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- Jim Cummings - 2/26 -


CHAPTER II.

THE SUCCESS OF THE LETTERS--THE ATTACK--THE ROBBERS--THE ESCAPE.

The Union depot at St. Louis was ablaze with lights. The long Kansas City train was standing, all made up, the engine coupled on, and almost ready to pull out. Belated passengers were rushing frantically from the ticket window to the baggage-room, and then to the train, when a man, wearing side whiskers, and carrying a small valise, parted from his companion at the entrance to the depot, and, after buying a ticket to Kirkwood, entered the smoking car. His companion, a tall, well-built man, having a smooth face, and a very erect carriage, walked with a business-like step down the platform until he reached the express car. Tossing the valise which he carried into the car, he climbed in himself with the aid of the hand-rail on the side of the door, and, as the messenger came toward him, he held out his hand, saying:

"Is this Mr. Fotheringham?"

"Yes, that's my name."

"I have a letter from Mr. Bassett for you," and, taking it from his pocket, he handed it to the messenger.

Fotheringham read the letter carefully, and placing it in his pocket, said:

"Going to get a job, eh?"

"Yes, the old man said he would give me a show, and as soon as there was a regular run open, he would let me have it."

"Well, I'm pretty busy now; make yourself comfortable until we pull out, and then I'll post you up as best I can, Mr. Bronson."

Mr. "Bronson" pulled off his overcoat, and, seating himself in a chair, glanced around the car.

In one end packages, crates, butter, egg-cases, and parts of machinery were piled up. At the other end a small iron safe was lying. As it caught Bronson's eye an expression came over his face, which, if Fotheringham had seen, would have saved him a vast amount of trouble. But the messenger, too busy to notice his visitor, paid him no attention, and in a moment Bronson was puffing his cigar with a nonchalant air, that would disarm any suspicions which the messenger might have entertained, but he had none, as it was a common practice to send new men over his run, that he might "break them in."

The train had pulled out, and after passing the city limits, was flying through the suburbs at full speed.

Fotheringham, seated in front of his safe, with his way bills on his lap, was checking them off as Bronson called off each item of freight in the car.

The long shriek of the whistle and the jerking of the car caused by the tightening of the air brake on the wheels, showed the train to be approaching a station.

"This is Kirkwood," said Fotheringham, "nothing for them to-night."

The train was almost at a standstill, when Bronson, saying "What sort of a place is it?" threw back the door and peered out into the dark.

As he did so, a man passed swiftly by, and in passing glanced into the car. As Bronson looked, he saw it was the same man that had bought a ticket for Kirkwood and had ridden in the smoker.

The train moved on. Bronson shut the door and buttoned his coat. Fotheringham, still busy on his way bills, was whistling softly to himself, and sitting with his back to his fellow passenger.

Some unusual noise in the front end of the car caught his ear, and raising his head, he exclaimed:

"What's that?"

The answer came, not from the front of the car but from behind.

A strong muscular hand was placed on his neck. A brawny arm was thrown around his chest, and lifted from the chair, he was thrown violently to the floor of the car.

In a flash he realized his position. With an almost superhuman effort, he threw Bronson from him, and reaching around felt for his revolver. It was gone, and thrown to the other end of the car.

Little did the passengers on the train know of the stirring drama which was being enacted in the car before them. Little did they think as they leaned back in their comfortable seats, of the terrific struggle which was then taking place. On one hand it was a struggle for $100,000; on the other, for reputation, for honor, perhaps for life.

Fotheringham, strong as he vas (for he was large of frame, and muscular) was no match for his assailant. He struggled manfully, but was hurled again to the floor, and as he looked up, saw the cold barrel of a 32- calibre pointed at his head. Bronson's face, distorted with passion and stern with the fight, glared down at him, as he hissed through his teeth:

"Make a sound, and you are a dead man."

The messenger, seeing all was lost, lay passive upon the floor. The robber, whipping out a long, strong, silk handkerchief, tied his hands behind his back, and making a double-knotted gag of Fotheringham's handkerchief, gagged him. Searching the car he discovered a shawl-strap with which he tied the messenger's feet, and thus had him powerless as a log. Then, and not till then, did he speak aloud.

"Done, and well done, too."

The flush faded from his face, his eye became sullen, and drawing the messenger's chair to him he sat down. As he gazed at his discomfited prisoner an expression of intense relief came over his features. His forged letters had proved successful, his only formidable obstacle between himself and his anticipated booty lay stretched at his feet, helpless and harmless. The nature of the car prevented any interruption from the ends, as the only entrance was through the side doors, and he had all night before him to escape.

Now for the plunder. The key to the safe was in Fotheringham's pocket. It took but a second to secure it, and but another second to use it in unlocking the strong-box. The messenger, unable to prevent this in any way, looked on in intense mental agony. He saw that he would be suspected as an accomplice. The mere fact that one man could disarm, bind and gag him, would be used as a suspicious circumstance against him. Although he did not know the exact sum of money in the safe he was aware that it was of a very considerable amount, and he fairly writhed in his agony of mind. In an instant Cummings (or, as he had been called by the messenger, Bronson) was on his feet, revolver in hand, and again the cruel, murderous expression dwelt on his face, as he exclaimed:

"Lie still, damn you, lie still. If you attempt to create an alarm, I'll fill you so full of lead that some tenderfoot will locate you for a mineral claim. D'ye understand?"

After this facetious threat he paid no further attention to the messenger.

Emptying his valise of its contents of underclothing and linen, he stuffed it full of the packages of currency which the safe contained.

One package, containing $30,000, from the Continental Bank of St. Louis, was consigned to the American National Bank of Kansas City. Another large package held $12,000, from the Merchants National Bank of St. Louis for the Merchants Bank of Forth Smith, Arkansas, and various other packages, amounting altogether to $53,000.

With wonderful sang froid, Cummings stuffed this valuable booty in his valise, and then proceeded to open the bags containing coin. His keen knife-blade ripped bag after bag, but finding it all silver, he desisted, and turning to Fotheringham, demanded:

"Any gold aboard?"

Fotheringham shook his head in reply.

"Does that mean there is none, or you don't know?"

Again the messenger shook his head.

"Well, I reckon your right, all silver, too heavy and don't amount to much."

As he was talking, the whistle of the engine suddenly sound two short notes, and the air-brakes were applied.

The train stopped, and the noise of men walking on the gravel was heard.

As Fotheringham lay there, his ears strained to catch every sound, and hoping for the help that never came, his heart gave a joyful throb, as some one pounded noisily on the door. Almost at the same instant he felt the cold muzzle of a revolver against his head, and the ominous "click, click" was more eloquent than threats or words could be.

The pounding ceased, and in a short time the train moved on again.

Apparently not satisfied that the messenger was bound safe and fast, Cummings took the companion strap to the one which pinioned the feet of his victim, and passing it around his neck, fastened it to the handle of the safe in such a way that any extra exertion on Fotheringham's part would pull the safe over and choke him.

Opening the car door, he threw away the clothing which he had taken from his valise.

Returning to the messenger, he stooped over him, and took from his pocket the forged letter with which he gained entrance to the car.

Fotheringham tried to speak, but the gag permitted nothing but a rattling sound to escape.

"I know what you want, young fellow. You want this letter to prove that you had some sort of authority to let me ride. Sorry I can't accommodate you, my son, but those devilish Pinkertons will be after me in twenty- four hours, and this letter would be just meat to them. I'll fix you all right, though. My name's Cummings, Jim Cummings, and I'll write a letter


Jim Cummings - 2/26

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