While working on a sermon the pastor heard a knock at his office door. "Come in," he invited. A sad-looking man in threadbare clothes came in, pulling a large pig on a rope. "Can I talk to you for a minute?" asked the ma... Read more of Desert Island, Roosters Etc. Humor at Free Jokes.caInformational Site Network Informational
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A Little Brother Of The Cows








From: Red Butte Western

Crosswater Gap, so named because the high pass over which the railroad
finds its way is anything but a gap, and, save when the winter snows are
melting, there is no water within a day's march, was in sight from the
loopings of the eastern approach. Lidgerwood, scanning the grades as the
service-car swung from tangent to curve and curve to tangent up the
steep inclines, was beginning to think of breakfast. The morning air was
crisp and bracing, and he had been getting the full benefit of it for an
hour or more, sitting under the umbrella roof at the observation end of
the car.

With the breakfast thought came the thing itself, or the invitation to
it. As a parting kindness the night before, Ford had transferred one of
the cooks from his own private car to Lidgerwood's service, and the
little man, Tadasu Matsuwari by name, and a subject of the Mikado by
race and birth, came to the car door to call his new employer to the
table.

It was an attractive table, well appointed and well served; but
Lidgerwood, temperamentally single-eyed in all things, was diverted from
his reorganization problem for the moment only. Since early dawn he had
been up and out on the observation platform, noting, this time with the
eye of mastership, the physical condition of the road; the bridges, the
embankments, the cross-ties, the miles of steel unreeling under the
drumming trucks, and the object-lesson was still fresh in his mind.

To a disheartening extent, the Red Butte demoralization had involved the
permanent way. Originally a good track, with heavy steel, easy grades
compensated for the curves, and a mathematical alignment, the roadbed
and equipment had been allowed to fall into disrepair under indifferent
supervision and the short-handing of the section gangs--always an
impractical directory's first retrenchment when the dividends begin to
fail. Lidgerwood had seen how the ballast had been suffered to sink at
the rail-joints, and he had read the record of careless supervision at
each fresh swing of the train, since it is the section foreman's
weakness to spoil the geometrical curve by working it back, little by
little, into the adjoining tangent.

Reflecting upon these things, Lidgerwood's comment fell into speech over
his cup of coffee and crisp breakfast bacon.

"About the first man we need is an engineer who won't be too exalted to
get down and squint curves with the section bosses," he mused, and from
that on he was searching patiently through the memory card-index for the
right man.

At the summit station, where the line leaves the Pannikin basin to
plunge into the western desert, there was a delay. Lidgerwood was still
at the breakfast-table when Bradford, the conductor, black-shirted and
looking, in his slouch hat and riding-leggings, more like a
horse-wrangler than a captain of railroad trains, lounged in to explain
that there was a hot box under the 266's tender. Bradford was not of any
faction of discontent, but the spirit of morose insubordination, born of
the late change in management, was in the air, and he spoke gruffly.
Hence, with the flint and steel thus provided, the spark was promptly
evoked.

"Were the boxes properly overhauled before you left Copah?" demanded the
new boss.

Bradford did not know, and the manner of his answer implied that he did
not care. And for good measure he threw in an intimation that
roundhouse dope kettles were not in his line.

Lidgerwood passed over the large impudence and held to the matter in
hand.

"How much time have we on 201?" he asked, Train 201 being the westbound
passenger overtaken and left behind in the small hours of the morning by
the lighter and faster special.

"Thirty minutes, here," growled the little brother of the cows; after
which he took himself off as if he considered the incident sufficiently
closed.

Fifteen minutes later Lidgerwood finished his breakfast and went back to
his camp-chair on the observation platform of the service-car. A glance
over the side rail showed him his train crew still working on the heated
axle-bearing. Another to the rear picked up the passenger-train storming
around the climbing curves of the eastern approach to the summit. There
was a small problem impending for the division despatcher at Angels, and
the new superintendent held aloof to see how it would be handled.

It was handled rather indifferently. The passenger-train was pulling in
over the summit switches when Bradford, sauntering into the telegraph
office as if haste were the last thing in the world to be considered,
asked for his clearance card, got it, and gave Williams the signal to
go.

