The U.P. Trail by Zane Grey
Neale and King traveled light, without pack-animals, and at sunrise they reached the main trail.
It bore evidence of considerable use and was no longer a trail, but a highroad. Fresh tracks of horses and oxen, wagon-wheel ruts, dead camp-fires, and scattered brush that had been used for wind-breaks-- all these things attested to the growing impetus of that movement; soon it was to become extraordinary.
All this was Indian country. Neale and his companion had no idea whether or not the Sioux had left their winter quarters for the war- path. But it was a vast region, and the Indians could not be everywhere. Neale and King took chances, as had all these travelers, though perhaps the risk was not so great, because they rode fleet horses. They discovered no signs of Indians, and it appeared as if they were alone in a wilderness.
They covered sixty miles from early dawn to dark, with a short rest at noon, and reached Fort Fetterman safely without incident or accident. Troops were there, but none of the U. P. engineering staff. Neale did not meet any soldiers with whom he was acquainted. Orders were there for him, however, to report to North Platte as soon as it was possible to reach there. Troops were to be moving soon, so Neale learned, and the long journey could be made in comparative safety.
Here Neale received the tidings that forty miles of railroad had been built during the last summer, and trains had been run that distance west from Omaha. His heart swelled. Not for many a week had he heard anything favorable to the great U. P. project, and here was news of rails laid, trains run. Already this spring the graders were breaking ground far ahead of the rail-layers. Report and rumor at the fort had it that lively times had attended the construction. But the one absorbing topic was the Sioux Indians, who were expected to swarm out of the hills that summer and give the troops hot work.
In due time Neale and Larry arrived at North Platte, which was little more than a camp. The construction gangs were not expected to reach there until late in the fall. Baxter was at North Platte, with a lame surveyor, and no other helpers; consequently he hailed Neale and Larry with open arms. A summer's work on the hot monotonous plains stared Neale in the face, but he must resign himself to the inevitable. He worked, as always, with that ability and energy which had made him invaluable to his superiors. Here, however, the labor was a dull, hot grind, without any thrills. Neale filled the long days with duty and seldom let his mind-wander. In leisure hours, however, he dreamed of Allie and the future. He found no trouble in passing time that way. Also he watched eagerly for arrivals from the west, whom he questioned about Indians in the Wyoming hills; and from troops or travelers coming from the east he heard all the news of the advancing railroad construction. It was absorbingly interesting, yet Neale could credit so few of the tales.
The summer and early fall passed.
Neale was ordered to Omaha. The news stunned him. He had built all his hopes on another winter out in the Wyoming hills, and this disappointment was crushing. It made him ill for a day. He almost threw up his work. It did not seem possible to live that interminable stretch without seeing Allie Lee. The nature of his commission, however, brought once again to mind the opportunity that knocked at his door. Neale had run all the different surveys for bridges in the Wyoming hills and now he was needed in the office of the staff, where plans and drawings were being made. Again he bowed to the inevitable. But he determined to demand in the spring that he be sent ahead to the forefront of the construction work.
Another disappointment seemed in order. Larry King refused to go any farther back east. Neale was exceedingly surprised.
"Do you throw up your job?" he asked.
"Shore not. I can work heah," replied Larry.
"There won't be any outside work on these bleak plains in winter."
"Wal, I reckon I'll loaf, then," he drawled.
Neale could not change him. Larry vowed he would take his old place with Neale next spring, if it should be open to him.
"But why? Red, I can't figure you," protested Neale.
"Pard, I reckon I'm fur enough back east right heah," said Larry, significantly.
A light dawned upon Neale. "Red! You've done something bad!" exclaimed Neale, in genuine dismay.
"Wal, I don't know jest how bad it was, but it shore was hell," replied Larry, with a grin.
"Red, you aren't afraid," asserted Neale, positively.
The cowboy flushed and looked insulted. "If any one but you said thet to me he'd hev to eat it."
