Sunday, 20 May 2018

Corporal Bob

Corporal Bob
Frank L. Packard
Munsey’s Magazine, April 1906.
This is reportedly the first published work of Frank L. Packard—one of several hundred. Only a few of these stories involve the Mounted Police (in Canada). Another, is the reportedly unpublished story (a Short Novel) Liegh, of the Royal North-West Mounted, which has recently been digitized and is in proofing by Stillwoods./drf

Corporal Bob Marston, Northwest Mounted Police, shuffled the greasy cards wearily, and laid them perfunctorily in little piles on the table before him. Then he swept them petulantly into a confused heap. He had played solitaire for two weeks, and the diversion had lost its attraction. The strain of the situation was getting on his nerves.
He pushed back his chair and walked to the single window that the hut boasted. From the lean-to behind the little shanty came the mournful whine of the sledge dogs. He gazed drearily out on the endless plain of white. As far as his eye could reach there was nothing to vary the monotonous miles of snow, save here and there a cluster of gaunt, naked trees.
Marston turned from the window to the corner where Jack Evans lay tossing restlessly on his bunk. He raised the sufferer’s head awkwardly, and poured a few drops between the parched lips.
“Well, old chap?” he asked.
Evans’ eyes opened to rest curiously for a moment on Bob’s face, then he whispered feebly:
“Been pretty bad, ain’t I?”
Bob nodded.
“Yep,” he said tersely. “Better now, though.”
Evans closed his eyes an instant; the light hurt them.
“How’s the grub?” he asked suddenly.
“Grub? Grub’s all right— lots of it,” replied Bob shortly, turning his back to Evans under pretense of lighting his pipe. Conscious that the sick man’s eyes were on him, Bob crossed the room and began to poke the pitifully inadequate fire into a cheerier blaze.
“That,” said Evans, slowly and deliberately, “is a darned lie!”
The stick in Bob’s hand dropped with a crash to the floor.
“It ain’t no use,” continued Evans,“tryin’ ter bluff me. Ye’re a good feller, Bob, an’ white clean through; but I ain’t been so sick but what I know it’s two week er more I been on this here bunk, an’ the day afore I was taken down we was plannin’ ter strike fer the fort. ‘Cause why? ‘Cause thar warn’t only a week’s grub left. Thet’s why!”
Corporal Marston squinted at him a minute through the immense puffs of smoke he was emitting.
“You know too blamed much for your own good, you do,” he growled.
“Thet ain’t all neither,” resumed the sick man, nervously plucking the fluffs of the coarse blanket. “The heavy storms air a-comin’ on, wuss’n the one thet ketched us. ‘Twouldn’t hev been no easy job ter make the fort a week ago. Every day makes it wuss, dogs gettin’ weaker an’ weaker, an’— ”
“Shut up!” snarled Bob. Every nerve in his body seemed to jangle discordantly. He passed his hands over his eyes in an effort to still the violent throbbing in his head. Desperately he pulled himself together, knocked the ashes from his pipe, placed it carefully in his pocket, and marched over to the bed. “You shut up!” he repeated peremptorily, his hands stuck deep in his trousers pockets.
“I’m in command of this expedition. All you’ve got to do is obey orders.”
A little red flush of resentment tingled the pale, drawn features.
“I’m no chicken at this business,” said Evans querulously. “Ten years I’ve been on duty in this Godforsaken country. Yer talk’s jest baby talk, so it is. Don’t ye think I know,” he cried, his voice rising stronger in emotion, “thet it’s sure death ter stay anuther day? I can’t go, so I got ter cash in; but yer stayin’ don’t help none. You hike out fer the fort while you got the strength left. What’s the use uv yer goin’ down an’ out jest ‘cause I hev ter?”
Bob’s lips twitched nervously.
“I ought to feel like smashing you for that,” he said with painful slowness, “only you’re sick—and—somehow, I guess I’m kind of out of sorts.”
Neither of the men spoke for a time that seemed ages to them both. Finally, Evans raised himself painfully on his elbow.
“I’m in dead earnest, Bob, an’ I’m goin’ ter hev my say. I seen you kiss thet photergraph last night when you thought I was asleep. I ain’t got a soul in all the world what cares a cuss about me. I ain’t sayin’ but it’s my own fault; thet’s neither ‘ere ner thar. ‘Tain’t fittin’ fer you ter stay. It’s murder, thet’s what it is—jest murder! An’ I ain’t a-goin’ ter hev it on my conscience. An’, so help me God,” he finished solemnly, “ye’re a-goin’ ter make tracks!”
Bob moistened his lips with his tongue as he leaned over the bunk.
“There’ll be a search party after us a day or so,” he said thickly.
“Search party nothin’—”
But Bob’s hand closed over the other’s mouth. He turned Evans over with his face to the wall, and drew the coverings around him.
“Go to sleep,” he commanded sharply. “Maybe I’ll go out by and by and try for a shot.”
He took his gun from the corner, drew the chair up to the table, and began to polish an already spotless. barrel. After a time his exertions relaxed, and the gun was allowed to slip gradually to the ground. He leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, his chin resting in his hands, his eyes staring hard before him.
Once or twice he moved, shifting his position restlessly. He groaned aloud in anguish, then started with a guilty glance toward the corner. The figure on the bed was motionless.
Bob hitched his chair around until he faced the door with his back to the bunk. His hand stole into his pocket. He took out a photograph and laid it reverently on his knee. The eyes that looked into his seemed pleading with him to come hack. He shook his head sadly as he lifted the picture to his lips.
“Oh, Mary!” The words welled up from the heart of the man with its immensity of yearning; the lips that scarcely moved to form them trembled piteously. His head sank down again between bowed shoulders. “My Mary!”
Suddenly he straightened up, his hands clenched tight in fierce resentment. What was this sick thing on the bed that it should stand between them? What claim had it to interpose? What jibing mockery was this that held him back from the craving that racked his very soul? Duty! The thought loomed up unbidden. What was duty to him? A morbid sentiment—and how chimerical ! Everything was chimerical!
He drew his hand peevishly over his face; the photograph fell unheeded to the floor. His bloodshot eyes fastened themselves on the fur mat that hung before the little doorway leading to the dogs’ quarters. Slowly he rose to his feet, and on tiptoe began to cross the room toward it, his hands stretched out before him like one groping in the dark. His face, sullenly averted from the sick man’s corner, was drawn and haggard, ashy white with the workings of his reeling brain. Trembling as with the ague, he pushed aside the mat and let it fall behind him; then he paused to wipe the great beads of sweat from his forehead.
“What’s wrong with me?” he muttered plaintively. “It’s a square deal. The fool suggested it himself; I’d never have thought of it if he hadn’t. Lie down, confound you!” he snarled, with a vicious kick at the dogs that whined around him.
They huddled back into the corner, crouching in fear before this new master whom they did not know. Bob stooped and hauled the sled into the middle of the shed. He began to fumble with the gear.
“There’s more harness than I want,” he babbled, with a curious chuckle. “Didn’t bring any spare ones either; there must be more dogs somewhere.” He commenced to count them. “One—two—three—four; where’s the others? Dead. Of course they’re dead! Knew it before, only I must have forgotten.”
He sat down on the sled and began to tell off the details on his fingers.
“Four dogs—two hundred miles—no rations—Mary?”
There was a note of interrogation in the last word. Who was Mary? Yes, he remembered now—there had been a picture, hadn’t there? He felt in his pockets. Well, it didn’t matter, he must have lost it. Nothing mattered! He was going away from this hell of torment, away from—
He bounded to his feet, shivering in every limb. What was that? Stealthily he edged toward the doorway, and cautiously lifted a corner of the rug to peer through into the room beyond. His eyes mechanically followed Evans’ movements, as from the floor, where he had fallen in an effort to leave his bunk, the sick man slowly and painfully pulled himself to his knees, swaying to and fro as he clutched desperately for support.
There was a moment’s quiet as Evans steadied himself; then Bob started nervously. The slow, faltering words seemed to reach him from some great distance.
“I ain’t never prayed afore, God,” was the piteous confession, “an’ I ain’t no kind uv right ter now; but seems ‘s if I’d offer. You know how ‘tis, God, an’ how on account uv me Bob’s figurin’ ter stick it out. ’Taint’t fit ner proper fer me what has nary chick ner child ter stand atween him an’ her. Oh, God! I don’t know how ter pray, but thar ain’t no call fer Bob ter die!”
Evans’ voice broke with a half sob as he fumbled for his words. Bob stirred uneasily. A faint glimmer of reason had come to him, and he understood that Evans was praying praying that he, Bob, shouldn’t die. Well, he wasn’t going to die. He was going away. He’d almost forgotten that. He was going away.
Evans’ voice was firmer as he continued:
“An’ so, God, thar ain’t no other thing fer me ter do.” His hand groped beneath the blanket. “Jest make me man enough ter—
Like a flash Bob’s awakening came in all its bitterness. With a cry he dashed across the room and knocked up Evans’ hand. The bullet buried itself harmlessly in the rafters above their heads.
Evans staggered slowly to his feet. Between them, on the floor, lay the still smoking revolver. The sick man’s glance, half defiant, half wistful, rested for an instant on Bob’s face; then he pitched forward in a deathlike swoon.
Bob caught him as he fell, and lifted him tenderly back into the bunk.
The room seemed stifling hot. He staggered blindly to the door, wrenched it open, and sank bareheaded upon his knees in the snow.
For a moment he stayed there motionless; then, sobbing like a little child, he poured forth the bitter weight of shame that bowed him down. And as he prayed, in the distance, faintly borne to him by the wind, came the yelping of a pack of dogs— the crack of whips— the sound of a human voice.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Plunder of Kurdistan

