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On the Iron at Big Cloud/The Rebate


 

XIII

THE REBATE

He was known as Dutchy, but his name was Damrosch. This is Dutchy's story when Dutchy and the Transcontinental were in the making; and before, as has been recorded elsewhere, he came to Big Cloud. He started railroading as cook's helper on a construction gang that was laying track across the prairie. As the mileage grew, so Dutchy grew. At first lank and lean, he took on, little by little, the appearance of being comfortably nourished, until, by the time they hit the Rockies, Dutchy's gait had become a waddle and his innocent blue eyes were almost hidden by the great rolls of fat that puffed out his face like a toy balloon. Then Dutchy, slow of body and likewise of brain, and yearning for a quiet and peaceful existence, secured the lunch-counter rights for Dry Notch.

Now, Dry Notch, half-way across the prairie, consisted of a water-tank, a small roundhouse, a smaller station and a diminutive general store. But because of its geographical position, it was headquarters for the Mid-Plains Division.

Here, T. V. Brett was superintendent; Thornley was his chief clerk; and MacDonald was dispatcher. And these, with the railroad hands and train-crews comprised the population of Dry Notch, unless there might be added a few ranchers somewhere in the neighborhood.

The staff bunked in a room over the station, and the men had their quarters in the roundhouse, but one and all they ate at Dutchy's counter. Sinkers and coffee, apple pie and sandwiches they stood as a steady diet for a month after he had appeared upon the scene, and then a delegation waited upon him and demanded dishes more substantial.

"You can make meat pies and chicken stew and all that sort of thing, can't you?" they demanded.

"Sure!" said Dutchy. "But dot iss expensive."

Money was no object, they assured him, and thereupon proceeded to fix a schedule of prices—fifteen cents for a meat pie; twenty cents for a chicken stew—with two slices of bread and butter thrown in for good measure.

"Vell" said Dutchy, "so iss it."

And a few nights later, true to his promise, they got their chicken stew—canned chicken stew.

The huge pot, full to the brim, had been emptied, and Dutchy, his face beaming with smiles, had bustled into the back room for a further supply, when MacDonald's voice rose plaintively:

"It's—it's chicken, isn't it?"

The crowd looked inquiringly at the dispatcher.

"Because," went on MacDonald softly, "I—never heard of any chickens in Dry Notch."

And then, amid the laughter that ensued, Thornley rose dramatically from his seat, and, picking up a bone from his plate, waved it aloft.

"Gentlemen, this is no time for mirth!" he cried. "We are the victims of a swindle. We are in the clutch of an octopus—that is to say, a food trust, composed of Dutchy and the dining-car conductors of Numbers One and Two. It is my painful duty to assert that I recognize this bone as the identical bone on which I fed two nights ago coming up the line on Number One."

Dutchy entered, staggering under the load of the replenished pot, when Thornley solemnly demanded a rebate on the spot.

"Vat iss it?" said Dutchy, halting and peering anxiously into the pot; then, evidently reassured that no essential ingredient had been forgotten, he looked up at the ring of faces that were regarding him with grave inquiry. "Vat iss a repate?" he demanded. "It something iss mit der bread und butter for twenty cents to go, yess?"

The crowd roared, and up and down the division train-crews, engine-crews, and section-gangs got the joke and passed it on until the lunch-counter became known to every man on the system as "The Rebate."

They did not explain the joke to Dutchy, and for days he endured the chaff stolidly, though with much bewilderment, until, one afternoon, MacDonald patiently and ploddingly acquainted him with the unhallowed baseness of one Thornley—helping himself, by way of compensation, to the heap of doughnuts under the glass cover.

Dutchy listened, his cheeks getting redder and redder as MacDonald, exaggerating some hundred-fold, suavely rubbed it in.

"Dot Thornley iss—iss a pig!" shouted Dutchy suddenly, as the light burst in upon him.

MacDonald nodded assent, his mouth too full of doughnut to speak.

