The Denver Express
by A. A. Hayes
Any one who has seen an outward-bound clipper ship getting under way and
heard the "shanty-songs" sung by the sailors as they toiled at capstan
and halliards, will probably remember that rhymeless but melodious
"I'm bound to see its muddy waters
Yeo ho! that rolling river;
Bound to see its muddy waters
Yeo ho! the wild Missouri."
Only a happy inspiration could have impelled Jack to apply the adjective
"wild" to that ill-behaved and disreputable river, which, tipsily
bearing its enormous burden of mud from the far North-west, totters,
reels, runs its tortuous course for hundreds on hundreds of miles; and
which, encountering the lordly and thus far well-behaved Mississippi at
Alton, and forcing its company upon this splendid river (as if some
drunken fellow should lock arms with a dignified pedestrian),
contaminates it all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
At a certain point on the banks of this river, or rather—as it has the
habit of abandoning and destroying said banks—at a safe distance
therefrom, there is a town from which a railroad takes its departure for
its long climb up the natural incline of the Great Plains, to the base
of the mountains; hence the importance to this town of the large but
somewhat shabby building serving as terminal station. In its smoky
interior, late in the evening and not very long ago, a train was nearly
ready to start. It was a train possessing a certain consideration. For
the benefit of a public easily gulled and enamored of grandiloquent
terms, it was advertised as the "Denver Fast Express;" sometimes, with
strange unfitness, as the "Lightning Express"; "elegant" and "palatial"
cars were declared to be included therein; and its departure was one of
the great events of the twenty-four hours, in the country round about. A
local poet described it in the "live" paper of the town, cribbing from
an old Eastern magazine and passing off as original, the lines—
"Again we stepped into the street,
A train came thundering by,
Drawn by the snorting iron steed
Swifter than eagles fly.
Rumbled the wheels, the whistle shrieked,
Far rolled the smoky cloud,
Echoed the hills, the valleys shook,
The flying forests bowed."
The trainmen, on the other hand, used no fine phrases. They called it
simply "Number Seventeen"; and, when it started, said it had "pulled
On the evening in question, there it stood, nearly ready. Just behind
the great hissing locomotive, with its parabolic headlight and its
coal-laden tender, came the baggage, mail, and express cars; then the
passenger coaches, in which the social condition of the occupants seemed
to be in inverse ratio to their distance from the engine. First came
emigrants, "honest miners," "cow-boys," and laborers; Irishmen, Germans,
Welshmen, Mennonites from Russia, quaint of garb and speech, and
Chinamen. Then came long cars full of people of better station, and last
the great Pullman "sleepers," in which the busy black porters were
making up the berths for well-to-do travellers of diverse nationalities
It was a curious study for a thoughtful observer, this motley crowd of
human beings sinking all differences of race, creed, and habits in the
common purpose to move Westward—to the mountain fastnesses, the
sage-brush deserts, the Golden Gate.
The warning bell had sounded, and the fireman leaned far out for the
signal. The gong struck sharply, the conductor shouted, "All aboard,"
and raised his hand; the tired ticket-seller shut his window, and the
train moved out of the station, gathered way as it cleared the outskirts
of the town, rounded a curve, entered on an absolutely straight line,
and, with one long whistle from the engine, settled down to its work.
Through the night hours it sped on, past lonely ranches and infrequent
stations, by and across shallow streams fringed with cottonwood trees,
over the greenish-yellow buffalo grass; near the old trail where many a
poor emigrant, many a bold frontiersman, many a brave soldier, had laid
his bones but a short time before.
Familiar as they may be, there is something strangely impressive about
all night journeys by rail; and those forming part of an American
transcontinental trip are almost weird. From the windows of a
night-express in Europe, or the older portions of the United States, one
looks on houses and lights, cultivated fields, fences, and hedges; and,
hurled as he may be through the darkness, he has a sense of
companionship and semi-security. Far different is it when the long train
is running over those two rails which, seen before night set in, seemed
to meet on the horizon. Within, all is as if between two great seaboard
cities; the neatly dressed people, the uniformed officials, the handsome
fittings, the various appliances for comfort. Without are now long,
dreary levels, now deep and wild cañons, now an environment of strange
and grotesque rock-formations, castles, battlements, churches, statues.
The antelope fleetly runs, and the coyote skulks away from the track,
and the gray wolf howls afar off. It is for all the world, to one's
fancy, as if a bit of civilization, a family or community, its
belongings and surroundings complete, were flying through regions
barbarous and inhospitable.
From the cab of Engine No. 32, the driver of the Denver Express saw,
showing faintly in the early morning, the buildings grouped about the
little station ten miles ahead, where breakfast awaited his passengers.
