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Storm Signals








From: Red Butte Western

Though Lidgerwood had been up for the better part of two nights, and the
day intervening, it was apparent to at least one member of the
head-quarters force that he did not go to bed immediately after the
arrival of the service-car from the west; the proof being a freshly
typed telegram which Operator Dix found impaled upon his sending-hook
when he came on duty in the despatcher's office at seven o'clock in the
morning.

The message was addressed to Leckhard, superintendent of the Pannikin
Division of the Pacific Southwestern system, at Copah. It was in cipher,
and it contained two uncodified words--"Fort" and "McCook," which small
circumstance set Dix to thinking--Fort McCook being the army post,
twelve miles as the crow flies, down the Pannikin from Copah.

Now Dix was not one of the rebels. On the contrary, he was one of the
few loyal telegraphers who had promised McCloskey to stand by the
Lidgerwood management in case the rebellion grew into an organized
attempt to tie up the road. But the young man had, for his chief
weakness, a prying curiosity which had led him, in times past, to
experiment with the private office code until he had finally discovered
the key to it.

Hence, a little while after the sending of the Leckhard message,
Callahan, the train despatcher, hearing an emphatic "Gee whiz!" from
Dix's' corner, looked up from his train-sheet to say, "What hit you,
brother?"

"Nothing," said Dix shortly, but Callahan observed that he was hastily
folding and pocketing the top sheet of the pad upon which he had been
writing. Dix went off duty at eleven, his second trick beginning at
three in the afternoon. It was between three and four when McCloskey,
having strengthened his defenses in every way he could devise, rapped at
the door of his chief's sleeping-room. Fifteen minutes later Lidgerwood
joined the trainmaster in the private office.

"I couldn't let you sleep any longer," McCloskey began apologetically,
"and I don't know but you'll give me what-for as it is. Things are
thickening up pretty fast."

"Put me in touch," was the command.

"All right. I'll begin at the front end. Along about ten o'clock this
morning Davidson, the manager of the Copperette, came down to see Mr.
Brewster. He gave the president a long song and dance about the tough
trail and the poor accommodations for a pleasure-party up at the mine,
and the upshot of it was that Mr. Brewster went out to the mine with him
alone, leaving the party in the Nadia here."

Lidgerwood said "Damn!" and let it go at that for the moment. The thing
was done, and it could not be undone. McCloskey went on with his report,
his hat tilted to the bridge of his nose.

"Taking it for granted that you mean to fight this thing to a cold
finish, I've done everything I could think of. Thanks to Williams and
Bradford, and a few others like them, we can count on a good third of
the trainmen; and I've got about the same proportion of the operators in
line for us. Taking advantage of the twenty-four-hour notice the
strikers gave us, I've scattered these men of ours east and west on the
day trains to the points where the trouble will hit us at twelve o'clock
to-night."

"Good!" said Lidgerwood briefly. "How will you handle it?"

"It will handle itself, barring too many broken heads. At midnight, in
every important office where a striker throws down his pen and grounds
his wire, one of our men will walk in and keep the ball rolling. And on
every train in transit at that time, manned by men we're not sure of,
there will be a relief crew of some sort, deadheading over the road and
ready to fall in line and keep it coming when the other fellows fall
out."

Again the superintendent nodded his approval. The trainmaster was
showing himself at his loyal best.

"That brings us down to Angels and the present, Mac. How do we stand
here?"

"That's what I'd give all my old shoes to know," said McCloskey, his
homely face emphasizing his perplexity. "They say the shopmen are
against us, and if that's so we're outnumbered here, six to one. I can't
find out anything for certain. Gridley is still away, and Dawson hasn't
got back, and nobody else knows anything about the shop force."

"You say Dawson isn't in? He didn't have more than five or six hours'
work on that wreck. What is the matter?"

"He had a bit of bad luck. He got the main line cleared early this
morning, but in shifting his train and the 'cripples' on the abandoned
spur, a culvert broke and let the big crane off. He has been all day
getting it on again, but he'll be in before dark--so Goodloe says."

"And how about Benson?" queried Lidgerwood.

"He's on 203. I caught him on the other side of Crosswater, and took the
liberty of signing your name to a wire calling him in."

"That was right. With this private-car party on our hands, we may need
every man we can depend upon. I wish Gridley were here. He could handle
the shop outfit. I'm rather surprised that he should be away. He must
have known that the volcano was about ready to spout."

"Gridley's a law to himself," said the trainmaster. "Sometimes I think
he's all right, and at other times I catch myself wondering if he
wouldn't tread on me like I was a cockroach, if I happened to be in his
way."

