Back in the early days the payroll of the Hill Division was full of J. Smiths, T. Browns and H. Something-or-others—just as it is to-day. But to-day there is a difference. The years have brought a certain amount of inevitable pedigree, as it were—a certain amount of gossip, so to speak, over the back fences of Big Cloud. It's natural enough. There's a possibility, as a precedent, that one or two of the passengers on the Mayflower didn't have as much blue blood when they started on the voyage as their descendants have got now—it's possible. The old hooker, from all accounts, had a pretty full passenger list, and there may have been some who secured accommodations with few questions asked, and a subsequent coat of glorified whitewash that they couldn't have got if they'd stayed at home where they were intimately known—that is, they couldn't have got the coat of glorified whitewash.

It's true that there's a few years between the landing of the Mayflower and the inception of Big Cloud, but the interval doesn't count—the principle is the same. Out in the mountains on the Hill Division, "Who's Who" begins with the founding of Big Cloud—it is verbose, unprofitable and extremely bad taste to go back any farther than that—even if it were possible. There's quite a bit known about the J. Smiths, the T. Browns and the H. Something-or-others now, with the enlightenment of years upon them—but there wasn't then. There were a good many men who immigrated West to help build the road through the Rockies, and run it afterwards—for reasons of their own. There weren't any questions asked. Plain J. Smith, T. Brown or H. Something-or-other went—that was all there was to it.

He said his name was Walton—P. Walton. He was tall, hollow-cheeked, with skin of an unhealthy, colorless white, and black eyes under thin, black brows that were unnaturally bright. He dropped off at Big Cloud one afternoon—in the early days—from No. 1, the Limited from the East, climbed upstairs in the station to the super's room, and coughed out a request to Carleton for a job.

Carleton, "Royal" Carleton, the squarest man that ever held down a divisional swivel chair, looked P. Walton over for a moment before he spoke. P. Walton didn't size up much like a day's work anyway you looked at him.

"What can you do?" inquired Carleton.

"Anything," said P. Walton—and coughed.

Carleton reached for his pipe and struck a match.

"If you could," said he, sucking at the amber mouthpiece between words, "there wouldn't be any trouble about it. For instance, the construction gangs want men to——"

"I'll go—I'll do anything," cut in P. Walton eagerly. "Just give me a chance."

"Nope!" said Carleton with a grin. "I'm not hankering to break the Sixth Commandment—know what that is?"

P. Walton licked dry lips with the tip of his tongue.

"Murder," said he. "But you might as well let it come that way as any other. I'm pretty bad here"—he jerked his thumb toward his lungs—"and I'm broke here"—he turned an empty trouser's pocket inside out.

"H'm!" observed Carleton reflectively. There was something in the other that touched his sympathy, and something apart from that that appealed to him—a sort of grim, philosophical grit in the man with the infected lungs.

"I came out," said P. Walton, looking through the window, and kind of talking to himself, "because I thought it would be healthier for me out here than back East."

"I dare say," said Carleton kindly; "but not if you start in by swinging a pick. Maybe we can find something else for you to do. Ever done any railroading?"

Walton shook his head.

"No," he answered. "I've always worked on books. I'm called pretty good at figures, if you've got anything in that line."

"Clerk, eh? Well, I don't know," said Carleton slowly. "I guess, perhaps, we can give you a chance. My own clerk's doing double shift just at present; you might help him out temporarily. And if you're what you say you are, we'll find something better for you before the summer's over. Thirty dollars a month—it's not much of a stake—what do you say?"

"It's a pretty big stake for me," said P. Walton, and his face lighted up as he turned it upon Carleton.

"All right," said Carleton. "You'd better spend the rest of the afternoon then in hunting up some place to stay. And here"—he dug into his pocket and handed P. Walton two five-dollar gold pieces—"this may come in handy till you're on your feet."

"Say," said P. Walton huskily, "I——" he stopped suddenly, as the door opened and Regan, the master mechanic, came in.

"Never mind," smiled Carleton. "Report to Halstead in the next room to-morrow morning at seven o'clock."

P. Walton hesitated, as though to complete his interrupted sentence, and then, with an uncertain look at Regan, turned and walked quietly from the room.

Regan wheeled around and stared after the retreating figure. When the door had closed he looked inquiringly at Carleton.

"Touched you for a loan, eh?" he volunteered quizzically.

"No," said Carleton, still smiling; "a job. I gave him the money as an advance."

"More fool you!" said the blunt little master mechanic. "Your security's bad—he'll never live long enough to earn it. What sort of a job?"

"Helping Halstead out to begin with," replied Carleton.

"H'm!" remarked Regan. "Poor devil."

"Yes, Tommy," said Carleton. "Quite so—poor devil."

Regan, big-hearted, good-natured for all his bluntness, walked to the front window and watched P. Walton's figure disappear slowly, and a little haltingly, down the platform. The fat little master mechanic's face puckered.

"We get some queer cards out here," he said. "He looks as though he'd had a pretty hard time of it—kind of a discard in the game, I guess. Out here to die—pleasant, what? I wonder where he came from?"

"He didn't say," said Carleton dryly.

"No," said Regan; "I dare say he didn't—none of 'em do. I wonder, though, where he came from?"

And in this the division generally were in accord with Regan. They didn't ask—which was outside the ethics; and P. Walton didn't say—which was quite within his rights. But for all that, the division, with Regan, wondered. Ordinarily, they wouldn't have paid much attention to a new man one way or the other, but P. Walton was a little more than just a new man—he was a man they couldn't size up. That was the trouble. It didn't matter who any one was, or where he came from, if they could form an opinion of him—which wasn't hard to form in most instances—that would at all satisfactorily fill the bill. But P. Walton didn't bear the earmarks of a hard case "wanted" East, or show any tendency toward deep theological thought; therefore opinions were conflicting—which wasn't satisfying.

Not that P. Walton refused to mix, or held himself aloof, or anything of that kind; on the contrary, all hands came to know him pretty well—as P. Walton. As a matter of cold fact, they had more chances of knowing him than they had of knowing most new-comers; and that bothered them a little, because, somehow, they didn't seem to make anything out of their opportunities. As assistant clerk to the super, P. Walton was soon a familiar enough figure in the yards, the roundhouse and the shops, and genial enough, and pleasant enough, too; but they never got past the pure, soft-spoken, perfect English, and the kind of firm, determined swing to the jaw that no amount of emaciation could eliminate. They agreed only on one thing—on the question of therapeutics—they were unanimous on that point with Regan—P. Walton, whatever else he was, or wasn't, was out there to die. And it kind of looked to them as though P. Walton had through rights to the Terminal, and not much of any limit to speak of on his permit.

