One Thousand Per Cent—Net!
SECOND AND FINAL INSTALLMENT
FINDLAY was about
the only man in the town who did not reflect the prevailing excitement. He seemed to be too busy with his own duties to do more than smile with amusement, despite the fact that he had been booked by the committee to take a prominent part in the proceedings; as the company’s local representative this was to be expected. He was to perform the introductions after which the Mayor would read the address of welcome.
Wednesday morning dawned at last upon an expectant and rejuvenated little town. Everybody was on tip-toe and everything tip-top. It was a fine day, to begin with. The Empire Hotel was literally plastered with small flags and bunting; the hose-house was gay with it; the Majestic Moving-Picture Theatre was all the colors of a perfectly healthy rainbow. “Dutch” Spoopendorfer, who had practised his band long after midnight, was one of the first to greet the day; he was kept so busy shaving talkative citizens that he hadn’t a minute to polish his cornet, so that it was a lucky thing indeed that he had thought to do it before he went to sleep ! Mothers were up early, too, dressing their children in clean starched pinneys and themselves in their Sunday best. Every citizen who could do so, dug up a white shirt and it was a happy moment for Mayor Spratt when he discovered one with a pleated front.
By nine o’clock quite a crowd had assembled at the station, though Billy Austen, Findlay’s assistant, assured them that it would be a full hour yet before the special arrived.
Findlay himself was nowhere in sight. At an early hour, faultlessly dressed, he had crossed over to the hotel for breakfast and on his return had locked himself in his private quarters with strict instructions that he was not to be disturbed. With the aid of a line repairer the day before, he had placed a telegraph instrument in his room and at this very moment he was at the key, talking with the operator at each of the stations along the line as the special passed. At some of these stations the train was given a slow signal to enable the conductor to receive messages for the vice-president en route.
These messages were read aloud to the directors and other officials and by the time the train reached Spruce Crossing the whole party were entertaining a very poor opinion of its grasping citizens and their determination to grab every dollar possible from the company.
T) UT of this Spruce Crossing knew absolutely nothing; for they were not in the confidence of the Agent. So they waited anxiously but patiently for the special and when its deep, mellow whistle filled the valley everyone glanced up at Mr. Findlay’s window. Somebody suggested that he be called and a handful of gravel was tossed against the panes. The engineer had shut off and the special’s
locomotive, snow-white flags fluttering at her shoulders, came trembling down the track. But still the Agent stayed in his room.
“Vun, doo—Blayl” shouted “Dutch”
Spoopendorfer and from the Spruce Crossing Band of six whole pieces burst a racket that nearly stopped the airpump on the engine and gradually resolved itself into the musical interrogation: “Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?”
Just at the last moment, as the train slowed down for the station, the Mayor ran up the stairs to the Agent’s door and hammered on it vigorously.
“They’re here!” he yelled and turning hurriedly, ran puffing down the stairs again lest the Vice-President of the Road mistake a common councilman for the Mayor of the town.
Leaning far out of his cab window, the engineer released the air and now the well-groomed Agent came from the station, a light overcoat thrown gracefully over his arm, and before the train had actually stopped, stepped aboard. The conductor, who was standing upon the front platform of the same car, signalled a go-ahead order to the engineer and without even coming to a complete stop, the Vice-President’s special steamed away, leaving the citizens of Spruce Crossing staring in open-mouthed wonder at the rear-end of the private car.
Only the band, standing in a little circle and blowing till they were red in the face, were dead to the world and it was not until Mayor Spratt kicked Mr.
Spoopendorfer with no gentleness that they could be made to realize they were playing to bad business.
FOR a few moments the bewildered crowd did little more than stare at each other. Then a babel of voices broke loose in an attempt to find an explanation for the strange conduct of the special. As no two notions about the thing were the same, this only served to increase the confusion. Findlay, of course, could explain; but Findlay was not there.
“Where’s McLennon, then?” suggested someone. “Him and Findlay’s thick enough an’ if there’s any funny work goin’ on, he’s in on it.”