"I beg your pardon, old man. But I'm surprised. It doesn't seem like you.... And then--Lord! I'll miss you."
"No more 'n I'll miss you, pard," replied Larry.
Suddenly Neale had a happy thought. "Red, you go back to Slingerland's and help take care of Allie. I'd feel she was safer."
"Wal, she might be safer, but I wouldn't be," declared the cowboy, bluntly.
"You red-head! What do you mean?" demanded Neale.
"I mean this heah. If I stayed around another winter near Allie Lee- -with her alone, fer thet trapper never set up before thet fire-- I'd--why, Neale, I'd ambush you like an Injun when you come back!"
"You wouldn't," rejoined Neale. He wanted to laugh but had no mirth.
Larry did not mean that, but neither did he mean to be funny. "I'll be hangin' round heah, waitin' fer you. It's only a few months. Go on to your work, pard. You'll be a big man on the road some day."
Neale left North Platte with a wagon-train.
After a long, slow journey the point was reached where the graders had left off work for that year. Here had been a huge construction camp; and the bare and squalid place looked as if it once had been a town of crudest make, suddenly wrecked by a cyclone and burned by prairie fire. Fifty miles farther on, representing two more long, tedious, and unendurable days, and Neale heard the whistle of a locomotive. It came from far off. But it was a whistle. He yelled, and the men journeying with him joined in.
Smoke showed on the horizon, together with a wide, low, uneven line of shacks and tents.
Neale was all eyes when he rode into that construction camp. The place was a bedlam. A motley horde of men appeared to be doing everything under the sun but work, and most of them seemed particularly eager to board a long train of box-cars and little old passenger-coaches. Neale made a dive for the train, and his sojourn in that camp was a short and exciting one of ten minutes.
He felt unutterably proud. He had helped survey the line along which the train was now rattling and creaking and swaying. All that swiftly passed under his keen eyes was recorded in his memory--the uncouth crowd of laborers, the hardest lot he had ever seen; the talk, noise, smoke; the rickety old clattering coaches; the wayside dumps and heaps and wreckage. But they all seemed parts of a beautiful romance to him. Neale saw through the eyes of golden ambition and illimitable dreams.
And not for a moment of that endless ride, with interminable stops, did he weary of the two hundred and sixty miles of rails laid that year, and of the forty miles of the preceding year. Then came Omaha, a beehive--the making of a Western metropolis!
Neale plunged into the bewildering turmoil of plans, tasks, schemes, land-grants, politics, charters, inducements, liens and loans, Government and army and State and national interests, grafts and deals and bosses-all that mass of selfish and unselfish motives, all that wealth of cunning and noble aims, all that congested assemblage of humanity which went to make up the building of the Union Pacific.
Neale was a dreamer, like the few men whose minds had first given birth to the wonderful idea of a railroad from East to West. Neale found himself confronted by a singularly disturbing fact. However grand this project, its political and mercenary features could not be beautiful to him. Why could not all men be right-minded about a noble cause and work unselfishly for the development of the West and the future generations? It was a melancholy thing to learn that men of sincere and generous purpose had spent their all trying to raise the money to build the Union Pacific; on the other hand, it was a satisfaction to hear that many capitalists with greedy claws had ruined themselves in like efforts.
The President of the United States and Congress had their own troubles at the close of the war, and the Government could do but little money-raising with land-grants and loans. But they offered a great bonus to the men who would build the railroad.
The first construction company subscribed over a million and a half dollars, and paid in one-quarter of that. The money went so swiftly that it opened the company's eyes to the insatiable gulf beneath that enterprise, and they quit.
Thereupon what was called the Credit Mobilier was inaugurated, and it became both famous and infamous.
It was a type of the construction company by which it was the custom to build railroads at that time. The directors, believing that whatever money was to be made out of the Union Pacific must be collected during the construction period, organized a clever system for just this purpose.
