From: Red Butte Western
The windows of the division head-quarters of the Pacific Southwestern at
Copah look northward over bald, brown mesas, and across the Pannikin to
the eroded cliffs of the Uintah Hills. The prospect, lacking vegetation,
artistic atmosphere, and color, is crude and rather harshly aggressive;
and to Lidgerwood, glooming thoughtfully out upon it through the
weather-worn panes scratched and bedimmed by many desert sandstorms, it
was peculiarly depressing.
"No, Ford; I hate to disappoint you, but I'm not the man you are looking
for," he said, turning back to things present and in suspense, and
speaking as one who would add a reason to unqualified refusal. "I've
been looking over the ground while you were coming on from New York. It
isn't in me to flog the Red Butte Western into a well-behaved division
of the P. S-W."
The grave-eyed man who had borrowed Superintendent Leckhard's
pivot-chair nodded intelligence.
"That is what you have been saying, with variations, for the last
"Because the job asks for gifts that I don't possess. At the present
moment the Red Butte Western is the most hopelessly demoralized three
hundred miles of railroad west of the Rockies. There is no system, no
discipline, no respect for authority. The men run the road as if it were
a huge joke. Add to these conditions the fact that the Red Desert is a
country where the large-calibred revolver is----"
"Yes, I know all that," interrupted the man in the chair. "The road and
the region need civilizing--need it badly. That is one of the reasons
why I am trying to persuade you to take hold. You are long on
"Not on the kind which has to be inculcated by main strength and a
cheerful disregard for consequences. I'm no scrapper."
To the eye of appraisal, Lidgerwood's personal appearance bore out the
peaceable assertion to the final well-groomed detail. Compactly built
and neatly, brawn and bulk were conspicuously lacking; and the thin,
intellectual face was made to appear still thinner by the pointed cut of
the closely trimmed brown beard. The eyes were alert and not wanting in
steadfastness; but they had a trick of seeming to look beyond, rather
than directly at, the visual object. A physiognomist would have
classified him as a man of studious habit with the leisure to indulge
it, and unconsciously he dressed the part.
In his outspoken moments, which were rare, he was given to railing
against the fate which had made him a round peg in a square hole; a
technical engineer and a man of action, when his earlier tastes and
inclinations had drawn him in other directions. But the temperamental
qualities; the niceties, the exactness, the thoroughness, which, finding
no outlet in an artistic calling, had made him a master in his unchosen
profession, were well known to Mr. Stuart Ford, first vice-president of
the Pacific Southwestern System. And, it was largely for the sake of
these qualities that Ford locked his hands over one knee and spoke as a
man and a comrade.
"Let me tell you, Howard--you've no idea what a savage fight we've had
in New York, absorbing these same demoralized three hundred miles. You
know why we were obliged to have them. If the Transcontinental had
beaten us, it meant that our competitor would build over here from
Jack's Canyon, divide the Copah business with us, and have a line three
hundred miles nearer to the Nevada gold-fields than ours."
"I understand," said Lidgerwood; and the vice-president went on.
"Since the failure of the Red Butte 'pocket' mines, the road and the
country it traverses have been practically given over to the cowmen, the
gulch miners, the rustlers, and the drift from the big camps elsewhere.
In New York and on the Street, Red Butte Western was regarded as an
exploded cartridge--a kite without a tail. It was only a few weeks ago
that it dawned upon our executive committee that this particular kite
without a tail offered us a ready-made jump of three hundred miles
toward Tonopah and Goldfield. We began buying quietly for the control
with the stock at nineteen. Naturally the Transcontinental people caught
on, and in twenty-four hours we were at it, hammer and tongs."
Lidgerwood nodded. "I kept up with it in the newspapers," he cut in.
"The newspapers didn't print the whole story; not by many chapters," was
the qualifying rejoinder. "When the stock had gone to par and beyond,
our own crowd went back on us; and after it had passed the two-hundred
mark, Adair and I were fighting it practically alone. Even President
Brewster lost his nerve. He wanted to make a hedging compromise with the
Transcontinental brokers just before we swung over the summit with the
final five hundred shares we needed."
