MoboReader> Literature > The Taming of Red Butte Western

   Chapter 22 THE TERROR

The Taming of Red Butte Western By Francis Lynde Characters: 20302

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Engineer John Judson, disappearing at the moment when the superintendent had sent him back to bully Schleisinger into appointing him constable, from the ken of those who were most anxious to hear from him, was late in reporting. But when he finally climbed the stair of the Crow's Nest to tap at Lidgerwood's door, he brought the first authentic news from the camp of the enemy.

When McCloskey had come at a push of the call-button, Lidgerwood snapped the night-latch on the corridor door.

"Let us have it, Judson," he said, when the trainmaster had dragged his chair into the circle of light described by the green cone shade of the desk lamp. "We have been wondering what had become of you."

Summarized, Judson's story was the report of an intelligent scout. Since he was classed with the discharged men, he had been able to find out some of the enemy's moves in the game of coercion. The strikers had transferred their head-quarters from the Celestial to Cat Biggs's place, where the committees, jealously safeguarded, were now sitting "in permanence" in the back room. Judson had not been admitted to the committee-room; but the thronged bar-room was public, and the liquor which was flowing freely had loosened many tongues.

From the bar-room talk Judson had gathered that the strikers knew nothing as yet of McCloskey's plan to keep the trains moving and the wires alive. Hence-unless the free-flowing whiskey should precipitate matters-there would probably be no open outbreak before midnight. As an offset to this, however, the engineer had overheard enough to convince him that the Copah wire had been tapped; that Dix, the day operator, had been either bribed or intimidated, and was now under guard at the strikers' head-quarters, and that some important message had been intercepted which was, in Judson's phrase, "raising sand" in the camp of the disaffected. This recurrence of the mysterious message, of which no trace could be found in the head-quarters record, opened a fresh field of discussion, and it was McCloskey who put his finger upon the only plausible conclusion.

"It is Hallock again," he rasped. "He is the only man who could have used the private code. Dix probably picked out the cipher; he's got a weakness for such things. Hallock's carrying double. He has fixed up some trouble-making message, or faked one, and signed your name to it, and then schemed to let it leak out through Dix."

"It's making the trouble, all right," was Judson's comment. "When I left Biggs's a few minutes ago, Tryon was calling for volunteers to come down here and steal an engine. From what he said, I took it they were aimin' to go over into the desert to tear up the track and stop somebody or something coming this way from Copah-all on account of that make-believe message that you didn't send."

Thus far Judson's report had dealt with facts. But there were other things deducible. He insisted that the strength of the insurrection did not lie in the dissatisfied employees of the Red Butte Western, or even in the ex-employees; it was rather in the lawless element of the town which lived and fattened upon the earnings of the railroad men-the saloon-keepers, the gamblers, the "tin-horns" of every stripe. Moreover, it was certain that some one high in authority in the railroad service was furnishing the brains. There was a chief to whom all the malcontents deferred, and who figured in the bar-room talk as the "boss," or "the big boss."

"And that same 'big boss' is sitting up yonder in Cat Biggs's back room, right now, givin' his orders and tellin' 'em what to do," was Judson's crowning guess, and since Hallock had not been visible since the early afternoon, for the three men sitting under the superintendent's desk lamp, Judson's inference stood as a fact assured. It was Hallock who had fomented the trouble; it was Hallock who was now directing it.

"I suppose you didn't see anything of Grady, my stenographer?" inquired Lidgerwood, when Judson had made an end.

The engineer shook his head. "Reckon they've got him cooped up along with Dix?"

"I hope not. But he has disappeared. I sent him up to Mrs. Dawson's with a message late this afternoon, and he hasn't shown up since."

"Of course, they've got him," said McCloskey, sourly. "Does he know anything that he can tell?"

"Nothing that can make any difference now. They are probably holding him to hamper me. The boy's loyal."

"Yes," growled McCloskey, "and he's Irish."

"Well, my old mother is Irish, too, for the matter of that," snapped Judson. "If you don't like the Irish, you'll be finding a chip on my shoulder any day in the week, except to-day, Jim McCloskey!"

Lidgerwood smiled. It brought a small relaxing of strains to hear these two resurrecting the ancient race feud in the midst of the trouble storm. And when the trainmaster returned to his post in the wire office, and Judson had been sent back to Biggs's to renew his search for the hidden ring-leader, it was the memory of the little race tiff that cleared the superintendent's brain for the grapple with the newly defined situation.

