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   Chapter 20 STORM SIGNALS

The Taming of Red Butte Western By Francis Lynde Characters: 26608

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Though Lidgerwood had been up for the better part of two nights, and the day intervening, it was apparent to at least one member of the head-quarters force that he did not go to bed immediately after the arrival of the service-car from the west; the proof being a freshly typed telegram which Operator Dix found impaled upon his sending-hook when he came on duty in the despatcher's office at seven o'clock in the morning.

The message was addressed to Leckhard, superintendent of the Pannikin Division of the Pacific Southwestern system, at Copah. It was in cipher, and it contained two uncodified words-"Fort" and "McCook," which small circumstance set Dix to thinking-Fort McCook being the army post, twelve miles as the crow flies, down the Pannikin from Copah.

Now Dix was not one of the rebels. On the contrary, he was one of the few loyal telegraphers who had promised McCloskey to stand by the Lidgerwood management in case the rebellion grew into an organized attempt to tie up the road. But the young man had, for his chief weakness, a prying curiosity which had led him, in times past, to experiment with the private office code until he had finally discovered the key to it.

Hence, a little while after the sending of the Leckhard message, Callahan, the train despatcher, hearing an emphatic "Gee whiz!" from Dix's' corner, looked up from his train-sheet to say, "What hit you, brother?"

"Nothing," said Dix shortly, but Callahan observed that he was hastily folding and pocketing the top sheet of the pad upon which he had been writing. Dix went off duty at eleven, his second trick beginning at three in the afternoon. It was between three and four when McCloskey, having strengthened his defenses in every way he could devise, rapped at the door of his chief's sleeping-room. Fifteen minutes later Lidgerwood joined the trainmaster in the private office.

"I couldn't let you sleep any longer," McCloskey began apologetically, "and I don't know but you'll give me what-for as it is. Things are thickening up pretty fast."

"Put me in touch," was the command.

"All right. I'll begin at the front end. Along about ten o'clock this morning Davidson, the manager of the Copperette, came down to see Mr. Brewster. He gave the president a long song and dance about the tough trail and the poor accommodations for a pleasure-party up at the mine, and the upshot of it was that Mr. Brewster went out to the mine with him alone, leaving the party in the Nadia here."

Lidgerwood said "Damn!" and let it go at that for the moment. The thing was done, and it could not be undone. McCloskey went on with his report, his hat tilted to the bridge of his nose.

"Taking it for granted that you mean to fight this thing to a cold finish, I've done everything I could think of. Thanks to Williams and Bradford, and a few others like them, we can count on a good third of the trainmen; and I've got about the same proportion of the operators in line for us. Taking advantage of the twenty-four-hour notice the strikers gave us, I've scattered these men of ours east and west on the day trains to the points where the trouble will hit us at twelve o'clock to-night."

"Good!" said Lidgerwood briefly. "How will you handle it?"

"It will handle itself, barring too many broken heads. At midnight, in every important office where a striker throws down his pen and grounds his wire, one of our men will walk in and keep the ball rolling. And on every train in transit at that time, manned by men we're not sure of, there will be a relief crew of some sort, deadheading over the road and ready to fall in line and keep it coming when the other fellows fall out."

Again the superintendent nodded his approval. The trainmaster was showing himself at his loyal best.

"That brings us down to Angels and the present, Mac. How do we stand here?"

"That's what I'd give all my old shoes to know," said McCloskey, his homely face emphasizing his perplexity. "They say the shopmen are against us, and if that's so we're outnumbered here, six to one. I can't find out anything for certain. Gridley is still away, and Dawson hasn't got back, and nobody else knows anything about the shop force."

"You say Dawson isn't in? He didn't have more than five or six hours' work on that wreck. What is the matter?"

"He had a bit of bad luck. He got the main line cleared early this morning, but in shifting his train and the 'cripples' on the abandoned spur, a culvert broke and let the big crane off. He has been all day getting it on again, but he'll be in before dark-so Goodloe says."

"And how about Benson?" queried Lidgerwood.

"He's on 203. I caught him on the other side of Crosswater, and took the liberty of signing your name to a wire calling him in."

"That was right. With this private-car party on our hands, we may need every man we can depend upon. I wish Gridley were here. He could handle the shop outfit. I'm rather surprised that he should be away. He must have known that the volcano was about ready to spout."

"Gridley's a law to himself," said the trainmaster. "Sometimes I think he's all right, and at other times I catch myself wondering if he wouldn't tread on me like I was a cockroach, if I happened to be in his way."