Again Lidgerwood made the sign of assent.
"Mr. Brewster is a level-headed Westerner. He doubtless knew, to the
dotting of an 'i,' the particular brand of trouble you two expansionists
were so eager to acquire."
"He did. He has a copper property somewhere in the vicinity of Angels,
and he knows the road. He contended that we were buying two streaks of
rust and a right-of-way in the Red Desert. More than that, he asserted
that the executive officer didn't live who could bring order out of the
chaos into which bad management and a peculiarly tough environment had
plunged the Red Butte Western. That's where I had him bested, Howard.
All through the hot fight I kept saying over and over to myself that I
knew the man."
"But you don't know him, Stuart; that is the weak link in the chain."
Lidgerwood turned away to the scratched window-panes and the crude
prospect, blurred now by the gathering shadows of the early evening. In
the yards below, a long freight-train was pulling in from the west, with
a switching-engine chasing it to begin the cutting out of the Copah
locals. Over in the Red Butte yard a road-locomotive, turning on the
table, swept a wide arc with the beam of its electric headlight in the
graying dusk. Through the half-opened door in the despatcher's room came
the diminished chattering of the telegraph instruments; this, with the
outer clamor of trains and engines, made the silence in the private
office more insistent.
When Lidgerwood faced about again after the interval of abstraction
there were fine lines of harassment between his eyes, and his words came
as if speech were costing him a conscious effort.
"If it were merely a matter of technical fitness, I suppose I might go
over to Angels and do what you want done with the three hundred miles of
demoralization. But the Red Butte proposition asks for more; for
something that I can't give it. Stuart, there is a yellow streak in me
that you seem never to have discovered. I am a coward."
The ghost of an incredulous smile wrinkled about the tired eyes of the
big man in the pivot-chair.
"You put it with your usual exactitude," he assented slowly; "I hadn't
discovered it." Then: "You forget that I have known you pretty much all
your life, Howard."
"You haven't known me at all," was the sober reply.
"Oh, yes, I have! Let me recall one of the boyhood pictures that has
never faded. It was just after school, one hot day, in the Illinois
September. Our crowd had gone down to the pond back of the school-house,
and two of us were paddling around on a raft made of sawmill slabs. One
of the two--who always had more dare-deviltry than sense under his skull
thatch--was silly enough to 'rock the boat,' and it went to pieces. You
couldn't swim, Howard, but if you hadn't forgotten that trifling
handicap and wallowed in to pull poor Billy Mimms ashore, I should have
been a murderer."
Lidgerwood shook his head.
"You think you have made your case, but you haven't. What you say is
true enough; I wasn't afraid of drowning--didn't think much about it,
either way, I guess. But what I say is true, also. There are many kinds
of courage, and quite as many kinds of cowardice. I am a coward of men."
"Oh, no, you're not: you only think you are," protested the one who
thought he knew. But Lidgerwood would not let that stand.
"I know I am. Hear me through, and then judge for yourself. What I am
going to tell you I have never told to any living man; but it is your
right to hear it.... I have had the symptoms all my life, Stuart. You
have spoken of the schoolboy days: you may remember how you used to
fight my battles for me. You thought I took the bullying of the bigger
boys because I wasn't strong enough physically to hold up my end. That
wasn't it: it was fear, pure and simple. Are you listening?"
The man in the chair nodded and said, "Go on." He was of those to whom
fear, the fear of what other men might do to him, was as yet a thing
unlearned, and he was trying to attain the point of view of one to whom
it seemed very real.
"It followed me up to manhood, and after a time I found myself
constantly and consciously deferring to it. It was easy enough after the
habit was formed. Twentieth-century civilization is decently peaceable,
and it isn't especially difficult to dodge the personal collisions. I
have succeeded in dodging them, for the greater part, paying the price
in humiliation and self-abasement as I went along. God, Stuart, you
don't know what that means!--the degradation; the hot and cold chills of
self-loathing; the sickening misery of having your own soul turn upon
you to rend and tear you like a rabid dog!"
