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The Crucible

From: Red Butte Western

Only Miss Brewster herself could have answered the question of her
whereabouts at the exact moment of Van Lew's asking. She was left
behind, standing aghast in the midst of tumults, on the platform of the
Crow's Nest. Terrified, like the others, at the sudden outburst of
violence, she had ventured from the car to look for Lidgerwood's
messenger, and in the moment of frightened bewilderment the Nadia had
been whisked away.

Naturally, her first impulse was to fly, and the only refuge that
offered was the superintendent's office on the second floor. The
stairway door was only a little distance down the platform, and she was
presently groping her way up the stair, praying that she might not find
the offices as dark and deserted as the lower story of the building
seemed to be.

The light of the shop-yard fire, and that of the burning box-car nearer
at hand, shone redly through the upper corridor windows, enabling her
to go directly to the open door of the superintendent's office. But when
she reached the door and looked within, the trembling terror returned
and held her spell-bound, speechless, unable to move or even to cry out.

What she saw fitted itself to nothing real; it was more like a scene
clipped from a play. Two masked men were covering with revolvers a
third, who was tied helpless in a chair. The captive's face was ghastly
and blood-stained, and at first she thought he was dead. Then she saw
his lips move in curious twitchings that showed his teeth. He seemed to
be trying to speak, but the ruffian at his right would not give him

"This is where you pass out, Mr. Lidgerwood," the man was saying
threateningly. "You give us your word that you will resign and leave the
Red Butte Western for keeps, or you'll sit in that chair till somebody
comes to take you out and bury you."

The twitching lips were controlled with what appeared to be an almost
superhuman effort, but the words came jerkily.

"What would my word, extorted--under such conditions--be worth to you?"

Eleanor could hear, in spite of the terror that would not let her cry
out or run for help. He was yielding to them, bargaining for his life!

"We'll take it," said the spokesman coolly. "If you break faith with us
there are more than two of us who will see to it that you don't live
long enough to brag about it. You've had your day, and you've got to

"And if I refuse?" Eleanor made sure that the voice was steadier now.

"It's this, here and now," grated the taller man who had hitherto kept
silence, and he cocked his revolver and jammed the muzzle of it against
the bleeding temple of the man in the chair.

The captive straightened himself as well as his bonds would let him.

"You--you've let the psychological moment go by, gentlemen: I--I've got
my second wind. You may burn and destroy and shoot as you please, but
while I'm alive I'll stay with you. Blaze away, if that's what you want
to do."

The horror-stricken watcher at the door covered her face with her hands
to shut out the sight of the murder. It was not until Lidgerwood's
voice, calm and even-toned and taunting, broke the silence that she
ventured to look again.

"Well, gentlemen, I'm waiting. Why don't you shoot? You are greater
cowards than I have ever been, with all my shiverings and
teeth-chatterings. Isn't the stake big enough to warrant your last
desperate play? I'll make it bigger. You are the two men who broke the
rail-joint at Silver Switch. Ah, that hits you, doesn't it?"

"Shut up!" growled the tall man, with a frightful imprecation. But the
smaller of the two was silent.

Lidgerwood's grin was ghastly, but it was nevertheless a teeth-baring of

"You curs!" he scoffed. "You haven't even the courage of your own
necessities! Why don't you pluck up the nerve to shoot, and be done with
it? I'll make it still more binding upon you: if you don't kill me now,
while you have the chance, as God is my witness I'll hang you both for
those murders last night at Silver Switch. I know you, in spite of your
flimsy disguise: I can call you both by name!"

Out in the yard the yellings and shoutings had taken on a new note, and
the windows of the upper room were jarring with the thunder of incoming
trains. Eleanor Brewster heard the new sounds vaguely: the jangle and
clank of the trains, the quick, steady tramp of disciplined men,
snapped-out words of command, the sudden cessation of the riot clamor,
and now a shuffling of feet on the stairway behind her.

Still she could not move; still she was speechless and spell-bound, but
no longer from terror. Her cousin--her lover--how she had misjudged him!
He a coward? This man who was holding his two executioners at bay,
quelling them, cowing them, by the sheer force of the stronger will, and
of a courage that was infinitely greater than theirs?

The shuffling footsteps came nearer, and once again Lidgerwood
straightened himself in his chair, this time with a mighty struggle that
broke the knotted cords and freed him.

