Trouble Shooter - Ernest Haycox - E-Book

Trouble Shooter E-Book

Ernest Haycox

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Beschreibung

The novel Trouble Shooter was the basis for the movie Union Pacific (1939), directed by Cecil B. DeMille, starring Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea Plot: Frank Peace is a hired gunman and security guard working for the Union Pacific Railroad company known for his temper and severe ways of dealing with those who try to interfere with railway and its progress. His reputation and his deeds have earned him a lot of enemies and one of them in particular, Al Brett, is determined to kill him. Brett announces to Peace the time and the place of when and where he plans to do it which brings his tension to another level. Together with this "small" problem, Peace faces a difficult challenge to choose between two women with affections towards him, fearing the disappointment of each.

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Ernest Haycox

Trouble Shooter

e-artnow, 2021 Contact: [email protected]

Table of Contents

I
II
III
IV
V
VI
VII
VIII
IX
X
XI
XII
XIII
XIV
XV
XVI
XVII
XVIII
XIX
XX
XXI

I

Table of Contents

This was April, 1868, with the combination work-passenger train running up the valley of the Lodgepole toward Cheyenne.

More or less surrounded by the necessary junk that belonged to his job, Frank Peace sat with his long legs across the opposite seat and watched April's premature dusk slowly fill the desert's empty horizon. Spring broke late this year, for a gusty wind boiled against the car sides and the air scouring down the aisle laid its raw edge against him. Out in the bleak foreground a band of antelope rushed up from a coulee, scudding away into the farther darkness; a window behind Peace squalled open and the man sitting there pumped seven quick shots from his Spencer fruitlessly into that bitten plain and slammed the window down again.

Fresher cold flowed along the car. They were cracking it up at forty miles, through a suddenly condensed night. The trucks of this car chattered a little and Frank Peace's body registered the sudden bite of a curve with a professional interest. Idle as he was, he could never divorce himself from this care; it had been so all the way from Omaha, his ears and eyes attentive to tangent and curve, to the rhythm of the wheels on the rail joints, to the flow of the train along a grade scooped up from the desert only a year before. At Hillsdale Station it was thoroughly dark, the lights of the station making a yellow shine on the squad of Soldiers drawn up along the platform. In the moment they stood to his view he saw their stolid faces whipped red by the wind; and then the train ran on, the engine's halloo roping back through the rush of weather. Conductor Paddy Miles came by.

Peace said: "Stop at Archer, Paddy."

"Sure, Mister Peace," said Paddy Miles and went on down the aisle, his broad shoulders pressing aside the men restlessly congesting it. For this April was the beginning of another construction season. The Union Pacific's steel rails, racing 240 miles across Nebraska from North Platte the year before, had stopped eight thousand feet high in the snowy jaws of Sherman Summit, beyond Cheyenne. But this was spring again and ten thousand men of all degrees and kinds—graders, steel layers, bridge builders, gamblers, freighters, gunmen, ex-soldiers, tradesmen, mule skinners, cowhands, doctors and lawyers, politicians—were bound back in one great tidal wave to Cheyenne and to the end of track beyond Cheyenne for another turbulent, wicked year. Young and old, worker and drone, reputable and disreputable—the five passenger coaches of this train were crowded with them.

Looking them over with a candid eye, Frank Peace saw one common thing that held them together—a buoyancy, a high vigor that sang in their voices and turned their muscles impatient. He had it himself, a restlessness that made fifteen hours on the train most intolerable. The lamplight of the car diffused itself feebly through an air turned blue by the fumes of small-stemmed clay pipes clutched doggedly between Irish jaws. All faces were ruddy and all talk had the one major overtone; which was that tuneful and tenor lilt of Erin. Some of these men were fresh from the old sod; the rest of them were veterans of the shovel and, before that, soldiers under Grant. In their cowhide boots and formless store suits and round-brimmed hats they made a rough show, but Peace knew them well and understood that these were the kind of men who would stand the bitter blast of winter and the merciless heat of sun and alkali better than any other breed. They would curse and complain and fight, but they would work until work was done; and they would turn from shovel to the stacked guns beside them and stand fast when the Sioux and the Cheyenne and the Arapahoe raided the track. He liked them because he had fought with them and against them—and never had found them soft.

And then his eyes turned to another part of the car and he was again puzzled, as he had been all the way from Omaha, to see the girl with the yellow hair and softly smiling face placed opposite Big Sid Campeaux.

There were two women in this car, but of the one who sat down near the pot-bellied stove and seemed so cold and demure and frightened he had no illusions. For her name was Rose, and wherever the end of track would be there she would be.

