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The Grafters by Francis Lynde

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"I'm through. I was merely going to add' that I have concluded not to buy

"Then it's to be war to the knife, is it?"

"That is about the size of it," said Kent; and the governor found his hat.

"I'll trouble you to return my property," he growled, pointing to the
table drawer.

"Certainly." Kent broke the revolver over the blotting pad, swept the
ejected cartridges into the open drawer, and passed the empty weapon to
its owner.

When the door closed behind the outgoing visitor the victor in the small
passage at arms began to walk the floor; but at four o'clock, which was
Hildreth's hour for coming down-town, he put on his hat and went to climb
the three flights of stairs to the editor's den in the _Argus_ building.



The cubby-hole in which Hildreth earned his bread by the sweat of his
brain was dark even at midday; and during working hours the editor sat
under a funnel-shaped reflector in a conic shower-bath of electric light
which flooded man and desk and left the corners of the room in a penumbra
of grateful twilight.

Kent sat just outside of the cone of radiance, watching Hildreth's face as
the editor read stolidly through the contents of the box envelope. It was
an instructive study in thought dynamics. There was a gleam of battle
satisfaction in the editorial eye when Hildreth faced the last sheet down
upon the accumulation of evidence, saying:

"You didn't overstate the fact in your brag about the political graves.
Only this isn't a spade; it's a steam shovel. Do I understand you are
giving me this stuff to use as I please?"

"Just that," said Kent.

"And you have made it serve your turn, too?"

"No." Kent's voice was sharp and crisp.

"Isn't that what you got it for?"


"Then why don't you use it?"

"That was what Bucks wanted to know a little while ago when he came to my
rooms to try to buy me off. I don't think I succeeded in making him
understand why I couldn't traffic with it; and possibly you wouldn't

"I guess I do. It's public property, and you couldn't divert it into
private channels. Is that the way it struck you?"

"It is the way it struck a friend of mine whose sense of ultimate right
and wrong hasn't lost its fine edge in the world-mill. I did not want to
do it."

"Naturally," said the editor. "Giving it up means the loss of all you have
been working for in the railroad game. I wish I could use it, just as it

"Can't you?"

"I am afraid not--effectively. It would make an issue in a campaign; or,
sprung on the eve of an election, it might down the ring conclusively. I
think it would. But this is the off year, and the people won't rise to a
political issue--couldn't make themselves felt if they should."

"I don't agree with you. You have your case all made out, with the
evidence in sound legal form. What is to prevent your trying it?"

"The one thing that you ought to be lawyer enough to see at a glance.
There is no court to try it in. With the Assembly in session we might do
something: as it is, we can only yap at the heels of the ringsters, and
our yapping won't help you in the railroad fight. What do you hear from

"Nothing new. The stock is still flat on the market, with the
stock-holders' pool holding a bare majority, and the Plantagould brokers
buying in driblets wherever they can find a small holder who is willing to
let go. It is only a question of time; and a very short time at that."

The editor wagged his head in sympathy.

"I wish I could help you, David. You've done a big thing for me--for the
_Argus_; and all I have to hand you in return is a death sentence.
MacFarlane is back."

"Here? In town?"

"Yes. And that isn't the worst of it. The governor sent for him."

"Have you any idea what is in the wind?" asked Kent, dry-lipped.

"I am afraid I have. My young men have been nosing around in the
Trans-Western affair, and several things have developed. Matters are
approaching a crisis. The cut-rate boom is about to collapse, and there is
trouble brewing in the labor organizations. If Bucks doesn't get his
henchmen out of it pretty soon, they will be involved in the smash--which
will be bad for them and for him, politically."

"I developed most of that a good while ago," Kent cut in.

"Yes; I know. But there is more to follow. The stock-smashing plan was all
right, but it is proving too slow. Now they are going to do something

"Can you give it a name?" asked Kent, nerving himself.

"I can. But first tell me one thing: as matters stand, could Guilford
dispose of the road--sell it or lease it?"

"No; he would first have to be made permanent receiver and be given
authority by the court."

"Ah! that explains Judge MacFarlane's return. Now what I am going to tell
you is the deadest of secrets. It came to me from one of the Overland
officials, and I'm not supposed to gossip. Did you know the Overland Short
Line had passed under Plantagould domination?"

"I know they elected a Plantagould directory at the annual meeting."

"Exactly. Well, Guilford is going to lease the Trans-Western to its
competitor for a term of ninety-nine years. That's your death sentence."

Kent sprang to his feet, and what he said is unrecordable. He was not a
profane man, but the sanguine temperament would assert itself explosively
in moments of sudden stress.

"When is this thing to be done?" he demanded, when the temperamental gods
were appeased a little.

Hildreth shrugged.

"I have told you all I could, and rather more than I had any right to.
Open the door behind you, won't you? The air is positively sulphurous."

Kent opened the door, entirely missing the point of the sarcasm in his

"But you must have some idea," he insisted.

"I haven't; any more than the general one that they won't let the grass
grow under their feet."

"No. God blast the whole--I wish I could swear in Sanscrit. The
mother-tongue doesn't begin to do justice to it. Now I know what Bucks
meant when he told me to take my railroad, _if I could get it_. He had the
whole thing coopered up in a barrel at that minute."

"I take it you have no alternative to this," said the editor, tapping the
pile of affidavits.

"Not a cursed shred of an idea! And, Hildreth--" he broke off short
because once again the subject suddenly grew too large for coherent

Hildreth disentangled himself from the legs of his chair and stood up to
put his hands on Kent's shoulders.

"You are up against it hard, David," he said; and he repeated: "I'd give
all my old shoes to be able to help you out."

"I know it," said Kent; and then he turned abruptly and went away.

Between nine and ten o'clock the same evening Kent was walking the floor
of his room, trying vainly to persuade himself that virtue was its own
reward, and wondering if a small dose of chloral hydrate would be
defensible under the cruel necessity for sleep. He had about decided in
favor of the drug when a tap at the door announced the coming of a
bell-boy with a note. It was a message from Portia.

"If you have thrown away your chance definitely, and are willing to take a
still more desperate one, come to see me," she wrote; and he went
mechanically, as a drowning man catches at a straw, knowing it will not
save him.

The house in Alameda Square was dark when he went up the walk; and while
he was feeling for the bell-push his summoner called to him out of the
electric stencilings of leaf shadows under the broad veranda.

"It is too fine a night to stay indoors," she said. "Come and sit in the
hammock while I scold you as you deserve." And when he had taken the
hammock: "Now give an account of yourself. Where have you been for the
past age or two?"

"Wallowing around in the lower depths of the place that Dante visited," he

"Don't you think you deserve a manhandling?"

"I suppose so; and if you have it in mind, I shall probably get it. But I
may say I'm not especially anxious for a tongue-lashing to-night."

"Poor boy!" she murmured, in mock sympathy. "Does it hurt to be truly

"Try it some time when you have a little leisure, and see for yourself,"
he retorted.

She laughed.

"No; I'll leave that for the Miss Brentwoods. By the way, did you go to
tell the household good-by? Penelope was wondering audibly what had become
of you."

"I didn't know they were gone. I have been nowhere since the night you
drove me out with contumely and opprobrium."

She laughed again.

"You must have dived deep. They went a week ago Tuesday, and you lost your
ghostly adviser and your political stage manager at one fell swoop. But it
isn't wonderful that you haven't missed Mr. Ormsby. Having elected Miss
Brentwood your conscience-keeper-in-chief, you have no further use for the

"And you have no further use for me, apparently," he complained. "Did you
send for me so that you might abuse me in the second edition?"

"No; I wanted to give you a bit of news, and to repeat an old question of
mine. Do you know what they are going to do next with your railroad?"

"Yes; Hildreth told me this afternoon."

"Well, what are _you_ going to do?"

"Nothing. There is nothing to be done. They have held to the form of legal
procedure thus far, but they won't do it any more. They will take
MacFarlane off in a corner somewhere, have him make Guilford permanent
receiver, and the lease to the Overland will be consummated on the spot. I
sha'n't be in it."

"Probably not; certainly not if you don't try to get in it. And that
brings me back to the old question. Are you big enough, David?"

"If you think I haven't been big enough to live up to my opportunities
thus far, I'm afraid I may disappoint you again," he said doubtfully.

"You have disappointed me," she admitted. "That is why I am asking: I'd
like to be reasonably sure your Jonathan Edwardsy notions are not going to
trip us again."

"Portia, if I thought you really meant that ... A conscienceless man is
bad enough, God knows; but a conscienceless woman----"

Her laugh was a decorous little shriek.

"David, you are _not_ big; you are narrow, narrow, _narrow_! Is there then
no other code of morals in the round world save that which the accident of
birth has interleaved with your New England Bible? What is conscience? Is
it an absolute standard of right and wrong? Or is it merely your ideal or
mine, or Shafiz Ullah Khan's?"

"You may call it all the hard names you can lay tongue to," he allowed.
"I'm not getting much comfort out of it, and I rather enjoy hearing it
abused. But you are thrusting at a shadow in the present instance. Do you
know what I did this afternoon?"

"How should I know?"

"I don't know why you shouldn't: you know everything that happens. But
I'll tell you. I had been fighting the thing over from start to finish and
back again ever since you blessed me out a week ago last Monday, and at
the wind-up this afternoon I took the papers out of the bank vault, having
it in mind to go and give his Excellency a bad quarter of an hour."

