The Project Gutenberg eBook of Cinders

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Title: Cinders

Author: W. C. Tuttle

Release date: August 11, 2021 [eBook #66044]

Language: English

Original publication: United States: The Ridgway Company, 1924

Credits: Roger Frank and Sue Clark




by W. C. Tuttle

Author of “Just for a Laugh,” “Sun-Dog Loot,” etc.

James Worthington Steele was a man of importance. In the affairs of the C. M. & G. Railroad he was E pluribus unum, XXXX, bottled in bond; which is quite some label in these Volsteadian days.

To Mrs. James Worthington Steele, a lady of great avoirdupois, he was a fair pinochle player. Not good—just fair. To Alicia Worthington, the daughter, he was something to depend upon in a financial way.

Alicia might be branded a vampire. Not that Alicia was bad. Oh, dear, no—not at all. But she knew that she was pretty, had wicked eyes and wore beautiful creations. Alicia would scorn to wear just clothes.

But even an important railroad magnate hankers for the untrammeled spaces of the great outdoors at times; and this was why James Worthington Steele’s private car, the Lake Louise, was parked near a California lake, where the trout jumped almost off the pages of the railroad folders.

And it was here that a message came to James Worthington Steele, advising that he come at once to straighten out a tangle, which greatly affected the interests of his company. Unfortunately the passenger service on this particular branch of the C. M. & G. was not too good. The train had left about thirty minutes prior to the telegram; so it was up to James Worthington Steele to have the Lake Louise hooked to the rear end of a freight train, which would take him out to the main line. This especial freight train seemed to have been made up of all the decrepit rolling-stock owned by the aforementioned railroad; so their progress was not very swift.

And it was hot in the Lake Louise. To make matters worse for James Worthington Steele, Mrs. Steele insisted that they play pinochle. And when Mrs. Steele insisted, there was nothing for James Worthington to do but agree.

Alicia was bored to distraction. This was not her idea of a good time. She had been communing with nature too long for one of her disposition. She wanted some one to make eyes at, except a perspiring brakeman, who swore openly at everything connected with the railroad business.

And with everybody in this pleasant mood, the train jerked to a stop at the station of San Rego. The train drew up far enough for the observation platform of the Lake Louise to stop midway of the station platform. Alicia lolled in an easy chair, mumbled at some sodden chocolates and wished she was far away from San Rego.

Suddenly she sat up.

But that is getting along too far in the story. “Slim” Simpson weighed exactly two hundred and twenty pounds. He was twenty-two years of age—and in love. He had been a perfectly good cowpuncher until the love-bug inoculated his emaciated form; but now he was worthless for anything—except love.

Sadie Thompson was the maid of his choice. Sadie’s pa was proprietor, or rather station-agent at San Rego. He owned a little home on the outskirts of San Rego, with honeysuckle, or something like that, around the door.

Sadie was of a jealous and suspicious nature, and she had a sneaking idea that Slim had danced too many times with the school teacher the night before. Anyway, she told Slim that she wouldn’t divide him up with any woman, even if there was enough of him to divide.

Poor Slim had poked his nose to the sky and wailingly assured her that he was “her’n, and only her’n.” But Sadie parted the honeysuckles, or whatever grew about the porch, and sent Slim uptown, pawing his way through a haze of indigo blue.

Slim didn’t want a drink; he wanted solitude. And where may a man find more assorted kinds of solitude than on the heat scourged planks of a desert depot. He made up his mind to be a martyr—and melt.

But at the depot he ran into Jim Hilton and Barney McGonigle from the Lazy B ranch. They were trying to dig up enough money to pay for an express package, which had come C. O. D. They greeted him warmly and borrowed a dollar and eighty cents.

It was at this time that the freight train pulled in. Jim and Barney went outside, carrying their package, and got one look at Alicia. Slim was resting his elbows on the ledge of the ticket window, when Barney tiptoed back inside and nudged Slim.

“C’mere,” he whispered sotto voce. “My ——, Slim, the Queen of Sheber is among us. C’mon.”

Slim followed. Who wouldn’t? Alicia had sat up. The box of soggy chocolates were forgotten. Here was raw material for her to work on. Back in the car she heard her mother say—

“Hundred aces and a hundred and fifty trump.”

Slim moved closer. From the front end of the train came the clatter of couplers as the engine moved ahead. Slim moved closer. Just before the Lake Louise obeyed the impulse of the engine, Alicia’s left eyelid drew down in an unmistakable wink—a very expressive wink.

Barney exploded and clung weakly to Jim Hilton. Slim did not turn his head, but walked slowly to the far edge of the platform, following the departing train. But Alicia did not wink again. She picked up her book, dipped into the chocolates and faded out in the distance.

Slim sighed, turned around and looked into the face of Sadie Thompson. He shuddered. Barney and Jim were watching them.

