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   Chapter 21 THE BOSS MACHINIST

The Taming of Red Butte Western By Francis Lynde Characters: 12167

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Miss Brewster evidently obeyed her instructions precisely, since Van Lew came almost immediately to tap on the door of the superintendent's private room.

"Miss Eleanor said you wanted to see me," he began, when Lidgerwood had admitted him; adding: "I was just about to chase out to see what had become of her."

The frank confession of solicitude was not thrown away upon Lidgerwood, and it cost him an effort to put the athlete on a plane of brotherly equality as a comrade in arms. But he compassed it.

"Yes, I asked her to send you up," he replied. Then: "I suppose you know what we are confronting, Mr. Van Lew?"

"Mrs. Brewster told us as soon as we came back from the hills. Is it likely to be serious?"

"Yes. I wish I could have persuaded Mrs. Brewster to order the Nadia out of it. But she has refused to go and leave Mr. Brewster behind."

"I know," said Van Lew; "we have all refused."

"So Miss Brewster has just told me," frowned Lidgerwood. "That being the case, we must make the best of it. How are you fixed for arms in the president's car?"

"I have a hunting rifle-a forty-four magazine; and Jefferis has a small armory of revolvers-boy-like."

"Good! The defense of the car, if a riot materializes, will fall upon you two. Judge Holcombe can't be counted in. I'll give you all the help I can spare, but you'll have to furnish the brains. I suppose I don't need to tell you not to take any chances?"

Van Lew shook his head and smiled.

"Not while the dear girl whom, God willing, I'm going to marry, is a member of our car-party. I'm more likely to be over-cautious than reckless, Mr. Lidgerwood."

Here, in terms unmistakable, was a deep grave in which to bury any poor phantom of hope which might have survived, but Lidgerwood did not advertise the funeral.

"She is altogether worthy of the most that you can do for her, and the best that you can give her, Mr. Van Lew," he said gravely. Then he passed quickly to the more vital matter. "The Nadia will be placed on the short spur track at this end of the building, close in, where you can step from the rear platform of the car to the station platform. I'll try to keep watch for you, but you must also keep watch for yourself. If any firing begins, get your people out quietly and bring them up here. Of course, none of you will have anything worse than a stray bullet to fear, but the side walls of the Nadia would offer no protection against that."

Van Lew nodded understandingly.

"Call it settled," he said. "Shall I use my own judgment as to the proper moment to make the break, or will you pass us the word?"

Lidgerwood took time to consider. Conditions might arise under which the Crow's Nest would be the most unsafe place in Angels to which to flee for shelter.

"Perhaps you would better sit tight until I give the word," he directed, after the reflective pause. Then, in a lighter vein: "All of these careful prefigurings may be entirely beside the mark, Mr. Van Lew; I hope the event may prove that they were. And until the thing actually hits us, we may as well keep up appearances. Don't let the women worry any more than they have to."

"You can trust me for that," laughed the athlete, and he went his way to begin the keeping up of appearances.

At seven o'clock, just as Lidgerwood was finishing the luncheon which had been sent up to his office from the station kitchen, Train 203 pulled in from the east; and a little later Dawson's belated wrecking-train trailed up from the west, bringing the "cripples" from the Little Butte disaster. Not to leave anything undone, Lidgerwood summoned McCloskey by a touch of the buzzer-push connecting with the trainmaster's office.

"No word from Judson yet?" he asked, when McCloskey's homely face appeared in the doorway.

"No, not yet," was the reply.

"Let me know when you hear from him; and in the meantime I wish you would go downstairs and see if Gridley came in on 203. If he did, bring him and Benson up here and we'll hold a council of war. If you see Dawson, send him home to his mother and sister. He can report to me later, if he finds it safe to leave his womankind."

The door of the outer office had barely closed behind McCloskey when that opening into the corridor swung upon its hinges to admit the master-mechanic. He was dusty and travel-stained, but nothing seemed to stale his genial good-humor.

"Well, well, Mr. Lidgerwood! so the hoboes have asked to see your hand, at last, have they?" he began sympathetically. "I heard of it over in Copah, just in good time to let me catch 203. You're not going to let them make you show down, are you?"

"No," said Lidgerwood.

"That's right; that's precisely the way to stack it up. Of course, you know you can count on me. I've got a beautiful lot of pirates over in the shops, but we'll try to hold them level." Then, in the same even tone: "They tell me we went into the hole again last night, over at Little Butte. Pretty bad?"

"Very bad; six killed outright, and as many more to bury later on, I am told by the Red Butte doctors."

"Heavens and earth! The men are calling it a broken rail; was it?"

"A loosened rail," corrected Lidgerwood.

The master-mechanic's eyes narrowed.

"Natural?" he asked.

"No, artificial."

Gridley swore savagely.

"This thing's got to stop, Lidgerwood! Sift it, sift it to the bottom! Whom do you suspect?"

It was a plain truth, though an unintentionally misleading one, that the superintendent put into his reply.

"I don't suspect any one, Gridley," he began, and he was going on to say that suspicion had grown to certainty, when the latch of the door opening from the outer office clicked again and McCloskey came in with Benson. The master-mechanic excused himself abruptly when he saw who the trainmaster's follower was.

"I'll go and get something to eat," he said hurriedly; "after which I'll pick up a few men whom we can depend upon and garrison the shops. Send over for me if you need me."