An extravagant sum was to be paid to the Credit Mobilier for the construction work, thus securing for stockholders of the Union Pacific, who now controlled the Credit Mobilier, the bonds loaned by the United States Government.
The operations of the Credit Mobilier finally gave rise to one of the most serious political scandals in the history of the United States Congress.
The cost of all material was high, and it rose with leaps and bounds until it was prodigious. Omaha had no railroad entering it from the east, and so all the supplies, materials, engines, cars, machinery, and laborers had to be transported from St. Louis up the swift Missouri on boats. This in itself was a work calling for the limit of practical management and energy. Out on the prairie-land, for hundreds of miles, were to be found no trees, no wood, scarcely any brush. The prairie-land was beautiful ground for buffalo, but it was a most barren desert for the exigencies of railroad men. Moreover, not only did wood and fuel and railroad-ties have to be brought from afar, but also stone for bridges and abutments. Then thousands of men had to be employed, and those who hired out for reasonable money soon learned that others were getting more; having the company at their mercy, they demanded exorbitant wages in their turn.
One of the peculiar features of the construction, a feature over which Neale grew impotently furious, was the law that when a certain section of so many miles had been laid and equipped the Government of the United States would send out expert commissioners, who would go over the line and pass judgment upon the finished work. No two groups of commissioners seemed to agree. These experts, who had their part to play in the bewildering and labyrinthine maze of men's contrary plans and plots, reported that certain sections would have to be done over again.
The particular fault found with one of these sections was the alleged steepness of the grade, and as Neale had been the surveyor in charge, he soon heard of his poor work. He went over his figures and notes with the result that he called on Henney and absolutely swore that the grade was right. Henney swore too, in a different and more forcible way, but he agreed with Neale and advised him to call upon the expert commissioners.
Neale did so, and found them, with one exception, open to conviction. The exception was a man named Allison Lee. The name Lee gave Neale a little shock. He was a gray-looking man, with lined face, and that concentrated air which Neale had learned to associate with those who were high in the affairs of the U. P.
Neale stated that his business was to show that his work had been done right, and he had the figures to prove it. Mr. Lee replied that the survey was poor and would have to be done over.
"Are you a surveyor?" queried Neale, sharply, with the blood beating in his temples.
"I have some knowledge of civil engineering," replied the commissioner.
"Well, it can't be very much," declared Neale, whose temper was up.
"Young man, be careful what you say," replied the other.
"But Mr.--Mr. Lee--listen to me, will you?" burst out Neale. "It's all here in my notes. You've hurried over the line and you just slipped up a foot or so in your observations of that section."
Mr. Lee refused to look at the notes and waved Neale aside.
"It'll hurt my chances for a big job," Neale said, stubbornly.
"You probably will lose your job, judging from the way you address your superiors."
That finished Neale. He grew perfectly white.
"All this expert-commissioner business is rot," he flung at Lee. "Rot! Lodge knows it. Henney knows it. We all do. And so do you. It's a lot of damn red tape! Every last man who can pull a stroke with the Government runs in here to annoy good efficient engineers who are building the road. It's an outrage. It's more. It's not honest ... That section has forty miles in it. Five miles you claim must be resurveyed--regraded--relaid. Forty-six thousand dollars a mile! ... That's the secret--two hundred and thirty thousand dollars more for a construction company!"
Neale left the office and, returning to Henney, repeated the interview to him word for word. Henney complimented Neale's spirit, but deplored the incident. It could do no good and might do harm. Many of these commissioners were politicians, working in close touch with the directors, and not averse to bleeding the Credit Mobilier.
All the engineers, including the chief, though he was noncommittal, were bitter about this expert-commissioner law. If a good road-bed had been surveyed, the engineers knew more about it than any one else. They were the pioneers of the work. It was exceedingly annoying and exasperating to have a number of men travel leisurely in trains over the line and criticize the labors of engineers who had toiled in heat and cold and wet, with brain and heart in the task. But it was so.
