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Cullum Ridgwell
The Law-Breakers

CHAPTER I
WATCHING THE LINE

There was no shade anywhere. The terrible glare of the summer sun beat down upon the whole length of the wooden platform at Amberley. Hot as was the dry, bracing air, it was incomparable with the blistering intensity of heat reflected from the planking, which burned through to the soles of the feet of the uniformed man who paced its length, slowly, patiently.

This sunburnt, gray-eyed man, with his loose, broad shoulders, his powerful, easy-moving limbs, seemed quite indifferent to the irritating climatic conditions of the moment. Even the droning of the worrying mosquitoes had no power to disturb him. Like everything else unpleasant in this distant northwestern land, he accepted these things as they came, and brushed them aside for the more important affairs he was engaged upon.

He gazed out across the wide monotony of prairie with its undulating wavelets, a tawny green beneath the scorching summer sun. He was thinking deeply; perhaps dreaming, although dreaming had small enough place in his busy life. His lot was a stern fight against crime, and, in a land so vast, so new, where crime flourished upon virgin soil, it left him little time for the more pleasant avenues of thought.

Inspector Stanley Fyles came to a halt at the eastern end of the long platform. Miles of railroad track stretched away in a dead straight line toward the distant, shimmering horizon. For miles ahead the road was unbroken by a single moving object, and, after a long, keen survey, the man abruptly turned his back upon it.

In a moment he became aware of a hollow-chested man hurrying toward him. He was coming from the direction of the only building upon the platform – the railroad office, or, as it was grandiloquently called, the “booking hall.”

Fyles recognized the man as the railroad agent, Huntly, who controlled the affairs of his company in this half-fledged prairie town.

He came up in a flurry of unusual excitement.

“She’s past New Camp, inspector,” he cried. “Guess she’s in the Broken Hills, an’ gettin’ near White Point. I’d say she’d be along in an hour – sure.”

“Damn!”

For once in his life Stanley Fyles’s patience gave way.

The man grinned.

“It ain’t no use cussin’,” he protested, with a suggestion of malicious delight. “Y’see, she’s just a bum freight. Ain’t even a ‘through.’ I tell you, these sort have emptied a pepper box of gray around my head. Yes, sir, there’s more gray to my head by reason of their sort than a hired man could hoe out in half a year.”

“Twenty minutes ago you told me she’d be in in half an hour.”

There was resentment as well as distrust in the officer’s protest.

“Sure,” the man responded glibly. “That was accordin’ to schedule. Guess Ananias must have been the fellow who invented schedules for local freights.”

The toe of Fyles’s well-polished riding-boot tapped the superheated platform.

His gray eyes suddenly fixed and held the ironical eyes of the other.

“See here, Huntly,” he said at last, in that tone of quiet authority which never deserted him for long. “I can rely on that? There’s nothing to stop her by the way – now? Nothing at all?”

But the agent shook his head, and his eyes still shone with their ironical light.

“I’d say the prophet business petered out miser’bly nigh two thousand years ago. I wouldn’t say this dogone prairie ’ud be the best place to start resurrectin’ it. No, sir! There’s too many chances for that – seein’ we’re on a branch line. There’s the track – it might give way. You never can tell on a branch line. The locomotive might drop dead of senile decay. Maybe the train crew’s got drunk, and is raisin’ hell at some wayside city. You never can tell on a branch line. Then there’s that cargo of liquor you’re yearnin’ to – ”

“Cut it out, man,” broke in the officer sharply. “You are sure about the train? You know what you’re talking about?”

The agent grinned harder than ever.

“This is a prohibition territory – ” he began.

But again Fyles cut him short. The man’s irrepressible love of fooling, half good-humored, half malicious, had gone far enough.

“Anyway you don’t usually get drunk before sundown, so I guess I’ll have to take your word for it.”

Then Inspector Fyles smiled back into the other’s face, which had abruptly taken on a look of resentment at the charge.

“I tell you what it is,” he went on. “You boys get mighty close to the wind swilling prohibited liquor. It’s against the spirit of the law – anyway.”

But the agent’s good humor warmed again under the officer’s admission of his difficulties. He was an irrepressible fellow when opportunity offered. Usually he lived in a condition of utter boredom. In fact, there were only two things that made life tolerable for him in Amberley. These were the doings of the Mounted Police, and the doings of those who made their existence a necessity in the country.