Regan put the matter up to Carleton one day in the super's office, about a month after P. Walton's advent to Big Cloud.

"I said he was a queer card the first minute I clapped eyes on him," observed the master mechanic. "And I think so now—only more so. What in blazes does a white man want to go and live in a two-room pigsty, with a family of Polacks and about eighteen kids, for?"

Carleton tamped down the dottle in his pipe with his forefinger musingly.

"How much a week, Tommy," he inquired, "is thirty dollars a month, with about a third of the time out for sick spells?"

"I'm not a mathematician," growled the little master mechanic. "About five dollars, I guess."

"It's a good guess," said Carleton quietly. "He bought new clothes you remember with the ten I gave him—and he needed them badly enough." Carleton reached into a drawer of his desk, and handed Regan an envelope that was torn open across the end. "I found this here this afternoon after the paycar left," he said.

Regan peered into the envelope, then extracted two five-dollar gold pieces and a note. He unfolded the note, and read the two lines written in a hand that looked like steel-plate engraving.

With thanks and grateful appreciation.
    P. WALTON.

Regan blinked, handed the money, note, and envelope back to Carleton, and fumbled a little awkwardly with his watch chain.

"He's the best hand with figures and his pen it's ever been my luck to meet," said Carleton, kind of speculatively. "Better than Halstead; a whole lot better. Halstead's going back East in a couple of weeks into the general office—got the offer, and I couldn't stand in his way. I was thinking of giving P. Walton the job, and breaking some young fellow in to relay him when he's sick. What do you think about it, Tommy?"

"I think," said Regan softly, "he's been getting blamed few eggs and less fresh air than he ought to have had, trying to make good on that loan. And I think he's a better man than I thought he was. A fellow that would do that is white enough not to fall very far off the right of way. I guess you won't make any mistake as far as trusting him goes."

"No," said Carleton, "I don't think I will."

And therein Carleton and Regan were both right and wrong. P. Walton wasn't—but just a minute, we're over-running our holding orders—P. Walton is in the block ahead.

The month hadn't helped P. Walton much physically, even if it had helped him more than he, perhaps, realized in Carleton's estimation. And the afternoon following Regan's and Carleton's conversation, alone in the room, for Halstead was out, he was hanging over his desk a pretty sick man, though his pen moved steadily with the work before him, when the connecting door from the super's office opened, and Bob Donkin, the despatcher, came hurriedly in.

"Where's the super?" he asked quickly.

"I don't know," said P. Walton. "He went out in the yards with Regan half an hour ago. I guess he'll be back shortly."

"Well, you'd better try and find him, and give him this. Forty-two'll be along in twenty minutes." Donkin slapped a tissue on the desk, and hurried back to his key in the despatchers' room.

P. Walton picked up the tissue and read it. It was from the first station west on the line.

Gopher Butte, 3.16 P. M.

J. H. CARLETON, Supt. Hill Division:

No. 42 held up by two train robbers three miles west of here Express messenger Nulty in game fight killed one and captured the other in the express car. Arrange for removal of body, and have sheriff on hand to take prisoner into custody on arrival in Big Cloud. Everything O.K.

McCURDY, Conductor.

P. Walton, with the telegram in his hand, rose from his chair and made for the hall through the super's room, reading it a second time as he went along. There had been some pretty valuable express stuff on the train, as he knew from the correspondence that had passed through his hands—and he smiled a little grimly.

"Well, they certainly missed a good one," he muttered to himself. "I think I'd rather be the dead one than the other. It'll go hard with him. Twenty years, I guess."

He stepped out into the hall to the head of the stairs—and met Carleton coming up.

Carleton, quick as a steel trap, getting the gist of the message in a glance, brushed by P. Walton, hurried along the hall to the despatchers' room—and the next moment a wide-eyed call boy was streaking uptown for the sheriff, and breathlessly imparting the tale of the hold-up, embellished with gory imagination, to every one he met.

By the time Forty-two's whistle sounded down the gorge, there was a crowd on the platform bigger than a political convention, and P. Walton, by virtue of his official position, rather than from physical qualifications, together with his chief, Regan, the ticket agent, the baggage master and Carruthers, the sheriff, were having a hard time of it to keep themselves from being shoved off on the tracks, let alone trying to keep a modest breadth of the platform clear. And when the train came to a stop with screeching brake-shoes, and the side door of the express car was shot back with a dramatic bang by some one inside, the crowd seemed to get altogether beyond P. Walton's control, and surged past him. As they handed out a hard-visaged, bullet-headed customer, whose arms were tightly lashed behind him, P. Walton was pretty well back by the ticket-office window with the crowd between him and the center of attraction—and P. Walton was holding his handkerchief to his lips, flecking the handkerchief with a spot or two of red, and coughing rather badly. Carleton found him there when the crowd, trailing Carruthers and his prisoner uptown, thinned out—and Carleton sent him home.

P. Walton, however, did not go home, though he started in that direction. He followed in the rear of the crowd up to Carruthers' place, saw steel bracelets replace the cords around the captive's wrists, saw the captive's legs securely bound together, and the captive chucked into Carruthers' back shed—this was in the early days, and Big Cloud hadn't yet risen to the dignity of a jail—with about as much formality as would be used in handling a sack of meal. After that, Carruthers barred the door by slamming the long, two-inch-thick piece of timber, that worked on a pivot in the center, home into its iron rests with a flourish of finality, as though to indicate that the show was over—and the crowd dispersed—the men heading for the swinging doors of the Blazing Star; and the women for their own back fences.

P. Walton, with a kind of grim smile on his lips, retraced his steps to the station, climbed the stairs, and started through the super's room to reach his own desk.

Carleton removed his pipe from his mouth, and stared angrily as the other came in.

"You blamed idiot!" he exploded. "I thought I told you to go home!"

"I'm feeling better," said P. Walton. "I haven't got those night orders out yet for the roundhouse. There's three specials from the East to-night."