In May, 1866, a wagon-train escorted by troops rolled into the growing camp of North Platte, and the first man to alight was Warren Neale, strong, active, eager-eyed as ever, but older and with face pale from his indoor work and hope long deferred.
The first man to greet him was Larry King, in whom time did not make changes.
They met as long-separated brothers.
"Red how're your horses?" was Neale's query, following the greeting.
"Wintered well, but cost me all I had. I'm shore busted," replied Larry.
"I've plenty of money," said Neale, "and what's mine is yours. Come on, Red. We'll get light packs and hit the trail for the Wyoming hills."
"Wal, I reckoned so ... Neale, it's shore goin' to be risky. The Injuns are on the rampage already. You see how this heah camp has growed. Men ridin' in all since winter broke. An' them from west tell some hard stories."
"I've got to go," replied Neale, with emotion. "It's nearly a year since I saw Allie. Not a word between us in all that time! ... Red, I can't stand it longer."
"Shore, I know," replied King, hastily. "You ain't reckonin' I wanted to crawfish? I'll go. We'll pack light, hit the trail at night, an' hide up in the daytime."
Neale had arrived in North Platte before noon, and before sunset he and King were far out on the swelling slopes of plainland, riding toward the west.
Traveling by night, camping by day, they soon left behind them the monotonous plains of Nebraska. The Sioux had been active for two summers along the southern trails of Wyoming. The Texan's long training on the ranges stood them in good stead here. His keen eye for tracks and smoke and distant objects, his care in hiding trails and selecting camps, and his skill and judgment in all pertaining to the horses--these things made the journey possible. For they saw Indian signs more than once before the Wyoming hills loomed up in the distance. More than one flickering camp-fire they avoided by a wide detour.
Slingerland's valley showed all the signs of early summer. The familiar trail, however, bore no tracks of horses or man or beast. A heavy rain had fallen recently and it would have obliterated tracks.
Neale's suspense sustained the added burden of dread. In the oppressive silence of the valley he read some nameless reason for fear. The trail seemed the same, the brook flowed and murmured as of old, the trees shone soft and green, but Neale sensed a difference. He dared not look at Larry for confirmation of his fears. The valley had not of late been lived in!
Neale rode hard up the trail under the pines. A blackened heap lay where once the cabin had stood. Neale's heart gave a terrible leap and then seemed to cease beating. He could not breathe nor speak nor move. His eyes were fixed on the black remains of Slingerland's cabin.
"Gawd Almighty!" gasped Larry, and he put out a shaking hand to clutch Neale. "The Injuns! I always feared this--spite of Slingerland's talk."
The feel of Larry's fierce fingers, like hot, stinging arrows in his flesh, pierced Neale's mind and made him realize what his stunned faculties had failed to grasp. It seemed to loosen the vise-like hold upon his muscles, to liberate his tongue.
He fell off his horse.
"Red! Look--look around!"
Allie was gone! The disappointment at not seeing her was crushing, and the fear of utter loss was terrible. Neale lay on the ground, blind, sick, full of agony, with his fingers tearing at the grass. The evil presentiments that had haunted him for months had not been groundless fancies. Perhaps Allie had called to him again, in another hour of calamity, and this time he had not responded. She was gone! That idea struck him cold. It meant the most dreadful of all happenings. For a while he lay there, prostrate under the shock. He was dimly aware of Larry's coming and sitting down beside him.
"No sign of any one," he said, huskily. "Not even a track! ... Thet fire must hev been about two weeks ago. Mebbe more, but not much. There's been a big rain an' the ground's all washed clean an' smooth ... Not a track!"
It was the cowboy's habit to calculate the past movements of people and horses by the nature of the tracks they left.
Then Neale awoke to violence. He sprang up and rushed to the ruins of the cabin, frantically tore and dug around the burnt embers, and did not leave off until he had overhauled the whole pile. There was nothing but ashes and embers. Whereupon he ran to the empty corrals, to the sheds, to the wood-pile, to the spring, and all around the space once so habitable. There was nothing to reward his fierce energy--nothing to scrutinize. Already grass was springing in the trails and upon spots that had once been bare.