“Sure thing! McLennon! McLennon!” called a dozen at once. “Where’s McLennon?”
McLennon was right there among them.
Palpitating with excitement, he had watched the special pulling into Spruce Crossing: trembling with astonishment and sudden fear, he had witnessed its unceremonious departure. It had even seemed to him that the engine which was dragging away his hopes, did so flauntingly. If the crowd was bewildered and crest-fallen by the unexpected turn of —Copyright in the United States by Hopkins Moorhouse.
affairs, McLennon was nothing short of dismayed; for the failure of the railroad people to do as the town wanted meant more to him than to all the rest combined. He was still standing there among them as if in a daze.
He awoke with a start to the fact that he was the centre of an excited crowd, all talking at once and all demanding an explanation of the officials’ conduct. But McLennon could give no explanation. He was as greatly perplexed as any of them.
But believe his assertions? Most decidedly not! They were brutally frank about it and in a little while the loud voices grew louder with harsher insistence while the tones rose gradually from sternness to threats. They recalled the fact that Findlay was a partner of his in the purchase of the subdivision on which they had squandered their money; that he was the only man who had been a confidant of the agent. So what about it?
“I really don’t know, gentlemen. I can’t tell you,” was all he could say and even this he mumbled with a half vacant look. His wits were working but dully or he must have realized that this would not suffice. *
His refusal to “speak up like a man”and tell the truth, which they firmly believed he knew, so angered the crowd that threats of making him talk whether he would or not became alarmingly frequent. Precious time was being lost. So rapidly did this feeling develop that when a. rowdy shouted “Lynch the son-of-a-seacook!” nobody reproved him. The disappointed women and children straggled homeward. The men, however showed nointention of following their example, and in an hour or two their numbers had' been augmented, if anything.
A S the noon hour approached had anybody taken the trouble to look, they might have seen a horseman far up the valley trail, or rather a cloud of dust. He was coming as fast as his broncho could gallop and through the cloud of dust was soon to be distinguished the shaggy chaps of a cowboy and the wide brim of his hat. He came into Spruce Crossing as hard as he could pelt and was on top of the crowd at the station almost before the astonished citizens were aware of his approach.
“It’s Pete Coleman from the Lazy-L,”' recognized someone.
The cowboy swung from his blown horse and was instantly surrounded. He had news. The special was side-tracked on the “Y” up at the Junction, where a number of ranchers and land owners had been waiting for it ever since sunrise. Pete had spent an hour with them and learned that Findlay had secured an option on fifty acres of land which they hoped the railway officials would buy.
When the train had got there the little “bunch,” which had stood shivering around a camp-fire for three or four-
horns, were invited by Findlay into the dining-car where they were “watered and fed.” When they had finished their breakfast, Findlay had passed around two boxes of “seegars”—light and strong —and when they’d all had one he said: “Put some more in your pockets, boys. Plenty more where these come from,” and the gang, having had a couple of cocktails all around, a hot breakfast, cigars to burn and more to put in their pockets, had allowed that Findlay was a regular devil and that if he wanted any more land for his railroad shops, he could name his own terms.
“By the time the noon feed’s on,” the cowboy concluded, “he’ll have them hayseeds tanked up so’s he’ll own the whole valley with a option on the river an’ the sunshine!”
The crowd, which had been listening breathlessly to every word of this recital, voiced their rising anger in loud cries and excited questions with an ominous undercurrent of mutterings. Mayor Spratt picked at the cowboy’s flannel sleeve.
“An’ by the Jumpin’ Blue Blazes!” he exploded, “do you mean to say they intend to make the town at the Junction instead of here?”
“Sure!” said Pete with conviction. “I reckon that’s the play.”
“And do you tell us that Findlay, who has investments here, is in on the game?” demanded an agitated citizen.
“Sure. Why, he’s runnin’ the whole show!”
There was a breathless pause.
“Then McLennon’s in on it too!” somebody yelled.