"But you didn't do it?"

"No, he saved me the trouble. While I was getting ready to go and hunt
him, his card came up. We had it out in my rooms."

"I'm listening," she said; and he rehearsed the-facts for her, concealing

"What a curious thing human nature is!" she commented, when he had made an
end. "My better judgment says you were all kinds of a somebody for not
clinching the nail when you had it so well driven home. And yet I can't
help admiring your exalted fanaticism. I do love consistency, and the
courage of it. But tell me, if you can, how far these fair-fighting
scruples of yours go. You have made it perfectly plain that if a thief
should steal your pocketbook, you would suffer loss before you'd
compromise with him to get it back. But suppose you should catch him at
it: would you feel compelled to call a policeman--or would you----"

He anticipated her.

"You are doing me an injustice on the other side, now. I'll fight as
furiously as you like. All I ask is to be given a weapon that won't bloody
my hands."

"Good!" she said approvingly. "I think I have found the weapon, but it's
desperate, desperate! And O David! you've got to have a cool head and a
steady hand when you use it. If you haven't, it will kill everybody within
the swing of it--everybody but the man you are trying to reach."

"Draw it and let me feel its edge," he said shortly.

Her chair was close beside the low-swung hammock. She bent to his ear and
whispered a single sentence. For a minute or two he sat motionless,
weighing and balancing the chance of success against the swiftly
multiplying difficulties and hazards.

"You call it desperate," he said at length; "if there is a bigger word in
the language, you ought to find it and use it. The risk is that of a
forlorn hope; not so much for me, perhaps, as for the innocent--or at
least ignorant--accomplices I'll have to enlist."

She nodded.

"That is true. But how much is your railroad worth?"

"It is bonded for fifty millions first, and twenty millions second

"Well, seventy millions are worth fighting for: worth a very considerable
risk, I should say."

"Yes." And after another thoughtful interval: "How did you come to think
of it?"

"It grew out of a bit of talk with the man who will have to put the apex
on our pyramid after we have done our part."

"Will he stand by us? If he doesn't, we shall all be no better than dead
men the morning after the fact."

She clasped her hands tightly over her knee, and said:

"That is one of the chances we must take, David; one of the many. But it
is the last of the bridges to be crossed, and there are lots of them in
between. Are the details possible? That was the part I couldn't go into by

He took other minutes for reflection.

"I can't tell," he said doubtfully. "If I could only know how much time we

Her eyes grew luminous.

"David, what would you do without me?" she asked. "To-morrow night, in
Stephen Hawk's office in Gaston, you will lose your railroad. MacFarlane
is there, or if he isn't, he'll be there in the morning. Bucks, Guilford
and Hawk will go down from here to-morrow evening; and the Overland people
are to come up from Midland City to meet them."

There was awe undisguised in the look he gave her, and it had crept into
his voice when he said:

"Portia, are you really a flesh-and-blood woman?"

She smiled.

"Meaning that your ancestors would have burned me for a witch? Perhaps
they would: I think quite likely they burned women who made better
martyrs. But I didn't have to call in Flibbertigibbet. The programme is a
carefully guarded secret, to be sure; but it is known--it had to be
known--to a number of people outside of our friends the enemy. You've
heard the story of the inventor and his secret, haven't you?"


"Well, the man had invented something, and he told the secret of it to his
son. After a little the son wanted to tell it to a friend. The old man
said, 'Hold on; I know it--that's one'--holding up one finger--'you know
it--that's eleven'--holding up another finger beside the first; 'and now
if you tell this other fellow, that'll be one hundred and eleven'--holding
up three fingers. That is the case with this programme. One of the one
hundred and eleven--he is a person high up in the management of the
Overland Short Line--dropped a few words in my hearing and I picked them
up. That's all."

"It is fearfully short--the time, I mean," he said after another pause.
"We can't count on any help from any one in authority. Guilford's broom
has swept the high-salaried official corners clean. But the wage-people
are mutinous and ripe for anything. I'll go and find out where we stand."
And he groped on the floor of the veranda for his hat.

"No, wait a minute," she interposed. "We are not quite ready to adjourn
yet. There remains a little matter of compensation--your compensation--to
be considered. You are still on the company's payrolls?"

"In a way, yes; as its legal representative on the ground."

"That won't do. If you carry this thing through successfully it must be on
your own account, and not as the company's paid servant. You must resign
and make terms with Boston beforehand; and that, too, without telling
Boston what you propose to do."

He haggled a little at that.

"The company is entitled to my services," he asserted.

"It is entitled to what it pays for--your legal services. But this is
entirely different. You will be acting upon your own initiative, and
you'll have to spend money like water at your own risk. You must be free
to deal with Boston as an outsider."

"But I have no money to spend," he objected.

Again the brown eyes grew luminous; and again she said:

"What would you do without me? Happily, my information came early enough
to enable me to get a letter to Mr. Ormsby. He answered promptly by wire
this morning. Here is his telegram."

She had been winding a tightly folded slip of paper around her fingers,
and she smoothed it out and gave it to him. He held it in a patch of the
electric light between the dancing leaf shadows and read:

"Plot Number Two approved. Have wired one hundred thousand to Kent's order
Security Bank. Have him draw as he needs."

"So now you see," she went on, "you have the sinews of war. But you must
regard it as an advance and name your fee to the Boston folk so you can
pay it back."

He protested again, rather weakly.

"It looks like extortion; like another graft," he said; and now she lost
patience with him.

"Of all the Puritan fanatics!" she cried. "If it were a simple commercial
transaction by which you would save your clients a round seventy million
dollars, which would otherwise be lost, would you scruple to take a
proportionate fee?"

"No; certainly not."

"Well, then; you go and tell Mr. Loring to wire his Advisory Board, and to
do it to-night."

"But I'll have to name a figure," said Kent.

"Of course," she replied.

Kent thought about it for a long minute. Then he said: "I wonder if ten
thousand dollars, and expenses, would paralyze them?"

Miss Van Brock's comment was a little shriek of derision.

"I knew you'd make difficulties when it came to the paying part of it, and
since I didn't know, myself, I wired Mr. Ormsby again. Here is what he
says," and she untwisted a second telegram and read it to him.

"'Fee should not be less than five per cent. of bonded indebtedness;
four-fifths in stock at par; one-fifth cash; no cure, no pay.'"

"Three million five hundred thousand dollars!" gasped Kent.

"It's only nominally that much," she laughed. "The stock part of it is
merely your guaranty of good faith: it is worth next to nothing now, and
it will be many a long day before it goes to par, even if you are
successful in saving its life. So your magnificent fee shrinks to seven
hundred thousand dollars, less your expenses."

"But heavens and earth! that's awful!" said Kent.

"Not when you consider it as a surgeon's risk. You happen to be the one
man who has the idea, and if it isn't carried out, the patient is going to
die to-morrow night, permanently. You are the specialist in this case, and
specialists come high. Now you may go and attend to the preliminary
details, if you like."

He found his hat and stood up. She stood with him; but when he took her
hand she made him sit down again.

"You have at least three degrees of fever!" she exclaimed; "or is it only
the three-million-five-hundred-thousand-dollar shock? What have you been
doing to yourself?"

"Nothing, I assure you. I haven't been sleeping very well for a few
nights. But that is only natural."

"And I said you must have a cool head! Will you do exactly as I tell you

"If you don't make it too hard."

"Take the car down-town--don't walk--and after you have made Mr. Loring
send his message to Boston, you go straight to Doctor Biddle. Tell him
what is the matter with you, and that you need to sleep the clock around."

"But the time!" he protested. "I shall need every hour between now and
to-morrow night!"

"One clear-headed hour is worth a dozen muddled ones. You do as I say."

"I hate drugs," he said, rising again.

"So do I; but there is a time for everything under the sun. It is a crying
necessity that you go into this fight perfectly fit and with all your wits
about you. If you don't, somebody--several somebodies--will land in the
penitentiary. Will you mind me?"

"Yes," he promised; and this time he got away.



Much to Elinor's relief, and quite as much, perhaps, to Penelope's, Mrs.
Brentwood tired of Breezeland Inn in less than a fortnight and began to
talk of returning to the apartment house in the capital.

Pressed to give a reason for her dissatisfaction, the younger sister might
have been at a loss to account for it in words; but Elinor's desire to cut
the outing short was based upon pride and militant shame. After many
trap-settings she had succeeded in making her mother confess that the stay
at Breezeland was at Ormsby's expense; and not all of Mrs. Brentwood's
petulant justifyings could remove the sting of the nettle of obligation.

"There is no reason in the world why you should make so much of it: I am
your mother, and I ought to know," was Mrs. Brentwood's dictum. "You
wouldn't have any scruples if we were his guests on the _Amphitrite_ or in
his country house on Long Island."

"That would be different," Elinor contended. "We are not his guests here;
we are his pensioners."

"Nonsense!" frowned the mother. "Isn't it beginning to occur to you that
beggars shouldn't be choosers? And, besides, so far as you are concerned,
you are only anticipating a little."

It was an exceedingly injudicious, not to say brutal way of putting it;
and the blue-gray eyes flashed fire.

"Can't you see that you are daily making a marriage between us more and
more impossible?" was the bitter rejoinder. Elinor's _metier_ was cool
composure under fire, but she was not always able to compass it.

