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At The Rio Gloria








From: Red Butte Western

The matter to be taken up with McCloskey, master of trains and chief of
the telegraph department, was not altogether disciplinary. In the
summarizing conference at Copah, Vice-President Ford had spoken
favorably of the trainmaster, recommending him to mercy in the event of
a general beheading in the Angels head-quarters. "A lame duck, like most
of the desert exiles, and the homeliest man west of the Missouri River,"
was Ford's characterization. "He is as stubborn as a mule, but he is
honest and outspoken. If you can win him over to your side, you will
have at least one lieutenant whom you can trust--and who will, I think,
be duly grateful for small favors. Mac couldn't get a job east of the
Crosswater Hills, I'm afraid."

Lidgerwood had not inquired the reason for the eastern disability. He
had lived in the West long enough to know that it is an ill thing to pry
too curiously into any man's past. So there should be present
efficiency, no man in the service should be called upon to recite in
ancient history, much less one for whom Ford had spoken a good word.

Like all the other offices in the Crow's Nest, that of the trainmaster
was bare and uninviting. Lidgerwood, passing beyond the door of
communication, found himself in a dingy room, with cobwebs festooning
the ceiling and a pair of unwashed windows looking out upon the open
square called, in the past and gone day of the Angelic promoters, the
"railroad plaza." Two chairs, a cheap desk, and a pine table backed by
the "string-board" working model of the current time-table, did duty as
the furnishings, serving rather to emphasize than to relieve the
dreariness of the place.

McCloskey was at his desk at the moment of door-opening, and Lidgerwood
instantly paid tribute to Vice-President Ford's powers of
characterization. The trainmaster was undeniably homely--and more; his
hard-featured face was a study in grotesques. There was fearless honesty
in the shrewd gray eyes, and a good promise of capability in the strong
Scotch jaw and long upper lip, but the grotesque note was the one which
persisted, and the trainmaster seemed wilfully to accentuate it. His
coat, in a region where shirt-sleeves predominated, was a
close-buttoned gambler's frock, and his hat, in the country of the
sombrero and the soft Stetson, was a derby.

Lidgerwood was striving to estimate the man beneath these outward
eccentricities when McCloskey rose and thrust out a hand, great-jointed
and knobbed like a laborer's.

"You're Mr. Lidgerwood, I take it?" said he, tilting the derby to the
back of his head. "Come to tell me to pack my kit and get out?"

"Not yet, Mr. McCloskey," laughed Lidgerwood, getting his first real
measure of the man in the hearty hand-grip. "On the contrary, I've come
to thank you for not dropping things and running away before the new
management could get on the ground."

The trainmaster's rejoinder was outspokenly blunt. "I've nowhere to run
to, Mr. Lidgerwood, and that's no joke. Some of the backcappers will be
telling you presently that I was a train despatcher over in God's
country, and that I put two trains together. It's your right to know
that it's true."

"Thank you, Mr. McCloskey," said Lidgerwood simply; "that sounds good to
me. And take this for yourself: the man who has done that once won't do
it again. That is one thing, and another is this: we start with a clean
slate on the Red Butte Western. No man in the service who will turn in
and help us make a real railroad out of the R.B.W. need worry about his
past record: it won't be dug up against him."

"That's fair--more than fair," said the trainmaster, mouthing the words
as if the mere effort of speech were painful, "and I wish I could
promise you that the rank and file will meet you half-way. But I can't.
You'll find a plucked pigeon, Mr. Lidgerwood--with plenty of hawks left
to pick the bones. The road has been running itself for the past two
years and more."

"I understand," said Lidgerwood; and then he spoke of the careless
despatching.

"That will be Callahan, the day man," McCloskey broke in wrathfully.
"But that's the way of it. When we get through the twenty-four hours
without killing somebody or smashing something, I thank God, and put a
red mark on that calendar over my desk."

"Well, we won't go back of the returns," declared Lidgerwood, meaning to
be as just as he could to his predecessors in office. "But from now
on----"

The door leading into the room beyond the trainmaster's office opened
squeakily on dry hinges, and a chattering of telegraph instruments
heralded the incoming of a disreputable-looking office-man, with a green
patch over one eye and a blackened cob-pipe between his teeth. Seeing
Lidgerwood, he ducked and turned to McCloskey. Bradley, reporting in,
had given his own paraphrase of the new superintendent's strictures on
Red Butte Western despatching and the criticism had lost nothing in the
recasting.

