Informational Site NetworkInformational Site Network
Privacy
 
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories


The Outlaws








From: Red Butte Western

For the first few weeks after the change in ownership and the arrival of
the new superintendent, the Red Butte Western and its nerve-centre,
Angels, seemed disposed to take Mr. Howard Lidgerwood as a rather
ill-timed joke, perpetrated upon a primitive West and its people by some
one of the Pacific Southwestern magnates who owned a broad sense of
humor.

During this period the sardonic laugh was heard in the land, and the
chuckling appreciation of the joke by the Red Butte rank and file, and
by the Angelic soldiers of fortune who, though not upon the company's
pay-rolls, still throve indirectly upon the company's bounty, lacked
nothing of completeness. The Red Desert grinned like the famed Cheshire
cat when an incoming train from the East brought sundry boxes and
trunks, said to contain the new boss's wardrobe. Its guffaws were long
and uproarious when it began to be noised about that the company
carpenters and fitters were installing a bath and other civilizing and
softening appliances in the alcove opening out of the superintendent's
sleeping-room in the head-quarters building.

Lidgerwood slept in the Crow's Nest, not so much from choice as for the
reason that there seemed to be no alternative save a room in the town
tavern, appropriately named "The Hotel Celestial." Between his
sleeping-apartment and his private office there was only a thin board
partition; but even this gave him more privacy than the Celestial could
offer, where many of the partitions were of building-paper, muslin
covered.

It is a railroad proverb that the properly inoculated railroad man eats
and sleeps with his business; Lidgerwood exemplified the saying by
having a wire cut into the despatcher's office, with the terminals on a
little table at his bed's head, and with a tiny telegraph relay
instrument mounted on the stand. Through the relay, tapping softly in
the darkness, came the news of the line, and often, after the strenuous
day was ended, Lidgerwood would lie awake listening.

Sometimes the wire gossiped, and echoes of Homeric laughter trickled
through the relay in the small hours; as when Ruby Creek asked the night
despatcher if it were true that the new boss slept in what translated
itself in the laborious Morse of the Ruby Creek operator as
"pijjimmies"; or when Navajo, tapping the same source of information,
wished to be informed if the "Chink"--doubtless referring to Tadasu
Matsuwari--ran a laundry on the side and thus kept His Royal Highness in
collars and cuffs.

At the tar-paper-covered, iron-roofed Celestial, where he took his
meals, Lidgerwood had a table to himself, which he shared at times with
McCloskey, and at other times with breezy Jack Benson, the young
engineer whom Vice-President Ford had sent, upon Lidgerwood's request
and recommendation, to put new life into the track force, and to make
the preliminary surveys for a possible western extension of the road.

When the superintendent had guests, the long table on the opposite side
of the dining-room restrained itself. When he ate alone, Maggie Donovan,
the fiery-eyed, heavy-handed table-girl who ringed his plate with the
semicircle of ironstone portion dishes, stood between him and the men
who were still regarding him as a joke. And since Maggie's displeasure
manifested itself in cold coffee and tough cuts of the beef, the long
table made its most excruciating jests elaborately impersonal.

On the line, and in the roundhouse and repair-shops, the joke was far
too good to be muzzled. The nickname, "Collars-and-Cuffs," became
classical; and once, when Brannagan and the 117 were ordered out on the
service-car, the Irishman wore the highest celluloid collar he could
find in Angels, rounding out the clownery with a pair of huge wickerware
cuffs, which had once seen service as the coverings of a pair of
Maraschino bottles.

No official notice having been taken of Brannagan's fooling, Buck Tryon,
ordered out on the same duty, went the little Irishman one better,
decorating his engine headlight and handrails with festoonings of
colored calico, the decoration figuring as a caricature of Lidgerwood's
college colors, and calico being the nearest approach to bunting
obtainable at Jake Schleisinger's emporium, two doors north of Red-Light
Sammy's house of call.

