“We are in the thick of things over on the jerk-water just now,” he explained, “and I don’t like to stay away any longer than I have to.”
“Having a good bit of trouble with the sure-shots?” asked Leckhard. “What was that story I heard about somebody swiping one of your switching-engines?”
“It was true,” said Lidgerwood, adding, “But I think we shall recover the engine—and some other things—presently.” He liked Leckhard well enough, but he wished he would go. There are exigencies in which even the comments of a friend and well-wisher are superfluous.
“You have a pretty tough gang to handle over these,” the well-wisher went on. “I wouldn’t touch a job like yours with a ten-foot pole, unless I could shoot good enough to be sure of hitting a half-dollar nine times out of ten at thirty paces. Somebody was telling me that you have already had trouble with that fellow Rufford.”
“Nobody was hurt, and Rufford is in jail,” said Lidgerwood, hoping to kill the friendly inquiry before it should run into details.
“Oh, well, it’s all in the day’s work, I suppose, which reminds me: my day’s work to-morrow won’t amount to much if I don’t go and turn in. Good-night.”
When Leckhard was gone, Lidgerwood climbed the stair in the station building to the despatcher’s office and gave orders for the return of his car to Angels. Half an hour later the one-car special was retracing its way westward up the valley of the Tumbling Water, and Lidgerwood was trying to go to sleep in the well-appointed little state-room which it was Tadasu Matsuwari’s pride to keep spick and span and spotlessly clean. But there were disturbing thoughts, many and varied, to keep him awake, chief among them those which hung upon the dramatic midnight episode with the demented woman for its central figure. Through what dreadful Valley of Humiliation had she come to reach the abysmal depths in which the one cry of her soul was a cry for vengeance? Who was the unnamed man whom Hallock had promised to kill? How much or how little was this tragedy figuring in the trouble storm which was brooding over the Red Desert? And how much or how little would it involve one who was anxious only to see even-handed justice prevail?
These and similar insistent questions kept Lidgerwood awake long after his train had left the crooked pathway marked out by the Tumbling Water, and when he finally fell asleep the laboring engine of the one-car special was storming the approaches to Crosswater Summit.
The freight wreck in the Crosswater Hills, coming a fortnight after Rufford’s arrest and deportation to Copah and the county jail, rudely marked the close of the short armistice in the conflict between law and order and the demoralization which seemed to thrive the more lustily in proportion to Lidgerwood’s efforts to stamp it out.