“So that’s the way you put in your time, is it?” demanded Sadie. “Flirting with every girl you see, eh?”

“I—I wasn’t flirtin’,” denied Slim. “My gosh, Sadie, I never——”

“Yes?” Sadie grew sarcastic. “Didn’t I see that wink? Here!”

She tugged at the third finger of her left hand and gave him back his ring.

“I’m all through with you,” she declared chokingly. “I will never trust a man again. Take back your fickle ring.”

Sadie turned and hurried toward home, while behind her came Slim, looking all spraddled out, as he tried to catch her and explain. But Sadie walked erratically down the narrow sidewalk, which kept Slim jumping from side to side; much to the amusement of every one who observed it.

Sadie beat him to the gate, fastened it from the inside, and faced him—a picture of outraged womanhood.

“Go back!” Sadie pointed dramatically. “Get on your horse and follow the maid. I want no more of you!”

Slim went. There was no good reason why he should stay. Back there on the sunny side of the depot, where the thermometer registered one hundred and ten degrees in the shade, Slim sat in the sun, and cogitated over the vagaries of women.

The incident passed from the mind of Alicia Steele. It was only one wink among many. If her wink brought a thrill to that fat cowboy, he was welcome to it. Two miles out of San Rego the train lurched to another stop.

Half an hour later the conductor, perspiring, dusty, came to the Lake Louise and informed James Worthington Steele that half the axle-boxes on the train were on fire, and they would have to be delayed another hour.

James Worthington Steele mopped his brow and swore. It was imperative that he move on.

“Can’t be did,” declared the conductor. “It’s ten miles to Mesquite City, and ten more to the Mission Junction. I’m afraid you won’t be able to hook this car on to No. 117. They are due there in thirty minutes.”

James Worthington Steele was a good railroad man; so he did not rave. He knew just how bad most of their rolling-stock was. But he must at least get a message through; so the conductor ran a wire from the Lake Louise, tapped the telegraph, and let James Worthington Steele send his own messages.

Be it known that James Worthington Steele had at one time been a dispatcher on this same road; so it was no trouble for him to handle his correspondence via wire, through the medium of his own private telegraph instrument, which had long since been part of the Lake Louise’s equipment.

After proving an alibi for not being able to attend the important meeting, which he managed to postpone, he went back to his game of pinochle. Not that he wanted to play; but his wife did.

The instrument clacked merrily away, and excited the interest of Alicia, who was becoming more bored each moment. On the polished mahogany table was a code book, containing the station calls, codes, etc., and on the fly-leaf was printed the Morse code of telegraphy.

Alicia glanced over it, and the code, with its dots and dashes, attracted her. She scanned the pages for San Rego. The station call was SR. Looking back at the code, she found the two letters. She had seen her father use it many times; so what could be easier?

She sat down, opened the key and began laboriously to tap out the SR signal. Several times she repeated it, before closing the key. The sounder rattled, as the operator at San Rego answered his call. Alicia had no idea what he was saying, but she had an idea of what she was going to say. Her ennui was all gone now.

Back in the hot little depot at San Rego, old Bill Thompson, the father of Sadie, squinted at the sounder of his instrument, a scowl on his face, as it began slowly ticking out a message.


The dots, dashes and spaces were not the work of a telegrapher. The agent cut open his key and wanted to know who in the blankety-blank was using that instrument.

But still it continued to tap out the one word. The agent bit down on his pipestem and swore to himself. Then the sounder awoke anew.

“H-e-l-p h-o-l-d-u-p p-r-i-v-a-t-e c-a-r h-e-l-p.”

The agent snapped to his feet. He had seen the private car at the rear of that freight, and he knew well who James Worthington Steele was. There was a holdup. Some one was robbing the private car!

He opened his key and called Mesquite City. Had the freight reached there? It had not. The agent asked him if he had heard the call for help.

“Been out to eat,” replied the Mesquite operator. “Heard J. W. Steele sending before I left. The freight is stuck about two miles from San Rego.”

The agent whirled from his desk and ran outside. Around the corner he went and almost fell over Slim, who grunted and got to his feet. The agent was a quick thinker.

“Slim, where’s your horse?”

“Right there.” Slim pointed at a long-legged sorrel, tied to a ring in the rear platform. “What’s the matter?”

“Did you see that private car on that freight that——”

“Yeah, I seen it.” Slim was sarcastic.

“Down the track about two miles!” panted the agent. “It’s being held up. Just got a wire.”

“Oh, yeah.”

Slim squinted at the agent. It might be a joke, but the man seemed in earnest. “Slim, that’s Steele, the biggest railroad man in this country; owns this —— railroad and more too. Can’t yuh go and help ’em?”