"Seventy-one's in the ditch at Gloria Siding," he said, speaking
pointedly to the trainmaster. "Goodloe reports it from Little Butte;
says both enginemen are in the mix-up, but he doesn't know whether they
are killed or not."

"There you are!" snarled McCloskey, wheeling upon Lidgerwood. "They
couldn't let you get your chair warmed the first day!"

With the long run from Copah to Angels to his credit, and with all the
head-quarters loose ends still to be gathered up, Lidgerwood might
blamelessly have turned over the trouble call to his trainmaster. But a
wreck was as good a starting-point as any, and he took command at once.

"Go and clear for the wrecking-train, and have some one in your office
notify the shops and the yard," he said briskly, compelling the
attention of the one-eyed despatcher; and when Callahan was gone: "Now,
Mac, get out your map and post me. I'm a little lame on geography yet.
Where is Gloria Siding?"

McCloskey found a blue-print map of the line and traced the course of
the western division among the foot-hills to the base of the Great
Timanyonis, and through the Timanyoni Canyon to a park-like valley, shut
in by the great range on the east and north, and by the Little
Timanyonis and the Hophras on the west and south. At a point midway of
the valley his stubby forefinger rested.

"That's Gloria," he said, "and here's Little Butte, twelve miles
beyond."

"Good ground?" queried Lidgerwood.

"As pretty a stretch as there is anywhere west of the desert; reminds
you of a Missouri bottom, with the river on one side and the hills a
mile away on the other. I don't know what excuse those hoboes could find
for piling a train in the ditch there."

"We'll hear the excuse later," said Lidgerwood. "Now, tell me what sort
of a wrecking-plant we have?"

"The best in the bunch," asserted the trainmaster. "Gridley's is the one
department that has been kept up to date and in good fighting trim. We
have one wrecking-crane that will pick up any of the big
freight-pullers, and a lighter one that isn't half bad."

"Who is your wrecking-boss?"

"Gridley--when he feels like going out. He can clear a main line quicker
than any man we've ever had."

"He will go with us to-day?"

"I suppose so. He is in town and he's--sober."

The new superintendent caught at the hesitant word.

"Drinks, does he?"

"Not much while he is on the job. But he disappears periodically and
comes back looking something the worse for wear. They tell tough stories
about him over in Copah."

Lidgerwood dropped the master-mechanic as he had dropped the offending
trainmen who had put Train 71 in the ditch at Gloria where, according to
McCloskey, there should be no ditch.

"I'll go and run through my desk mail and fill Hallock up while you are
making ready," he said. "Call me when the train is made up."

Passing through the corridor on the way to his private office back of
Hallock's room, Lidgerwood saw that the wreck call had already reached
the shops. A big, bearded man with a soft hat pulled over his eyes was
directing the make-up of a train on the repair track, and the yard
engine was pulling an enormous crane down from its spur beyond the
coal-chutes. Around the man in the soft hat the wrecking-crew was
gathering: shopmen for the greater part, as a crew of a master
mechanic's choosing would be.

As the event proved, there was little time for the doing of the
preliminary work which Lidgerwood had meant to do. In the midst of the
letter-sorting, McCloskey put his head in at the door of the private
office.

"We're ready when you are, Mr. Lidgerwood," he interrupted; and with a
few hurried directions to Hallock, Lidgerwood joined the trainmaster on
the Crow's Nest platform. The train was backing up to get its
clear-track orders, and on the tool-car platform stood the big man whom
Lidgerwood had already identified presumptively as Gridley.

McCloskey would have introduced the new superintendent when the train
paused for the signal from the despatcher's window, but Gridley did not
wait for the formalities.

"Come aboard, Mr. Lidgerwood," he called, genially. "It's too bad we
have to give you a sweat-box welcome. If there are any of Seventy-one's
crew left alive, you ought to give them thirty days for calling you out
before you could shake hands with yourself."