It was the other girl he could not understand. She seemed to know Big Sid, which was part of the puzzle, since Big Sid was no man to hide his talents. At each successive end of track town—north Platte, Julesburg, Sidney and Cheyenne—it was Big Sid's huge tent saloon that trapped a large part of the restless construction man's pay check. They burned for a while, these towns, like a crimson fire against a shocked prairie, and then the rails hurried on and they died and a new camp was born; yet as fast as the rails hurried, Big Sid was there at the vanguard with his saloon to meet the first engine chuffing with its load of Paddies. More than that, it was Big Sid who represented the crooks and desperadoes and gamblers clinging so relentlessly to the flanks of the road as it pressed on. When Big Sid spoke he spoke for all of them. A huge man, gray and bland of cheek, soft-spoken and well dressed, he sat quietly with the girl and showed her a marked courtesy.

She wasn't, Peace decided, Campeaux's kind of a woman. There was a breeding about her, a pride in the lines of her features. She had put her fashionable wrap aside somewhere on the trip and now wore a long, blue military overcoat buttoned against the chill of the car. Above its collar Frank Peace had an incomplete view of yellow, well-combed hair, of cheeks very smooth and tinted pink by a vitality that strongly impressed itself upon him. The sense of an inward smiling was there for him, and the sense of a gallantry somewhat rare in a woman was there too—on rather long lips and in the clear hazel of her eyes.

She felt his glance; for her head came up and her eyes met his with a moment's steadiness. Campeaux jerked his big round cheeks about and showed Peace a strict civility—nothing else. The engine's long whistling fled by in gusty waves and there was a sudden break in the train's smooth running as it slackened for Archer Station. Peace untangled his legs from the gear piled around him and hoisted his long, flat frame one section at a time, as tall men learn to do in crowded spaces, and started down the aisle. He had to press the milling Irishmen aside. He did it without much ceremony, but he grinned a little as he made his way. There was a short chunk of a man in front of him who looked up—and grinned back; a Welshman all over and a scrappy bridge foreman with the devil in his blue eyes.

"Bully, me boy," he said. "This is the year we beat the Central into Ogden."

"Sure," said Peace. But he knew how to handle these men and so he added: "We'll get there if you can keep your bridges built ahead of the steel. The steel gang has a better foreman, Barney."

"The hell it has!" yelled Barney, "I can lick any black Irish steel layer in this world!"

The rivalry of these men was a keen, violent thing. A long Hibernian yell rocked along the car and a brawling voice called: "Where the jasus is that boy?"

Peace's grin grew longer and thinner, for the feel of this reckless, headlong fighting crowd ran through him and set up a like recklessness. He pushed his way to the end of the car where a blackened gallon coffeepot sat simmering on the stove. He got a cup and poured himself a jot of this stiff drink—strong enough to float a track bolt—and drank it; he stood there a moment with his face tipped down in a scowling pattern. Afterward he found a second cup. He filled both. He worked his way across to the frail Rose sitting so obscurely inside her closewrapped coat.

He said: "You look cold, Rose," gently, and watched her eyes lift and cling to him.

She took the cup, but held it still—a faint shred of color coming into her face, softening its stony expression. There was something about the girl he never understood—and failed to understand now; for in her was a faint grace that made him remember his manners.

She said, in a slow, murmuring breath: "Thank you," and looked down at the cup. There was a break in her reserve, a letting down of that hard wall she showed the men of this car; he saw it and turned away, not wishing to see more.

He said, "Gangway, you pick-and-shovel experts," and balanced the remaining cup above him.

The packed Irishmen in the aisle were hard to stir, and he put his free arm out without any ceremony and hauled them aside, and came to Big Sid Campeaux's section. The girl there had been watching him, measuring him in a manner that was straight and swift and without a smile. The pride in her was like steel; she had a breeding that in some way put him on the defensive. It seemed to him she kept him this way a long enough time before she smiled and accepted the coffee cup.

"It is very fhoughtful of you, Mr. Peace," she told him calmly.

"Maybe," he answered. "And maybe not." He looked over to Big Sid Campeaux who made a taciturn third party to this scene. The car pitched more slowly along the rails and somebody said, "Here's Archer, where Hills got killed last November." Then he drawled: "How are you, Sid?"

"Glad to see you again, Peace," grunted Campeaux. "Been in Omaha all winter?"

"No—just a month." Peace's glance whipped again to the girl. She had lifted the coffee cup to her lips, and her glance came over its rim to him, alert and interested and faintly amused. She had a quality, he thought swiftly, that struck him with a definite impact. Raw and rough as this surrounding scene was, it seemed to please her, it seemed to put a sparkle into the round hazel surfaces of her eyes. The restlessness of all these men and the shouldering of the desert wind outside seemed to appeal to a sense of adventure in her. The lightness of her hair shed a remote cameo glow across the smooth surface of her cheeks. She had a resolute chin, and her lips were longer than he had first noticed, and caught now in a smile, He didn't look at Campeaux but he spoke to the man with a real impatience. "Your manners, Sid, are rotten."