"Und I a fool iss, yess?" continued the proprietor, pounding a fat fist on the counter.

Again MacDonald nodded, smiling sweetly—and reached for another doughnut.

But this time Dutchy's fingers were firmly clasped around the cover, and he peered suspiciously through the glass at the number of doughnuts remaining, then glared at the dispatcher.

"You—you git out from here!" he said slowly, but with rising emphasis.

And MacDonald, chuckling, went.

It was not until after supper that same evening, when Number One pulled in, that Dutchy made any move toward retribution—then Dutchy cut loose. It was Taggart who got it—little Shorty Taggart, the driver of Number One, who was red-haired and an inveterate joker, and likewise a great crony of Thornley's.

The first intimation MacDonald had that anything was up was an enraged howl that, rising above the tumult of the station, reached him where he sat in the dispatcher's office. There was no mistaking the voice—it was Dutchy's. MacDonald stuck his head hastily out of the window, while Thornley, who was in the room, leaned over his shoulder.

Dutchy was bellowing like a mad bull. "Say it! Shusht say it. Oh! py golly! "

Here followed a volcanic eruption of guttural German with one or two words common to all languages intermingled.

Then, flying through the doorway of the lunch-room, dashing down the platform, scattering loungers, passengers, and car-tinks in all directions, in a mad rush for the engine end of the train, tore a short figure in tight-fitting, bandy-legged overalls, whose flaming red hair presented a shining mark for the plate that whizzed past his ear and smashed into a hundred pieces against a baggage-truck.

And Dutchy, blowing hard, his sleeves rolled up over the fat of his arms, waddled to the center of the platform and shook a frantic fist after the retreating engineer.

"I a fool iss no longer yet, don'd it?" he screamed, and, puffing his cheeks in and out like a whezzy injector, he turned, reentered the restaurant, and the door closed behind him with a resounding bang.

MacDonald drew in his head, and the tears were running down his cheeks as he held his sides.

Thornley groped for a chair.

"Guess Taggart was asking for a rebate," he gasped. "It was worth pay to see him run."

"You bet!" said MacDoneld eloquently, when he could get his breath.

The door opened, and Brett, the super, came in.

"D'ye see Taggart and Dutchy, Brett?" cried Thornley.

"Yes," said Brett, laughing. Then, more seriously: "Look here, you'd better patch it up with Dutchy. There's no use rubbing it in too hard. MacDonald, tell Blaney to put my car on Number Two when she comes in. I'm going east to-night."

The patching, however, was quite a different matter than talking about it.

The next morning the lunch-room door was ominously closed—and the staff went breakfastless. By listening at the keyhole, and from an occasional glimpse through the window, they knew that Dutchy was inside.

But to pleadings, threats, and door-kickings the occupant was, to all intents and purposes, oblivious. Things began to look serious for the staff and station hands who were wont to depend on Dutchy for their grub-stakes.

Thornley whistled softly and pulled at his pipe, his feet on the dispatcher's desk.

"He'll have to open up when Number Ninety-Seven pulls in," Thornley was saying, more by way of reassuring himself than of presenting any new view of the case to MacDonald. "The company won't stand for any inconvenience to the passengers—that is" he hastened to amend, "not of this kind. What? They've got a sort of lien on that joint, and if he waits for them to get after him he'll get into trouble. Wish Brett were back—he'd make him open up quick, I guess. What's the matter with Number Ninety-Seven, anyhow? Thought you said she was on time?"

"So she is," said MacDonald, grinning. "Hear her?"

From the eastward came the hoarse shriek from the whistle of a five-hundred class.

"Guess I'll go down," said Thornley. "Coming?"

MacDonald nodded and got up from his chair.

The two men reached the platform in time to acknowledge a flirt of the hand from Sanders in the cab as the big machine, wheel-tires sparking from the tight-set brakes, rolled slowly past them, coming to a halt farther on.