 Plunder of Kurdistan
by E. Hoffmann Price
From Spicy Adventures magazine, April 1935
Digitized for Stillwoods.Blogspot.Ca, April 2018.

Bayonne at sunset. Glamorous, gray walled Bayonne that for twenty centuries has nestled at the foothills of the Pyrenees, guarding the road to Spain. But Tom Garrett, sitting at a marble topped table beneath that striped awning of Cafe du Theatre, had forgotten Vauban’s fortifications and likewise his tall glass of amer picon. Garrett had acquired an aim in life.
And every time the girl at the adjoining table recrossed her lovely legs, the problem became more urgent. He was certain that he could not leave Bayonne without finding out what kind of garters would draw her hosiery so snugly about her dimpled knees. Something had to be done about it.
But it was the girl who took the initiative. Her eyes suddenly shifted from the milling crowd she had anxiously been scrutinizing and nailed Garrett with their dark, long lashed magnificence. She leaned forward just enough to give Garrett a glimpse of breasts like twin magnolia buds and said in a low, agitated voice, “Monsieur, on m’a poursuivi depuis Espagne jusqu’ a
“Followed you from Spain?” echoed Garrett. And without giving her a chance to answer. he added, “No damn wonder! Listen, ma’mselle, I’da followed you from hell just to see if you kicked your covers off in your sleep.”
“Thank God, an American!” she sighed. She was obviously worried to distraction; but a sweetly malicious smile twitched at the corners of her amiable mouth as Garrett turned a rich Venetian red, swallowed, and finally blurted out, “Gee! Do you speak English?”
“I ought to,” she laughed. “I was raised in Kansas.”

Garrett might have known she wasn’t French.
Her features were a shade too finely drawn. Anyway, she hadn’t slapped him or called a gendarme, and an American speaking girl would be a relief after all this ‘voulez vous couches avec moi’ stuff, followed by an itemized bill with luxury tax extra, and a franc for mama.
“Listen, Susie,” he said, “that makes us neighbors. I’m from Broken Axe, Oklahoma.”
“The name,” she corrected, “is Lydia—”
“No, silly! Lydia Inglis, and I’m in a perfectly terrible jam, and you looked so much at home here, and sort of honest—”
“Honest? Right-o, Lydia, and no lady ever yet claimed Tom Garrett went through her bankroll while she slept— but anyway, what’s the trouble?”
Lydia eyed him, and made a job of it. He saw that she was as lovely above the equator as she was below, and that was saying a lot. But despite her relief at having met a fellow American, Lydia was still a bit dubious about something.
“I brought something rather precious from Spain,” she finally began.
“Uhuh. About a million dollar’s worth, I’d say,” interrupted Garrett as his appraising glance shifted from her slender silken legs to the suave curve of her hips.
“Idiot! What I was referring to is in my hatbox.” She indicated the circular container.
“What I had in mind isn’t and couldn’t possibly be,” grinned Garrett. Yet behind his badinage, he was thinking fast. The girl looked absolutely one hundred proof and the pure quill, right out of the wood; but her remarks hinted at smuggling. There was a lot of it going on, along the Spanish Border. And to test his conclusion, Garrett added, “I guess it must be valuable—or you’d not be packing that automatic in a holster at your knee.”
“Oh!” That took Lydia’s breath, and it worried her. “How did you—”
“That green guard stripe sort of caught my eye,” Garrett explained. “You could make a million modeling for Hyacinth Hosiery.”
Lydia’s eyes widened some more. She was wondering if there was anything he hadn’t seen.
“Why—how did—I am wearing Hyacinth—”
“Sure you are. I make ‘em, back in the states. But about that hat box?”
Lydia emerged from her chair like a kitten rising from a cushion; slick and graceful and effortlessly, with a fluent motion that suggested how tightly she could cling—if she felt that way. Garrett reached for the circular hat box. Lydia’s fingers closed on his wrist. The gesture was instinctive. As her grip relaxed, she smiled and said, “I’m developing a bad case of jitters.”
He accompanied her across rue Bernede, and up the Port Neuf arcade to the first cross street. There she paused and said, “I’m staying at the Panier-Fleuri. If you’re not too busy, I wish you’d come up and wait with me until— oh, good Lord! There’s one of them now!”

Garrett whirled just in time to see a lean, swarthy man with black mustaches duck into a doorway. The fellow had obviously been lurking to intercept Lydia on her way to her hotel. But swiftly as he moved, Garrett caught him by the shoulder before he could dive down the passageway that pierced the otherwise blank wall.
“Qu ’est-ce que c’est?" the fellow demanded as Garrett jerked him into the open. His gimlet eyes were defiant, and he had a face that would make any hangman feel the nobility of his calling.
“You know what it’s about!” snapped Garrett. “Steady, there!” His fingers sank into Gimlet Eyes’ shoulder and held him at arm’s length. Then, to Lydia: “Sure this is the guy?”
Lydia nodded. With his free hand Gimlet Eyes reached for his belt. And that was a false move. Before the knife half cleared its sheath, Garrett’s fist popped home. It landed dead center. Gimlet Eyes was out cold before he crashed into a pilaster and then slumped to the paving.
“Nice boy,” said Garrett. “Now I’ll call a gendarme—”
“No—don’t! I don’t want the police mixed up in this.”
“Then come up to my apartment on the Lachepaillet Wall,” suggested Garrett. “You’d be safer up there than in your room.”
“Oh, anywhere at all!” Her fingers closed on his arm. “If I ever get clear of this mess!”
And as they hurried up the shadowy arcade, looped the cathedral, and headed up the broad street that runs along the city wall, Lydia’s low voiced remarks confirmed Garrett’s suspicions. Smuggling and some hijackers trailing her, making a play for the plunder before she could surrender it to a certain Antoine Ducasse. No wonder she could not appeal to the gendarmes or the Service de Surete for protection. Garrett saw himself plunging into a ticklish mess— but he also saw a chance of finding out whether she talked in her sleep.