Judson's report was grave enough, but it brought a good hope that the crucial moment might be postponed until many of the men would be too far gone in liquor to take any active part. Lidgerwood took the precautions made advisable by Tryon's threat to steal an engine, sending word to Benson to double his guards on the locomotives in the yard, and to Dawson to block the turn-table so that none might be taken from the roundhouse.

Afterward he went out to look over the field in person. Everything was quiet; almost suspiciously so. Gridley was found alone in his office at the shops, smoking a cigar, with his chair tilted to a comfortable angle and his feet on the desk. His guards, he said, were posted in and around the shops, and he hoped they were not asleep. Thus far, there had been little enough to keep them awake.

Lidgerwood, passing out through the door opening upon the electric-lighted yard, surprised a man in the act of turning the knob to enter. It was the merest incident, and he would not have remarked it if the door, closing behind Gridley's visitor, had not bisected a violent outburst of profanity, vocalizing itself in the harsh tones of the master-mechanic, as thus: "You -- -- chuckle-headed fool! Haven't you any better sense than to come-" At this point the closing door cut the sentence of objurgation, and Lidgerwood continued his round of inspection, trying vainly to recall the identity of the chance-met man whose face, half hidden under the drooping brim of a worn campaign-hat, was vaguely familiar. The recollection came at length, with the impact of a blow. The "chuckle-headed fool" of Gridley's malediction was Richard Rufford, the "Killer's" younger brother.

Lidgerwood said nothing of this incident to Dawson, whom he found patrolling the roundhouse. Here, as at the shops and in the yard, everything was quiet and orderly. The crews for the three sections of the midnight freight were all out, guarding their trains and engines, and Dawson had only Bradford and the roundhouse night-men for company.

"Nothing stirring, Fred?" inquired the superintendent.

"Less than nothing; it's almost too quiet," was the sober reply. And then: "I see you haven't sent the Nadia out; wouldn't it be a good scheme to get a couple of buckboards and have the women and Judge Holcombe driven up to our place on the mesa? The trouble, when it comes, will come this way."

Lidgerwood shook his head.

"My stake in the Nadia is precisely the same size as yours, Fred, and I don't want to risk the buckboard business. We'll do a better thing than that, if we have to let the president's party make a run for it. Get your smartest passenger flyer out on the table, head it east, and when I send for it, rush it over to couple on to the Nadia-with Williams for engineer. Has Benson had any trouble in the yard?"

"There has been nobody to make any. Tryon came down a few minutes ago, considerably more than half-seas over, and said he was ready to take his engine and the first section of the east-bound midnight-which would have been his regular run. But he went back uptown peaceably when Benson told him he was down and out."

Lidgerwood did not extend his round to include Benson's post at the yard office, which was below the coal chutes. Instead, he went over to the Nadia, thinking pointedly of the two added mysteries: the fact that Gridley had told a deliberate lie to account for his appearance in Angels, and the other and more recent fact that the master-mechanic was conferring, even in terms of profanity, with Rufford's brother, who was not, and never had been, in his department.

Under the "umbrella roof" of the Nadia's rear platform the young people of the party were sitting out the early half of the perfect summer night, the card-tables having been abandoned when Benson had brought word of the tacit armistice. There was an unoccupied camp-chair, and Miss Brewster pointed it out to the superintendent.

"Climb over and sit with us, Howard," she said, hospitably. "You know you haven't a thing in the world to do."

Lidgerwood swung himself over the railing, and took the proffered chair.

"You are right; I haven't very much to do just now," he admitted.

"Has your strike materialized yet?" she asked.

"No; it isn't due until midnight."

"I don't believe there is going to be any."

"Don't you? I wish I might share your incredulity-with reason."

Miss Doty and the others were talking about the curious blending of the moonlight with the masthead electrics, and the two in the shadowed corner of the deep platform were temporarily ignored. Miss Brewster took advantage of the momentary isolation to say, "Confess that you were a little bit over-wrought this afternoon when you wanted to send us away: weren't you?"

"I only hope that the outcome will prove that I was," he rejoined patiently.

"You still believe there will be trouble?"

