Lidgerwood found a seat for himself in the tool-car on the way back to Angels, and put in the time smoking a short pipe and reviewing the events of his first day in the new field.
The outlook was not wholly discouraging, and but for the talk with Gridley he might have smoked and dozed quite peacefully on his coiled hawser, in the corner of the car. But, try as he would, the importunate demon of distrust, distrust of himself, awakened by the master-mechanic’s warning, refused to be quieted; and when, after the three hours of the slow return journey were out-worn, McCloskey came to tell him that the train was pulling into the Angels yard, the explosion of a track torpedo under the wheels made him start like a nervous woman.
For the first few weeks after the change in ownership and the arrival of the new superintendent, the Red Butte Western and its nerve-centre, Angels, seemed disposed to take Mr. Howard Lidgerwood as a rather ill-timed joke, perpetrated upon a primitive West and its people by some one of the Pacific Southwestern magnates who owned a broad sense of humor.
During this period the sardonic laugh was heard in the land, and the chuckling appreciation of the joke by the Red Butte rank and file, and by the Angelic soldiers of fortune who, though not upon the company’s pay-rolls, still throve indirectly upon the company’s bounty, lacked nothing of completeness. The Red Desert grinned like the famed Cheshire cat when an incoming train from the East brought sundry boxes and trunks, said to contain the new boss’s wardrobe. Its guffaws were long and uproarious when it began to be noised about that the company carpenters and fitters were installing a bath and other civilizing and softening appliances in the alcove opening out of the superintendent’s sleeping-room in the head-quarters building.
Lidgerwood slept in the Crow’s Nest, not so much from choice as for the reason that there seemed to be no alternative save a room in the town tavern, appropriately named “The Hotel Celestial.” Between his sleeping-apartment and his private office there was only a thin board partition; but even this gave him more privacy than the Celestial could offer, where many of the partitions were of building-paper, muslin covered.
It is a railroad proverb that the properly inoculated railroad man eats and sleeps with his business; Lidgerwood exemplified the saying by having a wire cut into the despatcher’s office, with the terminals on a little table at his bed’s head, and with a tiny telegraph relay instrument mounted on the stand. Through the relay, tapping softly in the darkness, came the news of the line, and often, after the strenuous day was ended, Lidgerwood would lie awake listening.
Sometimes the wire gossiped, and echoes of Homeric laughter trickled through the relay in the small hours; as when Ruby Creek asked the night despatcher if it were true that the new boss slept in what translated itself in the laborious Morse of the Ruby Creek operator as “pijjimmies”; or when Navajo, tapping the same source of information, wished to be informed if the “Chink”—doubtless referring to Tadasu Matsuwari—ran a laundry on the side and thus kept His Royal Highness in collars and cuffs.