All of which was harmless enough, one would say, however subversive of
dignified discipline it might be. Lidgerwood knew. The jests were too
broad to be missed. But he ignored them good-naturedly, rather thankful
for the playful interlude which gave him a breathing-space and time to
study the field before the real battle should begin.

That a battle would have to be fought was evident enough. As yet, the
demoralization had been scarcely checked, and sooner or later the
necessary radical reforms would have to begin. Gridley, whose attitude
toward the new superintendent continued to be that of a disinterested
adviser, assured Lidgerwood that he was losing ground by not opening the
campaign of severity at once.

"You'll have to take a club to these hoboes before you can ever hope to
make railroad men out of them," was Gridley's oft-repeated assertion;
and the fact that the master-mechanic was continually urging the warfare
made Lidgerwood delay it.

Just why Gridley's counsel should have produced such a contrary effect,
Lidgerwood could not have explained. The advice was sound, and the man
who gave it was friendly and apparently ingenuous. But prejudices, like
prepossessions, are sometimes as strong as they are inexplicable, and
while Lidgerwood freely accused himself of injustice toward the
master-mechanic, a certain feeling of distrust and repulsion, dating
back to his first impressions of the man, died hard.

Oddly enough, on the other hand, there was a prepossession, quite as
unreasoning, for Hallock. There was absolutely nothing in the chief
clerk to inspire liking, or even common business confidence; on the
contrary, while Hallock attended to his duties and carried out his
superior's instructions with the exactness of an automaton, his attitude
was distinctly antagonistic. As the chief subaltern on Lidgerwood's
small staff he was efficient and well-nigh invaluable. But as a man,
Lidgerwood felt that he might easily be regarded as an enemy whose
designs could never be fathomed or prefigured.

In spite of Hallock's singular manner, which was an abrupt challenge to
all comers, Lidgerwood acknowledged a growing liking for the chief
clerk. Under the crabbed and gloomy crust of the man the superintendent
fancied he could discover a certain savage loyalty. But under the
loyalty there was a deeper depth--of misery, or tragedy, or both; and to
this abysmal part of him there was no key that Lidgerwood could find.

McCloskey, who had served under Hallock for a number of months before
the change in management, confessed that he knew the gloomy chief clerk
only as a man in authority, and exceedingly hard to please. Questioned
more particularly by Lidgerwood, McCloskey added that Hallock was
married; that after the first few months in Angels his wife, a
strikingly beautiful young woman, had disappeared, and that since her
departure Hallock had lived alone in two rooms over the freight station,
rooms which no one, save himself, ever entered.

These, and similar bits of local history, were mere gatherings by the
way for the superintendent, picked up while the Red Desert was having
its laugh at the new bath-room, the pajamas, and the clean linen. They
weighed lightly, because the principal problem was, as yet, untouched.
For while the laugh endured, Lidgerwood had not found it possible to
breach many of the strongholds of lawlessness.

Orders, regarded by disciplined railroad men as having the immutability
of the laws of the Medes and Persians, were still interpreted as loosely
as if they were but the casual suggestions of a bystander. Rules were
formulated and given black-letter emphasis in their postings on the
bulletin boards, only to be coolly ignored when they chanced to conflict
with some train crew's desire to make up time or to kill it. Directed to
account for fuel and oil consumed, the enginemen good-naturedly forged
reports and the storekeepers blandly O.K.'d them. Instructed to keep an
accurate record of all material used, the trackmen jocosely scattered
more spikes than they drove, made fire-wood of the stock cross-ties, and
were not above underpinning the section-houses with new dimension
timbers.

In countless other ways the waste was prodigious and often mysteriously
unexplainable. The company supplies had a curious fashion of
disappearing in transit. Two car-loads of building lumber sent to repair
the station at Red Butte vanished somewhere between the Angels
shipping-yards and their billing destination. Lime, cement, and paint
were exceedingly volatile. House hardware, purchased in quantities for
company repairs, figured in the monthly requisition sheet as regularly
as coal and oil; and the lost-tool account roughly balanced the pay-roll
of the company carpenters and bridge-builders.

