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First published in The Popular Magazine, 7 July 1928

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Version Date: 2024-03-18

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The Popular Magazine, 7 July 1928, with "The Vanishing Point"


Think of the disastrous result if an engineer on a train were to look for the signals at a dangerous curve, and they were not there! Vanished! Not stolen of removed—but rendered invisible! Wouldn't that be a great idea for a story? Well—here is the story—a splendid mystery about a Western railroad.



PEOPLE frequently tell me that I'd forget my head and go off and leave it some time if it weren't securely fastened on, and perhaps the gibe isn't wholly unjustified; though Marcia, dear girl, stoutly asserts that it is. She says I am neither thoughtless nor particularly forgetful—at least, not more so than most men; that I merely have the habit of concentrating upon the important thing of the moment, disregarding the unimportant ones. Which saying of hers may be taken for what it, is worth. Marcia has the kind of friendly loyalty that goes with straight-shooting brown eyes and hair that shows copper tints in the sunlight, and she has always cherished a militant sympathy for the under dog—any under dog, that is.

Just the same, it was forgetfulness, pure and simple, and not concentration, which led up to an experience destined to usher in a series of events of vital importance to any number of people. And with the events a fairly infernal mystery.

The place was the campus of Western Tech, and the time an evening a few weeks prior to commencement. Maltby and I, doing postgraduate work in railroad engineering, had the night shift in a nonstop dynamometer test upon a new mountain-climbing locomotive—Western Tech being equipped with a locomotive-testing plant. After we had relieved the day men I remembered that I had left my slide rule in the Electro-Chemical laboratory, where I had been working during the afternoon; and, asking Maltby to take the instrument readings by himself for a few minutes, I went to recover my mechanical calculator.

Naturally, I hadn't any intention of pulling off a sleuthing stunt when I ran up the steps of the Electro-Chemical building, which was showing lighted windows only in the laboratory wing. But for foot ease on the night job I was wearing tennis shoes. Hence, I guess I didn't make any great amount of noise climbing the stairs and passing along the upper corridor. Anyway, the single occupant of the laboratory, a man working at the bench at the far end of the room, didn't hear me, for he did not look around as I entered.

Though his back was turned, I recognized the bench worker. His name was Varnell, and for a month or more he had been a campus mystery. From the little we had learned about him, he figured as an outsider who had obtained permission to do some experimental research work in the university laboratories. He had been given the freedom of the laboratories, and we had remarked that he always did his work in them alone, at night, and behind locked doors; though on this one occasion he seemed to have neglected the lock precaution.

The slight air of mystery surrounding this man, together with the fact that, quite evidently, he hadn't heard me come in, made me hesitate a moment before making my presence known. He had a contrivance of some sort of the bench—I couldn't see what it was because he stood in the way—and he appeared to be adjusting it.

While I looked, he reached for the switch controlling the ceiling lights and the laboratory went black. In the darkness I saw a cone of bluish-green light, so dim as to be almost invisible, projecting itself to the right along the bench toward a familiar object—a small ice-making machine with which a group of students had been experimenting during the afternoon.

Watching the progress of the faintly visible light beam, which seemed to originate in whatever apparatus it was that Varnell's figure was concealing, I saw it reach out like a ghostly tentacle toward the little refrigerating plant. For an instant it illuminated the motor and copper coils and condensing compressor; then, as if an invisible broom had suddenly swept it away, the ice-making machine disappeared, leaving the place it had occupied on the bench as bare as the back of an ungloved hand!

As I rubbed my eyes and stared, trying to tell myself that, of course, this was only a clever optical illusion, Varnell switched the ceiling circuit on again. At the flooding of the room with light from the powerful lamps overhead the bluish-green ray or emanation, or whatever it was, could no longer be distinguished. But the marvel remained.

The small ice-making machine was still invisible; it was gone as completely as if it had never existed.

While one might have counted ten, Varnell stood motionless.. Then I saw his hand go out toward the thing on the bench. There was sound-like the click of an electric switch, and at that the little refrigerating machine leaped into view as suddenly and mysteriously as it had vanished a few moments earlier.

Without stopping to realize just why I did it, I stepped back into the corridor, closing the door softly behind me; and upon making a second entrance I took care to let it be noisy. Varnell was startled, and he showed it. As I entered he was hastily adjusting an oilcloth typewriter cover over something on the bench.

"Oh—hello, Manning," he said gruffly. "I didn't know you had a key."

"I haven't," I replied. "The door wasn't locked. Did you think it was?"

"Meant to lock it," he growled. "Don't care to have a bunch of undergrads nosing around when I'm at work. Wouldn't have made any difference tonight, though; I was only doing a bit of repair work on my typewriter. What are you after?"

"My slide rule. I left it here somewhere this afternoon."

That was all that was said. I found the slide rule and ducked out, leaving him leaning against the bench, fingering his brown, pointed beard trimmed like a doctor's, his eyes, or so I fancied, watching my every movement. As I recrossed the campus, the full effect of what I had just seen began to get in its work. What devil's invention was it that Varnell had so hastily concealed under the typewriter cover when I made my 'second entrance? Had he, accidentally or purposefully, hit upon some hitherto undiscovered principle in light-wave research?

Later on, in an interval when we weren't checking steam pressures or tabulating horse powers delivered by the big freight puller on the testing pit, I asked Maltby what he knew about Varnell.

"Nothing more than the campus gossip," was his answer. "They say he is a research man for one of the big automotive companies, doing some special work here that he couldn't do in the company laboratory. Why do you ask?"

"I'm just wondering. Ever strike you that there is something a bit mysterious about him?"

Maltby laughed. "Not particularly mysterious, no; just grouchy—like a fellow who doesn't 'belong' and knows he doesn't. Did you run up against him in Electro-Chemical?"

"Yes; he was there, tinkering his typewriter, so he said. Which was a rather clumsy lie."

"What makes you think he lied about it?"

"I don't think; I know." Then I described the singular thing, I had seen, and explained how I came to witness it.

"Rats!" Maltby snorted. "Calls that research work, does he? Qualifying to do parlor magic stunts! Couldn't see how it was worked, could you?"

"No. He had an apparatus of some sort—which was covered up when I went in the second time; he'd blanketed it with a typewriter cover."

"But you didn't take the disappearing act seriously?"

"No; I guess not. Though it did impress me a bit, at the time."

Maltby chuckled and said something about the old superstitions handed on to us by our Stone Age ancestors dying hard. Then:

"You've washed the mystery out of it by this time, haven't you?"

"I'm not so sure that I have," I admitted.

"It's simple enough. The 'apparatus' he didn't want you to see was probably only intended to add atmosphere. So was the switching-off of the lights. An arrangement of adjustable mirrors would easily account for the disappearance of the ice machine. The trick is old enough to be gray bearded."

It was time to take another series of readings on the locomotive performance, and Varnell and his doings faded out of the picture. But he stepped into it again a week later when I was smoking an after-dinner pipe with Mackenzie, the Electro-Chemical head, on the porch of the Tau Beta house. We had been speaking of the later discoveries in applied science; the strides that had been made in the development of the radio, television and the like, and Mackenzie had said something about the way in which people of to-day accept, as matters of course, scientific and mechanical marvels which would have been classed as the wildest of impossibilities a few decades in the past.

"Yes," I agreed, "nobody nowadays dares to say that anything is impossible. For a few minutes one night last week this fellow Varnell, who has been tinkering around in the various laboratories, had me on the run in what seemed to be an entirely new field."

"How was that?" Mackenzie asked; and I told him, adding that, for the moment, at least, the cleverness of the thing had made me overlook the fact that it was only a bit of parlor magic.

The professor smoked in silence for a time before he said musingly:

"The neutralizing ray—the ray which will render a given object incapable of reflecting the light which conveys its image to the eye—has often been sought, and it may some time be discovered; but hardly by a Varnell, you'd say. What do you know of the man?"

"Nothing definite; nothing at all more than the campus talk."

Another little interval of silence; and then:

"I understand he has left us; gone back to wherever it was he came from. A rather singular individual, I thought. He brought letters purporting to be from one of the great automotive plants, and they were apparently accepted without question. His habit of working nights in the laboratories and locking himself in made me a trifle curious; and, as I chanced to have a friend on the research staff of the plant from which he professed to come, I wrote my friend a note of inquiry."

"Well?" I prompted, after a longish pause that seemed as if it were going to put an end to the matter.

"My friend's reply came this morning. It seems that no one answering Varnell's description, or bearing his name, has ever been connected with the staff of which he claimed to be a member." Another pause, and then: "Which argues that we have been imposed upon; that Varnell's references were forgeries."

"In that case, oughtn't something to be done about it?" I asked.

"I have been considering," said Mackenzie, with characteristic Scottish canniness. "So far as we know, apart from offering forged credentials, the man has done no harm beyond using the laboratories, probably to perfect some sleight-of-hand tricks that he means to palm off upon vaudeville audiences. It is hardly a police matter for the university."

Here, I decided, was a sufficient solution of whatever mystery there might have been, and once more Varnell and his doings retreated into the limbo of things forgettable. But a little later an occurrence was to bob up to bring him and the singular thing I had witnessed in the Electro-Chemical laboratory back with a shock. Leaving Mackenzie to smoke a second pipe of his favorite mixture, I went around: into the next street to see if Doctor Denton's front porch was unoccupied—the doctor being Marcia's father.

The porch was empty, as I hoped it might be—and feared it wouldn't be, since Marcia seldom lacked some sappy undergraduate to sit the evening out with her. But when Mrs. Denton answered my ring, I was told that Marcia had gone around the block to a neighbor's. Would I wait? She'd probably be back in a few minutes. Thanking the good lady for the implied invitation, I planted myself in a porch chair commanding a view of the sidewalk in both directions, meaning to intercept Marcia as she was returning and forestall other possible callers by asking her to take a stroll with me around the campus.

For a time nothing happened. The street was one of the quietest in the residence district of a quiet college town, and there was little passing. In front of the house diagonally across on the right—which, as I noted, was all dark, as if the occupants had gone out somewhere—an automobile was parked, and, from my point of view, the car seemed to be empty. The nearest street light was on the corner above, and though it cast long shadows of the sidewalk-edging trees and the shrubbery on the house lawns, it was sufficiently strong to illuminate the roadway and walks.

In due time I saw Marcia approaching on the opposite side of the street. The night was warm and she was bareheaded; I could see her small well shaped head with its boyish bob, and the little competent swing of her shoulders as she walked. A moment later she passed out of my sight behind the parked auto, and I laid my pipe aside and got up to go and meet her.

When I got as far as the gate it struck me that she was taking a long time to pass the parked car, and the presumable reason for it nicked my Irish nerve. Some one of the sappy youngsters I was planning to forestall had beaten me to it and was trying to persuade her to take a spin with him in his car.

"No, you don't—not this time!" I gritted, apostrophizing the car sporter; and a moment later I was crossing the street to try what a little counter-persuasion might accomplish. Just before I reached the car, the motor purred and it rolled away, leaving me standing at the curb like a villain foiled. I saw, or thought I saw, how it was: the sappy one had seen me coming and had taken time by the forelock. Not a little chagrined at being so neatly sidetracked, I recrossed the street and let myself in at the doctor's gate to get the pipe I had left on the porch railing. As I stepped upon the porch I had my little start of shocked surprise. For there, sitting in the chair I had lately been occupying, and looking as if she were waiting for me, was Marcia.


BEFORE I could speak she was laughing at me and saying: "Since you'd left your pipe, I was pretty sure you'd come back."

"Say!—how did you get here?" I demanded.

"On my two little feet, of course. Don't say you didn't see me!"

"But I didn't. Where were you?"

"I was crossing the street at the same time you were, only I was coming straight across and you were going diagonally. I thought you were hurrying to catch somebody in that auto."

"You thought right. I was sitting here on the porch and saw you just before you passed behind the auto, and when you didn't come in sight again I concluded that one of your little undergrad playboys was asking you to take a spin with him. I couldn't stand for that—in the circumstances—so I was chasing to head him off."

"You say I didn't come in sight? But I did! I didn't stop at the auto, and I don't know whose car it was—or is. I can't understand why you didn't see me. I saw you plainly enough."

"Maybe I was blind," I answered rather lamely.

She laughed again.

"Haven't I always said you have a single-track mind—what the French call the idée fixe? All you could see at the moment was somebody about to take me away in the auto—which you say you couldn't stand for, in the circumstances. What are the circumstances?"

"Just that I came around to tell you good-by. I'm leaving to-morrow."

"Leaving?" she echoed. "I thought you and Tommy Maltby were to stay until after commencement."

"We meant to. But we have an offer of a job and we can't afford to turn it down. I've told you we've been running some tests on a locomotive built for a road out West—the E.B. & P. It is the first of an order of ten of the same class, the order to be completed if the type comes up to specifications—does the work. Tommy and I have made the laboratory tests here, and now the railroad people ask us to make a series of road tests in actual service. As I say, we couldn't afford to turn the offer down."

"The E.B. & P.," she said half musingly. "Would that by any chance be the Eagle Butte & Pacific?"

"It would, indeed. Why do you ask?"

"This is a funny world, Eric, dear. Are you and Tommy leaving on the morning train?"

"We are."

"What would you say if I should tell you that I am going along with you?"

"What? You don't mean that!"

"But I do. Aunt Sarah's asthma is troubling her again, and Doctor Daddy thinks she ought to try the high altitudes—or should I say the dry altitudes? And, just as that has been decided upon, along comes Captain Lansing Weatherford, vice president of the E.B. & P., stopping off to spend a day with Dean Randall. And here the funny coincidences begin. Years ago Doctor Daddy used to be the Weatherford family physician up in the Michigan pineries. Besides being the vice president of a railroad, Captain Lansing owns a dude ranch somewhere back in the mountains; and when we tell him what we're going to do with Aunt Sarah—But I'm sure you've guessed the rest of it."

I nodded. "He opens his heart and home—otherwise the dude ranch—to your aunt and makes her his honored guest. But where do you come in?"

"At the front door, if you please! I'm to go along as nurse-in-ordinary, don't you see? And not only that; we are both to be his guests on the trip in his private car, the Tyrian, which is to be taken on the Limited in the morning."

"Um," said I, "the undergrads will miss you."

"Are you trying to tell me that I'm a college widow?"

"No, I'm only trying to keep from bursting into tears because I'm not included in the private-car invitation."

"You've met Captain Weatherford, haven't you?"

"No. It seems that he asked Dean Randall to recommend a couple of postgrads in railroad engineering to go out and make the road tests on the big Mountain type, and the dean picked on Tommy and me. Where is this dude ranch you speak of? Is it on the E.B. & P.?"

"No; it is some distance back from the railroad, he told us, in the Juniper foothills. Caliente is the station for it."

"Calien-tay," I corrected. "Don't you know that all the vowels are pronounced in the Spanish?"

But she merely made a face at me for this. "Where will you and Tommy be?" she asked.

"At Eagle Butte for our headquarters, I suppose. That is where the general office and shops are."

"Then we shan't see much of you. The captain said the ranch was sixty miles from Eagle Butte, and ten miles from the railroad."

"Don't comfort yourself too severely with that thought," I said. "I've been known to travel more than sixty miles for a sight of something that I wanted to see."

"How energetic!" she gibed. And then: "If you should ever get as far as the Circle D—that's the ranch, you know—I'm sure Aunt Sarah will be delighted to see somebody from home."

In all-this chatter I had held my end up as well as I could, but it was entirely without prejudice to an undercurrent of speculation about the queer thing that had happened just before I had found Marcia sitting on the porch.

She had said that she was crossing the street at the same time that I was crossing in the opposite direction. She had seen me. Why hadn't I seen her? All that business about the one-track mind and the fixed idea might satisfy her, but I would have sworn that I was the only human being loose in the street when I had crossed to the auto. And yet she had said, in effect, that the only reason we hadn't met face to face was because we were crossing at different angles.

When it came time to say good-by, we didn't say it—since we were both to be on the same train in the morning. But when she went to the gate with me I said:

"I suppose you'll high-hat Tommy and me on the road—you as a guest in the private car and hobnobbing with the vice president of a railroad."

She wrinkled her nose at me.