Neale halted, sweating, hot, wild, before his friend. Larry avoided his gaze.
"She's gone! ... She's gone!" Neale panted.
"Wal, mebbe Slingerland moved camp an' burned this place," suggested Larry. "He was sore after them four road-agents rustled in heah."
"No--no. He'd have left the cabin. In case he moved--Allie was to write me a note--telling me how to find them. I remember--we picked out the place to hide the note ... Oh! she's gone! She's gone!"
"Wal, then, mebbe Slingerland got away an' the cabin was burned after."
"I can't hope that ... I tell you--it means hell's opened up before me."
"Wal, it's tough, I know, Neale, but mebbe--"
Neale wheeled fiercely upon him. "You're only saying those things! You don't believe them! Tell me what you do really think."
"Lord, pard, it couldn't be no wuss," replied Larry, his lean face working. "I figger only one way. This heah. Slingerland had left Allie alone ... Then--she was made away with an' the cabin burned."
"Mebbe. But I lean more to the idee of an outfit like thet one what was heah."
Neale groaned in his torture. "Not that, Reddy--not that! ... The Indians would kill her--scalp her--or take her captive into their tribe ... But a gang of cutthroat ruffians like these ... My God! if I knew that had happened it'd kill me."
Larry swore at his friend. "It can't do no good to go to pieces," he expostulated. "Let's do somethin'."
"What--in Heaven's name!" cried Neale, in despair.
"Wal, we can rustle up every trail in these heah Black Hills. Mebbe we can find Slingerland."
Then began a search--frantic, desperate, and forlorn on the part of Neale; faithful and dogged and keen on the part of King. Neale was like a wild man. He heeded no advice or caution. Only the cowboy's iron arm saved Neale and his horse. It was imperative to find water and grass, and to eat, necessary things which Neale seemed to have forgotten. He seldom slept or rested or ate. They risked meeting the Sioux in every valley and on every ridge. Neale would have welcomed the sight of Indians; he would have rushed into peril in the madness of his grief. Still, there was hope! He lived all the hours in utter agony of mind, but his heart did not give up.
They coursed far and near, always keeping to the stream beds, for if Slingerland had made another camp it would be near water. More than one trail led nowhere; more than one horse track roused hopes that were futile. The Wyoming hills country was surely a lonely and a wild one, singularly baffling to the searchers, for in two weeks of wide travel it did not yield a sign or track of man. Neale and King used up all their scant supply of food, threw away all their outfit except a bag of salt, and went on, living on the meat they shot.
Then one day, unexpectedly, they came upon two trappers by a beaver- dam. Neale was overcome by his emotion; he sensed that from these men he would learn something. The first look from them told him that his errand was known.
"Howdy!" greeted Larry. "It shore is good to see you men--the fust we've come on in an awful hunt through these heah hills."
"Thar ain't any doubt thet you look it, friend," replied one of the trappers.
"We're huntin' fer Slingerland. Do you happen to know him?"
"Knowed Al fer years. He went through hyar a week ago--jest after the big rain, wasn't it, Bill?"
"Wal, to be exact it was eight days ago," replied the comrade Bill.
"Was--he--alone?" asked Larry, thickly.
"Sure, an' lookin' sick. He lost his girl not long since, he said, an' it broke him bad."
"Lost her! How?"
"Wal, he was sure it wasn't redskins," rejoined the trapper, reflectively. "Slingerland stood in with the Sioux--traded with 'em. He--"
"Tell me quick!" hoarsely interrupted Neale. "What happened to Allie Lee?"
"Fellars, my pard heah is hurt deep," said Larry. "The girl you spoke of was his sweetheart."