The train had come to a full stop and the car was swirling with that high and emphatic Hibernian talk. "When did you get the habit of expectin' help from me?" retorted Campeaux.

Peace stared deliberately at the man. The indolence went out of him and his lips made a straight line. "That's right," he suggested quietly.

There wasn't any expression on Campeaux's bland, gray-freckled cheeks. The big man had power in him, and it made him soft and noncommittal with his talk. A great diamond on one of his heavy fingers caught the smoky car light and threw back a brittle blue brilliance; and the sense of hostility between them was impossible to prevent. A little of that deep and resentful feeling got into Campeaux's eyes then and pulled his eyelids more closely together.

The motion of a man's shoulders in the seat behind Campeaux diverted Frank Peace's attention, and he saw Mitch Dollarhide slowly rise from a half-sprawled position and bend forward to catch his talk. Mitch's ragged mustache edged his mouth; the brim of his hat came well down over his eyes. It was a secretiveness and a shadowing in keeping with his ways, for he was Big Sid Campeaux's creature, walking always behind Campeaux like a well-trained brute. He watched Peace solemnly.

The train had been halted this while; and presently Paddy Miles thrust his way down the aisle with a sheet of flimsy telegraph paper in his hand for Peace. He said:

"Don't hold us up any longer than you can help, Mr. Peace. We're late into Cheyenne now."

Peace bowed at the girl and turned away. He had his look at the message; he took his time reading it, long legs braced across the aisle.

Barney, the Welshman, was speaking in his hearty way:

"And you will recall it was here we had to stop the engines last July when the buffalo went across."

Peace said: "Go ahead, Paddy," and returned to his seat.

The engine sent out its two short blasts; cold air poured down the aisle again and all the shifting men wheeled as the car jerked forward. Peace settled his long legs between his luggage and smoothed out the telegram:

Make no plans for cheyenne tonight. Reed.

Nan Normandy had a slanting profile view of Peace then. Unobserved, she could let her eyes speculate. If she never saw this man again, she told herself, she knew at least one thing about him: He had little respect for barriers and he had a reckless temper. It was there to be seen in the stubborn and slightly uneven lines of his cheeks, He sat indolent across the seats, with his wide, flat chest in repose; yet there was, she surmised, not the least repose in him. His hair was ink-black, his eyes a smoky gray; and his fists were hard. In one way he was elementary in his actions, for he had wanted to speak to her and had found a quick way of doing it. But he had done another thing, too, which lifted her interest enormously. He had stopped on the way to give the other cup of coffee to the girl sitting at the end of the car—a girl whose place in life was easily enough read. He had smiled at the girl with a sudden softening of his face. Men liked him, for all during this trip she had seen these unruly Irishmen stop and have a word with him; and she had seen his grin make a quick, rash streak across his face.

She turned to Campeaux so suddenly that she caught his heavy, studying look. "What did you say he did on the railroad?"

"His title," said Campeaux, "is assistant superintendent of construction. Under Reed, who is superintendent, and under General Dodge, the chief engineer." Campeaux let it ride like that a moment, afterward adding: "You'll be likely to find him wherever there happens to be a fight. Dodge and Reed use him to fix up trouble. Any kind of trouble."

"He's young," mused Nan Normandy.

"Twenty-six, I guess."

"And very hard," said the girl.

"Yes," Watching Campeaux, she observed his face grow heavy. The hatred between the two was something that couldn't be hidden. Yet it was equally clear to her that Campeaux held a deep respect for Peace. For he said later:

"He's got four years of the rebellion behind him, a year of Indian fighting, and a year of this job. You get hard fast in this country. Or you don't stay."

"I suppose so. Though it is not pleasant to remember."

Campeaux permitted himself a thin smile. "You'll hear him referred to as the man who tamed Julesburg."

"What was that?"

"Just a story."

She still had her eyes on Peace, watching that black head roll to the motion of the car. He was relaxed, and he had forgotten her, but there was a scowling line across his forehead and he had his eyes on the yellow message. The Irishmen in the aisle were beginning to boil again, dragging their belongings from beneath the seats.

Carnpeaux spoke. "Practically to Cheyenne—and seven o'clock."

"The Magic City of the Plains," murmured Nan.

Campeaux bent forward. "You'll like the country."

"I expect to."

He rolled his big body back against the seat. "It's for gamblers. You're a gambler."

"In my own way—yes."

Campeaux had a trick of lifting his heavy lids when he was interested—as he did now. Considering the round, cold inexpressiveness of that glance, Nan Normandy felt her guard go up. But a moment later Campeaux's attitude became indifferent. His hands, thick and soft, lay idle across his legs.

