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   Chapter 11 NEMESIS

The Taming of Red Butte Western By Francis Lynde Characters: 16883

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


On the second day following Flemister's visit to Angels, Lidgerwood was called again to Red Butte to another conference with the mine-owners. On his return, early in the afternoon, his special was slowed and stopped at a point a few miles east of the "Y" spur at Silver Switch, and upon looking out he saw that Benson's bridge-builders were once more at work on the wooden trestle spanning the Gloria. Benson himself was in command, but he turned the placing of the string-timbers over to his foreman and climbed to the platform of the superintendent's service-car.

"I won't hold you more than a few minutes," he began, but the superintendent pointed to one of the camp-chairs and sat down, saying: "There's no hurry. We have time orders against 73 at Timanyoni, and we would have to wait there, anyhow. What do you know now?-more than you knew the last time we talked?"

Benson shook his head. "Nothing that would do us any good in a jury trial," he admitted reluctantly. "We are not going to find out anything more until you send somebody up to Flemister's mine with a search-warrant."

Lidgerwood was gazing absently out over the low hills intervening between his point of view and the wooded summit of Little Butte.

"Whom am I to send, Jack?" he asked. "I have just come from Red Butte, and I took occasion to make a few inquiries. Flemister is evidently prepared at all points. From what I learned to-day, I am inclined to believe that the sheriff of Timanyoni County would probably refuse to serve a warrant against him, if we could find a magistrate who would issue one. Nice state of affairs, isn't it?"

"Beautiful," Benson agreed, adding: "But you don't want Flemister half as bad as you want the man who is working with him. Are you still trying to believe that it isn't Hallock?"

"I am still trying to be fair and just. McCloskey says that the two used to be friends-Hallock and Flemister. I don't believe they are now. Hallock didn't want to go to Flemister about that building-and-loan business, and I couldn't make out whether he was afraid, or whether it was just a plain case of dislike."

"It would doubtless be Hallock's policy-and Flemister's, too, for that matter-to make you believe they are not friends. You'll have to admit they are together a great deal."

"I'll admit it if you say so, but I didn't know it before. How do you know it?"

"Hallock is over here every day or two; I have seen him three or four times since that day when he and Flemister were walking down the new spur together and turned back at sight of me," said Benson. "Of course, I don't know what other business Hallock may have over here, but one thing I do know, he has been across the river, digging into the inner consciousness of my old prospector. And that isn't all. After he had got the story of the timber stealing out of the old man, he tried to bribe him not to tell it to any one else; tried the bribe first and a scare afterward-told him that something would happen to him if he didn't keep a still tongue in his head."

Lidgerwood shook his head slowly. "That looks pretty bad. Why should he want to silence the old man?"

"That's just what I've been asking myself. But right on the heels of that, another little mystery developed. Hallock asked the old man if he would be willing to swear in court to the truth of his story. The old man said he would."

"Well?" said Lidgerwood.

"A night or two later the old prospector's shack burned down, and the next morning he found a notice pinned to a tree near one of his sluice-boxes. It was a polite invitation for him to put distance between him and the Timanyoni district. I suppose you can put two and two together, as I did."

Again Lidgerwood said: "It looks pretty bad for Hallock. No one but the thieves themselves could have any possible reason for driving the old man out of the country. Did he go?"

"Not much; he isn't built that way. That same day he went to work building him a new shack; and he swears that the next man who gets near enough to set it afire won't live to get away and brag about it. Two days afterward Hallock showed up again, and the old fellow ran him off with a gun."

Just then the bridge-foreman came up to say that the timbers were in place, and Benson swung off to give Lidgerwood's engineer instructions to run carefully. As the service-car platform came along, Lidgerwood leaned over the railing for a final word with Benson. "Keep in touch with your old man, and tell him to count on us for protection," he said; and Benson nodded acquiescence as the one-car train crept out upon the dismantled bridge.

Having an appointment with Leckhard, of the main line, timed for an early hour the following morning, Lidgerwood gave his conductor instructions to stop at Angels only long enough to get orders for the eastern division.

When the division station was reached, McCloskey met the service-car in accordance with wire instructions sent from Timanyoni, bringing an armful of mail, which Lidgerwood purposed to work through on the run to Copah.

"Nothing new, Mac?" he asked, when the trainmaster came aboard.

"Nothing much, only the operators have notified me that there'll be trouble, pronto, if we don't put Hannegan and Dickson back on the wires. The grievance committee intimated pretty broadly that they could swing the trainmen into line if they had to make a fight."

"We put no man back who has been discharged for cause," said the superintendent firmly. "Did you tell them that?"

"I did. I have been saying that so often that it mighty nearly says itself now, when I hear my office door open."