"No, I don't know what it means," said the other man, moved more than he
cared to admit by the abject confession.
"Of course you don't. Nobody else can know. I am alone in my pit of
wretchedness, Ford ... as one born out of time; apprehending, as well as
you or any one, what is required of a man and a gentleman, and yet
unable to answer when my name is called. I said I had been paying the
price; I am paying it here and now. This is the fourth time I have had
to refuse a good offer that carried with it the fighting chance."
The vice-president's heavy eyebrows slanted in questioning surprise.
"You knew in advance that you were going to turn me down? Yet you came a
thousand miles to meet me here; and you admit that you have gone the
length of looking the ground over."
Lidgerwood's smile was mirthless.
"A regular recurring phase of the disease. It manifests itself in a
determination to break away and do or die in the effort to win a little
self-respect. I can't take the plunge. I know beforehand that I can't
... which brings us down to Copah, the present exigency, and the fact
that you'll have to look farther along for your Red Butte Western
man-queller. The blood isn't in my veins, Stuart. It was left out in the
The vice-president was still a young man and he was confronting a
problem that annoyed him. He had been calling himself, and not without
reason, a fair judge of men. Yet here was a man whom he had known
intimately from boyhood, who was but just now revealing a totally
"You say you have been dodging the collisions. How do you know you
wouldn't buck up when the real pinch comes?" he demanded.
"Because the pinch came once--and I didn't buck up. It was over a year
ago, and to this good day I can't think calmly about it. You will
understand when I say that it cost me the love of the one woman in the
The vice-president did understand. Being a married lover himself, he
could measure the depth of the abyss into which Lidgerwood was looking.
His voice was as sympathetic as a woman's when he said: "Go ahead and
ease your mind; tell me about it, if you can, Howard. It's barely
possible that you are not the best judge of your own act."
There was something approaching the abandonment of the shameless in
Lidgerwood's manner when he went on.
"It was in the Montana mountains. I was going in to do a bit of expert
engineering for her father. Incidentally, I was escorting her and her
mother from the railroad terminus to the summer camp in the hills, where
they were to join a coaching party of their friends for the Yellowstone
tour. We had to drive forty miles in a stage, and there were six of
us--the two women and four men. On the way the talk turned upon
stage-robbings and hold-ups. With the chance of the real thing as remote
as a visit from Mars, I could be an ass and a braggart. One of the men,
a salesman for a powder company, gave me the rope wherewith to hang
myself. He argued for non-resistance, and I remember that I grew
sarcastic over the spectacle afforded by a grown man, armed and in
possession of his five senses, permitting himself to be robbed without
attempting to resist. You can guess what followed?"
"I'd rather hear you tell it," said the listener at Superintendent
Leckhard's desk. "Go on."
Lidgerwood waited until the switching-engine, with its pop-valve open
and screaming like a liberated devil of the noise pit, had passed.
"Three miles beyond the supper station we had our hold-up; the
cut-and-dried, melodramatic sort of thing you read about, or used to
read about, in the early days, with a couple of Winchesters poking
through the scrub pines to represent the gang in hiding, and one lone,
crippled desperado to come down to the footlights in the speaking part.
You get the picture?"
"Yes; I've seen the original."
"Of course, it struck every soul of us with the shock of the
incredible--the totally unexpected. It was a rank anachronism,
twenty-five years out of date in that particular locality. Before
anybody realized what was happening, the cripple had us lined up in a
row beside the stage, and I was reaching for the stars quite as
anxiously as the little Jew hat salesman, who was swearing by all the
patriarchs that the twenty-dollar bill in his right-hand pocket was his
"Naturally," Ford commented. "You needn't rawhide yourself for that.
You've been West often enough and long enough at a time to know the
rules of the game--not to be frivolous when the other fellow has the
drop on you."
"Wait," said Lidgerwood. "One minute later the cripple had sized us up
for what we were. The other three men were not armed. I was, and Miss
El--the young woman knew it. Also the cripple knew it. He tapped the
gun bulging in my pocket and said, in good-natured contempt, 'Watch out
that thing don't go off and hurt you some time when you ain't lookin',
stranger.' Ford, I think I must have been hypnotized. I stood there like
a frozen image, and let that crippled cow-rustler rob those two
women--take the rings from their fingers!"
