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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS CHRISTOPHER BECK)

A VENTURE FOR LIFE

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover
Bssed on an old travel poster


Ex Libris

First published in Chums, Cassell & Co., London, 1909?

Reprinted in The Chronicle, Adelaide, Australia, 24 Jul 1909 (this version)

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2021
Version Date: 2021-11-27

Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

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I. — [UNTITLED.]

"YEW take my word fer it, young feller. Thet cousin o' yours don't mean no good. If I was yew I'd shift somewhere else."

Bruce Conway laughed. "How you do bar Steve, Eli? He's not such a bad chap, really."

"What—with a face like that? I tell yew, if I was judge an' a feller with a figurehead like thet was brought afore me I wouldn't ask fer no evidence. I'd string him up, right away."

"His face isn't his fortune?" admitted Bruce. "But, after all, that's not his fault. He's civil enough to me."

"Well, he may be," returned old Eli Holt. "Yew works as much ez any two he's got, an' I'll warrant he don't give you a dollar a day."

"He don't pay me at all," said Bruce. "I only get my board and lodging."

"'Tis a shame—a dirty shame!" exclaimed Eli. "Ef yew've got any sense yew'll pack up your traps an' quit. There's chaps not ez good ez yew getting their two an' a half up on the new railway extension under Twin Mountain."

"Maybe I will in a month or so," said Bruce, "But I can't leave Steve now with the hay cutting just coming on. That wouldn't be straight goods. And for another thing, Eli, I'm not here altogether on the make. I've got money coming to me some of these days—a long time off, I hope. But when my old uncle dies I'll have to go back to England and run a biggish place."

"All the more reason ez yew should be keerful," said the old westerner. "Mark my words, young Conway, yew'll be sorry ef yew don't git out—and soon, too."

"Oh, I can look after myself," said Bruce as he got up lazily and stretched his long arms above his head.

"Yes, yew be a fine lusty youngster," said Eli approvingly. "But thet won't do yew a mite o' good agin treachery; an' ef ever I seed treachery it's in the face o' Steve Lomax."

Walking back to his cousin's house through the cool dusk of the twilight Bruce could not help dwelling on the warning words he had just heard.

"Wonder why Eli hates Steve so?" he muttered. "Good old chap, Eli. Half think there must be something in it. One thing's sure, I'd never have come out to Steve if I'd seen him first."

There was a hush and a roar, and Bruce, looking round, saw the local train emerge from the mouth of the tunnel half a mile away, and go booming across the famous Twin Mountain trestle, which straddled the valley of the Purgatoire.

Against the gold of the evening sky the tall steel trusses looked like a spider's web, and distance reduced the heavy train to the proportions of a child's toy.

"Half wish I was going home," thought Bruce. "How ripping it would be on the river just now. And think of a day at Lord's. Bit different from this country, where one works all day in a blazing sun, and the only amusement is to go and yarn with old Eli in the evening."

Tramping along a dusty, hedgeless road, Bruce at last reached a squalid-looking three room shack, which stood in the middle of a field without so much as a single shrub or flower bed to relieve its barren ugliness.

"That you Bruce?" came a harsh voice from the verandah. "There's a wire for you. Came an hour ago."

"Who in thunder's wiring to me?" exclaimed Bruce as he ran up the steps and took the envelope from his cousin's hand.

"There's a lamp in the kitchen," said Lomax, following Bruce in.

Bruce turned up the smoky wick, and tore open the envelope. A sharp exclamation broke from him.

"Steve, Uncle Robert's dead. I must go home at once."

A sharp whistle of surprise burst from the lips of Steve Lomax. It was artistically done, for the men had steamed open the envelope, and had known the news, and been thinking it over for an hour past.

"And you come in for the whole outfit, Bruce? Lucky dog!"

"Hang it all! one needn't think of that, with the poor old chap hardly cold in his grave," retorted Bruce.

"No. But you'll find that's what counts all the same," said Lomax drily. "I suppose you'll catch the morning train from the junction at Glengarry?"

"How am I going to do it? The local's gone, and there's no train from here till the nine-twenty to-morrow morning. That's too late to make connection with the east-bound express from Glengarry. Will you drive me?"

"I would, like a shot," said Lomax glibly. "But the mare cast a shoe this afternoon, so I'm afraid she'd never do the journey."

"The cable says, 'Come at once,'" said Bruce.

"Well, I don't see why you shouldn't," replied Lomax slowly, with a queer gleam in his deep, sunken eyes.

"It's thirty miles. I can't walk it," exclaimed Bruce sharply.

"Of course not. My idea was that you might hire a horse at Clayton's."