"Well, there is nothing to do but to go on saying it. We shall either make a spoon or spoil a horn. How would you be fixed in the event of a telegraphers' strike?"

"I've been figuring on that. It may seem like tempting the good Lord to say it, but I believe we could hold about half of the men."

"That is decidedly encouraging," said the man who needed to find encouragement where he could. "Two weeks ago, if you had said one in ten, I should have thought you were overestimating. We shall win out yet."

But now McCloskey was shaking his head dubiously. "I don't know. Andy Bradford has been giving me an idea of how the trainmen stand, and he says there is a good deal of strike talk. Williams adds a word about the shop force: he says that Gridley's men are not saying anything, but they'll be likely to go out in a body unless Gridley wakes up at the last minute and takes a club to them."

Lidgerwood's conductor was coming down the platform of the Crow's Nest with his orders in his hand, and McCloskey made ready to swing off. "I can reach you care of Mr. Leckhard, at Copah, I suppose?" he asked.

"Yes. I shall be back some time to-morrow; in the meantime there is nothing to do but to sit tight in the boat. Use my private code if you want to wire me. I don't more than half trust that young fellow, Dix, Callahan's day operator. And, by the way, Mr. Frisbie is sending me a stenographer from Denver. If the young man turns up while I am away, see if you can't get Mrs. Williams to board him."

McCloskey promised and dropped off, and the one-car special presently clanked out over the eastern switches. Lidgerwood went at once to his desk and promptly became deaf and blind to everything but his work. The long desert run had been accomplished, and the service-car train was climbing the Crosswater grades, when Tadasu Matsuwari began to lay the table for dinner. Lidgerwood glanced at his watch, and ran his finger down the line of figures on the framed time-table hanging over his desk.

"Humph!" he muttered; "Acheson's making better time with me than he ever has before. I wonder if Williams has succeeded in talking him over to our side? He is certainly running like a gentleman to-day, at all events."

The superintendent sat down to Tadasu's table and took his time to Tadasu's excellent dinner, indulging himself so far as to smoke a leisurely cigar with his black coffee before plunging again into the sea of work. Not to spoil his improving record, Engineer Acheson continued to make good time, and it was only a little after eleven o'clock when Lidgerwood, looking up from his work at the final slowing of the wheels, saw the masthead lights of the Copah yards.

Taking it for granted that Superintendent Leckhard had long since left his office in the

Pacific Southwestern building, Lidgerwood gave orders to have his car placed on the station-spur, and went on with his work. Being at the moment deeply immersed in the voluminous papers of a claim for stock killed, he was quite oblivious of the placement of the car, and of everything else, until the incoming of the fast main-line mail from the east warned him that another hour had passed. When the mail was gone on its way westward, the midnight silence settled down again, with nothing but the minimized crashings of freight cars in the lower shifting-yard to disturb it. The little Japanese had long since made up his bunk in one of the spare state-rooms, the train crew had departed with the engine, and the last mail-wagon had driven away up-town. Lidgerwood had closed his desk and was taking a final pull at the short pipe which was his working companion, when the car door opened silently and he saw an apparition.

Standing in the doorway and groping with her hands held out before her as if she were blind, was a woman. Her gown was the tawdry half-dress of the dance-halls, and the wrap over her bare shoulders was a gaudy imitation in colors of the Spanish mantilla. Her head was without covering, and her hair, which was luxuriant, hung in disorder over her face. One glance at the eyes, fixed and staring, assured Lidgerwood instantly that he had to do with one who was either drink-maddened or demented.

"Where is he?" the intruder asked, in a throaty whisper, staring, not at him, as Lidgerwood was quick to observe, but straight ahead at the portieres cutting off the state-room corridor from the open compartment. And then: "I told you I would come, Rankin; I've been watching years and years for your car to come in. Look-I want you to see what you have made of me, you and that other man."

Lidgerwood sat perfectly still. It was quite evident that the woman did not see him. But his thoughts were busy. Though it was by little more than chance, he knew that Hallock's Christian name was Rankin, and instantly he recalled all that McCloskey had told him about the chief clerk's marital troubles. Was this poor painted wreck the woman who was, or who had been, Hallock's wife? The question had scarcely formulated itself before she began again.

"Why don't you answer me? Where are you?" she demanded, in the same husky whisper; "you needn't hide-I know you are here. What have you done to that man? You said you would kill him; you promised me that, Rankin: have you done it?"

Lidgerwood reached up cautiously behind him, and slowly turned off the gas from the bracket desk-lamp. Without wishing to pry deeper than he should into a thing which had all the ear-marks of a tragedy, he could not help feeling that he was on the verge of discoveries which might have an important bearing upon the mysterious problems centring in the chief clerk. And he was afraid the woman would see him.