Mrs. Brentwood fanned herself vigorously. She had been aching to have it
out with this self-willed young woman who was playing fast and loose with
attainable millions, and the hour had struck.

"What made you break it off with Brookes Ormsby?" she snapped; adding: "I
don't wonder you were ashamed to tell me about it."

"I did not break it off; and I was not ashamed." Elinor had regained her
self-control, and the angry light in the far-seeing eyes was giving place
to the cool gray blankness which she cultivated.

"That is what Brookes told me, but I didn't believe him," said the mother.
"It's all wrong, anyway, and I more than half believe David Kent is at the
bottom of it."

Elinor left her chair and went to the window, which looked down on the
sanatorium, the ornate parterre, and the crescent driveway. These family
bickerings were very trying to her, and the longing to escape them was
sometimes strong enough to override cool reason and her innate sense of
the fitness of things.

In her moments of deepest depression she told herself that the prolonged
struggle was making her hard and cynical; that she was growing more and
more on the Grimkie side and shrinking on the Brentwood. With the
unbending uprightness of the Grimkie forebears there went a prosaic and
unmalleable strain destructive alike of sentiment and the artistic ideals.
This strain was in her blood, and from childhood she had fought it,
hopefully at times, and at other times, as now, despairingly. There were
tears in her eyes when she turned to the window; and if they were merely
tears of self-pity, they were better than none. Once, in the halcyon
summer, David Kent had said that the most hardened criminal in the dock
was less dangerous to humanity than the woman who had forgotten how to

But into the turmoil of thoughts half indignant, half self-compassionate,
came reproach and a great wave of tenderness filial. She saw, as with a
sudden gift of retrospection, her mother's long battle with inadequacy,
and how it had aged her; saw, too, that the battle had been fought
unselfishly, since she knew her mother's declaration that she could
contentedly "go back to nothing" was no mere petulant boast. It was for
her daughters that she had grown thin and haggard and irritable under the
persistent reverses of fortune; it was for them that she was sinking the
Grimkie independence in the match-making mother.

The tears in Elinor's eyes were not altogether of self-pity when she put
her back to the window. Ormsby was coming up the curved driveway in his
automobile, and she had seen him but dimly through the rising mist of

"Have you set your heart upon this thing, mother?--but I know you have.
And I--I have tried as I could to be just and reasonable; to you and
Penelope, and to Brookes Ormsby. He is nobleness itself: it is a shame to
give him the shadow when he so richly deserves the substance."

She spoke rapidly, almost incoherently; and the mother-love in the woman
who was careful and troubled about the things that perish put the
match-maker to the wall. It was almost terrifying to see Elinor, the
strong-hearted, the self-contained, breaking down like other mothers'
daughters. So it was the mother who held out her arms, and the daughter
ran to go down on her knees at the chair-side, burying her face in the lap
of comforting.

"There, there, Ellie, child; don't cry. It's terrible to hear you sob like
that," she protested, her own voice shaking in sympathy. "I have been
thinking only of you and your future, and fearing weakly that you couldn't
bear the hard things. But we'll bear them together--we three; and I'll
never say another word about Brookes Ormsby and what might have been."

"O mother! you are making it harder than ever, now," was the tearful
rejoinder. "I--there is no reason why I should be so obstinate. I haven't
even the one poor excuse you are making for me down deep in your heart."

"David Kent?" said the mother.

The bowed head nodded a wordless assent.

"I sha'n't say that I haven't suspected him all along, dear. I am afraid I
have. I have nothing against him. But he is a poor man, Elinor; and we are
poor, too. You'd be miserably unhappy."

"If he stays poor, it is I who am to blame,"--this most contritely. "He
had a future before him: the open door was his winning in the railroad
fight, and I closed it against him."

"You?" said the mother, astonished.

"Yes. I told him he couldn't go on in the way he meant to. I made it a
matter of conscience; and he--he has turned back when he might have fought
it out and made a name for himself, and saved us all. And it was such a
hair-splitting thing! All the world would have applauded him if he had
gone on; and there was only one woman in all the world to pry into the
secret places of his soul and stir up the sleeping doubt!"

Now, if all the thrifty, gear-getting "faculty" of the dead and gone
Grimkies had become thin and diluted and inefficient in this Mrs.
Hepzibah, last of the name, the strong wine and iron of the blood of
uprightness had come down to her unstrained.

"Tell me all about it, daughter," she adjured; and when the tale was told,
she patted the bowed head tenderly and spoke the words of healing.

"You did altogether right, Ellie, dear; I--I am proud of you, daughter.
And if, as you say, you were the only one to do it, that doesn't matter;
it was all the more necessary. Are you sure he gave it up?"

Elinor rose and stood with clasped hands beside her mother's chair; a very
pitiful and stricken half-sister of the self-reliant, dependable young
woman who had boasted herself the head of the household.

"I have no means of knowing what he has done," she said slowly. "But I
know the man. He has turned back."

There was a tap at the door and a servant was come to say that Mr. Brookes
Ormsby was waiting with his auto-car. Was Miss Brentwood nearly ready?

Elinor said, "In a minute," and when the door closed, she made a
confidante of her mother for the first time since her childhood days.

"I know what you have suspected ever since that summer in New Hampshire,
and it is true," she confessed. "I do love him--as much as I dare to
without knowing whether he cares for me. Must I--may I--say yes to Brookes
Ormsby without telling him the whole truth?"

"Oh, my dear! You couldn't do that!" was the quick reply.

"You mean that I am not strong enough? But I am; and Mr. Ormsby is manly
enough and generous enough to meet me half-way. Is there any other honest
thing to do, mother?"

Mrs. Hepzibah shook her head deliberately and determinedly, though she
knew she was shaking the Ormsby millions into the abyss of the

"No; it is his just due. But I can't help being sorry for him, Ellie. What
will you do if he says it doesn't make any difference?"

The blue-gray eyes were downcast.

"I don't know. Having asked so much, and accepted so much from him--it
shall be as he says, mother."

The afternoon had been all that a summer afternoon on the brown highlands
can be, and the powerful touring car had swept them from mile to mile over
the dun hills like an earth-skimming dragon whose wing-beat was the
muffled, explosive thud of the motor.

Through most of the miles Elinor had given herself up to silent enjoyment
of the rapture of swift motion, and Ormsby had respected her mood, as he
always did. But when they were on the high hills beyond the mining-camp of
Megilp, and he had thrown the engines out of gear to brake the car gently
down the long inclines, there was room for speech.

"This is our last spin together on the high plains, I suppose," he said.
"Your mother has fixed upon to-morrow for our return to town, hasn't she?"

Elinor confirmed it half-absently. She had been keyed up to face the
inevitable in this drive with Ormsby, and she was afraid now that he was
going to break her resolution by a dip into the commonplaces.

"Are you glad or sorry?" he asked.

Her reply was evasive.

"I have enjoyed the thin, clean air and the freedom of the wide horizons.
Who could help it?"

"But you have not been entirely happy?"

It was on her lips to say some conventional thing about the constant
jarring note in all human happiness, but she changed it to a simple "No."

"May I try if I can give the reason?"

She made a reluctant little gesture of assent; some such signal of
acquiescence as Marie Antoinette may have given the waiting headsman.

"You have been afraid every day lest I should begin a second time to press
you for an answer, haven't you?"

She could not thrust and parry with him. They were past all that.

"Yes," she admitted briefly.

"You break my heart, Elinor," he said, after a long pause. "But"--with a
sudden tightening of the lips--"I'm not going to break yours."

She understood him, and her eyes filled quickly with the swift shock of

"If you had made a study of womankind through ten lifetimes instead of a
part of one, you could not know when and how to strike truer and deeper,"
she said; and then, softly: "Why can't you make me love you, Brookes?"

He took his foot from the brake-pedal, and for ten seconds the released
car shot down the slope unhindered. Then he checked the speed and answered

"A little while ago I should have said I didn't know; but now I do know.
It is because you love David Kent: you loved him before I had my chance."

She did not deny the principal fact, but she gave him his opportunity to
set it aside if he could--and would.

"Call it foolish, romantic sentiment, if you like. Is there no way to
shame me out of it?"

He shook his head slowly.

"You don't mean that."

"But if I say that I do; if I insist that I am willing to be shamed out of

His smile was that of a brother who remembers tardily to be loving-kind.

"I shall leave that task for some one who cares less for you and for your
true happiness than I do, or ever shall. And it will be a mighty thankless
service that that 'some one' will render you."

"But I ought to be whipped and sent to bed," she protested, almost
tearfully. "Do you know what I have done?--how I have----"

She could not quite put it in words, even for him, and he helped her
generously, as before.

"I know what Kent hasn't done; which is more to the point. But he will do
it fast enough if you will give him half a chance."

"No," she said definitively.

"I say yes. One thing, and one thing only, has kept him from telling you
any time since last autumn: that is a sort of finical loyalty to me. I saw
how matters stood when he came aboard of our train at Gaston--I'm asking
you to believe that I didn't know it beforeand I saw then that my only
hope was to make a handfast friend of him. And I did it."

"I believe you can do anything you try to do," she said warmly.

This time his smile was a mere grimace.

"You will have to make one exception, after this; and so shall I. And
since it is the first of any consequence in all my mounting years, it
grinds. I can't throw another man out of the window and take his place."

"If you were anything but what you are, you would have thrown him out of
the window another way," she rejoined.