Having had exactly the same feeling, and quite without reason, Lidgerwood generously defended the absent master-mechanic.

"That is prejudice, Mac, and you mustn't give it room. Gridley's all right. We mustn't forget that his department, thus far, is the only one that hasn't given us trouble and doesn't seem likely to give us trouble. I wish I could say as much for the force here in the Crows' Nest."

"With a single exception, you can-to-day," said McCloskey quickly. "I've cleaned house. There is only one man under this roof at this minute who won't fight for you at the drop of the hat."

"And that one is--?"

The trainmaster jerked his head toward the outer office. "It's the man out there-or who was out there when I came through; the one you and I haven't been agreeing on."

"Hallock? Is he here?"

"Sure; he's been here since early this morning."

"But how-" Lidgerwood's thought went swiftly backward over the events of the preceding night. Judson's story had left Hallock somewhere in the vicinity of the Wire-Silver mine and the wreck at some time about midnight, or a little past, and there had been no train in from that time on until the regular passenger, reaching Angels at noon. It was McCloskey who relieved the strain of bewilderment.

"How did he get here? you were going to say. You brought him from somewhere down the road on your special. He rode on the engine with Williams."

Lidgerwood pushed his chair back and got up. It was high time for a reckoning of some sort with the chief clerk.

"Is there anything else, Mac?" he asked, closing his desk.

"Yes; one more thing. The grievance committee is in session up at the Celestial. Tryon, who is heading it, sent word down a little while ago that the men would wreck every dollar's worth of company property in Angels if you didn't countermand your wire of this morning to Superintendent Leckhard."

"I haven't wired Leckhard."

"They say you did; and when I asked 'em what about it, they said you'd know."

The superintendent's hand was on the knob of the corridor door.

"Look it up in Callahan's office," he said. "If any message has gone to Leckhard to-day, I didn't write it."

When he closed the door of his private office behind him, Lidgerwood's purpose was to go immediately to the Nadia to warn the members of the pleasure-party, and to convince them, if possible, of the advisability of a prompt retreat to Copah. But there was another matter which was even more urgent. After the events of the night, it had not been unreasonable to suppose that Hallock would scarcely be foolhardy enough to come back and take his place as if nothing had happened. Since he had come back, there was only one thing to be done, and the safety of all demanded it.

Lidgerwood left the Crow's Nest and walked quickly uptown. Contrary to his expectations, he found the avenue quiet and almost deserted, though there was a little knot of loungers on the porch of the Celestial, and Biggs's bar-room, and Red-Light Sammy's, were full to overflowing. Crossing to the corner opposite the hotel, the superintendent entered the open door of Schleisinger's "Emporium." At the moment there was a dearth of trade, and the round-faced little German who had weathered all the Angelic storms was discovered shaving himself before a triangular bit of looking-glass, stuck up on the packing-box which served him by turns as a desk and a dressing-case.

"How you vas, Mr. Litchervood?" was his greeting, offered while the razor was on the upward sweep. "Don'd tell me you vas come aboud some more of dose chustice businesses. Me, I make oud no more of dem warrants, nichts. Dot teufel Rufford iss come back again, alretty, and--"

Lidgerwood broke the refusal in the midst.

"You are an officer of the law, Schleisinger-more is the pity, both for you and the law-and you must do your duty. I have come to swear out another warrant. Get your blank and fill it in."

The German shopkeeper put down his razor with only one side of his face shaven. "Oh, mein Gott!" was his protest; but he rummaged in the catch-all packing-box and found the pad of blank warrants. Lidgerwood dictated slowly, in charity for the trembling fingers that held the pen. Knowing his own weakness, he could sympathize with others. When it came to the filling in of Hallock's name, Schleisinger stopped, open-mouthed.

"Donnerwetter!" he gasped, "you don'd mean dot, Mr. Litchervood; you don'd neffer mean dot?"

"I am sorry to say that I do; sorrier than you or any one else can possibly be."

"Bud-bud--"

"I know what you would say," interrupted Lidgerwood hastily. "You are afraid of Hallock's friends-as you were afraid of Rufford and his friends. But you must do your sworn duty."

"Nein, nein, dot ain'd it," was the earnest denial. "Bud-bud nobody vould serve a warrant on Mr. Hallock, Mr. Litchervood! I--"

"I'll find some one to serve it," said the complainant curtly, and Schleisinger made no further objections.