Being by nature deliberate in forming friendships, and proportionally
tenacious of them when they were formed, Lidgerwood's impulse was to
hold all men at arm's length until he was reasonably assured of
sincerity and a common ground. But the genial master-mechanic refused to
be put on probation. Lidgerwood made the effort while the rescue train
was whipping around the hill shoulders and plunging deeper into the
afternoon shadows of the great mountain range. The tool-car was
comfortably filled with men and working tackle, and for seats there were
only the blocking timbers, the tool-boxes, and the coils of rope and
chain cables. Sharing a tool-box with Gridley and smoking a cigar out of
Gridley's pocket-case, Lidgerwood found it difficult to be less than
friendly.

It was to little purpose that he recalled Ford's qualified
recommendation of the man who had New York backing and who, in Ford's
phrase, was a "brute after his own peculiar fashion." Brute or human,
the big master-mechanic had the manners of a gentleman, and his easy
good-nature broke down all the barriers of reserve that his somewhat
reticent companion could interpose.

"You smoke good cigars, Mr. Gridley," said Lidgerwood, trying, as he
had tried before, to wrench the talk aside from the personal channel
into which it seemed naturally to drift.

"Good tobacco is one of the few luxuries the desert leaves a man capable
of enjoying. You haven't come to that yet, but you will. It is a savage
life, Mr. Lidgerwood, and if a man hasn't a good bit of the blood of his
stone-age ancestors in him, the desert will either kill him or make a
beast of him. There doesn't seem to be any medium."

The talk was back again in the personal channel, and this time
Lidgerwood met the issue fairly.

"You have been saying that, in one form or another, ever since we left
Angels: are you trying to scare me off, Mr. Gridley, or are you only
giving me a friendly warning?" he asked.

The master-mechanic laughed easily.

"I hope I wouldn't be impudent enough to do either, on such short
acquaintance," he protested. "But now that you have opened the door,
perhaps a little man-to-man frankness won't be amiss. You have tackled a
pretty hard proposition, Mr. Lidgerwood."

"Technically, you mean?"

"No, I didn't mean that, because, if your friends tell the truth about
you, you can come as near to making bricks without straw as the next
man. But the Red Butte Western reorganization asks for something more
than a good railroad officer."

"I'm listening," said Lidgerwood.

Gridley laughed again.

"What will you do when a conductor or an engineer whom you have called
on the carpet curses you out and invites you to go to hell?"

"I shall fire him," was the prompt rejoinder.

"Naturally and properly, but afterward? Four out of five men in this
human scrap-heap you've inherited will lay for you with a gun to play
even for the discharge. What then?"

It was just here that Lidgerwood, staring absently at the passing
panorama of shifting hill shoulders framing itself in the open side-door
of the tool-car, missed a point. If he had been less absorbed in the
personal problem he could scarcely have failed to mark the searching
scrutiny in the shrewd eyes shaded by Gridley's soft hat.

"I don't know," he said, half hesitantly. "Civilization means
something--or it should mean something--even in the Red Desert, Mr.
Gridley. I suppose there is some semblance of legal protection in
Angels, as elsewhere, isn't there?"

The master-mechanic's smile was tolerant.

"Surely. We have a town marshal, and a justice of the peace; one is a
blacksmith and the other the keeper of the general store."

The good-natured irony in Gridley's reply was not thrown away upon his
listener, but Lidgerwood held tenaciously to his own contention.

"The inadequacy of the law, or of its machinery, hardly excuses a lapse
into barbarism," he protested. "The discharged employee, in the case you
are supposing, might hold himself justified in shooting at me; but if I
should shoot back and happen to kill him, it would be murder. We've got
to stand for something, Mr. Gridley, you and I who know the difference
between civilization and savagery."

Gridley's strong teeth came together with a little snap.

"Certainly," he agreed, without a shade of hesitation; adding, "I've
never carried a gun and have never had to." Then he changed the subject
abruptly, and when the train had swung around the last of the hills and
was threading its tortuous way through the great canyon, he proposed a
change of base to the rear platform from which Chandler's marvel of
engineering skill could be better seen and appreciated.

The wreck at Gloria Siding proved to be a very mild one, as railway
wrecks go. A broken flange under a box-car had derailed the engine and a
dozen cars, and there were no casualties--the report about the
involvement of the two enginemen being due to the imagination of the
excited flagman who had propelled himself on a hand-car back to Little
Butte to send in the call for help.

