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   Chapter 12 THE PLEASURERS

The Taming of Red Butte Western By Francis Lynde Characters: 25256

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The freight wreck in the Crosswater Hills, coming a fortnight after Rufford's arrest and deportation to Copah and the county jail, rudely marked the close of the short armistice in the conflict between law and order and the demoralization which seemed to thrive the more lustily in proportion to Lidgerwood's efforts to stamp it out.

Thirty-two boxes, gondolas, and flats, racing down the Crosswater grades in the heart of a flawless, crystalline summer afternoon at the heels of Clay's big ten-wheeler, suddenly left the steel as a unit to heap themselves in chaotic confusion upon the right-of-way, and to round out the disaster at the moment of impact by exploding a shipment of giant powder somewhere in the midst of the debris.

Lidgerwood was on the western division inspecting, with Benson, one of the several tentative routes for a future extension of the Red Butte line to a connection with the Transcontinental at Lemphi beyond the Hophras, when the news of the wreck reached Angels. Wherefore, it was not until the following morning that he was able to leave the head-quarters station, on the second wrecking-train, bringing the big 100-ton crane to reinforce McCloskey, who had been on the ground with the lighter clearing tackle for the better part of the night.

With a slowly smouldering fire to fight, and no water to be had nearer than the tank-cars at La Guayra, the trainmaster had wrought miracles. By ten o'clock the main line was cleared, a temporary siding for a working base had been laid, and McCloskey's men were hard at work picking up what the fire had spared when Lidgerwood arrived.

"Pretty clean sweep this time, eh, Mac?" was the superintendent's greeting, when he had penetrated to the thick of things where McCloskey was toiling and sweating with his men.

"So clean that we get nothing much but scrap-iron out of what's left," growled McCloskey, climbing out of the tangle of crushed cars and bent and twisted iron-work to stand beside Lidgerwood on the main-line embankment. Then to the men who were making the snatch-hitch for the next pull: "A little farther back, boys; farther yet, so she won't overbalance on you; that's about it. Now, wig it!"

"You seem to be getting along all right with the outfit you've got," was Lidgerwood's comment. "If you can keep this up we may as well go back to Angels."

"No, don't!" protested the trainmaster. "We can snake out these scrap-heaps after a fashion, but when it comes to resurrecting the 195-did you notice her as you came along? We kept the fire from getting to her, but she's dug herself into the ground like a dog after a woodchuck!"

Lidgerwood nodded. "I looked her over," he said. "If she'd had a little more time and another wheel-turn or two to spare, she might have disappeared entirely-like that switching-engine you can't find. I'm taking it for granted that you haven't found it yet-or have you?"

"No, I haven't!" grated McCloskey, and he said it like a man with a grievance. Then he added: "I gave you all the pointers I could find two weeks ago. Whenever you get ready to put Hallock under the hydraulic press, you'll squeeze what you want to know out of him."

This was coming to be an old subject and a sore one. The trainmaster still insisted that Hallock was the man who was planning the robberies and plotting the downfall of the Lidgerwood management, and he wanted to have the chief clerk systematically shadowed. And it was Lidgerwood's wholly groundless prepossession for Hallock that was still keeping him from turning the matter over to the company's legal department-this in spite of the growing accumulation of evidence all pointing to Hallock's treason. Subjected to a rigid cross-examination, Judson had insisted that a part, at least, of his drunken recollection was real-that part identifying the voices of the two plotters in Cat Biggs's back room as those of Rufford and Hallock. Moreover, it was no longer deniable that the chief clerk was keeping in close touch with the discharged employees, for some purpose best known to himself; and latterly he had been dropping out of his office without notice, disappearing, sometimes, for a day at a time.

Lidgerwood was recalling the last of these disappearances when the second wrecking-train, having backed to the nearest siding to admit of a reversal of its make-up order and the placing of the crane in the lead, came up to go into action. McCloskey shaded his eyes from the sun's glare and looked down the line.

"Hello!" he exclaimed. "Got a new wrecking-boss?"

The superintendent nodded. "I have one in the making. Dawson wanted to come along and try his hand."

"Did Gridley send him?"

"No; Gridley is away somewhere."

"So Fred's your understudy, is he? Well, I've got one, too. I'll show him to you after a while."