Once in Garrett’s apartment, Lydia flung her hat in a corner, set her hat box on the bed and lifted the cover. Out of an invitingly scented froth of silk and lace she drew a brazen bird about the size of a quail. It was a peacock with the tail fanned out. It stood on a pedestal engraved with archaic, angular Arabic script. Oh it might be Persian— Garrett didn’t know, and cared less when Lydia hitched up her skirt to reach for the automatic that nestled in the suede holster at her knee.
“Don’t—you’re spoiling the view,” chided Garrett as the skirt dropped into place to caress the softly rounded flesh it concealed.
“Can’t you ever be serious? Listen, Tom, I’m in an awful jam!”
“I’m in a terribly upset state of mind myself,” countered Garrett. To prove it, he caught Lydia in his arms, drew her slim, deliciously curved body closely to him. For an instant she resisted, but he found her lips and smothered her inarticulate protest. And as he felt the firm, half yielding pressure of her breasts, he kissed her again. An ecstatic shudder rippled down her body . . . her lips were now sultry and she was returning his kisses. Then her arms closed about him and her supple curves yielded, clinging and vibrant—
Finally, as she caught her breath, she protested, “Oh . . . don’t . . . I’ll scream. . . .”
“Mustn’t scream,” whispered Garrett. “Someone might hear, and then we’d both be in an awful jam!”
“You’re terrible! . . . and to think I trusted you. . .” She sighed, flung back her sleek permanent, “Well ... do wait just a moment—please—I won’t run away and hide . . . ”
The fire that smouldered in her dark, misty eyes convinced Garrett. And as he released her from his embrace, she wriggled out of her sports ensemble, and flung it over a chair.
But before Garrett’s eager glance could get more than a glimpse of the warm, soft flesh that smiled at him through tea rose step-ins, Lydia snapped the wall switch. And as she sank back among the cushions, her ardent loveliness became a blurred, palpitant whiteness just beyond the moonlight that filtered in through the river mists that surged over the Lachepaillet Wall. . . .
Finally, however, Garrett’s curiosity ranged beyond the seductive mysteries veiled by silk and moon glamour.
“Speaking again of smuggling,” he said. “You know, we might as well speak about something—”
“I’ve been making a Mediterranean Cruise,” Lydia began. “And at Beirut I met an archeologist. Antoine Ducasse. He’s been among the Yezidi devil-worshipers in Kurdistan. That bird is the sacred image of their god. Satan in the form of a peacock. Anyway, he stole it from their temple on Mount Lalesh, and asked me to bring it to France while they were watching him.”
“And that didn’t throw them off the track and the devil worshipers are chasing you now instead of him?”
“No. But there was an awful scandal about it, and the Yezidis are threatening to massacre all the Armenians or Christians, or something of the sort if the British government don’t dig up the sacred bird. You see, it hasn’t any particular value. Just a relic. So I’m not really a smuggler after all. Only—I’ve been followed all the way from Barcelona, and Monsieur Ducasse wasn’t here to meet me, and I’ve been mortally afraid that some one will catch up with me before I can deliver it, and—”
“Nuts!” interrupted Garrett, filling their glasses with Vieux Armagnac that would burn the fear out of a mooncalf. “Mail it to the old coot, and let’s you and I go to Nice for the next month or so.”
“No, I can’t,” she protested. “I’ve got to collect the ten thousand francs and expenses he promised me when I delivered it here in Bayonne.”

But before Garrett could offer to buy the peacock and Monsieur Ducasse as well, Lydia clasped her hands behind her head and leaned back among the cushions. And the whiteness of her shoulders and the way her breasts filled out the tea rose silk that caressed them was enough to dispose of good suggestions, good resolutions, and everything but thoughts of a good armful. . . .
The door was barred, Lydia’s pistol was handy, and be damned to the dark sinister men who were following her. . . and after just so much of such a fascinating companion, the stoutest fellow in the world would sleep soundly . . . so it did not particularly amaze Garrett when he finally awoke and found that the moon glow had shifted, leaving the room in darkness.
Then he missed the warmth of Lydia’s body, and the possessive confinement of her arm. But when after some time he heard no one stirring about the apartment, he began to wonder. Then he snapped on the lights. No Lydia! And her shoes were missing, and so were the Hyacinth hose and everything else she had flung into a corner.
The hatbox, however, was still there, and he caught the brazen gleam of the peacock stolen from Kurdistan. Which was a hell of a note. A brass bird is poor company after what he’d been chasing around forty acres of chaise longue... but at all events, as long as she’d left the devil worshiper’s god with him, she wasn’t in any danger.
“Unless a couple of Kurds drop in with snickersnees to carve me into hunks of kalter abschnitt,” he concluded with a rueful grin. “But if they ask for it, they can have their damn bird, and if Lydia really needs the ten thousand francs that bad, she can stick with me and take it out in trade.”
He sighed deeply and eyed the imprint her shapely body had left among the cushions, and raised the ante to ten million francs. But his speculations were interrupted by an unusual commotion at the door. He jumped to open up. At first he thought it might be Lydia—but it was not. Still, it was something just as good. She was barefooted, and wore a night gown that might have been woven out of moonbeams on a warp of river mist. The only difference between what she wore and wearing nothing at all was that a suggestion of covering made her shapely body ever so much more alluring. Her violet eyes were wide with fright, her copper colored hair trailed over her shoulders, half to her hips. The heavy tresses half veiled quivering breasts with each frantic gasp brought into dazzling relief.
“Life,” observed Garrett, “seems to be a succession of women in distress.”
“Monsieur—il va me tuer—je suis
“I’d kill you myself,” said Garrett, drawing her across the threshold, “if you ran out on me after giving me an eyeful like that. What the hell’s wrong?”
This lady really didn’t speak English. But after inhaling a bit of Vieux Armagnac, she sobbed a heart rending story and saturated the left shoulder of Garrett’s pajamas. Her lover had threatened to kill her, and had kicked her out with nothing but a scrap of a nightgown you could stuff into your vest pocket, and nobody loved her, and—
“Sit down, sweetheart,” suggested Garrett in passable French. “I’m just the guy you’re looking for. I had a woman run out on me, and we’re both feeling revengeful, n’est-ce pas?”

