Hallock waved a hand toward the door which Lidgerwood had been about to open a few minutes earlier.
“You’ll find him in there,” he said briefly, adding, with his altogether remarkable disregard for the official proprieties: “If he gives you the same chance that I did, don’t take him up. He is the one man in this outfit worth more than the powder it would take to blow him to the devil.”
AT THE RIO GLORIA
The matter to be taken up with McCloskey, master of trains and chief of the telegraph department, was not altogether disciplinary. In the summarizing conference at Copah, Vice-President Ford had spoken favorably of the trainmaster, recommending him to mercy in the event of a general beheading in the Angels head-quarters. “A lame duck, like most of the desert exiles, and the homeliest man west of the Missouri River,” was Ford’s characterization. “He is as stubborn as a mule, but he is honest and outspoken. If you can win him over to your side, you will have at least one lieutenant whom you can trust—and who will, I think, be duly grateful for small favors. Mac couldn’t get a job east of the Crosswater Hills, I’m afraid.”
Lidgerwood had not inquired the reason for the eastern disability. He had lived in the West long enough to know that it is an ill thing to pry too curiously into any man’s past. So there should be present efficiency, no man in the service should be called upon to recite in ancient history, much less one for whom Ford had spoken a good word.
Like all the other offices in the Crow’s Nest, that of the trainmaster was bare and uninviting. Lidgerwood, passing beyond the door of communication, found himself in a dingy room, with cobwebs festooning the ceiling and a pair of unwashed windows looking out upon the open square called, in the past and gone day of the Angelic promoters, the “railroad plaza.” Two chairs, a cheap desk, and a pine table backed by the “string-board” working model of the current time-table, did duty as the furnishings, serving rather to emphasize than to relieve the dreariness of the place.
McCloskey was at his desk at the moment of door-opening, and Lidgerwood instantly paid tribute to Vice-President Ford’s powers of characterization. The trainmaster was undeniably homely—and more; his hard-featured face was a study in grotesques. There was fearless honesty in the shrewd gray eyes, and a good promise of capability in the strong Scotch jaw and long upper lip, but the grotesque note was the one which persisted, and the trainmaster seemed wilfully to accentuate it. His coat, in a region where shirt-sleeves predominated, was a close-buttoned gambler’s frock, and his hat, in the country of the sombrero and the soft Stetson, was a derby.
Lidgerwood was striving to estimate the man beneath these outward eccentricities when McCloskey rose and thrust out a hand, great-jointed and knobbed like a laborer’s.