"That would have been a dago's trick; not a white man's," he asserted. "I
suppose I might have got in his way and played the dog in the manger
generally, and you would have stuck to your word and married me, but I am
not looking for that kind of a winning. I don't mind confessing that I
played my last card when I released you from your engagement. I said to
myself: If that doesn't break down the barriers, nothing will."

She looked up quickly.

"You will never know how near it came to doing it, Brookes."

"But it didn't quite?"

"No, it didn't quite."

The brother-smile came again.

"Let's paste that leaf down and turn the other; the one that has David
Kent's name written, at the top. He is going to succeed all around,
Elinor; and I am going to help him--for his sake, as well as yours."

"No," she dissented. "He is going to fail; and I am to blame for it."

He looked at her sidewise.

"So you were at the bottom of that, were you? I thought as much, and tried
to make him admit it, but he wouldn't. What was your reason?"

"I gave it to him: I can't give it to you."

"I guess not," he laughed. "I wasn't born on the right side of the
Berkshire Hills to appreciate it. But really, you mustn't interfere. As I
say, we are going to make something of David; and a little conscience--of
the right old Pilgrim Fathers' brand--goes a long way in politics."

"But you promised me you were not going to spoil him--only it doesn't
matter; you can't."

Ormsby chuckled openly, and when she questioned "What?" he said:

"I was just wondering what you would say if you knew what he is into now;
if you could guess, for instance, that his backers have put up a cool
hundred thousand to be used as he sees fit?"

"Oh!" she exclaimed; and there was dismay and sharp disappointment in her
voice. "You don't mean that he is going to bribe these men?"

"No," he said, relenting. "As a matter of fact, I don't know precisely
what he is doing with the money, but I guess it is finding its way into
legitimate channels. I'll make him give me an itemized expense account for
your benefit when it's all over, if you like."

"It would be kinder to tell me more about it now," she pleaded.

"No; I'll let him have that pleasure, after the fact--if we can get him
pardoned out before you go back East."

She was silent so long that he stole another sidewise look between his
snubbings of the brake-pedal. Her face was white and still, like the face
of one suddenly frost-smitten, and he was instantly self-reproachful.

"Don't look that way," he begged. "It hurts me; makes me feel how heavy my
hand is when I'm doing my best to make it light. He is trying a rather
desperate experiment, to be sure, but he is in no immediate personal
danger. I believe it or I shouldn't be here; I should be with him."

She asked no more questions, being unwilling to tempt him to break
confidence with Kent. But she was thinking of all the desperate things a
determined man with temperamental unbalancings might do when the touring
car rolled noiselessly down the final hill into the single street of

There was but one vehicle in the street at the moment; a freighter's
ore-wagon drawn by a team of mules, meekest and most shambling-prosaic of
their tribe. The motor-car was running on the spent velocity of the
descent, and Ormsby thought to edge past without stopping. But at the
critical instant the mules gave way to terror, snatched the heavy wagon
into the opposite plank walk, and tried to climb a near-by telephone pole.
Ormsby put his foot on the brake and something snapped under the car.

"What was that?" Elinor asked; and Ormsby got down to investigate.

"It is our brake connection," he announced, after a brief inspection. "And
we are five good miles from Hudgins and his repair kit."

A ring of town idlers was beginning to form about them. An automobile was
still enough of a rarity in the mining-camp to draw a crowd.

"Busted?" inquired one of the onlookers.

Ormsby nodded, and asked if there were a machinist in the camp.

"Yep," said the spokesman; "up at the Blue Jay mine."

"Somebody go after him," suggested Ormsby, flipping a coin; and a boy
started on a run.

The waiting was a little awkward. The ringing idlers were good-natured but
curious. Ormsby stood by and answered questions multiform, diverting
curiosity from the lady to the machine. Presently the spokesman said:

"Is this here the steam-buggy that helped a crowd of you fellers to get
away from Jud Byers and his posse one day a spell back?"

"No," said Ormsby. Then he remembered the evening of small surprises--the
racing tally-ho with the Inn auto-car to help; and, more pointedly now,
the singular mirage effect in the lengthening perspective as the
east-bound train shot away from Agua Caliente.

"What was the trouble that day?" he asked, putting in a question on his

"A little ruction up at the Twin Sisters. There was a furss, an' a gun
went off, accidintally on purpose killin' Jim Harkins," was the reply.

The machinist was come from the Blue Jay, and Ormsby helped Elinor out of
her seat while the repairs were making. The town office of the Blue Jay
was just across the street, and he took her there and begged house-room
and a chair for her, making an excuse that he must go and see to the

But once outside he promptly stultified himself, letting the repairs take
care of themselves while he went in search of one Jud Byers. The deputy
sheriff was not hard to find. Normally and in private life he was the
weigher for the Blue Jay; and Ormsby was directed to the scale shanty
which served as the weigher's office.

The interview was brief and conclusive; was little more than a rapid fire
of question and answer; and for the greater part the sheriff's
affirmatives were heartily eager. Yes, certainly; if the thing could be
brought to pass, he, Byers, would surely do his part. All he asked was an
hour or two in which to prepare.

"You shall have all the time there is," was the reply. "Have you a Western
Union wire here?"

"No; nothing but the railroad office."

"That won't do; they'd stop the message. How about the Inn?"

"Breezeland has a Western Union all right; wire your notice there, and
I'll fix to have it 'phoned over. I don't believe it can be worked,
though," added the deputy, doubtfully.

"We can't tell till we try," said Ormsby; and he hurried back to his car
to egg on the machinist with golden promises contingent upon haste.

Miss Brentwood found her companion singularly silent on the five-mile race
to Breezeland; but the lightning speed at which he drove the car put
conversation out of the question. At the hotel he saw her into the lift
with decent deliberation; but the moment she was off his hands he fairly
ran to the telegrapher's alcove in the main hall.

"Have you a Western Union wire to the capital direct?" he inquired.

The young man snapped his key and said he had.

"It has no connection with the Trans-Western railroad offices?"

"None whatever."

Ormsby dashed off a brief message to Kent, giving three or four addresses
at which he might be found.

"Send that, and have them try the Union Station train platform first.
Don't let them spare expense at the other end, and if you can bring proof
of delivery to Room 261 within half an hour, it means a month's pay to
you, individually. Can you do it?"

But the operator was already claiming the wire, writing "deth," "deth,"
"deth," as rapidly as his fingers could shake off the dots and dashes.



Between the hours of eight-thirty and ten P.M. the Union Passenger Station
at the capital presents a moving and spirited spectacle. Within the hour
and a half, four through and three local trains are due to leave, and the
space within the iron grille that fences off the track platforms from the
public part of the station is filled with hurrying throngs of

Down at the outer end of the train-shed the stuttering pop-valves of the
locomotives, the thunderous trundling of the heavy baggage trucks, and the
shrill, monotonous chant of the express messengers checking in their
cargoes, lift a din harmonious to the seasoned traveler; a medley softened
and distance-diminished for those that crowd upon the gate-keepers at the
iron grille.

It was the evening of the last day in the month; the day when the
Federative Council of Railway Workers had sent its ultimatum to Receiver
Guilford. The reduction in wages was to go into effect at midnight: if, by
midnight, the order had not been rescinded, and the way opened for a joint
conference touching the removal of certain obnoxious officials, a general
strike and tie-up would be ordered. Trains in transit carrying passengers
or United States mail would be run to their respective destinations;
trains carrying perishable freight would be run to division stations: with
these exceptions all labor would cease promptly on the stroke of twelve.

Such was the text of the ultimatum, a certified copy of which Engineer
Scott had delivered in person into the hands of the receiver at noon.

It was now eight forty-five P.M. The east-bound night express was ready
for the run to A. & T. Junction; the fast mail, one hour and thirty-five
minutes late from the east, was backing in on track nine to take on the
city mail. On track eight, pulled down so that the smoke from the engine
should not foul the air of the train-shed, the receiver's private car,
with the 1010 for motive power and "Red" Callahan in the cab, had been
waiting since seven o'clock for the order to run special to Gaston. And as
yet the headquarters office had made no sign; sent no word of reply to the
strike notice.

Griggs was on for the night run eastward with the express; and "Dutch"
Tischer had found himself slated to take the fast mail west. The change of
engines on the mail had been effected at the shops; and when Tischer
backed his train in on track nine his berth was beside the 1010. Callahan
swung down from his cab and climbed quickly to that of the mail engine.

"Annything new at the shops, Dutchy?" he inquired.

"I was not somet'ings gehearing, _nein_. You was dot _Arkoos_ newsbaper
dis evening _schen_? He says nodings too, alretty, about dot strike."

"Divil a worrd. Ye might think Scotty'd handed the major a bit av blank
paper f'r all the notice he's taking. More thin that, he's lavin' town,
wid me to pull him. The Naught-seven's to run special to Gaston--bad cess
to ut!"

"Vell, I can'd hellup id," said the phlegmatic Bavarian. "I haf the mail
and egspress got, and I go mit dem t'rough to Pighorn. You haf der brivate
car got, and you go mit dem t'rough to Gaston. Den ve qvits, ain'd it?"

Callahan nodded and dropped to the platform. But before he could mount to
the foot-board of the 1010, M'Tosh collared him.

"Patsy, I have your orders, at last. Your passengers will be down in a few
minutes, and you are to pull out ahead of the express."