Lidgerwood got up and went into the car to consult the time-table
hanging in the office compartment. Train 201 had no dead time at
Crosswater; hence, if the ten-minute interval between trains of the same
class moving in the same direction was to be preserved, the passenger
would have to be held.

The assumption that the passenger-train would be held aroused all the
railroad martinet's fury in the new superintendent. In Lidgerwood's
calendar, time-killing on regular trains stood next to an infringement
of the rules providing for the safety of life and property. His hand was
on the signal-cord when, chancing to look back, he saw that the
passenger-train had made only the momentary time-card stop at the summit
station, and was coming on.

This turned the high crime into a mere breach of discipline, common
enough even on well-managed railroads when the leading train can be
trusted to increase the distance interval. But again the martinet in
Lidgerwood protested. It was his theory that rules were made to be
observed, and his experience had proved that little infractions paved
the way for great ones. In the present instance, however, it was too
late to interfere; so he drew a chair out in line with one of the rear
observation windows and sat down to mark the event.

Pitching over the hilltop summit, within a minute of each other, the two
trains raced down the first few curving inclines almost as one. Mile
after mile was covered, and still the perilous situation remained
unchanged. Down the short tangents and around the constantly recurring
curves the special seemed to be towing the passenger at the end of an
invisible but dangerously short drag-rope.

Lidgerwood began to grow uneasy. On the straight-line stretches the
following train appeared to be rushing onward to an inevitable rear-end
collision with the one-car special; and where the track swerved to right
or left around the hills, the pursuing smoke trail rose above the
intervening hill-shoulders near and threatening. With the parts of a
great machine whirling in unison and nicely timed to escape destruction,
a small accident to a single cog may spell disaster.

Lidgerwood left his chair and went again to consult the time-table. A
brief comparison of miles with minutes explained the effect without
excusing the cause. Train 201's schedule from the summit station to the
desert level was very fast; and Williams, nursing his hot box, either
could not, or would not, increase his lead.

At first, Lidgerwood, anticipating rebellion, was inclined to charge the
hazardous situation to intention on the part of his own train crew.
Having a good chance to lie out of it if they were accused, Williams and
Bradford might be deliberately trying the nerve of the new boss. The
presumption did not breed fear; it bred wrath, hot and vindictive. Two
sharp tugs at the signal-cord brought Bradford from the engine. The
memory of the conductor's gruff replies and easy impudence was fresh
enough to make Lidgerwood's reprimand harsh.

"Do you call this railroading?" he rasped, pointing backward to the
menace. "Don't you know that we are on 201's time?"

Bradford scowled in surly antagonism.

"That blamed hot box--" he began, but Lidgerwood cut him off short.

"The hot box has nothing to do with the case. You are not hired to take
chances, or to hold out regular trains. Go forward and tell your
engineer to speed up and get out of the way."

"I got my clearance at the summit, and I ain't despatchin' trains on
this jerk-water railroad," observed the conductor coolly. Then he
added, with a shade less of the belligerent disinterest: "Williams can't
speed up. That housin' under the tender is about ready to blaze up and
set the woods afire again, right now."

Once more Lidgerwood turned to the time-card. It was twenty miles
farther along to the next telegraph station, and he heaped up wrath
against the day of wrath in store for a despatcher who would recklessly
turn two trains loose and out of his reach under such critical
conditions, for thirty hazardous mountain miles.

Bradford, looking on sullenly, mistook the new boss's frown for more to
follow, with himself for the target, and was moving away. Lidgerwood
pointed to a chair with a curt, "Sit down!" and the conductor obeyed
reluctantly.

"You say you have your clearance card, and that you are not despatching
trains," he went on evenly, "but neither fact relieves you of your
responsibility. It was your duty to make sure that the despatcher fully
understood the situation at Crosswater, and to refuse to pull out ahead
of the passenger without something more definite than a formal permit.
Weren't you taught that? Where did you learn to run trains?"

It was an opening for hard words, but the conductor let it pass.
Something in the steady, business-like tone, or in the shrewdly
appraisive eyes, turned Bradford the potential mutineer into Bradford
the possible partisan.

"I reckon we are needing a rodeo over here on this jerk-water mighty
bad, Mr. Lidgerwood," he said, half humorously. "Take us coming and
going, about half of us never had the sure-enough railroad brand put
onto us, nohow. But, Lord love you! this little pasear we're making
down this hill ain't anything! That's the old 210 chasin' us with the
passenger, and she couldn't catch Bat Williams and the '66 in a month o'
Sundays if we didn't have that doggoned spavined leg under the tender.
She sure couldn't."