"In that case, perhaps we'd better say good-by, after all. Just for that, you may kiss me, Eric, dear."

I did it, of course, and it was just about as soul-satisfying as kissing a waxwork manikin of the kind you see in the show windows of the ready-to-wear shops. Marcia could be warm hearted enough when she felt like it, but when she didn't, she could make a man wonder whether he had really kissed a girl, or had been slapped in the face with a cold dead fish.

The next morning Maltby and I were a trifle late getting down to the station, and in the hustle of ticket buying and baggage checking we saw nothing of Marcia or Aunt Sarah; had time only to swing aboard our Pullman before the train pulled down to back in on the station spur track and couple to a handsome brass-railed business car—otherwise, Captain Weatherford's traveling hotel. After we were settled in our section, Maltby went back to the club car to smoke and I opened the morning paper that I had picked up on the way to the station.

It was on the local page of the newspaper that I found an item with a blocktype heading. Some time between eight and nine o'clock the previous evening, Dean Randall's house in Beech Street had been burglarized while the family was absent at a college entertainment, and the affair—in the language of the newspaper reporter who had written it up—was "shrouded in mystery." So far as could be determined, no robbery had been committed; only one room—the one occupied by the dean's guest, Captain Lansing Weatherford—had been ransacked, and that only as to the guest's personal belongings. There was no clue to the identity of the burglar or burglars, save that the neighbors saw an auto parked before the Randall house for some little time in the evening between the hours named.

Quite naturally, the reading of this item gave me a small shock. Dean Randall's was the house diagonally across from Marcia's home, and the auto seen by the neighbors was the one I had tried to intercept, and behind which Marcia had disappeared—to reappear for me only after I had returned to find her sitting on the porch of her father's house. While I was trying to find the connection, if any, between Marcia's disappearance—for me—and the raid upon the dean's guest room, a good-looking young fellow came down the aisle to stop at our section and thrust out his hand.

"Mr. Manning?" he said; and when I nodded and took the proffered hand, he sat down in the opposite seat and introduced himself.

"My names Dorman—Billy, for short—and I'm Captain Weatherford's secretary. I've just been hobnobbing with Mr. Maltby in the club car, and he told me I'd find you here. Thought I'd horn in and get acquainted, since you and Mr. Maltby are going to be with us in the 'wild and woolly.'"

"Temporarily," I qualified. Then, natural curiosity coming to the front: "I was just reading the newspaper account of what happened at Dean Randall's last night, and I'm interested because I was one of the 'neighbors' who saw the auto. Did the captain lose anything?"

My new-found acquaintance smiled.

"You're beating me to it," he said. "Miss Denton—she and her aunt are our guests in the Tyrian—has been telling us that you and she both saw the auto, and I thought you might be able to tell us more than she was able to. Can you?"

"Sorry, but I don't think I can. Miss Marcia saw all that I did, and a bit more. You see, she passed the auto while it was standing in front of the dean's."

"So she has just told us. And she also mentioned one other circumstance upon which we thought you might be able to throw some light—about your not seeing her when she passed you in crossing the street."

I saw no reason why I shouldn't give the straight facts to this frank, pleasant-faced young man who stood next to Captain Weatherford, so I told him briefly just what had occurred.

"Something decidedly queer about that, don't you think?" he commented. "And it ties in with another thing that wears the same pair of shoes—which is the reason why I've taken the liberty of butting in on you. Our car was entered last night and the captain's desk was rifled."

"You don't tell me!" I exclaimed. "Any clues?"

"Not what you'd call clues. I was sleeping in the car, and the porter was supposed to be on watch. 'Pip' is a pretty reliable darky, but he may have been asleep—probably was."

"And the breaking and entering didn't waken you?"

He was silent for a moment; was looking aside and seemed to be watching the Indiana cornfields as they whirled in circling procession past the car windows. When he spoke again it was to say:

"I'm a confirmed tobacco addict, Mr. Manning. Shall we go to the smoking compartment where I can light up?"

I went with him to the little den at the forward end of the car which served the double purpose of the men's wash room and smoking room, and he seemed relieved to find it unoccupied.

"I did want to smoke," he said, as we sat together on the leather-upholstered seat, "but the real reason for the shift was the man sitting in the section next to yours. I fancied he was cocking an ear in our direction."

I had noticed the man he referred to—a man wearing tinted glasses in tortoise-shell frames big enough to figure as aviation goggles, and with a soft, felt traveling hat pulled down as if to protect further a pair of weak eyes. In the passing glance I had given him, so much of his face as wasn't hidden by the drooping hat brim and the goggles had seemed vaguely familiar, but the impression vanished almost as soon as it was made.

"You were asking if the breaking and entering didn't waken me," Dorman went on, after he had got his pipe going. "If I could answer that with a plain 'Yes' or 'No' I'd be easier in my mind. There are four staterooms in the Tyrian, and I was sleeping in one of the two next to the open compartment which takes up about half of the car. What I'm going to tell you was either a dream, or else it wasn't. I'm a pretty sound sleeper; got that way in the service overseas, where you caught your forty winks wherever and whenever you could."

"I know," I agreed. "Had a bit of that, myself."

"Some time in the night I was awakened, or dreamed I was awakened, by a noise in the open compartment. The night was warm and I had gone to sleep with the door of my room open, and from my berth I could look straight into the main room. There was only one small electric left turned on, so the big room was only faintly lighted. The most prominent object in my line of view was, or should have been, Captain Weatherford's desk. Am I making it clear?"


"All right; here's where the thing begins to figure as a crazy dream. I should have seen the desk—and I didn't see it; wasn't there. I sort of half remember realizing that it was a dream, and turning over to go to sleep again. But when I got up this morning, I found that the captain's desk had been ransacked. I'm telling you this because Miss Denton told us of your experience last evening. You. weren't dreaming when you passed her without seeing her in crossing the street, were you?"

"Not in the least," I denied. And then: "I can match you. Last night wasn't the first time for me." And at this I told him what I had seen in the Electro-Chemical laboratory a week earlier, winding up with: "I've been calling it a bit of parlor magic, but now I'm not so sure about it. Perhaps what I saw in the university laboratory, and what you thought you dreamed last night, are two pups in the same litter."

"You say this man Varnell is a crook?"

"No, I didn't say that. What I said was that he had handed in forged credentials."

"Which is a distinction without a difference," Dorman returned with a grin. "What became of him?"

"I don't know. He disappeared—for us—some few days ago."

"You're a scientific person, and I'm not. Is the thing you're hinting at—a contrivance that will make a solid object invisible—a mechanical possibility?"

"I don't know that, either. But he is a cold man nowadays who will say that anything in the way of a mechanical marvel is impossible. Was anything stolen from Captain Weatherford's desk?"

"That is another twist in the mystery. I'm a pretty methodical cuss—learned that in the army, too, where I was the captain's orderly—and the captain and I went over the contents of the desk with a fine-tooth comb, as you might say. There is nothing missing but a typewritten list of the E.B. & P. stockholders and bondholders."

"What would anybody want with that?" I asked. Then I thought better of it and said: "You needn't tell me; it's none of my business."

He looked me square in the eyes and said:

"You are on the E.B. & P. pay roll, aren't you?"

"Temporarily, as I have said."

"All right; I believe you are a square shooter, and we want you and your buddy, Maltby, on our side. Are you with us?"

I smiled at his boyish directness.

"You can rest assured that I shan't bite the hand that feeds me. And I can answer for Tom Maltby, as well."

"Good! You shall have the layout. Two years ago the E. B. & P. was a kite without a tail, two streaks of rust and a right of way; bankrupt and in the hands of a receiver whose appointees were letting it go to the dogs—for a purpose. Get the picture?"

"As far as it goes, yes. What was the purpose of the disloyal appointees?"

"It wasn't avowed, of course, but it was plain enough. Most of them were graduates of the T-C.O., which wanted to acquire the E.B. & P. franchises—meaning to make the kite without a tail a part of a through extension to the south. Buy it in for a song, you know, and have that much of their extension ready made. At that time the captain was running the Circle D Ranch; he was gassed in the war, and when the New York doctors said he must have an outdoor life in the dry altitudes, his father, the Honorable Peter, bought the Circle D for him and told him to go to it and get well. Give me the high sign if I'm getting too prolix and so on."

"You're not; I'm interested."

"The captain got well pretty soon and began to hanker for something bigger than a dude cattle ranch to play with. The Honorable Peter and some of his friends were bondholders in the E.B. & P. When the sheriff's sale came along under the receivership, they slipped in ahead of the T-C.O., bought the road, reorganized it, put the captain in as first vice president and general manager, and authorized him to go on and build it south to a connection with the P. S-W. over the Moquetas and through Eden Valley. There was a whale of a fight. Perhaps you heard about it."

I nodded. "I saw what was printed in the newspapers. The Eden Valley cattlemen tried to block the game, didn't they? Didn't want the valley opened to homesteaders?"

"That was what the public was led to believe. But the ranchmen were only pawns in the game, with the T-C. O. making the moves. We won out and got the extension through, and that was that. Then the big Transcontinental line went to work to bore from within. The E.B. & P. became a paying proposition, and they wanted it. For the past year a bunch of unknowns in New York have been buying our stock, a bit here and another there. After a while they got some memberships on the board and began to bring pressure to bear on the captain. Whenever there was a vacancy on his staff—and that happened pretty frequently because the T-C. O. and other big lines were persistently hiring our officials away from us—the captain would find himself virtually obliged to take on somebody he didn't know, some stranger from the East. The captain was obliged because, with the constantly shifting stock ownership, he didn't know how far he could go if he should rear up and read the riot act to the New Yorkers."

"And that is the situation now?" I asked.

"It is. The New Yorkers, aided and abetted by some of their strikers on our official staff, are turning heaven and earth over to discredit the captain's administration. The captain is a fighter from the word 'go,' and if he could get anything definite on the conspirators, he'd sure send some of them to the pen and blow the conspiracy sky high. But so far we haven't been able to get a shred of evidence that would stand in the courts. We've just been to New York to try to find out how far the 'boring from within' has gone. That's why we had the list of stockholders—which was the only thing that was stolen last night. Does that answer your question of a few minutes ago?"

"Fairly well," I said. "Somebody wanted to know how much you had learned in New York. Here's hoping that the captain knocks 'em cold."

Dorman got up to go.

"I'm scamping my job. The captain will be wanting to write some letters to be mailed in Chicago. I suppose I don't need to say that all this loose-tongued talk of mine won't stand broadcasting?" He grinned as he said it.

"Don't worry. We'll be loyal to our salt—Maltby and I. If there is anything we can do to help—"

"As it happens, there is. You and your buddy have been making tests on this big new freight puller we've bought, haven't you?"

"We have."

"Is it up to specifications? Will it do the work?"

"The block tests were perfectly satisfactory, in all respects."

"Good! We need ten of those engines to cut the costs in the mountain haul over the Moquetas. Grider, our superintendent of motive power—he's one of the New York appointees—says we don't need 'em, and that if we do, we shouldn't have bought Baldwins. It will be up to you and Mr. Maltby to back the captain's judgment when you make the road tests. That's another reason why I've been putting you next." And with that he left me.

Naturally, after this frank talk on the part of Captain Weatherford's secretary, I had plenty to think about, and I smoked another pipe before I returned to our section in the body of the car. When I did so, I found the adjoining section, the one that had been occupied by the man with the goggle spectacles, empty; not only of the man himself, but also of all his numerous pieces of hand baggage. Since the train had made no stops, I asked the porter what had become of my neighbor.

"Done moved up into the Chicago local car, yessuh. Tol' the conductor he had some friends up there and he wanted to be with um," the negro replied.

And with that answer I had to be satisfied.


BECAUSE there are a number of routes from Chicago to the Missouri River, we lost the Tyrian at the de Michigan metropolis, and didn't see it again until we were twelve hours west of Denver, with our P. S-W. flyer halting at Moraine to drop off our through sleeper for Eagle Butte over the E.B. & P.

Since we were to make road tests with the new Mountain type, Maltby and I were sitting up to see as much as we could of the Weatherford road before we turned in, and this was how we came to see the captain's private car coupled in with our own sleeper at the rear of the waiting E.B. & P. night express.

What we might have seen from the windows of the Pullman probably wouldn't have amounted to much; on the station platform at Moraine we ran across Billy Dorman dropping out of the vestibule of the private car to file some telegrams for his chief. He took us forward to the big Pacific type and gave us an introduction in character as official experts to Chris Christiensen, the engineer, a huge Viking in blue denim who was making his last-minute oiling round of the Pacific type.

"Aye bane glad to mit you yentlemen," said Chris, and we were waved up to seats on the fireman's side of the cab.

What we saw before we became too sleepy to see anything was, first, a fine piece of engineering as the extension wound its way through a series of canyons, around nicely compensated curves and up a succession of grades to a pass over the Little Moquetas. Down the northern grades the gigantic Swede at the throttle whisked his train at timesaving speed to a broad upland valley lying stark in the moonlight—a level expanse dotted with ranches and sheltered at a wide distance on either hand by forested mountain ranges. "Eden Valley?" was Maltby's query shouted at the fireman; and the husky young shovel artist nodded an affirmative.

We had an hour or more of the valley before a water-tank stop gave us a chance to say good night to the two enginemen and drop off to go back to our Pullman. As we were getting ready to turn in, Maltby said:

"No wonder the Weatherfords wanted to stretch their railroad into this valley. From what we've seen, it seems to justify its name. Wouldn't mind owning a few acres of it, myself."

This was somewhere about midnight; but the morning had another story to tell.

When we ran up the window shades at sunrise, the train had climbed and crossed the main range of the Moquetas and was rocketing northward over a desert-like expanse, with mountains in the dim distance to the eastward and others much nearer at hand on the west.

"The Junipers, I take it," Maltby said—meaning the nearer mountains—while we were taking a basin bath and shaving. "Wonder if we've passed the captain's ranch station?"

I said I thought not—hoped not, anyway; and Maltby made a grinning mask of his lathered face.

"Want to kiss the little girl good-by before she disappears, do you? It stands you in hand. With the ranch ten miles off the railroad you won't have a chance to see her very often in the busy days to come, what? When is the wedding to be?"

I wished very heartily that I could tell him, but since I couldn't, I let the joshing question go without an answer.

I was barely presentable, and Maltby wasn't even that far along, when the train slowed to a stop at a desert siding marked by a cattle-loading corral and a single building, a diminutive station and telegraph office. At the platform a touring car and a small truck were waiting; and when I made the porter let me out of the vestibule, Captain Weatherford was coming up from the private car in the rear with his two guests.

It was my first sight of the captain, and he looked the fighting man, all right—a square-shouldered, well-set-up athlete, with the smiling eyes of a joyous Scrapper, but with a jaw that would take the edge off the smile for any antagonist foolish enough to mistake him for an easy mark. He had Aunt Sarah on his arm and was leading her to the auto, and that gave me a chance to cut in on Marcia.

"'Lo, Eric," she said. "Speaking of high hats and the exclusivenesses, where have you been all the time?"

I hastened to explain that the route over which our passes had read had made us lose the Tyrian at Chicago; that we had just caught up with it again at Moraine, late the previous evening.

"As if I didn't know," she gurgled, giving me the laugh again. "Are you and Tommy Maltby coming over to the ranch with us?"

"You've got us wrong; we're not dudes, we're workingmen. Will you stick at the ranch all summer? Or will you get up to Eagle Butte now and then?"

"Who knows? I'm sure I don't." Then to the captain, who had handed Aunt Sarah into the waiting auto: "We've had a perfectly lovely time, Captain Weatherford, but you've spoiled us. We'll never be satisfied to travel in a common, everyday Pullman again. Shall we see you at the ranch any time?"

The captain smiled. "Since Mrs. Weatherford is summering at the Circle D, it is very likely you'll see me as often as you care to. You must make yourselves entirely at home at the ranch. I have wired Mrs. Weatherford that you are coming, and I am sure she will try to make you comfortable."

I seemed to be out of it and I moved away. The baggage man was tumbling the women's trunks out of his car, and as I swung up to the steps of the Pullman the train began to move. The ranch auto was backing for a turn and Marcia was waving to somebody; but 'whether it was to the captain or to me, I couldn't tell.