"Is it to Gaston I'm goin', Misther M'Tosh?"

The fireman was standing by with the oil can and torch, ready to
Callahan's hand, and the train-master drew the engineer aside.

"Shovel needn't hear," he said in explanation. And then: "Are you willing
to stand with us, Patsy? You've had time enough to think it over."

Callahan stood with his arms folded and his cap drawn down over his eyes.

"'Tis not f'r meself I'm thinkin', Misther M'Tosh, as ye well know. But
I'm a widdy man; an' there's the bit colleen in the convint."

"She'll be well cared for, whatever happens to you," was the quick reply.

"Thin I'm yer man," said Callahan; and when the train-master was gone, he
ordered Shovel to oil around while he did two or three things which, to an
initiated onlooker, might have seemed fairly inexplicable. First he
disconnected the air-hose between the car and the engine, tying the ends
up with a stout cord so that the connection would not seem to be broken.
Next he crawled under the Naught-seven and deliberately bled the air-tank,
setting the cock open a mere hair's-breadth so that it would leak slowly
but surely until the pressure was entirely gone.

Then he got a hammer and sledge out of the engine tool-box, and after
hooking up the safety-chain couplings between the private car and the
1010, he crippled the points of the hooks with the hammer so that they
could not be disengaged without the use of force and the proper tools.

"There ye are, ye ould divil's band-wagon," he said, apostrophizing the
private car when his work was done. "Ye'll ride this night where Patsy
Callahan dhrives, an' be dommed to ye."

Meanwhile the train-master had reached the iron grille at the other end of
the long track platform. At a small wicket used by the station employees
and trainmen, Kent was waiting for him.

"Is it all right, M'Tosh? Will he do it?" he asked anxiously.

"Yes, Patsy's game for it; I knew he would be. He'd put his neck in a rope
to spite the major. But it's a crazy thing, Mr. Kent."

"I know it; but if it will give me twenty-four hours--"

"It won't. They can't get home on our line because we'll be tied up. But
they can get the Naught-seven put on the Overland's Limited at A. & T.
Junction, and that will put them back here before you've had time to turn
around twice. Have they come down yet?"

"No," said Kent; and just then he saw Loring coming in from the street
entrance and went to meet him.

"I have the final word from Boston," said the ex-manager, when he had
walked Kent out of earshot of the train-takers. "Your terms are
accepted--with all sorts of safeguards thrown about the 'no cure, no pay'
proviso; also with a distinct repudiation of you and your scheme if there
is anything unlawful afoot. Do you still think it best to keep me in the
dark as to what you are doing?"

"Yes; there are enough of us involved, as it stands. You couldn't help;
and you might hinder. Besides, if the mine should happen to explode in our
direction it'll be a comfort to have a foot-loose friend or two on the
outside to pick up the pieces of us."

Loring was polishing his eye-glasses with uncommon vigor.

"I wish you'd drop it, David, if it isn't too late. I can't help feeling
as if I had prodded you into it, whatever it is."

Kent linked arms with him and led him back to the street entrance.

"Go away, Grantham, and don't come back again," he commanded. "Then you
can swear truthfully that you didn't know anything about it. It is too
late to interfere, and you are not responsible for me. Go up to see
Portia; she'll keep you interested while you wait."

When Loring was gone, Kent went back to the wicket in the grille; but
M'Tosh, who was always a busy man at train-time, had disappeared again.

It was a standing mystery to the train-master, and to the rank and file,
why Receiver Guilford had elected to ignore the fact that he was within
three hours of a strike which promised to include at least four-fifths of
his operatives; had taken no steps for defense, and had not confided, as
it appeared, in the members of his own official staff.

But Kent was at no loss to account for the official silence. If the secret
could be kept for a few hours longer, the junto would unload the
Trans-Western, strike, tie-up and general demoralization, upon an
unsuspecting Overland management.

None the less, there were other things unexplainable even to Kent; for
one, this night flitting to Gaston to put the finishing touch on an
edifice of fraud which had been builded shamelessly in the light of day.

Kent had not the key to unlock this door of mystery; but here the master
spirit of the junto was doing, not what he would, but what he could. The
negotiations for the lease had consumed much time at a crisis when time
was precious. Judge MacFarlane had to be recalled and once more bullied
into subjection; and Falkland, acting for the Plantagould interest, had
insisted upon some formal compliance with the letter of the law.

Bucks had striven masterfully to drive and not be driven; but the delays
were inexorable, and the impending strike threatened to turn the orderly
charge into a rout. The governor had postponed the _coup_ from day to day,
waiting upon the leisurely movements of Falkland; and at the end of the
ends there remained but three hours of the final day of grace when the
telegram came from Falkland with the welcome news that the Overland
officials were on their way from Midland City to keep the appointment in

Of all this Kent knew nothing, and was anxious in just proportion as the
minutes elapsed and the time for the departure of the east-bound express
drew near. For the success of the desperate venture turned upon this: that
the receiver's special must leave ahead of the passenger train. With the
express blocking the way the difficulties became insurmountable.

Kent was still standing at the trainmen's wicket when Callahan sent the
private car gently up to the trackhead of track eight. M'Tosh had been
telephoning again, and the receiver and his party were on the way to the

"I was afraid you'd have to let the express go first," said Kent, when the
train-master came his way again. "How much time have we?"

"Five minutes more; and they are on the way down--there they come."

Kent looked and saw a group of six men making for the nearest exit in the
grille. Then he smote his fist into his palm.

"Damn!" he muttered; "they've got the vice-president of the Overland with
them! That's bad."

"It's bad for Mr. Callafield," growled M'Tosh. "We're in too deep now to
back down on his account."

Kent moved nearer and stood in the shadow of the gate-keeper's box,
leaving M'Tosh, who was on the track platform, free to show himself. From
his new point of espial Kent checked off the members of the party. When
Major Guilford left it to come back for a word with M'Tosh, there were
five others: the governor, his private secretary, Hawk, Halkett, the
general superintendent, and the Overland's vice-president.

"All ready, M'Tosh?" said the receiver.

"Ready and waiting, Major," was the bland reply.

"Who is our engineer?"

"Patrick Callahan."

"That wild Irishman? The governor says he'd as soon ride behind the

"Callahan will get you there," said the train-master, with deliberate
emphasis. Then he asked a question of his own. "Is Mr. Callafield going
with you?"

"No. He came down to see us off. How is the fast mail to-night?"

"She's just in--an hour and thirty-five minutes late."

The major swore pathetically. He was of the generation of railway
officials, happily fast passing, which cursed and swore itself into

"That's another five hundred dollars' forfeit to the Post-office
Department! Who's taking it west?"


"Give him orders to cut out all the stops. If he is more than fifty-five
minutes late at Bighorn, he can come in and get his time."

Tischer had just got the word to go, and was pulling out on the yard main

"I'll catch him with the wire at yard limits," said M'Tosh. Then: "Would
you mind hurrying your people a little, Major? The express is due to

Guilford was a heavy man for his weight, and he waddled back to the
others, waving his arms as a signal for them to board the car.

Kent saw the vice-president of the Overland Short Line shake hands with
Bucks and take his leave, and was so intent upon watching the tableau of
departure that he failed to notice the small boy in Western Union blue who
was trying to thrust a telegram, damp from the copying rolls, into his

"It's a rush, sir," said the boy, panting from his quick dash across the
track platforms.

It was Ormsby's message from Breezeland; and while Kent was trying to
grasp the tremendous import of it, M'Tosh was giving Callahan the signal
to go. Kent sprang past the gate-keeper and gave the square of damp paper
to the train-master.

"My God! read that!" he gasped, with a dry sob of excitement. "It was our
chance--one chance in a million--and we've lost it!"

M'Tosh was a man for a crisis. The red tail-lights of the private-car
special were yet within a sprinter's dash of the trackhead, but the
train-master lost no time chasing a ten-wheel flyer with "Red" Callahan at
the throttle.

"Up to my office!" he shouted; and ten seconds later Kent was leaning
breathless over the desk in the despatcher's room while M'Tosh called
Durgan over the yard limits telephone.

"Is that you, Durgan?" he asked, when the reply came. Then: "Drop the
board on the mail, quick! and send somebody to tell Tischer to side-track,
leaving the main line Western Division clear. Got that?"

The answer was evidently prompt and satisfactory, since he began again
almost in the same breath.

"Now go out yourself and flag Callahan before he reaches the limits. Tell
him the time-card's changed and he is to run _west_ with the special to
Megilp as first section of the mail--no stops, or Tischer will run him
down. Leg it! He's half-way down the yard, now!"

The train-master dropped the ear-piece of the telephone and crossed
quickly to the despatcher's table.

"Orders for the Western Division, Donohue," he said curtly, "and don't let
the grass grow. 'Receiver's car, Callahan, engineer, runs to Megilp as
first section of fast mail. Fast mail, Hunt, conductor; Tischer, engineer;
runs to the end of the division without stop, making up all time
possible.' Add to that last, 'By order of the receiver.'"

The orders were sent as swiftly as the despatcher could rattle them off on
his key; and then followed an interval of waiting more terrible than a
battle. Kent tried to speak, but his lips were parched and his tongue was
like a dry stick between his teeth. What was doing in the lower yard?
Would Durgan fail at the pinch and mismanage it so as to give the alarm?
The minutes dragged leaden-winged, and even the sounders on the
despatcher's table were silent.