But Slim was halfway to the sorrel, running as fast as he could go. The agent ran back, opened his key and sent an assurance that help was coming.

“What are you kidding about?” demanded the operator at Mesquite City.

Swiftly the San Rego agent told him about the holdup. Mesquite City was the county seat.

“Shall I notify the sheriff?” asked Mesquite City.

The San Rego operator started in to tell him what to do, when the door opened behind him and Sadie came in. He glanced at her and turned back to his key.

“Dad, where is Slim going?” asked Sadie.

Dad broke off sending.

“He’s following that freight.”

Then Dad turned and hammered out instructions.

“Where is that freight?” Sadie was outwardly calm, but her face had gone white. Slim was following out her instructions.

“Two miles down the road,” said Dad, and continued to hammer at his key.

Sadie fairly ran out of the office and around to where her roan horse was tied. She had seen Slim going away in a cloud of dust, which had not yet settled. In a few moments she was adding to the dust cloud, following Slim.

“Soup” Lannigan was not a gentleman—not by at least a generation or two. He was a yegg, pure but not at all simple. Just now he slid back the door of a freight car, wiped a little coal dust off his face and looked around. Soup was not at all handsome. He was about five feet seven inches tall, with broad shoulders, almost no neck, and a pair of long muscular arms. His forehead retreated while his jaw protruded. If a scientist were to discover Soup’s skull—it would date back at least twenty thousand years.

It was hot in that box car, but it was also hot outside. Soup was thirsty. He squinted back past the caboose, looking around like an animal. Then he rubbed his eyes. Even at two cars distant his eyes beheld a white-clad arm appear and toss a couple of bottles into the sage.

Soup wrinkled his forehead in deep thought. He knew that there were no dining-cars on freight trains. He also knew that this caboose did not carry a white-clad porter. Soup swung warily down, edged away from the car and squinted at the shiny private car. Then he ducked back.

There was nothing to cause Soup to duck back, except, like an animal, he was always expecting something to happen. Then he crawled under the train. Ten cars distant he could see the crew working over a hotbox. He scuttled back. Just back of the private car was a sharp curve, and Soup was wise enough in railroad matters to know that the rear brakeman would be beyond that turn, flagging the rear.

Soup licked his lips, gripped the stubby automatic in his sagging coat pocket, and went softly back to the platform of the Lake Louise. He felt sure that there would be more cold bottles; and he was not averse to taking most anything of value.

The telegraph instrument did not amuse Alicia for long. She was unable to decipher anything it said, because it clicked too fast; so she sank down in a deep, leather chair, picked up her book and began reading. The air off the desert was like a blast from a furnace. Two electric fans droned softly, but did little more than stir up the heat.

In his own end of the car, where an ice box and other luxuries of private-car life were carried, Moses Jones, an elongated, shuffling son of Ham, proceeded to uncork two more bottles. Mose was immaculate, but very moist.

Mose picked up his tray, containing glasses and the two cold bottles, stepped into the corridor just in time to feel the swift jab of Soup’s automatic into his white-clad ribs.

Mose almost telescoped under the strain, and he elevated his tray until the bottles almost hit the ceiling.

“Yuh—yuh—yessah!” grunted Mose.

“Yeah, bo!” replied Soup. “Squeak once and you’re done.”

“N-n-nosah,” whispered Mose.

“Yessir,” nodded Soup. “Move on, nigger.”

Straight into the privacy of the Steele family came Mose and Soup; and the first hint of something wrong was when one of the bottles fell from its dizzy height, landed in the middle of the card table and shot its agitated contents into the face of James Worthington Steele.

“What the ——?” Thus said James Worthington Steele, pawing the suds out of his eyes.

It was then that Mose Jones side-stepped and gave them an unobstructed view of Soup Lannigan, who was enjoying himself hugely.

“Don’t yelp,” advised Soup coldly. “C’mere, you!”

He meant Alicia. She came. The combination of automatic and Soup’s face was enough to cow any one. Alicia sank into one of the seats and stared at Soup.

“Kinda pretty,” observed Soup appreciatively. “Gimme the sparks, kid. You too—” turning to Mrs. Steele—“hand over them rings. Shell out your money and make it fast. I ain’t got all day. C’mon! What the —— do yuh think this is; a lecture?”

They shelled. Soup held out his battered cap for the spoils and his eyes glittered. The hunting was much better than he anticipated. Mose Jones rolled his eyes and leaned against the wall, while his legs fairly twitched for a chance to run.

Far down the line the engine whistle signaled for the rear flagman to come in. Soup backed toward the rear door, his automatic covering the two men and two women.

“T’anks, folks,” he said. “I’ll be on me way now.”

He laughed mockingly and backed into a man, who had come through the rear door, filling the passageway with his bulk. Soup spun around, tried to use his automatic, but this hulk of a man tore it from his hand, threw it out of the window and proceeded to mop up the open space with the luckless Soup.