Whoever had woven the cloth for that nightgown must have had a lewd, lecherous mind. The only mystery about Lili was why anyone had kicked her out of bed.
“Tu es tres gentil,” she sighed, smothering Garrett with a simmering kiss and draping her suave curves to the best advantage.
“A lot of the girls claim I’m kinda rough,” said Garrett, who didn’t quite get gentil. But with wondering which of her fascinations most needed caressing, he couldn’t think of his conversation manual. Garrett had come to France in search of culture, but for the life of him he forgot whether it was spelled with a “k” or a “c”—but that made no difference, and Lili didn’t think he was a bit rough.
“J’aime Bayonne beaucoup, ” he said by way of small talk. Then, fingering the hem of that incredible sea green nightgown he added in English, “If this had fur trimming, it’d keep your neck warm. . . .”
Lili didn’t understand the words, but the gesture was plain enough.
“Que tu es charmant,” she sighed, drawing him closer.
But as she disengaged an arm to reach for the wall switch, something prompted Garrett to follow the gesture.
“Well, for Christ’s sake! ” he growled, “What are you doing here? Allez, you hatchet faced son of a—!”
For just an instant Garrett thought that Lili’s lover had followed her, and this was no occasion for spectators.
Then he recognized the swarthy gentleman whose gimlet eyes had given Lydia the jitters, down on rue du Port Neuf. Another was following him from the living room, and things became a blur of motion.
Lili saw that it was too late to snap off the lights. She held Garrett with everything she had, but she had lost a split second too much. He broke clear of her by no means amorous embrace and landed with both feet on the floor as Gimlet Eyes and Monkey Face closed in. A blackjack smacked down on his head. The room exploded in a blaze of colored lights, but Garrett’s fist landed like the head-on collision of locomotives.
Gimlet Eyes pitched end over end and crashed over one of the tripod mounted basins still green in the memory of the A. E. F.
Monkey Face drew a knife as he closed in. The blade raked Garrett’s ribs from collar bone to hip but he snatched the armed wrist, wrenched it, and ploughed his fist wrist deep into a flabby stomach. Monkey Face doubled up as though kicked in the solar plexus, and landed with a crash among the andirons of the fireplace.
Garrett whirled just as Gimlet Eyes untangled himself from the tripod wash basin and jerked a pistol from his hip. Lead fanned Garrett’s ear, and a mirror spattered to shards. He ducked, snatched a chair as another shot crackled. But as he hurled the chair, Lili ploughed home with the boudoir indispensable.
The tinware buckled under the impact. Garrett flattened to the carpet, not quite out, but paralyzed by the crash.
“Lili!” coughed Monkey Face, recovering from the solar plexus explosion, “Prenes l’oiseau! Fiche-toi, sacre imbecile!”
Which was a vulgar way of saying grab the bird and scram. Garrett gritted his teeth, dug his fingers into the carpet, and tried to drag himself toward the pistol under the pillow; but a sizzling blackjack laid him out cold. The room burst into a glare of volcanic fire, and then irised down to Lili’s rear elevation flashing across the threshold. Then blackness. . .

When Garrett’s scrambled wits assembled, he sat up, rubbed his battered head, and cursed red haired women. Then he remembered the brazen peacock and gritted his teeth at the thought of Lydia’s eventual return.
“Damn it! It’s her fault,” he grumbled, “If she’d stayed here like she should have, no red headed flewzie could have stood a look in.”
But the more he thought of it, the more foolish he felt. He dressed, pocketed Lydia’s pistol and a flashlight. Although he had not been out long, he realized the futility of trying to trail the crooks—but there was one saving point: Lili’s arriving barefooted and clothed only in a whiff of mist indicated that she could not have traveled far to get to his front door. Furthermore, he reasoned, she could not have an apartment on rue Lachepaillet, for the simple reason that no one could have anticipated his having the peacock in his possession. Nor had there been any cab from which she could have emerged. The night was too silent for him to have missed the sound of an engine.
And when he reached the street, Garrett saw that Lili’s arrival had indeed been odd. By the beam of his flashlight he saw the prints of tiny bare feet, plain in the dust of rue Lachepaillet. One set led to, and the other from his door; but the trail ran across and not along the street!
She could not have scaled the thirty feet of masonry between the parapet and the bottom of the dry moat— But maybe she could have. Garrett followed the trail. And then he learned things about the fortifications of Bayonne. In an angle of the parapet he saw a low archway which opened into a yawning blackness that indicated a tunnel running into and parallel to the earthwork that crowned the rampart. He flicked his flashlight. The glow revealed a small, rubbish laden chamber that might once have served as a powder magazine or guard room. The further wall was pierced by an archway. And on the jamb Garrett noted a wisp of sea green silk!
He advanced two paces and stood at the head of a steep stairway the width of whose treads were but half the drop of the steps. The stairs led to some subterranean crypt. Garrett snapped off the flash and picked his way down the treacherous descent.
Far below him he heard a murmur of voices: several men and a woman. It was too good to be true—but there was no mistaking Lili’s laugh. Then he caught a glow of light.
“Oh, Pierre, won’t you ever get that fire going! I’m half frozen!”
“Tais-toi,” snapped one of the trio. “Get into your clothes—do you think I’m building this fire for your benefit?”
Evidently something urgent had kept Lili from dressing. Garrett edged down another dozen steps of the neck breaking stairs, and then halted. There was more than he had expected. By the flickering light of a small fire of broken wine cases he saw a trench scooped out of the sandy bottom of the circular, vaulted dungeon. In it lay a well dressed but brutally battered man with a black, spade shaped beard. His shirt was blood drenched, and his dark suit was slashed and gory. A not yet obliterated trail, leading from a low archway which presumably opened out into the moat, showed how the body had been dragged into the dungeon. The vault, as nearly as Garrett could determine, must be the interior of the bastion that supported the Lachepaillet Wall where it made an angle toward the Gate of Spain; but the entire spectacle had much more immediate significance as an example of what his own fate would be if he made a false move.

Manufacturing Hyacinth hose, however, had not taken the iron out of Garrett’s soul. Furthermore, he had Lydia’s pistol, and thus saw no good reason for sneaking away to notify the gendarmes. Instead, he paused to look, listen, and figure it out.
Lili had made a monkey’s uncle of him; but the more he saw of her by the flickering fire light, the less he wondered at that. She had partly camouflaged her fascinations in turquoise scanties and an entirely needless brassiere, but there was something supremely entrancing about the pose she was in as she balanced or one bare foot while getting a stocking started on the other. Garrett cursed her companions, and sighed regretfully as he watched such agility serving such a commonplace purpose.
But Garrett saw more than just ninety-seven per cent of Lili. He realized now that she and her accomplices, fearing to make an open attack on his apartment, had seen Lydia’s departure without the peacock; and with their hideout so near to Garrett’s quarters, the rest had been easy enough to arrange. And with that settled, Garrett wondered what there was about the plunder from Kurdistan that kept the crooks so close to the scene of the crime. Why the fire? And why was Lili so interested as to forget the chill of that underground vault?
Monkey Face was muttering and cursing to himself as the others watched him twist and tap and tinker with the brazen image. Then an exclamation of satisfaction, and he removed the pedestal of Satan’s symbol, having unscrewed or otherwise loosened it. Lili, while watching, had wriggled her silk clad feet into a shoe and was abstractedly trying to work the bare foot into the rest of her hosiery. A bird’s eye view was tantalizing and through Garrett’s mind flashed a line of that old ditty, Oh, I wish I was the diamond ring upon my Lulu’s hand....”
He shifted to get a better view, and was fairly cross eyed from trying to cover all in one look, both Lili and the curious ritual centering about the peacock. Monkey Face was holding the bird by the tail and slowly rotating it over the fire, as though broiling an actual fowl. The two men were tense and eager, and Lili was craning her neck to the danger point.
So was Garrett. So would anyone watching Lili’s hosiery-adjustment gyrations as two murderous crooks baked a brass bird. And that was disastrous. The stair treads were narrow and crumbled and rubbish laden. Garrett slipped, vainly clawed the masonry casing. His flashlight clattered down six steps. Monkey Face cursed, dropped the peacock, and bounded forward. Lili started, lost her balance, and landed in a flurry of legs, arms, and lace. Gimlet Eyes made a dive for his pistol.