Suddenly the clicking began again. The operator at "yard limits" was
sending the O.K. to the two train orders. So far, so good. Now if Callahan
could get safely out on the Western Division...

But there was a hitch in the lower yard. Durgan had obeyed his orders
promptly and precisely, and had succeeded in stopping Callahan at the
street-crossing where Engineer Dixon had killed the farmer. Durgan climbed
to the cab of the 1010, and the changed plan was explained in a dozen
words. But now came the crux.

"If I stand here till you'd be bringin' me my orders, I'll have the whole
kit av thim buzzin' round to know fwhat's the matther," said Callahan; but
there was no other thing to do, and Durgan hurried back to the telegraph
office to play the messenger.

He was too long about it. Before he got back, Halkett was under the cab
window of the 1010, demanding to know--with many objurgations--why
Callahan had stopped in the middle of the yards.

"Get a move on you!" he shouted. "The express is right behind us, and
it'll run us down, you damned bog-trotter!"

Callahan's gauntleted hand shot up to the throttle-bar.

"I'm l'avin', Misther Halkett," he said mildly. "Will yez go back to the
car, or ride wit' me?"

The general superintendent took no chance of catching the Naught-seven's
hand-rails in the darkness, and he whipped up into the cab at the first
sharp cough of the exhaust.

"I'll go back when you stop for your orders," he said; but a shadowy
figure had leaped upon the engine-step a scant half-second behind him, and
Callahan was stuffing the crumpled copy of the order into the sweat-band
of his cap. The next instant the big 1010 leaped forward like a blooded
horse under an unmerited cut of the whip, slid past the yard limits
telegraph office and shot out upon the main line of the Western Division.

"Sit down, Misther Halkett, an' make yerself aisy!" yelled Callahan across
the cab. "'Tis small use Jimmy Shovel'll have for his box this night."

"Shut off, you Irish madman!" was the shouted command. "Don't you see
you're on the wrong division?"

Callahan gave the throttle-bar another outward hitch, tipped his seat and
took a hammer from the tool-box.

"I know where I'm goin', an' that's more thin you know, ye blandhanderin'
divil! Up on that box wit' you, an' kape out av Jimmy Shovel's road, or
I'll be the death av yez! Climb, now!"

It was at this moment that the tense strain of suspense was broken in the
despatcher's room on the second floor of the Union Station. The telephone
skirled joyously, and the train-master snatched up the ear-piece.

"What does he say?" asked Kent.

"It's all right. He says Callahan is out on the Western Division, with
Tischer chasing him according to programme. Halkett's in the cab of the
1010 with Patsy, and--hold on--By George! he says one of them jumped the
car as it was passing the limits station!"

"Which one was it?" asked Kent; and he had to wait till the reply came
from Durgan.

"It was Hawk, the right-of-way man. He broke and ran for the nearest
electric-car line the minute he hit the ground, Durgan says. Does he

"No," said Kent; but it is always a mistake to under-rate an enemy's
caliber--even that of his small arms.



If Editor Hildreth had said nothing in his evening edition about the
impending strike on the Trans-Western, it was not because public interest
was waning. For a fortnight the newspapers in the territory tributary to
the road had been full of strike talk, and Hildreth had said his say,
deprecating the threatened appeal to force as fearlessly as he condemned
the mismanagement which was provoking it.

But it was Kent who was responsible for the dearth of news on the eve of
the event. Early in the morning of the last day of the month he had sought
out the editor and begged him to close the columns of the _Evening Argus_
to strike news, no matter what should come in during the course of the

"I can't go into the reasons as deeply now as I hope to a little later,"
he had said, his secretive habit holding good to the final fathom of the
slipping hawser of events. "But you must bear with me once more, and
whatever you hear between now and the time you go to press, don't comment
on it. I have one more chance to win out, and it hangs in a balance that a
feather's weight might tip the wrong way. I'll be with you between ten and
twelve to-night, and you can safely save two columns of the morning paper
for the sensation I'm going to give you."

It was in fulfilment of this promise that Kent bestirred himself after he
had sent a wire to Ormsby, and M'Tosh had settled down to the task of
smoothing Callahan's way westward over a division already twitching in the
preliminary rigor of the strike convulsion.

"I am going to set the fuse for the newspaper explosion," he said to his
ally. "Barring accidents, there is no reason why we shouldn't begin to
figure definitely upon the result, is there?"

M'Tosh was leaning over Despatcher Donohue's shoulder. He had slipped
Donohue's fingers aside from the key to cut in with a peremptory "G.S."
order suspending, in favor of the fast mail, the rule which requires a
station operator to drop his board on a following section that is less
than ten minutes behind its file-leader.

"The fun is beginning," said the train-master. "Tischer has his tip from
Durgan to keep Callahan's tail-lights in sight. With the mail treading on
their heels the gentlemen in the Naught-seven will be chary about pulling
Patsy down too suddenly in mid career. They have just passed Morning Dew,
and the operator reports Tischer for disregarding his slow signal."

"Can't you fix that?" asked Kent.

"Oh, yes; that is one of the things I can fix. But there are going to be
plenty of others."

"Still we must take something for granted, Mr. M'Tosh. What I have to do
up-town won't wait until Callahan has finished his run. I thought the main
difficulty was safely overcome."

"Umph!" said the train-master; "the troubles are barely getting themselves
born. You must remember that we swapped horses at the last minute. We were
ready for the race to the east. Everybody on the Prairie Division had been
notified that a special was to go through to-night without stop from
Lesterville to A. & T. Junction."


"Now we have it all to straighten out by wire on another division; meeting
points to make, slow trains to side-track, fool operators to hold down;
all on the dizzy edge of a strike that is making every man on the line
lose his balance. But you go ahead with your newspaper business. I'll do
what a man can here. And if you come across that right-of-way agent, I
wish you'd make it a case of assault and battery and get him locked up.
I'm leery about him."

Kent went his way dubiously reflective. In the moment of triumph, when
Durgan had announced the success of the bold change in the programme, he
had made light of Hawk's escape. But now he saw possibilities. True, the
junto was leaderless for the moment, and Bucks had no very able
lieutenants. But Hawk would give the alarm; and there was the rank and
file of the machine to reckon with. And for weapons, the ring controlled
the police power of the State and of the city. Let the word be passed that
the employees of the Trans-Western were kidnapping their receiver and the
governor, and many things might happen before "Red" Callahan should finish
his long race to the westward.

Thinking of these things, David Kent walked up-town when he might have
taken a car. When the toxin of panic is in the air there is no antidote
like vigorous action.

Passing the Western Union central office, he stopped to send Ormsby a
second telegram, reporting progress and asking him to be present in person
at the denouement to put the facts on the wire at the earliest possible
instant of time. "Everything depends upon this," he added, when he had
made the message otherwise emphatic. "If we miss the morning papers, we
are done."

While he was pocketing his change at the receiving clerk's pigeon-hole, a
cab rattled up with a horse at a gallop, and Stephen Hawk sprang out. Kent
saw him through the plate-glass front and turned quickly to the public
writing-desk, hoping to be overlooked. He was. For once in a way the
ex-district attorney was too nearly rattled to be fully alert to his
surroundings. There were others at the standing desk; and Hawk wrote his
message, after two or three false starts, almost at Kent's elbow.

Kent heard the chink of coin and the low-spoken urgings for haste at the
receiving clerk's window; but he forbore to move until the cab had rattled
away. Then he gathered up the spoiled blanks left behind by Hawk and
smoothed them out. Two of them bore nothing but the date line, made
illegible, it would seem, by the writer's haste and nervousness. But at
the third attempt Hawk had got as far as the address: "To All
Trans-Western agents on Western Division."

Kent stepped quickly to the receiver's window. The only expedient he could
think of was open to reproach, but it was no time to be over-scrupulous.

"Pardon me," he began, "but didn't the gentleman who was just here forget
to sign his message?"

The little hook caught its minnow. The receiving clerk was folding Hawk's
message to place it in the leather carrier of the pneumatic tube, but he
opened and examined it.

"No," he said; "it's signed all right: 'J.B. Halkett, G.S.'"

"Ah!" said Kent. "That's a little odd. Mr. Halkett is out of town, and
this gentleman, Mr. Hawk, is not in his department. I believe I should
investigate a little before sending that, if I were you."

Having thus sown the small seed of suspicion, which, by the by, fell on
barren soil, Kent lost no time in calling up M'Tosh over the nearest

"Do our agents on the Western Division handle Western Union business?" he

The reply came promptly.

"Yes; locally. The W-U. has an independent line to Breezeland Inn and
points beyond."

"Well, our right-of-way man has just sent a telegram to all agents,
signing Halkett's name. I don't know what he said in it, but you can
figure that out for yourself."

"You bet I can!" was the emphatic rejoinder. And then: "Where are you

"I'm at the Clarendon public 'phone, but I am going over to the _Argus_
office. I'll let you know when I leave there. Good-by."

When Kent reached the night editor's den on the third floor of the _Argus_
building he found Hildreth immersed chin-deep in a sea of work. But he
quickly extricated himself and cleared a chair for his visitor.

"Praise be!" he ejaculated. "I was beginning to get anxious. Large things
are happening, and you didn't turn up. I've had Manville wiring all over
town for you."

"What are some of the large things?" asked Kent, lighting his first cigar
since dinner.

