridley slowly.
"Oh, the devil! what do I care about——"
"And a scholar," the master-mechanic went on imperturbably.
The buckboard driver's black eyes snapped. "Can you add the rest of it—'and he isn't very bright'?"
"No," was the sober reply.
"Well, what are we up against?"
Gridley snapped the penknife shut and began to chew the sharpened end of the match.
"Your pop-valve is set too light; you blow off too easily, Flemister," he commented. "So far we—or rather you—are up against nothing worse than the old proposition. Lidgerwood is going to try to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, beginning with the pay-roll contingent. If I have sized him up right, he'll be kept busy; too busy to remember your name—or mine."
"What do you mean? in just so many words."
"Nothing more than I have said. Mr. Lidgerwood is a gentleman and a scholar."
"Ha!" said the man in the buckboard seat. "I believe I'm catching on, after so long a time. You mean he hasn't the sand."
Gridley neither denied nor affirmed. He had taken out his penknife again and was resharpening the match.
"Hallock is the man to look to," he said. "If we could get him interested ..."
"That's up to you, damn it; I've told you a hundred times that I can't touch him!"
"I know; he doesn't seem to love you very much. The last time I talked to him he mentioned something about shooting you off-hand, but I guess he didn't mean, it. You've got to interest him in some way, Flemister."
"Perhaps you can tell me how," was the sarcastic retort.
"I think perhaps I can, now. Do you remember anything about the sky-rocketing finish of the Mesa Building and Loan Association, or is that too much of a back number for a busy man like you?"
"I remember it," said Flemister.
"Hallock was the treasurer," put in Gridley smoothly.
"Wait a minute. A treasurer is supposed to treasure something, isn't he? There are possibly twenty-five or thirty men still left in the Red Butte Western service who have never wholly quit trying to find out why Hallock, the treasurer, failed so signally to treasure anything."
"Yah! that's an old sore."
"I know, but old sores may become suddenly troublesome—or useful—as the case may be. For some reason best known to himself, Hallock has decided to stay and continue playing second fiddle."
"How do you know?"
The genial smile was wrinkling at the corners of Gridley's eyes.
"There isn't very much going on under the sheet-iron roof of the Crow's Nest that I don't know, Flemister, and usually pretty soon after it happens. Hallock will stay on as chief clerk, and, naturally, he is anxious to stand well with his new boss. Are you beginning to see daylight?"
"Well, we'll open the shutters a little wider. One of the first things Lidgerwood will have to wrestle with will be this Loan Association business. The kickers will put it up to him, as they have put it up to every new man who has come out here. Ferguson refused to dig into anybody's old graveyard, and so did Cumberley. But Lidgerwood won't refuse. He is going to be the just judge, if not the very terrible."
"Still, I don't see," persisted Flemister.
"Don't you? Hallock will be obliged to justify himself to Lidgerwood, and he can't. In fact, there is only one man living to-day who could fully justify him."
"And that man is——"
"—Pennington Flemister, ex-president of the defunct Building and Loan. You know where the money went, Flemister."
"Maybe I do. What of that?"
"I can only offer a suggestion, of course. You are a pretty smooth liar, Pennington; it wouldn't be much trouble for you to fix up a story that would satisfy Lidgerwood. You might even show up a few documents, if it came to the worst."
"That's all. If you get a good, firm grip on that club, you'll have Hallock, coming and going. It's a dead open and shut. If he falls in line, you'll agree to pacify Lidgerwood; otherwise the law will have to take its course."
The man in the buckboard was silent for a long minute before he said: "It won't work, Gridley. Hallock's grudge against me is too bitter. You know part of it, and part of it you don't know. He'd hang himself in a minute if he could get my neck in the same noose."
The master-mechanic threw the whittled match away, as if the argument were closed.
"That is where you are lame, Flemister: you don't know your man. Put it up to Hallock barehanded: if he comes in, all right; if not, you'll put him where he'll wear stripes. That will fetch him."
The men of the derrick gang were righting the last of the derailed box-cars, and the crew of the wrecking-train was shifting the cripples into line for the return run to Angels.
"We'll be going in a few minutes," said the master-mechanic, taking his foot from the wheel-hub. "Do you want to meet Lidgerwood?"
