: 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

half-hour. Why?"

"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

civilization, Howard."

"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

unsuspected quality.

"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

entire fortune."

"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.

Let's go."

* * * * *

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

the service-car.

"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.