And Garrett, rather than lose precious seconds trying to regain his equilibrium, made a headlong dive for the group. Gimlet Eyes jerked three wild shots at the flying target, but Garrett landed, unscratched and in the center of the heap. Then Vauban’s fortifications saw their first real battle. The venerable vault became a howling madhouse. Garrett planted a haymaker that sent Monkey Face kicking backward into the trench to keep the corpse company. He ducked a searing pistol blast, drew his own weapon, but tripped over Lili as she rolled over to struggle to her feet, and pitched headlong to the sand.
“Grab the bird!” yelled Gimlet Eyes. “I’ll tend to this—!”
But as he turned to do so, Garrett hosed the vault with lead. Gimlet Eyes doubled in a heap, dropping his smoking pistol and clutching his stomach. Garrett gained his feet just as Monkey Face recovered his breath and emerged from the open grave, knife in hand. And then it became tough going for Garrett. His automatic was empty. If he turned to block Lili’s dive for the brazen peaock, he would get cold steel to the hilt— and if he took care of Monkey Face, Lili would make a clear getaway. He hurled his useless gun. The enemy dodged and closed in, blade point foremost. Garrett jerked himself aside and missed impalement by a hair.
Monkey Face whirled. The blade in his hand was as venomous as the scowl behind it. A shift—a counter shift— and Garrett was maneuvered with his back toward the stairs. No more footwork to save him. Payday in Bayonne!
All in a split second; but before Monkey Face could gather himself for the final lunge, Lili screamed and dropped the peacock like a red hot rock. Which in a way it was, having lain close to the fire, where it had been dropped at the beginning of the combat. Monkey Face’s attention was distracted for no more than a flickering instant, but that was all that Garrett needed. He charged, brushed the knife aside, and piled Monkey Face crashing against the masonry. He was out for a long count, but Garrett himself was paralyzed by the concussion. He knew that he could not pull himself together in time to block Lili.
She muffled her scorched fingers with her discarded nightgown and bounded toward the fire. But her laugh was cut short. Feet were pounding down the staircase. And someone on his hands and knees was crawling in through the low arch that opened into the moat. Gendarmes! Utterly incredible—but there they were.
It was not until a moment later that Garrett understood how the police could possibly have heard the riot in that underground vault. That was when Lydia appeared at the rear of the procession. Then things began clearing up; and so likewise did Garrett’s battered head.
“Why—oh, good Lord! That’s Monsieur Ducasse!” she exclaimed, catching a glimpse of the bearded man in the shallow trench. “No wonder he didn’t meet me—no wonder I couldn’t get him when I phoned Lyons—”
“Is that why you left?” demanded Garrett.
Lydia nodded. “Yes. And these gendarmes had a tip and were watching me and hunting for him. So when I left the phone station, they followed me back toward your apartment. And we heard that perfectly terrible racket coming up out of the ground, and saw the light of the fire shining out into the moat from that little arch, and two of the gendarmes formed a chain to let the third one drop to the ditch, and—”
“But speaking of rackets,” interrupted Garrett with a perplexed frown, “what’s the idea of roasting a brass bird?”
And then the brigadier took a hand.
“Mais, Monsieur,” he began, “this very thoroughly murdered Monsieur Antoine Ducasse is an international jewel thief. Killed in order to keep him from meeting Mademoiselle In-glees. Look—”
He indicated the peacock. The heat of the fire had melted the substance it contained. Red, sparkling facets were visible.
“Rubies. Stolen in Damascus. Put inside and wax poured over them to keep them from rattling. Devil worship? Quelle blague! No wonder, mademoiselle, he offered you ten thousand francs to bring this charming brazen fowl through the customs, when the duty would be but a trifle!”
Lydia eyed the wrathful red head, the battered Monkey Face, and the late Monsieur Gimlet Eyes. Then her glance shifted to Garrett.
“Oh, I think it was awfully brave of you to follow them—but how did they ever manage to get in the apartment in the first place?” she wondered.
“But yes—do inform us, monsieur,” seconded the brigadier in French. He had none too much confidence in his English. “For the sake of our records— the evidence.”
Garrett shot him a trenchant look and groped for words. This was no place to explain!
Lili caught the situation and with a venomous, mocking smile cut in, “Au secours! Il va me tuer!”
The brigadier eyed Lili’s entrancing display, twisted his moustache, and tried to change the subject. Her words had given him a hint. He saw that Garrett was in a tough spot.
“What did she mean by that?” wondered Lydia as Garrett hurried her up the stairs. “Doesn’t that mean someone was going to kill her?”
“Hell, no!” snapped Garrett as Lili’s laugh followed him from the vault. “It means she wishes she’d stayed for some of what you’re going to get. Now let’s go home and talk about Hyacinth hosiery or something.”

Saturday, 7 April 2018

The Specter at Serpent’s Cut

The Specter at Serpent’s Cut
By Frank L. Packard
Author of The Blood of Kings”Spitzer,” Etc.
From The Popular Magazine October 1911, No. 6, Vol. 21.
Digitized for Stillwoods.Blogspot.Ca by Doug Frizzle April 2018.
Our research has so far not attached this story to any of Frank Packard’s books /drf.

The “spook doctor” drops into Big Cloud and adds one more topic for the expatiation of the talkative railroad man, Matthew Agamemnon. He is still a talker, but the occult is taboo. There’s a reason.

