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Title: The Young Train Dispatcher

Author: Burton Egbert Stevenson

Illustrator: A. P. Button

Release date: September 25, 2017 [eBook #55624]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by David Edwards, Tom Cosmas and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at (Images
courtesy of the Digital Library@Villanova University


The Young Train Dispatcher - Burton E. Stevenson

« i »

« ii »


The Works of

Burton E. Stevenson

The Boys’ Story of the Railroad Series

The Young Section-Hand $1.75
The Young Train Dispatcher 1.75
The Young Train Master 1.75
The Young Apprentice 1.75

Other Works

The Spell of Holland $3.75
The Quest for the Rose of Sharon 1.65


53 Beacon Street         Boston, Mass.

(See page 271)

« iii »


The Boys’ Story of the Railroad Series



Author of
“The Young Section-Hand,” “The Holladay
Case,” etc.


Spe Labor Levis, Hope for light work

Boston           leaf                     THE   PAGE
 COMPANY      leaf         Publishers


« iv »

Copyright, 1907
By The Page Company

Entered at Stationers’ Hall, London

All rights reserved

Made in U. S. A.

First Impression, June, 1907
Second Impression, October, 1907
Third Impression, April, 1909
Fourth Impression, August, 1910
Fifth Impression, September, 1911
Sixth Impression, May, 1913
Seventh Impression, April, 1915
Eighth Impression, February, 1918
Ninth Impression, March, 1920
Tenth Impression, March, 1923
Eleventh Impression, May, 1926
Twelfth Impression, June, 1931


« v »

Morse Code Message

[Translation of Morse Code: in appreciation of their assistance and kindly interest]

« vi »
« vii »


I. The New Position 1
II. A Rescue 12
III. A New Friend 22
IV. The Young Operators 33
V. "Flag Number Two!" 43
VI. A Private Line 54
VII. The Call to Duty 67
VIII. An Old Enemy 88
IX. An Unwelcome Guest 98
X. A Professional Friendship 107
XI. The President’s Special 116
XII. Placing the Blame 127
XIII. Probing the Mystery 138
XIV. To the Rescue 150
XV. Light in Dark Places 160
XVI. All’s Well That Ends Well 171
XVII. Allan Entertains a Visitor 185
XVIII. Facing the Lion 200
XIX. The First Lesson 211
XX. What Delayed Extra West 221
XXI. A Call for Aid 237
XXII. The Treasure Chest 248
XXIII. "Hands Up!" 260
XXIV. Jed Hopkins, Phœnix 270
XXV. How the Plot Was Laid 281
XXVI.« viii » The Pursuit 292
XXVII. A Gruesome Find 303
XXVIII. Jed Starts for Home 313
XXIX. The Young Train Dispatcher 326

« ix »



Hurled itself on across the waiting-room and through the outer door to safety” (See page 271)


‘Look out!’ he cried, and seizing him by the arm, dragged him sharply backwards


Snatched up the fusee, and fairly hurled himself down the track


In the next instant, the tall figure had been flung violently into the room


The afternoon passed happily


‘It b’longs t’ th’ mine company,’ said Nolan


« 1 »




Stretching from the Atlantic seaboard on the east to the Mississippi River on the west, lies the great P. & O. Railroad, comprising, all told, some four thousand miles of track. Look at it on the map and you will see how it twists and turns and sends off numberless little branches; for a railroad is like a river and always seeks the easiest path—the path, that is, where the grades are least and the passes in the mountains lowest.

Once upon a time, a Czar of Russia, asked by his ministers to indicate the route for a railroad from St. Petersburg to Moscow, placed a ruler on the map before him and drew a straight line between those cities, a line which his engineers were forced to follow; but that is the only road in the world constructed in so wasteful a fashion.

« 2 »

That portion of the P. & O. system which lies within the boundaries of the Buckeye State is known as the Ohio division, and the headquarters are at the little town of Wadsworth, which happens, by a fortunate chance of geographical position, to be almost exactly midway between the ends of the division. A hundred miles to the east is Parkersburg, where the road enters the State; a hundred miles to the southwest is Cincinnati, where it gathers itself for its flight across the prairies of Southern Indiana and Illinois; and it is from this central point that all trains are dispatched and all orders for the division issued.

Here, also, are the great division shops, where a thousand men work night and day to repair the damage caused by ever-recurring accidents and to make good the constant deterioration of cars and engines through ordinary wear and tear. It is here that the pay-roll for the division is made out; hither all complaints and inquiries are sent; and here all reports of business are prepared.

In a word, this is the brain. The miles and miles of track stretching east and west and south, branching here and there to tap some near-by territory, are merely so many tentacles, useful only for conveying food, in the shape of passengers and freight, to the great, insatiable maw. In fact, the system resembles nothing so much as a gigantic cuttle-fish. The resemblance is more than superficial, for, like the cuttle-fish, it possesses the faculty of "darting « 3 » rapidly backward" when attacked, and is prone to eject great quantities of a “black, ink-like fluid,”—which is, indeed, ink itself—to confuse and baffle its pursuers.

The headquarters offices are on the second floor of a dingy, rectangular building, the lower floor of which serves as the station for the town. It is surrounded by broad cement walks, always gritty and black with cinders, and the atmosphere about it reeks with the fumes of gas and sulphur from the constantly passing engines. The air is full of soot, which settles gently and continually upon the passers-by; and there is a never-ceasing din of engines “popping off,” of whistles, bells, and the rumble and crash of cars as the fussy yard engines shunt them back and forth over the switches and kick them into this siding and that as the trains are made up. It is not a locality where any one, fond of quiet and cleanliness and pure air, would choose to linger, and yet, in all the town of Wadsworth, there is no busier place.

First of all, there are the passengers for the various trains, who, having no choice in the matter, hurry in and hurry out, or sit uncomfortably in the dingy waiting-rooms, growing gradually dingy themselves, and glancing at each other furtively, as though fearing to discern or to disclose a smut. Then, strange as it may seem, there are always a number of hangers-on about the place—idlers for whom the railroad seems to possess a curious and « 4 » irresistible fascination, who spend hour after hour lounging on the platform, watching the trains arrive and depart—a phenomenon observable not at Wadsworth only, but throughout this broad land at every city, town, or hamlet through which a railroad passes.

Across one end of the building is the baggage-room, and at the other is the depot restaurant, dingy as the rest notwithstanding the valiant and unceasing efforts made to keep it clean. The sandwiches and pies and pallid cakes are protected from the contamination of the atmosphere by glass covers which are polished until they shine again; the counter, running the whole length of the room, is eroded by much scrubbing as stones sometimes are, and preserves a semblance of whiteness even amid these surroundings. Behind it against the wall stand bottles of olives, pickles, and various relishes and condiments, which have been there for years and years, and will be there always—for who has time for food of that sort at a railway restaurant? Indeed, it would seem that they must have been purchased, in the first place, for ornament rather than for use.

At one end of the counter is a glass case containing a few boxes of stogies and cheap cigars, and at intervals along its length rise polished nickel standards bearing fans at the top, which are set in motion by a mechanism wound up every morning like a clock; but the motion is so slow, the fans revolve « 5 » with such calm and passionless deliberation, that they rather add to the drowsy atmosphere of the place, and the flies alight upon them and rub the jam from their whiskers and the molasses from their legs, and then go quietly to sleep without a thought of danger.

How often has this present writer sat before that counter in admiring contemplation of the presiding genius of the place as he sliced up a boiled ham for sandwiches. He was a master of the art; those slices were of more than paper thinness. It was his peculiar glory and distinction to be able to get more sandwiches out of a ham than any other mere mortal had ever been able to do, and he was proud of it as was Napoleon of the campaign of Austerlitz.

The greater part of the custom of the depot restaurant was derived from “transients;” from passengers, that is, who, unable to afford the extravagance of the diner, are compelled to bolt their food in the five minutes during which their train changes engines, and driven by necessity, must eat here or nowhere. And they usually got a meal of surprising goodness; so good, in fact, that there were and still are many men who willingly plough their way daily through smoke and cinders, and sit on the high, uncomfortable stools before the counter, in order to enjoy regularly the entertainment which the restaurant offers—a striking instance of the triumph of mind over environment.

« 6 »

These, then, are the activities which mark the lower floor of the building; those of the upper floor are much more varied and interesting, for it is there, as has been said, that the division offices are located. A constant stream of men pours up and down the long, steep flight of stairs which leads to them. Conductors and engineers must report there and register before they take out a train and as soon as they bring one in; trainmen of all grades climb the stair to see what orders have been posted on the bulletin-board and to compare their watches with the big, electrically adjusted clock which keeps the official time for the division.

Others ascend unwillingly, with downcast countenances, summoned for a session “on the carpet,” when trainmaster or superintendent is probing some accident, disobedience of orders, or dereliction of duty. Still others, in search of employment, are constantly seeking the same officials, standing nervously before them, cap in hand, and relating, more or less truthfully, the story of their last job and why they left it;—so that the procession up and down the stair never ceases.

The upper floor is not quite so dingy as the lower. It is newer, for one thing, its paint and varnish are fresher, and it is kept cleaner. But it is entirely inadequate to the needs of the business which is done there; for here are the offices of the division engineer, the division passenger and freight agents, the timekeeper, the division superintendent, the « 7 » trainmaster—and dominating them all, the dispatchers’ office, whence come the orders which govern the movements of every train. Near by is a lounging-room for trainmen, where they can loiter and swap yarns, while waiting to be called for duty. It is a popular place, because if one only talks loud enough one can be overheard in the dispatchers’ office across the hall.