"Well, Halstead can attend to them," said Carleton, a kindliness creeping into the tones that he tried to make gruff. "What are you trying to do—commit suicide?"

"No," said P. Walton, with a steady smile, "just my work. It was a little too violent exercise trying to hold the crowd, that was all. But I'm all right now."

"You blamed idiot!" grunted Carleton again. "Why didn't you say so? I never thought of it, or I wouldn't have let——"

"It doesn't matter," said P. Walton brightly. "I'm all right now"—and he passed on into his own room.

When he left his desk again it was ten minutes of six, and Carleton had already gone. P. Walton, with his neatly written order sheets, walked across the tracks to the roundhouse, handed them over to Clarihue, the night turner, who had just come in, and then hung around, toying in an apparently aimless fashion with the various tools on the workbenches till the whistle blew, while the fitters, wipers and day gang generally washed up. After that he plodded across the fields to the Polack quarters on the other side of the tracks from the town proper, stumbled into the filthy, garlic smelling interior of one of the shacks, and flung himself down on the bunk that was his bedroom.

"Lord!" he muttered. "I'm pretty bad to-night. Guess I'll have to postpone it. Might be as well, anyway."

He lay there for an hour, his bright eyes fastened now on the dirty, squalling brood of children upon the floor, now on the heavy, slatternly figure of their mother, and now on the tin bowl of boiled sheep's head that awaited the arrival of Ivan Peloff, the master of the house—and then, with abhorrent disgust, he turned his eyes to the wall.

"Thank God, I get into a decent place soon!" he mumbled once. "It's the roughest month I ever spent. I'd rather be back where"—he smiled sort of cryptically to himself—"where I came from." A moment later he spoke again in a queer, kind of argumentative, kind of self-extenuating way—in broken sentences. "Maybe I put it on a little too thick boarding here so's to stand in with Carleton and pay that ten back quick—but, my God, I was scared—I've got to stand in with somebody, or go to the wall."

It was after seven when Ivan Peloff came—smelling strong of drink, and excitement heightening the flush upon his cheek.

"Hello, Meester Walton!" he bubbled out with earnest inebriety. "We rise hell to-night—by an' by. Get him goods by midnight." Ivan Peloff drew his fingers around his throat, and, in lieu of English that came hard to him at any time, jerked his thumb dramatically up and down in the air.

"Who?" inquired P. Walton, without much enthusiasm.

"Dam' robber—him by train come in," explained Ivan Peloff laboriously.

"Oh," said P. Walton, "talking of stringing him up—is that it?"

Ivan Peloff nodded his head delightedly.

P. Walton swung himself lazily from his bunk.

"Eat?" invited Ivan Peloff, moving toward the table.

"No," said P. Walton, moving toward the door. "I'm not hungry; I'm going out for some air."

Ivan Peloff pulled two bottles of a deadly brand from under his coat, and set them on the table.

"Me eat," he grinned. "By an' by have drinks all 'round"—he waved his hands as though to embrace the whole Polack quarter—"den we comes—rise hell—do him goods by midnight."

P. Walton halted in the doorway.

"Who put you up to this, Peloff?" he inquired casually.

"Cowboys," grinned Peloff, lunging at the sheep's head. "Plenty drink. Say have fun."

"The cowboys, eh?" observed P. Walton. "So they're in town, are they—and looking for fun?"

"We fix him goods by midnight," repeated Ivan Peloff, wagging his head; then, with a sudden scowl: "You not tell—eh, Meester Walton?"

P. Walton smiled disinterestedly—but there wasn't any doubt in P. Walton's mind that devilment was in the wind—Big Cloud, in the early days, knew its full share of that.

"I?" said P. Walton quietly, as he went out. "No; I won't tell. It's no business of mine, is it?"

It was fall, and already dark. P. Walton made his way out of the Polack quarters, reached the tracks, crossed them—and then headed out through the fields to circle around the town to the upper end again, where it dwindled away from cross streets to the houses flanking on Main Street alone.

"I guess," he coughed—and smiled, "I won't postpone it till to-morrow night, after all."

It was a long walk for a man in P. Walton's condition, and it was a good half hour before he finally stopped in the rear of Sheriff Carruthers' back shed and listened—there were no fences here, just a procession of buttes and knolls merging the prairie country into the foothills proper of the Rockies—neither was there any sound. P. Walton stifled a cough, and slipped like a shadow through the darkness around to the front of the shed, shifted the wooden bar noiselessly on its pivot, opened the door, and, as he stepped inside, closed it softly behind him.

"Butch!" he whispered.

A startled ejaculation, and a quick movement as of a man suddenly shifting his position on the floor, answered him.

"Keep quiet, Butcher—it's all right," said P. Walton calmly—and, stooping, guiding his knife blade by the sense of touch, cut away the rope from the other's ankles. He caught at the steel-linked wrists and helped the man to his feet. "Come on," he said. "Slip around to the back of the shed—talk later."

P. Walton pushed the door open, and the man he called the Butcher, lurching a little unsteadily from cramped ankles, passed out. P. Walton carefully closed the door, coolly replaced the bar in position, and joined the other.

"Now, run for it!" he said—and led the way straight out from the town.

For two hundred yards, perhaps a little more, they raced—and then P. Walton stumbled and went down.

"I'm—I'm not very well to-night," he gasped. "This will do—it's far enough."

The Butcher, halted, gazed at the prostrate form.

"Say, cull, what's yer name?" he demanded. "I owe you something for this, an' don't you forget it."

P. Walton made no answer. His head was swimming, lights were dancing before his eyes, and there was a premonitory weakness upon him whose issue he knew too well—unless he could fight it off.

The Butcher bent down until his face was within an inch of P. Walton's.

"So help me!" he informed the universe in unbounded amazement. "It's de Dook!"

"Sit down there opposite me, and hold out your hands," directed P. Walton, with an effort. "We haven't got any time to waste."

The Butcher, heavy with wonderment, obeyed mechanically—and P. Walton drew a rat-tail file from his pocket.

"I saw you in the express car this afternoon, and I went to the roundhouse for this when I left the office," P. Walton said, as he set to work on the steel links. "But I was feeling kind of down and out, and was going to leave you till to-morrow night—only I heard they were going to lynch you at midnight."