Benson looked hard at the door which was still quivering under Gr

idley's outgoing slam. And when the master-mechanic's tread was no longer audible in the upper corridor, the young engineer turned to the man at the desk to say: "What tickled the boss machinist, Lidgerwood?"

"I don't know. Why?"

Benson looked at McCloskey.

"Just as we came in, he was standing over you with a look in his eyes as if he were about to murder you, and couldn't quite make up his mind as to the simplest way of doing it. Then the look changed to his usual cast-iron smile in the flirt of a flea's hind leg-at some joke you were telling, I took it."

Being careful and troubled about many things, Lidgerwood missed the point of Benson's remark; could not remember, when he tried, just what it was that he had been saying to Gridley when the interruption came. But the matter was easily dismissed. Having his two chief lieutenants before him, the superintendent seized the opportunity to outline the plan of campaign for the night. McCloskey was to stay by the wires, with Callahan to share his watch. Dawson, when he should come down, was to pick up a few of the loyal enginemen and guard the roundhouse. Benson was to take charge of the yards, keeping his eye on the Nadia. At the first indication of an outbreak, he was to pass the word to Van Lew, who would immediately transfer the private-car party to the second-floor offices in the head-quarters building.

"That is all," was Lidgerwood's summing up, when he had made his dispositions like a careful commander-in-chief; "all but one thing. Mac, have you seen anything of Hallock?"

"Not since the middle of the afternoon," was the prompt reply.

"And Judson has not yet reported?"

"No."

"Well-this is for you, Benson-Mac already knows it: Judson is out looking for Hallock. He has a warrant for Hallock's arrest."

Benson's eyes narrowed.

"Then you have found the ringleader at last, have you?" he asked.

"I am sorry to say that there doesn't seem to be any doubt of Hallock's guilt. The arrest will be made quietly. Judson understands that. There is another man that we've got to have, and there is no time just now to go after him."

"Who is the other man?" asked Benson.

"It is Flemister; the man who has the stolen switching-engine boxed up in a power-house built out of planks sawed from your Gloria bridge-timbers."

"I told you so!" exclaimed the young engineer. "By Jove! I'll never forgive you if you don't send him to the rock-pile for that, Lidgerwood!"

"I have promised to hang him," said the superintendent soberly-"him and the man who has been working with him."

"And that's Rankin Hallock!" cut in the trainmaster vindictively, and his scowl was grotesquely hideous. "Can you hang them, Mr. Lidgerwood?"

"Yes. Flemister, and a man whom Judson has identified as Hallock, were the two who ditched 204 at Silver Switch last night. The charge in Judson's warrant reads,'train-wrecking and murder.'"

The trainmaster smote the desk with his fist.

"I'll add one more strand to the rope-Hallock's rope," he gritted ferociously. "You remember what I told you about that loosened rail that caused the wreck in the Crosswater Hills? You said Hallock had gone to Navajo to see Cruikshanks; he did go to Navajo, but he got there just exactly four hours after 202 had gone on past Navajo, and he came on foot, walking down the track from the Hills!"

"Where did you get that?" asked Lidgerwood quickly.

"From the agent at Navajo. I wasn't satisfied with the way it shaped up, and I did a little investigating on my own hook."

"Pass him up," said Benson briefly, "and let's go over this lay-out for to-night again. I shall be out of touch down in the yards, and I want to get it straight in my head."

Lidgerwood went carefully over the details again, and again cautioned Benson about the Nadia and its party. From that the talk ran upon the ill luck which had projected the pleasure-party into the thick of things; upon Mrs. Brewster's obstinacy-which Lidgerwood most inconsistently defended-and upon the probability of the president's return from the Copperette-also in the thick of things, and it was close upon eight o'clock when the two lieutenants went to their respective posts.

It was fully an hour farther along, and the tense strain of suspense was beginning to tell upon the man who sat thoughtful and alone in the second-floor office of the Crow's Nest, when Benson ran up to report the situation in the yards.

"Everything quiet so far," was the news he brought. "We've got the Nadia on the east spur, where the folks can slip out and make their get-away, if they have to. There are several little squads of the discharged men hanging around, but not many more than usual. The east and west yards are clear, and the three sections of the midnight freight are crewed and ready to pull out when the time comes. The folkses are playing dummy whist in the Nadia; and Gridley is holding the fort at the shops with the toughest-looking lot of myrmidons you ever laid your eyes on."

Once again Lidgerwood was making tiny squares on his desk blotter.

"I'm thankful that the news of the strike got to Copah in time to bring Gridley over on 203," he said.

Benson's boyish eyes opened to their widest angle.

"Did he say he came in on Two-three?" he asked.

"He did."

"Well, that's odd-devilish odd! I was on that train, and I rambled it from one end to the other-which is a bad habit I have when I'm trying to kill travel-time. Gridley isn't a man to be easily overlooked. Reckon he was riding on the brake-beams? He was dirty enough to make the guess good. Hello, Fred"-this to Dawson, who had at that moment let himself in through the deserted outer office-"we were just talking about your boss, and wondering how he got here from Copah on Two-three without my seeing him."

"He didn't come from Copah," said the draftsman briefly. "He came in with me from the west, on the wrecking-train. He was in Red Butte, and he had an engine bring him down to Silver Switch, where he caught us just as we were pulling out."

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