So the men gather there and express their opinions of the dispatchers at the top of the voice—opinions, which, however they may differ in minor details, are always the reverse of complimentary. For the dispatchers are the drivers; they crack the whip over the heads of the trainmen by means of terse and peremptory telegraphic orders, which there is no answering, and which no one dares disobey; and the driver, however well-meaning, is seldom popular with the driven.

Such is the station and division headquarters at Wadsworth: unworthy alike as the one and the other. The whole effect of the building is of an indescribable, sordid dinginess; it is a striking example of that type of railroad economy which forbids the expenditure of money for the comfort and convenience of its patrons and employees—a type which, happily, is fast passing away.

On a certain bright spring morning—bright, that is, until one passed beneath the cloud of smoke which hung perpetually above the yards at Wadsworth—a « 8 » boy of about eighteen joined the procession which was toiling up the stair to the division offices, and, after hesitating an instant at the foot, as though to nerve himself for an ordeal which he dreaded, mounted resolutely step after step. As he pushed open the swinging-door at the top, the clamour of half a dozen telegraph instruments greeted his ears. He glanced through the open window of the dispatchers’ office as he passed it, pushed his way through a group of men gathered before the bulletin-board, and, after an instant’s hesitation, turned into an open doorway just beyond.

There were two men in the room, seated on either side of a great desk which stood between the windows looking down over the yards. They glanced up at the sound of his step, and one of them sprang to his feet with a quick exclamation of welcome.

“Why, how are you, Allan!” he cried, holding out his hand. “I’m mighty glad to see you. So you’re ready to report for duty, are you?”

“Yes, sir,” answered the boy, smiling into the genial gray eyes, and returning the warm handclasp, “I’m all right again.”

“You’re a little pale yet, and a little thin,” said the trainmaster, looking him over critically; “but that won’t last long. George,” he added, turning to his companion, “this is Allan West, who saved the pay-car from that gang of wreckers last Christmas Eve.”

« 9 »

“Is it?” and the chief-dispatcher held out his hand and shook the boy’s heartily. “I’m glad to know you. Mr. Schofield has told us the story of that night until we know it by heart. All the boys will be glad to meet you.”

The boy blushed with pleasure.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Allan’s to take a job here as office-boy,” added Mr. Schofield. “When will you be ready to go to work?”

“Right away, sir.”

“That’s good. I was hoping you’d say that, for there’s a lot of work piled up. The other boy was promoted just the other day, and I’ve been holding the place open. That will be your desk there in the corner, and your principal business for the present will be to see that each official here gets promptly the correspondence addressed to him. That basketful of letters yonder has to be sorted out and delivered. In this tray on my desk I put the messages I want delivered at once. Understand?”

“Yes, sir,” answered Allan, and immediately took possession of the pack of envelopes lying in the tray.

He sat down at his desk, with a little glow of pride that it was really his, and sorted the letters. Three were addressed to the master mechanic, three to the company’s freight agent, two to the yardmaster, and five or six more to other officials. As « 10 » soon as he got them sorted, he put on his hat and started to deliver them.

The trainmaster watched him as he left the office, and then smiled across at the chief-dispatcher.

“Bright boy that,” he commented. “Did you notice—he didn’t ask a single question; just went ahead and did as he was told—and he didn’t have to be told twice, either.”

The chief dispatcher nodded.

“Yes,” he said; “he’ll be a valuable boy to have about.”

“He’s already proved his value to this road,” added Mr. Schofield, and turned back to his work.

No one familiar with Allan West’s history will dispute the justice of the remark. It was just a year before that the boy had secured a place on the road as section-hand—a year fraught with adventure, which had culminated in his saving the pay-car, carrying the men’s Christmas money, from falling into the hands of a gang of desperate wreckers. The lives of a dozen men would have been sacrificed had the attempt succeeded. That it did not succeed was due to the ready wit with which the boy had managed to defeat the plan laid by the wreckers, and to the sheer grit which had carried him through a situation of appalling danger. He had barely escaped with his life; he had spent slow weeks recovering from the all-but-fatal bullet-wound he had received there. It was during this period of convalescence, spent at the little cottage « 11 » of Jack Welsh, the foreman under whom he had worked on section, that the trainmaster had come to him with the offer of a position in his office—a position not important in itself, but opening the way to promotion, whenever that promotion should be deserved. Allan had accepted the offer joyfully—how joyfully those who have read the story of his adventures in “The Young Section-Hand” will remember—and at last he was ready to begin his new duties, where yet other adventures awaited him.

« 12 »



With the packet of envelopes in his hand, Allan descended the stair and came out upon the grimy platform. Just across the yards lay the low, dark, brick building which was the freight office, and he made his way toward it over the tangle of tracks and switches, where the freight-trains were being “made up” to be sent east or west. After some inquiry, he found the freight agent gazing ruefully at a barrel of oil which had just been smashed to pieces by a too vigorous freight-handler. Allan gave him the letters addressed to him and hurried away to deliver the others.

Farther down the yards was the office of the yardmaster, a little, square, frame building, standing like an island amid the ocean of tracks which surrounded it. Here was kept the record of every car which entered or left the yards—the road it belonged to, its number, whence it came, whither it went, by what train, at what hour. This dingy little building was one link in that great chain of offices which enables every road in the country to keep track of the cars it is using, to know where « 13 » they are, what progress they are making, and what service they are performing.

Every one who has seen a freight-train has noticed that it is almost always composed of cars belonging to many different roads, and must have wondered how these cars were kept accounted for. Every road would prefer to use only its own cars, and to keep them on its own system, but this is impossible. A car of sugar, for instance, sent from New York to Denver, must pass over at least two different lines. It can go from New York to Chicago over the New York Central, and from Chicago to Denver over the Santa Fé. Now, if the car belonging to the New York Central in which the sugar was loaded at New York be stopped at Chicago, the sugar must be reloaded into another car belonging to the Santa Fé, a long and expensive process to which neither the shipper nor the road would agree.

To avoid this loading and unloading, freight in car-load lots is always sent through to its destination without change, no matter how many roads the car must traverse, and when it reaches its destination and is emptied, it is usually held until it can be loaded again before it is sent back whence it came. When the traffic is not evenly balanced,—when there is more freight, that is, being sent one way than another,—the “empties” must be hauled back, and as “empties” produce no revenue, this is a dead expense which cuts deeply into the « 14 » earnings. The roads which use a car must pay the road which owns it a fee of fifty cents for every day they keep it in their possession, whether loaded or empty; hence the road holding it tries to keep it moving, and when business is slack and it is not needed, gets it back to its owner as quickly as possible. If it is damaged in an accident on a strange road, it must be repaired before it is returned to its owner; if it is totally destroyed, it must be paid for.

It is the duty of the conductor of every freight-train, as soon as he reaches a terminal, to mail to the superintendent of car service at headquarters, a report giving the initial and number of every car in his train, its contents, destination, and the hour of its departure from one terminal and arrival at another. These reports, as they come in from day to day, are entered in ledgers and enable the superintendent of car service to note the progress of every car, and to determine the per diem due its owner. These accounts are balanced every month.

The books at headquarters are always, of necessity, at least three days behind, since the conductors’ reports must come in from distant parts of the road; but reports so old as that are of small service in tracing a car, so it is the duty of the employees of the yardmaster’s office to keep a daily record of the movement of cars, which shall be up-to-date and instantly available. Every train which enters « 15 » the yards is met by a yard-clerk, book in hand, who makes a note of the number and name of every car as it passes him. The men who do this gain an amazing facility, and as the cars rush past, jot down numbers and initials as unconcernedly as though they had all the time in the world at their disposal. Allan had observed this more than once, and had often wondered how it was possible for a man to write down accurately the number of a car which had flashed past so rapidly that he himself was not able to distinguish it.

There was a train coming in at the moment, and Allan paused to watch the accountant with his note-book; then he went on to the office to leave the two letters addressed to John Marney, the yardmaster, a genial Irishman with bronzed face and beard tinged with gray, who knew the yards and the intricacies of “making up” better than most people know the alphabet. Allan knew him well, for many an evening had he spent in the little shanty, where conductors and brakemen assembled, listening to tales of the road—tales grave and gay, of comedy and tragedy—yes, even of ghosts! If I stopped to tell a tenth of them, this book would never be. finished!

“How are ye, Allan?” the yardmaster greeted him, as he opened the door. “So ye’ve got a new job?”

“Yes, sir; official mail-carrier,” and he handed him the letters.

« 16 »

“Hum,” grunted Marney; “this road never was over-liberal. You’re beginnin’ at th’ bottom, fer sure!”

“Just where I ought to begin! I’ve got to learn the ropes before I can begin to climb.”

“Well, it won’t take ye long, my boy; I know that,” said Marney, his eyes twinkling. “You’ll soon begin t’ climb, all right; they can’t kape ye down!”

“I fully expect to be superintendent some day,” said Allan, laughing.

“Of course ye will!” cried the other. “I don’t doubt it—not fer a minute. Yes—an’ I’ll live t’ see it! I’ll be right here where I’ve allers been; an ye mustn’t fergit old Jack Marney, me boy.”

“I won’t,” Allan promised, still laughing. “I’ll always speak to you, if I happen to think of it.”

