Part 8 out of 12
overflowed his eyes and ran down upon his cheeks. She drew away
from him and held him a second at arm's length, looking at him,
and he saw that she, too, had been crying.
"I think," he said, "we are a couple of softies."
"No, no," she insisted. "I want to cry and want you to cry, too.
Oh, dear, I haven't a handkerchief."
"Here, take mine."
They wiped each other's eyes like two children and for a long
time sat in the deserted little Japanese pleasure house, their
arms about each other, talking, talking, talking.
On the following Saturday they were married in an uptown
Presbyterian church, and spent the week of their honeymoon at a
small, family hotel on Sutter Street. As a matter of course,
they saw the sights of the city together. They made the
inevitable bridal trip to the Cliff House and spent an afternoon
in the grewsome and made-to-order beauties of Sutro's Gardens;
they went through Chinatown, the Palace Hotel, the park museum--
where Hilma resolutely refused to believe in the Egyptian mummy--
and they drove out in a hired hack to the Presidio and the Golden
On the sixth day of their excursions, Hilma abruptly declared
they had had enough of "playing out," and must be serious and get
This work was nothing less than the buying of the furniture and
appointments for the rejuvenated ranch house at Quien Sabe, where
they were to live. Annixter had telegraphed to his overseer to
have the building repainted, replastered, and reshingled and to
empty the rooms of everything but the telephone and safe. He
also sent instructions to have the dimensions of each room noted
down and the result forwarded to him. It was the arrival of
these memoranda that had roused Hilma to action.
Then ensued a most delicious week. Armed with formidable lists,
written by Annixter on hotel envelopes, they two descended upon
the department stores of the city, the carpet stores, the
furniture stores. Right and left they bought and bargained,
sending each consignment as soon as purchased to Quien Sabe.
Nearly an entire car load of carpets, curtains, kitchen
furniture, pictures, fixtures, lamps, straw matting, chairs, and
the like were sent down to the ranch, Annixter making a point
that their new home should be entirely equipped by San Francisco
The furnishings of the bedroom and sitting-room were left to the
very last. For the former, Hilma bought a "set" of pure white
enamel, three chairs, a washstand and bureau, a marvellous
bargain of thirty dollars, discovered by wonderful accident at a
"Friday Sale." The bed was a piece by itself, bought elsewhere,
but none the less a wonder. It was of brass, very brave and gay,
and actually boasted a canopy! They bought it complete, just as
it stood in the window of the department store and Hilma was in
an ecstasy over its crisp, clean, muslin curtains, spread, and
shams. Never was there such a bed, the luxury of a princess,
such a bed as she had dreamed about her whole life.
Next the appointments of the sitting-room occupied her--since
Annixter, himself, bewildered by this astonishing display, unable
to offer a single suggestion himself, merely approved of all she
bought. In the sitting-room was to be a beautiful blue and white
paper, cool straw matting, set off with white wool rugs, a stand
of flowers in the window, a globe of goldfish, rocking chairs, a
sewing machine, and a great, round centre table of yellow oak
whereon should stand a lamp covered with a deep shade of crinkly
red tissue paper. On the walls were to hang several pictures--
lovely affairs, photographs from life, all properly tinted--of
choir boys in robes, with beautiful eyes; pensive young girls in
pink gowns, with flowing yellow hair, drooping over golden harps;
a coloured reproduction of "Rouget de Lisle, Singing the
Marseillaise," and two "pieces" of wood carving, representing a
quail and a wild duck, hung by one leg in the midst of game bags
and powder horns,--quite masterpieces, both.
At last everything had been bought, all arrangements made,
Hilma's trunks packed with her new dresses, and the tickets to
"We'll go by the Overland, by Jingo," declared Annixter across
the table to his wife, at their last meal in the hotel where they
had been stopping; "no way trains or locals for us, hey?"
"But we reach Bonneville at SUCH an hour," protested Hilma.
"Five in the morning!"
"Never mind," he declared, "we'll go home in PULLMAN'S, Hilma.
I'm not going to have any of those slobs in Bonneville say I
didn't know how to do the thing in style, and we'll have Vacca
meet us with the team. No, sir, it is Pullman's or nothing.
When it comes to buying furniture, I don't shine, perhaps, but I
know what's due my wife."
He was obdurate, and late one afternoon the couple boarded the
Transcontinental (the crack Overland Flyer of the Pacific and
Southwestern) at the Oakland mole. Only Hilma's parents were
there to say good-bye. Annixter knew that Magnus and Osterman
were in the city, but he had laid his plans to elude them.
Magnus, he could trust to be dignified, but that goat Osterman,
one could never tell what he would do next. He did not propose
to start his journey home in a shower of rice.
Annixter marched down the line of cars, his hands encumbered with
wicker telescope baskets, satchels, and valises, his tickets in
his mouth, his hat on wrong side foremost, Hilma and her parents
hurrying on behind him, trying to keep up. Annixter was in a
turmoil of nerves lest something should go wrong; catching a
train was always for him a little crisis. He rushed ahead so
furiously that when he had found his Pullman he had lost his
party. He set down his valises to mark the place and charged
back along the platform, waving his arms.
"Come on," he cried, when, at length, he espied the others.
"We've no more time."
He shouldered and urged them forward to where he had set his
valises, only to find one of them gone. Instantly he raised an
outcry. Aha, a fine way to treat passengers! There was P. and
S. W. management for you. He would, by the Lord, he would--but
the porter appeared in the vestibule of the car to placate him.
He had already taken his valises inside.
Annixter would not permit Hilma's parents to board the car,
declaring that the train might pull out any moment. So he and
his wife, following the porter down the narrow passage by the
stateroom, took their places and, raising the window, leaned out
to say good-bye to Mr. and Mrs. Tree. These latter would not
return to Quien Sabe. Old man Tree had found a business chance
awaiting him in the matter of supplying his relative's hotel with
dairy products. But Bonneville was not too far from San
Francisco; the separation was by no means final.
The porters began taking up the steps that stood by the vestibule
of each sleeping-car.
"Well, have a good time, daughter," observed her father; "and
come up to see us whenever you can."
From beyond the enclosure of the depot's reverberating roof came
the measured clang of a bell.
"I guess we're off," cried Annixter. "Good-bye, Mrs. Tree."
"Remember your promise, Hilma," her mother hastened to exclaim,
"to write every Sunday afternoon."
There came a prolonged creaking and groan of straining wood and
iron work, all along the length of the train. They all began to
cry their good-byes at once. The train stirred, moved forward,
and gathering slow headway, rolled slowly out into the sunlight.
Hilma leaned out of the window and as long as she could keep her
mother in sight waved her handkerchief. Then at length she sat
back in her seat and looked at her husband.
"Well," she said.
"Well," echoed Annixter, "happy?" for the tears rose in her eyes.
She nodded energetically, smiling at him bravely.
"You look a little pale," he declared, frowning uneasily; "feel
Promptly he was seized with uneasiness.
"But not ALL well, hey? Is that it?"
It was true that Hilma had felt a faint tremour of seasickness on
the ferry-boat coming from the city to the Oakland mole. No
doubt a little nausea yet remained with her. But Annixter
refused to accept this explanation. He was distressed beyond
"Now you're going to be sick," he cried anxiously.
"No, no," she protested, "not a bit."
"But you said you didn't feel very well. Where is it you feel
"I don't know. I'm not sick. Oh, dear me, why will you bother?"
"Not the least."
"You feel tired, then. That's it. No wonder, the way rushed you
"Dear, I'm NOT tired, and I'm NOT sick, and I'm all RIGHT."
"No, no; I can tell. I think we'd best have the berth made up
and you lie down."
"That would be perfectly ridiculous."
"Well, where is it you feel sick? Show me; put your hand on the
place. Want to eat something?"
With elaborate minuteness, he cross-questioned her, refusing to
let the subject drop, protesting that she had dark circles under
her eyes; that she had grown thinner.
"Wonder if there's a doctor on board," he murmured, looking
uncertainly about the car. "Let me see your tongue. I know--a
little whiskey is what you want, that and some pru----"
"No, no, NO," she exclaimed. "I'm as well as I ever was in all
my life. Look at me. Now, tell me, do l look likee a sick
He scrutinised her face distressfully.
"Now, don't I look the picture of health?" she challenged.
"In a way you do," he began, "and then again----"
Hilma beat a tattoo with her heels upon the floor, shutting her
fists, the thumbs tucked inside. She closed her eyes, shaking
her head energetically.
"I won't listen, I won't listen, I won't listen," she cried.
"But, just the same----"
"Gibble--gibble--gibble," she mocked. "I won't Listen, I won't
listen." She put a hand over his mouth. "Look, here's the
dining-car waiter, and the first call for supper, and your wife
They went forward and had supper in the diner, while the long
train, now out upon the main line, settled itself to its pace,
the prolonged, even gallop that it would hold for the better part
of the week, spinning out the miles as a cotton spinner spins
It was already dark when Antioch was left behind. Abruptly the
sunset appeared to wheel in the sky and readjusted itself to the
right of the track behind Mount Diablo, here visible almost to
its base. The train had turned southward. Neroly was passed,
then Brentwood, then Byron. In the gathering dusk, mountains
began to build themselves up on either hand, far off, blocking
the horizon. The train shot forward, roaring. Between the
mountains the land lay level, cut up into farms, ranches. These
continually grew larger; growing wheat began to appear, billowing
in the wind of the train's passage. The mountains grew higher,
the land richer, and by the time the moon rose, the train was
well into the northernmost limits of the valley of the San
Annixter had engaged an entire section, and after he and his wife
went to bed had the porter close the upper berth. Hilma sat up
in bed to say her prayers, both hands over her face, and then
kissing Annixter good-night, went to sleep with the directness of
a little child, holding his hand in both her own.