He looked at his watch; he had just twenty minutes in which to run the
distance, as he had run it often before. Something, however, travelled
faster than he. From the smoky station out of which the train passed the
night before, along the slender wire stretched on rough poles at the
side of the track, a spark of that mysterious something which we call
electricity flashed at the moment he returned the watch to his pocket;
and in five minutes' time, the station-master came out on the platform,
a little more thoughtful than his wont, and looked eastward for the
smoke of the train. With but three of the passengers in that train has
this tale specially to do, and they were all in the new and comfortable
Pullman "City of Cheyenne." One was a tall, well-made man of about
thirty—blond, blue-eyed, bearded, straight, sinewy, alert. Of all in
the train he seemed the most thoroughly at home, and the respectful
greeting of the conductor, as he passed through the car, marked him as
an officer of the road. Such was he—Henry Sinclair, assistant engineer,
quite famed on the line, high in favor with the directors, and a rising
man in all ways. It was known on the road that he was expected in
Denver, and there were rumors that he was to organize the parties for
the survey of an important "extension." Beside him sat his pretty young
wife. She was a New Yorker—one could tell at first glance—from the
feather of her little bonnet, matching the gray travelling dress, to the
tips of her dainty boots; and one, too, at whom old Fifth Avenue
promenaders would have turned to look. She had a charming figure, brown
hair, hazel eyes, and an expression at once kind, intelligent, and
spirited. She had cheerfully left a luxurious home to follow the young
engineer's fortunes; and it was well known that those fortunes had been
materially advanced by her tact and cleverness.
The third passenger in question had just been in conversation with
Sinclair, and the latter was telling his wife of their curious meeting.
Entering the toilet-room at the rear of the car, he said, he had begun
his ablutions by the side of another man, and it was as they were
sluicing their faces with water that he heard the cry:
"Why, Major, is that you? Just to think of meeting you here!"
A man of about twenty-eight years of age, slight, muscular, wiry, had
seized his wet hand and was wringing it. He had black eyes, keen and
bright, swarthy complexion, black hair and mustache. A keen observer
might have seen about him some signs of a jeunesse orageuse, but his
manner was frank and pleasing. Sinclair looked him in the face, puzzled
for a moment.
"Don't you remember Foster?" asked the man.
"Of course I do," replied Sinclair. "For a moment I could not place you.
Where have you been and what have you been doing?"
"Oh," replied Foster, laughing, "I've braced up and turned over a new
leaf. I'm a respectable member of society, have a place in the express
company, and am going to Denver to take charge."
"I am very glad to hear it, and you must tell me your story when we have
had our breakfast."
The pretty young woman was just about to ask who Foster was, when the
speed of the train slackened, and the brakeman opened the door of the
car and cried out in stentorian tones:
"Pawnee Junction; twenty minutes for refreshments!"
When the celebrated Rocky Mountain gold excitement broke out, more than
twenty years ago, and people painted "PIKE'S PEAK OR BUST" on the
canvas covers of their wagons and started for the diggings, they
established a "trail" or "trace" leading in a south-westerly direction
from the old one to California.
At a certain point on this trail a frontiersman named Barker built a
forlorn ranch-house and corral, and offered what is conventionally
called "entertainment for man and beast."
For years he lived there, dividing his time between fighting the Indians
and feeding the passing emigrants and their stock. Then the first
railroad to Denver was built, taking another route from the Missouri,
and Barker's occupation was gone. He retired with his gains to St. Louis
and lived in comfort.
Years passed on, and the "extension" over which our train is to pass was
planned. The old pioneers were excellent natural engineers, and their
successors could find no better route than they had chosen. Thus it was
that "Barker's" became, during the construction period, an important
point, and the frontiersman's name came to figure on time-tables.
Meanwhile the place passed through a process of evolution which would
have delighted Darwin. In the party of engineers which first camped
there was Sinclair, and it was by his advice that the contractors
selected it for division headquarters. Then came drinking "saloons," and
gambling-houses—alike the inevitable concomitant and the bane of
Western settlements; then scattered houses and shops, and a shabby
so-called hotel, in which the letting of miserable rooms (divided from
each other by canvas partitions) was wholly subordinated to the business
of the bar. Before long, Barker's had acquired a worse reputation than
even other towns of its type, the abnormal and uncanny aggregations of
squalor and vice which dotted the plains in those days; and it was at
its worst when Sinclair returned thither and took up his quarters in the
engineers' building. The passion for gambling was raging, and to pander
thereto were collected as choice a lot of desperadoes as ever "stocked"
cards or loaded dice. It came to be noticed that they were on excellent
terms with a man called "Jeff" Johnson, who was lessee of the hotel; and
to be suspected that said Johnson, in local parlance, "stood in with"
them. With this man had come to Barker's his daughter Sarah, commonly
known as "Sally," a handsome girl with a straight, lithe figure, fine
features, reddish auburn hair, and dark blue eyes. It is but fair to say
that even the "toughs" of a place like Barker's show some respect for
the other sex, and Miss Sally's case was no exception to the rule. The
male population admired her; they said she "put on heaps of style"; but
none of them had seemed to make any progress in her good graces.
On a pleasant afternoon, just after the track had been laid some miles
west of Barker's, and construction trains were running with some
regularity to and from the end thereof, Sinclair sat on the rude veranda
of the engineers' quarters, smoking his well-colored meerschaum and
looking at the sunset. The atmosphere had been so clear during the day
that glimpses were had of Long's and Pike's peaks, and as the young
engineer gazed at the gorgeous cloud-display he was thinking of the
miners' quaint and pathetic idea that the dead "go over the Range."
"Nice-looking, ain't it, Major?" asked a voice at his elbow, and he
turned to see one of the contractors' officials taking a seat near him.
"More than nice-looking, to my mind, Sam," he replied. "What is the news
"Nothin' much. There's a sight of talk about the doin's of them faro an'
keno sharps. The boys is gittin' kind o' riled, fur they allow the game
ain't on the square wuth a cent. Some of 'em down to the tie-camp wuz
a-talkin' about a vigilance committee, an' I wouldn't be surprised ef
they meant business. Hev yer heard about the young feller that come in a
week ago from Laramie an' set up a new faro-bank?"