They were walking back over the ties toward the half-buried 195. The ten-wheeler was on its side in the ditch, nuzzling the opposite bank of a low cutting. Dawson had already divided his men: half of them to place the huge jack-beams and outriggers of the self-contained steam lifting machine to insure its stability, and the other half to trench under the fallen engine and to adjust the chain slings for the hitch.

"It's a pretty long reach, Fred," said the superintendent. "Going to try it from here?"

"Best place," said the reticent one shortly.

Lidgerwood was looking at his watch.

"Williams will be due here before long with a special from Copah. I don't want to hold him up," he remarked.

"Thirty minutes?" inquired the draftsman, without taking mind or eye off his problem.

"Oh, yes; forty or fifty, maybe."

"All right, I'll be out of the way," was the quiet rejoinder.

"Yes, you will!" was McCloskey's ironical comment, when the draftsman had gone around to the other side of the great crane.

"Let him alone," said Lidgerwood. "It lies in my mind that we are developing a genius, Mac."

"He'll fall down," grumbled the trainmaster. "That crane won't pick up the '95 clear the way she's lying."

"Won't it?" said Lidgerwood. "That's where you are mistaken. It will pick up anything we have on the two divisions. It's the biggest and best there is made. How did you come to get a tool like that on the Red Butte Western?"

McCloskey grinned.

"You don't know Gridley yet. He's a crank on good machinery. That crane was a clean steal."

"What?"

"I mean it. It was ordered for one of the South American railroads, and was on its way to the Coast over the P. S-W. About the time it got as far as Copah, we happened to have a mix-up in our Copah yards, with a ditched engine that Gridley couldn't pick up with the 60-ton crane we had on the ground. So he borrowed this one out of the P. S-W. yards, used it, liked it, and kept it, sending our 60-ton machine on to the South Americans in its place."

"What rank piracy!" Lidgerwood exclaimed. "I don't wonder they call us buccaneers over here. How could he do it without being found out?"

"That puzzled more than two or three of us; but one of the men told me some time afterward how it was done. Gridley had a painter go down in the night and change the lettering-on our old crane and on this new one. It happened that they were both made by the same manufacturing company, and were of substantially the same general pattern. I suppose the P. S-W. yard crew didn't notice particularly that the crane they had lent us out of the through westbound freight had shrunk somewhat in the using. But I'll bet those South Americans are saying pleasant things to the manufacturers yet."

"Doubtless," Lidgerwood agreed, and now he was not smiling. The little side-light on the former Red-Butte-Western methods-and upon Gridley-was sobering.

By this time Dawson had got his big lifter in position, with its huge steel arm overreaching the fallen engine, and was giving his orders quietly, but with clean-cut precision.

"Man that hand-fall and take slack! Pay off, Darby," to the hoister engineer. "That's right; more slack!"

The great tackling-hook, as big around as a man's thigh, settled accurately over the 195.

"There you are!" snapped Dawson. "Now make your hitch, boys, and be lively about it. You've got just about one minute to do it in!"

"Heavens to Betsey!" said McCloskey. "He's going to pick it up at one hitch-and without blocking!"

"Hands off, Mac," said Lidgerwood good-naturedly. "If Fred didn't know this trade before, he's learning it pretty rapidly now."

"That's all right, but if he doesn't break something before he gets through--"

But Dawson was breaking nothing. Having designed locomotives, he knew to the fraction of an inch where the balancing hitch should be made for lifting one. Also machinery, and the breaking strains of it, were as his daily bread. While McCloskey was still prophesying failure, he was giving the word to Darby, the hoister engineer.

"Now then, Billy, try your hitch! Put the strain on a little at a time and often. Steady!-now you've got her-keep her coming!"

Slowly the big freight-puller rose out of its furrow in the gravel, righting itself to the perpendicular as it came. Anticipating the inward swing of it, Dawson was showing his men how to place ties and rails for a short temporary track, and when he gave Darby the stop signal, the hoisting cables were singing like piano strings, and the big engine was swinging bodily in the air in the grip of the crane tackle, poised to a nicety above the steel placed to receive it.

Dawson climbed up to the main-line embankment where Darby could see him, and where he could see all the parts of his problem at once. Then his hands went up to beckon the slacking signals. At the lifting of his finger there was a growling of gears and a backward racing of machinery, a groan of relaxing strains, and a cry of "All gone!" and the 195 stood upright, ready to be hauled out when the temporary track should be extended to a connection with the main line.