Annixter, who never could sleep on the train, dozed and tossed
and fretted for hours, consulting his watch and time-table
whenever there was a stop; twice he rose to get a drink of ice
water, and between whiles was forever sitting up in the narrow
berth, stretching himself and yawning, murmuring with uncertain
"Oh, Lord! Oh-h-h LORD!"
There were some dozen other passengers in the car--a lady with
three children, a group of school-teachers, a couple of drummers,
a stout gentleman with whiskers, and a well-dressed young man in
a plaid travelling cap, whom Annixter had observed before supper
time reading Daudet's "Tartarin" in the French.
But by nine o'clock, all these people were in their berths.
Occasionally, above the rhythmic rumble of the wheels, Annixter
could hear one of the lady's children fidgeting and complaining.
The stout gentleman snored monotonously in two notes, one a
rasping bass, the other a prolonged treble. At intervals, a
brakeman or the passenger conductor pushed down the aisle,
between the curtains, his red and white lamp over his arm.
Looking out into the car Annixter saw in an end section where the
berths had not been made up, the porter, in his white duck coat,
dozing, his mouth wide open, his head on his shoulder.
The hours passed. Midnight came and went. Annixter, checking
off the stations, noted their passage of Modesto, Merced, and
Madeira. Then, after another broken nap, he lost count. He
wondered where they were. Had they reached Fresno yet? Raising
the window curtain, he made a shade with both hands on either
side of his face and looked out. The night was thick, dark,
clouded over. A fine rain was falling, leaving horizontal
streaks on the glass of the outside window. Only the faintest
grey blur indicated the sky. Everything else was impenetrable
"I think sure we must have passed Fresno," he muttered. He
looked at his watch. It was about half-past three. "If we have
passed Fresno," he said to himself, "I'd better wake the little
girl pretty soon. She'll need about an hour to dress. Better
find out for sure."
He drew on his trousers and shoes, got into his coat, and stepped
out into the aisle. In the seat that had been occupied by the
porter, the Pullman conductor, his cash box and car-schedules
before him, was checking up his berths, a blue pencil behind his
"What's the next stop, Captain?" inquired Annixter, coming up.
"Have we reached Fresno yet?"
"Just passed it," the other responded, looking at Annixter over
"What's the next stop?"
"Goshen. We will be there in about forty-five minutes."
"Fair black night, isn't it?"
"Black as a pocket. Let's see, you're the party in upper and
Annixter caught at the back of the nearest seat, just in time to
prevent a fall, and the conductor's cash box was shunted off the
surface of the plush seat and came clanking to the floor. The
Pintsch lights overhead vibrated with blinding rapidity in the
long, sliding jar that ran through the train from end to end, and
the momentum of its speed suddenly decreasing, all but pitched
the conductor from his seat. A hideous ear-splitting rasp made
itself heard from the clamped-down Westinghouse gear underneath,
and Annixter knew that the wheels had ceased to revolve and that
the train was sliding forward upon the motionless flanges.
"Hello, hello," he exclaimed, "what's all up now?"
"Emergency brakes," declared the conductor, catching up his cash
box and thrusting his papers and tickets into it. "Nothing much;
probably a cow on the track."
He disappeared, carrying his lantern with him.
But the other passengers, all but the stout gentleman, were
awake; heads were thrust from out the curtains, and Annixter,
hurrying back to Hilma, was assailed by all manner of questions.
"What was that?"
"What's up, anyways?"
Hilma was just waking as Annixter pushed the curtain aside.
"Oh, I was so frightened. What's the matter, dear?" she
"I don't know," he answered. "Only the emergency brakes. Just a
cow on the track, I guess. Don't get scared. It isn't
But with a final shriek of the Westinghouse appliance, the train
came to a definite halt.
At once the silence was absolute. The ears, still numb with the
long-continued roar of wheels and clashing iron, at first refused
to register correctly the smaller noises of the surroundings.
Voices came from the other end of the car, strange and
unfamiliar, as though heard at a great distance across the water.
The stillness of the night outside was so profound that the rain,
dripping from the car roof upon the road-bed underneath, was as
distinct as the ticking of a clock.
"Well, we've sure stopped," observed one of the drummers.
"What is it?" asked Hilma again. "Are you sure there's nothing
"Sure," said Annixter.
Outside, underneath their window, they heard the sound of hurried
footsteps crushing into the clinkers by the side of the ties.
They passed on, and Annixter heard some one in the distance
"Yes, on the other side."
Then the door at the end of their car opened and a brakeman with
a red beard ran down the aisle and out upon the platform in
front. The forward door closed. Everything was quiet again. In
the stillness the fat gentleman's snores made themselves heard
The minutes passed; nothing stirred. There was no sound but the
dripping rain. The line of cars lay immobilised and inert under
the night. One of the drummers, having stepped outside on the
platform for a look around, returned, saying:
"There sure isn't any station anywheres about and no siding. Bet
you they have had an accident of some kind."
"Ask the porter."
"I did. He don't know."
"Maybe they stopped to take on wood or water, or something."
"Well, they wouldn't use the emergency brakes for that, would
they? Why, this train stopped almost in her own length. Pretty
near slung me out the berth. Those were the emergency brakes. I
heard some one say so."
From far out towards the front of the train, near the locomotive,
came the sharp, incisive report of a revolver; then two more
almost simultaneously; then, after a long interval, a fourth.
"Say, that's SHOOTING. By God, boys, they're shooting. Say,
this is a hold-up."
Instantly a white-hot excitement flared from end to end of the
car. Incredibly sinister, heard thus in the night, and in the
rain, mysterious, fearful, those four pistol shots started
confusion from out the sense of security like a frightened rabbit
hunted from her burrow. Wide-eyed, the passengers of the car
looked into each other's faces. It had come to them at last,
this, they had so often read about. Now they were to see the
real thing, now they were to face actuality, face this danger of
the night, leaping in from out the blackness of the roadside,
masked, armed, ready to kill. They were facing it now. They
were held up.
Hilma said nothing, only catching Annixter's hand, looking
squarely into his eyes.
"Steady, little girl," he said. "They can't hurt you. I won't
leave you. By the Lord," he suddenly exclaimed, his excitement
getting the better of him for a moment. "By the Lord, it's a
The school-teachers were in the aisle of the car, in night gown,
wrapper, and dressing sack, huddled together like sheep, holding
on to each other, looking to the men, silently appealing for
protection. Two of them were weeping, white to the lips.
"Oh, oh, oh, it's terrible. Oh, if they only won't hurt me."
But the lady with the children looked out from her berth, smiled
reassuringly, and said:
"I'm not a bit frightened. They won't do anything to us if we
keep quiet. I've my watch and jewelry all ready for them in my
little black bag, see?"
She exhibited it to the passengers. Her children were all awake.
They were quiet, looking about them with eager faces, interested
and amused at this surprise. In his berth, the fat gentleman
with whiskers snored profoundly.
"Say, I'm going out there," suddenly declared one of the
drummers, flourishing a pocket revolver.
His friend caught his arm.
"Don't make a fool of yourself, Max," he said.
"They won't come near us," observed the well-dressed young man;
"they are after the Wells-Fargo box and the registered mail. You
won't do any good out there."
But the other loudly protested. No; he was going out. He didn't
propose to be buncoed without a fight. He wasn't any coward.
"Well, you don't go, that's all," said his friend, angrily.
"There's women and children in this car. You ain't going to draw
the fire here."
"Well, that's to be thought of," said the other, allowing himself
to be pacified, but still holding his pistol.
"Don't let him open that window," cried Annixter sharply from his
place by Hilma's side, for the drummer had made as if to open the
sash in one of the sections that had not been made up.
"Sure, that's right," said the others. "Don't open any windows.
Keep your head in. You'll get us all shot if you aren't
However, the drummer had got the window up and had leaned out
before the others could interfere and draw him away.
"Say, by jove," he shouted, as he turned back to the car, "our
engine's gone. We're standing on a curve and you can see the end
of the train. She's gone, I tell you. Well, look for yourself."
In spite of their precautions, one after another, his friends
looked out. Sure enough, the train was without a locomotive.
"They've done it so we can't get away," vociferated the drummer
with the pistol. "Now, by jiminy-Christmas, they'll come through
the cars and stand us up. They'll be in here in a minute. LORD!
WHAT WAS THAT?"
From far away up the track, apparently some half-mile ahead of
the train, came the sound of a heavy explosion. The windows of
the car vibrated with it.
"That isn't shooting," exclaimed Annixter. "They've pulled the
express and mail car on ahead with the engine and now they are
dynamiting her open."
"That must be it. Yes, sure, that's just what they are doing."
The forward door of the car opened and closed and the school-
teachers shrieked and cowered. The drummer with the revolver
faced about, his eyes bulging. However, it was only the train
conductor, hatless, his lantern in his hand. He was soaked with
rain. He appeared in the aisle.
"Is there a doctor in this car?" he asked.
Promptly the passengers surrounded him, voluble with questions.
But he was in a bad temper.
"I don't know anything more than you," he shouted angrily. "It
was a hold-up. I guess you know that, don't you? Well, what
more do you want to know? I ain't got time to fool around. They
cut off our express car and have cracked it open, and they shot
one of our train crew, that's all, and I want a doctor."
"Did they shoot him--kill him, do you mean?"
"Is he hurt bad?"
"Did the men get away?"
"Oh, shut up, will you all?" exclaimed the conductor.
"What do I know? Is there a DOCTOR in this car, that's what I
want to know?"
The well-dressed young man stepped forward.
"I'm a doctor," he said.
"Well, come along then," returned the conductor, in a surly
voice, "and the passengers in this car," he added, turning back
at the door and nodding his head menacingly, "will go back to bed
and STAY there. It's all over and there's nothing to see."
He went out, followed by the young doctor.
Then ensued an interminable period of silence. The entire train
seemed deserted. Helpless, bereft of its engine, a huge,
decapitated monster it lay, half-way around a curve, rained upon,
There was more fear in this last condition of affairs, more
terror in the idea of this prolonged line of sleepers, with their
nickelled fittings, their plate glass, their upholstery,
vestibules, and the like, loaded down with people, lost and
forgotten in the night and the rain, than there had been when the
actual danger threatened.