"No. What about him?"
"Wa'al, yer see he's a feller thet's got a lot of sand an' ain't afeared
of nobody, an' he's allowed to hev the deal to his place on the square
every time. Accordin' to my idee, gamblin's about the wust racket a
feller kin work, but it takes all sorts of men to make a world, an' ef
the boys is bound to hev a game, I calkilate they'd like to patronize
his bank. Thet's made the old crowd mighty mad, an' they're a-talkin'
about puttin' up a job of cheatin' on him an' then stringin' him up. Be
sides, I kind o' think there's some cussed jealousy on another lay as
comes in. Yer see the young feller—Cyrus Foster's his name—is sweet on
thet gal of Jeff Johnson's. Jeff wuz to Laramie before he come here, an'
Foster knowed Sally up thar. I allow he moved here to see her. Hello! Ef
thar they ain't a-comin' now."
Down a path leading from the town, past the railroad buildings, and well
on the prairie, Sinclair saw the girl walking with the "young feller."
He was talking earnestly to her, and her eyes were cast down. She looked
pretty and, in a way, graceful; and there was in her attire a noticeable
attempt at neatness, and a faint reminiscence of by-gone fashions. A
smile came to Sinclair's lips as he thought of a couple walking up Fifth
Avenue during his leave of absence not many months before, and of a
letter, many times read, lying at that moment in his breast-pocket.
"Papa's bark is worse than his bite," ran one of its sentences. "Of
course he does not like the idea of my leaving him and going away to
such dreadful and remote places as Denver and Omaha, and I don't know
what else; but he will not oppose me in the end, and when you come on
"By thunder!" exclaimed Sam; "ef thar ain't one of them cussed sharps a
Sure enough, a rough-looking fellow, his hat pulled over his eyes, half
concealed behind a pile of lumber, was casting a sinister glance toward
"The gal's well enough," continued Sam; "but I don't take a cent's wuth
of stock in thet thar father of her'n. He's in with them sharps, sure
pop, an' it don't suit his book to hev Foster hangin' round. It's ten to
one he sent that cuss to watch 'em. Wa'al, they're a queer lot, an' I'm
afeared thar's plenty of trouble ahead among 'em. Good luck to you,
Major," and he pushed back his chair and walked away.
After breakfast next morning, when Sinclair was sitting at the table in
his office, busy with maps and plans, the door was thrown open, and
Foster, panting for breath, ran in.
"Major Sinclair," he said, speaking with difficulty, "I've no claim on
you, but I ask you to protect me. The other gamblers are going to hang
me. They are more than ten to one. They will track me here, and unless
you harbor me, I'm a dead man."
Sinclair rose from his chair in a second and walked to the window. A
party of men were approaching the building. He turned to Foster:
"I do not like your trade," said he; "but I will not see you murdered if
I can help it. You are welcome here." Foster said "Thank you," stood
still a moment, and then began to pace the room, rapidly clinching his
hands, his whole frame quivering, his eyes flashing fire—"for all the
world," Sinclair said, in telling the story afterward, "like a fierce
"My God!" he muttered, with concentrated intensity, "to be
TRAPPED like this!"
Sinclair stepped quickly to the door of his bedroom, and motioned Foster
to enter. Then there came a knock at the outer door, and he opened it
and stood on the threshold, erect and firm. Half a dozen "toughs" faced
"Major," said their spokesman, "we want that man."
"You cannot have him, boys."
"Major, we're a-goin' to take him."
"You had better not try," said Sinclair, with perfect ease and
self-possession, and in a pleasant voice. "I have given him shelter, and
you can only get him over my dead body. Of course you can kill me, but
you won't do even that without one or two of you going down; and then
you know perfectly well, boys, what will happen. You
know that if you
lay your finger on a railroad man it's all up with you. There are five
hundred men in the tie-camp, not five miles away, and you don't need to
be told that in less than one hour after they get word there won't be a
piece of one of you big enough to bury."
The men made no reply. They looked him straight in the eyes for a
moment. Had they seen a sign of flinching they might have risked the
issue, but there was none. With muttered curses, they slunk away.
Sinclair shut and bolted the door, then opened the one leading to the
"Foster," he said, "the train will pass here in half an hour. Have you
"Very well; keep perfectly quiet, and I will try to get you safely off."
He went to an adjoining room and called Sam, the contractor's man. He
took in the situation at a glance.
"Wa'al, Foster," said he, "kind o' 'close call' for yer, warn't it?
Guess yer'd better be gittin' up an' gittin' pretty lively. The train
boys will take yer through, an' yer kin come back when this racket's
Sinclair glanced at his watch, then he walked to the window and looked
out. On a small mesa, or elevated-plateau, commanding the path to the
railroad, he saw a number of men with rifles.
"Just as I expected," said he. "Sam, ask one of the boys to go down to
the track and, when the train arrives, tell the conductor to come here."
In a few minutes the whistle was heard, and the conductor entered the
building. Receiving his instructions, he returned, and immediately on
engine, tender, and platform appeared the trainmen, with
covering the group on the bluff. Sinclair put on his hat.
"Now, Foster," said he, "we have no time to lose. Take Sam's arm and
mine, and walk between us."