“Let me give you one piece of advice,” went on Marney, with sudden earnestness. "You’ll be knockin around these yards more or less now, all th’ time, an’ if ye want t’ live t’ be suprintindint, you’ve got t’ kape your eyes open. Now moind this: when you’re crossin’ th’ yards, niver think of anything but gittin’ acrost; niver step on a track without lookin’ both ways t’ see if anything’s comin; an’ if anything is comin’ an’ you’re at all doubtful of bein’ able t’ git acrost ahead of it at an ordinary walk, don’t try. Give it th’ right o’ way. I’ve been workin’ in these yards goin’ on forty year, an’ I’ve managed t’ kape all my arms « 17 » an’ legs with me by allers rememberin’ that rule. Th’ boys used t’ laugh at me, but them that started in when I did are ayther sleepin’ in th’ cimitery, or limpin’ around on one leg, or eatin’ with one hand. A railroad yard is about th’ nearest approach to a human slaughter-house there is on this earth. Don’t you be one o’ th’ victims."

“I’ll certainly try not to,” Allan assured him, and went out with a livelier sense of the dangers of the yard than he had ever had before; and, indeed, the yardmaster had not overstated them, though the crushing and maiming and killing which went on there were due in no small degree to the carelessness and foolhardiness of the men, who grew familiar with danger and contemptuous of it from looking it every day in the face, and took chances which sooner or later ended in disaster.

The person Allan had next to find was the master-mechanic, whose office was a square, one-storied building behind the great shops which closed in the lower end of the yards. He knew the shops thoroughly, for he had been through them more than once under Jack Welsh’s guidance, and had spent many of his spare moments there, for there was a tremendous fascination about the intricate and mammoth machinery which filled them, almost human in its intelligence, and with which so many remarkable things were accomplished.

So on he went, past the great roundhouse where « 18 » stood the mighty engines groomed ready for the race, or being rubbed down by the grimed and sweaty hostlers after a hundred-mile run; past the little shanty with “21” in big figures on its door—headquarters of Section Twenty-One, and receptacle for hand-car and tools,—the hand-car which he had pumped along the track so many times, the tools with which his hands had grown familiar. The door of the “long-shop” lay just beyond, and he entered it, for the shortest path to the master-mechanic’s office lay through the shops; and Allan knew that he would probably find the official he was seeking somewhere among them, inspecting some piece of machinery, or overseeing some important bit of work.

The “long-shop,” so named from its peculiar shape, very long and narrow, is devoted wholly to repairing and rebuilding engines. Such small complaints as leaking valves and broken springs and castings may be repaired in the roundhouse, as the family medicine-chest avails for minor ailments; but for more serious injuries the engines must be taken to the experts in the long shop, and placed on one of the operating-tables there, and taken apart and put together and made fit for service again. When the injuries are too severe—when, in other words, it would cost more to rebuild the engine than the engine is worth—it is shoved along a rusty track back of the shop into the cemetery called the “bone-yard,” and there eventually dismantled, « 19 » knocked to pieces, and sold for “scrap.” That is the sordid fate, which, sooner or later, overtakes the proudest and swiftest empress of the rail.

In the long-shop, four or five engines are always jacked up undergoing repairs; each of them has a special gang of men attached to it, under a foreman whose sole business it is to see that that engine gets back into active service in the shortest possible time.

To the inexperienced eye, the shop was a perfect maze of machinery. Great cranes ran overhead, with chains and claws dangling; shafting whirred and belts rattled; along the walls were workbenches, variously equipped; at the farther end were a number of drills, and beyond them a great grindstone which whirred and whirred and threw out a shower of sparks incessantly, under the guidance of its presiding genius, a little, gray-haired man, whose duty it was to sharpen all the tools brought to him. There was a constant stream of men to and from the grindstone, which, in consequence, was a sort of centre for all the gossip of the shops. Once the grindstone had burst, and had carried the little man with it through the side of the shop, riding a great fragment much as Prince Feroze-shah rode his enchanted horse; and though there was no peg which he could turn to assure a safe landing, he did land safely, and next day superintended the installation of a new stone, from which the sparks were soon flying as merrily as ever.

« 20 »

And even if the visitor was not confused by this tangle of machinery, he was sure to be confounded by the noise, toward which every man in the shop contributed his quota. The noise!—it is difficult to give an adequate idea of that merciless and never-ceasing din. Chains clanked, drills squeaked, but over and above it all was the banging and hammering of the riveters, and, as a sort of undertone, the clangour from the boiler-shop, connected with the long-shop by an open arch. The work of the riveters never paused nor slackened, and the onlooker was struck with wonder and amazement that a human being could endure ten hours of such labour!

Allan, closing behind him the little door by which he had entered, looked around for the tall form of the master-mechanic. But that official was nowhere in sight, so the boy walked slowly on, glancing to right and left between the engines, anxious not to miss him. At last, near the farthest engine, he thought that he perceived him, and drew near. As he did so, he saw that an important operation was going forward. A boiler was being lowered to its place on its frame. A gang of men were guiding it into position, as the overhead crane slowly lowered it, manipulated by a lever in the hands of a young fellow whose eyes were glued upon the signalling hand which the foreman raised to him.

“Easy!” the foreman shouted, his voice all but inaudible in the din. “Easy!” and the boiler was lowered so slowly that its movement was scarcely perceptible.


« 21 »

There was a pause, a quick intaking of breath, a straining of muscles—

“Now!” yelled the foreman, and with a quick movement the young fellow threw over the lever and let the boiler drop gently, exactly in place.

The men drew a deep breath of relief, and stood erect, hands on hips, straightening the strained muscles of their backs.

There was something marvellous in the ease and certainty with which the crane had handled the great weight, responsive to the pressure of a finger, and Allan ran his eyes admiringly along the heavy chains, up to the massive and perfectly balanced arm—

Then his heart gave a sudden leap of terror. He sprang forward toward the young fellow who stood leaning against the lever.

“Look out!” he cried, and seizing him by the arm, dragged him sharply backwards.

The next instant there was a resounding crash, which echoed above the din of the shop like a cannon-shot above the rattle of musketry, and a great block smashed the standing-board beside the lever to pieces.

« 22 »



The crash was followed by an instant’s silence, as every man dropped his work and stood with strained attention to see what had happened; then the young fellow whose arm Allan still held turned toward him with a quick gesture.

“Why,” he cried, “you—you saved my life!”

“Yes,” said Allan; “I saw the block coming. It was lucky I happened to be looking at it.”

“Lucky!” echoed the other, visibly shaken by his narrow escape, and he glanced at the splintered board where he had been standing. “I should say so! Imagine what I’d have looked like about this time, if you hadn’t dragged me out of the way!”

The other men rushed up, stared, exclaimed, and began to devise explanations of how the accident had occurred. No one could tell certainly, but it was pretty generally agreed that the sudden rebound from the strain, as the boiler fell into place, had in some way loosened the block, thrown it away from its tackle, and hurled it to the floor below.

But neither Allan nor his companion paid much attention to these explanations. For the moment, « 23 » they were more interested in each other than in anything else. A sudden comradeship, born in the first glance they exchanged, had arisen between them; a mutual feeling that they would like to know each other—a prevision of friendship.

“My name is Anderson,” the boy was saying, his hand outstretched; “my first name is James—but my friends call me Jim.”

“And my name is Allan West,” responded Allan, clasping the proffered hand in a warm grip.

“Oho!” cried Jim, with a start of surprise, “so you’re Allan West! Well, I’ve always wanted to know you, but I never thought you’d introduce yourself like this!”

“Always wanted to know me?” repeated Allan in bewilderment. “How could that be?”

“Hero-worship, my boy!” explained Jim, grinning at Allan’s blush. “Do you suppose there’s a man on this road who hasn’t heard of your exploits? And to hero-worship there is now added a lively sense of gratitude, since you arrived just in time to save me from being converted into a grease-spot. But there—the rest will keep for another time. Where do you live?”

“At Jack Welsh’s house,” answered Allan; “just back of the yards yonder.”

“All right, my friend,” said Jim. “I’ll take the liberty of paying you a call before very long. I only hope you’ll be at home.”

“I surely will, if you’ll let me know when to « 24 » look for you,” answered Allan, heartily. “But I’ve got some letters here for the master-mechanic—I mustn’t waste any more time.”

“Well!” said Jim, smiling, “I don’t think you’ve been exactly wasting your time—though of course there might be a difference of opinion about that. But there he comes now,” and he nodded toward the tall figure of the master-mechanic, who had heard of the accident and was hastening to investigate it.

Allan handed him his letters, which he thrust absently into his pocket, as he listened with bent head to the foreman’s account of the mishap. Allan did not wait to hear it, but, conscious that the errand was taking longer than it should, hurried on to deliver the other letters. This was accomplished in a very few minutes, and he was soon back again at his desk in the trainmaster’s office.

He spent the next half-hour in sorting the mail which had accumulated there. The trainmaster was busy dictating letters to his stenographer, wading through the mass of correspondence before him with a rapidity born of long experience. Allan never ceased to be astonished at the vast quantity of mail which poured in and out of the office—letters upon every conceivable subject connected with the operation of the road—reports of all sorts, inquiries, complaints, requisitions—all of which had to be carefully attended to if the business of the road was to move smoothly.

« 25 »

There was no end to it. Every train brought a big batch of correspondence, which it was his duty to receive, delivering at the same time to the baggage-master other packets addressed to employees at various points along the road. The road took care of its own mail in this manner, without asking the aid of Uncle Sam, and so escaped a charge for postage which would have made a serious hole in the earnings.