Lidgerwood smiled in spite of his annoyance, and wondered at what page
in the railroad primer he would have to begin in teaching these men of
the camps and the round-ups.

"But it isn't railroading," he insisted, meeting his first pupil
half-way, and as man to man. "You might do this thing ninety-nine times
without paying for it, and the hundredth time something would turn up to
slow or to stop the leading train, and there you are."

"Sure!" said the ex-cowboy, quite heartily.

"Now, if there should happen to be----"

The sentence was never finished. The special, lagging a little now in
deference to the smoking hot box, was rounding one of the long hill
curves to the left. Suddenly the air-brakes ground sharply upon the
wheels, shrill whistlings from the 266 sounded the stop signal, and past
the end of the slowing service-car a trackman ran frantically up the
line toward the following passenger, yelling and swinging his stripped
coat like a madman.

Lidgerwood caught a fleeting glimpse of a section gang's green "slow"
flag lying toppled over between the rails a hundred feet to the rear.
Measuring the distance of the onrushing passenger-train against the
life-saving seconds remaining, he called to Bradford to jump, and then
ran forward to drag the Japanese cook out of his galley.

It was all over in a moment. There was time enough for Lidgerwood to
rush the little Tadasu to the forward vestibule, to fling him into
space, and to make his own flying leap for safety before the crisis
came. Happily there was no wreck, though the margin of escape was the
narrowest. Williams stuck to his post in the cab of the 266, applying
and releasing the brakes, and running as far ahead as he dared upon the
loosened timbers of the culvert, for which the section gang's slowflag
was out. Carter, the engineer on the passenger-train, jumped; but his
fireman was of better mettle and stayed with the machine, sliding the
wheels with the driver-jams, and pumping sand on the rails up to the
moment when the shuddering mass of iron and steel thrust its pilot under
the trucks of Lidgerwood's car, lifted them, dropped them, and drew back
sullenly in obedience to the pull of the reverse and the recoil of the
brake mechanism.

It was an excellent opportunity for eloquence of the explosive sort, and
when the dust had settled the track and trainmen were evidently
expecting the well-deserved tongue-lashing. But in crises like this the
new superintendent was at his self-contained best. Instead of swearing
at the men, he gave his orders quietly and with the brisk certainty of
one who knows his trade. The passenger-train was to keep ten minutes
behind its own time until the next siding was passed, making up beyond
that point if its running orders permitted. The special was to proceed
on 201's time to the siding in question, at which point it would
side-track and let the passenger precede it.

Bradford was in the cab of 266 when Williams eased his engine and the
service-car over the unsafe culvert, and inched the throttle open for
the speeding race down the hill curves toward the wide valley plain of
the Red Desert.

"Turn it loose, Andy," said the big engineman, when the requisite number
of miles of silence had been ticked off by the space-devouring wheels.
"What-all do you think of Mister Collars-and-Cuffs by this time?"

Bradford took a leisurely minute to whittle a chewing cube from his
pocket plug of hard-times tobacco.

"Well, first dash out o' the box, I allowed he was some locoed; he
jumped me like a jack-rabbit for takin' a clearance right under Jim
Carter's nose that-a-way. Then we got down to business, and I was just
beginning to get onto his gait a little when the green flag butted in."

"Gait fits the laundry part of him?" suggested Williams.

"It does and it don't. I ain't much on systems and sure things, Bat, but
I can make out to guess a guess, once in a while, when I have to. If
that little tailor-made man don't get his finger mashed, or something,
and have to go home and get somebody to poultice it, things are goin' to
have a spell of happenings on this little old cow-trail of a railroad.
That's my ante."

"What sort of things?" demanded Williams.

"When it comes to that, your guess is as good as mine, but they'll
spell trouble for the amatoors and the trouble-makers, I reckon. I ain't
placin' any bets yet, but that's about the way it stacks up to me."

Williams let the 266 out another notch, hung out of his window to look
back at the smoking hot box, and, in the complete fulness of time, said,
"Think he's got the sand, Andy?"