The trio left the building and walked deliberately to the railroad. Not
a word was spoken. Besides the men in sight on the train, two behind the
window-blinds of the one passenger coach, and unseen, kept their fingers
on the triggers of their repeating carbines. It seemed a long time,
counted by anxious seconds, until Foster was safe in the coach.
"All ready, conductor," said Sinclair. "Now, Foster, good-by. I am not
good at lecturing, but if I were you, I would make this the
turning-point in my life."
Foster was much moved.
"I will do it, Major," said he; "and I shall never forget what you have
done for me to-day. I am sure we shall meet again."
With another shriek from the whistle the train started. Sinclair and Sam
saw the men quietly returning the firearms to their places as it
gathered way. Then they walked back to their quarters. The men on the
mesa, balked of their purpose, had withdrawn.
Sam accompanied Sinclair to his door, and then sententiously remarked:
"Major, I think I'll light out and find some of the boys. You ain't got
no call to know anything about it, but I allow it's about time them
cusses was bounced."
Three nights after this, a powerful party of Vigilantes, stern and
inexorable, made a raid on all the gambling dens, broke the tables and
apparatus, and conducted the men to a distance from the town, where they
left them with an emphatic and concise warning as to the consequences
of any attempt to return. An exception was made in Jeff Johnson's
case—but only for the sake of his daughter—for it was found that many
a "little game" had been carried on in his house.
Erelong he found it convenient to sell his business and retire to a town
some miles to the eastward, where the railroad influence was not as
strong as at Barker's. At about this time, Sinclair made his
arrangements to go to New York, with the pleasant prospect of marrying
the young lady in Fifth Avenue. In due time he arrived at Barker's with
his young and charming wife and remained for some days. The changes were
astounding. Common-place respectability had replaced abnormal
lawlessness. A neat station stood where had been the rough contractor's
buildings. At a new "Windsor" (or was it "Brunswick"?) the performance
of the kitchen contrasted sadly (alas! how common is such contrast in
these regions) with the promise of the menu. There was a tawdry
theatre yclept "Academy of Music," and there was not much to choose in
the way of ugliness between two "meeting-houses."
"Upon my word, my dear," said Sinclair to his wife, "I ought to be
ashamed to say it, but I prefer Barker's au naturel."
One evening, just before the young people left the town, and as Mrs.
Sinclair sat alone in her room, the frowsy waitress announced "a lady,"
and was requested to bid her enter. A woman came with timid mien into
the room, sat down, as invited, and removed her veil. Of course the
young bride had never known Sally Johnson, the whilom belle of Barker's,
but her husband would have noticed at a glance how greatly she was
changed from the girl who walked with Foster past the engineers'
quarters. It would be hard to find a more striking contrast than was
presented by the two women as they sat facing each other: the one in the
flush of health and beauty, calm, sweet, self-possessed; the other still
retaining some of the shabby finery of old days, but pale and haggard,
with black rings under her eyes, and a pathetic air of humiliation.
"Mrs. Sinclair," she hurriedly began, "you do not know me, nor the like
of me. I've got no right to speak to you, but I couldn't help it. Oh!
please believe me, I am not real downright bad. I'm Sally Johnson,
daughter of a man whom they drove out of the town. My mother died when I
was little, and I never had a show; and folks think because I live
with my father, and he makes me know the crowd he travels with, that I
must be in with them, and be of their sort. I never had a woman speak a
kind word to me, and I've had so much trouble that I'm just drove wild,
and like to kill myself; and then I was at the station when you came in,
and I saw your sweet face and the kind look in your eyes, and it came in
my heart that I'd speak to you if I died for it." She leaned eagerly
forward, her hands nervously closing on the back of a chair. "I suppose
your husband never told you of me; like enough he never knew me; but
I'll never forget him as long as I live. When he was here before, there
was a young man "—here a faint color came in the wan cheeks—"who was
fond of me, and I thought the world of him, and my father was down on
him, and the men that father was in with wanted to kill him; and Mr.
Sinclair saved his life. He's gone away, and I've waited and waited for
him to come back—and perhaps I'll never see him again. But oh! dear
lady, I'll never forget what your husband did. He's a good man, and he
deserves the love of a dear good woman like you, and if I dared, I'd
pray for you both, night and day."
She stopped suddenly and sank back in her seat, pale as before, and as
if frightened by her own emotion. Mrs. Sinclair had listened with
sympathy and increasing interest.
"My poor girl," she said, speaking tenderly (she had a lovely, soft
voice) and with slightly heightened color, "I am delighted that you came
to see me, and that my husband was able to help you. Tell me, can we not
do more for you? I do not for one moment believe you can be happy with
your present surroundings. Can we not assist you to leave them?"
The girl rose, sadly shaking her head. "I thank you for your words," she
said. "I don't suppose I'll ever see you again, but I'll say, God bless
She caught Mrs. Sinclair's hand, pressed it to her lips, and was gone.
Sinclair found his wife very thoughtful when he came home, and he
listened with much interest to her story.
"Poor girl!" said he; "Foster is the man to help her. I wonder where he
is? I must inquire about him."
The next day they proceeded on their way to San Francisco, and matters
drifted on at Barker's much as before. Johnson had, after an absence of
some months, come back and lived without molestation, amid the shifting
population. Now and then, too, some of the older residents fancied they
recognized, under slouched sombreros, the faces of some of his former
"crowd" about the "Ranchman's Home," as his gaudy saloon was called.