With the warrant in his pocket, a magistrate's order calling for the arrest and detention of Rankin Hallock on the double charge of train-wrecking and murder, Lidgerwood left Schleisinger's, meaning to go back to the Crow's Nest and have McCloskey put the warrant in Judson's hands. But there was a thing to come between; a thing not wholly unlooked for, but none the less destructive of whatever small hope of regeneration the victim of unreadiness had been cherishing.

When the superintendent recrossed to the Celestial corner, Mesa Avenue was still practically deserted, though the group on the hotel porch had increased its numbers. Three doors below, in front of Biggs's, a bunch of saddled cow-ponies gave notice of a fresh accession to the bar-room crowd which was now overflowing upon the steps and the plank sidewalk. Lidgerwood's thoughts shuttled swiftly. He argued that a brave man would neither hurry nor loiter in passing the danger nucleus, and he strove with what determination there was in him to keep even step with the reasoned-out resolution.

But once more his weakness tricked him. When the determined stride had brought him fairly opposite Biggs's door, a man stepped out of the sidewalk group and calmly pushed him to a stand with the flat of his hand. It was Rufford, and he was saying quite coolly: "Hold up a minute, pardner; I'm going to cut your heart out and feed it to that pup o Schleisinger's that's follerin' you. He looks mighty hungry."

With reason assuring him that the gambler was merely making a grand-stand play for the benefit of the bar-room crowd wedging itself in Biggs's doorway, Lidgerwood's lips went dry, and he knew that the haunting terror was slipping its humiliating mask over his face. But before he could say or do any fear-prompted thing a diversion came. At the halting moment a small man, red-haired, and with his cap pulled down over his eyes, had separated himself from the group of loungers on the Celestial porch to make a swift détour through the hotel bar, around the rear of Biggs's, and so to the street and the sidewalk in front. As once before, and under somewhat less hazardous conditions, he came up behind Rufford, and again the gambler felt the pressure of cold metal against his spine.

"It ain't an S-wrench this time, Bart," he said gently, and the crowd on Biggs's doorstep roared its appreciation of the joke. Then: "Keep your hands right where they are, and side-step out o' Mr. Lidgerwood's way-that's business." And when the superintendent had gone on: "That's all for the present, Bart. After I get a little more time and ain't so danged busy I'll borrow another pair o' clamps from Hepburn and take you back to Copah. So long."

By all the laws of Angelic procedure, Judson should have been promptly shot in the back when he turned and walked swiftly down the avenue to overtake the superintendent. But for once the onlookers were disappointed. Rufford was calmly relighting his cigar, and when he had sufficiently cursed the bar

-room audience for not being game enough to stop the interference, he kicked Schleisinger's dog, and turned his back upon Biggs's and its company.

It was a bit of common human perverseness that kept Lidgerwood from thanking Judson when the engineer overtook him at the corner of the plaza. Uppermost in his thoughts at the moment was the keen sense of humiliation arising upon the conviction that the plucky little man had surprised his secret and would despise him accordingly. Hence his first word to Judson was the word of authority.

"Go back to Schleisinger and have him swear you in as a deputy constable," he directed tersely. "When you are sworn in, come down here and serve this," and he gave Judson the warrant for Hallock's arrest.

The engineer glanced at the name in the body of the warrant and nodded.

"So you've made up your mind?" he said.

Lidgerwood was frowning abstractedly up at the windows of Hallock's office in the head-quarters building.

"I don't know," he said, half hesitantly. "But he is implicated in that murderous business of last night-that we both know-and now he is back here. McCloskey told you that, didn't he?"

Judson nodded again, and Lidgerwood went on, irresistibly impelled to justify his own action.

"It would be something worse than folly to leave him at liberty when we are on the ragged edge of a fight. Arrest him wherever you can find him, and take him over to Copah on the first train that serves. He'll have to clear himself, if he can; that's all."

When Judson, with his huge cow-boy pistol sagging at his hip, had turned back to do the first part of his errand, Lidgerwood went on around the Crow's Nest and presented himself at the door of the Nadia. Happily, for his purpose, he found only Mrs. Brewster and Judge Holcombe in possession, the young people having gone to climb one of the bare mesa hills behind the town for an unobstructed view of the Timanyonis.

The superintendent left Judge Holcombe out of the proposal which he urged earnestly upon Mrs. Brewster. Telling her briefly of the threatened strike and its promise of violence and rioting, he tried to show her that the presence of the private-car party was a menace, alike to its own members and to him. The run to Copah could be made on a special schedule and the party might be well outside of the danger zone before the armistice expired. Would she not defer to his judgment and let him send the Nadia back to safety while there was yet time?

