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THE MOUNTAIN DIVIDE
BOOKS BY FRANK H. SPEARMAN
PUBLISHED BY CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
ROBERT KIMBERLY. Illustrated by James Montgomery Flagg. 12mo Net $1.30
WHISPERING SMITH. A Story of Rocky Mountain Life. Illustrated by N. C. Wyeth. 12mo $1.50
THE DAUGHTER OF A MAGNATE. Illustrated. 12mo $1.50
DOCTOR BRYSON. A Novel. 12mo $1.50
THE MOUNTAIN DIVIDE. Illustrated. 12mo Net $1.25
THE STRATEGY OF GREAT RAILROADS. With Maps. 12mo Net $1.50
AS BUCK'S STRAINING EYE FOLLOWED THE MOVEMENT, THE SECONDINDIAN STRUCK THE CLUB DOWN.]
THE MOUNTAIN DIVIDE
FRANK H. SPEARMAN
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
NEW YORK :: 1912
Copyright, 1912, by
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
Published September, 1912
THIS STORY WITHOUT LOVE,
IS NONE THE LESS LOVINGLY INSCRIBED
MY YOUNGEST SON
ARTHUR DUNNING SPEARMAN
As Buck's straining eye followed the movement, the second Indian struck the club down. _Frontispiece_ It was only after a moment that the lineman could be seen to gain. 92 "Let that gate alone or I'll brain you," he cried. 250 For Scott to draw and fire was but one movement. 300
THE MOUNTAIN DIVIDE
Night had fallen and a warm rain drifting down from the mountains hungin a mist over the railroad yards and obscured the lights of MedicineBend. Two men dismounting from their drooping horses at the foot ofFront Street threw the reins to a man in waiting and made their way onfoot across the muddy square to the building which served the newrailroad as a station and as division head-quarters. In Medicine Bend,the town, the railroad, everything was new; and the broad, low pinebuilding which they entered had not yet been painted.
The public waiting-room was large, roughly framed, and lighted withhanging kerosene lamps. Within the room a door communicated with theagent's office, and this was divided by a wooden railing into afreight office and a ticket and telegraph office.
It could be seen, as the two men paused at the door of the inner room,that the first wore a military fatigue-cap, and his alert carriage ashe threw open his cape-coat indicated the bearing of an American armyofficer. He was of medium height, and his features and eyes impliedthat the storms and winds of the plains and mountains were familiarfriends. This was Park Stanley, charged at that time with theconstruction of the first transcontinental railroad.
The agent's office, which he and his companion now looked into, washalf-filled with a crowd of frontiersmen, smoking, talking, disputing,asking questions, and crowding against the fence that railed off theprivate end of the room; while at the operator's table next to theplatform window a tall, spindling boy was trying in the confusionbehind him to get a message off the wire.
Stanley, eying the lad, noticed how thin his face was and what a bonyframe spread out under the roundabout jacket that he appeared alreadyto have outgrown. And he concluded this must be the new operator,Bucks, who for some days had been expected from the East.
The receiver clicked insistently and Bucks endeavored to follow themessage, but the babel of talking made it almost impossible. Stanleyheard the boy appeal more than once for less noise, but his appealswere unheeded. He saw symptoms of fire in the operator's eyes as thelatter glared occasionally at the crowd behind him, but for whatfollowed even Stanley was unprepared. Bucks threw down his pen andcoming forward with angry impatience ordered the crowd out of theroom.
He pushed the foremost of the intruders back from the rail andfollowed up his commands by opening the wicket gate and driving thoseahead of him toward the door of the waiting-room. "Get out where youbelong," he repeated, urging the crowd on. Stanley turned to the manat his side. "I will go upstairs to write my message. This must be thenew boy, Bob," he added; "he acts as if he might make things go."
His companion, Bob Scott, smiled as he followed Stanley out upon theplatform and up the narrow stairway leading to the division offices.But Bob Scott was conservative. He never spoke above an undertone andnaturally took the conservative side: "If he only doesn't make them gotoo fast, Colonel," was his comment.
A tall young man, spare but almost gigantic in stature, standing backin one corner of the agent's office as the men about him were hustledalong, likewise regarded Bucks with surprise as he saw him startsingle-handed to expel the intruders. This was the mountain telegraphlineman, Bill Dancing, as simple as he was strong, and ready at anytime to be surprised, but not often disconcerted. In this instance,however, he was amazed, for almost before he realized it the energeticoperator was hustling him out with the others.