What was to become of them now? Who was there to help them?
Their engine was gone; they were helpless. What next was to
Nobody came near the car. Even the porter had disappeared. The
wait seemed endless, and the persistent snoring of the whiskered
gentleman rasped the nerves like the scrape of a file.
"Well, how long are we going to stick here now?" began one of the
drummers. "Wonder if they hurt the engine with their dynamite?"
"Oh, I know they will come through the car and rob us," wailed
The lady with the little children went back to bed, and Annixter,
assured that the trouble was over, did likewise. But nobody
slept. From berth to berth came the sound of suppressed voices
talking it all over, formulating conjectures. Certain points
seemed to be settled upon, no one knew how, as indisputable. The
highwaymen had been four in number and had stopped the train by
pulling the bell cord. A brakeman had attempted to interfere and
had been shot. The robbers had been on the train all the way
from San Francisco. The drummer named Max remembered to have
seen four "suspicious-looking characters" in the smoking-car at
Lathrop, and had intended to speak to the conductor about them.
This drummer had been in a hold-up before, and told the story of
it over and over again.
At last, after what seemed to have been an hour's delay, and when
the dawn had already begun to show in the east, the locomotive
backed on to the train again with a reverberating jar that ran
from car to car. At the jolting, the school-teachers screamed in
chorus, and the whiskered gentleman stopped snoring and thrust
his head from his curtains, blinking at the Pintsch lights. It
appeared that he was an Englishman.
"I say," he asked of the drummer named Max, "I say, my friend,
what place is this?"
The others roared with derision.
"We were HELD UP, sir, that's what we were. We were held up and
you slept through it all. You missed the show of your life."
The gentleman fixed the group with a prolonged gaze. He said
never a word, but little by little he was convinced that the
drummers told the truth. All at once he grew wrathful, his face
purpling. He withdrew his head angrily, buttoning his curtains
together in a fury. The cause of his rage was inexplicable, but
they could hear him resettling himself upon his pillows with
exasperated movements of his head and shoulders. In a few
moments the deep bass and shrill treble of his snoring once more
sounded through the car.
At last the train got under way again, with useless warning
blasts of the engine's whistle. In a few moments it was tearing
away through the dawn at a wonderful speed, rocking around
curves, roaring across culverts, making up time.
And all the rest of that strange night the passengers, sitting up
in their unmade beds, in the swaying car, lighted by a strange
mingling of pallid dawn and trembling Pintsch lights, rushing at
break-neck speed through the misty rain, were oppressed by a
vision of figures of terror, far behind them in the night they
had left, masked, armed, galloping toward the mountains pistol in
hand, the booty bound to the saddle bow, galloping, galloping on,
sending a thrill of fear through all the country side.
The young doctor returned. He sat down in the smoking-room,
lighting a cigarette, and Annixter and the drummers pressed
around him to know the story of the whole affair.
"The man is dead," he declared, "the brakeman. He was shot
through the lungs twice. They think the fellow got away with
about five thousand in gold coin."
"The fellow? Wasn't there four of them?"
"No; only one. And say, let me tell you, he had his nerve with
him. It seems he was on the roof of the express car all the
time, and going as fast as we were, he jumped from the roof of
the car down on to the coal on the engine's tender, and crawled
over that and held up the men in the cab with his gun, took their
guns from 'em and made 'em stop the train. Even ordered 'em to
use the emergency gear, seems he knew all about it. Then he went
back and uncoupled the express car himself.
While he was doing this, a brakeman--you remember that brakeman
that came through here once or twice--had a red mustache."
"Sure. Well, as soon as the train stopped, this brakeman guessed
something was wrong and ran up, saw the fellow cutting off the
express car and took a couple of shots at him, and the fireman
says the fellow didn't even take his hand off the coupling-pin;
just turned around as cool as how-do-you-do and NAILED the
brakeman right there. They weren't five feet apart when they
began shooting. The brakeman had come on him unexpected, had no
idea he was so close."
"And the express messenger, all this time?"
"Well, he did his best. Jumped out with his repeating shot-gun,
but the fellow had him covered before he could turn round. Held
him up and took his gun away from him. Say, you know I call that
nerve, just the same. One man standing up a whole train-load,
like that. Then, as soon as he'd cut the express car off, he
made the engineer run her up the track about half a mile to a
road crossing, WHERE HE HAD A HORSE TIED. What do you think of
that? Didn't he have it all figured out close? And when he got
there, he dynamited the safe and got the Wells-Fargo box. He
took five thousand in gold coin; the messenger says it was
railroad money that the company were sending down to Bakersfield
to pay off with. It was in a bag. He never touched the
registered mail, nor a whole wad of greenbacks that were in the
safe, but just took the coin, got on his horse, and lit out. The
engineer says he went to the east'ard."
"He got away, did he?"
"Yes, but they think they'll get him. He wore a kind of mask,
but the brakeman recognised him positively. We got his ante-
mortem statement. The brakeman said the fellow had a grudge
against the road. He was a discharged employee, and lives near
"Dyke, by the Lord!" exclaimed Annixter.
"That's the name," said the young doctor.
When the train arrived at Bonneville, forty minutes behind time,
it landed Annixter and Hilma in the midst of the very thing they
most wished to avoid--an enormous crowd. The news that the
Overland had been held up thirty miles south of Fresno, a
brakeman killed and the safe looted, and that Dyke alone was
responsible for the night's work, had been wired on ahead from
Fowler, the train conductor throwing the despatch to the station
agent from the flying train.
Before the train had come to a standstill under the arched roof
of the Bonneville depot, it was all but taken by assault.
Annixter, with Hilma on his arm, had almost to fight his way out
of the car. The depot was black with people. S. Behrman was
there, Delaney, Cyrus Ruggles, the town marshal, the mayor.
Genslinger, his hat on the back of his head, ranged the train
from cab to rear-lights, note-book in hand, interviewing,
questioning, collecting facts for his extra. As Annixter
descended finally to the platform, the editor, alert as a black-
and-tan terrier, his thin, osseous hands quivering with
eagerness, his brown, dry face working with excitement, caught
"Can I have your version of the affair, Mr. Annixter?"
Annixter turned on him abruptly.
"Yes!" he exclaimed fiercely. "You and your gang drove Dyke from
his job because he wouldn't work for starvation wages. Then you
raised freight rates on him and robbed him of all he had. You
ruined him and drove him to fill himself up with Caraher's
whiskey. He's only taken back what you plundered him of, and now
you're going to hound him over the State, hunt him down like a
wild animal, and bring him to the gallows at San Quentin. That's
my version of the affair, Mister Genslinger, but it's worth your
subsidy from the P. and S. W. to print it."
There was a murmur of approval from the crowd that stood around,
and Genslinger, with an angry shrug of one shoulder, took himself
At length, Annixter brought Hilma through the crowd to where
young Vacca was waiting with the team. However, they could not
at once start for the ranch, Annixter wishing to ask some
questions at the freight office about a final consignment of
chairs. It was nearly eleven o'clock before they could start
home. But to gain the Upper Road to Quien Sabe, it was necessary
to traverse all of Main Street, running through the heart of
The entire town seemed to be upon the sidewalks. By now the rain
was over and the sun shining. The story of the hold-up--the work
of a man whom every one knew and liked--was in every mouth. How
had Dyke come to do it? Who would have believed it of him?
Think of his poor mother and the little tad. Well, after all, he
was not so much to blame; the railroad people had brought it on
themselves. But he had shot a man to death. Ah, that was a
serious business. Good-natured, big, broad-shouldered, jovial
Dyke, the man they knew, with whom they had shaken hands only
yesterday, yes, and drank with him. He had shot a man, killed
him, had stood there in the dark and in the rain while they were
asleep in their beds, and had killed a man. Now where was he?
Instinctively eyes were turned eastward, over the tops of the
houses, or down vistas of side streets to where the foot-hills of
the mountains rose dim and vast over the edge of the valley. He
was in amongst them; somewhere, in all that pile of blue crests
and purple canyons he was hidden away. Now for weeks of
searching, false alarms, clews, trailings, watchings, all the
thrill and heart-bursting excitement of a man-hunt. Would he get
away? Hardly a man on the sidewalks of the town that day who did
not hope for it.
As Annixter's team trotted through the central portion of the
town, young Vacca pointed to a denser and larger crowd around the
rear entrance of the City Hall. Fully twenty saddle horses were
tied to the iron rail underneath the scant, half-grown trees near
by, and as Annixter and Hilma drove by, the crowd parted and a
dozen men with revolvers on their hips pushed their way to the
curbstone, and, mounting their horses, rode away at a gallop.
"It's the posse," said young Vacca.
Outside the town limits the ground was level. There was nothing
to obstruct the view, and to the north, in the direction of
Osterman's ranch, Vacca made out another party of horsemen,
galloping eastward, and beyond these still another.
"There're the other posses," he announced. "That further one is
Archie Moore's. He's the sheriff. He came down from Visalia on
a special engine this morning."
When the team turned into the driveway to the ranch house, Hilma
uttered a little cry, clasping her hands joyfully. The house was
one glitter of new white paint, the driveway had been freshly
gravelled, the flower-beds replenished. Mrs. Vacca and her
daughter, who had been busy putting on the finishing touches,
came to the door to welcome them.
"What's this case here?" asked Annixter, when, after helping his
wife from the carry-all, his eye fell upon a wooden box of some
three by five feet that stood on the porch and bore the red
"It came here last night, addressed to you, sir," exclaimed Mrs.
Vacca. "We were sure it wasn't any of your furniture, so we
didn't open it."
"Oh, maybe it's a wedding present," exclaimed Hilma, her eyes
"Well, maybe it is," returned her husband. "Here, m' son, help
me in with this."
Annixter and young Vacca bore the case into the sitting-room of
the house, and Annixter, hammer in hand, attacked it vigorously.