"Let's go up to the other end and see how your understudy is making it, Mac," said the gratified superintendent. "It is quite evident that we can't tell this young man anything he doesn't already know about picking up locomotives."

On the way up the track he asked about Clay and Green, the engineer and fireman who were in the wreck.

"They are not badly hurt," said the trainmaster. "They both jumped-on Green's side, luckily. Clay was bruised considerably, and Green says he knows he plowed up fifty yards of gravel with his face before he stopped-and he looked it. They both went home on 201."

Lidgerwood was examining the cross-ties, which were cut and scarred by the flanges of many derailed wheels.

"You have no notion of what did it?" he queried, turning abruptly upon McCloskey.

"Only a guess, and it couldn't be verified in a thousand years. The '95 went off first, and Clay and Green both say it felt as if a rail had turned over on the outside of the curve."

"What did you find when you got here?"

"Chaos and Old Night: a pile of scrap with a hole torn in the middle of it as if by an explosion, and a fire going."

"Of course, you couldn't tell anything about the cause, under such conditions."

"Not much, you'd say; and yet a queer thing happened. The entire train went off so thoroughly that it passed the point where the trouble began before it piled up. I was able to verify Clay's guess-a rail had turned over on the outside of the curve."

"That proves nothing more than poor spike-holds in a few dry-rotted cross-ties," Lidgerwood objected.

"No; there were a number of others farther along also turned over and broken and bent. But the first one was the only freak."

"How was that?"

"Well, it wasn't either broken or bent; but when it turned over it not only unscrewed the nuts of the fish-plate bolts and threw them away-it pulled out every spike on both sides of itself and hid them."

Lidgerwood nodded gravely. "I should say your guess has already verified itself. All it lacks is the name of the man who loosened the fish-plate bolts and pulled the spikes."

"That's about all."

The superintendent's eyes narrowed.

"Who was missing out of the Angels crowd of trouble-makers yesterday, Mac?"

"I hate to say," said the trainmaster. "God knows I don't want to put it all over any man unless it belongs to him, but I'm locoed every time it comes to that kind of a guess. Every bunch of letters I see spells just one name."

"Go on," said Lidgerwood sharply.

"Hallock came somewhere up this way on 202 yesterday."

"I know," was the quick reply. "I

sent him out to Navajo to meet Cruikshanks, the cattleman with the long claim for stock injured in the Gap wreck two weeks ago."

"Did he stop at Navajo?" queried the trainmaster.

"I suppose so; at any rate, he saw Cruikshanks."

"Well, I haven't got any more guesses, only a notion or two. This is a pretty stiff up-grade for 202-she passes here at two-fifty-just about an hour before Clay found that loosened rail-and it wouldn't be impossible for a man to drop off as she was climbing this curve."

But now the superintendent was shaking his head.

"It doesn't hold together, Mac; there are too many parts missing. Your hypothesis presupposes that Hallock took a day train out of Angels, rode twelve miles past his destination, jumped off here while the train was in motion, pulled the spikes on this loosened rail, and walked back to Navajo in time to see the cattleman and get in to Angels on the delayed Number 75 this morning. Could he have done all these things without advertising them to everybody?"

"I know," confessed the trainmaster. "It doesn't look reasonable."

"It isn't reasonable," Lidgerwood went on, arguing Hallock's case as if it were his own. "Bradford was 202's conductor; he'd know if Hallock failed to get off at Navajo. Gridley was a passenger on the same train, and he would have known. The agent at Navajo would be a third witness. He was expecting Hallock on that train, and was no doubt holding Cruikshanks. Your guesses prefigure Hallock failing to show up when the train stopped at Navajo, and make it necessary for him to explain to the two men who were waiting for him why he let Bradford carry him by so far that it took him several hours to walk back. You see how incredible it all is?"

"Yes, I see," said McCloskey, and when he spoke again they were several rail-lengths nearer the up-track end of the wreck, and his question went back to Lidgerwood's mention of the expected special.

"You were saying something to Dawson about Williams and a special train; is that Mr. Brewster coming in?"

"Yes. He wired from Copah last night. He has Mr. Ford's car-the Nadia."

The trainmaster's face-contortion was expressive of the deepest chagrin.

"Suffering Moses! but this is a nice thing for the president of the road to see as he comes along! Wouldn't the luck we're having make a dog sick?"