When Bucks thought the room cleared he turned to go back to his table,but he saw that one man had been overlooked. This man was stillsitting on a stool in the farthest corner of the dimly lighted room.The spindling operator without hesitation walked over to him and laidhis hand on the man's shoulder. Dancing, looking back through thedoor, held his breath.
"Move out of here, please," said Bucks, "into the public waiting-room."The man rose with the utmost politeness. "Sorry to be in your way,"he returned mildly, though there was a note not quite pleasant in hisvoice.
"Your place is outside," continued the operator. "I can't do anythingwith a mob in here all talking at once."
"I haven't done my talking yet," suggested the man, with a shade ofsignificance. This, however, was lost on Bucks, who looked sharply atthe stool from which the man had risen.
"I think this stool is mine," said he, picking it up and examining it."It is mine," he added, after a moment's inspection. "Please moveon."
"Perhaps before I go," returned the man with the same unpleasantirony, "you will tell me whether you have an express package here forHarvey Levake."
"Of course I will, Harvey," responded the operator in a matter-of-factway. "Just wait a minute."
Levake's lips stretched into a ghost of a smile, and his white-lashedgray eyes contracted with an effort at amiability.
The operator, going inside the railing, ran over the express way-billswhich, not yet entered up, lay on the freight desk.
"There is a package here for you," he announced a moment later, andturning to a heap of parcels thrown under the desk he searched amongthem until he found and produced the one he sought.
"Here it is--a box of cartridges."
"What are the charges?" asked the man.
"Four dollars and sixty cents."
The man laid down a twenty-dollar bank-bill. The operator hesitated:"I haven't the change."
Levake showed no sympathy: "That is not my fault," he returned.
The operator looked at him: "Do you want the package to-night?"
"If I didn't, do you suppose I would waste an hour here waiting forit?"
The boy considered a moment and made a decision, but it chanced to bethe wrong decision. "Take the package along. Bring me the charges inthe morning."
Levake made no response beyond a further glance at the boy somewhatcontemptuous; but he said nothing and picking up his package walkedout. No one opposed him. Indeed, had the operator been interested hewould have noticed with what marked alacrity every man, as he passedthrough the waiting-room, got out of Levake's way. Dancing, standingat t
he door and with his hair on end, awaited the close of theincident. He now re-entered the inner office and shut the waiting-roomdoor behind him with an audible bang. Bucks, who had returned to histable, looked around. "Well, who are you?" he demanded as he regardedDancing. "And what are you doing here?"
"Who are you?" retorted Dancing bluntly. "And what are you doinghere?"
"My name is Bucks and I am the new night operator."
"You look new. And you act all-fired new. My name is Bill Dancing andI am the telegraph lineman."
"Why, you are the man I am looking for."
"So I thought, when you pushed me out of here with the rest of yourvisitors."
"Why didn't you speak up, Bill?" demanded Bucks calmly.
A quizzical expression passed over Dancing's face. "I didn't want tobreak the calm. When I see a man walking around a powder magazine Ihate to do anything that might set it off.
"So your name is Bucks," continued Dancing, as he walked through thewicket and threw his wet hat among the way-bills on the freight desk."Well, Mr. Bucks, do you know what was most likely to happen to youany minute before you got through with that crowd, just now?"
"No, I don't know. Why?" asked Bucks, busy with his messages.
"No," answered Bucks in decided but off-hand manner, "I never saw ashooting mix-up anywhere."
"Never got shot up just for fun?" persisted Dancing. "Do you know," hecontinued without waiting for an answer, "who that polite man was,the last one you shouldered out of here?" Dancing pointed as hespoke to the corner from which Levake had risen, but the operator,straightening out the papers before him, did not look around.
"No, Bill, I don't know anybody here. You see I am a stranger."
"I see you are a stranger," echoed Dancing. "Let me tell yousomething, then, will you?"
"Tell it quick, Bill."
"There is no cemetery in this town."
"I have understood it is very healthy, Bill," returned the operator.