Late on the very evening on which this story opens, and they had been
"making up" the Denver Express in the train-house on the Missouri, "Jim"
Watkins, agent and telegrapher at Barker's, was sitting in his little
office, communicating with the station rooms by the ticket window. Jim
was a cool, silent, efficient man, and not much given to talk about such
episodes in his past life as the "wiping out" by Indians of the
construction party to which he belonged, and his own rescue by the
scouts. He was smoking an old and favorite pipe, and talking with one of
"the boys" whose head appeared at the wicket. On a seat in the station
sat a woman in a black dress and veil, apparently waiting for a train.
"Got a heap of letters and telegrams there, ain't year, Jim?" remarked
the man at the window.
"Yes," replied Jim; "they're for Engineer Sinclair, to be delivered to
him when he passes through here. He left on No. 17, to-night." The
inquirer did not notice the sharp start of the woman near him.
"Is that good-lookin' wife of his'n a comin' with him?" asked he.
"Yes, there's letters for her, too."
"Well, good-night, Jim. See yer later," and he went out. The woman
suddenly rose and ran to the window.
"Mr. Watkins," cried she, "can I see you for a few moments, where no one
can interrupt us? It's a matter of life and death." She clutched the
sill with her thin hands, and her voice trembled. Watkins recognized
Sally Johnson in a moment. He unbolted a door, motioned her to enter,
closed and again bolted it, and also closed the ticket window. Then he
pointed to a chair, and the girl sat down and leaned eagerly forward.
"If they knew I was here," she said in a hoarse whisper, "my life
wouldn't be safe five minutes. I was waiting to tell you a terrible
story, and then I heard who was on the train due here to-morrow night.
Mr. Watkins, don't, for God's sake, ask me how I found out, but I hope
to die if I ain't telling you the living truth! They're going to wreck
that train—No. 17—at Dead Man's Crossing, fifteen miles east, and rob
the passengers and the express car. It's the worst gang in the country,
Perry's. They're going to throw the train off the track the passengers
will be maimed and killed,—and Mr. Sinclair and his wife on the cars!
Oh! My God! Mr. Watkins, send them warning!"
She stood upright, her face deadly pale, her hands clasped. Watkins
walked deliberately to the railroad map which hung on the wall and
scanned it. Then he resumed his seat, laid his pipe down, fixed his eyes
on the girl's face, and began to question her. At the same time his
right hand, with which he had held the pipe, found its way to the
telegraph key. None but an expert could have distinguished any change in
the clicking of the instrument, which had been almost incessant; but
Watkins had "called" the head office on the Missouri. In two minutes the
"sounder" rattled out "All right! What is it?"
Watkins went on with his questions, his eyes still fixed on the poor
girl's face, and all the time his fingers, as it were, playing with the
key. If he were imperturbable, so was not a man sitting at a receiving
instrument nearly five hundred miles away. He had "taken" but a few
words when he jumped from his chair and cried:
"Shut that door, and call the superintendent and be quick! Charley,
brace up—lively—and come and write this out!" With his wonderful
electric pen, the handle several hundred of miles long, Watkins,
unknown to his interlocutor, was printing in the Morse alphabet this
"Inform'n rec'd. Perry gang going to throw No. 17 off
track near—xth mile-post, this division, about nine to-morrow
(Thursday) night, kill passengers, and rob express and mail.
Am alone here. No chance to verify story, but believe it to be
on square. Better make arrangements from your end to block
game. No Sheriff here now. Answer."
The superintendent, responding to the hasty summons, heard the message
before the clerk had time to write it out. His lips were closely
compressed as he put his own hand on the key and sent these laconic
sentences: "O.K. Keep perfectly dark. Will manage from this end."
Watkins, at Barker's, rose from his seat, opened the door a little way,
saw that the station was empty, and then said to the girl, brusquely,
"Sally, you've done the square thing, and saved that train. I'll take
care that you don't suffer and that you get well paid. Now come home
with me, and my wife will look out for you."
"Oh! no," cried the girl, shrinking back, "I must run away. You're
mighty kind, but I daren't go with you." Detecting a shade of doubt in
his eye, she added: "Don't be afeared; I'll die before they'll know I've
given them away to you!" and she disappeared in the darkness.
At the other end of the wire, the superintendent had quietly impressed
secrecy on his operator and clerk ordered his fast mare harnessed, and
gone to his private office.
"Read that!" said he to his secretary, "it was about time for some
trouble of this kind, and now I'm going to let Uncle Sam take care of
his mails. If I don't get to the reservation before the General's turned
in, I shall have to wake him up. Wait for me, please."
They gray mare made the six miles to the military reservation in just
half an hour. The General was smoking his last cigar, and was alert in
an instant; and before the superintendent had finished the jorum of "hot
Scotch" hospitably tendered, the orders had gone by wire to the
commanding officer at Fort----, some distance east of Barker's, and been
Returning to the station, the superintendent remarked to the waiting
"The General's all right. Of course we can't tell that this is not a
sell; but if those Perry hounds mean business they'll get all the fight
they want; and if they've got any souls—which I doubt—may the Lord
have mercy on them!"