SUMMED up short, the Hill Division is a vicious piece of track; also, it is a classic in its profound contempt for the stereotyped equations and formulas of engineering. And it is that way for the very simple reason that it could not be any other way. The mountains objected, and objected strenuously, to the process of manhandling. They were there first, the mountains, that was all, and their surrender was a bitter matter.
So, from Big Cloud, the divisional point, at the eastern fringe of the Rockies, to where the foothills of the Sierras on the western side merge with the more open, rolling country, the right of way performs gyrations that would not shame an acrobatic star. It sweeps through the rifts in the range like a freed bird from the open door of its cage, clings to caƱon edges where a hissing stream bubbles and boils eighteen hundred feet below, burrows its way into the heart of things in long tunnels and short ones, circles a projecting spur in a dizzy whirl, and shoots from the higher to the lower levels in grades whose percentages the passenger department does not deem it policy to specify in its advertising literature, but before which the men in the cabs and the cabooses shut their teeth and try hard to remember the prayers they learned at their mothers’ knees.
Some parts of it are worse than others naturally; but no part of it, to the last inch of its mileage, is pretty—leaving out the scenery, which is grand.
And what with cuts and fills and borings and trestles and bridges, in an effort to unsnarl a few knots in the tangle, the company has been tinkering with it pretty well ever since the last spike was sent home and the small army of consulting scientists, with a flourish of trumpets, bowed gracefully to the managing director of the Transcontinental —and withdrew to seek other worlds to conquer. However—
This is Terhune’s story; and it goes back to the time when “Royal” Carleton was superintendent and Tommy Regan, big-hearted as he was gruff, was master mechanic. Terhune was an engineer. His full name was Matthew Agamem­non Terhune—the only excuse for which seems to have been that his parents were possessed of a sense of euphony, or one of them, maybe, a first-grammar education in Greek.
Anyway, Terhune was dutifully appreciative—he signed in full.
Clarihue, the turner, swore at him at first for usurping more than the allotted space ruled off on the grease-smeared pages of the book in the roundhouse that recorded the goings and comings of the engine crews; but eventually he became wise enough to content himself with a snort of disgust amplified by a spurt of black-strap juice pitward. Terhune, given an opportunity, would argue that, or any other matter under the sun, with a calm and dispassionate flow of words that had Tennyson’s brook for continuity beaten seven ways for Sunday.
“Matthew Aggie-mem-gong Terhune!” choked Clarihue. “The fathead wind bag!”
Regan put it a little differently.
“Talk!” said the master mechanic. “Talk! The man’s a debating society, that’s what he is. He’ll talk when he’s dead. I don’t know what kind of springs he’s got on his tongue. I wish I did. I’d equip the motive power department with them. What?”
The division, however, being generally in a hurry, called him plain “Matt.”
With the exception of Clarihue, perhaps, no one ever got mad at Terhune. If it is true that obesity is a sign of good nature, Terhune is simply a case in point. He exuded it from every pore of his fat, dumpy body; and he dispensed it alike on the just and on the unjust.
Certainly, the man was more or less of a consummate ass; but any inclination to kick him on that score vanished with one glance at his great babyish moon face, with its two little, round blue eyes that stared out from under a straggling collection of sandy hairs, which fringed, much after the fashion of a monk’s tonsure, an otherwise bald and shiny head. After that glance it was all off. There was no getting mad at Matt.
Professionally, Terhune was all right as far as he went. Nothing startling, nothing out of the way—not even a regular run. Regan used him as a sort of ever-ready substitute for anything that might turn up. And, as far as Matthew Agamemnon Terhune was concerned, it appeared to be all one to him. Switch­ing, yard work, local freight, double heading, anything—he took it as it came, complacently, good-naturedly. So that it did not bar him from talking, he was happy.
He could talk in a cab; and there, perforce, he had an audience. The fireman had his choice between being the target for Matt’s views and theories on an astounding range of subjects—or jumping! From the Alaskan Boundary Question to the Fresh Air Movement Matt was posted—and, if not profoundly posted, his ideas, at least, had the merit of being original.
Now all of the above is, on the face of it, extraneous to the fact that, during a winter of pretty heavy running, the Serpent’s Cut had netted an appalling number of disasters, even for that bedeviled piece of construction that never under any circumstances was known to behave itself for better than a month at a stretch; but, extraneous as it may appear, it had, for all that, a very direct bearing on Matthew Agamemnon and his propensity for argument and talk.
However, in any event, the driven-to-desperation directors down East, when they got the cold figures that totaled up the claims and represented the amount of rolling stock reposing on the scrap heap from six months’ running in the Serpent’s Cut, voted, though they bit their lips when they did it, some sweeping and extensive alterations on that particular stretch of track. And when the plans came out in the spring, they called for a new bridge across the Muskrat River at the foot of the grade, and a rock cut from the mouth of Number One Tunnel to straighten the bridge approach.
It was a big piece of work—about the biggest the company had ever undertaken; everybody realized that. So, once the improvements were decided upon, they went at it with a rush; and the lower slopes and stretches of the mountains were just beginning to shed their winter coats, when a brigade of engineers, bridgemen, foremen, Polacks, Swedes, Russians, and what not moved into construction camp on the banks of the Muskrat.
Then the bridge material and the thousand and one other odds and ends of supplies began to pour into the Big Cloud yards—it was all out from the East then—and there followed, in the natural order of things, a daily-work special to the camp. Regan gave it to Terhune, of course; and gave him, besides, the various engines as they came out of the shops to break in after their overhauling. Also he gave him as fireman young Charlie Spence, brother, by the way, of the chief dispatcher.
Take it all around, it was an incongruous-looking outfit that Matt pulled out of the yards those days. Generally a big ten-wheeler, spick and span, glistening in fresh paint, with Terhune obliterating the cab window and bounc­ing up and down on his seat like a cheerful rubber ball; and little Spence, who had never run anything but “spare” be­fore, expanding his chest in the gangway fit to bust the buttons off his un­dershirt; while trailing behind, slewing, rattling, bumping, came a hybrid conglomeration of gondolas, reversible gravel dumps, flats groaning under blocked and shored-up steel bridge girders; maybe a box car here and there, by way of picturesqueness; and, to wind things up, on the tail end, a caboose that was out of the ark, and not much bigger than a baby carriage. That was Work Special 117 west, 118 east.
So, west to the Muskrat in the morning, lugging back the empties at night, became, for the time being, Terhune’s run—and it suited him as no job had ever suited him before. Except for the trip to the water tank and turntable at Beaver Tail, two miles west of the camp, he had the day pretty much to himself; and there were new men on the work, men he did not know. Or, perhaps, to put the matter in a truer perspective, men who did not know Matthew Agamemnon Terhune—for the engineer corps, like the material, came out from the East.
Matt buttonholed Ferguson, the chief, on the first morning, and opened on him with the Newfoundland Fisheries Dispute.
Ferguson, who was a receptive Scot, lifted his scraggy eyebrows and rose to the bait—Terhune’s introduction invariably carried a glimmer of sense; but, being busy at the moment, he invited Terhune to dinner to hear the rest of it; where incidentally he introduced his staff, which consisted of a couple of sea­soned assistants and another couple of embryonic engineers, whose names, plus a small edition of the alphabet recently forged on by a fond and trusting Alma Mater, were Podger and Clark.
It wasn’t an expensive invitation from the viewpoint of the exchequer of the engineers’ mess—Terhune was too busy to eat—and for about a week Matt had a standing invitation; but after that, whether some one tipped the Scotchman off, or the combined galaxy of mathematical talent got the answer for themselves, Terhune’s midday repast consisted of what he fished out of his own dinner pail.
Terhune might have been a little puzzled at this change of front; but certainly he was not abashed. Nothing, so far, in all of Matthew Agamemnon Terhune’s forty-three years of life had ever abashed him. Furthermore, if the construction engineers’ mess renounced him as an organization, certain units of it did not; for, while the canny Scotchman and his two assistants politely and unostentatiously avoided Matthew, the guileless and demure Podger and Clark continued to hang, and to all appearances to hang breathlessly, upon the words that fell from the engineer’s lips.
Things went on this way for some two weeks; and then suddenly, coincident with the advent to Big Cloud of one Senorita Vera Cabello, the Alaskan Boundary Question, the Fresh Air Movement, the Newfoundland Fisheries Dispute, and all other subjects of character, scope, and vital import similar, were blown away, as fluff is blown before a gale of wind, in the face of a new and weightier matter for research and discussion. That is, it was new, and therefore weightier to Terhune.
Regan, with ungracious bluntness, called her a “spook doctor”—but the master mechanic was always blunt. Miss Cabello—pardon, Senorita Vera Cabello, in her advertisements in the Big Cloud Weekly World’s Era, announced herself as a “seeress renowned on two hemispheres,” and followed with a modest compilation of her qualifica­tions and attainments.
She was the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter—of course. Under the great teacher Yagagama, she had studied the mystic laws of crystal gazing in the far Orient. At her command were, not one, but two familiars of the dread other world, with whom she was in constant communion for the benefit of those who consulted her; and further, by special arrangement and appointment —for which there was an extra fee— she would, for a brief space, recall the ethereal forms of any dear departed on request—always provided that the “rapport,” whatever that meant, was propitious and favorable, a risk to which the client subscribed in his accompanied-by-the-fee application for the seance.
The Senorita Cabello was clever— whatever else might be said of her, let that be understood. She gave a free public performance in the fire hall on the night of her arrival. Terhune attended this—and was impressed. There was a black cabinet on the stage and black hangings and misty, white shapes moving about, potent tributes to the senorita’s powers. Terhune bulked large in a front chair, his moon face puckered, his little, round eyes like pin points, as he stared into the Egyptian blackness in front of him.
For a wonder he didn’t say much that night; but the next night he presented himself at the senorita’s apartments, which she had meanwhile opened over Dinkelman’s clothing emporium on Main Street.
There wasn’t any silly business about it as far as the engineer was concerned; that is, there wasn’t any glamour of feminine charms exerting any undue influence upon him—the senorita was neither comely nor in the flower of her youth. Brought down to a simple equation, the idea of the occult and its mysteries caught Matthew Agamemnon hard; and the latter part of the senorita’s advertisement caught him harder.
Terhune had never forgiven his twin brother Sime for the inopportune and fatal attack of heart failure, some five years previous, with which the defunct had so arbitrarily terminated, at its most crucial moment, the argument upon which they had been engaged at the time. He most earnestly desired to converse with Sime.
The senorita agreed. It took her a few seconds to get the line clear and warm up to her work; but, inside of three minutes by the watch, she was writhing around on the floor like a serpent stung by bees, choking and squeal­ing and foaming at the mouth.
Terhune had seen a cat in a fit once; and there was one thing about him that was common to every engineer on the Hill Division—which was to act promptly in an emergency. There was a pitcher of water on the table. Terhune seized it, and heaved the contents violently into her face.