Lidgerwood shook his head. "That isn't the worst of it, Mac. Mr. Brewster isn't a railroad man, and he will probably think this is all in the day's work. But he is going to stop at Angels and go over to his copper mine, which means that he will camp right down in the midst of the mix-up. I'd cheerfully give a year's salary to have him stay away a few weeks longer."

McCloskey was not a swearing man in the Red Desert sense of the term, but now his comment was an explosive exclamation naming the conventional place of future punishment. It was the only word he could find adequately to express his feelings.

The superintendent changed the subject.

"Who is your foreman, Mac?" he inquired, as a huge mass of the tangled scrap was seen to rise at the end of the smaller derrick's grapple.

"Judson," said McCloskey shortly. "He asked leave to come along as a laborer, and when I found that he knew more about train-scrapping than I did, I promoted him." There was something like defiance in the trainmaster's tone.

"From the way in which you say it, I infer that you don't expect me to approve," said Lidgerwood judicially.

McCloskey had been without sleep for a good many hours, and his patience was tenuous. The derby hat was tilted to its most contentious angle when he said:

"I can't fight for you when you're right, and not fight against you when I think you are wrong, Mr. Lidgerwood. You can have my head any time you want it."

"You think I should break my word and take Judson back?"

"I think, and the few men who are still with us think, that you ought to give the man who stood in the breach for you a chance to earn bread and meat for his wife and babies," snapped McCloskey, who had gone too far to retreat.

Lidgerwood was frowning when he replied: "You don't see the point involved. I can't reward Judson for what you, yourself, admit was a personal service. I have said that no drunkard shall pull a train on this division. Judson is no less a drink-maniac for the fact that he arrested Rufford when everybody else was afraid to."

McCloskey was mollified a little.

"He says he has quit drinking, and I believe him this time. But this job I've given him isn't pulling trains."

"No; and if you have cooled off enough, you may remember that I haven't yet disapproved your action. I don't disapprove. Give him anything you like where a possible relapse on his part won't involve the lives of other people. Is that what you want me to say?"

"I was hot," said the trainmaster, gruffly apologetic. "We've got none too many friends to stand by us when the pinch comes, and we were losing them every day you held out against Judson."

"I'm still holding out on the original count. Judson can't run an engine for me until he has proved conclusively and beyond question that he has quit the whiskey. Whatever other work you can find for him--"

McCloskey slapped his thigh. "By George! I've got a job right now! Why on top of earth didn't I think of him before? He's the man to keep tab on Hallock."

But now Lidgerwood was frowning again.

"I don't like that, Mac. It's a dirty business to be shadowing a man who has a right to suppose that you are trusting him."

"But, good Lord! Mr. Lidgerwood, haven't you got enough to go on? Hallock is the last man seen around the engine that disappears; he spends a lot of his time swapping grievances with the rebels; and he is out of town and within a few miles of here, as you know, when this wreck happens. If all that isn't enough to earn him a little suspicion--"

"I know; I can't argue the case with you, Mac, But I can't do it."

"You mean you won't do it. I respect your scruples, Mr. Lidgerwood. But it is no longer a personal matter between you and Hallock: the company's interests are involved."

Without suspecting it, the trainmaster had found the weak joint in the superintendent's armor. For the company's sake the personal point of view must be ignored.

"It is such a despicable thing," he protested, as one who yields reluctantly. "And if, after all, Hallock is innocent--"

"That is just the point," insisted McCloskey. "If he is innocent, no harm will be done, and Judson will become a witness for instead of against him."

"Well," said Lidgerwood; and what more he would have said about the conspiracy was cut off by the shrill whistle of a down-coming train. "That's Williams with the special," he announced, when the whistle gave him leave. "Is your flag out?"

"Sure. It's up around the hill, with a safe man to waggle it."

Lidgerwood cast an anxious glance toward Dawson's huge derrick-car, which was still blocking the main line. The hoist tackle was swinging free, and the jack-beams and outriggers were taken in.

"Better send somebody down to tell Dawson to pull up here to your temporary siding, Mac," he suggested; but Dawson was one of those priceless helpers who did not have to be told in detail. He had heard the warning whistle, and already had his train in motion.