In such a chaotic state of affairs, track and train troubles were the
rule rather than the exception, and it was a Red Butte Western boast
that the fire was never drawn under the wrecking-train engine. For the
first few weeks Lidgerwood let McCloskey answer the "hurry calls" to the
various scenes of disaster, but when three sections of an eastbound
cattle special, ignoring the ten-minute-interval rule, were piled up in
the Pinon Hills, he went out and took personal command of the
track-clearers.

This happened when the joke was at flood-tide, and the men of the
wrecking-crew took a ten-gallon keg of whiskey along wherewith to
celebrate the first appearance of the new superintendent in character as
a practical wrecking-boss. The outcome was rather astonishing. For one
thing, Lidgerwood's first executive act was to knock in the head of the
ten-gallon celebration with a striking-hammer, before it was even
spiggoted; and for another he quickly proved that he was Gridley's
equal, if not his master, in the gentle art of track-clearing; lastly,
and this was the most astonishing thing of all, he demonstrated that
clean linen and correct garmentings do not necessarily make for softness
and effeminacy in the wearer. Through the long day and the still longer
night of toil and stress the new boss was able to endure hardship with
the best man on the ground.

This was excellent, as far as it went. But later, with the offending
cattle-train crews before him for trial and punishment, Lidgerwood lost
all he had gained by being too easy.

"We've got him chasin' his feet," said Tryon, one of the rule-breaking
engineers, making his report to the roundhouse contingent at the close
of the "sweat-box" interview. "It's just as I've been tellin' you mugs
all along, he hain't got sand enough to fire anybody."

Likewise Jack Benson, though from a friendlier point of view. The
"sweat-box" was Lidgerwood's private office in the Crow's Nest, and
Benson happened to be present when the reckless trainmen were told to go
and sin no more.

"I'm not running your job, Lidgerwood, and you may fire the inkstand at
me if the spirit moves you to, but I've got to butt in. You can't handle
the Red Desert with kid gloves on. Those fellows needed an artistic
cussing-out and a thirty-day hang-up at the very lightest. You can't
hold 'em down with Sunday-school talk."

Lidgerwood was frowning at his blotting-pad and pencilling idle little
squares on it--a habit which was insensibly growing upon him.

"Where would I get the two extra train-crews to fill in the thirty-day
lay-off, Jack? Had you thought of that?"

"I had only the one think, and I gave you that one," rejoined Benson
carelessly. "I suppose it is different in your department. When I go up
against a thing like that on the sections, I fire the whole bunch and
import a few more Italians. Which reminds me, as old Dunkenfeld used to
say when there wasn't either a link or a coupling-pin anywhere within
the four horizons: what do you know about Fred Dawson, Gridley's shop
draftsman?"

"Next to nothing, personally," replied Lidgerwood, taking Benson's
abrupt change of topic as a matter of course. "He seems a fine fellow;
much too fine a fellow to be wasting himself out here in the desert.
Why?"

"Oh, I just wanted to know. Ever met his mother and sister?"

"No."

"Well, you ought to. The mother is one of the only two angels in Angels,
and the sister is the other. Dawson, himself, is a ghastly monomaniac."

Lidgerwood's brows lifted, though his query was unspoken.

"Haven't you heard his story?" asked Benson; "but of course you haven't.
He is a lame duck, you know--like every other man this side of
Crosswater Summit, present company excepted."

"A lame duck?" repeated Lidgerwood.

"Yes, a man with a past. Don't tell me you haven't caught onto the
hall-mark of the Red Desert. It's notorious. The blacklegs and tin-horns
and sure-shots go without saying, of course, but they haven't a
monopoly on the broken records. Over in the ranch country beyond the
Timanyonis they lump us all together and call us the outlaws."