WHAT followed happend with the quickness of impulse. McLennon had been listening in an agony of suspense to the cowboy’s story. Even when a dozen hands laid hold of him, the tenor of their purpose escaped him. One man leaped upon a yard engine, slashed off the bell rope with his knife, made a slip-knot and threw it over McLennon’s head—all in the space of a breath or two.
Scrambling and swearing and shouting, they huddled the unfortunate man along the platform to one end where there was a telegraph pole. Before anybody could stop them, the loose end of the rope had been thrown over the arm of this pole and drawn taut.
Mayor Spratt elbowed his way frantically.
“Stop that, you blamed fools!” he yelled his face flushed with rage.
Pete Coleman from the Lazy-L had run for his horse. He reached the saddle in one leap and a second later was in beside the prisoner with a gun in each of his sinewy hands.
“You fellows aint got the manners of a bunch of Blackfeet!” he cried in disgust. “Even a hawse-thief’s entitled to a chance to pray or say a word! Back up!”
The justice of the plea, combined with the persuasive influence of the two guns into whose muzzles the crowd was staring, caused a lull in the excitement. McLennon was asked if he had anything to say. His face was very pale, but he
had shown himself no coward. He turned slowly to the mob with a look of bitter contempt.
“Never mind, Mac. We’ll straighten this thing out now,” shouted Spratt. “Here you, out of my way!” he blustered.
“I’m the Mayor of this town and if I had a gun I’d blow a hole through the whole bunch of you!”
He tried to struggle through without success, those beside him laughing at his curses. The crowd was more than half foreigners, newly arrived for the grading, and they neither knew who he was nor recognized his authority.
“You’re a pack of fools, the whole lot of you,” said McLennon apathetically. “I thank my good friend here for interceding in my behalf and to him I’ll say I’m entirely innocent of any wrongdoing whatever. I know nothing of any new plans which the railway people may be following. As for the rest of you guys”— he smiled around on them scornfully— “since you’ve chosen to make such fools of yourselves, you can go to hell!”
MCLENNON could not well have made a worse mistake. With a yell of renewed rage, the whole mob serged in, heedless alike of Pete Coleman’s warning threats and the guns in his hands.
“Swing’m up!” again came the shout. The rope was just beginning to tighten when there came a scream from the rear of the crowd and the cowboy, who was trying desperately to restrain the mob pressing about him without resorting to the expedient of shooting anyone, caught a glimpse of a white-faced woman who was fighting her way through furiously. Turning in his saddle, he quickly raised his six-shooter and fired three shots in rapid succession. The thin rope, cut in two where it crossed the arm of the pole, dropped loosely to the ground.
A howl went up from the crowd. A stone came hurtling through the air, went wide of its mark and smashed through the station window. Somebody fired off a gun.
“Stand back!” commanded the cowboy. “Aint yuh got no respect for a lady?”
McLennon had fainted for the first time in his life and his wife was bending over him anxiously. She stood up abruptly and pointed excitedly at the men in front of her with a trembling finger.
“You— you—!” She could not speak. The tears sprang into her eyes and with a sob she bent again over her husband’s still form while the leaders turned shamefacedly away.
Just then a great noise of galloping hoofs was heaid and the mob saw Corporal Struthers of the Mounted Police dashing wildly down the street towards them, the broad brim of his hat blown back in front with the speed of his coming. In a whirlwind of dust he swooped down upon the scene and yanked his horse to its haunches. Flinging himself from the saddle, carbine in hand, he demanded to know the meaning of all this.
There was a dead silence. Then from the concealment of numbers some wag piped: “W’y Bob, w’ere y’ben?” A roar of laughter greeted the sally.
In thirty seconds the crowd had dis-
persed into small groups and only Mrs. McLennon, Pete Coleman from the LazyL and Mayor Spratt knelt by the prostrate man.
'T'HE day’s excitement in Spruce Cross-*■ ing was not yet over. A meeting of the citizens was held shortly after noon and a committee appointed to wait upon the railway officials and learn the real cause of the trouble. The better informed were of the opinion that McLennon was a victim of misplaced confidence and that the agent alone was to blame for the action of the officials.