Mrs. Brewster, the placid, let him say his say without interruption. But when he finished, the placidity became active opposition. The president's wife would not listen for a moment to an expedient which did not-could not-include the president himself.

"I know, Howard, you're nervous-you can't help being nervous," she said, cutting him to the quick when nothing was farther from her intention. "But you haven't stopped to think what you're asking. If there is any real danger for us-which I can't believe-that is all the more reason why we shouldn't run away and leave your cousin Ned behind. I wouldn't think of it for an instant, and neither would any of the others."

Being hurt again in his tenderest part by the quite unconscious gibe, Lidgerwood did not press his proposal further.

"I merely wished to state the case and to give you a chance to get out and away from the trouble while we could get you out," he said, a little stiffly. Then: "It is barely possible that the others may agree with me instead of with you: will you tell them about it when they come back to the car, and send word to my office after you have decided in open council what you wish to do? Only don't let it be very late; a delay of two or three hours may make it impossible for us to get the Nadia over the Desert Division."

Mrs. Brewster promised, and the superintendent went upstairs to his office. A glance into Hallock's room in passing showed him the chief clerk's box-like desk untenanted, and he wondered if Judson would find his man somewhere in the town. He hoped so. It would be better for all concerned if the arrest could be made without too many witnesses. True, Hallock had few friends in the railroad service, at least among those who professed loyalty to the management, but with explosives lying about everywhere underfoot, one could not be too careful of matches and fire.

The superintendent had scarcely closed the door upon his entrance into his own room when it was opened again with McCloskey's hand on the latch. The trainmaster came to report that a careful search of Callahan's files had not disclosed any message to Leckhard. Also, he added that Dix, who should have come on duty at three o'clock, was still absent.

"What do you make out of that?" queried Lidgerwood.

McCloskey's scowl was grotesquely horrible.

"Bullying or bribery," he said shortly. "They've got Dix hid away uptown somewhere. But there was a message, all right, and with your name signed to it. Callahan saw it on Dix's hook this morning before the boy came down. It was in code, your private code."

"Call up the Copah offices and have it repeated back," ordered the superintendent. "Let's find out what somebody has been signing my name to."

McCloskey shook his grizzled head. "You won't mind if I say that I beat you to it, this time, will you? I got Orton, a little while ago, on the Copah wire and pumped him. He says there was a code message, and that Dix sent it. But when I asked him to repeat it back here, he said he couldn't-that Mr. Leckhard had taken it with him somewhere down the main line."

Lidgerwood's exclamation was profane. The perversity of things, animate and inanimate, was beginning to wear upon him.

"Go and tell Callahan to keep after Orton until he gets word that Mr. Leckhard has returned. Then have him get Leckhard himself at the other end of the wire and call me," he directed. "Since there is only one man besides myself in Angels who knows the private-office code, I'd like to know what that message said."

McCloskey nodded. "You mean Hallock?"

"Yes."

The trainmaster was half-way to the door when he turned suddenly to say: "You can fire me if you want to, Mr. Lidgerwood, but I've got to say my say. You're going to let that yellow dog run loose until he bites you."

"No, I am not."

"By gravies! I'd have him safe under lock and key before the shindy begins to-night, if it was my job."

Lidgerwood had turned to his desk and was opening it.

"He will be," he announced quietly. "I have sworn out a warrant for his arrest, and Judson has it and is looking for his man."

McCloskey smote fist into palm and gritted out an oath of congratulation. "That's where you hit the proper nail on the head!" he exclaimed. "He's the king-pin of the whole machine, and if you can pull him out, the machine will fall to pieces. What charge did you put in the warrant? I only hope it's big enough to hold him."

"Train-wrecking and murder," said Lidgerwood, without looking around; and a moment later McCloskey went out, treading softly as one who finds himself a trespasser on forbidden ground.

The afternoon sun was poising for its plunge behind the western barrier range and Lidgerwood had sent Grady, the stenographer, up to the cottage on the second mesa to tell Mrs. Dawson that he would not be up for dinner, when the door opened to admit Miss Brewster.

"'And the way into my parlor is up a winding stair,'" she quoted blithely and quite as if the air were not thick with threatening possibilities. "So this is where you live, is it? What a dreary, bleak, blank place!"

"It was, a moment ago; but it isn't, now," he said, and his soberness made the saying something more than a bit of commonplace gallantry. Then he gave her his swing-chair as the only comfortable one in the bare room, adding, "I hope you have come to tell me that your mother has changed her mind."