Two hours later the train pulled through the yards and up to the headquarters-building station which served as the Eagle Butte terminal, and Dorman came to go with us and get us located. To reach the business streets we had to cross a gridironing of tracks, with another headquarters-station building on the town side of the big yard, and Dorman said:

"Our friends, the enemy; otherwise the T-C. O. division wickiup where they load the bombs for us."

"Not open warfare, is it?" I inquired.

"Oh, no; nothing like that. A decade or so in the past you might have seen something of that sort, but not nowadays. We exchange business with them and greet one another cordially when we meet; but if Bloodgood—he's their division head—could see a good chance to cut our throats, he'd do it without turning a hair."

"Nice, gentle sort of savage to have for your next-door neighbor," grinned Maltby. And then: "Eric's been telling me about your little war. We'll probably not be with you very long, but while we're here you know you can count on us for anything we can do to tease the enemy."

"Thanks," said Billy Dorman; "that listens fine!" And within the next few minutes he had installed us comfortably in a hotel which seemed far too luxurious and modern for the size and importance of a town which, so far as we could see, owed its existence principally to the fact that it was the division point of one railroad and the terminus of another.

As he was about to leave us, Dorman said:

"Your business will be chiefly with the motive-power department, naturally, and after you're rested up from the trip you can report to Grider, superintendent of motive power. He has been wired that you were coming."

I remembered our introductory talk in the Westboro-Chicago Pullman.

"This Mr. Grider is one of the unwelcome New York appointees, isn't he?"

"Just that, and he'll probably give you the icy shoulder. But the captain is still the big boss, and Grider will have to let you do your do with the new fourteen wheeler—which he says we don't need."

When we reported at the headquarters building, which we did as soon as we had changed to working clothes, we found that Dorman hadn't overstated the fact as to our welcome in the office of the superintendent of motive power, Grider, a surly looking man driver, apparently having a contemptuous opinion of college men in general and of mechanical engineering postgraduates in particular.

"Uh-huh," he grunted, when we introduced ourselves; "the captain wired me. What do you think you can find out about this new 'hog'—more than we can find out for ourselves?"

"Perhaps nothing at all," I hastened to say—before Maltby could cut in with something as insulting as Grider's question. "But Captain Weatherford has employed us to make the road tests, and—"

"All right," he broke in crustily; "the hog is here, waiting for you. You'll find it in the back shop. Tell Bagley, the master mechanic, who you are, and he'll give you a gang to fit it for the road." Then, with a mean look out of his cold eyes: "Who are you working for—the railroad company, or the builders?"

Again I answered quickly, to keep Maltby from upsetting the fat in the fire, as I made sure he was ready to do.

"We are employed by the company, of course. We have nothing to do with the Baldwin Locomotive Works."

"Hah!" he said. And the way he said it made it sound very much as if he had said: "You're a damned liar." And that was that.

"Hell," Maltby remarked as we were crossing the tracks to the shops, "'speaking of hogs, there is one with both feet in the trough. If the captain has many more like Grider on his staff, it's easy to see what he's up against."

In the master mechanic's office we found a very different proposition. Bagley was a small man, with a quick, decisive manner, but with good nature written all over his rather homely face. And before we had talked with him many minutes we found that he knew his job from the ground up.

"The new engine is on the erecting pit," he told us. "We would have coupled it up, but Mr. Grider said he had a wire from Captain Weatherford, and we were to let the engine alone until you came along. If you'll come into the shops I'll give you some men and you can start them in. I hope the big brute does the work. We're losing business right along for the lack of heavy freight pullers; though Mr. Grider thinks we could get along without 'em if we'd work a little harder with what we have."

That was the beginning of our contact with Bagley, and it left us with a better taste in our mouths. And the taste remained after we had spent the day working with and directing the shop gang assigned to us. As Maltby put it that evening as we sat down to dinner in the hotel, it seemed evident that whatever disloyalty there might be among the E.B. & P. officials and department heads, the rank and file swore by Captain Weatherword to a man.

"Just the same, there's thunder on the left," Maltby added. "If you put your ear to the ground you can hear it plainly enough. Or, for that matter, you can feel it in the air." Then, as he attacked the outworks of the excellent dinner: "My prophetic soul is warning me to keep an eye on Friend Grider. It whispers that he's going to take a swipe at us—you and me, Eric—when he gets a chance."

And I had a feeling that way, myself.


AFTER dinner Maltby suggested a movie for pastime, and when I said I'd had hard labor enough for one day, he went alone, leaving me to draw up a comfortable sleepy-hollow chair in front of a window commanding a view of the street, the railroad plaza and the T-C. O. station and yard; to plant myself therein and to fill and light my pipe.

I had been taking it easy, with the stir and life of the lobby shut off by the high back and deeply recessed seat of my chair just enough to make it companionable without being intrusive, for some little time, when a T-C. O. passenger train pulled in from the East. In a few minutes the Eagle Butte contingent of travelers from it began to come stringing along past my window to the lobby entrance, among them a figure that seemed vaguely familiar to me—a tall fellow, clean shaven, and wearing a pair of oversized spectacles in black frames.

When the new arrivals filed in and crossed to the registry desk, I got up to have another look at the spectacled man, and as I did so, the memory card index shoved up the identifying memoranda He was unmistakably the begoggled person who had been sitting in the section next to Maltby's and mine in the train leaving Westboro three days earlier; the one Billy Dorman had suspected of cocking a listening ear, and who had had himself transferred to another car after Dorman and I had retreated to the smoking compartment.

Moved more by curiosity than by anything else, I waited until after the man had registered and disappeared in the direction of the elevators, and then strolled over to the desk to ask the clerk what, if anything, he knew about the guest who had last registered.

"Not a thing in the world; never saw him before," was the answer. "Signs his name 'Vanderpool,' from New York. Do you know him?"

I said I didn't; and, returning to my deep-seated chair at the window, fell to musing a bit over the curious coincidences that occasionally happen along. Here was a man, whom I had last seen on a train more than a thousand miles away, turning up in Eagle Butte within a few hours of my own arrival. Of course, there was no reason why he shouldn't; but it seemed as if there were a thousand chances to one that he wouldn't.

Past this, another small matter bobbed up with a question mark attached. Why did this man's face suggest a memory antedating my seeing of it in the Westboro-Chicago sleeper? It had done so, and it was doing it again. The more I thought of it, the more the conviction grew upon me that he was not wholly the stranger he seemed to be; and yet I couldn't place him anywhere back of that other chance meeting three days in the past.

While I was still puzzling over the suggestion of familiarity which refused to materialize into anything definite, the street light in front of the hotel showed me two men coming diagonally across the plaza from the direction of the E. B.. & P. terminal. As they came nearer I saw that one of them was the grouchy superintendent of motive power, Grider, and the other a big man who looked as though he might be anything from a promoter of wildcat oil prospects to a politician out of a job.

A moment or two later, the two pushed through the revolving doors and came over toward the alcove where I was sitting. Inasmuch as I raised up to look at them as they came in, I supposed, naturally, that they must have seen me. But the first words that I heard, as they drew up a couple of chairs somewhere behind me, made it evident that they hadn't seen me; that they believed the high-backed lounging chair near them was unoccupied.

"This is as good a place as any," Grider said, as they seated themselves. "If anybody butts in on us here, we can go up to my room. You were starting to tell me your plan of campaign. |I don't want to know it, or know anything about it. If your foot slips and I'm called into court, I'm going in with an ironclad alibi. Do you get that?"

"Of course; that's understood," said the other man. "All we ask is a free hand. I've got my men on the ground—the last one, and he's the king-pin, came in on the T-C. O. this evening—and we're ready for business. Give us a couple of weeks or so, and I'll promise you you can buy what stock you need at your own price."

"All right; go to it. But, as I say, I don't want to know anything about what you're doing, or your methods. And I'm telling you again that if you get caught out, you'll have to stand on your own feet. Onderdonk wires me that you haven't the scratch of a pen to show that you are not working a stockjobbing scheme of your own, so, if you make a miscue, you'll get no backing from our bunch."

"Don't worry about the miscues. We're not exactly apprentices at a job of this kind, and we shan't ask for any backing; all we'll ask will be a bit of inside information now and then. And that's what I'm after just now. Who are these two young fellows that Weatherford has brought in here with him from the East?"

At this, you can bet I was listening so hard that I could have heard a pin drop, and I crammed a finger into the bowl of my pipe to put the fire out, for fear the smoke of it should betray my presence.

"They are a couple of white-collar college mechanics brought here to show us that the new Baldwin Mountain type is just what we need for the Moqueta grades," Grider explained with heavy sarcasm in his tone.

"You are sure of that, are you?" questioned the other man.

"Why shouldn't I be? Do you know anything about 'em?"

"No; I haven't seen them, so far. But Weatherford is no fool. I wouldn't put it beyond him to run in a couple of fly 'specials' on us if it occurred to him. Is this engine testing a usual thing on railroads?"

"By so-called experts, you mean? Not exactly. But I have taken the stand that we don't need these ten heavy freight pullers, and Weatherford is out to prove that we do. As I said in the office a little while ago, it's up to you to show that I'm right and Weatherford is wrong."

"Good enough. In that case, the show opens to-night. We can fix the two white collars, and maybe substantiate your claim to be a good judge of motive-power requirements, in one and the same gesture. Which reminds me: don't forget to let me have those duplicate keys you spoke of."

"They are in my room; we'll go up and get 'em," said Grider.

As they moved away I nearly broke my neck trying to get a fair sight of the confident plotter who was going to make monkeys of Maltby and me—this without taking the chance of either of the two looking back and discovering me—but it was no good. All I got was a view of his broad back as he crossed to the elevators with Grider, and I was sharply disappointed. The brief glimpses I had had of his face as he was approaching the hotel and following Grider through the revolving doors were so unsatisfactory that I couldn't be at all sure I'd recognize him when, or if, I should see him again.

Hoping that the precious pair would presently come down in one of the elevators, I bought a paper at the news stand and posted myself near the elevator alcove, meaning to use the spread newspaper as a mask if the need should arise. While I waited, I had a good chance to measure up the bigness of the plot that the overheard talk had partly revealed. Though the revealment was incomplete and lacking in details, it was plain that an organized assault was about to be made upon the Weatherford management with a view to breaking down the price of the stock; that Grider was the representative of the New York conspirators on the ground; and that the man with whom he had talked was the directing head of some sort of a troublemaking organization whose methods wouldn't bear the light of day.

After I had waited long enough to make it practically certain that Grider's visitor had departed without using the elevators, I tried to determine what I ought to do; whether I should go at once in search of Captain Weatherford, or let things rock along until later on.

Holding the alternatives in suspense, I went to the desk and asked if the captain had rooms in the hotel. The answer was that he had, but that he wasn't in them; that he had left Eagle Butte late in the afternoon to drive to his ranch sixty miles away in the Juniper foothills.

Since a report to the captain had to be delayed, I began to cast about for some other way of getting into action. At that, the unknown man's assertion that something was on the cards for the night, and his asking for certain duplicate keys, started me off on a new line—a line pointing to his promise to do up Maltby and me, and to demonstrate the correctness of Grider's attitude in regard to the purchase of the new Baldwins. I looked up at the lobby clock. Maltby had evidently found a movie; in which case he wouldn't be back for another hour or so. That put the action part of it squarely up to me, and I left the hotel to take a roundabout course which would bring me to the E.B. & P. yards and shops without crossing the T-C. O. gridironing of tracks opposite the plaza.

When I reached the E.B. & P. yard the off-shift crew was making up a night freight, and I. had to watch my chance to dodge between the strings of cars. Once across the tracks, I found myself in the vicinity of the master mechanic's office, which was in an "L" built out from the main shop. The office was dark, and so was the shop, though when I looked through one of the windows I saw the watchman's lantern, as he went in and out of the machinery bays, making his round.

Since the repair equipment included a car shop and a paint shop, as well as the main machine shop, I concluded that the watchman would probably arrange his round so as to spend about an equal length of time in each of the buildings; and this conclusion verified itself when he didn't show up again in the main shop for something like forty minutes after, he had left it.

During this waiting interval I had kept my place at the window, which was directly opposite the erecting pit over which the new freight puller was standing, and 'more than once during the forty minutes I had been tempted to go back to the hotel and call it a day. But the temptation wasn't quite strong enough to get results; and after the flickering light of the watchman's lantern had disappeared for a second time, I determined to stick it out for another forty minutes.

I had scarcely made up my mind to this before I heard the footsteps of a number of men coming across the yards and stumbling over the rails. The nearest masthead electric was some distance down the sorting yard, and the window at which I was posted was in a shadow cast by a string of box cars standing on the nearest track.

Flattening myself in the shadow I saw three men make their way to the door of the master mechanic's office, and one of them turned a flash light upon the lock so that he could see to insert a key. As he did so, he muttered:

"You're sure you saw the watchman go north, Brumby?"

And the answer came promptly:

"Dead sure; not more'n five minutes ago. He's in the car shop now."

At that, the three disappeared inside, and now I had no desire to quit and go back to the hotel. In a minute or so there were more developments: the three men were in the big shop, and enough light from the distant masthead electric shone through the top sash of the dusty window to let me distinguish them as they stood beside the new engine. Next, I saw the beam of the flash light begin to play around, and two of the dim figures handed themselves down into the pit under the engine, while the third man held the light for them.

What the two men in the pit did took them fully half an hour. Of course, I couldn't see what it was, but that it was sabotage of some sort was plainly evident. A few minutes before the watchman might be expected to return, the two scrambled out of the pit, there was a clatter as of tools being thrown aside, and the three retreated as they had come—through the master mechanic's office.

At the click of the relocked outer door I sprang up to follow them, hoping to get near enough to be able to swear to their identities in court. But here the perversity of inanimate things got in the way. The switching crew was shoving up a cut-out of cars, and the three men darted through just ahead of the moving string an instant before the coupling crash came. Hence, I was forced to take a chance of being run over by scrambling under one of the cars in the breathless interval before the switching engine began to back out with the coupled section.

The duck-under delayed me for a few seconds, and when I was once more on my feet and giving chase, the three men were across the yard tracks and climbing into a waiting auto, to be driven rapidly away up the street leading to the town.

Chagrined over the failure of my first attempt to put a spoke in the wheel of these conspirators who were out to make it hard for the Weatherford management—and, incidentally, for Maltby and me—I returned to the hotel, where I found that Maltby had come in during my absence and had gone to his room. When I followed, I saw that his transom was dark, so I didn't disturb him.

At breakfast the next morning I told him what I had seen through the back shop window, and how I had fumbled the ball afterward.

"So!" he commented. "It seems that somebody has invented a new industry—wrecking railroads to order. Wouldn't it jar you to see a member of the captain's official staff calling in an organized gang of destructionists? What did they do to the Mountain type?"

"I don't know—couldn't see. But we'll find out presently."

As it came about, that prophecy wasn't fulfilled. Beginning the working day at the shops, the first thing we did was to crawl under the engine and make what we thought was a thorough inspection of the running gear. So far as could be determined there was nothing to show for the half hour two of the three men had spent in the pit.

"Well," said Maltby, when we had to give it up as an unsolved puzzle, "sure you weren't dreaming last night, Eric?"

"Nothing like it!" I retorted. "She's crippled in some way, you can bet on that. We'll find out when we get her steamed up."

An hour later we had the big freight puller hauled out, placed on a roundhouse pit, and put fire in her. While the steam pressure was mounting we went over her again, inch by inch, and still found nothing wrong; and again Maltby joshed me about having walked in my sleep.

"You'll see," I maintained. "It will show up, sooner or later."

But again I seemed to be a false prophet. With steam up, we ran the engine upon the turntable, took it to a long siding in the lower yard and ran it back and forth for an hour or more to limber it up; and still nothing untoward developed. In the afternoon we did more of the limbering; got the train dispatcher's authority to use a few miles of the main line between trains, and put the big machine through its paces on a longer runway than the yard track afforded. And still we couldn't discover what disabling thing, if any, had been done to it.