As soon as he had received the mail, Allan would hasten up-stairs to his desk to sort it. Always about him, echoing through the office, rose the clatter of the telegraph instruments. The trainmaster had one at his elbow, the chief-dispatcher another, and in the dispatchers’ office next door three or four more were constantly chattering. It reminded Allan of nothing so much as a chorus of blackbirds.

Often Mr. Schofield would pause in the midst of dictating a letter, open his key and engage in conversation with some one out on the line. And Allan realized that, after all, the pile of letters, huge as it was, represented only a small portion of the road’s business—that by far the greater part of it was transacted by wire. And he determined to master the secrets of telegraphy at the earliest possible moment. It was plainly to be seen that that way, and that way only, lay promotion.

He was still pondering this idea when, the day’s work over, he left the office and made his way toward the little house perched high on an embankment « 26 » back of the yards, where he had lived ever since he had come to Wadsworth, a year before, in search of work. Big-hearted Jack Welsh had not only given him work, but had offered him a home—and a real home the boy found it. He had grown as dear to Mary Welsh’s heart as was her own little girl, Mamie, who had just attained the proud age of seven and was starting to school.

Allan found her now, waiting for him at the gate, and she escorted him proudly up the path and into the house.

“Well, an’ how d’ you like your new job?” Mary asked, as they sat down to supper.

“First rate,” Allan answered, and described in detail how he had spent the day.

Mary sniffed contemptuously when he had finished.

“I don’t call that sech a foine job,” she said. “Why, anybody could do that! A boy loike you deserves somethin’ better! An’ after what ye did fer th’ road, too!”

“But don’t you see,” Allan protested, “it isn’t so much the job itself, as the chance it gives me. I’m at the bottom of the ladder, it’s true, just as John Marney said; but there is a ladder, and a tall one, and if I stay at the bottom it’s my own fault.”

Jack nodded from across the table.

“Right you are,” he agreed. “And you’ll git ahead, never fear!”

“I’m going to try,” said Allan, and as soon as « 27 » supper was over, he left the house and hastened uptown to the Public Library, where he asked for a book on telegraphy. He was just leaving the building with the coveted volume under his arm, when somebody clapped him on the shoulder, and he turned to find Jim Anderson at his side.

“I say,” cried the latter, “this is luck! Where you going?”

“I was just starting for home,” said Allan.

“I’ll go with you,” said Jim, promptly wheeling into step beside him and locking arms. “That is, if you don’t mind.”

“Mind!” cried Allan. “You know I’m glad to have you.”

“All right then,” said Jim, laughing. “That’s a great load off my mind. What’s that book you’re hugging so lovingly?”

“It’s a book on telegraphy,” and Allan showed him the title.

“Going to study it?”

“Yes; it didn’t take me long to find out that to amount to anything in the offices, one has to understand what all that chatter is about.”

“Right you are,” assented Jim, “but you’ll find it mighty hard work learning it from a book. It’ll be a good deal like learning to eat without any food to practise on. Have you got an instrument?”

“No. But of course I’ll get one.”

“Look here!” cried Jim, excitedly, struck by a sudden idea; "I have it! My brother Bob has « 28 » two instruments stored away in the attic, batteries and everything. He’s the operator at Belpre now, and hasn’t any more use for them than a dog has for two tails. He’ll be glad to let us have them—glad to know that his lazy brother’s improving his spare time. Why can’t we rig up a line from your house to mine, and learn together? I’m pretty sure I can get some old wire down at the shops for almost nothing."

“That’s a great idea,” said Allan, admiringly; “if we can only carry it out. Where do you live? Is it very far?”

“Well, it’s quite a way; but I think we can manage it,” said Jim. “Suppose we look over the ground.”

“All right; only wait till I take this book home; I live just over yonder,” and a moment later they were at the gate. “Won’t you come in?”

“No, not this time; it’ll soon be dark and we’ll have to step out pretty lively.”

“I won’t be but a minute,” said Allan; and he wasn’t.

The two started up through the yards together, arm in arm. Jim’s house was, as he had said, “quite a way;” in fact, it was nearly a mile away, straight out the railroad-track. The house was a large brick, which stood very near the track, so near, indeed, that one corner had been cut away to permit the railroad to get by. The house had been built there nearly a century before by some wealthy « 29 » farmer who had never heard of a railroad, and never dreamed that his property would one day be wanted for a right of way. But the day came when the railroad’s surveyors ran their line of stakes out from the town, along the river-bank, and up to the very door of the house itself. Condemnation proceedings were begun, the railroad secured the strip of land it wanted, and tore down the corner of the house which stood upon it. Whereupon the owner had walled up the opening and rented what remained of the building to such families as had nerves strong enough to ignore the roar and rumble of the trains, passing so near that they seemed hurling themselves through the very house itself.

Allan knew it well. He had passed it many and many a time while he was working on section. Indeed, it was this old house, when he learned its history, which made him realize for the first time, how young, how very modern the railroad was. Looking at it—at its massive track, its enduring roadway carried on great fills and mighty bridges—it seemed as old, as venerable, as the rugged hills which frowned down upon the valley; it seemed that it must have been there from the dawn of time, that it was the product of a force greater than any now known to man. And yet, really, it had been in existence scarce half a century. Many men were living who had seen the first rail laid, who had welcomed the arrival of the first train, and who still recalled with mellow and tender memory « 30 » the days of the stage-coach—a mode of travel which, seen through the prism of the years, quite eclipsed this new fashion in romance, in comfort, and in good-fellowship.

This leviathan of steel and oak had grown like the beanstalk of Jack the Giant-killer—had spread and spread with incredible rapidity, until it reached, not from earth to heaven, but from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the Lakes to the Gulf. It had brought San Francisco as near Boston as was Philadelphia in the days of the post rider. The four days’ stage journey from New York to Boston it covered in four hours. It had bound together into a concrete whole a country so vast that it equals in area the whole of Europe. And all this in little more than fifty years! Verily, there are modern labours of Hercules beside which the ancient ones seem mere child’s play!

“It’s a long stretch,” said Allan, looking back, through the gathering darkness, along the way that they had come. “It must be nearly a mile from here to the station.”

“Just about,” agreed Jim. “But I know Tom Mickey, the head lineman, pretty well, and I believe that I can get him to let us string our wire on the company’s poles. You see there’s three or four empty places on the cross-bars.”

“Oh, if we can do that,” said Allan, “it will be easy enough. Do you suppose he will let us?”

“I’m sure he will,” asserted Jim, with a good « 31 » deal more positiveness than he really felt. “I’ll see Mickey in the morning—I’ll start early so I’ll have time before the whistle blows.”

“It seems to me that you’re doing it all, and that I’m not doing anything,” said Allan. “You must let me furnish the wire, anyway.”

“We’ll see about it,” said Jim. “Won’t you come in and see my mother?” he added, a little shyly.

“It’s pretty late,” said Allan. “Do you think I’d better?”

“Yes,” Jim replied. “She—she asked me to bring you, the first chance I had.”

“What for?” asked Allan, looking at him in surprise.

“No matter,” said Jim. “Come on,” and he opened the door and led him into the house.

They crossed a hall, and beside a table in the room beyond, Allan saw a woman seated. She was bending over some sewing in her lap, but she looked up at the sound of their entrance, and as the beams of the lamp fell upon her face, Allan saw how it lighted with love and happiness. And his heart gave a sudden throb of misery, for it was with that selfsame light in her eyes that his mother had welcomed him in the old days.

“Mother,” Jim was saying, “this is Allan West.”

She rose with a little cry of pleasure, letting her « 32 » sewing fall unheeded to the floor, and held out her hands to him.

“So this is Allan West!” she said, in a voice soft and sweet and gentle. “This is the boy who saved my boy’s life!”

“It was nothing,” stammered Allan, turning crimson. “You see, I just happened to be there—”

“Nothing! I wonder if your mother would think it nothing if some one had saved you for her!”

A sudden mist came before Allan’s eyes; his lips trembled. And the woman before him, looking at him with loving, searching eyes, understood.

“Dear boy!” she said, and Allan found himself clasped close against her heart.

« 33 »



Tom Mickey, chief lineman of the Ohio division of the P. & O., was, like most other human beings, subject to fluctuations of temper; only, with Tom, the extremes were much farther apart than usual. This was due, perhaps, to his mixed ancestry, for his father, a volatile Irishman, had married a phlegmatic German woman, proprietress of a railroad boarding-house, where Mickey found a safe and comfortable haven, with no more arduous work to do than to throw out occasionally some objectionable customer—and Mickey never considered that as work, but as recreation pure and simple. It was into this haven that Tom was born; there he grew up, alternating between the chronic high spirits of his father and the chronic low ones of his mother, and being, on the whole, healthy and well-fed and contented.

He had entered the service of the road while yet a mere boy, preferring to go to work rather than to school, which was the only alternative offered him; and he soon became an expert lineman, running « 34 » up and down the poles as agile as a monkey and dancing out along the wires in a way that earned him more than one thrashing from his boss. Advancing years had tempered this foolhardiness, but had only served to accentuate the eccentric side of his character. He would be, one day, buoyant as a lark and obliging to an almost preposterous degree, and the next day, ready to snap off the head of anybody who addressed him, and barely civil to his superior officers.