Simultaneously the door of the lunch-room swung wide open, and on the threshold, completely filling the opening with his bulk, stood Dutchy. In his left hand he held his bell, which he began to ring clamorously; in his right hand, almost but not quite concealed behind his apron, was no less a weapon than a substantial-looking rolling-pin. A crowd of passengers began to surge toward the restaurant, and among them mingled the hungry railroad men of Dry Notch.

"Come on!" shouted Thornley exultantly. "I knew he'd have to open up. Here's where we feed—h'm?"

"Vait!" cried Dutchy imperiously, as the head of the column reached him. "You, yess; you, no. Vat iss it?" He was sorting the sheep from the goats, allowing the passengers to enter, pushing the railroaders ruthlessly to one side.

"You, yess; you, no. You, yess; you—oh! py golly

He had caught sight of Thornley, and, swinging suddenly, struck out viciously in that direction with the rolling-pin. Being obliged, however, to maintain his position in the doorway, the strategic key to the situation, the jab fell short by two or three inches, barely missing Thornley's nose.

Thornley fell back instinctively.

"Look here, you old ass!" he yelled angrily, "we've had about enough of this. It's past a joke. The company's got a lien on that joint of yours, and we'll close it up so tight you'll never open it again—d'ye hear?"

Dutchy stopped short in the monotonous, "You, yess; you, no," on which he had recommenced, and his paunch began to shake.

"Yah!" he cried. "Dot iss a joke. Oh, py golly, lean! Dot iss ven you ge-starving get, yah? Ho, ho! Ha, ha!"

In Dutch's burst of merriment first one and then another joined, until even Thornley, his good nature getting the better of him, roared with the rest at his own expense.

But if this apparent return to good humor on Dutchy's part inspired any hope in the minds of the railroad men that he had relented and that former friendly relations were to be resumed, they were doomed to disappointment, for Dutchy stolidly continued to allow the passengers to go in and as stolidly barred the entrance to the others.

Then they gave it up, and bought out the slender stock of canned goods and biscuits from the shelves of the general store.

They messed in the baggage-room and they swallowed their scanty portions to the tune of "Die Wacht am Rhein," bellowed out by a strong and sonorous voice, through the partition, on the other side of which, laid out in tempting confusion, as they were painfully aware, was plenty.

What they had, however, did little more than whet their appetites, and by three o'clock some of the men were talking of carrying the position by storm, helping themselves, and doing a few fancy stunts with Dutchy.

"We can't have any row," said Thornley, pulling at his mustache and staring at MacDonald. "What had we better do? The boys'll be pulling the old shack down around his ears. He'll fight like blazes, and some one'll get hurt. And then the company 'll want to know what's what. Say, the old geeser has got us where he wants us, sure—eh, what?"

MacDonald nodded.

"I'll tell you what it is," Thornley went on impressively, "there's some one besides Dutchy in this. They've been giving him a steer, and I'd give a few to know who it is. It's mighty queer Dutchy would wake up so suddenly to the fact that he was a joke. Then, there isn't enough to that rebate josh to make him so sore. Some one's been stringing him good and plenty. What had we better do?"

"I don't know," MacDonald answered. "Let's go and see if we can't talk him over."

At the sight of Thornley and the dispatcher heading for the lunch-room, the trainmen and station-hands fell in behind them.

MacDonald halted a few paces from the door.

"You boys, stay here," he directed. "Let me see what I can do."

Thornley and the men halted obediently, while MacDonald went on and knocked at the door. There was no response.

"But—Mr. Damrosch!" he called. "It's MacDonald. I want to talk to you."

This time his knock was answered, and so suddenly as to cause him to jump back in surprise.

"Vell, vat iss it?" demanded Dutchy, scowling belligerently.

"We're—we're—" stammered MacDonald, his confidence a little shaken at the proprietor's attitude. Then, desperately: "Oh, I say, confound it all, Dutchy, we're hungry."