He said: "I want to help you."

Nan Normandy's shoulders lifted. But she didn't speak.

Paddy Miles yelled down the aisle: "Cheyenne!"

All the Irishmen were crowding toward the car doors and an enormous confusion began to rack the narrow space. They were laughing, and the long hours on the train had dammed up a wildness that was about to burst through. In a quick half glance she saw Frank Peace gather up his plunder and join this crush. He had not looked at her again—he had forgotten her entirely, she thought one man wheeled to say something to Peace and she noted his swift grin return. The train stopped. Beyond the fogged window she saw the lights of Cheyenne shining down a strange, raw street.

Campeaux said, "Mitch," without turning his head, and a great creature rose from the seat behind Campeaux. Nan hadn't noticed him before. He had a mustache shaped thinly like a crescent across his flat lips and a pair of muddy eyes set up a little flash under the brim of his hat. He came around and stood obediently in the aisle. His face was very dark, his features blunt to the point of brutality. "Take those things, Mitch," added Campeaux, and rose.

The aisle was emptied and Nan preceded Campeaux along it to the platform. A harsh wind struck her in the face. Lanterns flashed along the station runway and many men roved the adjoining mud calling out other men's names. In all those voices was something eager and high-pitched and gay. Coming down the steps uncertainly she stopped to wait for Campeaux.

Frank Peace's voice said, behind her: "Any way I can help you?"

It turned her around. He stood there in the frosty glitter of the weaving lantern lights. His head bent toward her. She observed then the pale scar running across his left temple. There were two other men in the background, obviously waiting for him.

Somewhere a man's leather lungs kept yelling at the disembarked Irishmen. "Come over to the Club saloon, you faro sports, and give us a bet! Come over—come over!"

A near-by gun was being fired unevenly into the turbulent night, its reports stretched thin by the gusty, bitter wind. The other girl on the train slipped down the steps and for a moment her white face tipped to Peace. It was something Nan could not help seeing—that strained, somber expression. Then she vanished in the churning confusion.

Nan said: "You have been nice—and thank you. Mr. Campeaux has offered to help me."

The change of his eyes astonished her. They darkened immeasurably and showed disbelief. It was as though he had stepped through a gate and closed it between them. She did not know why, and the moment hurt her. Campeaux came on, speaking bluntly at Peace.

"There's a few things, friend Frank, you ought to stay out of."

Peace said briefly, "I suppose so." He turned on his heel and joined the other two men waiting there. All of them shouldered through the crowd. Something had definitely happened here, oddly depressing her. Campeaux's man, Mitch, got his abnormally long arms around all the luggage and stood patiently by.

"You will want to have a bite to eat," said Campeaux. "The proper place is the Rollins House. Go on, Mitch, go on." He gave his arm to Nan and they drifted slowly with the crowd. There was a man standing by the line of cars, looking on—a short man with very wide shoulders and a gray head. Something amused him and he turned around, impelled to talk. There was only a stranger from the train at hand—another Irishman with an emerald greenness of the isle still thick about him. But the short one laughed with a long amusement.

"You see that? That bully boy with the high-coupled hips—that was Frank Peace, the man who wrecked Julesburg. And him a-talkin' to the girl when Big Sid Campeaux steps up to take her away. Now that was a thing. What's your name?"

"Callahan—and where do I shleep?"

"Ah," said the small man scornfully, "why should you be wantin' to sleep? Listen to me, Callahan. I'm Collie Moynihan. Campeaux took the girl from under Frank's nose—a rare sight and one you'll nawt be likely to see repeated, When you buy a drink or dance with the girls or try your luck at monte it is likely Campeaux's pocket you'll be linin', It was so in Julesburg where Campeaux and his gamblin' devils thought to dispute the word of the railroad's marshal there. And so Peace drops back with a few of us chosen ones, Callahan—a few of us railroad boys. We kill and we cure and we leave fifteen of those bad ones to christen a new graveyard, which Julesburg was a-needin', And here now Campeaux takes this girl from bucko Frank. A rare sight."

"And why," said Callahan, very prompt in his answer, "did we not shtep up there and show this Campeaux the evil of his way?"

Collie Moynihan slid one finger along his nose and laughed—a long, cheerful laugh.

"If you're ableatin' at me—" suggested Callahan softly.

"There is plenty of time, me green one, for fightin'. Indade there is. An' you'll nawt be a much oulder man when it comes to you. Come with me to the commissary shack."