The stiffening limbs relaxed with amazing mobility, and the Senorita Vera Cabello sat up with surprising suddenness. What she said is not recorded, because Terhune didn’t quite get the rights of it himself; but when he left, he carried with him a sort of hazy realization that he had only himself to blame for sidetracking the “rapport” with Sime—and just at the psychological instant when it was about to be consummated, too.
Therefore, he tried it again the following evening. This time he sternly refrained from even a thought of the water pitcher—which incidentally had been removed—but Sime, perhaps because he had got close enough to witness the proceedings of the night before, seemed a little diffident about taking a chance on getting mixed up with the turmoil and strife of things terrestrial. Sime did not appear; but Mat­thew was still optimistic.
Blow much of the engineer’s last pay check, in a very brief interval of time, became the property of Senorita Vera Cabello is a personal matter, and Terhune’s own business. Terhune never said. If Sime was stubborn, so was Matthew Agamemnon. Being twins, it was natural; but let that go.
And the senorita was clever. Pend­ing connections with Sime, she fascinated Matthew by initiating him into the first degree of the mysteries of the Beyond—and hinted at much more. She spoke in a far-away voice of dwellers within the first and second and third spheres, wise counselors and mentors to mankind; of apparitions, wraiths, and specters, who appeared to mortals when something of dire moment was impending. But—the world was blind and gross and crass—few, very few, could see or understand. It was necessary to be attuned, to be sensitive.
“Zar are many t’ings in heaven an’ earth—” she quoted; and sold Matthew Agamemnon a little literature on the subject.
At first, Terhune, like a man feeling his way on a new run, and wary of getting his signals mixed, confined his reflections on this now all-engrossing matter to young Spence, his fireman.
Spence listened incredulously.
“I dunno what you mean,” said he, “ ‘bout visitations from the other world an’ appuritshuns an’ wreaths an’ that sort; but if it’s ghosts you’re drivin’ at, I don’t take no stock in ’em. Never saw one; did you?”
This was the challenge direct. Terhune blinked his little eyes fast, and proceeded to get his hand, or, rather, his tongue, in on Spence—and scored cleanly. Spence, on the evening run back that night, took to dodging, between shovelfuls, the shadows of the telegraph poles as they flitted across the gangway; and, as Work Special 118 pulled into the Big Cloud yards, he confessed to a “creepy, cricidy feelin’ up an’ down his spine.”
With this victory as a credential of proficiency, Terhune opened fire the following day on the construction camp. And on that day, and for some ensuing ones, he bombarded it pitilessly. He caught Ferguson on the narrow ledge of an excavation where the chief couldn’t get away. He cornered the assistants more than once. He labored patiently with excitable Russians, staring Swedes, and half-witted Polacks, whose knowledge of English was summed up in the few choice and polite phrases with which they were accustomed to be addressed by their lords and masters, the road bosses and foremen. He talked to everybody; and no man, except perhaps Sime, who was dead, could pace Matthew Agamemnon on talk.
But of all his audience, Podger and Clark alone were solicitious and sympathetic. At the start, like Spence, they asked him if he had ever seen a ghost himself. Matthew regretted that he had not; but, in lieu of personal testimony, offered an imposing array of authentic statistics, which he now had at his fingers’ ends, of people who had.
Clark was unquestionably impressed. So was Podger. But their conversion was a lower and more stubborn matter than Spence’s. They yielded a point here and there from time to time, as men whose convictions are reluctantly overridden; but it was several days before they made a full and unconditional surrender.
However, if it took longer than it did with Spence, once converted, having been trained in a mathematical school of hard fact, their conversion was not the passive conversion of the fireman. Instead, it was practical, and—but the red is against us, and we’ll have to slow up till we get the track.
To-day, now that Ferguson has built his bridge and gouged his cut through the mountain walls, you can see the mouth of Number One Tunnel staring at you like a little black eye up the grade all the way from the bridge; but you couldn’t then, for the right of way swept out of the tunnel into a long half-mile curve close up against the bare gray rock of the mountainside following the river bend; and, still curving at the bottom, where it crossed the Muskrat, hit the old wooden trestle on the tangent.
This didn’t leave much room for a siding anywhere; but, what with Terhune and his dump carts and the work in general, a siding there had to be from the first, so they tapped the main line as far up as they could squeeze in, paralleled it down to the trestle, and left the last two rails bent up and sticking out over the water, with the river for a bumper.
About the only rights Terhune and his Work Special had were this same Muskrat siding and the three-mile stretch from there to Blazer, the first station east of the camp; the latter be­cause, once Matt had pulled out, he was in the clear, with nothing on earth to reach him till the operator at Blazer could wave a tissue in his face.
So, also, because there was quiet in the Serpent’s Cut and a lull in the traffic for an hour or so around six o’clock, Terhune was scheduled to leave the Muskrat at six-fifteen each night and run to Blazer for orders. After that, if he wasn’t laid out more than two or three times by the wayside, he would eventually make the Big Cloud yards by eight or eight-thirty—in time to keep a one-sided appointment with his tantalizingly elusive relation, and imbibe mystic lore from the senorita, after her customary earnest, if unproductive, fit was at an end.
Matthew Agamemnon Terhune had become a busy man, take it all round; for the more he listened to the senorita on subjects touching the dread familiars across the Styx, the firmer became his belief and the stronger grew his desire to enlighten the unenlightened—so the harder he talked.
And possibly there is a moral here. Certainly no one ever had a less fertile soil for the sowing of seed than was the field wherein Matthew Agamemnon labored; and yet, to-day, the first canon in the creed of the Hill Division, bar no man among them, not even the pick-swinging Russians and Swedes and Polacks, is ghosts.
It simply goes to show what sincerity and unbounded perseverance will do; for, on the Friday night when Terhune pulled out from the Muskrat siding, a week after Senorita Vera Cabello’s arrival at Big Cloud, the only disciples he had were young Spence, his fireman, and those two learned bachelors of science, Clark and Podger.
In the first flush of spring the days are still short, and it had already shut down pretty black when Terhune, on the dot of six-fifteen, moved up the siding and cautiously negotiated the mainline switch for the bumping, groaning, rattling string that trailed behind him.
You can come down the stretch from the tunnel to the trestle at a fairly stiff clip, for the arc of the curve is wide; but going up is quite another matter, with a trifle better than a four-per-cent grade to climb. Terhune had a heavier load than usual that night; and his pace was little faster than a man’s walk as he crawled up for the tunnel’s mouth, his engine entering her protest in long, hoarse, growling barks from her exhaust, and coughing a hemorrhage of sparks and red-hot cinders from her stack.
There wasn’t much of the right of way in sight, for the beam of the electric headlight, with the curve of the track, just cut the left-hand rail a few yards ahead, and then shot away like a truant child to play among the trees and foliage of the Muskrat Valley that was opening up below. The effect of this might have been pretty, but it did not appeal to Terhune—he had seen it before; and, besides, he had other things on his mind. So, by the time they were well up to the tunnel, having got snugly and comfortably settled on his seat, he cast, after a professional glance at his gauges, an introspective eye across the cab at Spence,
“There’s none so blind,” said he, with originality, “as them as won’t see. There’s hundreds and hundreds of cases with evidence enough to back ‘em up that no one with any sense could turn down. Now take that drummer ghost somewheres over in Scotland that always plays his drum as a warning when one of the family’s going to die. No one disputes that, do they? Well, then, how about that?”
“I think they’re horrid things,” said young Spence uncomfortably.
“I don’t say they’re not,” admitted Terhune, wagging his head sapiently. “I don’t say they’re not, but— What’s that!” The words burst from his lips in a dull, frozen gasp of terror, followed on the instant by a wild, incoherent yell from the fireman.
With a lurch as it struck the straight, and the roar of the deep-toned exhaust swelling into a thousand thunders that reverberated hollow and cavernous from the vaulted roof, the big ten-wheeled mogul had shoved her nose into the round, inky black mouth of the tunnel; and the headlight, wavering back to its duty, was throwing its beam far into the opening. And there, where the shaft of light focused ahead upon the rails, was a sight that made Terhune’s blood run cold.
Full in the right of way, facing the train, one hand upheld, as though in warning, the light shimmering through his ghostly body onto the rail beyond, stood the white, shadowy specter figure of a man.
Great clammy beads of perspiration sprang to Terhune’s forehead, his fat, florid cheeks paled to ivory, and the fringe of hair around his head seemed to rise up until it stood out straight and stiff; then, working like a madman, he jammed in the throttle, applied the “air,” shot the reversing lever over the full segment into the last notch, whipped the throttle wide open again, released the “air,” and, for all the world like huge pinwheels, the sparks flying from the tires, the drivers began to race backward.
No train before or since on the Hill Division ever came to as abrupt a stop as did Work Special 118 east on that night. The jerk threw Spence halfway up the coal on the tender; and Terhune spit blood from loosened teeth for a week afterward. With any initial speed, the flats and the gravel dumps and the box cars would have telescoped them­selves to splinters. As it was, they came together with a rattle and bang and crunch and grind of battered buffers that would have put a park of artillery in the toy pistol class.
Then the mogul began to bite into the rails, and the train began to back out of the tunnel and down the grade; but, ahead of it, leading the way, the coupler shivered like a bit of pastry from the terrific snap-the-whip wrench it had received, sailed the ancient caboose. And swaying, writhing, squeaking, squealing, followed the rest of the Work Special, with Terhune, all flabby fat now, hang­ing from the cab window, his whistle, from pure nervousness, going like a chattering magpie, and his teeth, after one last sight of the apparition as they swung clear of the tunnel, going like a pair of castanets.
The train crew in the caboose, by the time they got their scattered senses together from the shock that had bowled them like ninepins over the stove and left them wrestling with the stovepipe, found themselves halfway back to the trestle, with the speed of their crazy conveyance increasing at every foot. They let out a concerted yell, and jumped.
Down below, at the din infernal, lights were flashing all around the camp. Some one rushed to the switch, and threw it for the siding. The caboose, for all its age, took it like a young colt, whisked the length of it, shot off the up-canted end rails, and, describing a neat parabola in the air, plumped, in a clean dive, into the bosom of the Muskrat. And it was only the fierce swing and jolt of the engine as it took the switch, and the wild yell of the man beside it as he swung the main line open again, that momentarily restored Terhune’s wits sufficiently to check the train and save the rest of his outfit from the same fate.
As he came to a stop, men clustered around him; but for the first time in his life Matthew Agamemnon’s tongue clove to the roof of his mouth, and he was dumb. He could only hang weakly in the gangway as the volley of questions came at him thick and fast.
Then suddenly, from the tunnel’s mouth, came the long, shrill siren scream of a 1600 class mountain racer, then the pur of steel, the dull rumble of beating trucks growing louder and louder; and, bursting like a cannon’s tongue flame from the curve, the glare of a headlight shot streaming into the night. A roar, a whirl, a row of lights flashing like diamonds from a solid string of brass-vestibuled Pullmans swept by, took the trestle with a tattoo that echoed far up and down the valley, and was gone. And behind her, the questions silenced, men with blanched, awed faces saw Matthew Agamemnon Terhune, with a hysterical sob, collapse limply on the floor of his cab.