Having had exactly the same feeling, and quite without reason,
Lidgerwood generously defended the absent master-mechanic.

"That is prejudice, Mac, and you mustn't give it room. Gridley's all
right. We mustn't forget that his department, thus far, is the only one
that hasn't given us trouble and doesn't seem likely to give us trouble.
I wish I could say as much for the force here in the Crows' Nest."

"With a single exception, you can--to-day," said McCloskey quickly.
"I've cleaned house. There is only one man under this roof at this
minute who won't fight for you at the drop of the hat."

"And that one is----?"

The trainmaster jerked his head toward the outer office. "It's the man
out there--or who was out there when I came through; the one you and I
haven't been agreeing on."

"Hallock? Is he here?"

"Sure; he's been here since early this morning."

"But how--" Lidgerwood's thought went swiftly backward over the events
of the preceding night. Judson's story had left Hallock somewhere in the
vicinity of the Wire-Silver mine and the wreck at some time about
midnight, or a little past, and there had been no train in from that
time on until the regular passenger, reaching Angels at noon. It was
McCloskey who relieved the strain of bewilderment.

"How did he get here? you were going to say. You brought him from
somewhere down the road on your special. He rode on the engine with
Williams."

Lidgerwood pushed his chair back and got up. It was high time for a
reckoning of some sort with the chief clerk.

"Is there anything else, Mac?" he asked, closing his desk.

"Yes; one more thing. The grievance committee is in session up at the
Celestial. Tryon, who is heading it, sent word down a little while ago
that the men would wreck every dollar's worth of company property in
Angels if you didn't countermand your wire of this morning to
Superintendent Leckhard."

"I haven't wired Leckhard."

"They say you did; and when I asked 'em what about it, they said you'd
know."

The superintendent's hand was on the knob of the corridor door.

"Look it up in Callahan's office," he said. "If any message has gone to
Leckhard to-day, I didn't write it."

When he closed the door of his private office behind him, Lidgerwood's
purpose was to go immediately to the Nadia to warn the members of the
pleasure-party, and to convince them, if possible, of the advisability
of a prompt retreat to Copah. But there was another matter which was
even more urgent. After the events of the night, it had not been
unreasonable to suppose that Hallock would scarcely be foolhardy enough
to come back and take his place as if nothing had happened. Since he
had come back, there was only one thing to be done, and the safety of
all demanded it.

Lidgerwood left the Crow's Nest and walked quickly uptown. Contrary to
his expectations, he found the avenue quiet and almost deserted, though
there was a little knot of loungers on the porch of the Celestial, and
Biggs's bar-room, and Red-Light Sammy's, were full to overflowing.
Crossing to the corner opposite the hotel, the superintendent entered
the open door of Schleisinger's "Emporium." At the moment there was a
dearth of trade, and the round-faced little German who had weathered all
the Angelic storms was discovered shaving himself before a triangular
bit of looking-glass, stuck up on the packing-box which served him by
turns as a desk and a dressing-case.

"How you vas, Mr. Litchervood?" was his greeting, offered while the
razor was on the upward sweep. "Don'd tell me you vas come aboud some
more of dose chustice businesses. Me, I make oud no more of dem
warrants, nichts. Dot teufel Rufford iss come back again, alretty,
and----"

Lidgerwood broke the refusal in the midst.

"You are an officer of the law, Schleisinger--more is the pity, both for
you and the law--and you must do your duty. I have come to swear out
another warrant. Get your blank and fill it in."

The German shopkeeper put down his razor with only one side of his face
shaven. "Oh, mein Gott!" was his protest; but he rummaged in the
catch-all packing-box and found the pad of blank warrants. Lidgerwood
dictated slowly, in charity for the trembling fingers that held the pen.
Knowing his own weakness, he could sympathize with others. When it came
to the filling in of Hallock's name, Schleisinger stopped, open-mouthed.

"Donnerwetter!" he gasped, "you don'd mean dot, Mr. Litchervood; you
don'd neffer mean dot?"

"I am sorry to say that I do; sorrier than you or any one else can
possibly be."

"Bud--bud----"

"I know what you would say," interrupted Lidgerwood hastily. "You are
afraid of Hallock's friends--as you were afraid of Rufford and his
friends. But you must do your sworn duty."

"Nein, nein, dot ain'd it," was the earnest denial. "Bud--bud nobody
vould serve a warrant on Mr. Hallock, Mr. Litchervood! I----"

"I'll find some one to serve it," said the complainant curtly, and
Schleisinger made no further objections.