"Yes."

"Then I'm afraid you are still overwrought," she countered lightly. "Why, the v

ery atmosphere of this beautiful night breathes peace."

Before he could reply, a man came up to the platform railing, touched his cap, and said, "Is Mr. Lidgerwood here?"

Lidgerwood answered in person, crossing to the railing to hear Judson's latest report, which was given in hoarse whispers. Miss Brewster could distinguish no word of it, but she heard Lidgerwood's reply. "Tell Benson and Dawson, and say that the engine I ordered had better be sent up at once."

When Lidgerwood had resumed his chair he was promptly put upon the question rack of Miss Eleanor's curiosity.

"Was that one of your scouts?" she asked.

"Yes."

"Did he come to tell you that there wasn't going to be any strike?"

"No."

"How lucidly communicative you are! Can't you see that I am fairly stifling with curiosity?"

"I'm sorry, but you shall not have the chance to say that I was overwrought twice in the same half-day."

"Howard! Don't be little and spiteful. I'll eat humble pie and call myself hard names, if you insist; only-gracious goodness! is that engine going to smash into our car?"

The anxious query hinged itself upon the approach of a big, eight-wheeled passenger flyer which was thundering down the yard on the track occupied by the Nadia. Within half a car-length of collision, the air-brake hissed, the siderods clanked and chattered, and the shuddering monster rolled gently backward to a touch coupling with the president's car.

Eleanor's hand was on her cousin's arm. "Howard, what does this mean?" she demanded.

"Nothing, just at present; it is merely a precaution."

"You are not going to take us away from Angels?"

"Not now; not at all, unless your safety demands it." Then he rose and spoke to the others. "I'm sorry to have to shut off your moon-vista with that noisy beast, but it may be necessary to move the car, later on. Don't get out of touch with the Nadia, any of you, please."

He had vaulted the hand-rail and was saying good-night, when Eleanor left her chair and entered the car. He was not greatly surprised to find her waiting for him at the steps of the forward vestibule when he had gone so far on his way to his office.

"One moment," she pleaded. "I'll be good, Howard; and I know that there is danger. Be very careful of yourself, won't you, for my sake."

He stopped short, and his arms went out to her. Then his self-control returned and his rejoinder was almost bitter.

"Eleanor, you must not! you tempt me past endurance! Go back to Van-to the others, and, whatever happens, don't let any one leave the car."

"I'll do anything you say, only you must tell me where you are going," she insisted.

"Certainly; I am going up to my office-where you found me this afternoon. I shall be there from this on, if you wish to send any word. I'll see that you have a messenger. Good-by."

He left her before her sympathetic mood should unman him, his soul crying out at the kindness which cut so much more deeply than her mockery. At the top of the corridor stair McCloskey was waiting for him.

"Judson has told you what's due to happen?" queried the trainmaster.

"He told me to look for swift trouble; that somebody had betrayed your strike-breaking scheme."

"He says they'll try to keep the east-bound freights from going out."

"That would be a small matter. But we mustn't lose the moral effect of taking the first trick in the game. Are the sections all in line on the long siding?"

"Yes."

"Good. We'll start them a little ahead of time; and let them kill back to schedule after they get out on the road. Send Bogard down with their clearance orders, and 'phone Benson at the yard office to couple them up into one train, engine to the caboose in front, and send them out solid. When they have cleared the danger limit, they can split up and take the proper time intervals-ten minutes apart."

"Call it done," said the trainmaster, and he went to carry out the order. Two minutes later Bogard, the night-relief operator off duty, darted out of the despatcher's room with the clearance-cards for the three sections. Lidgerwood stopped him in mid-flight.

"One second, Robert: when you have done your errand, come back to the president's car, ask for Miss Brewster, and say that I sent you. Then stay within call and be ready to do whatever she wants you to do."

Bogard did the first part of his errand swiftly, and he was taking the duplicate signatures of the engineer and conductor of the third and last section when Benson came up to put the solid-train order into effect. The couplings were made deftly and without unnecessary stir. Then Benson stepped back and gave the starting signal, twirling his lantern in rapid circles. Synchronized as perfectly as if a single throttle-lever controlled them all, the three heavy freight-pullers hissed, strained, belched fire, and the long train began to move out.