"Not without reason," said Lidgerwood.

"Not any," asserted Benson with cheerful pessimism. "The entire Red
Butte Western outfit is tarred with the same stick. You haven't a dozen
operators, all told, who haven't been discharged for incompetence, or
worse, somewhere else; or a dozen conductors or engineers who weren't
good and comfortably blacklisted before they climbed Crosswater. Take
McCloskey: you swear by him, don't you? He was a chief despatcher back
East, and he put two passenger-trains together in a head-on collision
the day he resigned and came West to grow up with the Red Desert."

"I know," said Lidgerwood, "and I did not have to learn it at
second-hand. Mac was man enough to tell me himself, before I had known
him five minutes." Then he suggested mildly, "But you were speaking of
Dawson, weren't you?"

"Yes, and that's what makes me say what I'm saying; he is one of them,
though he needn't be if he weren't such a hopelessly sensitive ass. He's
a B.S. in M.E., or he would have been if he had stayed out his senior
year in Carnegie, but also he happened to be a foot-ball fiend, and in
the last intercollegiate game of his last season he had the horrible
luck to kill a man--and the man was the brother of the girl Dawson was
going to marry."

"Heavens and earth!" exclaimed Lidgerwood. "Is he that Dawson?"

"The same," said the young engineer laconically. "It was the sheerest
accident, and everybody knew it was, and nobody blamed Dawson. I happen
to know, because I was a junior in Carnegie at the time. But Fred took
it hard; let it spoil his life. He threw up everything, left college
between two days, and came to bury himself out here. For two years he
never let his mother and sister know where he was; made remittances to
them through a bank in Omaha, so they shouldn't be able to trace him.
Care to hear any more?"

"Yes, go on," said the superintendent.

"I found him," chuckled Benson, "and I took the liberty of piping his
little game off to the harrowed women. Next thing he knew they dropped
in on him; and he is just crazy enough to stay here, and to keep them
here. That wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't for Gridley, Fred's boss and
your peach of a master-mechanic."

"Why 'peach'? Gridley is a pretty decent sort of a man-driver, isn't
he?" said Lidgerwood, doing premeditated and intentional violence to
what he had come to call his unjust prejudice against the handsome
master-mechanic.

"You won't believe it," said Benson hotly, "but he has actually got the
nerve to make love to Dawson's sister! and he a widow-man, old enough to
be her father!"

Lidgerwood smiled. It is the privilege of youth to be intolerant of age
in its rival. Gridley was, possibly, forty-two or three, but Benson was
still on the sunny slope of twenty-five. "You are prejudiced, Jack," he
criticized. "Gridley is still young enough to marry again, if he wants
to--and to live long enough to spoil his grandchildren."

"But he doesn't begin to be good enough for Faith Dawson," countered the
young engineer, stubbornly.

"Isn't he? or is that another bit of your personal grudge? What do you
know against him?"

Pressed thus sharply against the unyielding fact, Benson was obliged to
confess that he knew nothing at all against the master-mechanic, nothing
that could be pinned down to day and date. If Gridley had the weaknesses
common to Red-Desert mankind, he did not parade them in Angels. As the
head of his department he was well known to be a hard hitter; and now
and then, when the blows fell rather mercilessly, the railroad colony
called him a tyrant, and hinted that he, too, had a past that would not
bear inspection. But even Benson admitted that this was mere gossip.

Lidgerwood laughed at the engineer's failure to make his case, and asked
quizzically, "Where do I come in on all this, Jack? You have an axe to
grind, I take it."

"I have. Mrs. Dawson wants me to take my meals at the house. I'm
inclined to believe that she is a bit shy of Gridley, and maybe she
thinks I could do the buffer act. But as a get-between I'd be chiefly
conspicuous by my absence."

"Sorry I can't give you an office job," said the superintendent in mock
sympathy.