These vagaries got him into hot water sometimes; and more than once he was “on the carpet” before the superintendent; but the greatest punishment ever meted out to him was a short vacation without pay. The road really could not afford to do without him, for Tom Mickey was the best lineman in the middle west. The tangle of wires which were an integral part of the system was to him an open book, to be read at a glance. Was any wire in trouble, he would mount his tricycle, a sort of miniature hand-car, spin out along the track, and in a surprisingly short time the trouble was remedied and the wire in working order. Tom was a jewel—in the rough, it is true, and not without a flaw—but a jewel just the same.

Luckily he was in one of his buoyant moods when Jim Anderson approached him on the morning following his conversation with Allan. Perhaps it is only right to say that this was not wholly luck, for Jim had reconnoitred thoroughly beforehand, « 35 » and had not ventured to approach the lineman until assured by one of his helpers that he was in a genial humour.

Mickey was just loading up his tricycle with wire and insulators, preparatory to a trip out along the line, when Jim accosted him.

“Mr. Mickey,” he began, “another fellow named Allan West and myself want to rig up a little telegraph line from my house, out near the two bridges, to his, just back of the yards here, and we were wondering if you would let us string our wire on the company’s poles. There seem to be some vacant places, and of course we’d be mighty careful not to interfere with the other wires.”

He stopped, eying Mickey anxiously, but that worthy went on with his work as though he had not heard. He was puffing vigorously at a short clay pipe, and with a certain viciousness that made Jim wonder if he had approached him at the wrong moment, after all.

“What ’d ye say th’ other kid’s name is?” Mickey asked, after what seemed an age to the waiting boy.

“Allan West.”

“Is that th’ kid that Jack Welsh took t’ raise?”

“Yes; he lives with the Welshes. He worked in Welsh’s section-gang last year—took Dan Nolan’s place, you know.”

“Yes—I moind,” said Mickey, and went on smoking.

« 36 »

“How does it happen,” he demanded at last, “that he wants t’ learn t’ be a operator?”

“He’s got a job in th’ trainmaster’s office,” Jim explained. “He wants to learn the business.”

Mickey nodded, and knocking out his pipe against his boot-heel, deliberately filled it again, lighted it, and turned back to his work. Finally the tricycle was loaded and he pushed it out on the main line, ready for his trip. Jim followed him anxiously. He watched Mickey take his seat on the queer-looking machine, spit on his hands and grasp the lever; then he turned away disappointed. That line was not going to be possible, after all.

“Wait a minute,” called Mickey. “What th’ blazes are ye in such a hurry about? Do ye see that wire up there—th’ outside wire on th’ lowest cross-arm?”

“Yes,” nodded Jim, following the direction of the pointed finger.

“Well, that’s a dead one. We don’t use it no more, an’ I’m a-goin’ t’ take it down afore long. Ye kin use it, if ye want to, till then—mebbe it’ll be a month ’r two afore I git around to it.”

“Oh, thank you, Mr. Mickey,” cried Jim, his face beaming. “That will be fine. We’re a thousand times obliged—”

But the lineman cut him short with a curt nod, bent to the lever, and rattled away over the switches, out of the yards.

Jim hurried on to his place in the long-shop, getting « 37 » there just as the whistle blew, and went about his accustomed work, but he kept an eye out for Allan, who, he knew, would be coming through before long in search of the master-mechanic. Allan, you may be sure, did not neglect the chance to say good-morning to his new friend, and listened with sparkling eyes while Jim poured out the story of his success with Mickey.

“And now,” he concluded, “all we’ll have to do is to run a wire into our house from the pole just in front of it, and then run another across the yards here to your house. We can do it in a couple of evenings.”

“And we’ll have it for a month, anyway,” added Allan.

“A month! We’ll have it as long as we want it. That was just Mickey’s way. He didn’t want to seem to be too tender-hearted. He’ll never touch the wire as long as we’re using it. I’ll get some old wire to make the connections with, and fix up the batteries.”

“All right,” agreed Allan, and went on his way.

The work of stringing the wires was begun that very evening; the batteries were overhauled and filled with dilute sulphuric acid, and the keys and sounders were tested and found to be in good shape. Three evenings later, one of the instruments was clicking on the table in Allan’s room, and Jim was bending over the other one in his room a mile away. « 38 » Only, alas, the clicks were wild and irregular and without meaning.

But that did not last long. The book on telegraphy helped them; Allan himself, in the dispatchers’ office, had ample opportunity to observe how the system worked, and each of the boys copied out the Morse alphabet and set himself to learn it, practising on his key at every spare moment.

They found that telegraphic messages are transmitted by the use of three independent characters: short signals, or dots; long signals, or dashes; and dividing intervals or spaces between adjacent signals. Thus, a dot followed by a dash represents the letter a; a dash followed by three dots represents the letter b, while two dots, space, dot, represents the letter c, and so through the alphabet, which, according to the Morse code, is written like this: a, .-; b, -...; c, .. .; d, -..; e, .; and so on. Longer spaces or pauses divide the words, and longer dashes are also used in representing some of the letters.

The dots and dashes are made by means of a key which opens and closes the electric circuit, and causes the sounders of all the other instruments connected with the wire to vibrate responsively. When an operator desires to send the letter a, he depresses his key for a short interval, then releases it, and, after an interval equally brief, depresses it again, holding it down three times as long before releasing it. All the other sounders repeat this dot « 39 » and dash, and the listening operators recognize the letter a. Every word must be spelled out in this manner, letter by letter.

As may well be believed, the boys found the sending and receiving of even the shortest words difficult and painful enough at first, but in a surprisingly short time certain combinations of sounds began to stand out, as it were, among their surroundings. The two combinations which first became familiar were - .... . and .- -. -.., representing respectively “the” and “and.” Following this, came the curious combination of sounds, ..—.., which represents the period, one of the most difficult the learner has to master. Other combinations followed, until most of the shorter words began to assume the same individuality when heard over the wire that they have when seen by the eye. It was no longer necessary to listen to them letter by letter; the ear grasped them as a whole, just as the eye grasps the written word without separating it into the letters which compose it.

But even then, Allan still found the clicking of the instruments in the office an unsolvable riddle. This was due largely to the system of abbreviation which railroad operators use, a sort of telegraphic shorthand incomprehensible to the ordinary operator; but the sending was in most cases so rapid that even if the words had been spelled out in full the boy would have had great difficulty in following them. Train-dispatchers, it may be said in passing, « 40 » have no time to waste; their messages are terse and to the point, and are sent like a flash. And woe to the operator who has to break in with the . .. . .. which means “repeat!” The dispatchers themselves, of course, are capable of taking the hottest ball or the wildest that ever came over the wires. Indeed, most of them can and do work the key with one hand while they eat their lunch with the other; and the call or signal for his office will instantly awaken him from a sleep which a cannon-shot would not disturb. Telegraphy, in a word, develops a sort of sixth sense, and the experienced operator receives or sends a message as readily as he talks or reads or writes. It is second nature.

It was about this time that one of the old dispatchers resigned to seek his fortune in the West, and a new one made his début in a manner that Allan did not soon forget. He was a slender young fellow, with curly blond hair, and he came on duty at three o’clock in the afternoon, just when the rush of business is heaviest. The induction of a new dispatcher is something of a ceremony, for the welfare of the road rests in his hands for eight hours of every day, and everybody about the offices is always anxious to see just what stuff the newcomer is made of. So on this occasion, most of the division officials managed to have some business in the dispatchers’ office at the moment the new man came on.

He glanced over the train-sheet, while the man « 41 » he was relieving explained to him briefly the position of trains and what orders were outstanding. His sounder began to click an instant later, and he leaned over, opened his key, and gave the signal, .. .., which showed that he was ready to receive the message. Then, as the message started in a sputter which evidenced the excited haste of the man who was sending it, he turned away, took off his coat, and hung it up, deliberately removed his cuffs, and lighted a cigar. Then he sat down at his desk, and picked up a pen. Something very like a sigh of relief ran around the office. But the pen did not suit him. He tried it, made a wry face, and looked inquiringly at the other dispatcher.

“The pens are over yonder in that drawer,” said that worthy, with assumed indifference, and went on sending a message he had just started.

The newcomer arose, went to the drawer, opened it, and selected a pen with leisurely care. Allan watched him, his heart in his mouth. He could see that the chief-dispatcher was frowning and that the trainmaster looked very stern. He knew that neither of these officials would tolerate any “fooling,” when the welfare of the road was in question. But at last the newcomer was in his seat again. He reached forward and opened his key, and every one waited for the . .. . .., which would ask that the message, a long and involved one, be repeated. But instead, a curt “Cut it short,” flew over the line, followed by an order so terse, so admirable, so « 42 » clean-cut, that the trainmaster turned away with a sudden relaxation of countenance.

“He’ll do,” he murmured, as he got out a match and lighted his forgotten cigar. “He’ll do.”

And, indeed, at a later day, Allan saw the same dispatcher receive and answer two messages simultaneously. But these were merely the trimmings of the profession. They savoured of sleight of hand, and had little to do with the real business of train-dispatching.

So Allan did not despair. Every evening, he and Jim laboured at their keys. First, Allan would send an item, perhaps, from the evening paper, and Jim would receive it. Then he would send it back, and Allan would write it out, as his sounder clicked along, and compare his copy with the original, to detect any errors. At first, errors were the rule; but as time went on, they became more and more infrequent; and at the end of two months, both the boys had acquired a very fair facility in sending and receiving. Indeed, one evening, after an unusually satisfactory bout, Jim was moved to a little self-approval.

“I think we’re both pretty good,” he clicked out. “Let’s apply for a job as operator.”

“Not yet,” Allan answered. “This line hasn’t done all it can for us yet.”