That evening after dinner Maltby went up to the mezzanine to write some letters, leaving me to smoke in the lobby. As I was filing a second pipe, Billy Dorman came in and, seeing me, came over to ask how the new engine was performing. I told him we couldn't tell much about it until it was put in service, and then asked him how long Captain Weatherford would be away. At his saying that he didn't know, I told him what I had overheard and seen the previous night, and asked if he didn't think the captain ought to be put in possession of the facts at once.

"You are right," he acceded quickly. "We have a private-line phone to the ranch, and I'll go over to the office and call him up after a bit. Did you get a fair sight at the man who was with Grider?"

I had to confess that I'd fallen down there.

"Was he one of the three who went to the shops?"

"I had no means of knowing.'

"What did they do to the new engine?"

"I can't tell you that, either. Maltby and I have had it out all day, and we haven't been able to find anything wrong with it, thus far."

He was silent for a time. Then he said:

"A nice state of affairs, isn't it?—with a member of the captain's own official family knifing him in the back."

"Can't Grider be fired?"

He shook his head slowly.

"He's a son-in-law of one of the new directors. Unless we could get evidence stout enough to haul him into court on a criminal charge, our hands are tied."

"I'm an outsider," I offered. "I'll willingly testify to what I overheard right here in this hotel last evening."

Again he shook his head.

"Not enough, I'm afraid; not definite enough, I mean. They'd swear you down."

"I guess you're right, at that," I admitted, adding: "The captain and his associates are not going to take this thing lying down, are they?"

"Not by a jugful. But the captain won't fire until he is sure of making a killing. If only they don't get us first; that's all I'm afraid of. I think I'll go now and call up the ranch. You'll keep your eyes open?"

"It's the surest thing you know," I said; and at that he left me.


DORMAN had been gone for an hour or more when Maltby came down to mail his letters. While I was telling him about the talk I'd had with the captain's right-hand man, Billy blew in again to say:

"The new Mountain type is bulletined to go out to-night on No. 13. Had you heard about it?"

We said we hadn't; and he went on:

"I saw the notice on the board in the dispatcher's room a few minutes ago and I asked who had ordered the new engine into service. The answer was that the order had come from Grider's office."

"Just so," I nodded. Then, to Maltby: "How about it, Tommy? Does she go on her first road trip without us?"

"Not by a jugful—in the circumstances!" he snapped. "That would be too easy. How about the enginemen who are taking her out, Billy? Who are they? Where do they stand in this drive to do the captain up? Can you tell us that?"

"Bat McGraw's name is up as engineer; and his fireman is Bert Lester. The rank and file is loyal, as a whole, but if there are any exceptions, I'd say McGraw might be one of them."

"And Lester?"

"Bert is straight; used to be a line rider on the captain's ranch. But he won't have anything to do with making the report on the engine's performance."

"Naturally. When is No. 13 due to leave?"

"At nine thirty; half an hour, yet."

"All right," Maltby said. "We'll wait a bit, and if we are not invited to go along, we'll invite ourselves."

Dorman nodded. "Hoped you'd feel that way. When I saw that McGraw was up for the run, I went back to the office and made these out." He handed each of us an employee's time pass, endorsed across the face: "Good on all trains and engines. I thought maybe Pat might say he didn't know you and stall about letting you ride with him."

The passes were good, as far as they went, but they didn't give us anything more than riding authority. I called Dorman's attention to this.

"I know," he replied, "but it's the best I can do in the captain's absence. It's McGraw's run; his engine and his train. If he doesn't want you to do any of the handling, he'll be within his rights."

After Dorman left us we waited for maybe fifteen minutes of the half hour, but no call boy came to summon us. Maltby pocketed his watch.

"No use waiting any longer, Eric; they're leaving us out of it—purposely. Let's go."

Leaving the hotel, we took the short cut to the E. B. & P. yards across the gridironing of tracks in the T-C. O. yard. As we were entering the "Y" connecting the two railroad systems for transferring purposes, I saw a T-C. O. switchman swinging his lantern in a circle, and wondered why he was doing it, since there was no switching crew or engine in sight. Looking back to see if he might be signaling to some one at a distance, I saw an auto start out of the shadow cast by the T-C. O. station building and disappear in the direction of the railroad street crossing to the westward.

Coming presently to the E.B. & P. yard we found that here, too, there was a cessation of the night industries. The switch engine was lying up on the freight-house spur track, and on one of the long sidings there was a caboose-tagged string of boxes, gondolas, flats and oil tanks—the make-up of No. 13. At the head of the string the light of a distant masthead electric showed us the Mountain type coupled in, ready for the start.

It was shortly after we had passed the switch shanty where the night crew was waiting, apparently, for No. 13 to clear the yard, that we had our notice to quit. As we came opposite the lower end of the freight house, the drumming of the motor, followed by a shrill screeching of auto brakes, cut into the silence and three men darted around the end of the building and rushed us.

For a brief minute or so the battle thus precipitated was an excellent imitation of a Donnybrook Fair; fists and footwork against blackjacks, or sand bags, with the advantage of a total surprise on the side of the sandbaggers. Maltby took the brunt of it. Standing six feet in his socks, and built accordingly, he had held the boxing championship in the Tech in his undergraduate days; and before I could do much more than to sidestep the fellow who was trying to knock me in the head, Tommy: had laid out one of the others, and was giving the third an exhibition of fine ring points that could end only in one way.

At this, a fourth man, materializing from nowhere, as it seemed to me, jumped in, swinging something that looked like a short bar of iron.

"Look out, Tommy!" I yelled; and Maltby made a boxer's side swerve in time to miss the sweep of the iron bludgeon. While the fellow in front of me was trying to get in another crack at me with his clubbing weapon, shouts and a clatter of running footsteps made me spring aside and spin around to face what I supposed was a fresh attack from the rear. Instead, it was the night crew from the switch shanty sprinting in to our rescue.

Of course, that changed the complexion of things immediately. Maltby dodged a second sweep of the iron bar, countering with a left hook that smacked on the bar swinger's jaw like the slap of a wet towel, and about the same time I pulled a French savate trick on another, getting a foot into his bread basket. By this time the yard men were closing in and that ended it, with the four highbinders breaking away to duck to cover among the cars in the yard.

"Thim dommed hobos!" the yard foreman was panting. "They'd be scraggin' ye right here in the opin yar-rd, would they?" Then to Maltby: "Tis a swate wallop yed be carryin' in that left o' yours, me lad. The smack of ut was like a wet plank fallin' in the mud. 'Tis layin' for No, 13 they was, waitin' to swing it when she pulls out, and they tuk ye f'r railroad specials pathrollin' the yar'rd."

"We are specials, though not exactly the kind you mean," said Maltby. "We're out here making tests on the new Mountain type for Captain Weatherford. Thanks for your cut-in. The odds were against us until you lent a welcome hand. Come on, Eric, or we'll be left."

As we hurried on to reach the forward end of the train and the engine, I had my own idea touching the identity and purpose of the sandbaggers, and it didn't quite jibe with the yard foreman's. I was remembering the man in the T-C. O. yard making lantern signals to nobody in sight, and the auto leaping out of the shadows to race for the railroad crossing. Also, I recalled the screech of auto brakes which we had heard on the other side of the freight house a fraction of a minute before we were set upon. The sandbaggers were not hobos—at least, not in the foreman's meaning of the word. They were strong-arm artists under orders to see to it that we didn't get a chance to go out with the new freight puller.

Reaching the engine, we found McGraw making a circuit of the big machine with his flare torch and oil can. Maltby, nursing skinned knuckles as a result of the late scrap, didn't mince matters.

"We are hired to make the road tests on this engine and we are going over the division with you," he shot out at McGraw.

"The hell you are!" was the growling retort. "Who says so?"

"This is what says it," Maltby snapped back, showing his employee's pass with the "Good on all trains and engines" endorsement.

McGraw examined the card by the light of the smoking torch.

"All right, if that's the order," he returned sourly. "But we'll get it straight off the bat. You don't monkey with this hog, not while I'm runnin' it. I'm boss o' this end of the train. Snap into it if you're goin' along. We'll be pullin' in a minute."

With this crabbed welcome we climbed to the cab, and there I tried a bit of diplomacy with the ex-cowboy fireman.

"We are two of the captain's men, Lester," I said. "McGraw doesn't want us on here. How about you?"

"Anything the captain says goes with me," returned the young husky, his grin showing a mouthful of handsome teeth. And he told us to make ourselves at home on his side of the cab.

In due course McGraw came aboard, scowling like the villain in a play, and leaned out of the cab window to take the starting signal. When it was given he took some of his ill nature out on the new engine, jumping it half off the trails with a jerk at the throttle and taking the slack of the long train with a snap which must have tried every drawbar in the string.

"You see," I said to Maltby, when the deafening clamor of the exhaust gave me leave. "It's framed. If there is anything he can do to show this engine up for a false alarm, it's going to be done."

That saying of mine proved to be more than a prediction; it was a prophecy. Postulating as experts in railroad engineering, Maltby and I had ridden and driven quite a number of locomotives on test runs, but never before had we seen a new machine bullied and baited as the Mountain type was by McGraw that night. Net once in the eighty-mile run across the desert to the foothills of the Moquetas did he give the engine a chance to show what it could do under decent handling, and long before the grades where the real test would begin were reached, an ominous racking and thumping was telling us that the crippling thing—whatever it was—that had been done to the running gear two nights earlier was at last showing up.

McGraw, cursing the new machine for a junk heap, paid no attention to the ominous symptoms except to swear at them, and at the Lobo stop for water he didn't even take the trouble to get off to look for the cause or causes. But while Lester was filling the tank, Maltby and I dropped off on our side. The smell of overheated oil told us that the engine was running hot, and a few groping touches of the ends of the driving axles located the seat of the trouble in the main bearings. At this discovery Maltby did a bit of low-voiced swearing on his own account.

"Loose driver boxes," he said. "That is what those beggars did to her two nights ago, and it's showing up, now that she has a load hitched to her. Here's hoping she holds out till we get over the mountains. That damned McGraw doesn't seem to care whether she does or not."

At the clang of the upthrown tank spout we mounted again to our seat on Lester's box and the laboring run was resumed. Within the next fifteen minutes we were hitting the Moqueta grades and the big engine was straining and racking like a horse with the blind staggers. Again McGraw cursed and swore, yanking at the throttle until Lester's fire was broken up and practically ruined by the tearing exhaust blasts and the steam pressure began to run down. Maltby was furious, and it was all I could do to keep him from mixing it with McGraw. Of course, that would only have made matters worse. As McGraw had taken pains to tell us, we were only passengers and unwelcome intruders.

As we both agreed, it was only the failing steam pressure, slowing the speed to little more than a crawl on the steepest of the grades, that kept the crippled machine on the rails in the long climb to Lobo Pass; and on the descent to the locomotive division station of Elco in Eden Valley, on which gravity would have given us more speed than we could use, I think it was only McGraw's regard for his own skin that made him keep the downhill flight from becoming a runaway. As it was, I know that I, for one, was mighty glad when the station lights at Elco swung into view at the foot of the-final grade. At the station McGraw got off without a word to us and went in to make his. "lost-time" report, which doubtless gave the new engine the blackest of black eyes, and after that we saw no more of him. Waiting until the valley-division engine had taken the train on to the southward, Maltby and I crossed to the roundhouse where the Mountain type had been taken by the hostler, told the night foreman who we were, and borrowed a couple of suits of overclothes. While we were getting ready for business, young Lester came over and asked if he might butt in. "Sure you may," I told him. Then I asked what had become of McGraw.

"Gone over to the boardin' house to bunk down, mad as a wet hen. Swears he'll never pull throttle on this here hog again, not if he has to quit his job."

"But you don't feel that way, do you?" I said.

"Not any; but I'm sort o' curious to know what ails her."

"All right; come down in the pit with us and we'll show you," Maltby said; and when we had crawled under the engine with a torch for a light, the crippling thing that had been done to the engine was quickly located. The wedges which are designed to take up the wear between the driving boxes and the jaws of the frame, and which are adjustable up or down by means of a bolt and nuts at the bottom, had been slightly loosened on all eight of the main bearings, allowing them to rack back and forth under the push and pull of the pistons. It was a skilful job of sabotage; one which would not "kill" the engine outright, and which would not be discoverable until the machine was working under a load.

"My gosh!" Lester exploded. "Did they send an engine out o' the factory in any such shape as this?"

"They did not," said Maltby shortly. Then: "Get the wrenches, Bert, and we'll do a patch job of adjustment that will hold us until we can get back to Eagle Butte and the proper tools."

We did the best we could with the appliances at hand, and, when the job was done, went over to the trainmen's boarding house to catch up on our lost sleep. While we were undressing, Maltby said:

"Now we know why the captain brought us out here. He knew what was likely to happen if the Baldwin should be turned over to somebody Grider would pick for the try-out. The engine would fall down on the job—as she has—and that would be another nail in the coffin of the present management."

"That's it," I acquiesced. "And to make a sure thing of it to-night, we were not to be allowed to go along; not if we had to be waylaid and knocked out to stop us."

Maltby had taken off one shoe, and now he dropped the other on the floor.

"Huh? You mean that those sandbaggers weren't just ordinary bums, mad because they took us for railroad cops out to keep them from stealing a ride?"

I told him what I had seen: the man signaling in the T-C. O. yard, and the auto racing for the freight-house crossing, and asked him if he hadn't heard the squeal of the auto brakes just before we were attacked.

"I do remember, now that you mention it," he said. Then: "The scoundrels! There's one thing about it, Eric, my son. From this time on I'm in for the duration of the war. We'll get these highbinders in a hole before we quit, or I'll eat my hat! Call me when it's time to turn out: I'm dead to the world until the whistle blows. Good night."


HAVING left no order for a morning call with the boarding-house keeper, we slept late; so late that the noon meal had to answer for a missed breakfast. Crossing the tracks to the roundhouse after we had eaten, we found Lester mounting guard in the cab of the Mountain type.

"Hello!" said Maltby. "Have you been here all day?"

"I'm livin' here," said Lester with his easy grin. "Didn't know but what somebody might bust in and try some more o' the same."

"Where is McGraw?" I asked.

"Foreman was tellin' me a while back that he deadheaded into Eagle Butte on No. 2."

Maltby smiled. "Gone in to tell 'em hat the new engine's a frost, eh?" Then to me: "Let's go over to the station and do a bit of wiring, Eric."

Showing our passes to the operator at the station, we were accorded the use of the wires, and the "G. S.".call was answered, as we hoped it might be, by Billy Dorman.

"Glad to hear from you,". was the greeting that came clicking through the sounder. Then: "New engine reported disabled. What about it?"

Maltby, who was manipulating the key, replied briefly to the effect that the report was like that of Mark Twain's death—slightly exaggerated; that Lester was still with us, and we were ready to bring the Mountain type in—with a train, if so desired.

"Hold the wire," came from Dorman. And after a little interval: "Captain Weatherford is here and tells me to say that you will receive orders in regular course for train No. 12, leaving Elco at seven ten p.m. Lester can pilot for you. Congratulations."

This left us with the afternoon on our hands, and we put in the time going once more over the big engine's driver installation. It was impossible to adjust the eight axle bearings with exact accuracy, with only the equipment of a division station roundhouse; but we were at least able to assure ourselves that the Mountain type wouldn't pound itself to death on the home run to Eagle Butte.

Shortly after the early supper our orders came through, and we got the big engine out and ready for its second trial trip. Train No. 12 came in from Moraine promptly on time; and at seven ten we took the conductor's high sign and pulled out, with Maltby taking the first shift as engineer. To the drumming of the exhaust and the shrill song of the open cylinder cocks we hit the first of the Moqueta grades—with eleven more loads than any of the regular "jacks" had been pulling over the mountain—and at the Lobo Pass summit we had bettered the time-card schedule by seven minutes on the ascent—which, so Lester told us, was a record.

Maltby turned the right-hand seat over to me at the summit, and, with Lester at my elbow to give me the needful pointers as to the grades and curves on the coasting descent, I dropped the long string of freight wagons down the mountain on the brakes. Maltby, watch in hand, timed the flight by checking the backward-flitting telegraph poles as we swung around the nicely compensated curves.

