قراءة كتاب The U. P. Trail

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‏اللغة: English
The U. P. Trail

The U. P. Trail

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 7

the trail and were helping him into camp. He was crippled and almost exhausted. He made light of his condition, yet he groaned when he dropped into a seat before the fire.

Some one approached Larry King to inform him that the general wanted to see him.

"Wal, I'm hungry—an' he ain't my boss," replied Larry, and went on with his meal. It was well known that the Southerner would not talk.

But Neale talked; he blazed up in eloquent eulogy of his lineman; before an hour had passed away every one in camp knew that Larry had saved Neale's life. Then the loquacious Casey, intruding upon the cowboy's reserve, got roundly cursed for his pains.

"G'wan out among thim Sooz Injuns an' be a dead hero, thin," retorted Casey, as the cowboy stalked off to be alone in the gloom. Evidently Casey was disappointed not to get another cursing, for he turned to his comrade, McDermott, an axman. "Say, Mac, phwot do you make of cowboys?"

"I tell ye, Pat, I make of thim thet you'll be full of bulletholes before this railroad's built."

"Thin, b'gosh, I'll hould drink fer a long time yit," replied Casey.

Later General Lodge visited Neale and received the drawings and figures that made plain solution of what had been a formidable problem.

"It was easy, once I landed under that bulge of cliff," said Neale. "There's a slope of about forty-five degrees—not all rock. And four miles up the gorge peters out. We can cross. I got to where I could see the divide—and oh! there is where our troubles begin. The worst is all to come."

"You've said it," replied the chief, soberly. "We can't follow the trail and get the grade necessary. We've got to hunt up a pass."

"We'll find one," said Neale, hopefully.

"Neale, you're ambitious and you've the kind of spirit that never gives up. I've watched your work from the start. You'll make a big position for yourself with this railroad, if you only live through the building of it."

"Oh, I'll live through it, all right," replied Neale, laughing. "I'm like a cat—always on my feet—and have nine lives besides."

"You surely must! How far did you fall this time?"

"Not far. I landed in a tree, where my instrument stuck. But I crashed down, and got a hard knock on the head. When Larry found me I was unconscious and sliding for another precipice."

"That Texan seems attached to you."

"Well, if he wasn't before he will be now," said Neale, feelingly. "I'll tell you, General, Larry's red-headed, a droll, lazy Southerner, and he's made fun of by the men. But they don't understand him. They certainly can't see how dangerous he is. Only I don't mean that. I do mean that he's true like steel."

"Yes, he showed that. When the rope snapped I was sure he'd pull a gun on us.... Neale, I would like to have had you and Larry Red King with me through the war."

"Thank you, General Lodge.... But I like the prospects now."

"Neale, you're hungry for wild life?"

"Yes," replied Neale, simply.

"I said as much. I felt very much the same way when I was your age. And you like our prospects?... Well, you've thought things out. Neale, the building of the U. P. will be hell!"

"General, I can see that. It sort of draws me—two ways—the wildness of it and then to accomplish something."

"My lad, I hope you will accomplish something big without living out all the wildness."

"You think I might lose my head?" queried Neale.

"You are excitable and quick-tempered. Do you drink?"

"Yes—a little," answered the young man. "But I don't care for liquor."

"Don't drink, Neale," said the chief, earnestly. "Of course it doesn't matter now, for we're only a few men out here in the wilds. But when our work is done over the divide, we must go back along the line. You know ground has been broken and rails laid west of Omaha. The work's begun. I hear that Omaha is a beehive. Thousands of idle men are flocking West. The work will be military. We must have the army to protect us, and we will hire all the soldiers who apply. But there will be hordes of others—the dregs of the war and all the bad characters of the frontier. They will flock to the construction camp. Millions of dollars will go along with the building. Gold!... Where it's all coming from I have no idea. The Government backs us with the army—that's all. But the gold will be forthcoming. I have that faith.... And think, lad, what it will mean in a year or two. Ten thousand soldiers in one camp out here in these wild hills. And thousands of others—honest merchants and dishonest merchants, whisky men, gamblers, desperadoes, bandits, and bad women. Niggers, Greasers, Indians, all together moving from camp to camp, where there can be no law."

"It will be great!" exclaimed Neale, with shining eyes.

"It will be terrible," muttered the elder man, gravely. Then, as he got up and bade his young assistant good night, the somberness had returned to his eyes and the weight to his shoulders. He did not underestimate his responsibility nor the nature of his task, and he felt the coming of nameless and unknown events beyond all divining.

Henney was Neale's next visitor. The old engineer appeared elated, but for the moment he apparently forgot everything else in his solicitude for the young man's welfare.

Presently, after he had been reassured, the smile came back to his face.

"The chief has promoted you," he said.

"What!" exclaimed Neale, starting up.

"It's a fact. He just talked it over with Baxter and me. This last job of yours pleased him mightily... and so you go up."

"Go up!... To what?" queried Neale, eagerly.

"Well, that's why he consulted us, I guess," laughed Henney. "You see, we sort of had to make something to promote you to, for the present."

"Oh, I see! I was wondering what job there could be," replied Neale, and he laughed, too. "What did the chief say?"

"He said a lot. Figured you'd land at the top if the U. P. is ever built.... Chief engineer!... Superintendent of maintenance of way!"

"Good Lord!" breathed Neale. "You're not in earnest?"

"Wal, I shore am, as your cowboy pard says," returned Henney. And then he spoke with real earnestness. "Listen, Neale. Here's the matter in a nutshell. You will be called upon to run these particular and difficult surveys, just as yesterday. But no more of the routine for you. Added to that, you will be sent forward and back, inspecting, figuring. You can make your headquarters with us or in the construction camps, as suits your convenience. All this, of course, presently, when we get farther on. So you will be in a way free—your own boss a good deal of the time. And fitting yourself for that 'maintenance of way' job. In fact, the chief said that—he called you Maintenance-of-Way Neale. Well, I congratulate you. And my advice is keep on as you've begun—go straight—look out for your wildness and temper.... That's all. Good night."

Then he went out, leaving Neale speechless.

Neale had many callers that night, and the last was Larry Red King. The cowboy stooped to enter the tent.

"Wal, how aboot you-all?" he drawled.

"Not so good, Red," replied Neale. "My head's hot and I've got a lot of pain. I think I'm going to be a little flighty. Would you mind getting your blankets and staying with me tonight?"

"I reckon I'd be glad," answered King. He put a hand on Neale's face. "You shore have fever." He left the tent, to return presently with a roll of blankets and a canteen. Then he awkwardly began to bathe Neale's face with cold water. There was a flickering camp-fire outside that threw shadows on the wall of the tent. By its light Neale saw that King's left hand was bandaged and that he used it clumsily.

"What's wrong with your hand?" he queried.

"I reckon nawthin'."

"Why is it bound up, then?"

"Wal, some one sent thet fool army doctor to me an' he said I had two busted bones in it."

"He did! I had no idea you were hurt. You never said a word.