"Lynch me!" growled the Butcher. "What fer? They don't lynch a fellow 'cause he's nipped in a hold-up—we didn't kill no one."

"Some of the cowboys are looking for amusement," said P. Walton monotonously. "They've distributed red-eye among the Polacks, for the purpose, I imagine, of putting the blame—on the Polacks."

"I get you!" snarled the Butcher, with an oath. "It's de Bar K Ranch—we took their payroll away from 'em two weeks ago. Lynchin', eh? Well, some of 'em 'll dance on air fer this themselves, blast 'em! Dook, yer white—an' you always was. I thought me luck was out fer keeps to-day when Spud—you saw Spud, didn't you?"

"Yes," said P. Walton, filing steadily.

"Spud always had a soft spot in his heart," said the Butcher. "Instead of drilling that devil, Nulty, when he had the chance, Nulty filled Spud full of holes, an' we fluked up—yer gettin' a bit of my wrist, Dook, with that damned file. Well, as I said, I thought me luck was out fer keeps—an' you show up. Gee! Who'd have thought of seein' de Angel Dook, de prize penman, de gem of forgers! How'd you make yer getaway—you was in fer twenty spaces, wasn't you?"

"I think they wanted to save the expense of burying me," said P. Walton. "The other wrist, Butch. I got a pardon."

"What's de matter with you, Dook?" inquired the Butcher solicitously.

"Lungs," said P. Walton tersely. "Bad."

"Hell!" said the Butcher earnestly.

There was silence for a moment, save only for the rasping of the file, and then the Butcher spoke again.

"What's yer lay out here, Dook?" he asked.

"Working for the railroad in the super's office—and keeping my mouth shut," said P. Walton.

"There's nothin' in that," said the Butcher profoundly. "Nothin' to it!"

"Not much," agreed P. Walton. "Forty a month, and—oh, well, forty a month."

"I'll fix that fer you, Dook," said the Butcher cheerily. "You join de gang. There's de old crowd from Joliet up here in de mountains. We got a swell layout. There's Larry, an' Big Tom, an' Dago Pete—Spud's cashed in—an' they'll stand on their heads an' yell Salvation Army songs when they hear that de slickest of 'em all—that's you, Dook—is buyin' a stack an' settin' in."

"No," said P. Walton. "No, Butch, I guess not—it's me for the forty per."

"Eh!" ejaculated the Butcher heavily. "You don't mean to say you've turned parson, Dook? You wouldn't be lettin' me loose if you had."

"No; nothing like that," replied P. Walton. "I'm sitting tight because I have to—until some one turns up and gives my record away—if I'm not dead first. I'm too sick, Butch, to be any use to you—I couldn't stand the pace."

"Sure, you could," said the Butcher reassuringly. "Anyway, I'm not fer leavin' a pal out in de cold, an'——" He stopped suddenly, and leaned toward P. Walton. "What was it you said you was doin' in de office?" he demanded excitedly.

"Assistant clerk to the superintendent," said P. Walton—and his file bit through the second link. "You'll have to get the bracelets off your wrists when you get back to the boys—your hands are free."

"Say," said the Butcher breathlessly, "it's a cinch! You see de letters, an' know what's goin' on pretty familiar-like, don't you?"

"Yes," said P. Walton.

"Well, say, can you beat it!" Once more the Butcher invoked the universe. "You're de inside man, see? Gee—it's a cinch! We only knew there was mazuma on de train to-day by a fluke, just Spud an' me heard of it, too late to plan anything fancy an' get de rest of de gang. You see what happened? After this we don't have to take no chances. You passes out de word when there's a good juicy lot of swag comin' along, we does de rest, and you gets your share—equal. An' that ain't all. They'll be sendin' down East fer de Pinkertons, if they ain't done it already, an' we gives 'em de laugh—you tippin' us off on de trains de 'dicks' are ridin' on, an' puttin' us wise to 'em generally. An' say"—the Butcher's voice dropped suddenly to a low, sullen, ugly growl—"you give us de lay de first crack we make when that low-lived, snook-nosed Nulty's aboard. He goes out fer Spud—an' he goes out quick. He's fired a gun de last time he'll ever fire one—see?"

P. Walton felt around on the ground, picked up the bit of chain he had filed from the handcuffs, and handed it, with the file, to the Butcher.

"Put these in your pocket, Butch," he said, "and throw them in the river where it's deep when you get a chance—especially the file. I guess from the way you put it I could earn my stake with the gang."

"Didn't I tell you, you could!" The Butcher, with swift change of mood, grinned delightedly. "Sure, you can! Larry's an innocent-lookin' kid, an' he's not known in de town. He'll float around an' get de bulletins from you—you'll know ahead when there's anything good comin' along, won't you?"

"When it leaves the coast," said P. Walton. "Thirty-six hours—sometimes more."

"An' I thought me luck was out fer keeps!" observed the Butcher, in an almost awe-struck voice.

"Well, don't play it too hard by hanging around here until they get you again," cautioned P. Walton dryly. "The further you get away from Big Cloud in the next few hours, the better you'll like it to-morrow."

"I'm off now," announced the Butcher, rising to his feet. "Dook, you're white—all de way through. Don't forget about Nulty, blast him!" He wrung P. Walton's hand with emotion. "So long, Dook!"

"So long, Butch!" said P. Walton.

P. Walton watched the Butcher disappear in the darkness, then he began to retrace his steps toward the Polack quarters. His one thought now was to reach his bunk. He was sick, good and sick, and those premonitory symptoms, if they had been arrested, were still with him. The day had been too much for him—the jostling on the platform, mostly when he had fought his way through the rear of the crowd for fear of an unguarded recognition on the part of the Butcher; then the walking he had done; and, lastly, that run from the sheriff's shed.

P. Walton, with swimming head and choking lungs, reeled a little as he went along. It was farther, quite a lot farther, to go by the fields, and he was far enough down from Carruthers' now so that it would not make any difference anyhow, even if the Butcher's escape had been discovered—which it hadn't, the town was too quiet for that. P. Walton headed into a cross street, staggered along it, reached the corner of Main Street—and, fainting, went suddenly down in a heap, as the hemorrhage caught him, and the bright, crimson "ruby" stained his lips.

Coming up the street from a conference in the super's office, Nulty, the express messenger, big, brawny, hard-faced, thin-lipped, swung along, dragging fiercely at his pipe, scowling grimly as he reviewed the day's happenings. He passed a little knot of Polacks, quite obviously far gone in liquor—and almost fell over P. Walton's body.