It was after we were off the mountain proper and on the easier grades in the foothills that the curious thing happened. Lester, who was still piloting for me, said:

"Round the next curve there's a gravel-pit track—no lamp on the switch standard. Look out for it!"

Accordingly, as we swung the curve, I checked the speed a bit and looked for an unlighted switch standard—looked and didn't see any.

"Where is it?" I yelped at Lester, and he leaned across me to peer out ahead.

"Gosh!" he broke out. "It's gone—there's the pit track, but I don't see the switch!"

Neither did I; nor could I see the points of the switch rails to determine whether or not they were set for the main line—this though the beam of the electric headlight was now falling directly upon the place where they ought to be. With a shout of warning to Maltby and the brakeman, I flung myself upon throttle, brakes and the sand lever, and the next instant came the swerve aside which told me we had left the main track and were shooting into the siding. The switch had been left open.

The gravel track wasn't very long, and for a few breathless seconds it was an open question whether or not the heavy train could be brought to a stop before its momentum would shove us and itself off the end rails and into the gravel pit. But, luckily, the train brakes and the driver jams held and the stop was made when we were within less than the engine's length short of a derailing plunge. While the wheels were still grinding, Barlow, the conductor, came running over the tops of the cars.

"What the hell!" he ripped out as he slid down over the coal in the bunker. "Sufferin' cats! was all four of you blind? Didn't you see that switch was open?"

I told him I hadn't been able to see it, and Lester and the head brakeman backed me up. Barlow, sharing in some measure the practical trainman's contempt for the college-bred product, blew off a bit, which was his privilege; but since there was no damage done, he was presently persuaded to be thankful rather than wrathful. With the rear brakeman to flag for us we backed to the main line, and I was hanging out of the open cab window when the engine clanked over the switch. It was an old-fashioned installation; two diamond-shaped targets on an actuating lever set to stand vertical when the switch was closed, and at an angle when—as now—the switch was open.

"It sure gets me!" Lester remarked, as the train came to a stand and the head brakeman got off to set the switch. "T reckon I've passed that switch a hundred times, and half o' them in the night, and it never done a dodge-out on me before." Then: "What's that noise?"

Above the steam song of the standing locomotive rose the rapid-fire exhaust of an auto, and off to the left through the pines we saw the beam of the car's headlights.

"Is there a road over there?" I asked.

"Sure," said Lester; "the main north-and-south road over Lobo Pass and into Eden Valley."

Thirty minutes later, when we stopped at Lobo Junction to take water, the head brakeman got off to stretch his legs, and with Lester filling the tank, Maltby and I were left alone in the cab.

"What was the matter with your eyes back there, Eric?" he asked. "Or was it that you didn't know just where to look?"

"Lester knew where to look, and so did the brakeman," I countered. "And they are in the same boat with me."

"Queer," he commented. "What's the answer?"

"I'd feel a lot better if I knew," was all I could say.

Notwithstanding the delay at the gravel pit, the new engine, chiefly under Maltby's handling, made her time into Eagle Butte; and after seeing her housed and telling the night foreman at the roundhouse to keep an eye on her, we went to the hotel and turned in.

Early the next morning we hunted up Bagley, the master mechanic, and merely telling him that we wanted to make a few adjustments, asked him to have the Mountain type placed once more over the erection pit in the back shop, which he did.

Here, with better appliances and good help, a forenoon's work put the big freight puller once more in roadworthy shape. When the job was completed, we reported to Captain Weatherford in his office in the headquarters building, briefing for him our experiences of the night of the outward run, and telling him about the sabotage we had discovered.

"Those men who attacked you in the yard—you could not identify any of them if you were to see them again?" he asked.

We both said that we thought it unlikely; that the nearest masthead-yard light was some distance away.

He was silent for a moment, and then:

"Dorman tells me that he has given you some idea of the situation on the E.B. & P. at the present time; and what you, Mr. Manning, overheard in the lobby of the hotel the other night brings the situation up to date. An organized-effort is being made to discredit the present management, to the end that such weak-kneed stockholders as we may have will lose confidence and throw their holdings on the market. I don't want you two gentlemen to think that we are taking all this lying down."

We assured him that we didn't think so, and he went on:

"In a situation of this kind it is difficult to get evidence of conspiracy—evidence that will stand in a court of law; and it is this evidence that we must have before we can strike back successfully. Thus far the conspirators have been careful not to show their hand save in perfectly lawful ways—hammering our stock on the Exchange and circulating rumors calculated to 'bear' the market. What you, Mr. Manning, overheard on the night of your arrival is the first really incriminating thing we have been able to get hold of; and at that, the talk to which you listened was incriminating only by inferences—an inference which is sufficiently convincing to us, but which wouldn't go far toward convincing a jury."

"Quite so," I said. "I couldn't even identify one of the two talkers if I should see him again. Unless and until you can catch these highbinders in some criminal act—"

"That's it," he broke in. "Dorman tells me you are with us. If you will keep your eyes open—We have specials on the job, but so far, their abilities, if they have any, haven't impressed me very greatly."

After this there was a little talk about the new engine's performance, and the captain said:

"I see Barlow reports that you found an open switch last night in the Moqueta foothills."

"Yes," I said; adding, to put the blame where it belonged: "I was running at the time and I didn't see the switch or the standard."

"Why didn't you see it? It was on your side."

"That is something I can't explain. Lester was piloting for me, and he had just told me that there was a gravel track and a switch ahead. I was looking for it, and so was Lester, and neither of us saw it."

"How about you, Mr. Maltby?"

Maltby shook his head. "I wasn't looking out; I was timing the run: But the head brakeman was looking, and he didn't see it. He was on the left-hand side of the engine, but he insisted that he had seen the switch on many occasions before from the fireman's box."

"You examined the switch afterward? Was it locked open?"

"Barlow and the brakeman said it was," I replied.

A far-away look came into the captain's eyes and he said soberly:

"Rather singular, isn't it? The more so because, you see, that gravel track hasn't been used for many months." Then, after a bit more talk in which he complimented me, in a way that made me blush, for my quick work in stopping the train before there was a wreck, he let us go.


FOR the next few days, the Mountain type was put on a regular run—this time with an engineer who promptly felt in love with the big, powerful engine. Maltby and I went up and down the division, doing what we had been hired to do; taking indicator diagrams, making fuel and water tests to determine the engine's economies, checking up on its pulling power and, in off hours, writing out detailed reports of its performance for the captain's information.

During this working period, an interval in which I had a feeling that I couldn't shake off—a sort of premonition that we were living on the edge of a volcano which was likely to let go at any minute—nothing happened. Then, all at once, the terror began.

First, John Wishart, one of the oldest and steadiest of the passenger engineers, slammed his train, the night southbound express, into a string of loaded ore cars at Lobo Junction, where he was taking the siding for the northbound fast mail, and both he and his fireman swore that the sidetrack was empty when they headed into it; which, of course, was absurd.

Two nights later the mail itself went headlong into a gravel pit just below Elco, butting into the bank at the end of the pit track so hard that the wrecking crane had to be sent to pull the imbedded engine out. Here there was a double mystery. Both the engineer and the fireman of the mail stoutly affirmed that they were on the lookout and hadn't seen that the switch was open until they were right upon it.

The other half of the mystery turned up later. When the switch was inspected after the smash it was found to be set for the main line, as it should have been. And yet the mail had taken the wrong turn.

Less than twenty-four hours after the mail crash there was a costly wreck on the Moqueta grades. The place was a side cutting on the mountain, with a steep upward slope on one hand and a gravity dump of a couple of hundred feet in depth on the other. A freight train coasting down the mountain left the track in the side cutting and there was a piling up of three fourths of the cars at the bottom of the dump in a wreck that left little of the equipment or its lading worth salvaging.

Investigation proved that the derailment had been caused by a boulder which had fallen upon the track, and the two enginemen, as well as the head brakeman who was riding on the engine, all told the same story; that the obstruction hadn't been seen in time to make a stop, this though the accident occurred on one of the few straight pieces of track in the mountain grades.

Most naturally, these more or less mysterious accidents, coming, as they did, in swift succession, had their due and inevitable psychological effect. When everybody is keyed up and looking for trouble, conditions are ripe for more of the same.

On the second evening after the wreck in the Moquetas had been cleaned up Maltby and I were working in the small office room assigned to us in the Eagle Butte headquarters, tabulating the results for which the day's run on the new engine had given us the data. The summer evening was warm, and when I went to open the corridor door for better ventilation, I saw a group of clerks and trainmen apparently besieging the door of the dispatcher's room a little way down the corridor. I called to Maltby.

"What is it?" he asked, as he came to stand beside me. And when he saw the jam at the door of the wire office, he said: "More hell to pay, I suppose. Let's go see what it is, this time." A few seconds later we, too, were shouldering our way into the railed-off space in the dispatcher's room.

The drama which was enacting itself beyond the counter railing was ominously tragic. Bending over the train table, Captain Weatherford was rattling the key insistently in a call that was not given in the time-card list. At one of the telephones Dorman was making frantic efforts to put a long-distance call through to somewhere—without success. At the private-line railroad phone the car-record operator had the wrecking boss on the wire and was telling him to get the wrecking train out and to hold it for orders; and at the other city phone Bollard, the trainmaster, was talking to the company surgeon, asking him to call out all the doctors and nurses he could reach, to be assembled, as quickly as possible, at the headquarters building.

This was all portentous and unnerving enough; but the tragedy centered itself in the figure of a man slumped in a chair, with his arms hanging down in the attitude of one who had been suddenly stricken; his face, ghastly, drawn and distorted like the face of a victim of the rack who has died in convulsive agony. This man was Mark Bradford, the off-trick dispatcher whose place the captain had taken at the train table.

"What is it, Brent?" Maltby whispered to a trainman who stood near us.

"No. 3 is off time, and Bradford has let it get past the last wire station where he could give it a 'meet' with the fast mail. The two trains are due to try to pass on a single track within the next fifteen or twenty minutes."


"Somewhere along about Crowell's—the timber siding on Squaw Mountain. The siding ain't a card stop for either train."

Maltby whispered again to ask what the captain was trying to do.

"He's tryin' to raise the timber camp at Crowell's. There's a cut-in on one o' the wires, with a loop up to the camp, and the timekeeper is a sort of plug operator, so they say. It's only a chance that he'd be within hearin' of his call."

"Could he do anything if he should get the word?" I asked.

"Might; but it's a good half mile from the camp down to the sidin'."

Bollard had done his part in summoning the doctors, and he new spoke.

"I guess it ain't any use," we heard him say in low tones. "Benson, at the timber camp, hardly knows enough about the wires to recognize his own call when he hears it. The doctors and nurses will be down in a few minutes, and I suppose we may as well begin to clear for the relief special and the wreck wagons."

As quietly as this was said, the words and their import evidently reached the man slumped in a chair at the opposite side of the room. As if he had been brought to life by a galvanic shock he straightened up, whipped out his pocketknife and made a futile attempt to draw the blade across his throat—futile only because Billy Dorman, standing within arm's reach at the telephone, promptly flung himself upon the would-be suicide.

Bradford fought like a madman when Dorman, with Bollard to help, took the knife away from him. In the midst of the struggle the captain's voice cut in:

"Quiet him, if you have to hit him over the head! I've got Crowell's."

In a silence which the clicking of the instruments seemed only to intensify those of us who could read Morse heard what passed between the captain and the timekeeper at the timber camp. "Get this quick. Run to siding and flag trains in both directions."

"Hurry," was the message that clicked through the key under the captain's hand, and I think nobody in the room drew breath until the answer came stuttering back in the "writing" of an unskilled operator: Ore line gone."

After this there was an interval of suspense that was truly terrible. Allowing six or seven minutes for Benson's downhill race to the sidetrack, it would take him at least an equal length of time to turn the switch lights to red at both ends of the timber siding. Then, before he could communicate with Eagle Butte again, he would have to go back to the instrument in his shack at the mountain camp.

It was Bollard's half-whispered word to the captain that relieved the frightful tension—a little.

"It happens that Keller and his linemen are on No. 3, going over to run a third wire from Elco to Moraine. Keller will cut in with his portable set at Crowell's—if he gets there alive."

Fortunately for an entire railroad division in touch with the wires, and holding its breath in anticipation of a collision that would break all the disaster records, Bollard's prediction was presently verified. Ten leaden-winged, nerve-racking minutes after the time when we all knew that the two fast trains must have met somewhere, the sounder on the train-sheet table began tapping out the dispatcher's call. The captain answered and closed the circuit, and the tapping began again. It was Keller, on the line at Crowell's with his cut-in instruments. Both trains were at the timber siding, and a collision had been averted only by quick work on the part of young Benson.

There was a sigh of relief that was almost a sob to run through the group of which Maltby and I were a part, as the good news was passed from lip to ear. The captain called Dorman to the train-sheet table, telling him to straighten out the tangle—the paralysis of all business on the division caused by the threatened catastrophe—and sent the car-record man out to summon the relief dispatcher. Maltby turned to me.

"Nothing particularly mysterious about this one, at least," he said. "That's one comfort."

"It is," I agreed; and then I lost him. In the dispersal of the group of anxious listeners and watchers he got out of the room ahead of me; and when I stepped into the corridor I was confronted by Marcia and the handsome young woman who, some days earlier, had been pointed out to me at a stop of the new engine at Caliente as Mrs. Lansing Weatherford.

Before I could say anything the captain's wife pushed on into the dispatcher's room, but Marcia stopped to question me feverishly.

"What is it, Eric?" she gasped. "What's happened, this time?"

"Nothing, thank God," I said. "Two passenger trains were due to come together, but the captain's quick wit saved them."

"It was dreadful!" she said. "Mrs. Weatherford and I have been visiting at the army post, and we were waiting at the hotel for the captain to come for us. He is going to Madregosa in his business car, and he will take us as far as Caliente, where the ranch auto will meet us. We heard people in the hotel talking about a terrible accident that had happened, or was about to happen, on the E.B. & P. and we hurried over here at once."

"Well, fortunately, as I've said, there wasn't an accident. Will you come over to our room—Maltby's and mine—and say hello to Tommy while you wait for Mrs. Weatherford?"

"No; I want to talk to you, Eric. I was hoping I'd find you at the hotel, but the clerk said you and Tommy had gone out after dinner. I've something to tell you that will make you sit up. The captain's private-car train is standing down at the platform ready to go out. Let's go down and take possession of the Tyrian. Captain Lansing and Harry will come when they are ready. We have nothing to go back to the hotel for."

Mystified a bit, I led her away. As we walked away I saw her look over her shoulder and give a little start.

"What is it?" I asked.

"Nothing, now," she replied quickly. "I'll tell you later. Let's hurry."


WHEN we reached the platform we found that the captain's business car and its engine had been moved to a siding some distance away in the yard—doubtless to make room for the doctors' special which was just backing in, and which, happily, wasn't needed. Since there hadn't been time, as yet, to countermand the call for help, the doctors and nurses were already arriving in taxis and autos, and I led Marcia out of the platform confusion and across to the Tyrian.

Boarding the business car, we found it unoccupied; even the porter was nowhere to be seen. I noticed also that there was nobody in the cab of the engine. This infraction of the rule that engines under steam are not to be left unattended was easily accounted for. News of the threatened disaster had been like a fire alarm to make everybody rush to the center of excitement.

"The captain will have something to say to the porter for leaving the car open this way and unguarded," I said, as I placed one of the wicker lounging chairs for Marcia and got another for myself. Then: "What was it you wanted to tell me?"

"You tell me something first, Eric—about this disaster that wasn't a disaster," she countered; and when I did it, her cementing question hit me like a slap in the face.

"This dispatcher person—Bradford; was he bribed?"

"Good heavens, no!" I exclaimed. "Haven't I just said that he tried to kill himself when it seemed that nothing could be done?"

"Yes; but—"

"I know what you are going to say. But there is nothing mysterious about it—this time," I said, repeating what Maltby had said to me. "With all the trouble we've been having, everybody is rattled, keyed up and on edge, and looking for more of the same. That's enough to account for Bradford's slip. What makes you think he might have been bribed to let a couple of fast passenger trains come together, with Heaven only knows what murderous loss of life?"