He prepared several despatches, two of which were as follows:
"MR. HENRY SINCLAIR:
"On No. 17, Pawnee Junction:
This telegram your authority to take charge of train on which
you are, and demand obedience of all officials and trainmen on
road. Please do so, and act in accordance with information
wired station agent at Pawnee Junction."
To the Station Agent:
"Reported Perry gang will try wreck and rob No. 17 near—xth
mile-post. Denver Division, about nine Thursday night
Troops will await train at Fort----. Car ordered ready for
them. Keep everything secret, and act in accordance with
orders of Mr. Sinclair."
"It's worth about ten thousand dollars," sententiously remarked he,
"that Sinclair's on that train. He's got both sand and brains.
Good-night," and he went to bed and slept the sleep of the just.
The sun never shone more brightly and the air was never more clear and
bracing than when Sinclair helped his wife off the train at Pawnee
Junction. The station-master's face fell as he saw the lady, but he
saluted the engineer with as easy an air as he could assume, and watched
for an opportunity to speak to him alone. Sinclair read the despatches
with an unmoved countenance, and after a few minutes' reflection simply
said: "All right. Be sure to keep the matter perfectly quiet." At
breakfast he was distrait—so much so that his wife asked him what was
the matter. Taking her aside, he at once showed her the telegrams.
"You see my duty," he said. "My only thought is about you, my dear
child. Will you stay here?"
She simply replied, looking into his face without a tremor:
"My place is with you." Then the conductor called "All aboard," and the
train once more started.
Sinclair asked Foster to join him in the smoking-compartment and tell
him the promised story, which the latter did. His rescue at Barker's, he
frankly and gratefully said, had been the turning point in his life.
In brief, he had "sworn-off" from gambling and drinking, had found
honest employment, and was doing well.
"I've two things to do now, Major," he added; "first, I must show my
gratitude, to you; and next—"he hesitated a little—"I want to find
that poor girl that I left behind at Barker's. She was engaged to marry
me, and when I came to think of it, and what a life I'd have made her
lead, I hadn't the heart till now to look for her; but, seeing I'm on
the right track, I'm going to find her, and get her to come with me. Her
father's a—old scoundrel, but that ain't her fault, and I ain't going
to marry him."
"Foster," quietly asked Sinclair, "do you know the Perry gang?"
The man's brow darkened.
"Know them?" said he. "I know them much too well. Perry is as ungodly a
cutthroat as ever killed an emigrant in cold blood, and he's got in his
gang nearly all those hounds that tried to hang me. Why do you ask,
Sinclair handed him the despatches. "You are the only man on the train
to whom I have shown them," said he.
Foster read them slowly, his eyes lighting up as he did so. "Looks as if
it was true," said he. "Let me see! Fort----. Yes, that's the—th
infantry. Two of their boys were killed at Sidney last summer by some of
the same gang, and the regiment's sworn vengeance. Major, if this
story's on the square, that crowd's goose is cooked, and
forget it! I say, you must give me a hand in."
"Foster," said Sinclair, "I am going to put responsibility on your
shoulders. I have no doubt that, if we be attacked, the soldiers will
dispose of the gang; but I must take all possible precautions for the
safety of the passengers. We must not alarm them. They can be made to
think that the troops are going on a scout, and only a certain number of
resolute men need be told of what we expect. Can you, late this
afternoon, go through the cars, and pick them out? I will then put you
in charge of the passenger cars, and you can post your men on the
platforms to act in case of need. My place will be ahead."
"Major, you can depend on me," was Foster's reply. "I'll go through the
train and have my eye on some boys of the right sort, and that's got
their shooting-irons with them."
Through the hours of that day on rolled the train, till over the crisp
buffalo grass, across the well-worn buffalo trails, past the prairie-dog
villages. The passengers chatted, dozed, played cards, read, all
unconscious, with the exception of three, of the coming conflict between
the good and the evil forces bearing on their fate; of the fell
preparations making for their disaster; of the grim preparations making
to avert such disaster; of all of which the little wires alongside of
them had been talking back and forth. Watkins had telegraphed that he
still saw no reason to doubt the good faith of his warning, and Sinclair
had reported his receipt of authority and his acceptance thereof.
Meanwhile, also, there had been set in motion a measure of that power to
which appeal is so reluctantly made in time of peace. At Fort----, a
lonely post on the plains, the orders had that morning been issued for
twenty men under Lieutenant Halsey to parade at 4 P.M., with overcoats,
two days' rations, and ball cartridges; also for Assistant Surgeon
Kesler to report for duty with the party. Orders as to destination were
communicated direct to the lieutenant from the post commander, and on
the minute the little column moved, taking the road to the station. The
regiment from which it came had been in active service among the Indians
on the frontier for a long time, and the officers and men were tried and
seasoned fighters. Lieutenant Halsey had been well known at the West
Point balls as the "leader of the german." From the last of these balls
he had gone straight to the field and three years had given him an
enviable reputation for sang froid and determined bravery. He looked
every inch the soldier as he walked along the trail, his cloak thrown
back and his sword tucked under his arm. The doctor, who carried a Modoc
bullet in some inaccessible part of his scarred body, growled
good-naturedly at the need of walking, and the men, enveloped in their
army-blue overcoats, marched easily by fours. Reaching the station, the
lieutenant called the agent aside and with him inspected, on a siding, a
long platform on which benches had been placed and secured. Then he took
his seat in the station and quietly waited, occasionally twisting his
long blond mustache. The doctor took a cigar with the agent, and the men
walked about or sat on the edge of the platform. One of them, who
obtained a surreptitious glance at his silent commander, told his
companions that there was trouble ahead for somebody.