"Well, for one: do you know that your people are on the verge of the
much-talked-of strike?"

"Yes; I knew it this morning. That was what I wanted you to suppress in
the evening edition."

"I suppressed it all right; I didn't know it--day and date, I mean. They
kept it beautifully quiet. But that isn't all. Something is happening at
the capitol. I was over at the club a little while ago, and Hendricks was
there. Somebody sent in a note, and he positively ran to get out. When I
came back, I sent Rogers over to Cassatti's to see if he could find you.
There was a junto dinner confab on; Meigs, Senator Crowley, three or four
of the ring aldermen and half a dozen wa-ward politicians. Rogers has a
nose for news, and when he had 'phoned me you weren't there, he hung
around on the edges."

"Good men you have, Hildreth. What did the unimpeachable Rogers see?"

"He saw on a large scale just what I had seen on a small one: somebody
pup-passed a note in, and when it had gone the round of the dinner-table
those fellows tumbled over each other trying to get away."

"Is that all?" Kent inquired.

"No. Apart from his nose, Rogers is gifted with horse sense. When the
dinner crowd boarded an up-town car, our man paid fare to the same
conductor. He wired me from the Hotel Brunswick a few minutes ago. There
is some sort of a caucus going on in Hendricks' office in the capitol, and
mum-messengers are flying in all directions."

"And you wanted me to come and tell you all the whys and wherefores?" Kent

"I told the chief I'd bet a bub-blind horse to a broken-down mule you
could do it if anybody could."

"All right; listen: something worse than an hour ago the governor, his
private secretary, Guilford, Hawk and Halkett started out on a special
train to go to Gaston."

"What for?" interrupted the editor.

"To meet Judge MacFarlane, Mr. Semple Falkland, and the Overland
officials. You can guess what was to be done?"

"Sure. Your railroad was to be sold out, lock, stock and barrel; or leased
to the Overland for ninety-nine years--which amounts to the same thing."

"Precisely. Well, by some unaccountable mishap the receiver's special was
switched over to the Western Division at yard limits, and the engineer
seems to think he has orders to proceed westward. At all events, that is
what he is doing. And the funny part of it is that he can't stop to find
out his blunder. The fast mail is right behind him, with the receiver's
order to smash anything that gets in its way; so you see--"

"That will do," said the night editor. "We don't print fairy stories in
the _Argus_."

"None the less, you are going to print this one to-morrow morning, just as
I'm telling it to you," Kent asserted confidently. "And when you get the
epilogue you will say that it makes my little preface wearisome by

The light was slowly dawning in the editorial mind.

"My heaven!" he exclaimed. "Kent, you're good for twenty years, at the
very lul-least!"

"Am I? It occurs to me that the prosecuting attorney in the case will have
a hard time proving anything. Doesn't it look that way to you? At the
worst, it is only an unhappy misunderstanding of orders. And if the end
should happen to justify the means----"

Hildreth shook his head gravely.

"You don't understand, David. If you could be sure of a fair-minded judge
and an unbiased jury--you and those who are implicated with you: but
you'll get neither in this machine-ridden State."

"We are going to have both, after you have filled your two columns--by the
way, you are still saving those two columns for me, aren't you?--in
to-morrow morning's _Argus_. Or rather, I'm hoping there will be no need
for either judge or jury."

The night editor shook his head again, and once more he said, "My heaven!"
adding: "What could you possibly hope to accomplish? You'll get the
receiver and his big boss out of the State for a few minutes, or possibly
for a few hours, if your strike makes them hunt up another railroad to
return on. But what will it amount to? Getting rid of the receiver doesn't
annul the decree of the court."

Kent fell back on his secretive habit yet once again.

"I don't care to anticipate the climax, Hildreth. By one o'clock one of
two things will have happened: you'll get a wire that will make your back
hair sit up, or I'll get one that will make me wish I'd never been born.
Let it rest at that for the present; you have work enough on hand to fill
up the interval, and if you haven't, you can distribute those affidavits I
gave you among the compositors and get them into type. I want to see them
in the paper to-morrow morning, along with the other news."

"Oh, we can't do that, David! The time isn't ripe. You know what I told
you about----"

"If the time doesn't ripen to-night, Hildreth, it never will. Do as I tell
you, and get that stuff into type. Do more; write the hottest editorial
you can think of, demanding to know if it isn't time for the people to
rise and clean out this stable once for all."

"By Jove! David, I've half a mum-mind to do it. If you'd only unbutton
yourself a little, and let me see what my backing is going to be----"

"All in good season," laughed Kent. "Your business for the present moment
is to write; I'm going down to the Union Station."

"What for?" demanded the editor.

"To see if our crazy engineer is still mistaking his orders properly."

"Hold on a minute. How did the enemy get wind of your plot so quickly? You
can tell me that, can't you?"

"Oh, yes; I told you Hawk was one of the party in the private car. He fell
off at the yard limits station and came back to town."

The night editor stood up and confronted his visitor.

"David, you are either the coolest plunger that ever drew breath--or the
bub-biggest fool. I wouldn't be standing in your shoes to-night for two
such railroads as the T-W."

Kent laughed again and opened the door.

"I suppose not. But you know there is no accounting for the difference in
tastes. I feel as if I had never really lived before this night; the only
thing that troubles me is the fear that somebody or something will get in
the way of my demented engineer."

He went out into the hall, but as Hildreth was closing the door he turned

"There is one other thing that I meant to say: when you get your two
columns of sensation, you've got to be decent and share with the
Associated Press."

"I'm dud-dashed if I do!" said Hildreth, fiercely.

"Oh, yes, you will; just the bare facts, you know. You'll have all the
exciting details for an 'exclusive,' to say nothing of the batch of
affidavits in the oil scandal. And it is of the last importance to me that
the facts shall be known to-morrow morning wherever the Associated has a

"Go away!" said the editor, "and dud-don't come back here till you can
uncork yourself like a man and a Cuc-Christian! Go off, I say!"

It wanted but a few minutes of eleven when Kent mounted the stair to the
despatcher's room in the Union Station. He found M'Tosh sitting at
Donohue's elbow, and the sounders on the glass-topped table were crackling
like overladen wires in an electric storm.

"Strike talk," said the train-master. "Every man on both divisions wants
to know what's doing. Got your newspaper string tied up all right?"

Kent made a sign of assent.

"We are waiting for Mr. Patrick Callahan. Any news from him?"

"Plenty of it. Patsy would have a story to tell, all right, if he could
stop to put it on the wires. Durgan ought to have caught that blamed
right-of-way man and chloroformed him."

"I found him messing, as I 'phoned you. Anything come of it?"

"Nothing fatal, I guess, since Patsy is still humping along. But Hawk's
next biff was more to the purpose. He came down here with Halkett's chief
clerk, whom he had hauled out of bed, and two policemen. The plan was to
fire Donohue and me, and put Bicknell in charge. It might have worked if
Bicknell'd had the sand. But he weakened at the last minute; admitted that
he wasn't big enough to handle the despatcher's trick. The way Hawk cursed
him out was a caution to sinners."

"When was this?" Kent asked.

"Just a few minutes ago. Hawk went off ripping; swore he would find
somebody who wasn't afraid to take the wires. And, between us three, I'm
scared stiff for fear he will."

"Can it be done?"

"Dead easy, if he knows how to go about it--and Bicknell will tell him.
The Overland people don't love us any too well, and if they did, the lease
deal would make them side with Guilford and the governor. If Hawk asks
them to lend him a train despatcher for a few minutes, they'll do it."

"But the union?" Kent objected.

"They have three or four non-union men."

"Still, Hawk has no right to discharge you."

"Bicknell has. He is Halkett's representative, and----"

The door opened suddenly and Hawk danced in, followed by a man bareheaded
and in his shirt-sleeves, the superintendent's chief clerk, and the two

"Now, then, we'll trouble you and your man to get out of here, Mr.
M'Tosh," said the captain of the junto forces, vindictively.

But the train-master was of those who die hard. He protested vigorously,
addressing himself to Bicknell and ignoring the ex-district attorney as if
he were not. He, McTosh, was willing to surrender the office on an
official order in writing over the chief clerk's signature. But did
Bicknell fully understand what it might mean in loss of life and property
to put a new man on the wires at a moment's notice?

Bicknell would have weakened again, but Hawk was not to be frustrated a
second time.

"Don't you see he is only sparring to gain time?" he snapped at Bicknell.
Then to M'Tosh: "Get out of here, and do it quick! And you can go, too,"
wheeling suddenly upon Kent.

Donohue had taken no part in the conflict of authority. But now he threw
down his pen and clicked his key to cut in with the "G.S.," which claims
the wire instantly. Then distinctly, and a word at a time so that the
slowest operator on the line could get it, he spelled out the message:
"All Agents: Stop and hold all trains except first and second fast mail,
west-bound. M'Tosh fired, and office in hands of police----"

"Stop him!" cried the shirt-sleeved man. "He's giving it away on the

But Donohue had signed his name and was putting on his coat.

"You're welcome to what you can find," he said, scowling at the
interloper. "If you kill anybody now, it'll be your own fault."

"Arrest that man!" said Hawk to his policemen; but Kent interposed.

"If you do, the force will be two men shy to-morrow. The Civic League
isn't dead yet." And he took down the numbers of the two officers.

There were no arrests made, and when the ousted three were clear of the
room and the building, Kent asked an anxious question.