But he was not permitted to make the discoveries. The woman had taken two or three steps into the car, still groping her way as if the brightly lighted interior were the darkest of caverns, when some one swung over the railing of the observation platform, and Superintendent Leckhard appeared at the open door. Without hesitation he entered and touched the woman on the shoulder. "Hello, Madgie," he said, not ungently, "you here again? It's pretty late for even your kind to be out, isn't it? Better trot away and go to bed, if you've got one to go to; he isn't here."

The woman put her hands to her face, and Lidgerwood saw that she was shaking as if with a sudden chill. Then she turned and darted away like a frightened animal. Leckhard was drawing a chair up to face Lidgerwood.

"Did she give you a turn?" he asked, when Lidgerwood reached up and turned the desk-lamp on full again.

"Not exactly that, though it was certainly startling enough. I had no warning at all; when I looked up, she was standing pretty nearly where she was when you came in. She didn't seem to see me at all, and she was talking crazily all the time to some one else-some one who isn't here."

"I know," said Leckhard; "she has done it before."

"Whom is she trying to find?" asked Lidgerwood, wishing to have his suspicion either denied or confirmed.

"Didn't she call him by name?-she usually does. It's your chief clerk, Hallock. She is-or was-his wife. Haven't you heard the ghastly story yet?"

"No; and, Leckhard, I don't know that I care to hear it. It can't possibly concern me."

"It's just as well, I guess," said the main-line superintendent carelessly. "I probably shouldn't get it straight anyway. It's a rather horrible affair, though, I believe. There is another man mixed up in it-the man whom she is always asking if Hallock has killed. Curiously enough, she never names the other man, and there have been a good many guesses. I believe your head boiler-maker, Gridley, has the most votes. He's been seen with her here, now and then-when he's on one of his 'periodicals.' By Jove! Lidgerwood, I don't envy you your job over yonder in the Red Desert a little bit.... But about the consolidation of the yards here: I got a telegram after I wired you, making it necessary for me to go west on main-line Twenty-seven early in the morning, so I stayed up to talk this yard business over with you to-night."

It was well along in the small hours when the roll of blue-print maps was finally laid aside, and Leckhard rose yawning. "We'll carry it out as you propose, and divide the expense between the two divisions," he said in conclusion. "Frisbie has left it to us, and he will approve whatever we agree upon. Will you go up to the hotel with me, or bunk down here?"

Lidgerwood said he would stay with his car; or, better still, now that the business for which he had come to Copah was despatched, he would have the roundhouse night foreman call a Red Butte Western crew and go back to his desert.

"We are in the thick of things over on the jerk-water just now," he explained, "and I don't like to stay away any longer than I have to."

"Having a good bit of trouble with the sure-shots?" asked Leckhard. "What was that story I heard about somebody swiping one of your switching-engines?"

"It was true," said Lidgerwood, adding, "But I think we shall recover the engine-and some other things-presently." He liked Leckhard well enough, but he wished he would go. There are exigencies in which even the comments of a friend and well-wisher are superfluous.

"You have a pretty tough gang to handle over these," the well-wisher went on. "I wouldn't touch a job like yours with a ten-foot pole, unless I could shoot good enough to be sure of hitting a half-dollar nine times out of ten at thirty paces. Somebody was telling me that you have already had trouble with that fellow Rufford."

"Nobody was hurt, and Rufford is in jail," said Lidgerwood, hoping to kill the friendly inquiry before it should run into details.

"Oh, well, it's all in the day's work, I suppose, which reminds me: my day's work to-morrow won't amount to much if I don't go and turn in. Good-night."

When Leckhard was gone, Lidgerwood climbed the stair in the station building to the despatcher's office and gave orders for the return of his car to Angels. Half an hour later the one-car special was retracing its way westward up the valley of the Tumbling Water, and Lidgerwood was trying to go to sleep in the well-appointed little state-room which it was Tadasu Matsuwari's pride to keep spick and span and spotlessly clean. But there were disturbing thoughts, many and varied, to keep him awake, chief among them those which hung upon the dramatic midnight episode with the demented woman for its central figure. Through what dreadful Valley of Humiliation had she come to reach the abysmal depths in which the one cry of her soul was a cry for vengeance? Who was the unnamed man whom Hallock had promised to kill? How much or how little was this tragedy figuring in the trouble storm which was brooding over the Red Desert? And how much or how little would it involve one who was anxious only to see even-handed justice prevail?

These and similar insistent questions kept Lidgerwood awake long after his train had left the crooked pathway marked out by the Tumbling Water, and when he finally fell asleep the laboring engine of the one-car special was storming the approaches to Crosswater Summit.

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