"Oh, hold on; there's another side to all that, and you know it," the
vice-president began; but Lidgerwood would not listen.
"No," he protested; "don't try to find excuses for me; there were none.
The fellow gave me every chance; turned his back on me as an absolutely
negligible factor while he was going through the others. I'm quick
enough when the crisis doesn't involve a fighting man's chance; and I
can handle a gun, too, when the thing to be shot at isn't a human being.
But to save my soul from everlasting torments I couldn't go through the
simple motions of pulling the pistol from my pocket and dropping that
fellow in his tracks; couldn't and didn't."
"Why, of course you couldn't, after it had got that far along," asserted
Ford. "I doubt if any one could. That little remark about the gun in
your pocket did you up. When a man gets you pacified to the condition
in which he can safely josh you, he has got you going and he knows
it--and knows you know it. You may be twice as hot and bloodthirsty as
you were before, but you are just that much less able to strike back.
It's not a theory; it is a psychological demonstration."
"But the fact remained," said Lidgerwood, sparing himself not at all. "I
was weighed and found wanting; that is the only point worth
"Well?" queried Ford, when the self-condemned culprit turned again to
the dusk-darkened window, "what came of it?"
"That which was due to come. I was told many times and in many different
ways what the one woman thought of me. For the few days during which she
and her mother waited at her father's mine for the coming of the
Yellowstone party, she used me for a door-mat, as I deserved. That was a
year ago last spring. I haven't seen her since; haven't tried to."
The vice-president reached up and snapped the key of the electric bulb
over the desk, and the lurking shadows in the corners of the room fled
"Sit down," he said shortly; and when Lidgerwood had found a chair:
"You treat it as an incident closed, Howard. Do you mean to go on
leaving it up in the air like that?"
"It was left in the air a year ago last spring. I can't pull it down
"Yes, you can. You haven't exaggerated the conditions on the Red Butte
line an atom. As you say, the operating force is as godless a lot of
outlaws as ever ran trains or ditched them. They all know that the road
has been bought and sold, and that pretty sweeping changes are
impending. They are looking for trouble, and are quite ready to help
make it. If you could discharge them in a body, you couldn't replace
them--the Red Desert having nothing to offer as a dwelling-place for
civilized men; and this they know, too. Howard, I'm telling you right
now that it will require a higher brand of courage to go over to Angels
and manhandle the Red Butte Western as a division of the P. S-W. than it
would to face a dozen highwaymen, if every individual one of the dozen
had the drop on you!"
Lidgerwood left his chair and began to pace the narrow limits of the
private office, five steps and a turn. The noisy switching-engine had
gone clattering and shrieking down the yard again before he said, "You
mean that you are still giving me the chance to make good over yonder
in the Red Desert--after what I have told you?"
"I do; only I'll make it more binding. It was optional with you before;
it's a sheer necessity now. You've got to go."
Again Lidgerwood took time to reflect, tramping the floor, with his head
down and his hands in the pockets of the correct coat. In the end he
yielded, as the vice-president's subjects commonly did.
"I'll go, if you still insist upon it," was the slowly spoken decision.
"There will doubtless be plenty of trouble, and I shall probably show
the yellow streak--for the last time, perhaps. It's the kind of an
outfit to kill a coward for the pure pleasure of it, if I'm not
"Well," said the man in the swing-chair, calmly, "maybe you need a
little killing, Howard. Had you ever thought of that?"
A gray look came into Lidgerwood's face.
"Maybe I do."
A little silence supervened. Then Ford plunged into detail.
"Now that you are fairly committed, sit down and let me give you an idea
of what you'll find at Angels in the way of a head-quarters outfit. Draw
up here and we'll go over the lay-out together."
A busy hour had elapsed, and the gong of the station dining-room below
was adding its raucous clamor to the drumming thunder of the incoming
train from Green Butte, when the vice-president concluded his outline
sketch of the Red Butte Western conditions.