"So!" Dutchy's exclamation was a world of innocent astonishment and kindly interest.

"Yes," went on MacDonald, diplomatically. "You bet we are. It's been a good joke, but you've had the best end of it. Let's call it quits, there's a good fellow, and—and give us all a handout."

Dutchy listened attentively to the appeal.

"I, a fool iss no longer yet, don'd it?" he queried softly.

"You most decidedly are not," MacDonald assured him.

"You vill for repates no longer ask, yet?" persisted Mr. Damrosch.

"Not on your life!" replied the dispatcher earnestly, beginning to see daylight. "That's all off. We'll apologize, too, if you like. I promise you, we are quite willing to apologize."

"Vell, den," announced Mr. Damrosch, "ve vill aggravate"—and he slammed the door in MacDonald's face.

"Oh, hold on, Dutchy!" cried MacDonald piteously, for he was very hungry. "What did you say?"

"Vat I said iss dot ve vill aggravate!" shouted Dutchy from the other side of the door. "Dot iss English, don'd it? Aggravate!"

"He means arbitrate," prompted Thornley from the platform.

"Oh, all right!" said MacDonald. "We'll agree to that, Dutchy. Come on——open up!"

"I vill not mit you aggra—arra—do it—hang dot vord!" Dutchy asserted decisively, but again opening the door. "But mit Mister Brett I vill do it."

"But Mr. Brett isn't here, you know that," retorted MacDonald, beginning to get exasperated. "And, what's more, he won't be back until the day after to-morrow. I guess you know that, too, don't you?"

Dutchy smiled a patient, chiding smile. "Dot iss too bad," he remarked regretfully. "But dot Thornley a pig iss, und you—oh, py golly! you—I could not you pelief. Ve vill vait for Mister Brett."

He was closing the door again, when MacDonald put his foot against the jamb and, leaning toward Dutchy, said quickly, in an undertone:

"Look here, Dutchy, you're going too far. If I couldn't see any farther than you, I'd wear glasses. Now's the time to make your deal. I'll help you see? You can get anything out of the boys now, but you push them too far and they'll pull the whole outfit down over your ears. You say what you want, and I'll get it for you."

Dutchy looked meditatively into MacDonald's face, and shook his head with a sad smile of wisdom.

"I could not you pelief," he repeated.

"You don't have to. You don't have to believe anybody. Whatever you want us to do we'll do before you let us in to eat. You can't lose. What do you say?"

Mr. Damrosch scratched his head pensively, without taking his eyes off the dispatcher. After a minute he tapped MacDonald on the shoulder.

"Vell," he announced, "I vill tell you. Listen."

MacDonald listened—incredulously. Then he whistled a low, long-drawn-out note of consternation.

"Well, you've got a nerve!" he gasped. "What do you think, eh? The boys'll never—" He stopped suddenly, a smile came over his face, and he chuckled softly to himself. "Dutchy, you're great! It'll be meat for the boys to make Thornley stand for it. That's what you want to do—make Thornley stand for it. Will the boys make him? Oh, will they! Give them the chance. That's the way to handle it. I told you I'd help you. Now, make your spiel."

MacDonald turned to the group on the platform. "Dutchy'll arbitrate!" he cried.

At this the men began to push forward, but Dutchy stopped them. "Vait as you iss! Ven der—der—hang dot word—iss, den iss it. Vait!"

They waited, and Dutchy began to count on his fingers. "Dere iss sixteen dot breakfasted didn'd," he began. "Dot—iss—iss——"

"Average 'em up at a quarter apiece," prompted MacDonald in a whisper. "That makes four dollars."

"Iss four dollars—yess," went on Dutchy. "Vell, I vant dot. Dere iss der crews dot in-came und out-vent und didn'd eat ven der door vas closed. Dot iss two dollars—yess? Vell, I vant dot."

The men came to, and a roar of derision rent the air, in the face of which even Dutchy was a little shaken.