"This time you've got me goin'," was the slow reply. "Sizing him up one
side and down the other when he called me back to pull my ear, I said,
'No, my young bronco-buster; you're a bluffer--the kind that'll put up
both hands right quick when the bluff is called.' Afterward, I wasn't so
blamed sure. One kind o' sand he's got, to a dead moral certainty. When
he saw what was due to happen back yonder at the culvert, he told me
'23,' all right, but he took time to hike up ahead and yank that Jap
cook out o' the car-kitchen before he turned his own little handspring
into the ditch."

The big engineer nodded, but he was still unconvinced when he made the
stop for the siding at Last Chance. After the fireman had dropped off to
set the switch for the following train, Williams put the unconvincement
into words.

"That kind of sand is all right in God's country, Andy, but out here in
the nearer edges of hell you got to know how to fight with pitchforks
and such other tools as come handy. The new boss may be that kind of a
scrapper, but he sure don't look it. You know as well as I do that men
like Rufford and 'Cat' Biggs and Red-Light Sammy'll eat him alive, just
for the fun of it, if he can't make out to throw lead quicker'n they
can. And that ain't saying anything about the hobo outfit he'll have to
go up against on this make-b'lieve railroad."

"No," agreed Bradford, ruminating thoughtfully. And then, by way of
rounding out the subject: "Here's hopin' his nerve is as good as his
clothes. I don't love a Mongolian any better'n you do, Bat, but the way
he hustled to save that little brown man's skin sort o' got next to me;
it sure did. Says I, 'A man that'll do that won't go round hunting a
chance to kick a fice-dog just because the fice don't happen to be a
blooded bull-terrier.'"

Williams, brawny and broad-chested, leaned against his box, his bare
arms folded and his short pipe at the disputatious angle.

"He'd better have nerve, or get some," he commented. "T'otherways it's
him for an early wooden overcoat and a trip back home in the
express-car. After which, let me tell you, Andy, that man Ford'll sift
this cussed country through a flour-shaker but what he'll cinch the
outfit that does it. You write that out in your car-report."

Back in the service-car Lidgerwood was sitting quietly in the doorway,
smoking his delayed after-breakfast cigar, and timing the up-coming
passenger-train, watch in hand. Carter was ten minutes, to the exact
second, behind his schedule time when the train thundered past on the
main track, and Lidgerwood pocketed his watch with a smile of
satisfaction. It was the first small victory in the campaign for reform.

Later, however, when the special was once more in motion westward, the
desert laid hold upon him with the grip which first benumbs, then breeds
dull rage, and finally makes men mad. Mile after mile the glistening
rails sped backward into a shimmering haze of red dust. The glow of the
breathless forenoon was like the blinding brightness of a forge-fire. To
right and left the great treeless plain rose to bare buttes, backed by
still barer mountains. Let the train speed as it would, there was always
the same wearying prospect, devoid of interest, empty of human
landmarks. Only the blazing sun swung from side to side with the slow
veerings of the track: what answered for a horizon seemed never to
change, never to move.

At long intervals a siding, sometimes with its waiting train, but
oftener empty and deserted, slid into view and out again. Still less
frequently a telegraph station, with its red, iron-roofed office, its
water-tank cars and pumping machinery, and its high-fenced corral and
loading chute, moved up out of the distorting heat haze ahead, and was
lost in the dusty mirages to the rear. But apart from the crews of the
waiting trains, and now and then the desert-sobered face of some
telegraph operator staring from his window at the passing special, there
were no signs of life: no cattle upon the distant hills, no loungers on
the station platforms.

Lidgerwood had crossed this arid, lifeless plain twice within the week
on his preliminary tour of inspection, but both times he had been in the
Pullman, with fellow-passengers to fill the nearer field of vision and
to temper the awful loneliness of the waste. Now, however, the desert
with its heat, its stillness, its vacancy, its pitiless barrenness,
claimed him as its own. He wondered that he had been impatient with the
men it bred. The wonder now was that human virtue of any temper could
long withstand the blasting touch of so great and awful a desolation.

It was past noon when the bowl-like basin, in which the train seemed to
circle helplessly without gaining upon the terrifying horizons, began to
lose its harshest features. Little by little, the tumbled hills drew
nearer, and the red-sand dust of the road-bed gave place to broken lava.
Patches of gray, sun-dried mountain grass appeared on the passing hill
slopes, and in the arroyos trickling threads of water glistened, or, if
the water were hidden, there were at least paths of damp sand to hint at
the blessed moisture underneath.