Since Gridley was on the ground, Lidgerwood and McCloskey stood aside
and let the master-mechanic organize the attack. Though the problem of
track-clearing, on level ground and with a convenient siding at hand for
the sorting and shifting, was a simple one, there was still a chance for
an exhibition of time-saving and speed, and Gridley gave it. There was
never a false move made or a tentative one, and when the huge
lifting-crane went into action, Lidgerwood grew warmly enthusiastic.

"Gridley certainly knows his business," he said to McCloskey. "The Red
Butte Western doesn't need any better wrecking-boss than it has right
now."

"He can do the job, when he feels like it," admitted the trainmaster
sourly.

"But he doesn't often feel like it? You can't blame him for that.
Picking up wrecks isn't fairly a part of a master-mechanic's duty."

"That is what he says, and he doesn't trouble himself to go when it
isn't convenient. I have a notion he wouldn't be here to-day if you
weren't."

It was plainly evident that McCloskey meant more than he said, but once
again Lidgerwood refused to go behind the returns. He felt that he had
been prejudiced against Gridley at the outset, unduly so, he was
beginning to think, and even-handed fairness to all must be the
watchword in the campaign of reorganization.

"Since we seem to be more ornamental than useful on this job, you might
give me another lesson in Red Butte geography, Mac," he said, purposely
changing the subject. "Where are the gulch mines?"

The trainmaster explained painstakingly, squatting to trace a rude map
in the sand at the track-side. Hereaway, twelve miles to the westward,
lay Little Butte, where the line swept a great curve to the north and so
continued on to Red Butte. Along the northward stretch, and in the
foot-hills of the Little Timanyonis, were the placers, most of them
productive, but none of them rich enough to stimulate a rush.

Here, where the river made a quick turn, was the butte from which the
station of Little Butte took its name--the superintendent might see its
wooded summit rising above the lower hills intervening. It was a long,
narrow ridge, more like a hogback than a true mountain, and it held a
silver mine, Flemister's, which was a moderately heavy shipper. The vein
had been followed completely through the ridge, and the spur track in
the eastern gulch, which had originally served it, had been abandoned
and a new spur built up along the western foot of the butte, with a main
line connection at Little Butte. Up here, ten miles above Little Butte,
was a bauxite mine, with a spur; and here....

McCloskey went on, industriously drawing lines in the sand, and
Lidgerwood sat on a cross-tie end and conned his lesson. Below the
siding the big crane was heaving the derailed cars into line with
methodical precision, but now it was Gridley's shop foreman who was
giving the orders. The master-mechanic had gone aside to hold converse
with a man who had driven up in a buckboard, coming from the direction
in which Little Butte lay.

"Goodloe told me the wreck-wagons were here, and I thought you would
probably be along," the buckboard driver was saying. "How are things
shaping up? I haven't cared to risk the wires since Bigsby leaked on
us."

Gridley put a foot on the hub of the buckboard wheel and began to
whittle a match with a penknife that was as keen as a razor.

"The new chum is in the saddle; look over your shoulder to the left and
you'll see him sitting on a cross-tie beside McCloskey," he said.

"I've seen him before. He was over the road last week, and I happened to
be in Goodloe's office at Little Butte when he got off to look around,"
was the curt rejoinder. "But that doesn't help any. What do you know?"

"He is a gentleman," said Gridley slowly.

"Oh, the devil! what do I care about----"

"And a scholar," the master-mechanic went on imperturbably.

The buckboard driver's black eyes snapped. "Can you add the rest of
it--'and he isn't very bright'?"

"No," was the sober reply.

"Well, what are we up against?"

Gridley snapped the penknife shut and began to chew the sharpened end of
the match.

"Your pop-valve is set too light; you blow off too easily, Flemister,"
he commented. "So far we--or rather you--are up against nothing worse
than the old proposition. Lidgerwood is going to try to make a silk
purse out of a sow's ear, beginning with the pay-roll contingent. If I
have sized him up right, he'll be kept busy; too busy to remember your
name--or mine."

"What do you mean? in just so many words."

"Nothing more than I have said. Mr. Lidgerwood is a gentleman and a
scholar."

"Ha!" said the man in the buckboard seat. "I believe I'm catching on,
after so long a time. You mean he hasn't the sand."

Gridley neither denied nor affirmed. He had taken out his penknife again
and was resharpening the match.

