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   Chapter 15 ELEANOR INTERVENES

The Taming of Red Butte Western By Francis Lynde Characters: 11230

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The president's private car was side-tracked on the short spur at the eastern end of the Crow's Nest, and when Lidgerwood reached it he found the observation platform fully occupied. The night was no more than pleasantly cool, and the half-grown moon, which was already dipping to its early extinguishment behind the upreared bulk of the Timanyonis, struck out stark etchings in silver and blackest shadow upon a ground of fallow dun and vanishing grays. On such nights the mountain desert hides its forbidding face, and the potent spell of the silent wilderness had drawn the young people of the Nadia's party to the out-door trysting-place.

"Hello, Mr. Lidgerwood, is that you?" called Van Lew, when the superintendent came across to the spur track. "I thought you said this was a bad man's country. We have been out here for a solid hour, and nobody has shot up the town or even whooped a single lonesome war-whoop; in fact, I think your village with the heavenly name has gone ingloriously to bed. We're defrauded."

"It does go to bed pretty early-that part of it which doesn't stay up pretty late," laughed Lidgerwood. Then he came closer and spoke to Miss Brewster. "I am going west in my car, and I don't know just when I shall return. Please tell your father that everything we have here is entirely at his service. If you don't see what you want, you are to ask for it."

"Will there be any one to ask when you are gone?" she inquired, neither sorrowing nor rejoicing, so far as he could determine.

"Oh, yes; McCloskey, my trainmaster, will be in from the wreck before morning, and he will turn flip-flaps trying to make things pleasant for you, if you will give him the chance."

She made the adorable little grimace which always carried him swiftly back to a certain summer of ecstatic memories; to a time when her keenest retort had been no more than a playful love-thrust and there had been no bitterness in her mockery.

"Will he make dreadful faces at me, as he did at you this morning when you went down among the smashed cars at the wreck to speak to him?" she asked.

"So you were looking out of the window, too, were you? You are a close observer and a good guesser. That was Mac, and-yes, he will probably make faces at you. He can't help it any more than he can help breathing."

Miss Brewster was running her fingers along the hand-rail as if it were the key-board of a piano. "You say you don't know how long you will be away?" she asked.

"No; but probably not more than the night. I was only providing for the unexpected, which some people say is what always happens."

"Will your run take you as far as the Timanyoni Canyon?"

"Yes; through it, and some little distance beyond."

"You have just said that we are to ask for what we want. Did you mean it?"

"Surely," he replied unguardedly.

"Then we may as well begin at once," she said coolly; and turning quickly to the others: "O all you people; listen a minute, will you? Hush, Carolyn! What do you say to a moonlight ride through one of the grandest canyons in the West in Mr. Lidgerwood's car? It will be something to talk about as long as you live. Don't all speak at once, please."

But they did. There was an instant and enthusiastic chorus of approval, winding up rather dolefully, however, with Miss Doty's, "But your mother will never consent to it, Eleanor!"

"Mr. Lidgerwood will never consent, you mean," put in Miriam Holcombe quietly.

Lidgerwood said what he might without being too crudely inhospitable. His car was entirely at the service of the president's party, of course, but it was not very commodious compared with the Nadia. Moreover, he was going on a business trip, and at the end of it he would have to leave them for an hour or two, or maybe longer. Moreover, again, if they got tired they would have to sleep as they could, though possibly his state-room in the service-car might be made to accommodate the three young women. All this he said, hoping and believing that Mrs. Brewster would not only refuse to go herself but would promptly veto an unchaperoned excursion.

But this was one time when his distantly related kinswoman disappointed him. Mrs. Brewster, cajoled by her daughter, yielded a reluctant consent, going to the car door to tell Lidgerwood that she would hold him responsible for the safe return of the trippers.

"See, now, how fatally easy it is for one to promise more-oh, so very much more!-than one has any idea of performing," murmured the president's daughter, dropping out to walk beside the victim when the party trooped down the long platform of the Crow's Nest to the service-car. And when he did not reply: "Please don't be grumpy."

"It was the maddest notion!" he protested. "Whatever made you suggest it?"

"More churlishness?" she said reproachfully. And then, with ironical sentiment: "There was a time when you would have moved heaven and earth for a chance to take me somewhere with you, Howard."

"To be with you; yes, that is true. But--"

Her rippling laugh was too sweet to be shrill; none the less it held in it a little flick of the whip of malice.

"Listen," she said. "I did it out of pure hatefulness. You showed so plainly this afternoon that you wished to be quit of me-of the entire party-that I couldn't resist the temptation to pay you back with good, liberal interest. Possibly you will think twice before you snub me again, Howard, dear."

Quickly he stopped and faced her. The others were a few steps in advance; were already boarding the service-car.