Vacca discreetly withdrew on signal from his mother, closing the
door after him. Annixter and his wife were left alone.
"Oh, hurry, hurry," cried Hilma, dancing around him.
"I want to see what it is. Who do you suppose could have sent it
to us? And so heavy, too. What do you think it can be?"
Annixter put the claw of the hammer underneath the edge of the
board top and wrenched with all his might. The boards had been
clamped together by a transverse bar and the whole top of the box
came away in one piece. A layer of excelsior was disclosed, and
on it a letter addressed by typewriter to Annixter. It bore the
trade-mark of a business firm of Los Angeles. Annixter glanced
at this and promptly caught it up before Hilma could see, with an
exclamation of intelligence.
"Oh, I know what this is," he observed, carelessly trying to
restrain her busy hands. "It isn't anything. Just some
machinery. Let it go."
But already she had pulled away the excelsior. Underneath, in
temporary racks, were two dozen Winchester repeating rifles.
"Why--what--what--" murmured Hilma blankly.
"Well, I told you not to mind," said Annixter. "It isn't
anything. Let's look through the rooms."
"But you said you knew what it was," she protested, bewildered.
"You wanted to make believe it was machinery. Are you keeping
anything from me? Tell me what it all means. Oh, why are you
She caught his arm, looking with intense eagerness into his face.
She half understood already. Annixter saw that.
"Well," he said, lamely, "YOU know--it may not come to anything
at all, but you know--well, this League of ours--suppose the
Railroad tries to jump Quien Sabe or Los Muertos or any of the
other ranches--we made up our minds--the Leaguers have--that we
wouldn't let it. That's all."
"And I thought," cried Hilma, drawing back fearfully from the
case of rifles, "and I thought it was a wedding present."
And that was their home-coming, the end of their bridal trip.
Through the terror of the night, echoing with pistol shots,
through that scene of robbery and murder, into this atmosphere of
alarms, a man-hunt organising, armed horsemen silhouetted against
the horizons, cases of rifles where wedding presents should have
been, Annixter brought his young wife to be mistress of a home he
might at any moment be called upon to defend with his life.
The days passed. Soon a week had gone by. Magnus Derrick and
Osterman returned from the city without any definite idea as to
the Corporation's plans. Lyman had been reticent. He knew
nothing as to the progress of the land cases in Washington.
There was no news. The Executive Committee of the League held a
perfunctory meeting at Los Muertos at which nothing but routine
business was transacted. A scheme put forward by Osterman for a
conference with the railroad managers fell through because of the
refusal of the company to treat with the ranchers upon any other
basis than that of the new grading. It was impossible to learn
whether or not the company considered Los Muertos, Quien Sabe,
and the ranches around Bonneville covered by the test cases then
Meanwhile there was no decrease in the excitement that Dyke's
hold-up had set loose over all the county. Day after day it was
the one topic of conversation, at street corners, at cross-roads,
over dinner tables, in office, bank, and store. S. Behrman
placarded the town with a notice of $500.00 reward for the ex-
engineer's capture, dead or alive, and the express company
supplemented this by another offer of an equal amount. The
country was thick with parties of horsemen, armed with rifles and
revolvers, recruited from Visalia, Goshen, and the few railroad
sympathisers around Bonneville and Guadlajara. One after another
of these returned, empty-handed, covered with dust and mud, their
horses exhausted, to be met and passed by fresh posses starting
out to continue the pursuit. The sheriff of Santa Clara County
sent down his bloodhounds from San Jose--small, harmless-looking
dogs, with a terrific bay--to help in the chase. Reporters from
the San Francisco papers appeared, interviewing every one,
sometimes even accompanying the searching bands. Horse hoofs
clattered over the roads at night; bells were rung, the "Mercury"
issued extra after extra; the bloodhounds bayed, gun butts
clashed on the asphalt pavements of Bonneville; accidental
discharges of revolvers brought the whole town into the street;
farm hands called to each other across the fences of ranch-
divisions--in a word, the country-side was in an uproar.
And all to no effect. The hoof-marks of Dyke's horse had been
traced in the mud of the road to within a quarter of a mile of
the foot-hills and there irretrievably lost. Three days after
the hold-up, a sheep-herder was found who had seen the highwayman
on a ridge in the higher mountains, to the northeast of Taurusa.
And that was absolutely all. Rumours were thick, promising clews
were discovered, new trails taken up, but nothing transpired to
bring the pursuers and pursued any closer together. Then, after
ten days of strain, public interest began to flag. It was
believed that Dyke had succeeded in getting away. If this was
true, he had gone to the southward, after gaining the mountains,
and it would be his intention to work out of the range somewhere
near the southern part of the San Joaquin, near Bakersfield.
Thus, the sheriffs, marshals, and deputies decided. They had
hunted too many criminals in these mountains before not to know
the usual courses taken. In time, Dyke MUST come out of the
mountains to get water and provisions. But this time passed, and
from not one of the watched points came any word of his
appearance. At last the posses began to disband. Little by
little the pursuit was given up.
Only S. Behrman persisted. He had made up his mind to bring Dyke
in. He succeeded in arousing the same degree of determination in
Delaney--by now, a trusted aide of the Railroad--and of his own
cousin, a real estate broker, named Christian, who knew the
mountains and had once been marshal of Visalia in the old stock-
raising days. These two went into the Sierras, accompanied by
two hired deputies, and carrying with them a month's provisions
and two of the bloodhounds loaned by the Santa Clara sheriff.
On a certain Sunday, a few days after the departure of Christian
and Delaney, Annixter, who had been reading "David Copperfield"
in his hammock on the porch of the ranch house, put down the book
and went to find Hilma, who was helping Louisa Vacca set the
table for dinner. He found her in the dining-room, her hands
full of the gold-bordered china plates, only used on special
occasions and which Louisa was forbidden to touch.
His wife was more than ordinarily pretty that day. She wore a
dress of flowered organdie over pink sateen with pink ribbons
about her waist and neck, and on her slim feet the low shoes she
always affected, with their smart, bright buckles. Her thick,
brown, sweet-smelling hair was heaped high upon her head and set
off with a bow of black velvet, and underneath the shadow of its
coils, her wide-open eyes, rimmed with the thin, black line of
her lashes, shone continually, reflecting the sunlight. Marriage
had only accentuated the beautiful maturity of Hilma's figure--
now no longer precocious--defining the single, deep swell from
her throat to her waist, the strong, fine amplitude of her hips,
the sweet feminine undulation of her neck and shoulders. Her
cheeks were pink with health, and her large round arms carried
the piled-up dishes with never a tremour. Annixter, observant
enough where his wife was concerned noted how the reflection of
the white china set a glow of pale light underneath her chin.
"Hilma," he said, "I've been wondering lately about things.
We're so blamed happy ourselves it won't do for us to forget
about other people who are down, will it? Might change our luck.
And I'm just likely to forget that way, too. It's my nature."
His wife looked up at him joyfully. Here was the new Annixter,
"In all this hullabaloo about Dyke," he went on "there's some one
nobody ain't thought about at all. That's MRS. Dyke--and the
little tad. I wouldn't be surprised if they were in a hole over
there. What do you say we drive over to the hop ranch after
dinner and see if she wants anything?"
Hilma put down the plates and came around the table and kissed
him without a word.
As soon as their dinner was over, Annixter had the carry-all
hitched up, and, dispensing with young Vacca, drove over to the
hop ranch with Hilma.
Hilma could not keep back the tears as they passed through the
lamentable desolation of the withered, brown vines, symbols of
perished hopes and abandoned effort, and Annixter swore between
Though the wheels of the carry-all grated loudly on the roadway
in front of the house, nobody came to the door nor looked from
the windows. The place seemed tenantless, infinitely lonely,
Annixter tied the team, and with Hilma approached the wide-open
door, scuffling and tramping on the porch to attract attention.
Nobody stirred. A Sunday stillness pervaded the place. Outside,
the withered hop-leaves rustled like dry paper in the breeze.
The quiet was ominous. They peered into the front room from the
doorway, Hilma holding her husband's hand. Mrs. Dyke was there.
She sat at the table in the middle of the room, her head, with
its white hair, down upon her arm. A clutter of unwashed dishes
were strewed over the red and white tablecloth. The unkempt
room, once a marvel of neatness, had not been cleaned for days.
Newspapers, Genslinger's extras and copies of San Francisco and
Los Angeles dailies were scattered all over the room. On the
table itself were crumpled yellow telegrams, a dozen of them, a
score of them, blowing about in the draught from the door. And
in the midst of all this disarray, surrounded by the published
accounts of her son's crime, the telegraphed answers to her
pitiful appeals for tidings fluttering about her head, the
highwayman's mother, worn out, abandoned and forgotten, slept
through the stillness of the Sunday afternoon.
Neither Hilma nor Annixter ever forgot their interview with Mrs.
Dyke that day. Suddenly waking, she had caught sight of
Annixter, and at once exclaimed eagerly:
"Is there any news?"
For a long time afterwards nothing could be got from her. She
was numb to all other issues than the one question of Dyke's
capture. She did not answer their questions nor reply to their
offers of assistance. Hilma and Annixter conferred together
without lowering their voices, at her very elbow, while she
looked vacantly at the floor, drawing one hand over the other in
a persistent, maniacal gesture. From time to time she would
start suddenly from her chair, her eyes wide, and as if all at
once realising Annixter's presence, would cry out:
"Is there any news?"
"Where is Sidney, Mrs. Dyke?" asked Hilma for the fourth time.
"Is she well? Is she taken care of?"
"Here's the last telegram," said Mrs. Dyke, in a loud, monotonous
voice. "See, it says there is no news. He didn't do it," she
moaned, rocking herself back and forth, drawing one hand over the
other, "he didn't do it, he didn't do it, he didn't do it. I
don't know where he is."
When at last she came to herself, it was with a flood of tears.