"How near can they come to smashing us, M'Tosh?"

"That depends on Callahan's nerve. The night operators at Donerail,
Schofield and Agua Caliente are all Guilford appointees, and when the new
man explains the situation to them, they'll do what they are told to do.
But I'm thinking Patsy won't pull up for anything milder than a spiked

"Well, they might throw a switch on him. I wonder somebody hasn't done it
before this."

The train-master shook his head.

"If Tischer is keeping close up behind, that would jeopardize more lives
than Callahan's. But there is another thing that doesn't depend on
nerve--Patsy's or anybody's."

"What is that?"

"Water. The run is one hundred and eighty miles. The 1010's tank is good
for one hundred with a train, or a possible hundred and sixty, light.
There is about one chance in a thousand that Callahan's crown-sheet won't
get red-hot and crumple up on him in the last twenty miles. Let's take a
car and go down to yard limits. We can sit in the office and hear what
goes over the wires, even if we can't get a finger in to help Patsy out of
his troubles."

They boarded a Twentieth Avenue car accordingly, but when they reached the
end of the line, which was just across the tracks from the junction in the
lower yards, they found the yard limits office and the shops surrounded by
a cordon of militia.

"By George!" said M'Tosh. "They got quick action, didn't they? I suppose
it's on the ground of the strike and possible violence."

Kent spun on his heel, heading for the electric car they had just left.

"Back to town," he said; "unless you two want to jump the midnight
Overland as it goes out and get away while you can. If Callahan fails----"



But Engineer Callahan had no notion of failing. When he had drawn the
hammer on his superior officer, advising discretion and a seat on Jimmy
Shovel's box, the 1010 was racking out over the switches in the Western
Division yards. Three minutes later the electric beam of Tischer's
following headlight sought and found the first section on the long tangent
leading up to the high plains, and the race was in full swing.

At Morning Dew, the first night telegraph station out of the capital, the
two sections were no more than a scant quarter of a mile apart; and the
operator tried to flag the second section down, as reported. This did not
happen again until several stations had been passed, and Callahan set his
jaw and gave the 1010 more throttle. But at Lossing, a town of some size,
the board was down and a man ran out at the crossing, swinging a red

Callahan looked well to the switches, with the steam shut off and his hand
dropping instinctively to the air; and the superintendent shrank into his
corner and gripped the window ledge when the special roared past the
warning signals and on through the town beyond. He had maintained a dazed
silence since the episode of the flourished hammer, but now he was moved
to yell across the cab.

"I suppose you know what you're in for, if you live to get out of this!
It's twenty years, in this State, to pass a danger signal!" This is not
all that the superintendent said: there were forewords and interjections,
emphatic but unprintable.

Callahan's reply was another flourish of the hammer, and a sudden
outpulling of the throttle-bar; and the superintendent subsided again.

But enforced silence and the grindstone of conscious helplessness will
sharpen the dullest wit. The swerving lurch of the 1010 around the next
curve set Halkett clutching for hand-holds, and the injector lever fell
within his grasp. What he did not know about the working parts of a modern
locomotive was very considerable; but he did know that an injector, half
opened, will waste water as fast as an inch pipe will discharge it. And
without water the Irishman would have to stop.

Callahan heard the chuckling of the wasting boiler feed before he had gone
a mile beyond the curve. It was a discovery to excuse bad language, but
his protest was lamb-like.

"No more av that, if ye plaze, Misther Halkett, or me an' Jimmy Shovel'll
have to--Ah! would yez, now?"

Before his promotion to the superintendency Halkett had been a ward boss
in the metropolis of the State. Thinking he saw his chance, he took it,
and the blow knocked Callahan silly for the moment. Afterward there was a
small free-for-all buffeting match in the narrow cab in which the fireman
took a hand, and during which the racing 1010 was suffered to find her way
alone. When it was over, Callahan spat out a broken tooth and gave his
orders concisely.

"Up wid him over the coal, an' we'll put him back in the car where he
belongs. Now, thin!"

Halkett had to go, and he went, not altogether unwillingly. And when it
came to jumping across from the rear of the tender to the forward
vestibule of the Naught-seven, or being chucked across, he jumped.

Now it so chanced that the governor and his first lieutenant in the great
railway steal had weighty matters to discuss, and they had not missed the
superintendent or the lawyer, supposing them to be still out on the rear
platform enjoying the scenery. Wherefore Halkett's sudden appearance,
mauled, begrimed and breathless from his late tussle with the two
enginemen, was the first intimation of wrong-going that had penetrated to
the inner sanctum of the private car.

"What's that you say, Mr. Halkett?--on the Western Division? Whereabouts?"
demanded the governor.

"Between Lossing and Skipjack siding--if we haven't passed the siding in
the last two or three minutes. I've been too busy to notice," was the

"And you say you were on the engine? Why the devil didn't you call your
man down?"

"I knocked him down," gritted the superintendent, savagely, "and I'd have
beat his face in for him if there hadn't been two of them. It's a plot of
some kind, and Callahan knows what he is about. He had me held up with a
hammer till just a few minutes ago, and he's running past stop-signals and
over red lights like a madman!"

Bucks and Guilford exchanged convictions by the road of the eye, and the
governor said:

"This is pretty serious, Major. Have you anything to suggest?" And without
waiting for a reply he turned upon Halkett: "Where is Mr. Hawk?"

"I don't know. I supposed he was in here with you. Or maybe he's out on
the rear platform."

The three of them went to the rear, passing the private secretary
comfortably asleep in his wicker chair. When they stepped out upon the
recessed observation platform they found it empty.

"He must have suspected something and dropped off in the yard or at the
shops," said Halkett. And at the saying of it he shrank back involuntarily
and added: "Ah! Look at that, will you?"

The car had just thundered past another station, and Callahan had underrun
one more stop-signal at full speed. At the same instant Tischer's
headlight swung into view, half blinding them with its glare.

"What is that following us?" asked Bucks.

"It's the fast mail," said Halkett.

Guilford turned livid and caught at the hand-rail.

"S-s-say--are you sure of that?" he gasped.

"Of course: it was an hour and thirty-five minutes late, and we are on its

"Then we can't stop unless somebody throws us on a siding!" quavered the
receiver, who had a small spirit in a large body. "I told M'Tosh to give
the mail orders to make up her lost time or I'd fire the engineer--told
him to cut out all the stops this side of Agua Caliente!"

"That's what you get for your infernal meddling!" snapped Halkett. In
catastrophic moments many barriers go down; deference to superior officers
among the earliest.

But the master spirit of the junto was still cool and collected.

"This is no time to quarrel," he said. "The thing to be done is to stop
this train without getting ourselves ripped open by that fellow behind the
headlight yonder. The stop-signals prove that Hawk and the others are
doing their best, but we must do ours. What do you say, Halkett?"

"There is only one thing," replied the superintendent; "we've got to make
the Irishman run ahead fast enough and far enough to give us room to stop
or take a siding."

The governor planned it in a few curt sentences. Was there a weapon to be
had? Danforth, the private secretary, roused from his nap in the wicker
chair, was able to produce a serviceable revolver. Two minutes later, the
sleep still tingling in his nerves to augment another tingling less
pleasurable, the secretary had spanned the terrible gap separating the car
from the engine and was making his way over the coal, fluttering his
handkerchief in token of his peaceful intentions.

He was charged with a message to Callahan, mandatory in its first form,
and bribe-promising in its second; and he was covered from the forward
vestibule of the private car by the revolver in the hands of a resolute
and determined state executive.

"One of them's comin' ahead over the coal," warned James Shovel; and
Callahan found his hammer.

"Run ahead an' take a siding, is ut?" he shouted, glaring down on the
messenger. "I have me ordhers fr'm betther men than thim that sint you. Go
back an' tell thim so."

"You'll be paid if you do, and you'll be shot if you don't," yelled the
secretary, persuasively.

"Tell the boss he can't shoot two av us to wanst; an' the wan that's
left'll slap on the air," was Callahan's answer; and he slacked off a
little to bring the following train within easy striking distance.

Danforth went painfully and carefully back with this defiance, and while
he was bridging the nerve-trying gap, another station with the stop-board
down and red lights frantically swinging was passed with a roar and a
whistle shriek.

"Fwhat are they doing now?" called Callahan to his fireman.

"They've gone inside again," was the reply.

"Go back an' thry the tank," was the command; and Jimmy Shovel climbed
over the coal and let himself down feet foremost into the manhole. When he
slid back to the footplate his legs were wet to the mid shin.

"It's only up to there," he reported, measuring with his hand.

Callahan looked at his watch. There was yet a full hour's run ahead of
him, and there was no more than a scant foot of water in the tank with
which to make it.

Thereafter he forgot the Naught-seven, and whatever menace it held for
him, and was concerned chiefly with the thing mechanical. Would the water
last him through? He had once made one hundred and seventy miles on a
special run with the 1010 without refilling his tank; but that was with
the light engine alone. Now he had the private car behind him, and it
seemed at times to pull with all the drag of a heavy train.

But one expedient remained, and that carried with it the risk of his life.
An engine, not overburdened, uses less water proportionately to miles run
as the speed is increased. He could outpace the safe-guarding mail, save
water--and take the chance of being shot in the back from the forward
vestibule of the Naught-seven when he had gained lead enough to make a
main-line stop safe for the men behind him.

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