"Hullo!" said Nulty. "What the deuce is this!" He bent down for a look into the unconscious man's face. "The super's clerk!" he exclaimed—and stared around for help.

There was no one in sight, save the approaching Polacks—but one of these hurriedly, if unsteadily, lurched forward.

"Meester Walton!" announced Ivan Peloff genially. "Him be sick—yes?"

"Where's he live?" demanded Nulty, without waste of words.

"Him by me live," said Ivan Peloff, tapping his chest proudly as he swayed upon his feet. He called to his companions, and reached for P. Walton's legs. "We take him by us home."

"Let him alone!" said Nulty gruffly, as the interior of a Polack shanty pictured itself before his eyes.

"Him by me live," repeated Ivan Peloff, still reaching doggedly, if uncertainly, for P. Walton's legs.

"Let him alone, I tell you, you drunken Guinea!" roared Nulty suddenly, and his arm went out with a sweep that brushed Ivan Peloff back to an ultimate seat in the road three yards away. Without so much as a glance in the direction taken by the other, Nulty stepped up to the rest of the Polacks, stared into their faces, and selecting the one that appeared less drunk than the others, unceremoniously jerked the man by the collar into the foreground. "You know me!" he snapped. "I'm Nulty—Nulty. Say it!"

"Nultee," said the bewildered foreigner.

"Yes," said Nulty. "Now you run for the doctor—and you run like hell. If he ain't at home—find him. Tell him to come to Nulty—quick. Understand?"

The Polack nodded his head excitedly.

"Doctor—Nultee," he ejaculated brightly.

"Yes," said Nulty. "Go on, now—run!" And he gave the Polack an initial start with a vigorous push that nearly toppled the man forward on his nose.

Nulty stooped down, picked up P. Walton in his arms as though the latter were a baby, and started toward his own home a block away.

"My God," he muttered, "a railroad man down there in a state like this—he'd have a long chance, he would! Poor devil, guess he won't last out many more of these. Blast it all, now if the wife was home she'd know what to do—blamed if I know!"

For all that, however, Nulty did pretty well. He put P. Walton to bed, and started feeding him cracked ice even before the doctor came—after that Nulty went on feeding cracked ice.

Along toward midnight, Gleason, the yard-master, burst hurriedly into the house.

"Say, Nulty, you there!" he bawled. "That blasted train robber's got away, and—oh!" He had stepped from the hall over the threshold of the bedroom door, only to halt abruptly as his eyes fell upon the bed. "Anything I can do—Nulty?" he asked in a booming whisper, that he tried to make soft.

Nulty, sitting in a chair by the bed, shook his head—and Gleason tiptoed in squeaky boots out of the house.

P. Walton, who had been lying with closed eyes, opened them, and looked at Nulty.

"What did he say?" he inquired.

"Says the fellow we got to-day has got away," said Nulty shortly. "Shut up—the doctor says you're not to talk."

P. Walton's bright eyes made a circuit of the room, came back, and rested again on Nulty.

"Would you know him again if you saw him?" he demanded.

"Would I know him!" exclaimed Nulty. "It's not likely I wouldn't, is it? I was dead-heading him down from Gopher Butte, wasn't I?"

"I think," said P. Walton slowly, "if it were me I'd be scared stiff that he got away—afraid he'd be trying to revenge that other fellow, you know. You want to look out for him."

"I'd ask nothing better than to meet him again," said Nulty grimly. "Now, shut up—you're not to talk."

P. Walton was pretty sick. Nulty sat up all that night with him, laid off from his run the next day, and sat up with P. Walton again the next night. Then, having sent for Mrs. Nulty, who was visiting relatives down the line, Mrs. Nulty took a hand in the nursing. Mrs. Nulty was a little, sweet-faced woman, with gray Irish eyes and no style about her—Nulty's pay-check didn't reach that far—but she knew how to nurse; and if her hands were red and the knuckles a little swollen from the washtub, she could use them with a touch that was full enough of tender sympathy to discount anything a manicure might have reason to find fault with on professional grounds. She didn't rate Nulty for turning her home into a hospital, and crowding her train-sheet of work, already pretty full, past all endurance—Mrs. Nulty, God bless her, wasn't that kind of a woman! She looked at her husband with a sort of happy pride in her eyes; looked at P. Walton, and said, "Poor man," as her eyes filled—and went to work. But for all that, it was touch and go with P. Walton—P. Walton was a pretty sick man.

It's queer the way trouble of that sort acts—down and out one day with every signal in every block set dead against you; and the next day a clear track, with rights through buttoned in your reefer, a wide-flung throttle, and the sweep of the wind through the cab glass whipping your face till you could yell with the mad joy of living. It's queer!

Five days saw P. Walton back at the office, as good, apparently, as ever he was—but Mrs. Nulty didn't stop nursing. Nulty came down sick in place of P. Walton and took to bed—"to give her a chance to keep her hand in," Nulty said. Nulty came down, not from overdoing it on P. Walton's account—a few nights sitting up wasn't enough to lay a man like Nulty low—Nulty came down with a touch of just plain mountain fever.

It wasn't serious, or anything like that; but it put a stop order, temporarily at least, on the arrangements Nulty had cussed P. Walton into agreeing to. P. Walton was to come and board with the Nultys at the same figure he was paying Ivan Peloff until he got a raise and could pay more. And so, while Nulty was running hot and cold with mountain fever, P. Walton, with Mrs. Nulty in mind, kept his reservations on down in the Polack quarters, until such time as Nulty should get better—and went back to work at the office.

On the first night of his convalescence, P. Walton had a visitor—in the person of Larry, the brains and leader of the gang. Larry did not come inside the shack—he waited outside in the dark until P. Walton went out to him.

"Hullo, Dook!" said Larry. "Tough luck, eh? Been sick? Gee, I'm glad to see you! All to the mustard again? Couldn't get into town before, but a fellow uptown said you'd been bad."

"Hello, Larry," returned P. Walton, and he shook the other's hand cordially. "Glad to see you, too. Yes; I guess I'm all right—till next time."

"Sure, you are!" said Larry heartily. "Anything good doing?"