"So am I, but you can do the next best thing. Get Fred to take you home
with him some of these fine evenings, and you'll never go back to Maggie
Donovan and the Celestial's individual hash-holders; not if you can
persuade Mrs. Dawson to feed you. The alternative is to fire Gridley out
of his job."

"This time you are trying to make the tail wag the dog," said
Lidgerwood. "Gridley has twice my backing in the P. S-W. board of
directors. Besides, he is a good fellow; and if I go up on the mesa and
try to stand him off for you, it will be only because I hope you are a
better fellow."

"Prop it up on any leg you like, only go," said Benson simply. "I'll
take it as a personal favor, and do as much for you, some time. I
suppose I don't have to warn you not to fall in love with Faith Dawson
yourself--or, on second thought, perhaps I had better."

This time Lidgerwood's laugh was mirthless.

"No, you don't have to, Jack. Like Gridley, I am older than I look, and
I have had my little turn at that wheel; or rather, perhaps I should say
that the wheel has had its little turn at me. You can safely deputize
me, I guess."

"All right, and many thanks. Here's 202 coming in, and I'm going over to
Navajo on it. Don't wait too long before you make up to Dawson. You'll
find him well worth while, after you've broken through his shell."

The merry jest on the Red Butte Western ran its course for another week
after the three-train wreck in the Pinons--for a week and a day. Then
Lidgerwood began the drawing of the net. A new time-card was strung with
McCloskey's cooperation, and when it went into effect a notice on all
bulletin boards announced the adoption of the standard "Book of Rules,"
and promised penalties in a rising scale for unauthorized departure
therefrom.

Promptly the horse-laugh died away and the trouble storm was evoked.
Grievance committees haunted the Crow's Nest, and the insurrectionary
faction, starting with the trainmen and spreading to the track force,
threatened to involve the telegraph operators--threatened to become a
protest unanimous and in the mass. Worse than this, the service,
haphazard enough before, now became a maddening chaos. Orders were
misunderstood, whether wilfully or not no court of inquiry could
determine; wrecks were of almost daily occurrence, and the shop track
was speedily filled to the switches with crippled engines and cars.

In such a storm of disaster and disorder the captain in command soon
finds and learns to distinguish his loyal supporters, if any such there
be. In the pandemonium of untoward events, McCloskey was Lidgerwood's
right hand, toiling, smiting, striving, and otherwise approving himself
a good soldier. But close behind him came Gridley; always suave and
good-natured, making no complaints, not even when the repair work made
necessary by the innumerable wrecks grew mountain-high, and always
counselling firmness and more discipline.

"This is just what we have been needing for years, Mr. Lidgerwood," he
took frequent occasion to say. "Of course, we have now to pay the
penalty for the sins of our predecessors; but if you will persevere,
we'll pull through and be a railroad in fact when the clouds roll by.
Don't give in an inch. Show these muckers that you mean business, and
mean it all the time, and you'll win out all right."

Thus the master-mechanic; and McCloskey, with more at stake and a less
insulated point of view, took it out in good, hard blows, backing his
superior like a man. Indeed, in the small head-quarters staff, Hallock
was the only non-combatant. From the beginning of hostilities he seemed
to have made a pact with himself not to let it be known by any act or
word of his that he was aware of the suddenly precipitated conflict. The
routine duties of a chief clerk's desk are never light; Hallock's became
so exacting that he rarely left his office, or the pen-like contrivance
in which he entrenched himself and did his work.

When the fight began, Lidgerwood observed Hallock closely, trying to
discover if there were any secret signs of the satisfaction which the
revolt of the rank and file might be supposed to awaken in an
unsuccessful candidate for the official headship of the Red Butte
Western. There were none. Hallock's gaunt face, with the loose lips and
the straggling, unkempt beard, was a blank; and the worst wreck of the
three which promptly followed the introduction of the new rules, was
noted in his reports with the calm indifference with which he might have
jotted down the breakage of a section foreman's spike-maul.