II

Table of Contents

The three of them—Leach Overmile, Phil Morgan and Peace—shouldered into the crowd, skirting the fresh pine-boarded buildings of the railroad offices, turning around the vast piles of steel and ties and boxed supplies waiting here to be thrown forward to the end of track. Engines were backing down the sidings, rattling up the long strings of cars. Men were working near by on a new shed, with a huge bonfire to guide their hammers and their saws. A recent rain had turned Cheyenne's main street to a churned and beaten and knee-deep river of mud along which, even at this late hour, the toiling freight wagons were moving hub to hub in formless confusion.

Across the gulf of mud Peace saw the glitter of Cheyenne's saloons and dance halls and business houses stretching away into the windy night. Tent or log framed or pine-boarded, all of them were booming with the traffic and trade of the newly opened construction year. Over on the corner of Eddy the vast shape of Campeaux's Club saloon, a circus tent fifty feet wide and a hundred feet long, emitted its solid gush of light, and a band in there made an enormous clatter through which the hoarse spiel of the barker at the door rose and fell.

"Not a building here last July—and now look at it," observed Peace.

"Nine thousand citizens," said Leach Overmile, He was all Texan, tall and thin and as soft-spoken as a girl. Cold as it was he wore only a thin cotton shirt and a pair of striped butternut breeches tucked into the low-topped boots characteristic of cattle land. A Colt's .44 slapped against his right thigh. "Steeped in sin and proud of it. Kinda tame against Julesburg, though. Vigilantes have got the tough ones temporarily scared. What's Omaha look like?"

They turned into the Rollins House and walked up the stairs to the room Peace kept against his frequent passages in and out of the place. He dropped his plunder and lighted a lamp.

"Omaha's busy but dull. More than a month of office work would kill me." He had his shirt off and he had poured himself a basin of water; standing in front of the dresser mirror, he lathered his face.

Overmile dumped himself casually across the bed, lying full length. Phil Morgan, one of the junior civil engineers on the job, sat more properly in a chair. He was a year or two older than Peace, perpetually nursing a pipe. He had a settled, philosophical manner, with a gravity lining his mouth. He was content to let the others talk.

"Who was that girl?" demanded Overmile.

Peace brought his razor sweeping down his face. "Couldn't find out," he mumbled.

"You tried," Overmile pointed out ironically. "All I got to say is, Big Sid sure has taste."

"Sure."

The door opened without ceremony and a pair of older men walked in. Peace laid down his razor. He said, "I was just coming over to the office, Sam. Hello, Jack."

Sam Reed said, "You've heard the news, I suppose."

Jack Casement said: "What's doing in Omaha?"

They were both small, wiry men. Reed, superintendent of construction, had a rather gentle face set off by a heavy black beard. As for Jack Casement, who held the contract for laying steel all the way through, there was no gentleness about him. He was a terrier, a doughty, scrapping little terrier, physically unable to stand still, never unwilling to fight it out with any of the thousands working under him. Like Reed, he carried a full beard, the color of rust.

Peace went back to finish his shaving. Casement fished up his pipe and began stirring around the room. Peace said: "Your brother Dan told me to say you can have eighty cars of material a day. Omaha looks like a freight dump. So does Council Bluff. Stuff piled story-high on both sides of the river. Ferries workin' twenty-four hours a day. What news, Sam?"

The door opened again with a bang. A burly young man came in and said, "What the hell here, Peace?"

"Mama Tarrant's little boy, Ed, once more," murmured Overmile, "This joint begins to resemble an old settlers' convention."

Ed Tarrant went over and shook Peace with a broad blow on the back. "Here comes the swallow with the spring. So we whip hell out of the Central this year, don't we? Had supper? No? Well, what this room needs is a little more fraternity. Just wait right here. Don't move a step." He wheeled around and waggled his thumb profanely at Overmile and left them, slamming the door with a boisterous violence. Tobacco smoke began to turn the light blue.

Overrnile said mildly: "That wild bull."

"What news, Sam?" prompted Peace.

Reed said: "Well, we had our schedule for '68 all set. We were to locate to Salt Lake and lay steel as far as the Wasatch range. With a little survey work done west of Salt Lake to Humboldt Wells. But last night I get a wire from Dodge. He's dropped his work in Congress and he'll be here within a week."

Everybody paid Sam Reed strict attention. Peace stood still, the razor suspended. For General Dodge was chief engineer and his word was law to all of them.

Reed went on in his dry way. "Our schedule's been knocked to pieces. The order now is to make our location lines final all the way to Salt Lake in thirty days, and to Humboldt Wells, 220 miles west of the lake, in another sixty days. We are, moreover, to cover the whole line with men, regardless of the cost, and get into Salt Lake with steel as fast as possible. It makes no difference where snow catches us this year. We are to keep on."

Jack Casement said, "You hear? Five hundred miles of steel to be laid down, and no stops."

"Why?" said Peace.