"You needn't try to hush-hush me," she returned a bit snippily. "Harry Weatherford—her name is Harriet, but everybody calls her Harry—has told me all about it; how Big Business, or somebody, is trying to get the captain's railroad away from him. If you and Tommy Maltby don't know what is going on, you ought to."

"Possibly we do know. But where does that get us? Tommy and I are willing to help all we can, but all we know about the situation is the little that Billy Dorman has told us: that a struggle for control is going on in the New York stock market."

"Doesn't that cover it all? What do people do when they want to buy cheaply? Don't they do everything they can think of to make other people anxious to sell? And won't a lot of people be hurrying to sell when they find the railroad going all to pieces under its present management?"

"Where did you learn so much about high finance?" I asked; and she looked at me as if I had made a remark that had insulted her.

"I think a lot of you, Eric, dear, but there are times when you make me furious with your early-Victorian notions about women!" she snapped. "Why shouldn't I know something about business? I wasn't born just yesterday; I'm living in to-day, the same as you are. Come out of it!"

"I'm out," I laughed. "What's on your mind."

"I shall. Do you remember a man named Varnell who had permission to do some research work in the university laboratories a few weeks ago?"

"I do. What about him?"

"There is quite a lot about him. In the first place, he came to Westboro under false pretenses. Doctor Mackenzie told us that much."

"All right. What else?"

"He claimed to be doing research work for some automobile factory, but he wasn't. The thing he was working on had nothing to do with automobiles."

"How do you know it didn't?"

"Do you happen to remember a little sophomore named Jimmy Haswell?" she inquired innocently.

"Do I remember him? Didn't I find him sitting it out with you on your porch about nine times out of ten when I called upon you?" I retorted.

"Oh, it wasn't always Jimmy," she returned casually; "there were others. But never mind. Jimmy's a dear; and, since he is going in for journalism, he cultivates a nose for news. He was curious about the doings of the Varnell man, and one night he shadowed him and saw that the thing he was working on wasn't automobilish at all. It had something to do with optical illusion; Jimmy couldn't tell just what, only that it was very mysterious."

"A machine or contrivance that would make things vanish? Was that it?"

"Something like that, yes. How did you know?"

"I found out the same way Jimmy did—only not purposely. I stumbled in upon Varnell one evening when he thought he had the laboratory door locked—and hadn't."

"What did you see?" she demanded quickly.

"Something that made me sit up for the moment; until I realized that it was only a bit of juggling. He made, or seemed to make, a thing on the laboratory bench disappear and reappear at will."

"Ah!" she said. "Now we can go on. Do you remember what happened the last evening we were together in Westboro—the evening before we left for the West—how you said you didn't see me when I was crossing the street?"

"I certainly do."

"Well, the Varnell man was in the auto that was standing before Dean Randall's house. He had some sort of a box on his knees; I saw it and him as I passed and thought he was trying to take a picture of the house, and I wondered how it could be done—with no more light than there was at the time. Does that tell you anything?"

"It tells me something that is pretty hard to believe. Do you mean he had his magic machine, and turned it upon you as you crossed the street?"

"Maybe—just maybe, of course. You said you didn't see me, you know. Hasn't something of the same sort happened in each one of the accidents on the railroad? Harry Weatherford says it has. She says each time the men have missed seeing something they ought to have seen."

"Let's try to keep our feet on the ground, if we can," I said. "Maybe I am responsible for these attacks of temporary blindness. It hit me first."

"I know. Mrs. Weatherford said you failed to see a switch or something at some sidetrack in the mountains."

"I did. And two other men on the engine who were looking for it failed to see it. The story got out, of course, and went all up and down the line; and that is why I saw I may be responsible—by setting the pace for others who didn't see things, or thought they didn't."

"Don't be stupid, Eric, dear! There is no need to put the back load upon poor old overworked psychology that way."

"Why isn't there?"

"Because this Varnell person is here, now, in Eagle Butte!"

"What!" I ejaculated. "Are you sure of that?"

"I am," she returned quite coolly. "I saw him in the hotel just before Harry Weatherford and I came down here. He has shaved off his beard and wears huge, tinted tortoise-shell glasses, and he is registered under another name; but he is the same man we knew in Westboro as Varnell. You needn't look so incredulous. I know what I am talking about."

It wasn't incredulity that she saw in my face; it was an expression of the emotions stirred up by a sudden riffling of the memory leaves. She was as right as rain! Hadn't I seen the man she described—once on the train leaving Westboro, and again, three days later, turning up here in Eagle Butte to register as "H. Vanderpool"? I had, indeed.

"I'm not doubting you at all," I hastened to say. "I've seen the man you mean, only, I'm ashamed to say, I didn't recognize him. I—"

I broke off in deference to a sudden look of shocked surprise that came into the straight-shooting brown eyes. As we sat in the open compartment of the car, she was facing toward the rear, and she seemed to be staring over my shoulder at the door which, as the night was warm, was standing open.

"What is it?" I asked quickly, as she put her hands to her eyes.

"A—a man—there at the door!" she stammered; and at the word I got up and went to investigate. There was nobody in sight when I stepped out upon the railed-in observation platform. Over at the station the taxis and autos which had brought the doctors and nurses were driving away; but that was all.

"Tell me just what you saw," I said as I went back to her.

"I'm wondering now if I saw anything," she replied, with a twisted little smile. "But just as you spoke I thought I saw a man standing almost in the doorway—a big man in a checked suit and wearing a traveling cap. It lasted only a fraction of a second; before I could wink, the doorway was empty, just as it was the tiny fraction of a second before."

"All this mystery talk has got on your nerves?" I suggested.

"Maybe. But we were talking about this Varnell person. After I saw him in the hotel mezzanine, I went down to the lobby and asked the clerk who he was. He said he was a Mr. Vanderpool, from New York. It was just then that Mrs. Weatherford came running to tell me that there was another accident, and we rushed off down here. Then I saw him again. He was in that crowd of men in the station corridor when we started to go to the stairway—you and I."

"Say!" I exclaimed. "That's something different! Did he see you in the hotel?"

"I suppose he did, if he looked at me. We met almost face to face."

"Then I am glad you are going back to the ranch. You must stay there, and you mustn't tell anybody, not even Mrs. Weatherford, what you've just been telling me. I happen to know that there is a bunch of conspirators here, trying to down the captain, and most likely Varnell is one of them. He knows you have recognized him; he followed you down here from the hotel. If he even suspects that you could give him away—"

She laughed. "Are you really trying to scare me, Eric? I'm not afraid."

"Perhaps you are not; but I am afraid for you. I've had a taste of the quality of these thugs who are trying to do the captain in, and—

"Tell me," she said. "All I know is what the captain has told his wife, and that wasn't very much—Why, where are we going—without the Weatherfords?"

The query was a natural one, for her. While she was speaking, the business car began to move down the siding.

"It is nothing," I said. "They are merely going to shift us around to the station platform."

That is what I said, and it was what I thought until I realized that the speed was increasing, and that the one-car train was rapidly approaching the lower end of the yard. Even then I didn't full sense what was happening until we shot past the yard limits shanty and out upon the main line at thirty or thirty-five miles an hour.

But then I knew and jumped for the emergency brake cord. Our talk had been overheard, and we were being taken out of the picture!


THE jump for the emergency-brake cord didn't get me anything. The cord had been cut, and it came away loose in my hands. Being unfamiliar with the layout of the business car, it took me a few seconds to find the wash room and the bleeder valve to which the cord had been connected, and when I found the valve it was only to discover that the stem had been bent so it wouldn't operate.

Failing there, I chased into the front vestibule. Looking forward I saw two men in the engine cab—one hunched upon the engineer's seat with his hand on the throttle lever; the other handling the fireman's scoop, which he dropped to spin around as if he had sensed my presence in the vestibule. Instantly there was a flash and a sharp report. I didn't know where the bullet struck, but that was negligible. The shot was an intimation of what I'd get if I should climb over the tender and try to start anything in the cab, so I hurried back through the car to see what could be done at the rear end of things.

On the railed-in observation platform, to which Marcia followed me, there was the usual air-brake installation. Inasmuch as railroad business cars are ordinarily placed at the rear of a train, they are provided with a rear-end brake controls pipe brought up from the train air line under the car to the handrail of the platform, terminating in a stopcock and a whistle—the whistle for signaling when the train is backing. To set the brakes it is only needful to open the stopcock, letting the air escape from the train line. This I tried to do; but here, again, the obstructionists had-been busy. A tap with a hammer on the plug, or a twist with a wrench at the bottom nut, will render any stopcock immovable; and though Marcia and I together put our united strength upon it, there was nothing doing.

While we were tugging and twisting at the stopcock, the train was kicking the miles to the rear at racing speed and the lights of Eagle Butte had disappeared to the northward. In desperation I swung over the railing and, with a precarious foothold on the coupler head of the drawbar, sought to reach the air hose looped in its hook. This was the last resort, and when it failed, I climbed back to the platform and both of us, baffled, retreated to the interior of the car.

"It was beautifully quick work, wasn't it?" Marcia commented, as coolly as if the theft of the special were merely an incident in the day's work. "I wasn't just dreaming when I thought I saw somebody on the platform. There was somebody; he'd been there from the beginning and he probably heard everything we said. He ought to have been in plain sight from where I was sitting all the time, but he wasn't—which is one more little mystery to go along with the others. What are they going to do to us, Eric?"

"I don't know; stop our mouths, I guess, in whatever way seems easiest. I suppose the plot to do the captain up is about ready to climax, and the plotters are not going to stand for any interference."

"But they can't take us very far in a runaway train, can they? Won't this special of the captain's be missed right away?"

"Before long, of course; and something will be done to stop it—if the wires haven't been cut. But, even so, we won't be out of the woods. Those men on the engine are armed. One of them shot at me when I was out front."

"Can't we jump off and get away?"

"Not at any such speed as we are making now. But they can't run far without orders. We'll watch for our chance and take it when it comes. I wonder if the captain's desk is locked?"

The desk was locked, but I contrived to open it with the blade of my pocketknife. The right-hand drawer held what I hoped it might—a loaded automatic.

"This evens things up a bit," I offered. "I hate to be shot at without being able to shoot back. Now I'll go up ahead again and see if I can't persuade these train stealers to quit."

"No, no! Please don't do that!" she begged. "They'll see you when you open the door and you won't have a chance in the world!"

"Trust me for that. You sit on the floor, so if a bullet comes through, you'll be out of the way."

"They'll kill you!" she insisted. And then, quite calmly: "If they do, I shan't want to live any longer, Eric."

If I had needed a fighting word, here it was.

"Don't you worry a minute about me," I told her. "Just get down behind the desk where you'll be safe." And I hastened forward to get action.

With due caution I slipped into the forward vestibule and raised myself to look over the tender. There was now only one man in the cab—the one on the engineer's box. Before I could place the other—the one who had taken a shot at me—the train ground to a sudden jolting stop and I heard a crunching of footsteps in the gravel ballast, as of some one racing on ahead of the engine.

If I had only realized it quickly enough, this was our chance—to drop off while the train was at a stand. But while I hesitated, the wheels began to turn again, and, pistol in hand, I started to climb upon the tender—this because I couldn't quite work myself up to the point of shooting the man at the throttle in the back, and without warning. Almost immediately there was another brake-grinding stop, and at this repetition of the chance for escape I sprang back into the vestibule and dashed through the narrow corridor to get Marcia.

As I reached the open compartment I again heard the sprinting footsteps, and a second time the train started with a jerk, the speed accelerating so quickly that by the time I had helped Marcia to her feet, had run with her to the rear platform and had lifted the trap covering the steps, a swing-off with any promise of unbroken bones was out of the question.

It was a backward glance that told me what the two stops and the crunching footsteps had meant. We had left the main line and were on a branch track; and the stops laid been made to let the fireman drop off, set the switch, and reset it after we had passed over it. For the second time we sought the interior of the car, retreating from the shower of cinders pouring over the umbrella roof of the platform.

"Where are we now?" Marcia asked, realizing from the unevenness of the track that we had left the well-ballasted main line.

It was a mere happen-so that I was able to answer her intelligently. In passing back and forth over the division with the new Mountain type, I had noted this spur track pointing away toward the mountains, and, asking one of the enginemen what it was, had been told it was a branch to what was now an abandoned mining camp in the Junipers some few miles away; that there was no train service over it, and hadn't been for a number of years.

"Which means that, for a time, at least, nobody will know where to look for this stolen train; that we are lost to the world for the time being," I added. "For that matter, nobody will know that we disappeared with the train unless—which is most unlikely—somebody in the Eagle Butte yards happened to see us when we got aboard."

"Never mind," she said. "We are still alive, and we've still got each other. That is the most that matters, isn't it?"

Having dropped the captain's pistol into my pocket when I picked her up to run with her to the door, I had both hands free, and the fact that we were being rushed off to nobody knew what desperate adventure was cutting a mighty small figure when I took her in my arms and said:

"Does your saying that mean all it seems to mean, Marcia, girl?"

"You know it does, Eric. There has never been anybody else—even if you did call me a college widow. If you hadn't been as blind as a bat—"

The interruption was a harsh command to, "Hold the clinch! Hold it just as you are!" and we looked up to see one of the two men from the engine cab—the one who had taken a shot at me—steadying himself against the lurching of the car over the rough track with a hand on the captain's desk and covering us with a pistol in the other hand. And the scoundrel was grinning his appreciation of the situation he had surprised.

Sharp as the crisis was, Marcia's sense of humor did not desert her.

"What a pity he hasn't a movie camera," she whispered. And then: "Does it embarrass you horribly, Eric, dear?"

Embarrassment wasn't quite the word. I was so mad that I couldn't see straight. It is one thing to hold the girl of your heart in your arms as, a precious privilege, and another to be obliged to go on holding her, on pain of being shot, or getting her shot, if you let go. It took just about half a minute of the enforced pose to turn me fairly berserk. The roar of confining cliff walls was telling me that the train had entered a mountain canyon, and the presence of the grinning pistol pointer was readily accounted for. We were nearing our destination, whatever it might be, and he had come back into the car to see to it that we didn't escape when the final stop should be made. With my lips at Marcia's ear, I whispered:

"Will you do exactly as I tell you to?" And at her prompt, "Yes," I went on: "When I let you go, duck down behind the chair and stay there. Do you understand?"

"Yes; but he'll kill you."

"I'll try not to give him the chance. Are you ready?"

I could feel her tensing herself for the backward leap.

"I'm ready when you are," she breathed softly. And then: "Perhaps, if you were to kiss me, it might."

I guess maybe it did. As our lips met, the man with the gun gave a snorting guffaw, and before he could pull his face straight I had him, with the gun-grasping hand bent backward in a bone cracking twist—an attack that left him, for the fraction of a split second, defenseless and with his face unguarded.

I put all I had into the right uppercut that caught him fairly on the point of the jaw, hoping that the jolt might shock him into letting go of his weapon. To my surprise, it did more. As I swung to let him have it again, he rocked on his heels, his knees sagged, and he went down as if I had hit him with an ax.

It had been my intention, if I should succeed in getting the better of him, to lock him in one of the staterooms, but there was no time for that. As I stooped to pick up the dropped pistol, there was a short double blast from the locomotive whistle and the speed was checked. That meant that we were arriving somewhere, and there was no time to be lost. Spinning around, I pulled Marcia to her feet and we ran for the rear door. On the platform I opened the gate in the railing and lifted the floor trap to give access to the steps.

"Can you make it?" I asked anxiously, as the train slowed still more.

Her answer was to run down the steps, face herself in the direction the car was moving, and swing off handily; and the next moment we were standing together at the trackside watching the tail lights of the Tyrian as they withdrew around a curve and came to a stand.

As nearly as we could make out in the starlight, we were in a bowl-like basin in the mountains, a depression surrounded by wooded heights. Below the railroad embankment a quick-water stream splashed and gurgled over the boulders in its bed. On the other side of the stream, and opposite the place where the train had stopped, a collection of buildings was dimly visible, and in one of these there were lighted windows. As we looked, a door in the lighted building was opened and a bunch of men came out to cross to the standing train.