"Well," said P. Walton, "I don't know whether you'd call it good or not, but there was a new order went into effect yesterday to remain in force until further notice—owing to the heavy passenger traffic. They are taking the mail and express cars off the regular afternoon east-bound trains, and running them as a through extra on fast time. They figure to land the mails East quicker, and ease up on the equipment of the regular trains so as to keep them a little nearer schedule. So now the express stuff comes along on Extra No. 34, due Spider Cut at eight-seventeen p. m., which is her last stop before Big Cloud."

"Say," said Larry dubiously, "'taint going to be possible to board a train like that casual-like, is it?" Then, brightening suddenly: "But say, when you get to thinking about it, it don't size up so bad, neither. I got the lay, Dook—I got it for fair—listen! Instead of a train-load of passengers to handle there won't be no one after the ditching but what's left of the train crew and the mail clerks; a couple of us can stand the stamp lickers up easy, while the two others pinches the swag. We'll stop her, all right! We ditch the train—see? There's a peach of a place for it about seven miles up the line from here. We tap the wires, Big Tom's some cheese at that, and then cuts them as soon as we know the train has passed Spider Cut, and is wafting its way toward us. Say, it's good, Dook, it's like a Christmas present—I was near forgetting the registered mail."

P. Walton laughed—and coughed.

"I guess it's all right, Larry," he said. "According to a letter I saw in the office this afternoon, there's a big shipment of banknotes that some bank is remitting, and that will be on board night after next."

"Say that again," said Larry, sucking in his breath quickly. "I ain't deaf, but I'd like to hear it just once more."

"I was thinking," said P. Walton, more to himself than to his companion, "that I'd like to get down to Northern Australia—up Queensland way. They say it's good for what ails me—bakes it out of one."

"Dook," said Larry, shoving out his hand, "you can buy your ticket the day after the night after next—you'll get yours, and don't you forget it, I'll see to that. We'll move camp to-morrow down handy to the place I told you about, and get things ready. And say, Dook, is that cuss Nulty on the new run?"

"I don't know anything about Nulty," said P. Walton.

"Well, I hope he is," said Larry, with a fervent oath. "We're going to cut the heart out of him for what he did to Spud. The Butcher was for coming into town and putting a bullet through him anyway, but I'm not for throwing the game. It won't hurt Spud's memory any to wait a bit, and we won't lose any enthusiasm by the delay, you can bet your life on that! And now I guess I'll mosey along. The less I'm seen around here the better. Well, so long, Dook—I got it straight, eh? Night after to-morrow, train passes Spider Cut eight-seventeen—that right?"

"Eight-seventeen—night after to-morrow—yes," said P. Walton. "Good luck to you, Larry."

"Same to you, Dook," said Larry—and slipped away in the shadows.

P. Walton went uptown to sit for an hour or two with Nulty—turn about being no more than fair play. Also on the following night he did the same—and on this latter occasion he took the opportunity, when Mrs. Nulty wasn't around to hear and worry about it, to turn the conversation on the hold-up, after leading up to it casually.

"When you get out and back on your run again, Nulty, I'd keep a sharp look-out for that fellow whose pal you shot," he said.

"You can trust me for that," said Nulty anxiously. "I'll bet he wouldn't get away a second time!"

"Unless he saw you first," amended P. Walton evenly. "There's probably more where those two came from—a gang of them, I dare say. They'll have it in for you, Nulty."

"Don't you worry none about me," said Nulty, and his jaw shot out. "I'm able to take care of myself."

"Oh, well," said P. Walton, "I'm just warning you, that's all. Anyway, there isn't any immediate need for worry. I guess you're safe enough—so long as you stay in bed."

The next day P. Walton worked assiduously at the office. If excitement or nervousness in regard to the events of the night that was to come was in any wise his portion, he did not show it. There was not a quiver in the steel-plate hand in which he wrote the super's letters, not even an inadvertent blur on the tissue pages of the book in which he copied them. Only, perhaps, he worked a little more slowly—his work wasn't done when the shop whistle blew and he came back to the office after supper. It was close on ten minutes after eight when he finally finished, and went into the despatcher's room with the sheaf of official telegrams to go East during the night at odd moments when the wires were light.

"Here's the super's stuff," he said, laying the papers on the despatcher's desk.

"All right," said Spence, who was sitting in on the early trick. "How's P. Walton to-night?"

"Pretty fair," said P. Walton, with a smile. "How's everything moving?"

"Slick as clockwork," Spence answered. "Everything on the dot. I'll get some of that stuff off for you now."

"Good," said P. Walton, moving toward the door. "Good-night, Spence."

"'Night, old man," rejoined Spence, and picking up the first of the super's telegrams began to rattle a call on his key like the tattoo of a snare drum.

P. Walton, in possession of the information he sought—that Extra No. 34 was on time—descended the stairs to the platform, and started uptown.

"I think," he mused, as he went along, "that about as good a place as any for me when this thing breaks will be sitting with Nulty."

P. Walton noticed the light burning in Nulty's bedroom window as he reached the house; and, it being a warm night, found the front door wide open. He stepped into the hall, and from there into the bedroom. Mrs. Nulty was sitting in a rocking-chair beside the lamp, mending away busily at a pair of Nulty's overalls—but there wasn't anybody else in the room.

"Hello!" said P. Walton cheerily. "Where's the sick man?"

"Why, didn't you know?" said Mrs. Nulty a little anxiously, as she laid aside her work and rose from her chair. "The express company sent word this morning that if he was able they particularly wanted to have him make the run through the mountains to-night on Extra Number Thirty-four—I think there was some special shipment of money. He wasn't at all fit to go, and I tried to keep him home, but he wouldn't listen to me. He went up to Elk River this morning to meet Thirty-four and come back on it. I've been worrying all day about him."

P. Walton's eyes rested on the anxious face of the little woman before him, dropped to the red, hard-working hands that played nervously with the corner of her apron then travelled to Nulty's alarm clock that ticked raucously upon the table—it was 8.17. P. Walton smiled.

"Now, don't you worry, Mrs. Nulty," he said reassuringly. "A touch of mountain fever isn't anything one way or the other—don't you worry, it'll be all right. I didn't know he was out, and I was going to sit with him for a little while, but what I really came for was to get him to lend me a revolver—there's a coyote haunting my end of the town that's kept me awake for the last two nights, and I'd like to even up the score. If Nulty hasn't taken the whole of his armament with him, perhaps you'll let me have one.