Even while weighted down with the oppressive routine of his work, it was an inspiriting thing to watch the war between law and lawlessness. Here in Amberley, situated in the heart of the Canadian prairie lands, was a handful of highly trained men pitted against almost a world of crime. Perhaps the lightest of their duties was the enforcing of the prohibition laws, formulated by a dear, grandmotherly government in an excess of senile zeal for the welfare of the health and morals of those far better able to think for themselves.

The laws of prohibition! The words stuck with Mr. Huntly as they stuck with every full-grown man and woman in the country outside the narrow circle of temperance advocates. The law was anathema to him. Under its influence the bettering, the purification of life in the Northwestern Territories had received a setback, which optimistic antagonists of the law declared was little less than a quarter of a century. Drunkenness had increased about one hundred per cent, since human nature had been forbidden the importation and consumption of alcohol in any form stronger than four per cent. beer.

Huntly knew that Inspector Fyles was almost solely at work upon the capture of contraband liquor. Also he knew, and hated the fact, that his own duty required that he must give any information concerning this traffic upon his railroad which the police might require. Therefore there was an added vehemence in his reply to the officer’s warning.

“Sakes, man! What ’ud you have us do?” he cried, with a laugh that was more than half angry. “Do you think we’re goin’ to sit around this darned diagram of a town readin’ temperance tracts, just because somebody guesses we haven’t the right to souse liquor? Think we’re goin’ to suck milk out of a kid’s feeder, just because you boys in red coats figure that way? No, sir. Guess that ain’t doin’ – anyway. I’m sousing all the liquor I can get my hooks on, an’ it’s all the sweeter because of you boys. Outside my duty to the railroad company I wouldn’t raise a finger to stop a gallon of good rye comin’ into town, no, not if the penitentiary was yearnin’ to swallow me right up.”

Fyles’s purposeful eyes surveyed the man with a thoughtful smile.

“Just so,” he said coolly. “That clause about ‘duty’ squares the rest. You’ll need to do your duty about these things. That’s all we want. That’s all we intend to have. Do you get me? I’m right here to see that duty done. The first trip, my friend, and you won’t talk of penitentiary so – easily.” The quietness with which he spoke did not rob his words of their significance. Then he went on, just a shade more sharply. “Now, see here. When that freight gets in I hold you responsible that the hindmost car – next the caboose – is dropped here, and the seals are intact. It’s billed loaded with barrels of cube sugar, for Calford. Get me? That’s your duty just now. See you do it.”

Huntly understood Fyles. Everybody in Amberley understood him. And the majority recognized the deliberate purpose lying behind his calmest assurance. The agent knew that his protest had touched the limit, consequently there was nothing left him but to carry out instructions to the letter. He hated the position.

His face twisted into a wry grin.

“Guess you don’t leave much to the imagination, inspector,” he said sourly.

Fyles was moving away. He replied over his shoulder.

“No. Just the local color of the particular penitentiary,” he said, with a laugh.

CHAPTER II
WHITE POINT

Mr. Moss was the sole employe of the railroad company at White Point flag station. His official hours were long. They extended round the dial of the clock twice daily. Curiously enough, his leisure extended to practically the same limits. The truth was, in summer, anyway, he had no duties that could seriously claim him. Thus the long summer days were spent chiefly among his vegetables, and the bits of flowers at the back of the shanty, which was at once his home and his office, in short, White Point.

Jack Huntly at Amberley grumbled at the unenlivening conditions of his existence, but compared with those of Mr. Moss he lived in a perfect whirlwind of gaiety.

There was no police station at White Point. There were no farms in the neighborhood. There was not even a half-breed camp, with its picturesque squalor, to break up the deadly drear of the surrounding plains. The only human diversion that ever marred the calm serenity of the neighborhood was the rare visit of some lodge of Indians, straying from the reservation, some sixty miles to the south, on a hunting pass.

But if White Point lacked interest from human associations its setting at least was curiously arresting. Nature’s whim was the inspiration which had brought the station into existence. To the north, south, and west the prairie stretched away in the distance for untold miles; but immediately to the east quite another aspect prevailed. Here lay the reason of White Point station.

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The Law-Breakers

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