Hilma put her arms around the poor, old woman, as she bowed
herself again upon the table, sobbing and weeping.
"Oh, my son, my son," she cried, "my own boy, my only son! If I
could have died for you to have prevented this. I remember him
when he was little. Such a splendid little fellow, so brave, so
loving, with never an unkind thought, never a mean action. So it
was all his life. We were never apart. It was always 'dear
little son,' and 'dear mammy' between us--never once was he
unkind, and he loved me and was the gentlest son to me. And he
was a GOOD man. He is now, he is now. They don't understand
him. They are not even sure that he did this. He never meant
it. They don't know my son. Why, he wouldn't have hurt a
kitten. Everybody loved him. He was driven to it. They hounded
him down, they wouldn't let him alone. He was not right in his
mind. They hounded him to it," she cried fiercely, "they hounded
him to it. They drove him and goaded him till he couldn't stand
it any longer, and now they mean to kill him for turning on them.
They are hunting him with dogs; night after night I have stood on
the porch and heard the dogs baying far off. They are tracking
my boy with dogs like a wild animal. May God never forgive
them." She rose to her feet, terrible, her white hair unbound.
"May God punish them as they deserve, may they never prosper--on
my knees I shall pray for it every night--may their money be a
curse to them, may their sons, their first-born, only sons, be
taken from them in their youth."
But Hilma interrupted, begging her to be silent, to be quiet.
The tears came again then and the choking sobs. Hilma took her
in her arms.
"Oh, my little boy, my little boy," she cried. "My only son, all
that I had, to have come to this! He was not right in his mind
or he would have known it would break my heart. Oh, my son, my
son, if I could have died for you."
Sidney came in, clinging to her dress, weeping, imploring her not
to cry, protesting that they never could catch her papa, that he
would come back soon. Hilma took them both, the little child and
the broken-down old woman, in the great embrace of her strong
arms, and they all three sobbed together.
Annixter stood on the porch outside, his back turned, looking
straight before him into the wilderness of dead vines, his teeth
shut hard, his lower lip thrust out.
"I hope S. Behrman is satisfied with all this," he muttered. "I
hope he is satisfied now, damn his soul!"
All at once an idea occurred to him. He turned about and
reentered the room.
"Mrs Dyke," he began, "I want you and Sidney to come over and
live at Quien Sabe. I know--you can't make me believe that the
reporters and officers and officious busy-faces that pretend to
offer help just so as they can satisfy their curiosity aren't
nagging you to death. I want you to let me take care of you and
the little tad till all this trouble of yours is over with.
There's plenty of place for you. You can have the house my
wife's people used to live in. You've got to look these things
in the face. What are you going to do to get along? You must be
very short of money. S. Behrman will foreclose on you and take
the whole place in a little while, now. I want you to let me
help you, let Hilma and me be good friends to you. It would be a
Mrs. Dyke tried bravely to assume her pride, insisting that she
could manage, but her spirit was broken. The whole affair ended
unexpectedly, with Annixter and Hilma bringing Dyke's mother and
little girl back to Quien Sabe in the carry-all.
Mrs. Dyke would not take with her a stick of furniture nor a
single ornament. It would only serve to remind her of a vanished
happiness. She packed a few clothes of her own and Sidney's in a
little trunk, Hilma helping her, and Annixter stowed the trunk
under the carry-all's back seat. Mrs. Dyke turned the key in the
door of the house and Annixter helped her to her seat beside his
wife. They drove through the sear, brown hop vines. At the
angle of the road Mrs. Dyke turned around and looked back at the
ruin of the hop ranch, the roof of the house just showing above
the trees. She never saw it again.
As soon as Annixter and Hilma were alone, after their return to
Quien Sabe--Mrs. Dyke and Sidney having been installed in the
Trees' old house--Hilma threw her arms around her husband's neck.
"Fine," she exclaimed, "oh, it was fine of you, dear to think of
them and to be so good to them. My husband is such a GOOD man.
So unselfish. You wouldn't have thought of being kind to Mrs.
Dyke and Sidney a little while ago. You wouldn't have thought of
them at all. But you did now, and it's just because you love me
true, isn't it? Isn't it? And because it's made you a better
man. I'm so proud and glad to think it's so. It is so, isn't
it? Just because you love me true."
"You bet it is, Hilma," he told her.
As Hilma and Annixter were sitting down to the supper which they
found waiting for them, Louisa Vacca came to the door of the
dining-room to say that Harran Derrick had telephoned over from
Los Muertos for Annixter, and had left word for him to ring up
Los Muertos as soon as he came in.
"He said it was important," added Louisa Vacca.
"Maybe they have news from Washington," suggested Hilma.
Annixter would not wait to have supper, but telephoned to Los
Muertos at once. Magnus answered the call. There was a special
meeting of the Executive Committee of the League summoned for the
next day, he told Annixter. It was for the purpose of
considering the new grain tariff prepared by the Railroad
Commissioners. Lyman had written that the schedule of this
tariff had just been issued, that he had not been able to
construct it precisely according to the wheat-growers' wishes,
and that he, himself, would come down to Los Muertos and explain
its apparent discrepancies. Magnus said Lyman would be present
at the session.
Annixter, curious for details, forbore, nevertheless, to
question. The connection from Los Muertos to Quien Sabe was made
through Bonneville, and in those troublesome times no one could
be trusted. It could not be known who would overhear
conversations carried on over the lines. He assured Magnus that
he would be on hand.
The time for the Committee meeting had been set for seven o'clock
in the evening, in order to accommodate Lyman, who wrote that he
would be down on the evening train, but would be compelled, by
pressure of business, to return to the city early the next
At the time appointed, the men composing the Committee gathered
about the table in the dining-room of the Los Muertos ranch
house. It was almost a reproduction of the scene of the famous
evening when Osterman had proposed the plan of the Ranchers'
Railroad Commission. Magnus Derrick sat at the head of the
table, in his buttoned frock coat. Whiskey bottles and siphons
of soda-water were within easy reach. Presley, who by now was
considered the confidential friend of every member of the
Committee, lounged as before on the sofa, smoking cigarettes, the
cat Nathalie on his knee. Besides Magnus and Annixter, Osterman
was present, and old Broderson and Harran; Garnet from the Ruby
Rancho and Gethings of the San Pablo, who were also members of
the Executive Committee, were on hand, preoccupied, bearded men,
smoking black cigars, and, last of all, Dabney, the silent old
man, of whom little was known but his name, and who had been made
a member of the Committee, nobody could tell why.
"My son Lyman should be here, gentlemen, within at least ten
minutes. I have sent my team to meet him at Bonneville,"
explained Magnus, as he called the meeting to order. "The
Secretary will call the roll."
Osterman called the roll, and, to fill in the time, read over the
minutes of the previous meeting. The treasurer was making his
report as to the funds at the disposal of the League when Lyman
Magnus and Harran went forward to meet him, and the Committee
rather awkwardly rose and remained standing while the three
exchanged greetings, the members, some of whom had never seen
their commissioner, eyeing him out of the corners of their eyes.
Lyman was dressed with his usual correctness. His cravat was of
the latest fashion, his clothes of careful design and
unimpeachable fit. His shoes, of patent leather, reflected the
lamplight, and he carried a drab overcoat over his arm. Before
being introduced to the Committee, he excused himself a moment
and ran to see his mother, who waited for him in the adjoining
sitting-room. But in a few moments he returned, asking pardon
for the delay.
He was all affability; his protruding eyes, that gave such an
unusual, foreign appearance to his very dark face, radiated
geniality. He was evidently anxious to please, to produce a good
impression upon the grave, clumsy farmers before whom he stood.
But at the same time, Presley, watching him from his place on the
sofa, could imagine that he was rather nervous. He was too
nimble in his cordiality, and the little gestures he made in
bringing his cuffs into view and in touching the ends of his
tight, black mustache with the ball of his thumb were repeated
with unnecessary frequency.
"Mr. Broderson, my son, Lyman, my eldest son. Mr. Annixter, my
The Governor introduced him to the ranchers, proud of Lyman's
good looks, his correct dress, his ease of manner. Lyman shook
hands all around, keeping up a flow of small talk, finding a new
phrase for each member, complimenting Osterman, whom he already
knew, upon his talent for organisation, recalling a mutual
acquaintance to the mind of old Broderson. At length, however,
he sat down at the end of the table, opposite his brother. There
was a silence.
Magnus rose to recapitulate the reasons for the extra session of
the Committee, stating again that the Board of Railway
Commissioners which they--the ranchers--had succeeded in seating
had at length issued the new schedule of reduced rates, and that
Mr. Derrick had been obliging enough to offer to come down to Los
Muertos in person to acquaint the wheat-growers of the San
Joaquin with the new rates for the carriage of their grain.
But Lyman very politely protested, addressing his father
punctiliously as "Mr. Chairman," and the other ranchers as
"Gentlemen of the Executive Committee of the League." He had no
wish, he said, to disarrange the regular proceedings of the
Committee. Would it not be preferable to defer the reading of
his report till "new business" was called for? In the meanwhile,
let the Committee proceed with its usual work. He understood the
necessarily delicate nature of this work, and would be pleased to
withdraw till the proper time arrived for him to speak.
"Good deal of backing and filling about the reading of a column
of figures," muttered Annixter to the man at his elbow.
Lyman "awaited the Committee's decision." He sat down, touching
the ends of his mustache.
"Oh, play ball," growled Annixter.
Gethings rose to say that as the meeting had been called solely
for the purpose of hearing and considering the new grain tariff,
he was of the opinion that routine business could be dispensed
with and the schedule read at once. It was so ordered.