Reed shrugged his shoulders. He had a trick of saying important things without emphasis. He moved his cigar to another corner of his mouth, speaking around it. "Under the original setup, the Central was to build from Frisco east to the California line and the Union was to build west from Omaha and meet them there. All of us know Huntington and Stanford and Crocker have been too ambitious to stop at the California line. So they had their charter changed and came on. Now they have persuaded the Secretary of the Interior that the Central is financially and morally purer than the Union and so should have more rewards. Well, it looked like brag until now. But the fact is that the Central has put the Sierras behind and they've got all the level stretches of Nevada in front, whereas we haven't yet reached our heavy work in the Wasatch chain."

"Which," said Casement, always preoccupied with the problem of getting steel laid, "we'll hit in the dead of winter."

Reed went on. "So Central sprung its surprise. It intends to beat us into Salt Lake. If it succeeds it will block us out of our only logical terminal and dictate its own terms as to what the Union will have in through traffic. We're hipped. If we lose, our whole financial structure blows up. There's no revenue to be had out of a road running nine hundred miles across a desert without a terminal. The government will listen to the road reaching the lake first—and Central means to make Union the tail of the dog. My guess is that Huntington and his partners aim to beat us to Salt Lake so that they can whip the Union into line and control the whole road from Frisco to Omaha. We have got to reach Salt Lake first regardless of cost—regardless of anything." He leaned forward and his eyes brightened. "We've got to get there first."

Ed Tarrant came banging back into the room, bearing glasses and a bottle. He said, "Amity and concord and fraternity—that's the ticket." But the thoughtful silence of the group struck him, and he looked about with a curious eye and shrugged his shoulders. Frank Peace finished his shave; he put his shirt and coat back on. The rest of them were entirely caught up in their own considerations, with the room turning a hazier blue from the rising spirals of tobacco smoke. Ed Tarrant poured the drinks, passing them around. "My God," he muttered, "is this a wake'?"

"We're going to have trouble enough," said Reed quietly. "Some of it we can forecast, like weather and grading delay and operating breakdown. Some of it we can't. We're going into country this season that the Indians claim as private hunting ground. There's some sort of a treaty about it. I don't know the rights—all I know is I've been told to lay steel. But the Cheyennes are sore and they're going to hit us. I know also we've got some agitators in our construction gangs. Who's payin' 'em to cause trouble? Make your own guesses. And I know that the gamblers aim to take control of the end of track towns away from us this year. Our rule has been hurting their profits. That's why Big Sid Campeaux came back early this season. They've got their joints laid out already at Laramie. Our tracks will reach there in two or three days. And then the ball opens. The company has been served notice by these fellows, through Campeaux, that they do not propose to observe the authority of any mayor or town marshal we may appoint."

"A fight?" drawled Leach Overmile, and reared up from the bed. His sandy hair made an unruly whorl down across his forehead; eagerness gleamed out of his indigo eyes.

Reed said to Peace, "The construction train leaves for end of track in an hour. I've had Overmile arrange for horses to meet you there. Go on to Fort Sanders and locate Mormon Charley. He's close to the Indians. I want you to have him use his influence with the Indians not to fight us. You don't do any more office work this year, Frank. From now on your particular job is to haridle the grief along the right of way. And, in particular, you've got to handle the toughs. The train leaves in an hour."

Peace said: "I haven't had supper. And I've got some personal business."

Reed smiled a little bit—and the other men in the room shared that. "All right. Give Eileen my regards. The train can wait."

"Gentlemen," put in Ed Tarrant, "how long should good liquor be ignored?"

They were silent a little while, and then Peace lifted his glass and echoed the thought that was in the minds of all of them. "Here," he said, "is to '68—the year we beat the Central into Salt Lake."

They drank on that and they broke up. Sam Reed stopped at the door to drop an afterthought. "You don't travel alone this year, Frank. Overmile sticks with you particularly. Phil Morgan is at hand for your use. When you get to Fort Sanders you'll find Lieutenant Millard has orders to accompany you on any trip off the road."

"What's that for?" demanded Peace.

But Sam Reed only shrugged his shoulders and went out, Jack Casement following. Peace remained in his tracks, a tall and unruly presence in that room, with his black head faintly bent. There was a sharpness and a hardiness in the look he threw at those three deep friends ranged about him. He saw the way they studied him, with an affection—and with a concern.

He said again: "What's it all for?"

Leach Overmile blew a ring of cigarette smoke casually upward. Pure blandness covered the cheeks of this silver-headed ex-cowpuncher and faint crew's feet wrinkles sprang shrewdly about his eyes. Phil Morgan was an inscrutable figure in the chair, teeth clenched about the stem of his pipe. Ed Tarrant lifted his glass against the light, squinting through it.