Soup was no coward. He had fought many fights; but this fat person; who wore flapping leather chaps, spurs and a heavy belt, did not give him a chance. The cap, which contained the loot, went flying under a chair, when Slim Simpson got Soup by the legs, handling him like a wheelbarrow, and rammed him viciously into the underpinning of a heavy chair.

Soup went limp. Slim tossed Soup’s legs aside, as if he had no further use for them, and stared at Alicia. Came the “bump” of some one boarding the car, and Sadie came in. Her face was streaked with dust, but in her eyes was a great resolve. She wasn’t going to lose Slim Simpson, not without a battle. Slim gawped at her and waved his arms weakly.

“Huh—hello, Sadie,” he panted, and then turned to the dazed Alicia.

“You—you tell her,” he said dramatically, pointing at Sadie. “You tell huh-her about that wink. Hurry up, can’tcha?”

“The—that wink?” faltered Alicia wonderingly.

“You winked at me?” queried the perspiring Slim. “Back there at the depot, you winked.”

“At you?” Alicia shook her head. “No. I—I didn’t. It was a cinder in my eye.”

“Now, yuh see?” Slim was triumphant.

“Do yuh see——”

But just at that moment Soup Lannigan decided that it was a mighty good time for him to leave. He jumped to his feet, knocked Sadie aside and darted out of the rear door.

“Gosh ding him, he didn’t stay dead!” blurted Slim; and out of the door he went.

Soup Lannigan, running like a rabbit, was heading for the brushy hills, when Slim went into his saddle, shook out his rope and gave chase. And Sadie was not far behind him.

Straight up over a brushy slope galloped Soup, bending every effort to gain deeper cover, while behind him pounded two running horses; and now he could hear the swish of a whirling loop. Again the engine whistled, as if cheering them on.

Down through a gully went Soup, where Slim was forced to detour; but a few moments later he was chased on to the next slope. For ten minutes they played hide-and-seek; but the hard riding cowboy won, when Soup essayed to cross a fifty foot stretch of open country to gain a mesquite patch.

The loop caught Soup in mid-air and brought him down on his neck in a cat-claw bush.

The jerk of the rope knocked all the fight out of the hard-faced yegg, who was content to lie there and goggle at the sky. Slim kept the rope tight and waited for Sadie to join him.

“What are you goin’ to do with him, Slim?” asked Sadie.

“Huh! I dunno. Prob’ly turn him over to them folks.”

“Did you know it was a holdup, Slim, dear?” asked Sadie.

“Shore. Didn’t you know it? Somebody wired to yore dad at San Rego, tellin’ him that there was a holdup.”

Soup Lannigan sat up, staring blankly. Some one had wired about the holdup? His little eyes batted violently.

“Get up,” ordered Slim.

Soup got up, his arms pinned to his sides.

“Vamoose toward the train, hombre.”

Soup knew better than to argue. It was quite a way back to the train, but Soup led the way, his head hanging with weariness, while behind him came Slim and Sadie, riding close together. Over the brow of the hill they came—and stopped.

There was no train!

“It has went!” exclaimed Slim. “Whatcha know about that?”

From a mile or so away came the whistle of the freight, as it clattered its way on to Mesquite City.

“They didn’t wait for us,” complained Slim.

“We don’t care, do we?” asked Sadie softly.

Slim looked at her and a grin twisted his lips.

“Yuh see how it was, don’tcha, Sadie?” he asked. “It was jist a cinder. The wind jist blowed a cinder back with the smoke and it got in her eye. That’s all it was.”

“I—I know it, Slimmie. I was to blame. I—I—it looked just like a wink, you see.”

“Yeah, it did,” admitted Slim. “But I knowed that it wasn’t, Sadie.”

“Well, I’m glad we found out,” said Sadie, sighing with relief. “Let’s go home, Slimmie. Ma’s got apple pie for supper.”

“What about me?” asked Soup painfully.

“You?” Slim twitched the rope and the loop fell around the feet of the yegg.

“Yeah—about me?” Thus Soup anxiously.

“You don’t interest me none,” declared Slim. “Step out of that loop and rattle yore hocks out of here; sabe?”

Soup did. He ran all the way to the track, where he began counting ties toward Mesquite City. He stopped and looked back. Slim and Sadie were heading back toward San Rego, riding very close together.

Soup Lannigan dug out a very limp sack of tobacco and a crumpled cigaret paper.

“Don’t it beat ——?” he asked the wide world, as he carefully rolled a smoke. “Don’t it beat —— a mile? I don’t know what it was all about, but I got a laugh out of that cinder that come back with the smoke.

“This —— road burns oil!”


Transcriber’s Note: This story appeared in the December 10, 1924 issue of Adventure magazine.