It was Lidgerwood's challenge to the outlaws, and as if the blasts of the three tearing exhausts had been the signal it was awaiting, the strike storm broke with the suddenness and fury of a tropical hurricane. From a hundred hiding-places in the car-strewn yard, men came running, some to swarm thickly upon the moving engines and cabooses, others swinging by the drawheads to cut the air-brake hose.

Benson was swept aside and overpowered before he could strike a blow. Bogard, speeding across to take his post beside the Nadia, was struck down before he could get clear of the pouring hornet swarm. Shots were fired; shrill yells arose. Into the midst of the clamor the great siren whistle at the shops boomed out the fire alarm, and almost at the the same instant a red glow, capped by a rolling nimbus of sooty oil smoke, rose to beacon the destruction already begun in the shop yards. And while the roar of the siren was still jarring upon the windless night air, the electric-light circuits were cut out, leaving the yards and the Crow's Nest in darkness, and the frantic battle for the trains to be lighted only by the moon and the lurid glow of destruction spreading slowly under its black canopy of smoke.

In the Crow's Nest the sudden coup of the strikers had the effect which its originator had doubtless counted upon. It was some minutes after the lights were cut off, and the irruption had swept past the captured and disabled trains to the shops, before Lidgerwood could get his small garrison together and send it, with McCloskey for its leader, to reinforce the shop guard, which was presumably fighting desperately for the control of the power plant and the fire pumps.

Only McCloskey's protest and his own anxiety for the safety of the Nadia's company, kept Lidgerwood from leading the little relief column of loyal trainmen and head-quarters clerks in person. The lust of battle was in his blood, and for the time the shrinking palsy of physical fear held aloof.

When the sally of the trainmaster and his forlorn-hope squad had left the office-story of the head-quarters building almost deserted, it was the force of mere mechanical habit that sent Lidgerwood back to his room to close his desk before going down to order the Nadia out of the zone of immediate danger. There was a chair in his way, and in the darkness and in his haste he stumbled over it. When he recovered himself, two men, with handkerchief masks over their faces, were entering from the corridor, and as he turned at the sound of their footsteps, they sprang upon him.

For the first rememberable time in his life, Howard Lidgerwood met the challenge of violence joyfully, with every muscle and nerve singing the battle-song, and a huge willingness to slay or be slain arming him for the hand-to-hand struggle. Twice he drove the lighter of the two to the wall with well-planted blows, and once he got a deadly wrestler's hold on the tall man and would have killed him if the free accomplice had not torn his locked fingers apart by main strength. But it was two against one; and when it was over, the conflagration light reddening the southern windows sufficed for the knotting of the piece of hemp lashing with which the two masked garroters were binding their victim in his chair.

Meanwhile, the pandemonium raging at the shops was beginning to surge backward into the railway yard. Some one had fired a box-car, and the upblaze centred a fresh fury of destruction. Up at the head of the three-sectioned freight train a mad mob was cutting the leading locomotive free.

Dawson, crouching in the roundhouse door directly opposite, knew all that Judson could tell him, and he instantly divined the purpose of the engine thieves. They were preparing to send the freight engine eastward on the Desert Division main line to collide with and wreck whatever coming thing it was that they feared.

The threatened deed wrought itself out before the draftsman could even attempt to prevent it. A man sprang to the footboard of the freed locomotive, jerked the throttle open, stayed at the levers long enough to hook up to the most effective cut-off for speed, and jumped for his life.

Dawson was deliberate, but not slow-witted. While the abandoned engine was, as yet, only gathering speed for the eastward dash, he was dodging the straggling rioters in the yard, racing purposefully for the only available locomotive, ready and headed to chase the runaway-namely, the big eight-wheeler coupled to the president's car. He set the switch to the main line as he passed it, but there was no time to uncouple the engine from the private car, even if he had been willing to leave the woman he loved, and those with her, helpless in the midst of the rioting.

So there was no more than a gasped-out word to Williams as he climbed to the cab before the eight-wheeler, with the Nadia in tow, shot away from the Crow's Nest platform. And it was not until the car was growling angrily over the yard-limit switches that Van Lew burst into the central compartment like a man demented, to demand excitedly of the three women who were clinging, terror-stricken, to Judge Holcombe:

"Who has seen Miss Eleanor? Where is Miss Eleanor?"

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