By a bit of quick shifting, the main line was cleared before Williams swung cautiously around the hill with the private car. In obedience to Lidgerwood's uplifted finger the brakes were applied, and the Nadia came to a full stop, with its observation platform opposite the end of the wrecking-track.

A big man, in a soft hat and loose box dust-coat, with twinkling little eyes and a curling brown beard that covered fully three-fourths of his face, stood at the hand-rail.

"Hello, Howard!" he called down to Lidgerwood. "By George! I'd totally forgotten that you were out here. What are you trying to do? Got so many cars and engines that you have to throw some of them away?"

Lidgerwood climbed up the embankment to the track, and McCloskey carefully let him do it alone. The "Hello, Howard!" had not been thrown away upon the trainmaster.

"It looks a little that way, I must admit, Cousin Ned," said the culprit who had answered so readily to his Christian name. "We tried pretty hard to get it cleaned up before you came along, but we couldn't quite make it."

"Oho! tried to cover it up, did you? Afraid I'd fire you? You needn't be. My job as president merely gets me passes over the road. Ford's your man; he's the fellow you want to be scared of."

"I am," laughed Lidgerwood. The big man's heartiness was always infectious. Then: "Coming over to camp with us awhile? If you are, I hope you carry your commissary along. Angels will starve you, otherwise."

"Don't tell me about that tin-canned tepee village, Howard-I know. I've been there before. How are we doing over in the Timanyoni foot-hills? Getting much ore down from the Copperette? Climb up here and tell me all about it. Or, better still, come on across the desert with us. They don't need you here."

The assertion was quite true. With Dawson, the trainmaster, and an understudy Judson for bosses, there was no need of a fourth. Yet intuition, or whatever masculine thing it is that stands for intuition, prompted Lidgerwood to say:

"I don't know as I ought to leave. I've just come out from Angels, you know."

But the president was not to be denied.

"Climb up here and quit trying to find excuses. We'll give you a better luncheon than you'll get out of the dinner-pails; and if you carry yourself handsomely, you may get a dinner invitation after we get in. That ought to tempt any man who has to live in Angels the year round."

Lidgerwood marked the persistent plural of the personal pronoun, and a great fear laid hold upon him. None the less, the president's invitation was a little like the king's-it was, in some sense, a command. Lidgerwood merely asked for a moment's respite, and went down to announce his intention to McCloskey and Dawson. Curiously enough, the draftsman seemed to be trying to ignore the private car. His back was turned upon it, and he was glooming out across the bare hills, with his square jaw set as if the ignoring effort were painful.

"I'm going back to Angels with the president," said the superintendent, speaking to both of them. "You can clean up here without me."

The trainmaster nodded, but Dawson seemed not to have heard. At all events, he made no sign. Lidgerwood turned and ascended the embankment, only to have the sudden reluctance assail him again as he put his foot on the truck of the Nadia to mount to the platform. The hesitation was only momentary, this time. Other guests Mr. Brewster might have, without including the one person whom he would circle the globe to avoid.

"Good boy!" said the president, when Lidgerwood swung over the high hand-rail and leaned out to give Williams the starting signal. And when the scene of the wreck was withdrawing into the rearward distance, the president felt for the door-knob, saying: "Let's go inside, where we shan't be obliged to see so much of this God-forsaken country at one time."

One half-minute later the superintendent would have given much to be safely back with McCloskey and Dawson at the vanishing curve of scrap-heaps. In that half-minute Mr. Brewster had opened the car door, and Lidgerwood had followed him across the threshold.

The comfortable lounging-room of the Nadia was not empty; nor was it peopled by a group of Mr. Brewster's associates in the copper combine, the alternative upon which Lidgerwood had hopefully hung the "we's" and the "us's."

Seated on a wicker divan drawn out to face one of the wide side-windows were two young women, with a curly-headed, clean-faced young man between them. A little farther along, a rather austere lady, whose pose was of calm superiority to her surroundings, looked up from her magazine to say, as her husband had said: "Why, Howard! are you here?" Just beyond the austere lady, and dozing in his chair, was a white-haired man whose strongly marked features proclaimed him the father of one of the young women on the divan.

And in the farthest corner of the open compartment, facing each other companionably in an "S"-shaped double chair, were two other young people-a man and a woman.... Truly, the heavens had fallen! For the young woman filling half of the tête-à-tête chair was that one person whom Lidgerwood would have circled the globe to avoid meeting.

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