Just a series of illogical, disconnected happenings? Perhaps. It depends on the way you look at it. Queer things happen in life. If it had not been for the mechanical bent that enabled Podger and Clark to tinker so effectually with bits of wire and gauze sheeting, and Matthew Agamemnon’s propensity for talk that inspired them to do so, and the advent of Senorita Vera Cabello, who inspired Matthew Agamemnon, the be-Pullmaned Convention Special with clear rights to Glacier Junction, twenty miles west of the Muskrat, which would, none the less, have hit Blazer on the tick of her schedule, with no reason on earth for holding her up, since she had time and to spare to get past the siding before Terhune pulled out, and which would just as surely have had a breakdown a mile west of Blazer, delaying her fifteen minutes, a delay that, in the face of her rights through, her crew were concerned only in making up, would—but what’s the use!
Chance, or luck, or something more than that, if you’d rather, whatever you like to call it; that was all that stood between three hundred conventionites, to say nothing of two train and engine crews, and a shambles quick and absolute, that night.
However, that as it may be, it was a week before Matthew Agamemnon climbed into a cab again; and in the meantime, at the polite solicitation of the town marshal incident to a few unpaid bills, the senorita had departed from Big Cloud. This, from the standpoint of the psychologist, was a misfortune. His visits perforce ended. There was no telling whether the Specter of Serpent’s Cut, as they came to call it, had enhanced or shattered Terhune’s belief in her and, concretely, in the occult. Not that Matthew Agamemnon was silenced; far from it. He talked harder than ever, as far as that goes, only he talked exclusively on such subjects as the Alaskan Boundary Question, the Fresh Air Movement, and the Newfoundland Fisheries Dispute.


NOW twist your wrist
And bow your back,
And learn to turn
The good flapjack.
Give it a flip
When rich and brown,
Catch it kerslap!
When it comes down.

Give it a coat
Of sorghum thick,
Or bacon grease
Will do the trick;
Or even plain—
Not near half bad,
If a day’s tramp
Or hunt you've had.

Flapjack, you helped
The trail to clear
Through all the wilds
Of the frontier.
Well your humble
Part you played,
For by your strength
The West was made.
Robert V. Carr.

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.