"I said I could name you, and I will!" he cried, springing to his feet.
"You," pointing to the smaller man, "you are Pennington Flemister; and
you," wheeling upon the tall man and lowering his voice, "you are Rankin

The light of the fire in the shop yard had died down until its red glow
no longer drove the shadows from the corners of the room. Eleanor shrank
aside when a dozen men pushed their way into the private office. Then,
suddenly the electric lights went on, and a gruff voice said, "Drop them
guns, you two. The show's over."

It was McCloskey who gave the order, and it was obeyed sullenly. With
the clatter of the weapons on the floor, the door of the outer office
opened with a jerk, and Judson thrust a hand-cuffed prisoner of his own
capturing into the lighted room.

"There he is, Mr. Lidgerwood," snarled the engineer-constable. "I nabbed
him over yonder at the fire, workin' to put it out, just as if he hadn't
told his gang to go and set it!"

"Hallock!" exclaimed the superintendent, starting as if he had seen a
ghost. "How is this? Are there two of you?"

Hallock looked down moodily. "There were two of us who wanted your job,
and the other one needed it badly enough to wreck trains and to kill
people, and to lead a lot of pig-headed trainmen and mechanics into a
riot to cover his tracks."

Lidgerwood turned quickly. "Unmask those men, McCloskey."

It was the signal for a tumult. The tall man fought desperately to
preserve his disguise, but Flemister's mask was torn off in the first
rush. Then came a diversion, sudden and fiercely tragic. With a cry of
rage that was like the yell of a madman, Hallock flung himself upon the
mine-owner, beating him down with his manacled hands, choking him,
grinding him into the dust of the floor. And when the avenger of wrongs
was pulled off and dragged to his feet, Lidgerwood, looking past the
death grapple, saw the figure of a woman swaying at the corridor door;
saw the awful horror in her eyes. In the turning of a leaf he had fought
his way to her.

"Good heavens, Eleanor!" he gasped. "What are you doing here?" and he
faced her about quickly and led her into the corridor lest she should
see the distorted features of the victim of Hallock's vengeance.

"I came--they took the car away, and I--I was left behind," she
faltered. And then: "Oh, Howard! take me away; hide me somewhere! It's
too horrible!"

There was a bull-bellow of rage from the room they had just left, and
Lidgerwood hurried his companion into the first refuge that offered,
which chanced to be the trainmaster's room. Out of the private office
and into the corridor came the taller of the two garroters, holding his
mask in place as he ran, with McCloskey, Judson, and all but one or two
of the others in hot pursuit.

Notwithstanding, the fugitive gained the stair and fell, rather than
ran, to the bottom. There was the crash of a bursting door, a soldierly
command of "Halt!" the crack of a cavalry rifle, and McCloskey came
back, wiping his homely face with a bandanna.

"They got him," he said; and then, seeing Eleanor for the first time,
his jaw dropped and he tried to apologize. "Excuse me, Miss Brewster; I
didn't have the least idea you were up here."

"Nothing matters now," said Eleanor, pale to the lips. "Come in here and
tell us about it. And--and--is mamma safe?"

"She's down-stairs in the Nadia, with the others--where I supposed you
were," McCloskey began; but Lidgerwood heard the feet of those who were
carrying Flemister's body from the chamber of horrors, and quickly
shutting the door on sight and sounds, started the trainmaster on the
story which must be made to last until the way was clear of things a
woman should not see.

"Who was the tall man?" he asked. "I thought he was Hallock--I called
him Hallock."

The trainmaster shook his head. "They're about the same build; but we
were all off wrong, Mr. Lidgerwood--'way off. It's been Gridley: Gridley
and his side-partner, Flemister, all along. Gridley was the man who
jumped the passenger at Crosswater Hills, and took up the rail to ditch
Clay's freight--with Hallock chasing him and trying to prevent it.
Gridley was the man who helped Flemister last night at Silver
Switch--with Hallock trying again to stop him, and Judson trying to
keep tab on Hallock, and getting him mixed up with Gridley at every
turn, even to mistaking Gridley's voice and his shadow on the
window-curtain for Hallock's. Gridley was the man who stole the
switch-engine and ran it over the old Wire-Silver spur to the mine to
sell it to Flemister for his mine power-plant--they've got it boxed up
and running there, right now. Gridley is the man who has made all this
strike trouble, bossing the job to get you out and to get himself in, so
he could cover up his thieveries. Gridley was the man who put up the job
with Bart Rufford to kill you, and Judson mistook his voice for
Hallock's that time, too. Gridley was----"

"Hold on, Mac," interrupted the superintendent; "how did you learn all

"Part of it through some of his men, who have been coming over to us in
the last half-hour and giving him away; part of it through Dick Rufford,
who was keeping tab on him for the money he could squeeze out of him

"How did Rufford come to tell you?"