Lidgerwood began to breathe again; and when the shrill whistle of the
locomotive signalled the approach to the division head-quarters, he was
thankful that the builders of Angels had pitched their tents and driven
their stakes in the desert's edge, rather than in its heart.

Truly, Angels was not much to be thankful for, as the exile from the
East regretfully admitted when he looked out upon it from the windows of
his office in the second story of the Crow's Nest. A many-tracked
railroad yard, flanked on one side by the repair shops, roundhouse, and
coal-chutes; and on the other by a straggling town of bare and
commonplace exteriors, unpainted, unfenced, treeless, and wind-swept:
Angels stood baldly for what it was--a mere stopping-place in transit
for the Red Butte Western.

The new superintendent turned his back upon the depressing outlook and
laid his hand upon the latch of the door opening into the adjoining
room. There was a thing to be said about the reckless bunching of trains
out of reach of the wires, and it might as well be said now as later, he
determined. But at the moment of door-opening he was made to realize
that a tall, box-like contrivance in one corner of the office was a
desk, and that it was inhabited.

The man who rose up to greet him was bearded, heavy-shouldered, and
hollow-eyed, and he was past middle age. Green cardboard cones
protecting his shirt-sleeves, and a shade of the same material visoring
the sunken eyes, were the only clerkly suggestions about him. Since he
merely stood up and ran his fingers through his thick black hair, with
no more than an abstracted "Good-afternoon" for speech, Lidgerwood was
left to guess at his identity.

"You are Mr. Hallock?" Lidgerwood made the guess without offering to
shake hands, the high, box-like desk forbidding the attempt.

"Yes." The answer was neither antagonistic nor placatory; it was merely
colorless.

"My name is Lidgerwood. You have heard of my appointment?"

Again the colorless "Yes."

Lidgerwood saw no good end to be subserved by postponing the inevitable.

"Mr. Ford spoke to me about you last night. He told me that you had been
Mr. Cumberley's chief clerk, and that since Cumberley's resignation you
have been acting superintendent of the Red Butte Western. Do you want to
stay on as my lieutenant?"

For the long minute that Hallock took before replying, the loose-lipped
mouth under the shaggy mustache seemed to have lost the power of speech.
But when the words finally came, they were shorn of all euphemism.

"I suppose I ought to tell you to go straight to hell, Mr. Lidgerwood,
put on my coat and walk out," said this most singular of all railway
subordinates. "By all the rules of the game, this job belongs to me.
What I've gone through to earn it, you nor any other man will ever know.
If I stay, I'll wish I hadn't; and so will you. You'd better give me a
time-check and let me go."

Lidgerwood walked to the window and once more stared out upon the dreary
prospect, bounded by the bluffs of the second mesa. A horseman was
ambling down the single street of the town, weaving in his saddle, and
giving vent to a series of Indian war-whoops. Lidgerwood saw the drunken
cowboy only with the outward eye. And when he turned back to the man in
the rifle-pit desk, he could not have told why the words of regret and
dismissal which he had made up his mind to say, refused to come. But
they did refuse, and what he said was not at all what he had intended to
say.

"If I can't quite match your frankness, Mr. Hallock, it is because my
early education was neglected. But I'll say this: I appreciate your
disappointment; I know what it means to a man situated as you are.
Notwithstanding, I want you to stay with me. I'll say more; I shall take
it as a personal favor if you will stay."

"You'll be sorry for it if I do," was the ungracious rejoinder.

"Not because you will do anything to make me sorry, I am sure," said the
new superintendent, in his evenest tone. And then, as if the matter were
definitely settled: "I'd like to have a word with the trainmaster, Mr.
McCloskey. May I trouble you to tell me which is his office?"

Hallock waved a hand toward the door which Lidgerwood had been about to
open a few minutes earlier.

"You'll find him in there," he said briefly, adding, with his
altogether remarkable disregard for the official proprieties: "If he
gives you the same chance that I did, don't take him up. He is the one
man in this outfit worth more than the powder it would take to blow him
to the devil."





Next: At The Rio Gloria

Previous: The Red Desert



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