Lyman rose and made a long speech. Voluble as Osterman himself,
he, nevertheless, had at his command a vast number of ready-made
phrases, the staples of a political speaker, the stock in trade
of the commercial lawyer, which rolled off his tongue with the
most persuasive fluency. By degrees, in the course of his
speech, he began to insinuate the idea that the wheat-growers had
never expected to settle their difficulties with the Railroad by
the work of a single commission; that they had counted upon a
long, continued campaign of many years, railway commission
succeeding railway commission, before the desired low rates
should be secured; that the present Board of Commissioners was
only the beginning and that too great results were not expected
from them. All this he contrived to mention casually, in the
talk, as if it were a foregone conclusion, a matter understood by
As the speech continued, the eyes of the ranchers around the
table were fixed with growing attention upon this well-dressed,
city-bred young man, who spoke so fluently and who told them of
their own intentions. A feeling of perplexity began to spread,
and the first taint of distrust invaded their minds.
"But the good work has been most auspiciously inaugurated,"
continued Lyman. "Reforms so sweeping as the one contemplated
cannot be accomplished in a single night. Great things grow
slowly, benefits to be permanent must accrue gradually. Yet, in
spite of all this, your commissioners have done much. Already
the phalanx of the enemy is pierced, already his armour is
dinted. Pledged as were your commissioners to an average ten per
cent. reduction in rates for the carriage of grain by the Pacific
and Southwestern Railroad, we have rigidly adhered to the demands
of our constituency, we have obeyed the People. The main problem
has not yet been completely solved; that is for later, when we
shall have gathered sufficient strength to attack the enemy in
his very stronghold; BUT AN AVERAGE TEN PER CENT. CUT HAS BEEN
MADE ALL OVER THE STATE. We have made a great advance, have
taken a great step forward, and if the work is carried ahead,
upon the lines laid down by the present commissioners and their
constituents, there is every reason to believe that within a very
few years equitable and stable rates for the shipment of grain
from the San Joaquin Valley to Stockton, Port Costa, and
tidewater will be permanently imposed."
"Well, hold on," exclaimed Annixter, out of order and ignoring
the Governor's reproof, "hasn't your commission reduced grain
rates in the San Joaquin?"
"We have reduced grain rates by ten per cent. all over the
State," rejoined Lyman. "Here are copies of the new schedule."
He drew them from his valise and passed them around the table.
"You see," he observed, "the rate between Mayfield and Oakland,
for instance, has been reduced by twenty-five cents a ton."
"Yes--but--but--" said old Broderson, "it is rather unusual,
isn't it, for wheat in that district to be sent to Oakland?"
"Why, look here," exclaimed Annixter, looking up from the
schedule, "where is there any reduction in rates in the San
Joaquin--from Bonneville and Guadalajara, for instance? I don't
see as you've made any reduction at all. Is this right? Did you
give me the right schedule?"
"Of course, ALL the points in the State could not be covered at
once," returned Lyman. "We never expected, you know, that we
could cut rates in the San Joaquin the very first move; that is
for later. But you will see we made very material reductions on
shipments from the upper Sacramento Valley; also the rate from
Ione to Marysville has been reduced eighty cents a ton."
"Why, rot," cried Annixter, "no one ever ships wheat that way."
"The Salinas rate," continued Lyman, "has been lowered seventy-
five cents; the St. Helena rate fifty cents, and please notice
the very drastic cut from Red Bluff, north, along the Oregon
route, to the Oregon State Line."
"Where not a carload of wheat is shipped in a year," commented
Gethings of the San Pablo.
"Oh, you will find yourself mistaken there, Mr. Gethings,"
returned Lyman courteously. "And for the matter of that, a low
rate would stimulate wheat-production in that district."
The order of the meeting was broken up, neglected; Magnus did not
even pretend to preside. In the growing excitement over the
inexplicable schedule, routine was not thought of. Every one
spoke at will.
"Why, Lyman," demanded Magnus, looking across the table to his
son, "is this schedule correct? You have not cut rates in the
San Joaquin at all. We--these gentlemen here and myself, we are
no better off than we were before we secured your election as
"We were pledged to make an average ten per cent. cut, sir----"
"It IS an average ten per cent. cut," cried Osterman. "Oh, yes,
that's plain. It's an average ten per cent. cut all right, but
you've made it by cutting grain rates between points where
practically no grain is shipped. We, the wheat-growers in the
San Joaquin, where all the wheat is grown, are right where we
were before. The Railroad won't lose a nickel. By Jingo, boys,"
he glanced around the table, "I'd like to know what this means."
"The Railroad, if you come to that," returned Lyman, "has already
lodged a protest against the new rate."
Annixter uttered a derisive shout.
"A protest! That's good, that is. When the P. and S. W. objects
to rates it don't 'protest,' m' son. The first you hear from Mr.
Shelgrim is an injunction from the courts preventing the order
for new rates from taking effect. By the Lord," he cried
angrily, leaping to his feet, "I would like to know what all this
means, too. Why didn't you reduce our grain rates? What did we
elect you for?"
"Yes, what did we elect you for?" demanded Osterman and Gethings,
also getting to their feet.
"Order, order, gentlemen," cried Magnus, remembering the duties
of his office and rapping his knuckles on the table. "This
meeting has been allowed to degenerate too far already."
"You elected us," declared Lyman doggedly, "to make an average
ten per cent. cut on grain rates. We have done it. Only because
you don't benefit at once, you object. It makes a difference
whose ox is gored, it seems."
It was Magnus who spoke. He had drawn himself to his full six
feet. His eyes were flashing direct into his son's. His voice
rang with severity.
"Lyman, what does this mean?"
The other spread out his hands.
"As you see, sir. We have done our best. I warned you not to
expect too much. I told you that this question of transportation
was difficult. You would not wish to put rates so low that the
action would amount to confiscation of property."
"Why did you not lower rates in the valley of the San Joaquin?"
"That was not a PROMINENT issue in the affair," responded Lyman,
carefully emphasising his words. "I understand, of course, it
was to be approached IN TIME. The main point was AN AVERAGE TEN
PER CENT. REDUCTION. Rates WILL be lowered in the San Joaquin.
The ranchers around Bonneville will be able to ship to Port Costa
at equitable rates, but so radical a measure as that cannot be
put through in a turn of the hand. We must study----"
"You KNEW the San Joaquin rate was an issue," shouted Annixter,
shaking his finger across the table. "What do we men who backed
you care about rates up in Del Norte and Siskiyou Counties? Not
a whoop in hell. It was the San Joaquin rate we were fighting
for, and we elected you to reduce that. You didn't do it and you
don't intend to, and, by the Lord Harry, I want to know why."
"You'll know, sir--" began Lyman.
"Well, I'll tell you why," vociferated Osterman. "I'll tell you
why. It's because we have been sold out. It's because the P.
and S. W. have had their spoon in this boiling. It's because our
commissioners have betrayed us. It's because we're a set of damn
fool farmers and have been cinched again."
Lyman paled under his dark skin at the direct attack. He
evidently had not expected this so soon. For the fraction of one
instant he lost his poise. He strove to speak, but caught his
"What have you to say, then?" cried Harran, who, until now, had
"I have this to say," answered Lyman, making head as best he
might, "that this is no proper spirit in which to discuss
business. The Commission has fulfilled its obligations. It has
adjusted rates to the best of its ability. We have been at work
for two months on the preparation of this schedule----"
"That's a lie," shouted Annixter, his face scarlet; "that's a
lie. That schedule was drawn in the offices of the Pacific and
Southwestern and you know it. It's a scheme of rates made for
the Railroad and by the Railroad and you were bought over to put
your name to it."
There was a concerted outburst at the words. All the men in the
room were on their feet, gesticulating and vociferating.
"Gentlemen, gentlemen," cried Magnus, "are we schoolboys, are we
ruffians of the street?"
"We're a set of fool farmers and we've been betrayed," cried
"Well, what have you to say? What have you to say?" persisted
Harran, leaning across the table toward his brother. "For God's
sake, Lyman, you've got SOME explanation."
"You've misunderstood," protested Lyman, white and trembling.
"You've misunderstood. You've expected too much. Next year,--
next year,--soon now, the Commission will take up the--the
Commission will consider the San Joaquin rate. We've done our
best, that is all."
"Have you, sir?" demanded Magnus.
The Governor's head was in a whirl; a sensation, almost of
faintness, had seized upon him. Was it possible? Was it
"Have you done your best?" For a second he compelled Lyman's eye.
The glances of father and son met, and, in spite of his best
efforts, Lyman's eyes wavered. He began to protest once more,
explaining the matter over again from the beginning. But Magnus
did not listen. In that brief lapse of time he was convinced
that the terrible thing had happened, that the unbelievable had
come to pass. It was in the air. Between father and son, in
some subtle fashion, the truth that was a lie stood suddenly
revealed. But even then Magnus would not receive it. Lyman do
this! His son, his eldest son, descend to this! Once more and
for the last time he turned to him and in his voice there was
that ring that compelled silence.
"Lyman," he said, "I adjure you--I--I demand of you as you are my
son and an honourable man, explain yourself. What is there
behind all this? It is no longer as Chairman of the Committee I
speak to you, you a member of the Railroad Commission. It is
your father who speaks, and I address you as my son. Do you
understand the gravity of this crisis; do you realise the
responsibility of your position; do you not see the importance of
this moment? Explain yourself."
"There is nothing to explain."
"You have not reduced rates in the San Joaquin? You have not
reduced rates between Bonneville and tidewater?"
"I repeat, sir, what I said before. An average ten per cent.
"Lyman, answer me, yes or no. Have you reduced the Bonneville
"It could not be done so soon. Give us time. We----"
"Yes or no! By God, sir, do you dare equivocate with me? Yes or
no; have you reduced the Bonneville rate?"
"And answer ME," shouted Harran, leaning far across the table,
"answer ME. Were you paid by the Railroad to leave the San
Joaquin rate untouched?"
Lyman, whiter than ever, turned furious upon his brother.
"Don't you dare put that question to me again."
"No, I won't," cried Harran, "because I'll TELL you to your
villain's face that you WERE paid to do it."