Marcia slipped an arm under mine.

"They are going after us—which shows that they got word somehow that we were coming," she said. "Which way shall we run?"

I was debating that question with myself. So far as we knew at the moment, there was only one way out of this mountain trap, and that was by following the railroad track. But over the cross-ties we could make but little speed, and we would be quickly overtaken if they should back the train to search for us. Nevertheless, I suggested it to Marcia as the only expedient I could think of.

"No," she objected promptly. "Now that we are here, let's see it through. The one place they won't look for us is over in that camp, or whatever it is."

"You are right," I agreed; and we scrambled down the embankment, sought and found a wading place in the stream, and made a quick detour which led us across a wagon road and around to the group of buildings, which we approached from the rear. Before we reached the buildings the business car's lights showed us a group of men coming out to stand on the rear platform of the Tyrian, flashing an electric torch. Then two of them dropped off and were lost to view as the car and engine began to back slowly down the grade. They were doubtless confident that they would be able to pick us up somewhere along the track.

Not knowing how many inhabitants of the camp had been left behind, we approached the collection of log buildings cautiously. Reconnoitring some of the outlying structures, we found them empty, roofless and in all stages of dilapidation. Only the largest, the one with the lighted windows, appeared to be habitable, and it, too, seemed to be deserted, though there was a big sport-model touring car drawn up before it.

"If you will stay back here, I'll go and see if they have left anybody behind," I suggested. But Marcia wouldn't have it that way.

"I have just as much curiosity as you have," she retorted; so we crept up to a spying window together.

What we saw when we peeped over the sill of a window in the less brightly lighted end of the building, was a long room which had evidently served as the commissary of the isolated mining camp. Strangely enough, it seemed to be still a storehouse of some sort. There was a ranking of packing cases in the end nearest our window; containers of a size and shape familiar enough everywhere and in the open before the passage of the Volstead act, but now shyly hiding themselves from all but the initiated.

"A bootlegging headquarters," I whispered. "There must be a road in here from the other State."

"And is that the bootlegger himself, sitting up there at the other end of the room?" Marcia asked.

I looked, and had to look again before I could quite credit the evidence of my own senses. For the big man sitting half hidden by what had once been the counter of the commissary store, tiling easily in his chair and smoking a cigar, was Grider, the E.B. & P. superintendent of motive power.


"HE may be a bootlegger," I said in answer to Marcia's query, "but he is also something a lot worse—a traitor to his salt. He is the captain's superintendent of motive power—a member of his official family."

"And who is the other man?" she asked.

I hadn't seen any other man, but that was because the counter structure was concealing him from my point of view. When I shifted a bit so that I could see him, the recollection machinery clicked into gear. He was the man, who had accompanied Grider to the hotel in Eagle Butte, in the evening when I had overheard too little of the plot to be able to go into court and swear that there was a plot.

"These are the two men who are pulling the strings in this business of smashing the Weatherford management," I said. Then: "That is probably Grider's auto around in front. If it isn't locked, we might grab it off and with a bit of luck make a get-away. Or shall we try first to find out what brings these-two boss plotters here to-night?"

Again she said, quite as coolly as Maltby would have said it, "Now that we are here, let's see it through," and at that we shifted to a window nearer the other end of the building where I pried up the sash the needful inch or two with my pocketknife.

"It's just as I'm telling you, Bonnard," were the first words that came to our ears, and they were Grider's. "You are raising altogether too much hell. We're not out to commit wholesale murder, as I've told you more than once. If that collision had come off to-night—"

"That was no skin off of us," the other man countered gruffly. "We didn't frame it with your half-witted dispatcher."

"Maybe not; but your heavy-handed work is responsible for the general demoralization that made Bradford lose his head. You are pushing it too hard—overdoing it. We don't want to inherit a railroad with a lot of its equipment smashed and the rank and file all shot to pieces!"

"You said you wanted action, and you're getting it. And it's getting your New York people what they are after, isn't it, scaring some of the diehards into hurrying to get rid of their E.B. & P. stock?"

"That part of it is all right, if you don't work the rabbit's foot too hard. You let Weatherford and his crowd once get it into their heads that they're being framed, and you'll hear something drop. Take this business of copping off Weatherford's train, and Manning, and the girl, to-night—that's the main thing that brought me out here on the run when I heard of it. You ought to know you can't pull anything like that and get away with it."

"Weatherford may have his train back; we don't want it. But we had to have the man and the girl. That was a dead open and shut. They know too much."

"Too much about what?"

There was silence while the man called Bonnard was relighting his cigar. Then:

"You said, in the beginning, that you didn't want to know anything about our methods, Grider."

"Damn your methods! I want to know why you are fool enough to think that you can kidnap Manning and the girl without raising the very devil!"

"Keep your shirt on!" was the brusque retort. "Our bargain with you was that you were to give us a free hand, and, on our part, we were to give you results. You're getting the results. As for the college mechanic and the girl, we've only done what we had to do. 'They won't be hurt, unless they bring it on themselves; but they are going to be kept where they can't set the grass afire until after we are through. That goes as it lies."

"Make it plainer, if you can?'

"It was a piece of the devil's own luck. The girl was in a position to give Weatherford a pointer that would have let the cat out of the bag, right! And she passed the tip along to the college chap when they were together in Weatherford's car. I'll admit that swiping the train, with them on board, was a trifle raw, but we had to nip the thing in the bud, quick, and we did it."

"Partly, you mean. They've got away from you, after all."

"They won't get far. Brumby will pick 'em up and bring 'em in. They'd have to walk the track; wouldn't know any other way to get out of here."

There was another little interval of silence; then Grider began again:

"It's a hell of a mix-up, Bonnard, and I don't like it. You've taken a nod for a wink, and the chances are that the whole deal will blow up with a racket that will be heard all the way to the Atlantic coast. It's time to call a halt and let the air clear. Pull the pin on these 'demonstrations' of yours, until we see what comes of this equipment-and-body-snatching trick of yours tonight."

"Weatherford's special will be taken back to the main line before morning. As I've said, we have no use for it. But about the man and the girl: You heard what Brumby said when we went out to the car. Most likely nobody at the Eagle Butte terminal saw them get aboard of the special. So far as Weatherford or anybody else knows, Weatherford's car was empty when Brumby and Gatlin snatched it out of the Eagle Butte yards."

"Have it that way, if you like," was Grider's reply. "But I can tell you this much: Lansing Weatherford is nobody's fool. If he gets onto your game—well, in that case I shouldn't care to be in your shoes, Bonnard."

At this, the other man struck back smartly.

"Your shoes are just the same as mine, Grider; make no mistake about that. If the house falls down, you'll be under the timbers with the rest of us."

"What do you mean?"

"Just what I say—if you want to bring it to a show-down. State's evidence is what it's called, I believe. When you gave me that cold deal about keeping your own feet out of the mud, I fixed it so we could swear you down in court—three to one, if need be. There's mighty little you've said or done that can't be shown up if the occasion demands it. So that's that. As to stopping the 'demonstrations', as you call them, short off, you're a few minutes too late. There is one staged for tonight."

Grider's tilted chair righted itself with a crash.

"What's that? Good Lord! Didn't you have any better sense than to pull one off right on top of this near-collision of No, 3 and the mail?"

"You forget that we didn't know anything about the near-collision. As I have said, that was your dispatcher's show—not ours."

"But where is it? What is it this time?"

"It will figure as another miscue on the part of your trainmen, and it will show how the E.B. & P. continues to fall down under the Weatherford management. The time is midnight, or thereabouts, and the place a gravel track in the Moqueta foothills. You can name the train for yourself."

Grider was on his feet and pulling out his watch.

"It's got to be stopped, Bonnard!" he rapped out. "How many of your strikers are in this? And can you reach them by wire if I get you to a telegraph office in my car?"

"There are only two of them, and they are out of reach of the wires. They are driving from Eagle Butte, and if they kept their schedule, they left at about the same time you did."

"Get a move!" Grider bellowed, struggling into his overcoat. "You're in for a long, hard ride! No, you needn't try to kick out. Hurry, man!"

It was just then that Marcia drew me away from the window.

"The train!" she said. "It's coming back!"

While we had been listening to the talk in the commissary, the back part of my brain had been busy with the notion of stealing Grider's auto when the time for more action should come. But the auto was on the other side of the building, and now it was too late. As the train pulled up to the end of track a hundred yards distant, four men jumped off to hasten across to the commissary. Keeping the lighted building between us and the approaching men, we beat a hasty retreat to the nearest of the shacks and took refuge in it.

"What now?" Marcia questioned eagerly, as we halted in the shack's doorway.

It was a moment for a bit of quick thinking. The four men were doubtless telling Grider and Bonnard of their failure to find us. In another minute or so the boss train wrecker and Grider would be starting on their long race to the distant Moqueta foothills; a race which might get them to the hills in time to save the threatened train—or it might not. What was to be done? What could we do?

There was one possible answer to these vital questions. The one-car train was standing where it had been stopped at the track end, and it was deserted for the moment. Could we reach it before we should be overtaken? An instant's weighing and measuring of the chances tipped the scale. "Give me your hand!" I whispered; and together we ran, giving the commissary as wide a berth as we could without too greatly increasing the distance we would have to cover.

Thanks to the darkness, we were within a short sprint of the train before the report of a pistol and the simultaneous whine of a bullet overhead told us that we were discovered. With an arm around Marcia, I put the remaining few yards behind us in just about nothing, flat, and at the engine steps I fairly threw my running mate up into the gangway. By this time the pursuit was in full cry, and as I scrambled up after Marcia, another misdirected pistol bullet shattered a cab window.

Fortunately for us, the train was standing upon a slight grade, and at the release of the air brake it began to drift backward. But before I could do more than to snatch the reversing lever into the back gear and give a jerk at the throttle, one of the pursuers reached the engine steps.

A cry from Marcia warned me. The man had thrown himself into the gangway and was clutching at Marcia to drag her out of the cab. I could have shot him from where I stood on the running step, but the fact that I had a pistol in each coat pocket didn't once occur to me in the excitement of the moment. Grabbing the iron slice bar used for breaking up the fire, I shoved it under the fellow as he hung, half recumbent, in the gangway, and his panicky yell as a prying lift of the bar heaved him overboard rose shrilly above the drumming of the wheels and the rapid-fire of the exhaust.

Instantly I was back at the throttle and the brake. The canyon grade was steeper than I had realized, and the speed we were now making over the crooked and long-neglected track was a bid for disaster. Moreover, as we were backing, with the business car in the lead, I couldn't see where we were going or what we were coming to. Under such conditions I had to swallow my heart half a dozen times before we got out of the mountain gorge and shot away on the desert level. At the cessation of the dizzying plunges around the canyon curves, during which she had had to cling to whatever she could lay hold of to keep her feet, Marcia called out to ask if she shouldn't take the fireman's place.

"Too heavy work for you," I objected. "Climb up on that other seat and keep a lookout. They may try to chase us with the auto."

That gave her something to do while I was firing and looking to the water in the boiler; and when I reached across her feet to put on the left-hand injector, her warning cry, and my glimpse of a pair of auto headlights, came at the same instant.

At first, I thought this pursuit by the auto couldn't amount to much, but I was speedily undeceived. There was no road visible beside the track, but the dry, hard desert level, with no obstructions worse than a thin scattering of stunted sagebrush, presented no obstacle to a well-built car racing in any direction over it. Leaning out of the cab window on my side, I could see the oncoming head lamps; was made aware, also, of the grim fact that the flying car was steadily overtaking us.

On a good track, and with the train right-end to, so that I might have had the look ahead, we could have given them a run for their money; but as it was, every additional inching open of the throttle threatened derailment and a wreck. In a few minutes the auto had gained upon us so that I could no longer see the headlights from my side of the cab, and I shouted across to Marcia, telling her to get down on the deck. Instead, she staggered over to stand beside me.

"I saw them plainly as they came into the beam of the engine headlight," she told me. "There are only two of them in the car. The back seat is empty." Then: "Can't we go any faster?"

I shook my head. "Not backing—and over this bad track. As it is, we're taking hideous chances."

"Then they'll overtake us in a few minutes. What will they do then?"

The answer was a crack like the snapping of a dry twig, and a bullet tore into the cab roof. A glance out of the left-hand gangway showed us the beam of the car's headlights keeping even pace with us. Again the pistol cracked, futilely, of course, since the car was so much lower than the engine. But if they should gain a few feet more so they could shoot through the gangway between the engine and the tender. Again I begged Marcia to squat down on the deck on the fireman's side so she would be out of range, and this time she obeyed me.

For some time the one-sided, running fight was kept up, some of the shots coming through the cab windows on the left-hand side, but upon such a high angle as to be harmless. If I had dared to take my hands from throttle and brake I might have got back at these desperate villains who were doing their best to murder us. But my immediate job was to keep going, and to keep the business car and engine on the track if I could. Surely, I thought, the desert, level as it was, would sooner or later interpose some obstacle which would make it impossible for the auto to cling almost within arm's reach of us, as it was doing.

But that time was not yet. Out of the tail of my eye I could see the double beam of the headlights creeping ahead inch by inch. Unless the hoped-for obstacle should bob up within the next few minutes, the gunman in the car would be able to get a line on me through the left-hand gangway, and that would mean that I'd have to let the flying train take its chance of staying on the rails, and shoot it out with him.

I was fumbling in my coat pocket for the captain's automatic when the unexpected climax came. In the lunging and surging of the train over the rough track the coal scoop had slid down off the coal in the bunker and was rattling and dancing around on the floor of the cab. As I looked I saw Marcia catch up the shovel, thrust it into the coal pile and pitch it and its lading out of the gangway upon the upcreeping auto.

There was a crash of breaking glass and a wild yell, and the menacing light beams shot backward as though the gear shift had been suddenly shoved into the reverse. When I leaned out of the window to look back, the auto seemed to have stopped; at any rate, we were leaving it behind so rapidly that it was soon out of sight. Coincident with the disappearance of the auto our backing train began to shrill around a curve, and a double line of telegraph poles signaled our approach to the main line. Shutting off the steam and applying the brakes, I wondered what I should do next, having no key wherewith to unlock the switch. Luckily, I didn't have to do anything. As our train came to a stand on the branch another one-car train came racing down the main line to bring up opposite us.

It was Captain Weatherford and the trainmaster, Bollard, out looking for the stolen special. Explanations followed and it was inspiring to see the captain's army training come to the front as he snapped into action.

"That's what I've been waiting for," he said, when we had hastily recounted our adventures, "something we could get our teeth into." Then to Bollard: "Let me have Burke and his fireman and I'll go on and round these killers up. You can take Miss Marcia and Manning back to Eagle Butte, unless"—turning to us—"you two would rather go on to Caliente and stop off for the ranch. There will be a car there to meet you."

Marcia, finding that the captain's wife was still in Eagle Butte, elected to go back with Bollard; and I told the captain I'd go on with him—all the way. In the circumstances, the leave-takings were cut mighty short. I put Marcia on Bollard's car, and in his care, and the two single-car trains sped apart in opposite directions—Bollard's backing away to the north and ours heading southward. I looked at my watch. It was five minutes past ten, and we had something over sixty miles to go.


IT was a keen pleasure to see the captain snap into it. At the first night telegraph station we came to, a few miles south of our starting point, we halted long enough to let him get in a bit of rapid-fire telephoning. That done, we raced southward again, and as we sat together in the business car he questioned me more closely about our seeings and hearings—Marcia's and mine—at the abandoned mining camp, which he named for me as "Auraria."

"It has been intimated that there was a booze cache out there, and I'm not surprised to know that it belongs to 'Bat' Bonnard," he said. "He is well known to be the 'Big Ike' of the bootleggers in this section, but the dry people have never been able to hang anything definite on him. I don't care so much for him and his hired troublemakers; they'll get theirs in the shake-down. Grider is the man I want. You say Bonnard threatened to turn State's evidence if he got caught out. Do you think he meant it?"

"I think so," I ventured. "But in case he doesn't, Miss Denton and I will very willingly go into court for you."

"Thanks; that's mighty white of you. If we can once get a vise nip on Grider, we can push the fight to the men higher up, and a number of gentlemen in New York and elsewhere will most likely find it convenient to visit foreign countries for a time."