"Stand pat," encouraged MacDonald. "You've got them coming and going."

Dutchy held up his hand for silence. "Dere iss der sixteen over again yet dot dinnered didn'd. Dot iss four dollars—yess? Vell, I vant dot. Dot iss four und two and four. Dot iss ten dollars—don'd it? Veil, I vant dot, und den you come in—yess, one py one—for a quarter py each."

Then, amid the storm of abuse and jeers that greeted Dutchy's ultimatum, MacDonald, with a final injunction to the proprietor to stand by his guns, turned and joined Thornley and the men.

"Vell, py golly!" screamed Dutchy above the din. "Vat iss it? Who was der commencer of dot joke dot iss ten dollars to pay? It iss dot Thornley!"

"Why, you wretched old thief," yelled Thornley, "do you think we're going to pay you for grub we didn't get, because you wouldn't let us have it, and then pay you for it again when you do dole it out? We'll see you further, first."

"It vas agreed in front of der—hang dot word!—py der—"

"Agreed nothing!" snorted Thornley.

"Dot you vill for repates no longer ask, yet, don'd it? Vell, der price ten dollars iss. Dere iss no repate. Oh, py golly, Mister Thornley, dot vas an expensive joke—yess? Dot vas your joke, und I shusht thought me dot I hope you will pay dot yourself."

Thornley paid. With no good grace, but because, as MacDonald had said they would, the men made him. Disgruntled and angry, he led the file into the restaurant, placing ten dollars and twenty-five cents in Dutchy's hand before he crossed the threshold.

Behind him followed MacDonald and the grinning line of men, each contributing their quarters—in advance—for the first square meal they had had that day.

"Eat vat you like," said Dutchy magnanimously.

Thornley glared. "Eat vat you like! Eat vat you like!" he mimicked savagely. "I like your colossal generosity at my expense!"

For a long time there was no other noise save the rattle of dishes and the busy clatter of knives, forks, and spoons. Then Thornley beckoned to Dutchy.

"Vell, vat iss it?" inquired the proprietor from behind the counter.

"Who put you on to this?" demanded Thornley. "I've had to stand for it, and I'd like to know. I would that!"

MacDonald, sitting beside Thornley, noticed, with some misgivings, a peculiar expression sweep over Dutchy's face, but to his relief the proprietor's only reply was a grunt, as he answered a call for more coffee.

"By the hokey, I'll bet it was that red-haired Taggart!" exclaimed Thornley suddenly, turning to the dispatcher.

MacDonald buried his face in his cup, ostensibly to drain the last drop, then he set it down quickly and jerked his watch from his pocket.

"Holy Moses!" he ejaculated, and fled from the room.

An hour later, as Thornley was again sitting with his feet on MacDonald's desk, Dutchy stuck his head into the room and beckoned to the dispatcher. MacDonald walked across the floor and joined him. Dutchy pulled him out of the room and closed the door.

"Dere iss one thing dot I forgotted did," announced Mr. Damrosch.

"What's that?" inquired MacDonald.

"Dere iss five doughnuts dot iss paid for not."

"Oh! "said MacDonald.

"Dot vas der time you told dot it vas Thornley—yess? Dot vas von dollar py each. Vell, I vant dot—yess?"

"Really!" laughed MacDonald. "Well, I guess not!"

"Dot—vas—der—time"—Dutchy was raising his voice, each word growing louder and more distinct than the preceding one. Thornley's chair inside creaked ominously. MacDonald glanced furtively toward the door, and his face grew red—"you—told—dot——"

With a hasty movement, MacDonald clapped one hand over Dutchy's mouth, and with the other thrust a five-dollar bill into his fingers.

"Get out!" he choked, and shoved Dutchy violently toward the stairs.

At the bottom, Dutchy halted, turned and looked up with a grin.

"Py golly," said he, "I shusht thought me dot I like jokes pretty good, and I hope dot——"

"Oh, shut up!" said MacDonald.