Nor for the road, he might have added, could he have foreseen the events of the next twenty-four hours.

« 43 »



The snow was falling steadily, a late spring snow, but as heavy as any of the winter. It had started in the early morning as sleet, which clung to everything it touched with a vise-like grip. Then, the wind veering to the north had turned the sleet to snow, soggy, tenacious, and swirling fast and faster, until now, as night closed in, nearly six inches had fallen.

It was a bad night for railroading, and the instruments in the office clicked incessantly as the dispatchers laboured, with tense faces, to keep their trains straight. The wires were working badly under the burden of snow and sleet; some were crossed, some were down, and the instruments slurred the dots and dashes which rattled over them in a way that brought a line of worry between the eyes of the men upon whom rested so great a responsibility.

As for the less experienced operators along the line, they were—to use the expressive phrase usually applied to them—“up in the air.” They « 44 » knew that a single mistake might cost the lives of a score of people, and yet how were mistakes to be avoided when the instruments, instead of their usual clear-cut enunciation, stuttered and stammered and chattered meaninglessly. It was one of those crises which grow worse with each passing moment; when nerves, strained to snapping, finally give way; when brains, aching with anxiety, suddenly refuse to work; when, in a word, there is a break in the system to which even the smallest cog is necessary.

So it was that the trainmaster, having swallowed his supper hastily, had hurried back to the office, and stood now peering out into the night, chewing nervously the end of a cigar which he had forgotten to light, and listening to the instruments clattering wildly on the tables behind him. Although there were two of them, and their clatter never ceased, he followed without difficulty the story which each was telling, for he had risen to his present position after long years at the key.

Allan West had also hurried back to the office as soon as he had eaten his supper. It seemed to him that disaster was in the air; besides, he might be needed to carry a message, or for some other service, and he wanted to be on hand. It had been a hard day, for he had toiled back and forth across the slippery yards a score of times, but he forgot his fatigue as he sat there and listened to the crazy instruments and realized the tremendous odds against which the dispatchers were fighting.

« 45 »

For the trains must be moved, and as nearly on time as human effort could do it. There is no stopping a railroad because of unfavourable weather. The movement of trains ceases only when an accident breaks the road in two or wreckage blocks the track, and then only until arrangements can be made to détour them past the place where the accident has occurred. When this cannot be done, a train is run to the spot from either side, and passengers, mail, and baggage transferred.

And then the passengers get a fleeting and soon-forgotten glimpse of how the road is struggling to set things right again. For as they hurry past the place, they see a gang of men—a hundred, perhaps—toiling like the veriest galley-slaves to repair the damage; they see a huge derrick grappling with wrecked cars and engines and swinging them out of the way; they see locomotives puffing and hauling, and in command of it all, two or three haggard and dirt-begrimed men whom no one would recognize as the well-dressed and well-groomed gentlemen who fill the positions of superintendent, trainmaster, and superintendent of maintenance of way. All this the passengers pause a moment to contemplate, as one looks at a play at the theatre; then they hasten on and forget all about it. As for the labourers, they do not even raise their heads. It is no play for them, but deadly earnest. They have been toiling in just that fashion « 46 » for hours and hours; they will keep doggedly at it until the road is open.

To-night a dozen passengers in the luxuriantly appointed Pullmans of the east-bound flyer were fuming and fretting because their train was ten minutes late. They complained to the conductor; they expressed their opinion of the road at length and in terms the most uncomplimentary. They vowed one and all that never again would they travel by this route. Not that the delay really made any difference to any of them; but average human nature seems to be so constituted that it is most deeply annoyed by trifles. And the conductor reassured them, talked confidently of making up the lost time, did his best to keep them cheerful and contented, joked and laughed and seemed to be thinking about anything rather than the storm which swirled and howled outside. Only for an instant, as he passed from one coach to another, and found himself alone, did the careless smile leave his lips. His face lined with anxiety as he glanced out through the door of the vestibule at the driving snow, and he shook his head. Then he resumed his jaunty air and passed on into the next coach.

Every profession has its ethics—some citadel, some point of honour, which must be defended to the death. The physician may not refuse a call for aid, may not hesitate to risk his own life in the work of saving others—that is the implied agreement he makes with humanity when he accepts his « 47 » diploma. The captain may not leave his ship until the last passenger has done so; his life is negligible and worthless in comparison with that of any passenger on board; if his passengers cannot be saved, he must go down with them; to think of his own life at such a time is to confess himself a coward and a traitor to a noble calling. The conductor of a passenger-train occupies much the same position. He is responsible for his train and his passengers; never must he seem worried, or admit that there is any danger; he must front death with a smile on his lips, and when the crash comes, his first duty is to the men and women entrusted to his charge. And what a glorious commentary it is on human nature that so few, brought face to face with that duty, seek to evade it!

Back in the dispatchers’ office, the situation grew worse and worse. The dispatcher in charge of the east end had lost a freight-train. He supposed that it was somewhere between two stations, but it was long overdue, and the conviction began to be forced upon him that it had somehow got past a station unnoticed and unreported, in the snow and storm. The operator swore it hadn’t; swore that he had not slept a second; swore that he had kept a sharp lookout for the train, and hazarded the opinion that it had run off the track somewhere. The dispatcher retorted that when he wanted his opinion he would ask for it; and in the meantime that section « 48 » of track was closed until the missing train could be found.

A missing train! The words send a shiver through the bravest. Somewhere, out yonder in the storm, it is careening along the rails; its crew is confident that its passage has been noted by the operator at the last station, and that the dispatcher will keep clear the track ahead. They do not suspect their peril; they do not know that another train may be speeding toward them, and that, in a few minutes, there will be a roar, a crash, the shriek of escaping steam, and then the cruel tongues of flame licking around the wrecked cars. So the fireman bends to his task, the engineer stares absently out into the night, his hand on the throttle, the front brakeman dozes upon the fireman’s box, and back in the caboose, the conductor and hind-end brakeman engage in a social game of seven-up—

In safety, this time; for the dispatcher is one who knows his business and takes no chances. Proceeding on the theory that the train has got past, he keeps the track clear and holds up the road’s traffic until the missing train can be found. Which, of course, is as soon as it reaches the next station—for on that end of the road, every operator, knowing what is wrong, has his eyes wide open. A mighty sigh of relief goes up as it is reported; traffic starts again with a rush. And the next day, « 49 » the operator who swore so positively that the train had not got past was hunting another job.

The dispatcher in charge of the west end was doing his best to keep the track clear for Number Two, the east-bound flyer, the premier train of the road, with right of way over everything; but there was no telling what any train would do on such a night, and the flyer had already been held ten minutes at Vienna because a freight-train had stuck on the hill east of there and had to double over. The dispatcher set his teeth and vowed that there should be no more delay if he had to hold every other train on the division until the flyer passed. But freight conductors have a persuasive way with them, and when Lew Johnson reported from Lyndon at 8.40 that his train was made up, engine steaming finely, and that he could make Wadsworth easily in half an hour, the dispatcher yielded and told him to come ahead.

But Johnson had exaggerated a little, for his wife was sick and he was anxious to get home to her; the engine was not steaming so well, after all, the flues got to leaking, and when the train finally coasted down the grade into the yards at Wadsworth, the flyer was only ten minutes behind. Still, a miss is as good as a mile, and the dispatcher heaved a sigh of relief, as he looked out from the window and saw the freight pull into the yards. He stood staring a moment longer, then sprang to his key and began calling Musselman.

« 50 »

The trainmaster swung around sharply.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“An extra west has just pulled out of the yards,” gasped the dispatcher. “It had orders to start as soon as Number Two pulled in. The engineer must have thought that freight was the flyer,” and he kept on calling Musselman.

In a moment came the tick-tick, tick-tick, which told that the operator at Musselman had heard the call.

“Flag Number Two!” commanded the dispatcher, “and hold till arrival extra west.”

There was an instant’s suspense; then the reply came ticking slowly in:

“Number Two just passed. Was just going to report her.”

The dispatcher leaned back in his chair, his face livid, and stared mutely at the trainmaster.

“There’s no night office between here and Musselman,” he said, hoarsely. “There’ll be a head-end inside of ten minutes.”

Allan had listened with white face. He shut his eyes for an instant and fancied he could see the passenger and freight rushing toward each other through the night. Then, suddenly, he sprang erect.

“Do you know the number of that outside wire on the lower cross-arm?” he asked the trainmaster.


“Can you cut it in?”

« 51 »

“Of course—but what—”

“No matter—do it!” cried Allan, and sat down at the key, while the trainmaster went mechanically to the switchboard and pushed the proper plug into place.

“J—J—J!” Allan called. “J—J—J!”

Would Jim hear? Was he within call of his instrument? Perhaps he was in some other part of the house; perhaps he was not at home at all. Even if he were, how would he be able—

Then, suddenly, the circuit was broken, and as Allan held down his key, there came the welcome tick-tick, tick-tick, which told that Jim had answered.

“Flag Number Two!”

Allan’s hand was trembling so that he could scarcely control the key.

“R—R,” clamoured Jim. “Repeat—repeat!”

Small wonder that he doubted he had heard correctly!

“Flag Number Two—quick—collision!”

This time Allan controlled the trembling of his hand and sent the message clearly.

“O. K.,” flashed back the answer, and Jim was gone, forgetting in his agitation to close his key.

“Who is it?” demanded Mr. Schofield, who had listened to this interchange with strained attention.