At this I went a bit deeper into the mystery matter, telling him about the man Varnell and what Marcia and I had seen and thought we knew—which was the reason for our abduction. He heard me through, but I could see that he was tolerantly incredulous, as he had a good right to be.

"That is pretty hard to believe," was his comment. "As you know, a discovery like the one you speak of would be worth a swollen fortune to the man who made it. He wouldn't be obliged to turn criminal for wages."

I admitted this, and then asked if he had seen anything of Maltby before he left Eagle Butte. He said he had; that Maltby had been inquiring if anybody knew what had become of me.

"Of course, we didn't know that you and Miss Denton had been kidnaped in the stolen special," he explained; "though Maltby did suggest that that might be the case."

While he was speaking, the train came to a stop at Caliente, and two of the Circle D cow-punchers came aboard, both of them armed; one a tall, loose-jointed, mournful-looking chap named to me as "Long Tom" Jower, and the other introduced as "Curly" Wester. I guessed at once that this was the answer to one of the captain's telephone calls from the station up the line. He told them something of what was to the fore, adding that they might take it easy until the time came for action. Whereat they went to spread themselves upon the lounge at the rear of the compartment to roll smokes.

As we sped on I asked the captain if we had any legal authority, and he nodded, saying:

"That is why I phoned for Jower and Curly. They are both deputies and special officers for the railroad." Then he asked me how much of a start Grider and Bonnard had had. I said I couldn't tell, because I didn't know how much damage Marcia had done to them or to their car when she had heaved the shovelful of coal—and the shovel—at them.

"A right nervy thing for the little girl to do," was his comment on the shovel heaving. "Mrs. Weatherford has quite fallen in love with her," he added.

"So have I," I grinned.

"Any chance for you?" he smiled back.

"I didn't believe there was until tonight." And from that, I went on to tell him how the fellow Gatlin had caught us just before the stolen special had reached its destination at the abandoned mining camp.

He laughed heartily at the situation as I described it, and I didn't blame him. Then he said:

"I can match you, Manning. Harry—Mrs. Weatherford—is just such another. Only I think if it had been us instead of you two, she would have sneaked the automatic out of my pocket and taken a crack at the holdup."

"Oh, see here; I can't give you any odds on that," I countered. "I imagine the only reason Marcia didn't do that very thing was because it didn't occur to her soon enough." Then: "By the way, I still have your automatic." And I gave it to him, saying that I had the one I had picked up when Gatlin got his knock-out. Then I asked him what "train it was that Bonnard had planned to ditch.

"No. 17. It is due at the gravel pit in the hills about twelve."

"Think we can make it before that time?"

He looked at his watch and nodded.

"Burke is a good runner, and he knows what is wanted. However, there won't be any 'assisted' accident this time. No. 17's crew has been warned."

Irrespective of what he might know, the man who had taken my late place at the throttle of the special-train engine wasn't letting any grass grow under the wheels; and it was also evident that we had been given "regardless" orders, for everything was sidetracked for us. At Lobo, the junction where a branch led off to the mining towns in Madregosa Gulch, we stopped barely long enough to take a tank of water before we shot on into the Moqueta foothills.

Though I had been over the main line on the new Mountain type quite a number of times, I was not yet familiar enough with it to know just where we were when we slowed to a stop.

The captain sprang up and signed to Jower and Wester.

"This is the place where we make a short cut," he said to me; and we all got off and hiked up ahead. As we were passing the engine, the captain spoke to the engineer who was hanging out of his cab window.

"Back down quietly, Burke, and take the siding at Walker's Switch. Wait there until No. 17 passes, and then pull on up to the gravel pit," was the order he gave; and as we went on, the one-car train slipped away down the grade, disappearing, for us, around the first curve.

Though, as I have said, I didn't know just where we were, the captain did. He led off to the right around a small wooded hill, and a few minutes of tramping brought us to the highway leading over Lobo Pass to Eden Valley—a road, which, as I knew, paralleled the E. B. & P. grade a good part of the way over the range. After holding to the road for about half a mile, the captain halted us.

"We take to the woods here," he said, "single file and cat-footed. When we reach the railroad right of way there will be a switch just ahead, and we'll take cover and see what happens."

Falling into line again, we went winding in and out among the trees beside the road, the soft carpeting of pine needles underfoot making our march as silent as that of a procession of ghosts. It was the end of an unprecedented dry spell, even for the rainless altitudes, and the air was pungent with the pitchy fragrance of the sun-baked pines and firs. Within the last hour a gibbous moon had risen, so there was light enough to enable us to pick our way.

A couple of hundred yards from where we had taken to the wood, we came upon an auto parked in a grove beside the road. It was a single-seated roadster, with the motor dead and the lights turned off. At first I thought it was empty—I was still thinking so when the captain sprang upon the running board and lashed out at a slumped figure in the driving seat. Before any of us could cut in, he had opened the door and was dragging a half-stunned sleeper out of the car.

"Fix him," was the order given to Jower and Wester; and by the time the stunned man was awakening they had him hog-tied and gagged and were dragging him up under the trees to wait for whatever was awaiting him, the captain saying that we could pick him up later.

A little farther along we bore to the left again and soon came to the railroad track at a point where I quickly got my bearings. We were just below the gravel-pit spur where I had so nearly ditched the through freight on the night when Maltby and I were making our first trial run with the Mountain type. The captain flashed an electric torch upon the dial of his watch.

"Time enough, but not much to spare," he said; and then we crossed to the far side of the gravel track and made a cautious advance along a steep and thickly wooded hillside toward the switch at the upper end of the spur, in due time reaching a point from which the filtered light of the half moon showed us the switch stand. To my surprise, and to the captain's as well, I guess, the switch hadn't been tampered with. It was properly set for the main line.

For the moment I felt a little like the excitable citizen who has turned in a fire alarm when there was no fire. The silent surroundings, with nothing disturbed and no moving object in sight, made me wonder if I had brought the captain and his men on a fool's errand. But after a minute or so the air began to vibrate with the unmistakable hum of an auto driven at speed, and at that I felt a little less like a false alarm. If it were Grider's car, and not merely some late-at-night autoist driving over to Eden Valley We'd know shortly. If the drumming motor noise should stop—

It did stop presently and the stillness that succeeded was fairly deafening. I found myself trying to estimate from my memory of it the distance from the nearest point on the highway up to the railroad, and the length of time it would take to traverse it on foot. While we waited, all four of us, tense and expectant, I bent down a branch of the small fir under which we were crouching—a low-hanging branch which was obstructing my view up the track. As I did this I saw a thing that made me grasp the captain's arm and whisper:

"Look, quick! Do you see it?"

A little more than halfway to the switch a small gulch, thickly groved with sapling conifers, cut into the hillside. Out of the mouth of this gulch a beam of bluish-green light, faintly discernible under the pale moonbeams, was reaching out diagonally toward the railroad track. As we watched it the faint ray or emanation enveloped the switch standard, dimly illuminating it for a brief instant. Then, as if it had been touched by the finger of some mysterious agent of annihilation, the solid iron standard and target lever faded before our eyes—dissolved into nothingness and was gone!

"Say! by all the gods, Manning, you were right!" the captain gritted, and he was breathing hard. "Now for the next act in the play!"

It came promptly. At the disappearance of the switch standard a man stepped out of the tree shadows at the mouth of the little gulch and went quickly across to the junction of the two lines of rails. As he came to the switch, or, as it seemed to us, to the place where the switch had been and now was not, he, too, faded into indistinctness and was blotted out.

Almost at once we heard the grating of a key in a rusted lock and the clank of the switch lever as it was pulled over in its quadrant, and we knew that the trap was set. With the switch-shifting mechanism invisible, the enginemen on the coming train, the rumbling of which could now be heard in the up-mountain distance, would have nothing to warn them until they should swing far enough around the curve of approach to see the rail points under the beam of their headlight. And then, under ordinary conditions, it would be too late to make the safety stop.

In a couple of heartbeats the trapper materialized for us, reappearing to retreat quickly to the small gulch out of which he had come, where we again lost sight of him. Wester would have gone after him, but the captain said: "No—wait; there's more to follow. We know where to find that one when we want him."

It was only a minute or so after the preparation of the trap and the retreat of the man who had set it when we heard footsteps at our right, and two men came stumbling over the crossties of the gravel track, breathing heavily as though they had been running. At a point nearly opposite the thicket in which we were concealed they stopped.

"Where in hell is that switch stand?" came the demand in a voice that at least two of us recognized as Grider's.

The other man gave a low laugh.

"I told you it was too late, didn't I? The switch is gone. Don't you see it has?" Then: "We'd better get off this track. The freight will be diving in here in another minute or two."

For a brief instant Grider hesitated, as if what poor shreds and patches of common humanity there were in him were urging him to run ahead and try to flag the downcoming train, which could now be heard shrilling around the curves at ne great distance on the grades above. Then he turned aside, making the decision which put him squarely in the same class with the criminals he had employed. All four of us heard him quite distinctly when he said:

"I don't know what your strikers have done to that switch, but let it go for this one more time. Only don't pull any more of these 'accidents' until I tell you to. You're getting me in too deep!"

"Ah!" came in the sneering voice of the other man. "All you care for is your own hide, eh? You don't care a damn if these fellows that are coming get piled up under their engine in the gravel pit?"

"That's their lookout. If they haven't sense enough to jump and save their necks when they find themselves on the wrong track—Let's get over on our own side of things. Wed better make a quick run for the car and get away from here."

But if this chief of all unhanged scoundrels had meant to dodge a climax, which he had every reason to believe would result in the loss of one or more human lives, he had lingered too long. As the pair started to cross to the mainline track and the wood beyond, the freight-train for which the trap had been set swung around the curve of approach. But instead of rushing on to wreck itself in the gravel pit, it came to a brake-shrilling stop a little distance short of the still-invisible switch stand, and its headlight playing full upon the two who were hastening to duck to cover.

At this, things came to a focus with a bang. As Wester and Jower sprang up to go after Bonnard and Grider, Wester's foot caught in a tree root and he went rolling down the steep hillside to land almost at the feet of the two who were standing momentarily dazed by the glare of the stopped engine's headlight.

As I heard the captain say to me, "Come on—let's get the miracle worker!" I saw a thrilling tableau struck out by the locomotive spotlight. Grider, knowing now that he had been caught red handed, and willing to save himself by a cold-blooded murder, whipped a pistol from his coat pocket and threw it down upon Wester. But Long Tom Jower's trigger squeeze was the quicker, and at the roar of his .45, Grider's aimed weapon flew from his hand; and as I ran to overtake the captain, I saw Jower covering the two conspirators while Wester handcuffed them.

It took us, the captain and I, but a few seconds to run to the mouth of the little gulch, but before we got there the mysteriously effaced switch stand had snapped into visibility again, and a whiff of pungent smoke was blowing down to us from the mouth of the small ravine. An instant farther along a tongue of yellow flame leaped up and two or three of the small trees in the gulch went up with a flash and a roar to herald the beginning of a forest fire. The worker of miracles was escaping up the gulch and he had. set the fire to cut off pursuit.

By this time the two enginemen and head brakeman of the freight were running down the track, followed by the other members of the crew; and with these to help we tried to stop the progress of the fire before it should gain sufficient headway to spread to the nearby mountains. Breaking living branches from the trees, we were successful in beating the flames back at the gulch edges and confining them to the steep little ravine; but within these limits the conflagration roared like a mighty furnace, leaving a blackened and smoking gulf behind it as it swept up the gorge.

After it became apparent that the fire would burn itself out in the gulch, the captain released the freight crew, telling the conductor and engineer to proceed with their train. Just then Wester came up, having left Jower guarding the two prisoners; and as we stood on-the brink of the gorge the light of the burning trees below us showed us a most gruesome sight. Varnell—if that were his real name—had signed his own death warrant in lighting the fire at the gulch mouth. He had doubtless thought to escape up the ravine ahead of the blaze, but, as we could now see plainly, there was no exit from the place at its upper end; the gulch was a mere deep pocket in the hill with sides too steep to be climbed. On a bed of scorched leaves and smoking tree trunks that would probably burn for hours we saw the blackened body of a man, and beside it what we took to be the remains of the miracle-working thing with which he had tried to escape.

"He's out of it; and his secret, whatever it was, has gone with him," said the captain soberly; and even as he spoke, a dead tree, with the fire burning fiercely at its rotted base, fell with a crash and a shower of sparks to blot out the gruesome sight and add itself to the victim's funeral pyre.

For a little time the three of us stood looking down into the fiery gulf. Then, as a mellow whistle blast announced the upcoming of Burke with the business car special, the captain broke the spell of silence which had fallen upon us:

"The play's over and we may as well go. It will be a long while before anybody can go down there and come back alive, and by that time there will be nothing left of him or his devil's invention." And so we made our way down to the track and to the place where the special was halted and Jower was riding herd on the two who mattered most in the captain's fight to keep his railroad from: falling into the hands of the enemy.

It was when we were about to board the car that my part in the weird adventures of the night, inconsequent as it had been, ended abruptly: In the shuffle at the car steps Jower, chaperoning Grider, was just ahead of me. Suddenly the big superintendent of motive power jerked himself free and whirled upon me.

"Damn you!" he grated. "I owe this to you and that girl of yours!" And before I could dodge he swung his manacled hands like a flail, and with a fleeting impression that the business car had tumbled over on me, I went out.

WHEN I CAME back to earth it was broad daylight and I found myself lying, with a bandaged head, in bed, with Maltby sitting beside me.

"Well, old scout," he grinned, "you are not going to make a die of it, after all, as we were afraid you might. Feeling pretty groggy?"

"I feel as if I had a bushel basket for a head," I replied weakly. "What hit me?"

"Grider smacked you with his handcuffs in a pretty tender spot. The doctors thought for a while that there was a skull fracture."

"When was all this?" I demanded.

"Three days ago."

"Huh!" I grunted. "Grider said I owed him something; but now he owes me. No matter how long I may live, I'll always be three days shy of what belongs to me. What's been happening since I went off the deep end? Anything special?"

"Plenty. Grider is in the jail infirmary with an infected hand, got when Jower had to shoot to keep him from killing Curly Wester; and there are counts enough in his indictment to keep the lawyers talking through an entire court session. Bonnard turned State's evidence in the conspiracy case, as he threatened to, but he and his rum runners will have to face the music for bootlegging."

"How about the captain and his fight to keep his railroad?"

"The drive on the stock blew up with a loud noise when the news of Grider's arrest and indictment got to New York, and there was a flurry on the Exchange that ran the price up to where nobody could afford to play with it, with the Weatherford interests on top and the conspirators holding the bag."

"And Varnell, or Vanderpool, or whatever his name was?" I queried.

Maltby shook his head. "Nothing left but a few calcined bones." Then: "The captain has told me what you all saw, or thought you saw, at the gravel track switch. Are you sure all four of you were not hypnotized?"

"Still a bit incredulous, are you?" I said. "All right; let it go. If you won't accept the testimony of the four of us who were together, and the three men on No. 17's engine, you're hopeless. You've only our word for it. The fire wiped out the proof and the secret of it. Where's Marcia?"

At this he grinned again.

"I thought you'd get around to her after a while. She has been right here with you, losing sleep, for three days and nights. A couple of hours ago I made her go and lie down. Want me to go after her?"

"If you wake her I'll kill you when I get up," I told him. And then: "I suppose we are through here on the E. B. & P., now that the storm has blown over?"

"You've got another guess coming," he returned, with a third and much broader grin. "The captain was lacking a superintendent of motive power, and he said there was room, also, for an efficiency engineer in the same department. He added that we might settle it between ourselves as to which would be which. I told him—"

What it was that Tommy told the captain I don't know to this good day, for just then the door opened and my dear girl, looking as if she'd lost sleep for a week instead of three days, came to shoo him away; and Well, if you'll remember, I said, at the first dash out of the box, that Marcia had her compassionate leanings, and now, if never before, I was figuring handsomely as the under dog.

"Oh, you poor, poor dear!" she said softly, as she came to sit on the edge-of the bed. "I—"

But what more she said, and did, needn't be set down here.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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