"Not for everybody." Bill Dancing paused to let the words sink in, ashis big eyes fixed upon the young operator's eyes. "Not foreverybody--sometimes not for strangers. Strangers have to get used toit. There is a river here," added the lineman sententiously. "It'spretty swift, too."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean you have got to be careful how you do things out in thiscountry."
"But, Bill," persisted the lad, "if there is going to be any businessdone in this office we have got to have order, haven't we?" Thelineman snorted and the operator saw that his appeal had fallen flat."My batteries, Bill," he added, changing the subject, "are no good atall. I sent for you because I want you to go over them now, to-night,and start me right. What are you going to do?"
Dancing had begun to poke at the ashes in the stove. "Build a fire,"he returned, looking about for material. He gathered up what wastepaper was at hand, pushed it into the stove, and catching up theway-bills from the desk, threw them in on the paper and began to feelin his wet pockets for matches.
"Hold on," cried Bucks. "What do you mean? You must be crazy!" heexclaimed, running to the stove and pulling the way-bills out.
"Not half so crazy as you are," replied Dancing undisturbed. "I'm onlytrying to show you how crazy you are. Burning up way-bills isn't acircumstance to what you did just now. You are the looniest operator Iever saw." As he looked at Bucks he extended his finger impressively."When you laid your hand on that man's shoulder to-night--the onesitting on your stool--I wouldn't have given ten cents for yourlife."
Bucks regarded him with astonishment. "Why so?"
"He's the meanest man between here and Fort Bridger," assertedDancing. "He'd think no more of shooting you than I would ofscratching a match." Bucks stared at the comparison. "He is the worstscoundrel in this country and partners with Seagrue and John Rebstockin everything that's going on, and even they are afraid of him."
Dancing stopped for breath. "Talk about my making a fire out ofway-bills! When I saw you lay your hand on that man, I stoppedbreathing--can't breathe just right yet," he muttered, pulling at hisshirt collar. "Do you know why you didn't get killed?"
"Why, no, Bill, not exactly," confessed Bucks in embarrassment.
"Because Levake was out of cartridges. I heard him tell Rebstock sowhen they walked past me."
"Thank you for posting me. How should I know he was Seagrue's partner,or who Rebstock is? Let's make a bargain. I will be more careful inclearing out the office, and you be more careful about building fires.There's wood in the baggage-room. I couldn't get out to get it forfear the crowd would steal the tickets."
"Well, you are 'out' four dollars and sixty cents charges on thecartridges," continued Dancing, "and you had better say nothing aboutit. If you ever ask Levake for the money he will kill you."
Bucks looked rebellious. "It's only right for him to pay the charges.I shall ask him for them the next time I see him. And what is more hewill have to pay, I don't care whose partner he is."
Dancing now regarded the operator with unconcealed impatience. "Isuppose there are more where you came from," he muttered. "They willneed a lot of them here, if they carry on like that. How old are you?"he demanded of Bucks abruptly.
"How long have you been in this country?"
Bucks looked at the clock. "About five hours, Bill."
"Reckon time close, don't you?"
"Have to, Bill, in the railroad business."
Dancing reflected a moment. "Five hours," he repeated. "If you don'tget killed within the next five you may live to be a useful citizen ofMedicine Bend. Where are you from, and how did you happen to come awayout here on the plains?"
"I am from Pittsburgh. I had to quit school and go to work."
"Where did you go to school?"
"Well, I didn't go----"
"Quit before you went, did you?"
"Got it all figured out, have you?"
"Then I heard they were building the Union Pacific, and I knewsomething about telegraphing--Jim Foster and I had a line from thehouse to the barn."
"Had a line from the house to the barn, eh?" chuckled Dancing.
"So I bought a railroad ticket to Des Moines from Pittsburgh andstaged it to Omaha, and General Park gave me a job right away and sentme out on the first train to take this office, nights. I didn't evenknow where Medicine Bend was."
"Don't believe you know yet. Now that's right, I don't believe youknow yet. You're a good boy, but you talk too much."
"How old are you, Bill?"
"I am twenty."
"Twenty!" echoed Bucks, as if that were not very much, either.
"Twenty!" repeated the lineman. "But," he added, drawing himself up inhis tremendous stature, with dignity, "I have been on the plainsdriving wagons and building telegraph lines for seven years----"
"Seven years!" echoed Bucks, now genuinely admiring his companion.