McCloskey, being of Scottish blood and desert-seasoned, was a cool
in-fighter who could take punishment without wincing overmuch. But at
the end of the first fortnight of the new time-card, he cornered his
chief in the private office and freed his mind.

"It's no use, Mr. Lidgerwood; we can't make these reforms stick with the
outfit we've got," he asserted, in sharp discouragement. "The next thing
on the docket will be a strike, and you know what that will mean, in a
country where the whiskey is bad and nine men out of every ten go fixed
for trouble."

"I know; nevertheless the reforms have got to stick," returned
Lidgerwood definitively. "We are going to run this railroad as it should
be run, or hang it up in the air. Did you discharge that operator at
Crow Canyon? the fellow who let Train 76 get by him without orders night
before last?"

"Dick Rufford? Oh yes, I fired him, and he came in on 202 to-day lugging
a piece of artillery and shooting off his mouth about what he was going
to do to me ... and to you. I suppose you know that his brother Bart,
they call him 'the killer', is the lookout at Red-Light Sammy Faro's
game, and the meanest devil this side of the Timanyonis?"

"I didn't know it, but that cuts no figure." Lidgerwood forced himself
to say it, though his lips were curiously dry. "We are going to have
discipline on this railroad while we stay here, Mac; there are no two
ways about that."

McCloskey tilted his hat to the bridge of his nose, his characteristic
gesture of displeasure.

"I promised myself that I wouldn't join the gun-toters when I came out
here," he said, half musingly, "but I've weakened on that. Yesterday,
when I was calling Jeff Cummings down for dropping that new
shifting-engine out of an open switch in broad daylight, he pulled on me
out of his cab window. What I had to take while he had me 'hands up' is
more than I'll take from any living man again."

As in other moments of stress and perplexity, Lidgerwood was absently
marking little pencil squares on his desk blotter.

"I wouldn't get down to the desert level, if I were you, Mac," he said
thoughtfully.

"I'm down there right now, in self-defence," was the sober rejoinder.
"And if you'll take a hint from me you'll heel yourself, too, Mr.
Lidgerwood. I know this country better than you do, and the men in it. I
don't say they'll come after you deliberately, but as things are now you
can't open your face to one of them without taking the chance of a
quarrel, and a quarrel in a gun-country----"

"I know," said Lidgerwood patiently, and the trainmaster gave it up.

It was an hour or two later in the same day when McCloskey came into the
private office again, hat tilted to nose, and the gargoyle face
portraying fresh soul agonies.

"They've taken to pillaging now!" he burst out. "The 316, that new
saddle-tank shifting-engine, has disappeared. I saw Broderick using the
'95, and when I asked him why, he said he couldn't find the '16."

"Couldn't find it?" echoed Lidgerwood.

"No; nor I can't, either. It's nowhere in the yards, the roundhouse, or
back shop, and none of Gridley's foremen know anything about it. I've
had Callahan wire east and west, and if they're all telling the truth,
nobody has seen it or heard of it."

"Where was it, at last accounts?"

"Standing on the coal track under chute number three, where the night
crew left it at midnight, or thereabouts."

"But certainly somebody must know where it has gone," said Lidgerwood.

"Yes; and by grapples! I think I know who the somebody is."

"Who is it?"

"If I should tell you, you wouldn't believe it, and besides I haven't
got the proof. But I'm going to get the proof," shaking a menacing
forefinger, "and when I do----"

The interruption was the entrance of Hallock, coming in with the
pay-rolls for the superintendent's approval. McCloskey broke off short
and turned to the door, but Lidgerwood gave him a parting command.

"Come in again, Mac, in about half an hour. There is another matter that
I want to take up with you, and to-day is as good a time as any."

The trainmaster nodded and went out, muttering curses to the tilted hat
brim.





Next: Everyman's Share

Previous: At The Rio Gloria



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 432