"That's just the way the leftenant looked, boys," said he, "when we was
laying for them Apaches that raided Jones's Ranch and killed the women
and little children."
In a short time the officer looked at his watch, formed his men, and
directed them to take their places on the seats of the car. They had
hardly done so, when the whistle of the approaching train was heard.
When it came up, the conductor, who had his instructions from Sinclair,
had the engine detached and backed on the siding for the soldiers'
which thus came between it and the foremost baggage-car, when the train
was again made up. As arranged, it was announced that the troops were to
be taken a certain distance to join a scouting party, and the curiosity
of the passengers was but slightly excited. The soldiers sat quietly in
their seats, their repeating rifles held between their knees, and the
officer in front. Sinclair joined the latter, and had a few words with
him as the train moved on. A little later, when the stars were shining
brightly overhead, they passed into the express-car, and sent for the
conductor and other trainmen, and for Foster. In a few words Sinclair
explained the position of affairs. His statement was received with
perfect coolness, and the men only asked what they were to do.
"I hope, boys," said Sinclair, "that we are going to put this gang
to-night where they will make no more trouble. Lieutenant Halsey will
bear the brunt of the fight, and it only remains for you to stand by the
interests committed to your care. Mr. Express Agent, what help do you
want?" The person addressed, a good-natured giant, girded with a
cartridge belt, smiled as he replied:
"Well, sir, I'm wearing a watch which the company gave me for standing
off the James gang in Missouri for half an hour, when we hadn't the
ghost of a soldier about. I'll take the contract, and welcome, to hold
this fort alone."
"Very well," said Sinclair. "Foster, progress have you made?"
"Major, I've got ten or fifteen as good men as ever drew a bead, and
just red-hot for a fight."
"That will do very well. Conductor, give the trainmen the rifles from
the baggage-car and let them act under Mr. Foster. Now, boys, I am sure
you will do your duty. That is all."
From the next station Sinclair telegraphed "All ready" to the
superintendent, who was pacing his office in much suspense. Then he said
a few words to his brave but anxious wife, and walked to the rear
platform. On it were several armed men, who bade him good-evening, and
asked "when the fun was going to begin." Walking through the train, he
found each platform similarly occupied, and Foster going from one to the
other. The latter whispered as he passed him:
"Major, I found Arizona Joe, the scout, in the smokin'-car, and he's on
the front platform. That lets me out, and although I know as well as you
that there ain't any danger about that rear sleeper where the madam is,
I ain't a-going to be far off from her." Sinclair shook him by the hand;
then he looked at his watch. It was half-past eight. He passed through
the baggage and express cars, finding in the latter the agent sitting
behind his safe, on which lay two large revolvers. On the platform-car
he found the soldiers and their commander, sitting silent and
unconcerned as before. When Sinclair reached the latter and nodded, he
rose and faced the men, and his fine voice was clearly heard above the
rattle of the train.
"Company, 'tention!" The soldiers straightened themselves in a second.
"With ball cartridge, load!" It was done with the precision of a
machine. Then the lieutenant spoke, in the same clear, crisp tones that
the troops had heard in more than one fierce battle.
"Men," said he, "in a few minutes the Perry gang, which you will
remember, are going to try to run this train off the track, wound and
kill the passengers, and rob the cars and the United States mail. It is
our business to prevent them. Sergeant Wilson" (a gray-bearded
non-commissioned officer stood up and saluted), "I am going on the
engine. See that my orders are repeated. Now, men, aim low, and don't
waste any shots." He and Sinclair climbed over the tender and spoke to
"How are the air-brakes working?" asked Sinclair.
"Then, if you slow down now, you could stop the train in a third of her
length, couldn't you?"
"Easy, if you don't mind being shaken up a bit."
"That is good. How is the country about the—xth mile-post?"
"Dead level, and smooth."
"Good again. Now, Lieutenant Halsey, this is a splendid head-light, and
we can see a long way with my night glass, I will have a—"
"—2d mile-post just passed," interrupted the engine-driver.
"Only one more to pass, then, before we ought to strike them. Now,
lieutenant, I undertake to stop the train within a very short distance
of the gang. They will be on both sides of the track no doubt; and the
ground, as you hear, is quite level You will best know what to do."
The officer stepped back. "Sergeant," called he, "do you hear me
"Have the men fix bayonets. When the train stops, and I wave my sword,
let half jump off each side, run up quickly, and form line
the engine—not ahead."
"Jack," said Sinclair to the engine-driver, "is your hand steady?" The
man held it up with a smile. "Good. Now, stand by your throttle and your
air-brake. Lieutenant, better warn the men to hold on tight, and tell
the sergeant to pass the word to the boys on the platforms, or they will
be knocked off by the sudden stop. Now for a look ahead!" and he brought
the binocular to his eyes.
The great parabolic head-light illuminated the track a long way in
advance, all behind it being of course in darkness. Suddenly Sinclair
"The fools have a light there, as I am a living man; and there is a
little red one near us. What can that be? All ready. Jack! By heavens!
they have taken up two rails. Now, hold on, all! STOP HER!!"
