But Lidgerwood clung to the gate-palings for yet another steadying moment.
“Rufford, you said: you mean the discharged telegraph operator?”
“Worse luck,” said Dawson. “It was his brother Bart, the ‘lookout’ at Red-Light Sammy’s; the fellow they call ’The Killer’.”
It was on the morning following the startling episode at the Dawsons’ gate that Benson, lately arrived from the west on train 204, came into the superintendent’s office with the light of discovery in his eye. But the discovery, if any there were, was made to wait upon a word of friendly solicitude.
“What’s this they were telling me down at the lunch-counter just now—about somebody taking a pot-shot at you last night?” he asked. “Dougherty said it was Bart Rufford; was it?”
Lidgerwood confirmed the gossip with a nod. “Yes, it was Rufford, so Dawson says. I didn’t recognize him, though; it was too dark.”
“Well, I’m mighty glad to see that he didn’t get you. What was the row?”
“I don’t know, definitely; I suppose it was because I told McCloskey to discharge his brother a while back. The brother has been hanging about town and making threats ever since he was dropped from the pay-rolls, but no one has paid any attention to him.”
“A pretty close call, wasn’t it?—or was Dougherty only putting on a few frills to go with my cup of coffee?”
“It was close enough,” admitted Lidgerwood half absently. He was thinking not so much of the narrow escape as of the fresh and humiliating evidence it had afforded of his own wretched unreadiness.
“All right; you’ll come around to my way of thinking after a while. I tell you, Lidgerwood, you’ve got to heel yourself when you live in a gun country. I said I wouldn’t do it, but I have done it, and I’ll tell you right now, when anybody in this blasted desert makes monkey-motions at me, I’m going to blow the top of his head off, quick.”
Lidgerwood’s gaze was resting on the little drawer in his desk which now contained nothing but a handful of loose cartridges.
“Hasn’t it ever occurred to you, Jack, that I am the one man in the desert who cannot afford to go armed? I am supposed to stand for law and order. What would my example be worth if it should be noised around that I, too, had become a ’gun-toter’?”
“Oh, I’m not going to argue with you,” laughed Benson. “You’ll go your own way and do as you please, and probably get yourself comfortably shot up before you get through. But I didn’t come up here to wrangle with you about your theoretical notions of law and order. I came to tell you that I have been hunting for those bridge-timbers of mine.”
“Well?” queried Lidgerwood; “have you found them?”
“No, and I don’t believe anybody will ever find them. It’s going to be another case of Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are not.”