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Nemesis








From: Red Butte Western

On the second day following Flemister's visit to Angels, Lidgerwood was
called again to Red Butte to another conference with the mine-owners. On
his return, early in the afternoon, his special was slowed and stopped
at a point a few miles east of the "Y" spur at Silver Switch, and upon
looking out he saw that Benson's bridge-builders were once more at work
on the wooden trestle spanning the Gloria. Benson himself was in
command, but he turned the placing of the string-timbers over to his
foreman and climbed to the platform of the superintendent's service-car.

"I won't hold you more than a few minutes," he began, but the
superintendent pointed to one of the camp-chairs and sat down, saying:
"There's no hurry. We have time orders against 73 at Timanyoni, and we
would have to wait there, anyhow. What do you know now?--more than you
knew the last time we talked?"

Benson shook his head. "Nothing that would do us any good in a jury
trial," he admitted reluctantly. "We are not going to find out anything
more until you send somebody up to Flemister's mine with a
search-warrant."

Lidgerwood was gazing absently out over the low hills intervening
between his point of view and the wooded summit of Little Butte.

"Whom am I to send, Jack?" he asked. "I have just come from Red Butte,
and I took occasion to make a few inquiries. Flemister is evidently
prepared at all points. From what I learned to-day, I am inclined to
believe that the sheriff of Timanyoni County would probably refuse to
serve a warrant against him, if we could find a magistrate who would
issue one. Nice state of affairs, isn't it?"

"Beautiful," Benson agreed, adding: "But you don't want Flemister half
as bad as you want the man who is working with him. Are you still trying
to believe that it isn't Hallock?"

"I am still trying to be fair and just. McCloskey says that the two used
to be friends--Hallock and Flemister. I don't believe they are now.
Hallock didn't want to go to Flemister about that building-and-loan
business, and I couldn't make out whether he was afraid, or whether it
was just a plain case of dislike."

"It would doubtless be Hallock's policy--and Flemister's, too, for that
matter--to make you believe they are not friends. You'll have to admit
they are together a great deal."

"I'll admit it if you say so, but I didn't know it before. How do you
know it?"

"Hallock is over here every day or two; I have seen him three or four
times since that day when he and Flemister were walking down the new
spur together and turned back at sight of me," said Benson. "Of course,
I don't know what other business Hallock may have over here, but one
thing I do know, he has been across the river, digging into the inner
consciousness of my old prospector. And that isn't all. After he had got
the story of the timber stealing out of the old man, he tried to bribe
him not to tell it to any one else; tried the bribe first and a scare
afterward--told him that something would happen to him if he didn't keep
a still tongue in his head."

Lidgerwood shook his head slowly. "That looks pretty bad. Why should he
want to silence the old man?"

"That's just what I've been asking myself. But right on the heels of
that, another little mystery developed. Hallock asked the old man if he
would be willing to swear in court to the truth of his story. The old
man said he would."

"Well?" said Lidgerwood.

"A night or two later the old prospector's shack burned down, and the
next morning he found a notice pinned to a tree near one of his
sluice-boxes. It was a polite invitation for him to put distance between
him and the Timanyoni district. I suppose you can put two and two
together, as I did."

Again Lidgerwood said: "It looks pretty bad for Hallock. No one but the
thieves themselves could have any possible reason for driving the old
man out of the country. Did he go?"

"Not much; he isn't built that way. That same day he went to work
building him a new shack; and he swears that the next man who gets near
enough to set it afire won't live to get away and brag about it. Two
days afterward Hallock showed up again, and the old fellow ran him off
with a gun."

Just then the bridge-foreman came up to say that the timbers were in
place, and Benson swung off to give Lidgerwood's engineer instructions
to run carefully. As the service-car platform came along, Lidgerwood
leaned over the railing for a final word with Benson. "Keep in touch
with your old man, and tell him to count on us for protection," he said;
and Benson nodded acquiescence as the one-car train crept out upon the
dismantled bridge.

Having an appointment with Leckhard, of the main line, timed for an
early hour the following morning, Lidgerwood gave his conductor
instructions to stop at Angels only long enough to get orders for the
eastern division.

When the division station was reached, McCloskey met the service-car in
accordance with wire instructions sent from Timanyoni, bringing an
armful of mail, which Lidgerwood purposed to work through on the run to
Copah.

"Nothing new, Mac?" he asked, when the trainmaster came aboard.

"Nothing much, only the operators have notified me that there'll be
trouble, pronto, if we don't put Hannegan and Dickson back on the
wires. The grievance committee intimated pretty broadly that they could
swing the trainmen into line if they had to make a fight."

"We put no man back who has been discharged for cause," said the
superintendent firmly. "Did you tell them that?"

"I did. I have been saying that so often that it mighty nearly says
itself now, when I hear my office door open."