On the instant the clamour burst forth afresh. Still on their
feet, the ranchers had, little by little, worked around the
table, Magnus alone keeping his place. The others were in a
group before Lyman, crowding him, as it were, to the wall,
shouting into his face with menacing gestures. The truth that
was a lie, the certainty of a trust betrayed, a pledge ruthlessly
broken, was plain to every one of them.
"By the Lord! men have been shot for less than this," cried
Osterman. "You've sold us out, you, and if you ever bring that
dago face of yours on a level with mine again, I'll slap it."
"Keep your hands off," exclaimed Lyman quickly, the
aggressiveness of the cornered rat flaming up within him. "No
violence. Don't you go too far."
"How much were you paid? How much were you paid?" vociferated
"Yes, yes, what was your price?" cried the others. They were
beside themselves with anger; their words came harsh from between
their set teeth; their gestures were made with their fists
"You know the Commission acted in good faith," retorted Lyman.
"You know that all was fair and above board."
"Liar," shouted Annixter; "liar, bribe-eater. You were bought
and paid for," and with the words his arm seemed almost of itself
to leap out from his shoulder. Lyman received the blow squarely
in the face and the force of it sent him staggering backwards
toward the wall. He tripped over his valise and fell half way,
his back supported against the closed door of the room. Magnus
sprang forward. His son had been struck, and the instincts of a
father rose up in instant protest; rose for a moment, then
forever died away in his heart. He checked the words that
flashed to his mind. He lowered his upraised arm. No, he had
but one son. The poor, staggering creature with the fine
clothes, white face, and blood-streaked lips was no longer his.
A blow could not dishonour him more than he had dishonoured
But Gethings, the older man, intervened, pulling Annixter back,
"Stop, this won't do. Not before his father."
"I am no father to this man, gentlemen," exclaimed Magnus. "From
now on, I have but one son. You, sir," he turned to Lyman, "you,
sir, leave my house."
Lyman, his handkerchief to his lips, his smart cravat in
disarray, caught up his hat and coat. He was shaking with fury,
his protruding eyes were blood-shot. He swung open the door.
"Ruffians," he shouted from the threshold, "ruffians, bullies.
Do your own dirty business yourselves after this. I'm done with
you. How is it, all of a sudden you talk about honour? How is
it that all at once you're so clean and straight? You weren't so
particular at Sacramento just before the nominations. How was
the Board elected? I'm a bribe-eater, am I? Is it any worse
than GIVING a bribe? Ask Magnus Derrick what he thinks about
that. Ask him how much he paid the Democratic bosses at
Sacramento to swing the convention."
He went out, slamming the door.
Presley followed. The whole affair made him sick at heart,
filled him with infinite disgust, infinite weariness. He wished
to get away from it all. He left the dining-room and the
excited, clamouring men behind him and stepped out on the porch
of the ranch house, closing the door behind him. Lyman was
nowhere in sight. Presley was alone. It was late, and after the
lamp-heated air of the dining-room, the coolness of the night was
delicious, and its vast silence, after the noise and fury of the
committee meeting, descended from the stars like a benediction.
Presley stepped to the edge of the porch, looking off to
And there before him, mile after mile, illimitable, covering the
earth from horizon to horizon, lay the Wheat. The growth, now
many days old, was already high from the ground. There it lay, a
vast, silent ocean, shimmering a pallid green under the moon and
under the stars; a mighty force, the strength of nations, the
life of the world. There in the night, under the dome of the
sky, it was growing steadily. To Presley's mind, the scene in
the room he had just left dwindled to paltry insignificance
before this sight. Ah, yes, the Wheat--it was over this that the
Railroad, the ranchers, the traitor false to his trust, all the
members of an obscure conspiracy, were wrangling. As if human
agency could affect this colossal power! What were these heated,
tiny squabbles, this feverish, small bustle of mankind, this
minute swarming of the human insect, to the great, majestic,
silent ocean of the Wheat itself! Indifferent, gigantic,
resistless, it moved in its appointed grooves. Men, Liliputians,
gnats in the sunshine, buzzed impudently in their tiny battles,
were born, lived through their little day, died, and were
forgotten; while the Wheat, wrapped in Nirvanic calm, grew
steadily under the night, alone with the stars and with God.
Jack-rabbits were a pest that year and Presley occasionally found
amusement in hunting them with Harran's half-dozen greyhounds,
following the chase on horseback. One day, between two and three
months after Lyman s visit to Los Muertos, as he was returning
toward the ranch house from a distant and lonely quarter of Los
Muertos, he came unexpectedly upon a strange sight.
Some twenty men, Annixter's and Osterman's tenants, and small
ranchers from east of Guadalajara--all members of the League--
were going through the manual of arms under Harran Derrick's
supervision. They were all equipped with new Winchester rifles.
Harran carried one of these himself and with it he illustrated
the various commands he gave. As soon as one of the men under
his supervision became more than usually proficient, he was told
off to instruct a file of the more backward. After the manual of
arms, Harran gave the command to take distance as skirmishers,
and when the line had opened out so that some half-dozen feet
intervened between each man, an advance was made across the
field, the men stooping low and snapping the hammers of their
rifles at an imaginary enemy.
The League had its agents in San Francisco, who watched the
movements of the Railroad as closely as was possible, and some
time before this, Annixter had received word that the Marshal and
his deputies were coming down to Bonneville to put the dummy
buyers of his ranch in possession. The report proved to be but
the first of many false alarms, but it had stimulated the League
to unusual activity, and some three or four hundred men were
furnished with arms and from time to time were drilled in secret.
Among themselves, the ranchers said that if the Railroad managers
did not believe they were terribly in earnest in the stand they
had taken, they were making a fatal mistake.
Harran reasserted this statement to Presley on the way home to
the ranch house that same day. Harran had caught up with him by
the time he reached the Lower Road, and the two jogged homeward
through the miles of standing wheat.
"They may jump the ranch, Pres," he said, "if they try hard
enough, but they will never do it while I am alive. By the way,"
he added, "you know we served notices yesterday upon S. Behrman
and Cy. Ruggles to quit the country. Of course, they won't do
it, but they won't be able to say they didn't have warning."
About an hour later, the two reached the ranch house, but as
Harran rode up the driveway, he uttered an exclamation.
"Hello," he said, "something is up. That's Genslinger's
In fact, the editor's team was tied underneath the shade of a
giant eucalyptus tree near by. Harran, uneasy under this
unexpected visit of the enemy's friend, dismounted without
stabling his horse, and went at once to the dining-room, where
visitors were invariably received. But the dining-room was
empty, and his mother told him that Magnus and the editor were in
the "office." Magnus had said they were not to be disturbed.
Earlier in the afternoon, the editor had driven up to the porch
and had asked Mrs. Derrick, whom he found reading a book of poems
on the porch, if he could see Magnus. At the time, the Governor
had gone with Phelps to inspect the condition of the young wheat
on Hooven's holding, but within half an hour he returned, and
Genslinger had asked him for a "few moments' talk in private."
The two went into the "office," Magnus locking the door behind
"Very complete you are here, Governor," observed the editor in
his alert, jerky manner, his black, bead-like eyes twinkling
around the room from behind his glasses. "Telephone, safe,
ticker, account-books--well, that's progress, isn't it? Only way
to manage a big ranch these days. But the day of the big ranch
is over. As the land appreciates in value, the temptation to
sell off small holdings will be too strong. And then the small
holding can be cultivated to better advantage. I shall have an
editorial on that some day."
"The cost of maintaining a number of small holdings," said
Magnus, indifferently, "is, of course, greater than if they were
all under one management."
"That may be, that may be," rejoined the other.
There was a long pause. Genslinger leaned back in his chair and
rubbed a knee. Magnus, standing erect in front of the safe,
waited for him to speak.
"This is an unfortunate business, Governor," began the editor,
"this misunderstanding between the ranchers and the Railroad. I
wish it could be adjusted. HERE are two industries that MUST be
in harmony with one another, or we all go to pot."
"I should prefer not to be interviewed on the subject, Mr.
Genslinger," said Magnus.
"Oh, no, oh, no. Lord love you, Governor, I don't want to
interview you. We all know how you stand."
Again there was a long silence. Magnus wondered what this little
man, usually so garrulous, could want of him. At length,
Genslinger began again. He did not look at Magnus, except at
"About the present Railroad Commission," he remarked. "That was
an interesting campaign you conducted in Sacramento and San
Magnus held his peace, his hands shut tight. Did Genslinger know
of Lyman's disgrace? Was it for this he had come? Would the
story of it be the leading article in to-morrow's Mercury?
"An interesting campaign," repeated Genslinger, slowly; "a very
interesting campaign. I watched it with every degree of
interest. I saw its every phase, Mr. Derrick."
"The campaign was not without its interest," admitted Magnus.
"Yes," said Genslinger, still more deliberately, "and some phases
of it were--more interesting than others, as, for instance, let
us say the way in which you--personally--secured the votes of
certain chairmen of delegations--NEED I particularise further?
Yes, those men--the way you got their votes. Now, THAT I should
say, Mr. Derrick, was the most interesting move in the whole
game--to you. Hm, curious," he murmured, musingly. "Let's see.
You deposited two one-thousand dollar bills and four five-hundred
dollar bills in a box--three hundred and eight was the number--in
a box in the Safety Deposit Vaults in San Francisco, and then--
let's see, you gave a key to this box to each of the gentlemen in
question, and after the election the box was empty. Now, I call
that interesting--curious, because it's a new, safe, and highly
ingenious method of bribery. How did you happen to think of it,
"Do you know what you are doing, sir?" Magnus burst forth. "Do
you know what you are insinuating, here, in my own house?"
"Why, Governor," returned the editor, blandly, "I'm not
INSINUATING anything. I'm talking about what I KNOW."
"It's a lie."
Genslinger rubbed his chin reflectively.
"Well," he answered, "you can have a chance to prove it before
the Grand Jury, if you want to."
"My character is known all over the State," blustered Magnus.
"My politics are pure politics. My----"
"No one needs a better reputation for pure politics than the man
who sets out to be a briber," interrupted Genslinger, "and I
might as well tell you, Governor, that you can't shout me down.
