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   Chapter 4 AT THE RIO GLORIA

The Taming of Red Butte Western By Francis Lynde Characters: 24012

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


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 halfway. 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.

"Yes, but--"

"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?"

"Not yet."

"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."

"Well?"

"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.

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