"You don't know yet?" murmured Overmile,

"I don't like mystery, you slab-sided horse wrangler."

"No mystery," remarked Overmile quietly. "This Indian business is just a side trip. Reed sent word to all the joints last night that the railroad proposed to back up its authority in all end of track towns this year—and that you were the man to clean 'em up if they got tough. Ed Tarrant was in the Club last night when the news trickled through. The gamblers held a meetin' about it. We know for a fact they wired Campeaux, who, was winterin' in Omaha. That's what brought him along in such a hurry."

He stopped and blew another smoke ring at the cloudy ceiling. But Phil Morgan said evenly: "Tell him the rest, Leach."

Overrnile drawled: "At this meetin' the toughs decided to put you to sleep if you started anything. Which is why Reed said you wouldn't travel alone this year."

Frank Peace let his eyes narrow a moment, considering it. Afterwarrd the grin they were all waiting for laid a taut streak across his skin. He said indolently: "I'm to be chaperoned? Brethren, I'll run you ragged. I'll have you sittin' on front porches and back steps all summer. Now get away from my sight—I'm busy. See you at the train in two hours."

"Another drink?" suggested Ed Tarrant hopefully. But Frank Peace, bound for the door, swept him forward with a long arm. They went down the stairs and out through the lobby of the Rollins House into Cheyenne's windy, tumultuous street.

Peace said: "At the train," and swung away, cutting around the corner of Eddy and going along it at a fast cruising stride. There were men working at the guy ropes of Campeaux's Club saloon, cursing the wind as they slid into the heavy mud; and a four-horse team pulled away from it, high laden with freight. It was the way all these joints worked. Tonight the Club was in full roar at Cheyenne. But end of track crept on past Sherman Summit into Laramie Plains, and Laramie City was only a few days from steel. Tomorrow night Campeaux's Club saloon would be pitched in Laramie, waiting for the Irish Paddies to come swinging in off the first work train—money in their pockets, a thirst in their throats, and the very devil in their bony fists.

And around the Club's enormous tent would be all the other shanty hells, with their spielers crying across the street: "Come on, you rondo-coolo sports—come on over and give us a bet!" Spring was here, the railroad stirred from its sleep, and 1868 would be a lustier year, a more roaring year—and a deadlier year.

He turned in front of a small two-storied frame building wedged between other buildings of like rawness and newness. A sign above it said briefly: OLIVER MERCANTILE COMPANY, and inside he saw Bardee Oliver's pointed smooth Yankee face turning slowly and obstinately from side to side at a customer across the counter, It roused Peace's sense of humor. Bardee Oliver was on his way to a fortune through that one gift he had of being able to shake his head. In this prodigal country where men were turned giddy by the buoyant air Bardee kept his senses.

He saw Peace. He said, "Hello, Frank," as a matter of course. This casualness was something he never departed from, fire or storm or gun fight. "Eileen," he added, "is just up the stairs," and afterward he turned his attention back to the customer.

Peace went across the store more rapidly than he realized. He skirted the piles of sacked flour, the boxes of canned goods, the heavy tiers of lard tubs; he came to the narrow stairway and went up two steps at a time to knock impatiently on the upper door.

A voice, like the cool, remote tinkle of porcelain, said: "Come in."

He pushed the door aside. Across the room Eileen Oliver turned slowly around, slowly and gracefully and without hurry.

It was this picture—the promise of this picture—that had been long in his memory, stirring his restlessness during the month he had been away, a restlessness that was like vaguely remembering something valuable that he had left behind him and might lose, A fear of that sort—a feeling of unease and uncertainty. She had on a dress that lay tightly against her slim waist, that accented the self-reliance of her small, square shoulders. Her hair was quite dark, drawn back in the strict, center-parted fashion of the time; her eyes were gray, and all this darkness gave to her small, distinct and oval face a remote olive tint. She was a quiet girl and her smile now sweetened rather than lightened the grave, even lines of those New England lips.

She said, "I hoped you'd be in tonight, Frank," and the slight gesture of her head sent two jade eardrops into quiet motion.

"Is that all, Eileen?" he said, and went straight across the room. Her hands came up in a quick gesture of defense. But he brought her to him with a hard sweep of his long arms.

She said, half in a whisper, "Frank!" When he kissed her he caught the perfume of her hair. Her lips slid away from him and her hands put a steady pressure against his wide chest. Her eyes were very bright; color stained her cheeks. "Frank—why are you so rough!"

He was laughing then, for he had remembered that self-possession was the key to this girl and that she hated unsettling emotions. There was that much of her father's casualness in her make-up. He looked at her until her eyes dropped and that strange shyness pushed his spirits higher than they had been. He reached down and caught the point of her chin, and lifted it and said, "Eileen—coolness is for strangers." But she had a need for self-possession that he could not break through. Her eyes flashed out quick anger and she shoved his arm aside.