"Indeed I haven't! What do you take us for, Howard?"

"For an exceedingly rash party of pleasure-hunters-if you have decided to stay here through what is likely to happen before to-morrow morning. Besides, you are making it desperately hard for me."

She laughed lightly. "If you can't be afraid for yourself, you'll be afraid for other people, won't you? It seems to be one of your necessities."

He let the taunt go unanswered.

"I can't believe that you know what you are facing, any of you, Eleanor. I'll tell you what I told your mother: there will be battle, murder, and sudden death let loose here in Angels before to-morrow morning. And it is so utterly unnecessary for any of you to be involved."

She rose and stood before him, putting a comradely hand on his shoulder, and looking him fairly in the eyes.

"There was a ring of sincerity in that, Howard. Do you really mean that there is likely to be violence?"

"I do; it is almost certain to come. The trouble has been brewing for a long time-ever since I came here, in fact. And there is nothing we can do to prevent it. All we can do is to meet it when it does come, and fight it out."

"'We,' you say; who else besides yourself, Howard?" she asked.

"A little handful of loyal ones."

"Then you will be outnumbered?"

"Six to one here in town if the shopmen go out. They have already threatened to burn the company's buildings if I don't comply with their demands, and I know the temper of the outfit well enough to give it full credit for any violence it promises. Won't you go and persuade the others to consent to run for it, Eleanor? It is simply the height of folly for you to hold the Nadia here. If I could have had ten words with your father this morning before he went out to the mine, you would all have been in Copah, long ago. Even now, if I could get word to him, I'm sure he would order the car out at once."

She nodded.

"Perhaps he would; quite likely he would-and he would stay here himself." Then, suddenly: "You may send the Nadia back to Copah on one condition-that you go with it."

At first he thought it was a deliberate insult; the cruelest indignity she had ever put upon him. Knowing his weakness, she was good-natured enough, or solicitous enough, to try to get him out of harm's way. Then the steadfast look in her eyes made him uncertain.

"If I thought you could say that, realizing what it means-" he began, and then he looked away.

"Well?" she prompted, and the hand slipped from his shoulder.

His eyes were coming back to hers. "If I thought you meant that," he repeated; "if I believed that you could despise me so utterly as to think for a moment that I would deliberately turn my back upon my responsibilities here-go away and hunt safety for myself, leaving the men who have stood by me to whatever--"

"You are making it a matter of duty," she interrupted quite gravely. "I suppose that is right and proper. But isn't your first duty to yourself and to those who-" She paused, and then went on in the same steady tone: "I have been hearing some things to-day-some of the things you said I would hear. You are well hated in the Red Desert, Howard-hated so fiercely that this quarrel with your men will be almost a personal one."

"I know," he said.

"They will kill you, if you stay here and let them do it."

"Quite possibly."

"Howard! Do you tell me you can stay here and face all this without flinching?"

"Oh, no; I didn't say that."

"But you are facing it!"

He smiled.

"As I told you yesterday-that is one of the things for which I draw my salary. Don't mistake me; there is nothing heroic about it-the heroics are due to come to-night. That is another thing, Eleanor-another reason why I want you to go away. When the real pinch comes, I shall probably disgrace myself and everybody remotely connected with me. I'd a good bit rather be torn into little pieces, privately, than have you here to be made ashamed-again."

She turned away.

"Tell me, in so many words, what you think will be done to-night-what are you expecting?"

"I told you a few moments ago, in the words of the Prayer Book: battle, and murder, and sudden death. A strike has been planned, and it will fail. Five minutes after the first strike-abandoned train arrives, the town will go mad."

She had come close to him again.

"Mother won't go and leave father; that is settled. You must do the best you can, with us for a handicap. What will you do with us, Howard?"

"I have been thinking about that. The farther you can get away from the shops and the yard, which will be the storm-centre, the safer you will be. I can have the Nadia set out on the Copperette switch, which is a good half-mile below the town, with Van Lew and Jefferis to stand guard--"

"They will both be here, with you," she interrupted.

"Then the alternative is to place the car as near as possible to this building, which will be defended. If there is a riot, you can all come up here and be out of the way of chance pistol-shots, at least."

"Ugh!" she shivered. "Is this really civilized America?"

"It's America-without much of the civilization. Now, will you go and tell the others what to expect, and send Van Lew to me? I want to tell him just what to do and how to do it, while there is time and an undisturbed chance."

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