"Well, there is nothing to do but to go on saying it. We shall either
make a spoon or spoil a horn. How would you be fixed in the event of a
telegraphers' strike?"

"I've been figuring on that. It may seem like tempting the good Lord to
say it, but I believe we could hold about half of the men."

"That is decidedly encouraging," said the man who needed to find
encouragement where he could. "Two weeks ago, if you had said one in
ten, I should have thought you were overestimating. We shall win out
yet."

But now McCloskey was shaking his head dubiously. "I don't know. Andy
Bradford has been giving me an idea of how the trainmen stand, and he
says there is a good deal of strike talk. Williams adds a word about the
shop force: he says that Gridley's men are not saying anything, but
they'll be likely to go out in a body unless Gridley wakes up at the
last minute and takes a club to them."

Lidgerwood's conductor was coming down the platform of the Crow's Nest
with his orders in his hand, and McCloskey made ready to swing off. "I
can reach you care of Mr. Leckhard, at Copah, I suppose?" he asked.

"Yes. I shall be back some time to-morrow; in the meantime there is
nothing to do but to sit tight in the boat. Use my private code if you
want to wire me. I don't more than half trust that young fellow, Dix,
Callahan's day operator. And, by the way, Mr. Frisbie is sending me a
stenographer from Denver. If the young man turns up while I am away, see
if you can't get Mrs. Williams to board him."

McCloskey promised and dropped off, and the one-car special presently
clanked out over the eastern switches. Lidgerwood went at once to his
desk and promptly became deaf and blind to everything but his work. The
long desert run had been accomplished, and the service-car train was
climbing the Crosswater grades, when Tadasu Matsuwari began to lay the
table for dinner. Lidgerwood glanced at his watch, and ran his finger
down the line of figures on the framed time-table hanging over his desk.

"Humph!" he muttered; "Acheson's making better time with me than he ever
has before. I wonder if Williams has succeeded in talking him over to
our side? He is certainly running like a gentleman to-day, at all
events."

The superintendent sat down to Tadasu's table and took his time to
Tadasu's excellent dinner, indulging himself so far as to smoke a
leisurely cigar with his black coffee before plunging again into the
sea of work. Not to spoil his improving record, Engineer Acheson
continued to make good time, and it was only a little after eleven
o'clock when Lidgerwood, looking up from his work at the final slowing
of the wheels, saw the masthead lights of the Copah yards.

Taking it for granted that Superintendent Leckhard had long since left
his office in the Pacific Southwestern building, Lidgerwood gave orders
to have his car placed on the station-spur, and went on with his work.
Being at the moment deeply immersed in the voluminous papers of a claim
for stock killed, he was quite oblivious of the placement of the car,
and of everything else, until the incoming of the fast main-line mail
from the east warned him that another hour had passed. When the mail was
gone on its way westward, the midnight silence settled down again, with
nothing but the minimized crashings of freight cars in the lower
shifting-yard to disturb it. The little Japanese had long since made up
his bunk in one of the spare state-rooms, the train crew had departed
with the engine, and the last mail-wagon had driven away up-town.
Lidgerwood had closed his desk and was taking a final pull at the short
pipe which was his working companion, when the car door opened silently
and he saw an apparition.

Standing in the doorway and groping with her hands held out before her
as if she were blind, was a woman. Her gown was the tawdry half-dress of
the dance-halls, and the wrap over her bare shoulders was a gaudy
imitation in colors of the Spanish mantilla. Her head was without
covering, and her hair, which was luxuriant, hung in disorder over her
face. One glance at the eyes, fixed and staring, assured Lidgerwood
instantly that he had to do with one who was either drink-maddened or
demented.

"Where is he?" the intruder asked, in a throaty whisper, staring, not at
him, as Lidgerwood was quick to observe, but straight ahead at the
portieres cutting off the state-room corridor from the open compartment.
And then: "I told you I would come, Rankin; I've been watching years and
years for your car to come in. Look--I want you to see what you have
made of me, you and that other man."

Lidgerwood sat perfectly still. It was quite evident that the woman did
not see him. But his thoughts were busy. Though it was by little more
than chance, he knew that Hallock's Christian name was Rankin, and
instantly he recalled all that McCloskey had told him about the chief
clerk's marital troubles. Was this poor painted wreck the woman who
was, or who had been, Hallock's wife? The question had scarcely
formulated itself before she began again.

"Why don't you answer me? Where are you?" she demanded, in the same
husky whisper; "you needn't hide--I know you are here. What have you
done to that man? You said you would kill him; you promised me that,
Rankin: have you done it?"

Lidgerwood reached up cautiously behind him, and slowly turned off the
gas from the bracket desk-lamp. Without wishing to pry deeper than he
should into a thing which had all the ear-marks of a tragedy, he could
not help feeling that he was on the verge of discoveries which might
have an important bearing upon the mysterious problems centring in the
chief clerk. And he was afraid the woman would see him.