With the warrant in his pocket, a magistrate's order calling for the
arrest and detention of Rankin Hallock on the double charge of
train-wrecking and murder, Lidgerwood left Schleisinger's, meaning to go
back to the Crow's Nest and have McCloskey put the warrant in Judson's
hands. But there was a thing to come between; a thing not wholly
unlooked for, but none the less destructive of whatever small hope of
regeneration the victim of unreadiness had been cherishing.

When the superintendent recrossed to the Celestial corner, Mesa Avenue
was still practically deserted, though the group on the hotel porch had
increased its numbers. Three doors below, in front of Biggs's, a bunch
of saddled cow-ponies gave notice of a fresh accession to the bar-room
crowd which was now overflowing upon the steps and the plank sidewalk.
Lidgerwood's thoughts shuttled swiftly. He argued that a brave man would
neither hurry nor loiter in passing the danger nucleus, and he strove
with what determination there was in him to keep even step with the
reasoned-out resolution.

But once more his weakness tricked him. When the determined stride had
brought him fairly opposite Biggs's door, a man stepped out of the
sidewalk group and calmly pushed him to a stand with the flat of his
hand. It was Rufford, and he was saying quite coolly: "Hold up a
minute, pardner; I'm going to cut your heart out and feed it to that pup
o Schleisinger's that's follerin' you. He looks mighty hungry."

With reason assuring him that the gambler was merely making a
grand-stand play for the benefit of the bar-room crowd wedging itself in
Biggs's doorway, Lidgerwood's lips went dry, and he knew that the
haunting terror was slipping its humiliating mask over his face. But
before he could say or do any fear-prompted thing a diversion came. At
the halting moment a small man, red-haired, and with his cap pulled down
over his eyes, had separated himself from the group of loungers on the
Celestial porch to make a swift detour through the hotel bar, around the
rear of Biggs's, and so to the street and the sidewalk in front. As once
before, and under somewhat less hazardous conditions, he came up behind
Rufford, and again the gambler felt the pressure of cold metal against
his spine.

"It ain't an S-wrench this time, Bart," he said gently, and the crowd on
Biggs's doorstep roared its appreciation of the joke. Then: "Keep your
hands right where they are, and side-step out o' Mr. Lidgerwood's
way--that's business." And when the superintendent had gone on: "That's
all for the present, Bart. After I get a little more time and ain't so
danged busy I'll borrow another pair o' clamps from Hepburn and take you
back to Copah. So long."

By all the laws of Angelic procedure, Judson should have been promptly
shot in the back when he turned and walked swiftly down the avenue to
overtake the superintendent. But for once the onlookers were
disappointed. Rufford was calmly relighting his cigar, and when he had
sufficiently cursed the bar-room audience for not being game enough to
stop the interference, he kicked Schleisinger's dog, and turned his back
upon Biggs's and its company.

It was a bit of common human perverseness that kept Lidgerwood from
thanking Judson when the engineer overtook him at the corner of the
plaza. Uppermost in his thoughts at the moment was the keen sense of
humiliation arising upon the conviction that the plucky little man had
surprised his secret and would despise him accordingly. Hence his first
word to Judson was the word of authority.

"Go back to Schleisinger and have him swear you in as a deputy
constable," he directed tersely. "When you are sworn in, come down here
and serve this," and he gave Judson the warrant for Hallock's arrest.

The engineer glanced at the name in the body of the warrant and nodded.

"So you've made up your mind?" he said.

Lidgerwood was frowning abstractedly up at the windows of Hallock's
office in the head-quarters building.

"I don't know," he said, half hesitantly. "But he is implicated in that
murderous business of last night--that we both know--and now he is back
here. McCloskey told you that, didn't he?"

Judson nodded again, and Lidgerwood went on, irresistibly impelled to
justify his own action.

"It would be something worse than folly to leave him at liberty when we
are on the ragged edge of a fight. Arrest him wherever you can find him,
and take him over to Copah on the first train that serves. He'll have to
clear himself, if he can; that's all."

When Judson, with his huge cow-boy pistol sagging at his hip, had turned
back to do the first part of his errand, Lidgerwood went on around the
Crow's Nest and presented himself at the door of the Nadia. Happily,
for his purpose, he found only Mrs. Brewster and Judge Holcombe in
possession, the young people having gone to climb one of the bare mesa
hills behind the town for an unobstructed view of the Timanyonis.

The superintendent left Judge Holcombe out of the proposal which he
urged earnestly upon Mrs. Brewster. Telling her briefly of the
threatened strike and its promise of violence and rioting, he tried to
show her that the presence of the private-car party was a menace, alike
to its own members and to him. The run to Copah could be made on a
special schedule and the party might be well outside of the danger zone
before the armistice expired. Would she not defer to his judgment and
let him send the Nadia back to safety while there was yet time?