"My father was a Forty-niner. I was a line foreman when I wasseventeen, for Edward Creighton, and we put the first telegraph linethrough from the Missouri River to the Pacific," continued Dancing,ready to back his words with blows if necessary.
"You _are_ an old-timer," cried Bucks enviously. "Any good rabbit-shootingaround here, Bill?"
"Rabbit-shooting?" echoed Dancing in scorn. "The only rabbits theyshoot around here, young fellow, are Pittsburgh rabbits, thatdon't keep their ears hid proper. When we go hunting, we goantelope-hunting, buffalo-hunting, grizzly-bear hunting, elk-hunting.Now I don't say I don't like you and I don't say you won't do. What Isay is, you talk too much. I'll tell you what I've learned. I'velearned not to say too much at a time. And when I say it,
I don'tsay it very loud. And if you don't get killed, in advance, you willlearn the same thing in the same way I learned it. Where are yourblamed batteries?"
"Bill, you are all right."
"I am, am I?"
"First help me enter these way-bills and check up the express packagesso I can deliver them to this mob."
"My business isn't checking up express; but I like you, young fellow,so, go ahead. Only you talk too much."
"Just a moment!"
At these words coming from the other end of the office, the linemanand the operator looked around. The military-looking man and hiscompanion had entered the room unobserved and stood at thecounter listening to the colloquy between the Eastern boy and theplainsman--for neither of the two were more than boys. Dancingsaluted the new-comers. "It's Colonel Stanley and Bob Scott," heexclaimed.
Bucks walked forward. Stanley handed him a message. "You are the nightoperator? Here is a despatch for General Park. Get it out for me rightaway, will you?"
Dancing came forward to the railing. "How are you, Bill?" saidStanley, greeting the lineman as Bucks read the long message. "I amgoing up into the mountains next week, and I am just asking GeneralPark for a cavalry detail."
"Going to need me, Colonel?"
"Better hold yourself ready. Can you read that, young man?" he asked,speaking to Bucks.
"Lose no time in getting it off."
With the words he turned on his heel and leaving the office wentupstairs to the despatcher's rooms. During the interval that themessage was being sent, Dancing worked at the express matter. Whilethe two were busy, Bob Scott, moving so quietly that he disturbed noone, laid carefully upon the smouldering paper in the stove such chipsas he could pick from the wood-box, nursing and developing a littleblaze until, without noise or fuss, he soon had a good fire going. Inall of the mountain country there was but one kind of men who builtfires in that way and these were Indians.
Such was Bob Scott, who, wet to the skin from his ride down the hillswith Stanley, now stood slowly drying himself and watching Dancing andthe new operator.
Scott was a half-blood Chippewa Indian, silent as a mountain night andas patient as time. He served Colonel Stanley as guide and scoutwherever the railroad man rode upon his surveys or reconnoissances.Dancing, emerging presently from the batteries, greeted Scott again,this time boisterously. The Indian only smiled, but his face reflectedthe warmth of his friendship for the big lineman. And at this junctureDancing, slapping him on the shoulder, turned to introduce him toBucks. The three stood and talked a moment together, though, perhaps,without realizing what they were almost at once to go throughtogether. The outgoing Eastern passenger train now pulled up to theplatform and Bucks was kept busy for some time selling tickets.
His buyers were all sorts and conditions of men. And one forlorn-lookingwoman, with a babe in her arms and a little girl clinging to herskirt, asked the price of a ticket to Omaha. When told, she turned awayto count her money. Among the men were traders and frontiersmengoing to Missouri River markets with buffalo robes; trappers from theBig Horn country with furs; Mormon elders on their way from Utah totheir Eastern settlements; soldiers on furlough and men from therailroad-construction camps on the front; adventurers, disgusted withthe hardships of frontier life, and gamblers and desperadoes,restless and always moving.
Bucks needed his wits to watch the money that was pushed under hislittle wicket and to make change without mistake. There was elbowingand contention and bad language, but the troublesome crowd wasfinally disposed of, and when the last of the line had left the ticketwindow the waiting-room was pretty well cleared. There remained only ablack-bearded man half-asleep in a chair by the stove, and in onecorner on a bench the woman, who was trying to quiet the child sheheld in her lap.