"And how am I to get to Clayton's? The river's coming down a banker with all that rain yesterday, the ford's impassable, and it's ten miles round by Lockport bridge."

"You forget. There's the trestle," suggested Lomax. His usually harsh voice was soft as silk, and his curious eyes fairly burned.

"By Jingo, so there is; I'd quite forgotten. That's the scheme. But isn't it rather a beastly place to cross?"

"Don't know! Never was on it. But the gangers go up and down every day."

"Oh, well, I'll try it. The worst of it is I shall have to leave all my kit behind."

"Don't worry about that. I'll send it on. Have you got dollars enough for the journey?"

"They've cabled me a credit to New York. But I doubt if I've got enough to take me that far."

"All right. I'll lend you the necessary. Will fifty dollars do you?"

He took out a case as he spoke, counted out five ten-dollar bills, and handed them to his cousin.

"'Pon my soul, it's awfully decent of you," exclaimed Bruce. At that moment he felt thoroughly ashamed of having even listened to old Eli Holt's abuse of his cousin.


II. — "LINE CLEAR!"

THE night breeze blew fresh and chill as the two cousins stood together on the permanent way close to the northern entrance to the Twin Mountain trestle. Below yawned a vast gap of darkness, from the depths of which rose the hoarse rumble of the flooded river.

"Here you are," said Lomax. "I won't come over with you, for, to say truth, my head's not all it used to be, and I should only have to come back again the same way."

"No, don't dream of it. I shall be all right. But, I say, one thing I'd forgotten to ask you. Are there any more trains to-night? It wouldn't be exactly gain to be caught out in the middle there." He pointed out to the single line of rails which sprang from the hillside, their wheel worn tops gleaming faintly in the starlight.

"Nothing before the 1 o'clock freight," replied Lomax.

"How much time does that give me?"

Lomax took out his watch, struck a match, and held it to the dial. "Why, bless you, it's only ten past 12. It won't take you more than fifteen minutes to walk across."

"That's all right," said Bruce. "Goodbye, old chap. You've been awfully decent. I'll send you a cheque from New York."

In another moment he had passed out along the slender trestle.

Americans don't waste material in bridge-buildings. The rails lay on wooden cross-sleepers or "ties," as they call them on the other side. These sleepers were about two feet apart, and between, them was thin air. There were no side-guards of any kind.

One false step and there was nothing to save Bruce from a sheer drop of something like 350-ft. into the river, which boomed in the darkness at the bottom of the gorge.

"Rather a blessing I can't see it," said Bruce to himself as he stepped cautiously from steeper to sleeper. "Might make me giddy. Phew, how the wind blows!" as he balanced himself against a gust. "And it was quite calm down below!"

Progress was slow. You cannot walk fast when each stop is a balancing across such a drop as lies below Twin Mountain trestle. And the gusts which now and then swept down the valley made the passage still more risky.

The stars gave light enough to see a dozen or so sleepers ahead, and to make out the great dim bulk of the opposite hill. But that was all. Bruce could not tell how far he was from one side or the other.

The whole length of the trestle was about a third of a mile, and Bruce calculated he was nearly half-way across when he felt, or thought he felt, the whole structure quiver slightly. He stopped and listened, but could hear nothing except the deep note of the river far below.

"The wind, I suppose," he muttered, and pressed on.

But in a moment the quiver came again. And now the gust had passed. The air was calm.

A horrible suspicion flashed across his mind. He flung himself flat with his ear against the rail. A sickening panic clutched him as he heard the metals ring faintly with the sullen drumming of distant wheels.

A train was coming!

For an instant his presence of mind deserted him utterly. He lay there literally shaking with fright.

Next moment he had pulled himself together, and scrambling to his feet turned and made back for the bank he had left.

It was no good. He knew that. Even taking the maddest risks it would mean at least five minutes before he could regain the end of the trestle. And the train was a mile away at most.

Still he plunged and struggled on, taking two sleepers at a stride, hoping against hope that something might stop the train. The drumming grew to a pulsing drone. The rails cracked and rattled. He cast a terrified glance back over his shoulder.

Like some great luminous snake the train swept into sight round the curve of the hill behind. Already her engine was on the bridge. He could see the red smoke pouring from her tunnel.

Bruce pulled up and stared round in desperation. Was there no way out of it? Must he be crushed to pieces under those grinding wheels, or brushed aside by the great cowcatcher, and hurled into the gulf below?

One of two things happens to a man in such a strait. Either he goes silly with fright and does something utterly mad and foolish, or else all his senses become extraordinarily acute. With Bruce the latter was the case, and in his extremity he suddenly saw a chance. A slender and desperate one, but yet a chance.