"Young man, we only know what Al told us," replied the trapper. "He said the only time he ever left the lass alone was the very day she was taken. Al come home to find the cabin red-hot ashes. Everythin' gone. No sign of the lass. No sign of murder. She was jest carried off. There was tracks--hoss tracks an' boot tracks, to the number of three or four men an' hosses. Al trailed 'em. But thet very night he had to hold up to keep from bein' drowned, as we had to hyar. Wal, next day he couldn't find any tracks. But he kept on huntin' fer a few days, an' then give up. He said she'd be dead by then--said she wasn't the kind thet could have lived more 'n a day with men like them. Some hard customers are driftin' by from the gold-fields. An' Bill an' I, hyar, ain't in love with this railroad idee. It 'll ruin the country fer trappin' an' livin'."
Some weeks later a gaunt and ragged cowboy limped into North Platte, walking beside a broken horse, upon the back of which swayed and reeled a rider tied in the saddle.
It was not a sight to interest any except the lazy or the curious, for in that day such things were common in North Platte. The horse had bullet creases on his neck; the rider wore a bloody shirt; the gaunt pedestrian had a bandaged arm.
Neale lay ill of a deeper wound while the bullet-hole healed in his side. Day and night Larry tended him or sat by him or slept near him in a shack on the outskirts of the camp. Shock, grief, starvation, exhaustion, loss of blood and sleep--all these brought Warren Neale close to death. He did not care to live. It was the patient, loyal friend who fought fever and heartbreak and the ebbing tide of life.
Baxter and Henney visited North Platte and called to see him, and later the chief came and ordered Larry to take Neale to the tents of the corps. Every one was kind, solicitous, earnest. He had been missed. The members of his corps knew the strange story of Allie Lee; they guessed the romance and grieved over the tragedy. They did all they could do, and the troop doctor added his attention; but it was the nursing, the presence, and the spirit of Larry King that saved Neale.
He got well and went back to work with the cowboy for his helper.
In that camp of toil and disorder none but the few with whom Neale was brought in close touch noted anything singular about him. The engineers, however, observed that he did not work so well, nor so energetically, nor so accurately. His enthusiasm was lacking. The cowboy, always with him, was the one who saw the sudden spells of somber abstraction and the poignant, hopeless, sleepless pain, the eternal regret. And as Neale slackened in his duty Larry King grew more faithful.
Neale began to drink and gamble. For long the cowboy fought, argued, appealed against this order of things, and then, failing to change or persuade Neale, he went to gambling and drinking with him. But then it was noted that Neale never got under the influence of liquor or lost materially at cards. The cowboy spilled the contents of Neale's glass and played the game into his hands.
Both of them shrank instinctively from the women of the camp. The sight of anything feminine hurt.
North Platte stirred with the quickening stimulus of the approach of the rails and the trains, and the army of soldiers whose duty was to protect the horde of toilers, and the army of tradesmen and parasites who lived off them.
The construction camp of the graders moved on westward, keeping ahead of the camps of the layers.
The first train that reached North Platte brought directors of the U. P. R.--among them Warburton and Rudd and Rogers; also Commissioners Lee and Dunn and a host of followers on a tour of inspection.
The five miles of Neale's section of road that the commissioners had judged at fault had been torn up, resurveyed, and relaid.
Neale rode back over the line with Baxter and surveyed the renewed part. Then, returning to North Platte, he precipitated consternation among directors and commissioners and engineers, as they sat in council, by throwing on the table figures of the new survey identical with his old data.
"Gentlemen, the five miles of track torn up and rebuilt had precisely the same grade, to an inch!" he declared, with ringing scorn.
Baxter corroborated his statement. The commissioners roared and the directors demanded explanations.
"I'll explain it," shouted Neale. "Forty-six thousand dollars a mile! Five miles--two hundred and thirty thousand dollars! Spent twice! Taken twice by the same construction company!"