But he was not permitted to make the discoveries. The woman had taken
two or three steps into the car, still groping her way as if the
brightly lighted interior were the darkest of caverns, when some one
swung over the railing of the observation platform, and Superintendent
Leckhard appeared at the open door. Without hesitation he entered and
touched the woman on the shoulder. "Hello, Madgie," he said, not
ungently, "you here again? It's pretty late for even your kind to be
out, isn't it? Better trot away and go to bed, if you've got one to go
to; he isn't here."

The woman put her hands to her face, and Lidgerwood saw that she was
shaking as if with a sudden chill. Then she turned and darted away like
a frightened animal. Leckhard was drawing a chair up to face Lidgerwood.

"Did she give you a turn?" he asked, when Lidgerwood reached up and
turned the desk-lamp on full again.

"Not exactly that, though it was certainly startling enough. I had no
warning at all; when I looked up, she was standing pretty nearly where
she was when you came in. She didn't seem to see me at all, and she was
talking crazily all the time to some one else--some one who isn't here."

"I know," said Leckhard; "she has done it before."

"Whom is she trying to find?" asked Lidgerwood, wishing to have his
suspicion either denied or confirmed.

"Didn't she call him by name?--she usually does. It's your chief clerk,
Hallock. She is--or was--his wife. Haven't you heard the ghastly story
yet?"

"No; and, Leckhard, I don't know that I care to hear it. It can't
possibly concern me."

"It's just as well, I guess," said the main-line superintendent
carelessly. "I probably shouldn't get it straight anyway. It's a rather
horrible affair, though, I believe. There is another man mixed up in
it--the man whom she is always asking if Hallock has killed. Curiously
enough, she never names the other man, and there have been a good many
guesses. I believe your head boiler-maker, Gridley, has the most votes.
He's been seen with her here, now and then--when he's on one of his
'periodicals.' By Jove! Lidgerwood, I don't envy you your job over
yonder in the Red Desert a little bit.... But about the consolidation of
the yards here: I got a telegram after I wired you, making it necessary
for me to go west on main-line Twenty-seven early in the morning, so I
stayed up to talk this yard business over with you to-night."

It was well along in the small hours when the roll of blue-print maps
was finally laid aside, and Leckhard rose yawning. "We'll carry it out
as you propose, and divide the expense between the two divisions," he
said in conclusion. "Frisbie has left it to us, and he will approve
whatever we agree upon. Will you go up to the hotel with me, or bunk
down here?"

Lidgerwood said he would stay with his car; or, better still, now that
the business for which he had come to Copah was despatched, he would
have the roundhouse night foreman call a Red Butte Western crew and go
back to his desert.

"We are in the thick of things over on the jerk-water just now," he
explained, "and I don't like to stay away any longer than I have to."

"Having a good bit of trouble with the sure-shots?" asked Leckhard.
"What was that story I heard about somebody swiping one of your
switching-engines?"

"It was true," said Lidgerwood, adding, "But I think we shall recover
the engine--and some other things--presently." He liked Leckhard well
enough, but he wished he would go. There are exigencies in which even
the comments of a friend and well-wisher are superfluous.

"You have a pretty tough gang to handle over these," the well-wisher
went on. "I wouldn't touch a job like yours with a ten-foot pole, unless
I could shoot good enough to be sure of hitting a half-dollar nine times
out of ten at thirty paces. Somebody was telling me that you have
already had trouble with that fellow Rufford."

"Nobody was hurt, and Rufford is in jail," said Lidgerwood, hoping to
kill the friendly inquiry before it should run into details.

"Oh, well, it's all in the day's work, I suppose, which reminds me: my
day's work to-morrow won't amount to much if I don't go and turn in.
Good-night."

When Leckhard was gone, Lidgerwood climbed the stair in the station
building to the despatcher's office and gave orders for the return of
his car to Angels. Half an hour later the one-car special was retracing
its way westward up the valley of the Tumbling Water, and Lidgerwood was
trying to go to sleep in the well-appointed little state-room which it
was Tadasu Matsuwari's pride to keep spick and span and spotlessly
clean. But there were disturbing thoughts, many and varied, to keep him
awake, chief among them those which hung upon the dramatic midnight
episode with the demented woman for its central figure. Through what
dreadful Valley of Humiliation had she come to reach the abysmal depths
in which the one cry of her soul was a cry for vengeance? Who was the
unnamed man whom Hallock had promised to kill? How much or how little
was this tragedy figuring in the trouble storm which was brooding over
the Red Desert? And how much or how little would it involve one who was
anxious only to see even-handed justice prevail?

These and similar insistent questions kept Lidgerwood awake long after
his train had left the crooked pathway marked out by the Tumbling Water,
and when he finally fell asleep the laboring engine of the one-car
special was storming the approaches to Crosswater Summit.





Next: The Pleasurers

Previous: Flemister And Others



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