The engine-driver shut his throttle-valve with a jerk. Then, holding
hard by it, he sharply turned a brass handle. There was a fearful
jolt—a grating—and the train's way was checked. The lieutenant,
standing sidewise, had drawn his sword. He waved it, and almost before
he could get off the engine, the soldiers were up and forming, still in
shadow, while the bright light was thrown on a body of men ahead.
"Surrender, or you are dead men!" roared the officer. Curses and several
shots were the reply. Then came the orders, quick and sharp:
"Forward! Close rip! Double-quick! Halt! FIRE!"
It was speedily over. Left on the car with the men, the old sergeant had
"Boys, you hear. It's that ---- Perry gang. Now, don't forget Larry and
Charley that they murdered last year," and there had come from the
soldiers a sort of fierce, subdued growl. The volley was followed by a
bayonet charge, and it required all the officer's authority to save the
lives even of those who "threw up their hands." Large as the gang was
(outnumbering the troops), well armed and desperate as they were, every
one was dead, wounded, or a prisoner when the men who guarded the train
platforms ran up. The surgeon, with professional coolness, walked up to
the robbers, his instrument case under his arm.
"Not much for me to do here, Lieutenant," said he. "That practice for
Creedmoor is telling on the shooting. Good thing for the gang, too.
Bullets are better than rope, and a Colorado jury will give them plenty
Sinclair had sent a man to tell his wife that all was over. Then he
ordered a fire lighted, and the rails relaid. The flames lit a strange
scene as the passengers flocked up. The lieutenant posted men to keep
"Is there a telegraph station not far ahead Sinclair?" asked he. "Yes?
All right." He drew a small pad from his pocket, and wrote a despatch to
the post commander.
"Be good enough to send that for me," said he "and leave orders at
Barker's for the night express eastward to stop for us, and to bring a
posse to take care of the wounded and prisoners. And now, my dear
Sinclair, I suggest that you get the passengers into the cars, and go on
as soon as those rails are spiked. When they realize the situation, some
of them will feel precious ugly, and you know we can't have any
Sinclair glanced at the rails and gave the word at once to the conductor
and brakemen, who began vociferating, "All aboard!" Just then Foster
appeared, an expression of intense satisfaction showing clearly on his
face, in the firelight.
"Major," said he, "I didn't use to take much stock in special
Providence, or things being ordered; but I'm darned if I don't believe
in them from this day. I was bound to stay where you put me, but I was
uneasy, and wild to be in the scrimmage; and, if I had been there, I
wouldn't have taken notice of a little red light that wasn't much
behind the rear platform when we stopped. When I saw there was no danger
there, I ran back, and what do you think I found? There was a woman, in
a dead faint, and just clutching a lantern that she had tied up in a red
scarf, poor little thing! And, Major, it was Sally! It was the little
girl that loved me out at Barker's, and has loved me and waited for me
ever since! And when she came to, and knew me, she was so glad she 'most
fainted away again; and she let on as it was her that gave away the job.
And I took her into the sleeper, and the madam, God bless her!--she knew
Sally before and was good to her—she took care of her, and is cheering
her up. And now, Major, I'm going to take her straight to Denver, and
send for a parson and get her married to me, and she'll brace up, sure
The whistle sounded, and the train started. From the window of the
"sleeper" Sinclair and his wife took their last look at the weird scene.
The lieutenant, standing at the side of the track, wrapped in his cloak,
caught a glimpse of Mrs. Sinclair's pretty face, and returned her bow.
Then, as the car passed out of sight, he tugged at his mustache and
"Why, boys, why,
Should we be melancholy, boys,
Whose business 'tis to die?"
In less than an hour, telegrams having in the mean time been sent in
both directions, the train ran alongside the platform at Barker's; and;
Watkins, inperturbable as usual, met Sinclair, and gave him his letters.
"Perry gang wiped out, I hear, Major," said he "Good thing for the
country. That's a lesson the 'toughs' in these parts won't forget for a
long time. Plucky girl that give 'em away, wasn't she. Hope she's all
"She is all right," said Sinclair, with a smile.
"Glad of that. By-the-way, that father of her'n passed in his checks
to-night. He'd got one warning from the Vigilantes, and yesterday they
found out he was in with this gang, and they was a-going for him; but
when the telegram come, he put a pistol to his head and saved them all
trouble. Good riddance to everybody, I say. The sheriff's here now, and
is going east on the next train to get them fellows. He's got a big
posse together, and I wouldn't wonder if they was hard to hold in, after
the 'boys in blue' is gone."
In a few minutes the train was off, with its living freight—the just
and the unjust, the reformed and the rescued, the happy and the anxious.
With many of the passengers the episode of the night was already a thing
of the past. Sinclair sat by the side of his wife, to whose cheeks the
color had all come back; and Sally Johnson lay in her berth, faint
still, but able to give an occasional smile to Foster. In the station on
the Missouri the reporters were gathered about the happy superintendent,
smoking his cigars, and filling their note-books with items. In Denver,
their brethren would gladly have done the same, but Watkins failed to
gratify them. He was a man of few words. When the train had gone, and a
"Hope they'll get through all right, now," he simply said:
"Yes, likely. Two shots don't 'most always go in the same hole." Then he
went to the telegraph instrument. In a few minutes he could have told a
story as wild as a Norse saga, but what he said, when Denver had
responded, was only—
"No. 17, fifty-five minutes late."