"Why, yes, of course," said Mrs. Nulty readily. "There's two there in the top bureau drawer. Take whichever one you want."

"Thanks," said P. Walton—and stepped to the bureau. He took out a revolver, slipped it into his pocket, and turned toward the door. "Now, don't you worry, Mrs. Nulty," he said encouragingly, "because there's nothing to worry about. Tell him I dropped in, will you?—and thank you again for the revolver. Good-night, Mrs. Nulty."'

P. Walton's eyes strayed to the clock as he left the room—it was 8.19. On the sidewalk he broke into a run, dashed around the corner and sped, with instantly protesting lungs, down Main Street, making for the railroad yards. And as he ran P. Walton did a sum in mental arithmetic, while his breath came in gasps.

If you remember Flannagan, you will remember that the distance from Spider Cut to Big Cloud was twenty-one decimal seven miles. P. Walton figured it roughly twenty-two. No. 34, on time, had already left Spider Cut at 8.17—and the wires were cut. Her running time for the twenty-two miles was twenty-nine minutes—she made Big Cloud at 8.46. Counting Larry's estimate of seven miles to be accurate, No. 34 had fifteen miles to go from Spider Cut before they piled her in the ditch, and it would take her a little over nineteen minutes to do it. With two minutes already elapsed—three now—and allowing, by shaving it close, another five before he started, P. Walton found that he was left with eleven minutes in which to cover seven miles.

It took P. Walton four of his five-minute allowance to reach the station platform; and here, for just an instant, he paused while his eyes swept the twinkling switch lights in the yards. Then he raced along the length of the platform, jumped from the upper end to the ground, and lurching a little, up the main line track to where fore-shortened, unclassed little switching engine—the 229—was grunting heavily, and stealing a momentary rest after having sent a string of flats flying down a spur under the tender guidance of a brakeman or two. And as P. Walton ran, he reached into his pocket and drew out Nulty's revolver.

There wasn't much light inside the cab—there was only the lamp over the gauges—but it was light enough to show P. Walton's glittering eyes, fever bright, the deadly white of his face, the deadly smile on his lips, and the deadly weapon in his hand, as he sprang through the gangway.

"Get out!" panted P. Walton coldly.

Neither Dalheen, the fireman, nor Mulligan, fat as a porpoise, on the right-hand side, stood upon the order of their going. Dalheen ducked, and took a flying leap through the left-hand gangway; and Mulligan, with a sort of anxious gasp that seemed as though he wished to convey to P. Walton the fact that he was hurrying all he could, squeezed himself through the right-hand gangway and sat down on the ground.

P. Walton pulled the throttle open with an unscientific jerk.

With a kind of startled scream from the hissing steam, the sparks flying from madly racing drivers as the wheel tires bit into the rails, the old 229, like a frightened thoroughbred at the vicious lash of a yokel driver, reared and plunged wildly forward. The sudden, violent start from inertia pitched P. Walton off his feet across the driver's seat, and smashed his head against the reversing lever that stood notched forward in the segment. He gained his feet again, and, his head swimming a little from the blow, looked behind him.

Yells were coming from half a dozen different directions; forms, racing along with lanterns bobbing up and down, were tearing madly for the upper end of the yard toward him; there was a blur of switch lights, red, white, purple and green—then with a wicked lurch around a curve darkness hid them, and the sweep of the wind, the roar of the pounding drivers deadened all other sounds.

P. Walton smiled—a strange, curious, wistful smile—and sat down in Mulligan's seat. His qualifications for a Brotherhood card had been exhausted when he had pulled the throttle—engine driving was not in P. Walton's line. P. Walton smiled at the air latch, the water glass, the gauges and injectors, whose inner workings were mysteries to him—and clung to the window sill of the cab to keep his seat. He understood the throttle—in a measure—he had ridden up and down the yards in the switchers once or twice during the month that was past—that was all.

Quicker came the bark of the exhaust; quicker the speed. P. Walton's eyes were fixed through the cab glass ahead, following the headlight's glare, that silvered now the rails, and now flung its beams athwart the stubble of a butte as the 229 swung a curve. Around him, about him, was dizzy, lurching chaos, as, like some mad thing, the little switcher reeled drunkenly through the night—now losing her wheel-base with a sickening slew on the circling track, now finding it again with a staggering quiver as she struck the tangent once more.

It was not scientific running—P. Walton never eased her, never helped her—P. Walton was not an engineer. He only knew that he must go fast to make the seven miles in eleven minutes—and he was going fast. And, mocking every formula of dynamics, the little switcher, with no single trailing coach to steady it, swinging, swaying, rocking, held the rails.

P. Walton's lips were still half parted in their strange, curious smile. A deafening roar was in his ears—the pound of beating trucks on the fish-plates; the creak and groan of axle play; the screech of crunching flanges; the whistling wind; the full-toned thunder now of the exhaust—and reverberating back and forth, flinging it from butte to butte, for miles around in the foothills the still night woke into a thousand answering echoes.

Meanwhile, back in Big Cloud, things were happening in the super's office. Spence, the despatcher, interrupting Carleton and Regan at their nightly pedro, came hastily into the room.

"Something's wrong," he said tersely. "I can't get anything west of here, and——" He stopped suddenly, as Mulligan, flabby white, came tumbling into the room.

"He's gone off his chump!" screamed Mulligan. "Gone delirious, or mad, or——"

"What's the matter?" Carleton was on his feet, his words cold as ice.

"Here!" gasped the engineer. "Look!" He dragged Carleton to the side window, and pointed up the track—the 229, sparks volleying skyward from her stack, was just disappearing around the first bend. "That's—that's the two-twenty-nine!" he panted. "P. Walton's in her—drove me and Dalheen out of the cab with a revolver."

For an instant, no more than a breathing space, no one spoke; then Spence's voice, with a queer sag in it, broke the silence:

"Extra Thirty-four left Spider Cut eight minutes ago."

Carleton, master always of himself, and master always of the situation, spoke before the words were hardly out of the despatcher's mouth:

"Order the wrecker out, Spence—jump! Mulligan, go down and help get the crew together." And then, as Spence and Mulligan hurried from the room, Carleton looked at the master mechanic. "Well, Tommy, what do you make of this?" he demanded grimly.