The great sleepers of the trestle bridge protruded about a foot on either side of the railway metals. Impossible to stand there, but why not hang by one's hands? Yes, that was his only chance of life. He must drop and hang while the train passed.

So long as he lives Brace Conway is never likely to forget that awful minute while he waited for the train. He watched the great headlight glare larger and larger, felt the whole bridge rock and quiver beneath the roaring wheels.

She was within two hundred yards, a hundred; then, setting his teeth, Bruce clutched the sleeper, and let his body drop.

Clinging like grim death, he swung in mid-air while the long train groaned and rattled past. Wheel after wheel, carriage after carriage. Hot gusts of oil air blew down upon his face, the roar was deafening. Would it never pass?

At last, after what seemed a year of agony, the red glow of the tail lamp flashed upon his face, and he was free to get back.

If he could. For the only way to do it was to draw himself up to his chin and get a leg over the sleeper. An easy feat enough in a gymnasium with your hands gripping a polished ash bar and the floor a few feet below you.

But try it, clinging to a flat baulk of rough timber, with a hundred yards of windy space below, black night around, and the roar of a swollen river echoing up from the dark depths beneath.

How he did it Bruce never knew. All he did know was that somehow it was done. And, shaking all over, collapsed and deathly sick, he lay stretched across two sleepers clinging with both arms to one rail.

If another train had come then he must have been killed. He was totally unable to move hand or foot to help himself and it was half an hour or more before he could pick himself up and creep away across the bridge.


III. — A SURPRISE FOR STEVE LOMAX.

THEY are early folks in the Western States and breakfast had been served and cleared when at half-past seven next morning Bruce rode up to the Lincoln Hotel at Glengarry.

"Hullo, stranger, yew look as if yew'd been having a rough passage," remarked the hotel-keeper, who was leaning against the fence in his shirt-sleeves enjoying the morning sun.

"I have," said Bruce drily. "Can I get some breakfast?"

"You bet, ef there's any left. We've had a chap in already piling into the buckwheat cakes."

"Who's that?" enquired Brace listlessly as he swung himself off his tired horse.

"Don't know his name. Comes from up Twin Mountain way."

Bruce's listless air disappeared. "I think I know him," he said. "I'll go in and see. No, don't come with me. I want to surprise him."

The other nodded. "Yew'll find him in the dining-room. First door to the right when you gets into the passage."

Bruce was hardly inside the outer door when the familiar tones of Steve Lomax's voice reached him.

"It was a crazy thing to do, but I couldn't stop him though I tried all I knew."

"It was plumb suicide!" exclaimed another voice.

"That's what it was. I told him the train was due in ten minutes, but the fact was he'd had a drink or two, and was so obstinate you couldn't do a thing with him."

A third person broke in. "What! You told him a train was coming, and yet he started out across the trestle!"

"Yes. He laughed, and said I was a liar, and now the poor beggar's lying somewhere down in the bottom of that beastly canyon, and I've got to go home and tell his people."

"Tell 'em you've polished me off and that you're heir to the whole show," said Bruce, as he stepped quietly into the room.

If a bomb had burst on the oilcloth floor of that small and dingy room Lomax would not have been half so surprised. His jaw fell, and he fell back in his chair limp and helpless.

Bruce stood looking at him. The other two men stared at Bruce.

"Gentlemen," said Bruce, "that man is my cousin. He is also next heir after me to a property in England, which I am on my way home to claim. Last night, when I started, he came with me as far as the end of the Twin Mountain trestle. Knowing a train was due at one, I asked him the time. He showed me his watch. It was ten part twelve. Ten minutes later, when I was in the middle of the bridge, the one o'clock train caught me, and I saved my life by dropping and hanging to one of the sleepers while the train went past, look at my hands!"

He held them up. The finger-nails were black, and two were wrapped in a blood-stained bandage.

"The dirty skunk. He must hev altered his watch!" cried one of the men angrily.

Lomax was sitting up, glaring round him like a cornered rat. All of a sudden he sprang to his feet and made a wild bolt for the door.

But Bruce was too quick for him. Out shot his left, and, catching his cousin under the jaw, sent him crashing against the boarded wall. He dropped in a limp heap to the floor, and lay there twitching slightly.

"Good for you, young feller!" exclaimed one of the onlookers, a quiet-looking man of forty. "I reckon you served the varmint jest about rights. Say, I'm the marshal of this here town, an' I reckon I'll take charge now. You git some breakfast. Your train leaves in an hour."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.