“This ain’t no happen-so, Mr. Lidgerwood,” he said, when he got up. “The spikes are pulled!”
Lidgerwood said nothing. There are discoveries which are beyond speech. But he stooped to examine for himself. Groner was right. For a distance of eight or ten feet the rail had been loosened, and the spikes were gone out of the corresponding cross-ties. After it was loosened, the rail had been sprung aside, and the bit of rock inserted between the parted ends to keep them from springing together was still in place.
Lidgerwood’s eyes were bloodshot when he rose and said:
“I’d like to ask you two men, as men, what devil out of hell would set a trap like this for a train-load of unoffending passengers?”
Bradford’s slow drawl dispelled a little of the mystery.
“It wasn’t meant for Groner and his passenger-wagons, I reckon. In the natural run of things, it was the 266 and the service-car that ought to’ve hit this thing first—204 bein’ supposed to be a half-hour off her schedule. It was aimed for us, all right enough. And it wasn’t meant to throw us into the hill, neither. If we’d hit it goin’ west, we’d be in the river. That’s why it was sprung out instead of in.”
Lidgerwood’s right hand, balled into a fist, smote the air, and his outburst was a fierce imprecation. In the midst of it Groner said, “Listen!” and a moment later a man, walking rapidly up the track from the direction of Little Butte station, came into the small circle of lantern-light. Groner threw the light on the new-comer, revealing a haggard face—the face of the owner of the Wire-Silver mine.
“Heavens and earth, Mr. Lidgerwood—this is awful!” he exclaimed. “I heard of it by ’phone, and hurried over to do what I could. My men of the night-shift are on the way, walking up the track, and the entire Wire-Silver outfit is at your disposal.”
“I am afraid you are a little late, Mr. Flemister,” was Lidgerwood’s rejoinder, unreasoning antagonism making the words sound crisp and ungrateful. “Half an hour ago——”
“Yes, certainly; Goodloe should have ’phoned me, if he knew,” cut in the mine-owner. “Anybody hurt?”
“Half of the number involved, and six dead,” said the superintendent soberly; then the four of them walked slowly and in silence up the track toward the two camp-fires, where the unhurt survivors and the service-car’s guests were fighting the chill of the high-mountain midnight.
Lidgerwood was unpleasantly surprised to find that the president’s daughter knew the man whom her father had tersely characterized as “a born gentleman and a born buccaneer,” but the fact remained. When he came with Flemister into the circle of light cast by the smaller of the two fires, Miss Brewster not only welcomed the mine-owner; she immediately introduced him to her friends, and made room for him on the flat stone which served her for a seat.