"Eileen," he said, remotely stung, "are you afraid to be alive?"

She caught her breath. She said, "Frank!" Her hands held him by the coat lapels and he saw through her reserve, down into some part of her that held flame. It was soon shut out. She dropped her hands, and humor turned her lips frankly at the corners. "It doesn't take us long to quarrel, does it?"

"If you fed me I'd be more agreeable."

She said, "Sit down," and went into the kitchen.

There was, Peace thought, an unbreakable serenity in this room. The boards hadn't yet been painted or papered, the furniture was scarred by usage and travel—and the robust, turbulent echoes of a Cheyenne busy with its work and its pleasure beat like waves against the thin walls. Yet the personality of the girl was stronger than these other influences. Quiet as she was, she had put the impress of her will upon the room; it was a matter of orderliness, of small touches of grace against the bare walls. He got out his pipe and packed it, feeling ease go through him.

She came back and put a plate in front of him, and said: "Cold scraps. Has Omaha changed?"

"Packed solid with railroad stuff. Mud hub-deep on the main street. Steamboats tied by the dozen to the docks. It's a railroad town now, Eileen."

She said: "We should be grateful for the railroad, I suppose. It is life for all of us." She sat down opposite him, her arms resting on the table; her definite mouth was minutely stubborn and a latent unhappiness stirred the exact detail of her face. "But I shall be glad when it is finished and all this roughness is gone. Listen to those men outside."

This windy night shouldered against the pine wall of the building, condensing the reports of Cheyenne's roaring activity. There was a teamster directly under the window, yelling at his horses caught in the muddy channel of Eddy Street. The board walk down there was a-drumming with loud feet and out of the Club saloon, the racket of the saloon's band poured interminably, laced now and then by the barkeep's strident calling: "Come over here, you rondo-coolo sports, and give us a bet!" Yonder by the depot the ringing of the switch engine's bell kept on. Somewhere the unsupported wall of a half-built house went down against the blast with a long, flat crash.

Watching Eileen across the table, Peace realized that she hated all this raw, lusty life with an unfathomed intensity; The vitality of it warmed him like a fire—and only roused in her a hatred for its disorder. Every fiber in her body was stiffened against it. There was an insistence in her for exact ways, for gentility and sedate manners; and the louder all that outside fury became the more pronounced became the color on her cheeks.

"It isn't bad, Eileen," he said quietly.

She looked at him in her old way—which was cool and clear. "I know, Frank. You love it. Excitement and fighting keeps you going. You are hard. You are becoming harder."

He had finished his meal. He took up his pipe again. He was smiling through the gray lift of tobacco smoke.

"I like it," he admitted.

"They have made a work horse out of you," she told him. "They have made a slave driver out of you. What do these Irishmen call you? Bucko Frank. A man that cleans up gambling dens at point of a gun and knocks workmen down with his fists."

He said mildly: "it's the way to handle these fellows. I could go out on that street now and yell and get a hundred of them around me in five minutes—and they'd do anything I asked."

"I hate it, Frank! Killers call you by your first name and ask you to have a drink on them. Women—" her voice turned bitter—"those women—smile at you."

"Listen," he said carefully: "This is the greatest engineering job in the world, When it's done there'll be other roads to build. Here is where I make my way—for the next job to come."

She made a resigned motion with her small hand. "Have breakfast with us, Frank. I haven't seen you for a month."

He shook his head. His smile was regretting. "Reed's sending me to Fort Sanders tonight."

"Then I won't see you for another month! It isn't right. Why can't he wait one day?" She was angry then, with the rose color filling her cheeks. "How long do I have to sit and wait?"

He said, all at once laughing and reckless: "You're a lovely woman when you get angry." He rose and came around the table, and instantly she got out of her chair, and her hands lifted in a self-defense she couldn't forget.

She said rapidly: "No, Frank—I don't like that!"

But he took her by the arms and looked down, losing his humor, "What have I been thinking about in Omaha? Why do you suppose I held up a work train for an hour and came here on an empty stomach? Good God, Eileen, drop your manners for a minute! Don't be so damned stiff and scared! The waiting is just as tough on me as it is on you. But I keep thinking that the few minutes we have may be worth the waiting. A woman in love, Eileen, doesn't act like a Boston spinster in a museum. We're alive—and what are you afraid of?"

She shook herself away, and her hand lifted and slapped him across the cheek. He didn't step away. He dropped his arms and stood there watching her, smiling once more.

"Maybe," he said softly, "you'd be human if we fought more."

She said, "Frank—I'm sorry." And stood rigidly in her place, on the edge of tears. "But stay over tomorrow."