Warburton, a tall, white-haired man in a frock-coat, got up and pounded the table with his fist. "Who is this young engineer?" he thundered. "He has the nerve to back his work instead of sneaking to get a bribe. And he tells the truth. We're building twice--spending twice when once is enough!"
An uproar ensued. Neale had cast a bomb into the council. Every man there and all the thousands in camp knew that railroad ties cost several dollars each; that wages were abnormally high, often demanded in advance, and often paid twice; that parallel with the great spirit of the work ran a greedy and cunning graft. It seemed to be inevitable, considering the nature and proportions of the enterprise. An absurd law sent out the commissioners, the politicians appointed them, and both had fat pickings. The directors likewise played both ends against the middle; they received the money from the stock sales and loans; they paid it out to the construction companies; and as they employed and owned these companies the money returned to their own pockets. But more than one director was fired by the spirit of the project--the good to be done--the splendid achievement--the trade to come from across the Pacific. The building of the road meant more to some of them than a mere fortune.
Warburton was the lion of this group, and he roared down the dissension. Then with a whirl he grasped Neale round the shoulders and shoved him face to face with the others.
"Here's the kind of man we want on this job!" he shouted, with red face and bulging jaw. "His name's Neale. I've heard of some of his surveys. You've all seen him face this council. That only, gentlemen, is the spirit which can build the U. P. R. Let's push him up. Let's send him to Washington with those figures. Let's break this damned idiotic law for appointing commissioners to undo the work of efficient men."
Opportunity was again knocking at Neale's door.
Allison Lee arose in the flurry, and his calm, cold presence, the steel of his hard gray eyes, and the motion of his hand entitled him to a voice.
"Mr. Warburton--and gentlemen," he said, "I remember this young engineer Neale. When I got here to-day I inquired about him, remembering that he had taken severe exception to the judgment of the commissioners about that five miles of road-bed. I learned he is a strange, excitable young fellow, who leaves his work for long wild trips and who is a drunkard and a gambler. It seems to me somewhat absurd seriously to consider the false report with which he has excited this council."
"It's not false," retorted Neale, with flashing eyes. Then he appealed to Warburton and he was white and eloquent. "You directors know better. This man. Lee is no engineer. He doesn't know a foot- grade from a forty-five-degree slope. Not a man in that outfit had the right or the knowledge to pass judgment on our work. It's political. It's a damned outrage. It's graft."
Another commissioner bounced up with furious gestures.
"We'll have you fired!" he shouted.
Neale looked at him and back at Allison Lee and then at Warburton.
"I quit," he declared, with scorn. "To hell with your rotten railroad!"
Another hubbub threatened in the big tent. Some one yelled for quiet.
And suddenly there was quiet, but it did not come from that individual's call. A cowboy had detached himself from the group of curious onlookers and had confronted the council with two big guns held low.
"Red! Hold on!" cried Neale.
It was Larry. One look at him blanched Neale's face.
"Everybody sit still an' let me talk," drawled Larry, with the cool, reckless manner that now seemed so deadly.
No one moved, and the silence grew unnatural. The cowboy advanced a few strides. His eyes, with a singular piercing intentness, were bent upon Allison Lee, yet seemed to hold all the others in sight. He held one gun in direct alignment with Lee, low down, and with the other he rapped on the table. The gasp that went up from round that table proved that some one saw the guns were both cocked.
"Did I understand you to say Neale lied aboot them surveyin' figgers?" he queried, gently.
Allison Lee turned as white as a corpse. The cowboy radiated some dominating force, but the chill in his voice was terrible. It meant that life was nothing to him--nor death. What was the U. P. R. to him, or its directors, or its commissioners, or the law? There was no law in that wild camp but the law in his hands. And he knew it.
"Did you say my pard lied?" he repeated.
Allison Lee struggled and choked over a halting, "No."
The cowboy backed away, slowly, carefully, with soft steps, and he faced the others as he moved.
"I reckon thet's aboot all," he said, and, slipping into the crowd, he was gone.