This special committee was actually upon its way to the Junction behind Mayor Spratt’s fastest team when the sonorous whistle of the special tossed through the little valley and presently the train swept by them en route for Edmonton. The committee at once turned about on two wheels and the driver whipped his horses into a dead run on the return trip.
Meanwhile, the railway people blissfully ignorant of the true state of affairs, were rolling away in their comfortable leather chairs, telling good stories and smoking good cigars. They had been completely misled by their agent’s false reports, which represented Spruce Crossing as a community of conspirators, banded together for the purpose of robbing the stockholders and embarrassing the management.
Not half a dozen citizens saw the train slow down and let Findlay off; but the few who did see it were not long in giving out the news. In a very short time a great crowd of people had again gathered around the station. They shifted restlessly under inaction and, as the tension increased, the more peacefully inclined had the greatest difficulty in keeping the others from entering the station and demanding from the agent an explanation of his conduct. If he were acting honestly and above board, they argued quite reasonably, why didn’t he come out and tell them what was what? Corporal Struthers continued to grow more worried and lost no time in rounding up Ike Sears and Shorty Barber, his most reliable whiskyspotters.
But Findlay, entirely unaware of all that had taken place during his absence, was not alarmed at all by the growing dimensions of the crowd outside. Having locked himself in, he sat down with his feet on the table, smoking one of the vice-president’s private brand, while a pleased smile dodged now and then about the corners of his mouth.
A ND at that very moment McLennon -G*was sitting by the window in his room at the hotel propped up in a chair with pillows. For the reaction from the severe shock which he had undergone left him somewhat weak. About the attempt to lynch him he had nothing to say; in fact he preferred not to talk about anything, sitting silent in his misery.
“They’re going to tar-an’-feather Findlay!” shouted a foolish citizen as he ran breathlessly past the hotel.
McLennon started in his chair, clutching the arms of it till his fingers went white and the cords stood out on the Continued on Page 81.
Continued, from Page 30.
backs of his hands. The fellow was back then. His lips became a tense, tight line; his breathing quick and heavy like the breath of an exhausted runner; his eyes glittered.
Impatiently casting aside the coverlet that his solicitous wife had insisted upon, he got spasmodically to his feet. He went to the window, raised it and looked out. Down by the station he caught a glimpse of running men and of the swaying crowd.
The window came down with a bang! He feverishly kicked off his slippers and reached for his boots, inertia falling from him and strength returning with every movement he made. “They’re going to tar-and-feather Findlay!” — the shout rang in his ears insistently, spurring him to swifter action. Hastily slipping on a light overcoat, heedless of his wife’s entreaties, he seized his hat and was down the stairs and outside before anybody could stop him. He walked hurriedly away, heading straight for the station.
' I ' HE crowd saw him coming—saw him with a wondering fascination. Against the ghostly pallor of his face his eyes seemed to be on fire. Steady, unhesitating, he strode down the platform, the very men who not long before had been seeking his life now shrinking from him as he advanced. Through the open lane they made for him, looking neither to one side or the other, he approached the door that led up to the agent’s office and mounted the staircase.
At the top he paused, knocked, tried the door, then knocked again loudly.
“Who is it?” came Findlay’s voice sharply from within.
There was a quick step, the key turned in the lock, the door swung open. Without waiting for any invitation McLennon entered.
As he did so there was a noisy scuffle on the stairs behind him. He stuck his head out the door, then catching the agent by the arm, pulled him swiftly out onto the landing and silently pointed.
Two or three rowdies from the crowd without had got past the police and started up the stairs with Corporal Struthers and Ike Sears in hot pursuit. About half way up they were laid by the heels, dragged back and literally flung out onto the platform while a chorus of yells, jeers and laughter greeted their ignominious exit.
McLennon shot one searching glance at the agent. But Findlay was only laughing carelessly; there was even a taunt in the laugh.
WITHOUT a word, McLennon shoved him back into the room, closing and locking the door behind him. The two men faced each other—one pale and trembling with pent-up feeling; the other rubbing