"Not here—or with you," said the owner of the Wire-Silver; and he had turned his team and was driving away when Gridley's shop foreman came up to say that the wrecking-train was ready to leave.
Lidgerwood found a seat for himself in the tool-car on the way back to Angels, and put in the time smoking a short pipe and reviewing the events of his first day in the new field.
The outlook was not wholly discouraging, and but for the talk with Gridley he might have smoked and dozed quite peacefully on his coiled hawser, in the corner of the car. But, try as he would, the importunate demon of distrust, distrust of himself, awakened by the master-mechanic's warning, refused to be quieted; and when, after the three hours of the slow return journey were out-worn, McCloskey came to tell him that the train was pulling into the Angels yard, the explosion of a track torpedo under the wheels made him start like a nervous woman.
For the first few weeks after the change in ownership and the arrival of the new superintendent, the Red Butte Western and its nerve-centre, Angels, seemed disposed to take Mr. Howard Lidgerwood as a rather ill-timed joke, perpetrated upon a primitive West and its people by some one of the Pacific Southwestern magnates who owned a broad sense of humor.
During this period the sardonic laugh was heard in the land, and the chuckling appreciation of the joke by the Red Butte rank and file, and by the Angelic soldiers of fortune who, though not upon the company's pay-rolls, still throve indirectly upon the company's bounty, lacked nothing of completeness. The Red Desert grinned like the famed Cheshire cat when an incoming train from the East brought sundry boxes and trunks, said to contain the new boss's wardrobe. Its guffaws were long and uproarious when it began to be noised about that the company carpenters and fitters were installing a bath and other civilizing and softening appliances in the alcove opening out of the superintendent's sleeping-room in the head-quarters building.
Lidgerwood slept in the Crow's Nest, not so much from choice as for the reason that there seemed to be no alternative save a room in the town tavern, appropriately named "The Hotel Celestial." Between his sleeping-apartment and his private office there was only a thin board partition; but even this gave him more privacy than the Celestial could offer, where many of the partitions were of building-paper, muslin covered.
It is a railroad proverb that the properly inoculated railroad man eats and sleeps with his business; Lidgerwood exemplified the saying by having a wire cut into the despatcher's office, with the terminals on a little table at his bed's head, and with a tiny telegraph relay instrument mounted on the stand. Through the relay, tapping softly in the darkness, came the news of the line, and often, after the strenuous day was ended, Lidgerwood would lie awake listening.
Sometimes the wire gossiped, and echoes of Homeric laughter trickled through the relay in the small hours; as when Ruby Creek asked the night despatcher if it were true that the new boss slept in what translated itself in the laborious Morse of the Ruby Creek operator as "pijjimmies"; or when Navajo, tapping the same source of information, wished to be informed if the "Chink"—doubtless referring to Tadasu Matsuwari—ran a laundry on the side and thus kept His Royal Highness in collars and cuffs.
At the tar-paper-covered, iron-roofed Celestial, where he took his meals, Lidgerwood had a table to himself, which he shared at times with McCloskey, and at other times with breezy Jack Benson, the young engineer whom Vice-President Ford had sent, upon Lidgerwood's request and recommendation, to put new life into the track force, and to make the preliminary surveys for a possible western extension of the road.
When the superintendent had guests, the long table on the opposite side of the dining-room restrained itself. When he ate alone, Maggie Donovan, the fiery-eyed, heavy-handed table-girl who ringed his plate with the semicircle of ironstone portion dishes, stood between him and the men who were still regarding him as a joke. And since Maggie's displeasure manifested itself in cold coffee and tough cuts of the beef, the long table made its most excruciating jests elaborately impersonal.
On the line, and in the roundhouse and repair-shops, the joke was far too good to be muzzled. The nickname, "Collars-and-Cuffs," became classical; and once, when Brannagan and the 117 were ordered out on the service-car, the Irishman wore the highest celluloid collar he could find in Angels, rounding out the clownery with a pair of huge wickerware cuffs, which had once seen service as the coverings of a pair of Maraschino bottles.