I can put my hand on the two chairmen you bought before it's dark
to-day. I've had their depositions in my safe for the last six
weeks. We could make the arrests to-morrow, if we wanted.
Governor, you sure did a risky thing when you went into that
Sacramento fight, an awful risky thing. Some men can afford to
have bribery charges preferred against them, and it don't hurt
one little bit, but YOU--Lord, it would BUST you, Governor, bust
you dead. I know all about the whole shananigan business from A
to Z, and if you don't believe it--here," he drew a long strip of
paper from his pocket, "here's a galley proof of the story."
Magnus took it in his hands. There, under his eyes, scare-
headed, double-leaded, the more important clauses printed in bold
type, was the detailed account of the "deal" Magnus had made with
the two delegates. It was pitiless, remorseless, bald. Every
statement was substantiated, every statistic verified with
Genslinger's meticulous love for exactness. Besides all that, it
had the ring of truth. It was exposure, ruin, absolute
"That's about correct, isn't it?" commented Genslinger, as
Derrick finished reading. Magnus did not reply. "I think it is
correct enough," the editor continued. "But I thought it would
only be fair to you to let you see it before it was published."
The one thought uppermost in Derrick's mind, his one impulse of
the moment was, at whatever cost, to preserve his dignity, not to
allow this man to exult in the sight of one quiver of weakness,
one trace of defeat, one suggestion of humiliation. By an effort
that put all his iron rigidity to the test, he forced himself to
look straight into Genslinger's eyes.
"I congratulate you," he observed, handing back the proof, "upon
your journalistic enterprise. Your paper will sell to-morrow."
"Oh, I don't know as I want to publish this story," remarked the
editor, indifferently, putting away the galley. "I'm just like
that. The fun for me is running a good story to earth, but once
I've got it, I lose interest. And, then, I wouldn't like to see
you--holding the position you do, President of the League and a
leading man of the county--I wouldn't like to see a story like
this smash you over. It's worth more to you to keep it out of
print than for me to put it in. I've got nothing much to gain
but a few extra editions, but you--Lord, you would lose
everything. Your committee was in the deal right enough. But
your League, all the San Joaquin Valley, everybody in the State
believes the commissioners were fairly elected."
"Your story," suddenly exclaimed Magnus, struck with an idea,
"will be thoroughly discredited just so soon as the new grain
tariff is published. I have means of knowing that the San
Joaquin rate--the issue upon which the board was elected--is not
to be touched. Is it likely the ranchers would secure the
election of a board that plays them false?"
"Oh, we know all about that," answered Genslinger, smiling. "You
thought you were electing Lyman easily. You thought you had got
the Railroad to walk right into your trap. You didn't understand
how you could pull off your deal so easily. Why, Governor, LYMAN
WAS PLEDGED TO THE RAILROAD TWO YEARS AGO. He was THE ONE
PARTICULAR man the corporation wanted for commissioner. And your
people elected him--saved the Railroad all the trouble of
campaigning for him. And you can't make any counter charge of
bribery there. No, sir, the corporation don't use such
amateurish methods as that. Confidentially and between us two,
all that the Railroad has done for Lyman, in order to attach him
to their interests, is to promise to back him politically in the
next campaign for Governor. It's too bad," he continued,
dropping his voice, and changing his position. "It really is too
bad to see good men trying to bunt a stone wall over with their
bare heads. You couldn't have won at any stage of the game. I
wish I could have talked to you and your friends before you went
into that Sacramento fight. I could have told you then how
little chance you had. When will you people realise that you
can't buck against the Railroad? Why, Magnus, it's like me going
out in a paper boat and shooting peas at a battleship."
"Is that all you wished to see me about, Mr. Genslinger?"
remarked Magnus, bestirring himself. "I am rather occupied to-
"Well," returned the other, "you know what the publication of
this article would mean for you." He paused again, took off his
glasses, breathed on them, polished the lenses with his
handkerchief and readjusted them on his nose. "I've been
thinking, Governor," he began again, with renewed alertness, and
quite irrelevantly, "of enlarging the scope of the ' Mercury.'
You see, I'm midway between the two big centres of the State, San
Francisco and Los Angeles, and I want to extend the 'Mercury's'
sphere of influence as far up and down the valley as I can. I
want to illustrate the paper. You see, if I had a photo-
engraving plant of my own, I could do a good deal of outside
jobbing as well, and the investment would pay ten per cent. But
it takes money to make money. I wouldn't want to put in any
dinky, one-horse affair. I want a good plant. I've been
figuring out the business. Besides the plant, there would be the
expense of a high grade paper. Can't print half-tones on
anything but coated paper, and that COSTS. Well, what with this
and with that and running expenses till the thing began to pay,
it would cost me about ten thousand dollars, and I was wondering
if, perhaps, you couldn't see your way clear to accommodating
"Yes. Say five thousand down, and the balance within sixty
Magnus, for the moment blind to what Genslinger had in mind,
turned on him in astonishment.
"Why, man, what security could you give me for such an amount?"
"Well, to tell the truth," answered the editor, "I hadn't thought
much about securities. In fact, I believed you would see how
greatly it was to your advantage to talk business with me. You
see, I'm not going to print this article about you, Governor, and
I'm not going to let it get out so as any one else can print it,
and it seems to me that one good turn deserves another. You
Magnus understood. An overwhelming desire suddenly took
possession of him to grip this blackmailer by the throat, to
strangle him where he stood; or, if not, at least to turn upon
him with that old-time terrible anger, before which whole
conventions had once cowered. But in the same moment the
Governor realised this was not to be. Only its righteousness had
made his wrath terrible; only the justice of his anger had made
him feared. Now the foundation was gone from under his feet; he
had knocked it away himself. Three times feeble was he whose
quarrel was unjust. Before this country editor, this paid
speaker of the Railroad, he stood, convicted. The man had him at
his mercy. The detected briber could not resent an insult.
Genslinger rose, smoothing his hat.
"Well," he said, "of course, you want time to think it over, and
you can't raise money like that on short notice. I'll wait till
Friday noon of this week. We begin to set Saturday's paper at
about four, Friday afternoon, and the forms are locked about two
in the morning. I hope," he added, turning back at the door of
the room, "that you won't find anything disagreeable in your
Saturday morning 'Mercury,' Mr. Derrick."
He went out, closing the door behind him, and in a moment, Magnus
heard the wheels of his buckboard grating on the driveway.
The following morning brought a letter to Magnus from Gethings,
of the San Pueblo ranch, which was situated very close to
Visalia. The letter was to the effect that all around Visalia,
upon the ranches affected by the regrade of the Railroad, men
were arming and drilling, and that the strength of the League in
that quarter was undoubted. "But to refer," continued the
letter, "to a most painful recollection. You will, no doubt,
remember that, at the close of our last committee meeting,
specific charges were made as to fraud in the nomination and
election of one of our commissioners, emanating, most
unfortunately, from the commissioner himself. These charges, my
dear Mr. Derrick, were directed at yourself. How the secrets of
the committee have been noised about, I cannot understand. You
may be, of course, assured of my own unquestioning confidence and
loyalty. However, I regret exceedingly to state not only that
the rumour of the charges referred to above is spreading in this
district, but that also they are made use of by the enemies of
the League. It is to be deplored that some of the Leaguers
themselves--you know, we number in our ranks many small farmers,
ignorant Portuguese and foreigners--have listened to these
stories and have permitted a feeling of uneasiness to develop
among them. Even though it were admitted that fraudulent means
had been employed in the elections, which, of course, I
personally do not admit, I do not think it would make very much
difference in the confidence which the vast majority of the
Leaguers repose in their chiefs. Yet we have so insisted upon
the probity of our position as opposed to Railroad chicanery,
that I believe it advisable to quell this distant suspicion at
once; to publish a denial of these rumoured charges would only be
to give them too much importance. However, can you not write me
a letter, stating exactly how the campaign was conducted, and the
commission nominated and elected? I could show this to some of
the more disaffected, and it would serve to allay all suspicion
on the instant. I think it would be well to write as though the
initiative came, not from me, but from yourself, ignoring this
present letter. I offer this only as a suggestion, and will
confidently endorse any decision you may arrive at."
The letter closed with renewed protestations of confidence.
Magnus was alone when he read this. He put it carefully away in
the filing cabinet in his office, and wiped the sweat from his
forehead and face. He stood for one moment, his hands rigid at
his sides, his fists clinched.
"This is piling up," he muttered, looking blankly at the opposite
wall. "My God, this is piling up. What am I to do?"
Ah, the bitterness of unavailing regret, the anguish of
compromise with conscience, the remorse of a bad deed done in a
moment of excitement. Ah, the humiliation of detection, the
degradation of being caught, caught like a schoolboy pilfering
his fellows' desks, and, worse than all, worse than all, the
consciousness of lost self-respect, the knowledge of a prestige
vanishing, a dignity impaired, knowledge that the grip which held
a multitude in check was trembling, that control was wavering,
that command was being weakened. Then the little tricks to
deceive the crowd, the little subterfuges, the little pretences
that kept up appearances, the lies, the bluster, the pose, the
strut, the gasconade, where once was iron authority; the turning
of the head so as not to see that which could not be prevented;
the suspicion of suspicion, the haunting fear of the Man on the
Street, the uneasiness of the direct glance, the questioning as
to motives--why had this been said, what was meant by that word,
that gesture, that glance?
Wednesday passed, and Thursday. Magnus kept to himself, seeing
no visitors, avoiding even his family. How to break through the
mesh of the net, how to regain the old position, how to prevent
discovery? If there were only some way, some vast, superhuman
effort by which he could rise in his old strength once more,
crushing Lyman with one hand, Genslinger with the other, and for
one more moment, the last, to stand supreme again, indomitable,
the leader; then go to his death, triumphant at the end, his
memory untarnished, his fame undimmed. But the plague-spot was