Regan, with thinned lips, was pulling viciously at his mustache.

"What do I make of it!" he growled. "A mail train in the ditch, and nothing worth speaking of left of the two-twenty-nine—that's what I make of it!"

Carleton shook his head.

"Doesn't it strike you as a rather remarkable coincidence that our wires should go out, and P. Walton should go off his head with delirium at the same moment?"

"Eh!" snapped Regan sharply. "Eh!—what do you mean?"

"I don't mean anything," Carleton answered, clipping off his words. "It's strange, that's all—I think we'll go up with the wrecker, Tommy."

"Yes," said Regan slowly, puzzled; then, with a scowl and a tug at his mustache: "It does look queer, queerer every minute—blamed queer! I wonder who P. Walton is, and where he came from anyhow?"

"You asked me that once before," Carleton threw back over his shoulder, moving toward the door. "P. Walton never said."

And while Regan, still tugging at his mustache, followed Carleton down the stairs to the platform, and ill-omened call boys flew about the town for the wrecking crew, and the 1018, big and capable, snorting from a full head of steam, backed the tool car, a flat, and the rumbling derrick from a spur to the main line, P. Walton still sat, smiling strangely, clinging to the window sill of the laboring 229, staring out into the night through the cab glass ahead.

"You see," said P. Walton to himself, as though summing up an argument dispassionately, "ditching a train travelling pretty near a mile a minute is apt to result in a few casualties, and Nulty might get hurt, and if he didn't, the first thing they'd do would be to pass him out for keeps, anyway, on Spud's account. They're not a very gentle lot—I remember the night back at Joliet that Larry and the Butcher walked out with the guards' clothes on, after cracking the guards' skulls. They're not a very gentle lot, and I guess they've been to some little trouble fixing up for to-night—enough so's they won't feel pleasant at having it spoiled. I guess"—P. Walton coughed—"I won't need that ticket for the heat of Northern Queensland. I guess"—he ended gravely—"I guess I'm going to hell."

P. Walton put his head out through the window and listened—and nodded his head.

"Sound carries a long way out here in the foothills," he observed. "They ought to hear it on the mail train as soon as we get close—and I guess we're close enough now to start it."

P. Walton got down, and, clutching at the cab-frame for support, lifted up the cover of the engineer's seat—there was sure to be something there among the tools that would do. P. Walton's hand came out with a heavy piece of cord. He turned then, pulled the whistle lever down, tied it down—and, screaming now like a lost soul, the 229 reeled on through the night.

The minutes passed—and then the pace began to slacken. Dalheen was always rated a good fireman, and a wizard with the shovel, but even Dalheen had his limitations—and P. Walton hadn't helped him out any. The steam was dropping pretty fast as the 229 started to climb a grade.

P. Walton stared anxiously about him. It must be eleven minutes now since he had started from the Big Cloud yards, but how far had he come? Was he going to stop too soon after all? What was the matter? P. Walton's eyes on the track ahead dilated suddenly, and, as suddenly, he reached for the throttle and slammed it shut—he was not going to stop too soon—perhaps not soon enough.

Larry, the Butcher, Big Tom, and Dago Pete had chosen their position well. A hundred yards ahead, the headlight played on a dismantled roadbed and torn-up rails, then shot off into nothingness over the embankment as the right of way swerved sharply to the right they had left no single loophole for Extra No. 34, not even a fighting chance—the mail train would swing the curve and be into the muck before the men in her cab would be able to touch a lever.

Screaming hoarsely, the 229 slowed, bumped her pony truck on the ties where there were no longer any rails jarred, bounced, and thumped along another half dozen yards—and brought up with a shock that sent P. Walton reeling back on the coal in the tender.

A dark form, springing forward, bulked in the left-hand gangway—and P. Walton recognized the Butcher.

"Keep out, Butch!" he coughed over the scream of the whistle—and the Butcher in his surprise sort of sagged mechanically back to the ground.

"It's de Dook!" he yelled, with a gasp; and then, as other forms joined him, he burst into a torrent of oaths. "What de blazes are you doin'!" he bawled. "De train 'll be along in a minute, if you ain't queered it already—cut out that cursed whistle! Cut it out, d'ye hear, or we'll come in there an' do it for you in a way you won't like—have you gone nutty?"

"Try it," invited P. Walton—and coughed again. "You won't have far to come, but I'll drop you if you do. I've changed my mind—there isn't going to be any wreck to-night. You'd better use what time is left in making your getaway."

"So that's it, is it!" roared another voice. "You dirty pup, you'd squeal on your pals, would you, you white-livered snitch, you! Well, take that!"

There was a flash, a lane of light cut streaming through the darkness, and a bullet lodged with an angry spat on the coal behind P. Walton's head. Another and another followed. P. Walton smiled, and flattened himself down on the coal. A form leaped for the gangway—and P. Walton fired. There was a yell of pain and the man dropped back. Then P. Walton heard some of them running around behind the tender, and they came at him from both sides, firing at an angle through both gangways. Yells, oaths, revolver shots and the screech of the whistle filled the air—and again P. Walton smiled—he was hit now, quite badly, somewhere in his side.

His brain grew sick and giddy. He fired once, twice more unsteadily—then the revolver slipped from his fingers. From somewhere came another whistle—they weren't firing at him any more, they were running away, and—P. Walton tried to rise—and pitched back unconscious.

Nulty, the first man out from the mail train, found him there, and, wondering, his face set and grim, carried P. Walton to the express car. They made a mattress for him out of chair cushions, and laid him on the floor—and there, a few minutes later, Regan and Carleton, from the wrecker, after a look at the 229 and the wrecked track that spoke eloquently for itself, joined the group.

Carleton knelt and looked at P. Walton—then looked into Nulty's face.

Nulty, bending over P. Walton on the other side, shook his head.

"He's past all hope," he said gruffly.

P. Walton stirred, and his lips moved—he was talking to himself.

"If I were you, Nulty," he murmured, and they stooped to catch the words, "I'd look out for—for—that——"

The words trailed off into incoherency.

Regan, tugging at his mustache, swallowed a lump in his throat, and turned away his head.

"It's queer!" he muttered. "How'd he know—what? I wonder where he came from, and who he was?"

But P. Walton never said. P. Walton was dead.

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