“It’s Jim Anderson,” Allan explained. “He lives in that house right by the track about a mile « 52 » west of here. He and I rigged up a private line—Mr. Mickey let us use that old wire. Perhaps he’ll be in time.”

“Perhaps—perhaps,” agreed the trainmaster; but he did not permit himself to hope. The chance was too slender. How was the boy to flag the train? How could he make the engineer see him through that driving snow? It was absurd to suppose it could be done.

“I think we’d better order out the wrecking-train,” he said, to the chief-dispatcher. “Call up a couple of doctors, too; we’ll probably need them; and tell the hospital to have its ambulance at the station here before we get back. As for that fool who made the mistake—”

He stopped abruptly. For, in the driving snow, the mistake was not so surprising, after all—the flyer was running ten minutes late, and the freight had come in exactly on her time—two facts with which the crew of the extra west could not have been familiar.

“Perhaps he’s paid for it with his life by now,” added the trainmaster, after a moment, and started toward the telephone to order the wrecking-train got ready.

Then, suddenly, he stopped, rigid with expectancy, for the instrument on the table in front of Allan had begun to sound.

“A—A,” it called. “A—A.”

“Tick-tick, tick-tick,” Allan answered, instantly.

« 53 »

“I have Number Two, also extra west stopped here,” came the message. “What shall they do?”

“I guess I’ll have to turn this over to you, sir,” said Allan, looking at Mr. Schofield, his eyes bright with emotion. “Don’t send too fast,” he added, with a little, unsteady laugh, as the trainmaster took the key. “Neither Jim nor I is very expert, you know.”

« 54 »



The conductor of Number Two, having consoled and encouraged his passengers to the best of his ability, went forward into the smoker and sat down in a corner seat to sort his tickets and make up his report. From time to time, he glanced out the window, and though the driving snow shut off any glimpse of the landscape, he could tell, by a sort of instinct, just where the train was. He knew the rattle of every switch, the position of every light. The quick rattle of a target told him that the train had passed Harper’s. He recognized the clatter of the switches at Roxabel as the train swept over them; then, from the peculiar echo, he knew that it had entered a cut and that Musselman was near. Then the train struck another cut, whirred over a bridge, and began to coast down a long grade, while the shrill blast of the whistle sounded faintly through the storm, and he knew that they were approaching Wadsworth. The lights of the city would have been visible upon the right but for the swirling snow. There was a sharp repeated roar « 55 » as the train shot over the two iron bridges at the city’s boundary—and then there came a shock which shook the train from end to end, and sent the parcels flying from the wall-racks.

Instantly the conductor swung up his feet and braced himself against the seat in front of him. He knew that that sudden setting of the brakes meant danger ahead, and he wanted to be prepared for the crash which might follow. It is a trick which every trainman knows and which every passenger should know. The passengers who are injured in a collision are usually those who were sitting carelessly balanced on the edge of their seats, and who, when the crash came, were hurled about the car, with the inevitable result of broken bones. To trainmen and experienced travellers, the unmistakable shock which tells of brakes suddenly applied is always a signal to brace themselves against the more violent one which may follow in a moment. Often this simple precaution means all the difference between life and death.

But in this case, the train came shrieking to a stop without any shock more violent than the first, and the conductor hastened out to investigate. He found the engineer and fireman standing in front of the engine, staring at a fusee burning red in the darkness, and questioning a young fellow who stood near by.

“What is it?” demanded the conductor, hurrying up.

« 56 »

“This here youngster says he had orders t’ flag th’ train,” answered the engineer.

“Orders from whom?” asked the conductor sharply, turning to the boy.

“Orders from—”

The boy stopped and turned red.

“Well, go on. Who gave the orders?”

“A chum of mine,” burst out the boy desperately. “He works in the trainmaster’s office. He wired me a minute ago to flag Number Two and be quick about it. I just had time to get that fusee lighted when you whistled for the crossing.”

The conductor frowned. The whole affair savoured of a boyish prank.

“And do you mean to say,” he demanded, sternly, “that because another boy told you to, you stopped this train—”

He paused, his mouth open, and listened, hand to ear. Then he stooped, snatched up the fusee, and fairly hurled himself down the track, waving the blazing torch above his head. And an instant later, his companions caught the sound of an engine pounding up the grade toward them.

The red light disappeared through the snow; then two sharp whistles testified that the signal had been seen; and a moment later, a great mogul of a freight-engine loomed through the darkness and came grinding to a stop not thirty feet away.

Her engineer swung himself to the ground and came running forward.


« 57 »

“What’s all this?” he demanded; and then he saw the headlight of the other engine, almost obscured by the snow which encrusted it, and turned livid under his coat of tan. “What train’s that?”

“That’s Number Two,” answered the conductor, who had returned with the smoking fusee still in his hand.

“Number Two!” echoed the engineer, and a cold sweat broke out across his forehead. “Nonsense! I saw Number Two pull into the yards ten minutes ago!”

“No you didn’t,” retorted the conductor, grimly, “for there’s Number Two back there.”

The engineer passed his hand before his eyes and stared, scarce able to understand. Then his face hardened and his lips tightened.

“There must have been a freight ahead of you,” he said. “It came in just on your time.”

“We’re ten minutes late—and getting later every minute,” the conductor added, and stamped impatiently.

Just then the conductor of the freight came hurrying up. The engineer turned to him with a little sardonic laugh.

“Well, Pete,” he said, “I guess this is our last run over this road.”

The conductor’s face turned ghastly white.

“Wha-what do you mean?” he stammered.

The engineer answered with a wave of the hand toward the headlight glaring down at them.

« 58 »

“That’s Number Two,” he said.

“Number Two!” echoed the conductor, blankly. “But then—why weren’t we smashed to kindling wood?”

“Blamed if I know,” answered the engineer, turning to clamber back on his engine. “And I don’t much care. I reckon we’re done, anyway.”

And they were, for a railroad never forgives or overlooks a mistake so serious as this.

Jim Anderson came out of the house a moment later with an order from the trainmaster for the freight to back into the yards, and the flyer to follow.

Only the driving storm had kept the passengers on the flyer from coming out to inquire what the matter was; and when the conductor swung himself on board again, he was greeted with a volley of questions. What was the trouble? What had happened?

“Trouble?” he repeated, with a stare of surprise. “There wasn’t any. We had to stop for orders, that was all.”

“You stopped pretty sudden, it seems to me,” growled one old traveller.

“The engineer didn’t see the stop signal till he was right on it,” answered the conductor, blandly.

“Snow so thick, you know.”

And the passengers returned to their seats satisfied, and none of them ever knew how narrow their escape had been—for it is the policy of all railroads « 59 » that the passengers are never to know of mistakes and dangers, if the knowledge can by any means be kept from them.

However, the employees in the yards at Wadsworth had realized the mistake almost as soon as the dispatchers had—and there was quite a crowd waiting to greet the trains—a crowd which even yet did not understand how a terrible accident had been averted. It was not until the conductor of the flyer stepped off upon the platform and told the story in a few words, with voice carefully lowered lest some outsider should hear him, that they did understand; and even then, it was not as clear as it might have been until Tom Mickey came along and told how he had permitted the boys to use the old wire.

As for the engineer of the freight, he dropped off his engine the moment it stopped, and hurried away to his home without even pausing to remove his overalls. Six hours later, he was boarding a train on the N. & W., to seek a job in the south. The conductor remained for the inquiry and tried to brazen it through, but the evidence showed that, instead of staying out in the storm to watch for the arrival of Number Two and give the engineer the signal to go ahead, he had told the latter to start as soon as the passenger pulled in, and had ensconced himself in his berth in the caboose and gone comfortably to sleep. So he, too, was informed « 60 » that the P. & O. no longer required his services.

When Jim Anderson reported for work next morning, his foreman told him he was to go at once to the office of Mr. Heywood, the division superintendent. He obeyed the order with some inward trepidation, crossed the yards to the division headquarters, mounted the stairs, and knocked tremulously at the door of the superintendent’s office. A voice bade him enter. He opened the door, and saw, sitting at a great desk, a small, dark, dapper man who was dictating at fever heat to a stenographer. He paused for an instant, looking inquiringly at Jim.

“I’m Jim Anderson,” said the boy. “My foreman told me—”

The superintendent nodded.

“That will do, Graves,” he said to the stenographer. “Send young West in here at once.”

“Very well, sir,” answered the stenographer, and went out.

Mr. Heywood turned abruptly in the direction of his visitor.

“So you’re Jim Anderson?” he began.

“Yes, sir.”

“It was you who flagged Number Two last night?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Tell me about it.”

« 61 »

Jim told the story as briefly as he could. Allan came in before he had finished.

“Now let’s hear your story,” added the superintendent, turning to Allan, and the latter related his share in the adventure.

“There’s only one thing I don’t understand,” said the superintendent, when Allan had finished, turning back to Jim, “and that is how you came to have that fusee.”

Jim reddened.

“I found it, sir,” he explained. “You remember when the caboose of Number Ninety-seven was derailed about a month ago, near the bridges, and rolled down the bank and was smashed to pieces?”

“Perfectly,” answered the superintendent, dryly.

“Well,” Jim continued, “I suppose the box of fusees in the caboose must have been broken open and scattered about. Anyway, I found this one the next day in some bushes at the foot of the embankment. I suppose I should have returned it to the company—but—well—I thought I’d keep it for the Fourth of July.”

His voice trembled and stopped, and he stood with hanging head, like a criminal waiting his sentence.