No official notice having been taken of Brannagan's fooling, Buck Tryon, ordered out on the same duty, went the little Irishman one better, decorating his engine headlight and handrails with festoonings of colored calico, the decoration figuring as a caricature of Lidgerwood's college colors, and calico being the nearest approach to bunting obtainable at Jake Schleisinger's emporium, two doors north of Red-Light Sammy's house of call.
All of which was harmless enough, one would say, however subversive of dignified discipline it might be. Lidgerwood knew. The jests were too broad to be missed. But he ignored them good-naturedly, rather thankful for the playful interlude which gave him a breathing-space and time to study the field before the real battle should begin.
That a battle would have to be fought was evident enough. As yet, the demoralization had been scarcely checked, and sooner or later the necessary radical reforms would have to begin. Gridley, whose attitude toward the new superintendent continued to be that of a disinterested adviser, assured Lidgerwood that he was losing ground by not opening the campaign of severity at once.
"You'll have to take a club to these hoboes before you can ever hope to make railroad men out of them," was Gridley's oft-repeated assertion; and the fact that the master-mechanic was continually urging the warfare made Lidgerwood delay it.
Just why Gridley's counsel should have produced such a contrary effect, Lidgerwood could not have explained. The advice was sound, and the man who gave it was friendly and apparently ingenuous. But prejudices, like prepossessions, are sometimes as strong as they are inexplicable, and while Lidgerwood freely accused himself of injustice toward the master-mechanic, a certain feeling of distrust and repulsion, dating back to his first impressions of the man, died hard.
Oddly enough, on the other hand, there was a prepossession, quite as unreasoning, for Hallock. There was absolutely nothing in the chief clerk to inspire liking, or even common business confidence; on the contrary, while Hallock attended to his duties and carried out his superior's instructions with the exactness of an automaton, his attitude was distinctly antagonistic. As the chief subaltern on Lidgerwood's small staff he was efficient and well-nigh invaluable. But as a man, Lidgerwood felt that he might easily be regarded as an enemy whose designs could never be fathomed or prefigured.
In spite of Hallock's singular manner, which was an abrupt challenge to all comers, Lidgerwood acknowledged a growing liking for the chief clerk. Under the crabbed and gloomy crust of the man the superintendent fancied he could discover a certain savage loyalty. But under the loyalty there was a deeper depth—of misery, or tragedy, or both; and to this abysmal part of him there was no key that Lidgerwood could find.
McCloskey, who had served under Hallock for a number of months before the change in management, confessed that he knew the gloomy chief clerk only as a man in authority, and exceedingly hard to please. Questioned more particularly by Lidgerwood, McCloskey added that Hallock was married; that after the first few months in Angels his wife, a strikingly beautiful young woman, had disappeared, and that since her departure Hallock had lived alone in two rooms over the freight station, rooms which no one, save himself, ever entered.
These, and similar bits of local history, were mere gatherings by the way for the superintendent, picked up while the Red Desert was having its laugh at the new bath-room, the pajamas, and the clean linen. They weighed lightly, because the principal problem was, as yet, untouched. For while the laugh endured, Lidgerwood had not found it possible to breach many of the strongholds of lawlessness.
Orders, regarded by disciplined railroad men as having the immutability of the laws of the Medes and Persians, were still interpreted as loosely as if they were but the casual suggestions of a bystander. Rules were formulated and given black-letter emphasis in their postings on the bulletin boards, only to be coolly ignored when they chanced to conflict with some train crew's desire to make up time or to kill it. Directed to account for fuel and oil consumed, the enginemen good-naturedly forged reports and the storekeepers blandly O.K.'d them. Instructed to keep an accurate record of all material used, the trackmen jocosely scattered more spikes than they drove, made fire-wood of the stock cross-ties, and were not above underpinning the section-houses with new dimension timbers.
In countless other ways the waste was prodigious and often mysteriously unexplainable. The company supplies had a curious fashion of disappearing in transit. Two car-loads of building lumber sent to repair the station at Red Butte vanished somewhere between the Angels shipping-yards and their billing destination. Lime, cement, and paint were exceedingly volatile. House hardware, purchased in quantities for company repairs, figured in the monthly requisition sheet as regularly as coal and oil; and the lost-tool account roughly balanced the pay-roll of the company carpenters and bridge-builders.