"Of course, you know that you will have a free hand. We have already
cleared the decks for you. As an independent road, the Red Butte line
had the usual executive organization in miniature: Cumberley had the
title of general superintendent, but his authority, when he cared to
assert it, was really that of general manager. Under him, in the
head-quarters staff at Angels, there was an auditor--who also acted as
paymaster, a general freight and passenger agent, and a superintendent
of motive power. Operating the line as a branch of the P. S-W System, we
can simplify the organization. We have consolidated the auditing and
traffic departments with our Colorado-lines head-quarters at Denver. This
will leave you with only the operating, telegraph, train-service, and
engineering departments to handle from Angels. With one exception, your
authority will be absolute; you will hire and discharge as you see fit,
and there will be no appeal from your decision."
"That applies to my own departments--the operating, telegraph,
train-service, and engineering; but how about the motive power?" asked
the new incumbent.
Ford threw down the desk-knife, with which he had been sharpening a
pencil, with a little gesture indicative of displeasure.
"There lies the exception, and I wish it didn't. Gridley, the
master-mechanic, will be nominally under your orders, of course; but if
it should come to blows between you, you couldn't fire him. In the
regular routine he will report to the Colorado-lines superintendent of
motive power at Denver. But in a quarrel with you he could make a still
longer arm and reach the P. S-W. board of directors in New York."
"How is that?" inquired Lidgerwood.
"It's a family affair. He is a widower, and his wife was a sister of the
Van Kensingtons. He got his job through the family influence, and he'll
hold it in the same way. But you are not likely to have any trouble with
him. He is a brute in his own peculiar fashion; but when it comes to
handling shopmen and keeping the engines in service, he can't be beat."
"That is all I shall ask of him," said the new superintendent. "Anything
else?" looking at his watch.
"Yes, there is one other thing. I spoke of Hallock, the man you will
find holding down the head-quarters office at Angels. He was Cumberley's
chief clerk, and long before Cumberley resigned he was the real
superintendent of the Red Butte Western in everything but the title, and
the place on the pay-roll. Naturally he thought he ought to be
considered when we climbed into the saddle, and he has already written
to President Brewster, asking for the promotion in fact. He happens to
be a New Yorker--like Gridley; and, again like Gridley, he has a friend
at court. Magnus knows him, and he recommended him for the
superintendency when Mr. Brewster referred the application to me. I
couldn't agree, and I had to turn him down. I am telling you this so
you'll be easy with him--as easy as you can. I don't know him
personally, but if you can keep him on----"
"I shall be only too glad to keep him, if he knows his business and will
stay," was Lidgerwood's reply. Then, with another glance at his watch,
"Shall we go up-town and get dinner? Afterward you can give me your
notion in the large about the future extension of the road across the
second Timanyoni, and I'll order out the service-car and an engine and
go to my place. A man can die but once; and maybe I shall contrive to
live long enough to set a few stakes for some better fellow to drive.
* * * * *
At ten o'clock that night Engine 266, Williams, engineer, and Blackmar,
fireman, was chalked up on the Red Butte Western roundhouse
bulletin-board to go west at midnight with the new superintendent's
service-car, running as a special train.
Svenson, the caller, who brought the order from the Copah
sub-despatcher's office, unloaded his news upon the circle of R.B.W.
engineers, firemen, and roundhouse roustabouts lounging on the benches
in the tool-room and speculating morosely upon the probable changes
which the new management would bring to pass.
"Ve bane got dem new boss, Ay vant to tal you fallers," he drawled.
"Who is he?" demanded Williams, who had been looking on sourly while the
engine-despatcher chalked his name on the board for the night run with
"Ay couldn't tal you his name. Bote he is dem young faller bane goin'
'round hare dees two, t'ree days, lukin' lak preacher out of a yob.
Vouldn'd dat yar you?"
Williams rose up to his full height of six-feet-two, and flung his
hands upward in a gesture that was more expressive than many oaths.
"Collars-and-Cuffs, by God!" he said.
Next: The Red Desert
Previous: The Race For Number One