"Why, Bradford--that is--er--the two Ruffords started a little shooting
match with Andy, and--m-m--well, Bart passed out for keeps, this time,
but Dick lived long enough to tell Bradford a few things--for old
cow-boy times' sake, I suppose. I'll never put it all over any man,
again, as long as I live, Mr. Lidgerwood, after rubbing it into Hallock
the way I did, when he was doing his level best to help us out. But it's
partly his own fault. He wanted to play a lone hand, and he was scheming
to get them both into the same frying-pan--Gridley and Flemister."

Lidgerwood nodded. "He had a pretty bitter grudge against Flemister."

"The worst a man could have," said McCloskey soberly. Then he added:
"I've got a few thousand dollars saved up that says that Rankin Hallock
isn't going to hang for what he did in the other room a few minutes ago.
I knew it would come to that if the time ever ripened right suddenly,
and I tried to find Judson to choke him off. But John got in ahead of

Lidgerwood switched the subject abruptly in deference to Eleanor's deep

"I must take Miss Brewster to her friends. You say the Nadia is back?
Who moved it without orders?"

"Yes, she's back, all right, and Dawson is the man who comes in for the
blessing. He wanted an engine--needed one right bad--and he couldn't
wait to uncouple the car. It was Hallock who sent that message to Mr.
Leckhard that we've been hearing so much about, and it was a beg for
the loan of a few of Uncle Sam's boys from Fort McCook. Gridley got on
to it through Dix, and he also cut us out of Mr. Leckhard's answer
telling us that the cavalry boys were on 73. By Gridley's orders, the
two Ruffords and some others turned an engine loose to run down the road
for a head-ender with the freight that was bringing the soldiers. Dawson
chased the runaway engine with the coupled-up Nadia outfit, caught it
just in the nick of time to prevent a collision with 73, and brought it
back. He's down in the car now, with one of the young women crying on
his neck, and----"

Miss Brewster got up out of her chair, found she could stand without
tottering, and said: "Howard, I must go back to mamma. She will be
perfectly frantic if some one hasn't told her that I am safe. We can go
now, can't we, Mr. McCloskey? The trouble is all over, isn't it?"

The trainmaster nodded gravely.

"It's over, all but the paying of the bills. That rifle-shot we heard a
little spell ago settled it. No, he isn't dead"--this in answer to
Lidgerwood's unspoken question--"but it will be a heap better for all
concerned if he don't get over it. You can go down. Lieutenant Baldwin
has posted his men around the shops and the Crow's Nest."

Together they left the shelter of the trainmaster's room, and passed
down the dark stair and out upon the platform, where the cavalrymen were
mounting guard. There was no word spoken by either until they reached
the Nadia's forward vestibule, and then it was Lidgerwood who broke
the silence to say: "I have discovered something to-night, Eleanor: I'm
not quite all the different kinds of a coward I thought I was."

"Don't tell me!" she said, in keen self-reproach, and her voice thrilled
him like the subtle melody of a passion song. "Howard, dear, I--I'm
sitting in sackcloth and ashes. I saw it all--with my own eyes, and I
could neither run nor scream. Oh, it was splendid! I never dreamed that
any man could rise by the sheer power of his will to such a pinnacle of
courage. Does that make amends--just a little? And won't you come to
breakfast with us in the morning, and let me tell you afterward how
miserable I've been--how I fairly nagged father into bringing this
party out here so that I might have an excuse to--to----"

He forgot the fierce strife so lately ended; forgot the double victory
he had won.

"But--but Van Lew," he stammered--"he told me that you--that he--" and
then he took her in his arms and kissed her, while a young man with a
bandaged head--a man who answered to the name of Jack Benson, and who
was hastening up to get permission to go home to Faith Dawson--turned
his back considerately and walked away.

"What were you going to say about Herbert?" she murmured, when he let
her have breath enough to speak with.

"I was merely going to remark that he can't have you now, not if he were
ten thousand times your accepted lover."

She escaped from his arms and ran lightly up the steps of the private
car. And from the safe vantage-ground of the half-opened door she turned
and mocked him.

"Silly boy," she said softly. "Can't you read print when it's large
enough to shout at all the world? Herbert and Carolyn have been
'announced' for more than three months, and they are to be married when
we get back to New York. That's all; good-night, and don't you dare to
forget your breakfast engagement!"

Next: The Quarry

Previous: The Terror

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