"One word, Eleanor-and for Heaven's sake let

us make it final. There are some things that I can endure and some others that I cannot-will not. I love you; what you said to me the last time we were together made no difference; nothing you can ever say will make any difference. You must take that fact into consideration while you are here and we are obliged to meet."

"Well?" she said, and there was nothing in her tone to indicate that she felt more than a passing interest in his declaration.

"That is all," he ended shortly. "I am, as I told you this afternoon, the same man that I was a year ago last spring, as deeply infatuated and, unhappily, just as far below your ideal of what your lover should be. In justice to me, in justice to Van Lew-"

"I think your conductor is waiting to speak to you," she broke in sweetly, and he gave it up, putting her on the car and turning to confront the man with the green-shaded lantern who proved to be Bradford.

"Any special orders, Mr. Lidgerwood?" inquired the reformed cattle-herder, looking stiff and uncomfortable in his new service uniform-one of Lidgerwood's earliest requirements for men on duty in the train service.

"Yes. Run without stop to Little Butte, unless the despatcher calls you down. Time yourself to make Little Butte by eleven o'clock, or a little later. Who is on the engine?"

"Williams."

"Williams? How does it come that he is doubling out with me? He has just made the run over the Desert Division with the president's car."

"So have I, for that matter," said Bradford calmly; "but we both got a hurry call about fifteen minutes ago."

Lidgerwood held his watch to the light of the green-shaded lantern. If he meant to keep the wire appointment with Flemister, there was no time to call out another crew.

"I don't like to ask you and Williams to double out of your turn, especially when I know of no necessity for it. But I'm in a rush. Can you two stand it?"

"Sure," said the ex-cow-man. Then he ventured a word of his own. "I'll ride up ahead with Williams-you're pretty full up, back here in the car, anyway-and then you'll know that two of your own men are keepin' tab on the run. With the wrecks we're enjoying--"

Lidgerwood was impatient of mysteries.

"What do you mean, Andy?" he broke in. "Anything new?"

"Oh, nothing you could put your finger on. Same old rag-chewin' going on up at Cat Biggs's and the other waterin' troughs about how you've got to be done up, if it costs money."

"That isn't new," objected Lidgerwood irritably.

"Tumble-weeds," said Bradford, "rollin' round over the short-grass. But they show which way the wind's comin' from, and give you the jumps when you wouldn't have 'em natural. Williams had a spell of 'em a few minutes ago when he went over to take the 266 out o' the roundhouse and found one of the back-shop men down under her tinkerin' with her trucks."

"What's that?" was the sharp query.

"That's all there was to it," Bradford went on imperturbably. "Williams asked the shopman politely what in hell he was doing under there, and the fellow crawled out and said he was just lookin' her over to see if she was all right for the night run. Now, you wouldn't think there was any tumble-weed in that to give a man the jumps, but Williams had 'em, all the same. Says he to me, tellin' me about it just now: 'That's all right, Andy, but how in blue blazes did he, or anybody else except Matthews and the caller, know that the 266 was goin' out? that's what I'd like to know.' And I had to pass it up."

Lidgerwood asked a single question.

"Did Williams find that anything had been tampered with?"

"Nothing that you could shoot up the back-shop man for. One of the truck safety-chains-the one on the left side, back-was loose. But it couldn't have hurt anything if it had been taken off. We ain't runnin' on safety-chains these days."

"Safety-chain loose, you say?-so if the truck should jump and swing it would keep on swinging? You tell Williams when you go up ahead that I want that machinist's name."

"H'm," said Bradford; "reckon it was meant to do that?"

"God only knows what isn't meant, these times, Andy. Hold on a minute before you give Williams the word to go." Then he turned to young Jefferis, who had come out on the car platform to light a cigarette. "Will you ask Miss Brewster to step out here for a moment?"

Eleanor came at the summons, and Jefferis gave the superintendent a clear field by dropping off to ask Bradford for a match.

"You sent for me, Howard?" said the president's daughter, and honey could not have matched her tone for sweetness.

"Yes. I shall have to anticipate the Angels gossips a little by telling you that we are in the midst of a pretty bitter labor fight. That is why people go gunning for me. I can't take you and your friends over the road to-night."

"Why not?" she inquired.

"Because it may not be entirely safe."

"Nonsense!" she flashed back. "What could happen to us on a little excursion like this?"

"I don't know, but I wish you would reconsider and go back to the Nadia."

"I shall do nothing of the sort," she said, wilfully. And then, with totally unnecessary cruelty, she added: "Is it a return of the old malady? Are you afraid again, Howard?"

The taunt was too much. Wheeling suddenly, Lidgerwood snapped out a summons to Jefferis: "Get aboard, Mr. Jefferis; we are going."

At the word Bradford ran forward, swinging his lantern, and a moment later the special train shot away from the Crow's Nest platform and out over the yard switches, and began to bore its way into the westward night.

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