Mrs. Brewster, the placid, let him say his say without interruption. But
when he finished, the placidity became active opposition. The
president's wife would not listen for a moment to an expedient which did
not--could not--include the president himself.

"I know, Howard, you're nervous--you can't help being nervous," she
said, cutting him to the quick when nothing was farther from her
intention. "But you haven't stopped to think what you're asking. If
there is any real danger for us--which I can't believe--that is all the
more reason why we shouldn't run away and leave your cousin Ned behind.
I wouldn't think of it for an instant, and neither would any of the
others."

Being hurt again in his tenderest part by the quite unconscious gibe,
Lidgerwood did not press his proposal further.

"I merely wished to state the case and to give you a chance to get out
and away from the trouble while we could get you out," he said, a little
stiffly. Then: "It is barely possible that the others may agree with me
instead of with you: will you tell them about it when they come back to
the car, and send word to my office after you have decided in open
council what you wish to do? Only don't let it be very late; a delay of
two or three hours may make it impossible for us to get the Nadia over
the Desert Division."

Mrs. Brewster promised, and the superintendent went upstairs to his
office. A glance into Hallock's room in passing showed him the chief
clerk's box-like desk untenanted, and he wondered if Judson would find
his man somewhere in the town. He hoped so. It would be better for all
concerned if the arrest could be made without too many witnesses. True,
Hallock had few friends in the railroad service, at least among those
who professed loyalty to the management, but with explosives lying about
everywhere underfoot, one could not be too careful of matches and fire.

The superintendent had scarcely closed the door upon his entrance into
his own room when it was opened again with McCloskey's hand on the
latch. The trainmaster came to report that a careful search of
Callahan's files had not disclosed any message to Leckhard. Also, he
added that Dix, who should have come on duty at three o'clock, was still
absent.

"What do you make out of that?" queried Lidgerwood.

McCloskey's scowl was grotesquely horrible.

"Bullying or bribery," he said shortly. "They've got Dix hid away uptown
somewhere. But there was a message, all right, and with your name signed
to it. Callahan saw it on Dix's hook this morning before the boy came
down. It was in code, your private code."

"Call up the Copah offices and have it repeated back," ordered the
superintendent. "Let's find out what somebody has been signing my name
to."

McCloskey shook his grizzled head. "You won't mind if I say that I beat
you to it, this time, will you? I got Orton, a little while ago, on the
Copah wire and pumped him. He says there was a code message, and that
Dix sent it. But when I asked him to repeat it back here, he said he
couldn't--that Mr. Leckhard had taken it with him somewhere down the
main line."

Lidgerwood's exclamation was profane. The perversity of things, animate
and inanimate, was beginning to wear upon him.

"Go and tell Callahan to keep after Orton until he gets word that Mr.
Leckhard has returned. Then have him get Leckhard himself at the other
end of the wire and call me," he directed. "Since there is only one man
besides myself in Angels who knows the private-office code, I'd like to
know what that message said."

McCloskey nodded. "You mean Hallock?"

"Yes."

The trainmaster was half-way to the door when he turned suddenly to say:
"You can fire me if you want to, Mr. Lidgerwood, but I've got to say my
say. You're going to let that yellow dog run loose until he bites you."

"No, I am not."

"By gravies! I'd have him safe under lock and key before the shindy
begins to-night, if it was my job."

Lidgerwood had turned to his desk and was opening it.

"He will be," he announced quietly. "I have sworn out a warrant for his
arrest, and Judson has it and is looking for his man."

McCloskey smote fist into palm and gritted out an oath of
congratulation. "That's where you hit the proper nail on the head!" he
exclaimed. "He's the king-pin of the whole machine, and if you can pull
him out, the machine will fall to pieces. What charge did you put in the
warrant? I only hope it's big enough to hold him."

"Train-wrecking and murder," said Lidgerwood, without looking around;
and a moment later McCloskey went out, treading softly as one who finds
himself a trespasser on forbidden ground.

The afternoon sun was poising for its plunge behind the western barrier
range and Lidgerwood had sent Grady, the stenographer, up to the cottage
on the second mesa to tell Mrs. Dawson that he would not be up for
dinner, when the door opened to admit Miss Brewster.

"'And the way into my parlor is up a winding stair,'" she quoted
blithely and quite as if the air were not thick with threatening
possibilities. "So this is where you live, is it? What a dreary, bleak,
blank place!"

"It was, a moment ago; but it isn't, now," he said, and his soberness
made the saying something more than a bit of commonplace gallantry. Then
he gave her his swing-chair as the only comfortable one in the bare
room, adding, "I hope you have come to tell me that your mother has
changed her mind."