"Hallock is the man to look to," he said. "If we could get him
interested ..."

"That's up to you, damn it; I've told you a hundred times that I can't
touch him!"

"I know; he doesn't seem to love you very much. The last time I talked
to him he mentioned something about shooting you off-hand, but I guess
he didn't mean, it. You've got to interest him in some way, Flemister."

"Perhaps you can tell me how," was the sarcastic retort.

"I think perhaps I can, now. Do you remember anything about the
sky-rocketing finish of the Mesa Building and Loan Association, or is
that too much of a back number for a busy man like you?"

"I remember it," said Flemister.

"Hallock was the treasurer," put in Gridley smoothly.

"Yes, but----"

"Wait a minute. A treasurer is supposed to treasure something, isn't he?
There are possibly twenty-five or thirty men still left in the Red Butte
Western service who have never wholly quit trying to find out why
Hallock, the treasurer, failed so signally to treasure anything."

"Yah! that's an old sore."

"I know, but old sores may become suddenly troublesome--or useful--as
the case may be. For some reason best known to himself, Hallock has
decided to stay and continue playing second fiddle."

"How do you know?"

The genial smile was wrinkling at the corners of Gridley's eyes.

"There isn't very much going on under the sheet-iron roof of the Crow's
Nest that I don't know, Flemister, and usually pretty soon after it
happens. Hallock will stay on as chief clerk, and, naturally, he is
anxious to stand well with his new boss. Are you beginning to see
daylight?"

"Not yet."

"Well, we'll open the shutters a little wider. One of the first things
Lidgerwood will have to wrestle with will be this Loan Association
business. The kickers will put it up to him, as they have put it up to
every new man who has come out here. Ferguson refused to dig into
anybody's old graveyard, and so did Cumberley. But Lidgerwood won't
refuse. He is going to be the just judge, if not the very terrible."

"Still, I don't see," persisted Flemister.

"Don't you? Hallock will be obliged to justify himself to Lidgerwood,
and he can't. In fact, there is only one man living to-day who could
fully justify him."

"And that man is----"

"--Pennington Flemister, ex-president of the defunct Building and Loan.
You know where the money went, Flemister."

"Maybe I do. What of that?"

"I can only offer a suggestion, of course. You are a pretty smooth liar,
Pennington; it wouldn't be much trouble for you to fix up a story that
would satisfy Lidgerwood. You might even show up a few documents, if it
came to the worst."

"Well?"

"That's all. If you get a good, firm grip on that club, you'll have
Hallock, coming and going. It's a dead open and shut. If he falls in
line, you'll agree to pacify Lidgerwood; otherwise the law will have to
take its course."

The man in the buckboard was silent for a long minute before he said:
"It won't work, Gridley. Hallock's grudge against me is too bitter. You
know part of it, and part of it you don't know. He'd hang himself in a
minute if he could get my neck in the same noose."

The master-mechanic threw the whittled match away, as if the argument
were closed.

"That is where you are lame, Flemister: you don't know your man. Put it
up to Hallock barehanded: if he comes in, all right; if not, you'll put
him where he'll wear stripes. That will fetch him."

The men of the derrick gang were righting the last of the derailed
box-cars, and the crew of the wrecking-train was shifting the cripples
into line for the return run to Angels.

"We'll be going in a few minutes," said the master-mechanic, taking his
foot from the wheel-hub. "Do you want to meet Lidgerwood?"

"Not here--or with you," said the owner of the Wire-Silver; and he had
turned his team and was driving away when Gridley's shop foreman came up
to say that the wrecking-train was ready to leave.

Lidgerwood found a seat for himself in the tool-car on the way back to
Angels, and put in the time smoking a short pipe and reviewing the
events of his first day in the new field.

The outlook was not wholly discouraging, and but for the talk with
Gridley he might have smoked and dozed quite peacefully on his coiled
hawser, in the corner of the car. But, try as he would, the importunate
demon of distrust, distrust of himself, awakened by the
master-mechanic's warning, refused to be quieted; and when, after the
three hours of the slow return journey were out-worn, McCloskey came to
tell him that the train was pulling into the Angels yard, the explosion
of a track torpedo under the wheels made him start like a nervous woman.





Next: The Outlaws

Previous: A Little Brother Of The Cows



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