"Indeed I haven't! What do you take us for, Howard?"

"For an exceedingly rash party of pleasure-hunters--if you have decided
to stay here through what is likely to happen before to-morrow morning.
Besides, you are making it desperately hard for me."

She laughed lightly. "If you can't be afraid for yourself, you'll be
afraid for other people, won't you? It seems to be one of your
necessities."

He let the taunt go unanswered.

"I can't believe that you know what you are facing, any of you, Eleanor.
I'll tell you what I told your mother: there will be battle, murder, and
sudden death let loose here in Angels before to-morrow morning. And it is
so utterly unnecessary for any of you to be involved."

She rose and stood before him, putting a comradely hand on his shoulder,
and looking him fairly in the eyes.

"There was a ring of sincerity in that, Howard. Do you really mean that
there is likely to be violence?"

"I do; it is almost certain to come. The trouble has been brewing for a
long time--ever since I came here, in fact. And there is nothing we can
do to prevent it. All we can do is to meet it when it does come, and
fight it out."

"'We,' you say; who else besides yourself, Howard?" she asked.

"A little handful of loyal ones."

"Then you will be outnumbered?"

"Six to one here in town if the shopmen go out. They have already
threatened to burn the company's buildings if I don't comply with their
demands, and I know the temper of the outfit well enough to give it full
credit for any violence it promises. Won't you go and persuade the
others to consent to run for it, Eleanor? It is simply the height of
folly for you to hold the Nadia here. If I could have had ten words
with your father this morning before he went out to the mine, you would
all have been in Copah, long ago. Even now, if I could get word to him,
I'm sure he would order the car out at once."

She nodded.

"Perhaps he would; quite likely he would--and he would stay here
himself." Then, suddenly: "You may send the Nadia back to Copah on one
condition--that you go with it."

At first he thought it was a deliberate insult; the cruelest indignity
she had ever put upon him. Knowing his weakness, she was good-natured
enough, or solicitous enough, to try to get him out of harm's way. Then
the steadfast look in her eyes made him uncertain.

"If I thought you could say that, realizing what it means--" he began,
and then he looked away.

"Well?" she prompted, and the hand slipped from his shoulder.

His eyes were coming back to hers. "If I thought you meant that," he
repeated; "if I believed that you could despise me so utterly as to
think for a moment that I would deliberately turn my back upon my
responsibilities here--go away and hunt safety for myself, leaving the
men who have stood by me to whatever----"

"You are making it a matter of duty," she interrupted quite gravely. "I
suppose that is right and proper. But isn't your first duty to yourself
and to those who--" She paused, and then went on in the same steady
tone: "I have been hearing some things to-day--some of the things you
said I would hear. You are well hated in the Red Desert, Howard--hated
so fiercely that this quarrel with your men will be almost a personal
one."

"I know," he said.

"They will kill you, if you stay here and let them do it."

"Quite possibly."

"Howard! Do you tell me you can stay here and face all this without
flinching?"

"Oh, no; I didn't say that."

"But you are facing it!"

He smiled.

"As I told you yesterday--that is one of the things for which I draw my
salary. Don't mistake me; there is nothing heroic about it--the heroics
are due to come to-night. That is another thing, Eleanor--another reason
why I want you to go away. When the real pinch comes, I shall probably
disgrace myself and everybody remotely connected with me. I'd a good bit
rather be torn into little pieces, privately, than have you here to be
made ashamed--again."

She turned away.

"Tell me, in so many words, what you think will be done to-night--what
are you expecting?"

"I told you a few moments ago, in the words of the Prayer Book: battle,
and murder, and sudden death. A strike has been planned, and it will
fail. Five minutes after the first strike-abandoned train arrives, the
town will go mad."

She had come close to him again.

"Mother won't go and leave father; that is settled. You must do the best
you can, with us for a handicap. What will you do with us, Howard?"

"I have been thinking about that. The farther you can get away from the
shops and the yard, which will be the storm-centre, the safer you will
be. I can have the Nadia set out on the Copperette switch, which is a
good half-mile below the town, with Van Lew and Jefferis to stand
guard----"

"They will both be here, with you," she interrupted.

"Then the alternative is to place the car as near as possible to this
building, which will be defended. If there is a riot, you can all come
up here and be out of the way of chance pistol-shots, at least."

"Ugh!" she shivered. "Is this really civilized America?"

"It's America--without much of the civilization. Now, will you go and
tell the others what to expect, and send Van Lew to me? I want to tell
him just what to do and how to do it, while there is time and an
undisturbed chance."





Next: The Boss Machinist

Previous: The Challenge



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