Let it be explained here that a fusee is a paste-board tube filled with powder—the same sort of powder which produces the red fire which forms a part of every exhibition of fire-works. At one end of this tube is a spike which can be thrust into « 62 » the ground. The other end of the tube is closed by a cap containing a piece of emery-paper. To light the powder it is only necessary to remove the cap and scrape it on the end of the tube till a spark falls into it. A fusee burns with a bright red light for exactly ten minutes, and no train may run past one which is burning.

Its uses are manifold. It makes a brilliant danger signal, and one which no engineer can fail to see, which no mist nor snow can obscure, and which no wind can extinguish. But it is usually used by night—as torpedoes are by day—to protect the rear of a train which has been temporarily disabled and delayed between stations.

If a train is stopped by a hot-box, for instance, a brakeman is at once sent out to protect the rear. He walks to a distance of two or three hundred yards, carrying a flag in the daytime or a lantern by night, with which to stop any train which may happen to come along before his train is ready to proceed. Ordinarily, there is no danger to be apprehended from in front, because the dispatcher will permit no train coming toward them to pass the next station until the train which is in trouble arrives there.

As soon as the heated journal has been cooled sufficiently to allow the train to proceed, the engineer blows four blasts on the whistle to recall the brakeman. But, obviously, during the time that he is walking back to the train and the train itself is « 63 » getting under way, another train may come along at full speed and run into it. So, before he returns, the brakeman sticks a fusee in the middle of the track and lights it. It will burn for ten minutes, and during that time no train may run past the spot, so all danger of accident is avoided. If the breakdown occurs during the daytime, the brakeman will affix two torpedoes to the track instead of using the fusee. The first train which runs over these torpedoes explodes them, and the engineer must at once get his train under control, reduce speed, and look out for a stop signal. A single torpedo is a signal to stop.

It was one of these fusees, a number of which are carried in every caboose, which had enabled Jim Anderson to flag Number Two, and lucky it was that he had it, for on a night such as the one before had been, a lantern would almost certainly have failed to be seen. But Jim did not think of that, as he stood there with hanging head. His only thought was that he should not have kept the fusee, that it belonged to the company—that he might be thought a thief. He looked up at last to find the superintendent smiling at him.

“My boy,” said Mr. Heywood, “if, as you go through life, you never do anything worse than you have done in keeping possession of that fusee, you will never have any reason for remorse. It had been abandoned there by the company; you found it. You were under no obligation to return it. We « 64 » had lost it through our own carelessness; it may have been missed, but was thought not worth searching for. So dismiss that from your mind. I called you boys before me for a very different purpose than to reproach either of you. In the first place, I want to thank you for your prompt and intelligent action, which saved the road what would probably have been one of the worst wrecks in its history. It is the sort of thing the road never forgets.”

There were four cheeks now, instead of two, that were flaming red. The praise was almost more embarrassing than the expected blame.

“In the second place,” continued the superintendent, “I have ordered Lineman Mickey to overhaul your private line and to equip it with up-to-date instruments.”

He smiled as he looked at the beaming countenances before him.

“In the third place,” he went on, "I have ordered a box of fusees and another of torpedoes left at your home, Anderson. And they’re not to be used on the Fourth of July, either—at least, not more than one or two. They say lightning never strikes twice in the same place, but it’s just possible that some day we may want you to flag another train out there, and so we provide you with the means to do it.

“In the fourth place,” he added, rising and « 65 » glancing at his watch, “I’m going to offer you the first positions as operator that are vacant. Now don’t thank me,” he protested, as exclamations of pleasure burst from the young lips before him. “I don’t deserve any thanks. I’m simply looking out for the best interests of the road. We want operators who are more than mere telegraphers—we want men who are equal to an emergency, who have their wits about them, who can think quickly, and who don’t get rattled—men like that are a good deal harder to find than you might think. That’s the reason we want you two. I don’t believe that one boy in a hundred would have had the wit to act as promptly and intelligently as you did last night. Now, I’ll let you know—”

The door burst suddenly open and a girl rushed in—a girl of perhaps seventeen, with flushed, excited face—the loveliest face, Allan thought, that he had ever seen.

“Oh, papa!” she cried. “Our train will start in a minute! We mustn’t miss it!”

Mr. Heywood laughed and glanced at his watch again.

“We won’t miss it, Bess,” he said. “We’ve got three minutes and a half. No train has ever started ahead of time on this road since Mr. Round took charge of it. Good-bye, boys,” he added, and shook hands with them heartily. "Hold yourselves ready for orders—and meanwhile get all the practice you « 66 » can. Come, Bess," and the father and daughter went out together, leaving the boys staring after them with a mixture of emotions difficult to describe.

« 67 »



One can easily understand with what enthusiasm Jim Anderson and Allan West continued the study of telegraphy. Here was something worth while, something vital, something with which great things might be accomplished; for surely there are few things in this world greater than the saving of human life.

Then, too, there was the protection of the company’s property. A collision such as that which had been averted would have demolished engines and cars worth a hundred thousand dollars. Damage suits, destroyed freight, the interruption of traffic, the cost of repairing the right of way, the loss of prestige which attends every great wreck—all these might easily have carried the total loss to a quarter of a million.

Yet neither in this accident nor in any other was it the money loss to the company of which the officials thought. They thought only of the danger to the passengers, for the passenger is the road’s most sacred trust. In his behalf, the road exacts eternal « 68 » vigilance from every man in its employ. His safety comes first of all. For it, no railroad man must hesitate to risk his life; nay, if need be, to throw his life away. He enters the service of the road on that condition—and rarely does he fail when the moment of trial comes, as it is sure to come, sooner or later.

The boys, then, had reason to be pleased with what they had accomplished. The superintendent kept his word, and instruments of the latest pattern were soon installed by Lineman Mickey, while the current for the line was furnished by the company’s batteries, and was stronger and more constant than their own little battery had been able to give them. Nor was that all the help they had, for the trainmaster and the dispatchers took an interest in their work, and drilled them in the various abbreviations and code signals in use on the road, as well as the calls for the various offices.

They were permitted to “cut in” with the main line whenever they wished; the messages which flashed over it were then repeated on their own sounders, and they could try their hands at transcribing them. Needless to say, they progressed rapidly under this tuition, which was the very best they could have had; and the day came at last when Allan, sitting at his desk sorting the mail, could understand perfectly what all the instruments about him were saying.

There is within us, so scientists say, a sort of « 69 » second-self which takes care of all actions which become habitual, without troubling us to think of them, or to will their performance. Thus we breathe without any effort of consciousness—a wise provision of nature, else we should die of asphyxiation as soon as we went to sleep. The muscles which control the heart keep on working of themselves from birth to death. Thus, too, while the baby must distinctly will every step it takes, the child soon learns to walk or run automatically, without thinking about it at all, the muscles moving of themselves at the proper instant. So the fingers of the piano-player come to perform the duties required of them instinctively; and so, at last, the ear of the telegrapher recognizes a certain combination of sounds as having a certain meaning, and the brain has no need whatever to puzzle them out. The sounds are recorded mechanically, and the brain furnishes the translation.

Nay, more than that. The operator, worn out by long hours, sometimes goes to sleep beside his key. His slumber is so deep that the roar of passing trains does not disturb it, nor the clicking of his sounder, as messages flash over the wire. But let his call be sounded, that short and insistent combination of dots and dashes which means his office—a single letter usually—and he will start awake. The ear has caught the call, has sent it into the brain, and some second-self there rouses the sleeper and tells him he is wanted. Operators are not supposed « 70 » to go to sleep on duty; to be caught asleep means a “lay-off,” if not dismissal. Yet they do go to sleep, for the long hours of the night pass slowly, and there are times when the weary eyes refuse to remain open. If it were not for the little monitor within which stays awake, on guard, listening for its call, accidents on the rail would be of much more frequent occurrence, and few operators but would, sooner or later, lose their jobs. And there is nothing especially peculiar or remarkable in this. Almost any one, worn out with fatigue, will go to sleep with the buzz of conversation about him; but let some one speak his name insistently over and over and the sound of it will somehow waken him. An operator’s call is as familiar to him as his name, and will attract his attention just as surely.

It was to this sixth sense, this second-self, that Allan was at last able to assign the duty of listening to the instruments in the office. He knew what they were saying, without having to stop all other work to listen; nay, without consciously listening at all. He had reached the place where he was competent to “take a trick”—much more competent, indeed, than young operators usually are.

But still there came no opening for a regular position. A railroad does not “play favourites,” no matter how deserving they may be. So long as a man does his work well, his position is his; and he stands in regular line for promotion. Incompetency « 71 » brings its punishment, swift and sure; just as signal services, in time, bring their reward; but reward and punishment are according to an established rule.

For the record of every man is kept minutely from the hour he enters the employ of the road. What he may have been or done before that does not matter, once employment is given him—he starts square. But even the smallest thing he does after that does matter, as he finds out, in course of time, to his amazement and chagrin. The trainmaster keeps, in a drawer of his desk, a little book bound in red leather, wherein entries are made every day; and the heart of the trainman who is “on the carpet” falls when he sees it produced. It affects him a good deal as the book wherein the Recording Angel writes will affect most of us at the Day of Judgment.

It happened, at this particular moment, that all the operators’ positions on the road were filled by competent men, and so Allan had to wait until some one of them was promoted or resigned. As for Jim, he had reconsidered his decision to become an operator. He had a natural love and aptitude for machinery, and he finally determined to remain in the branch of the service where he was, and seek promotion where he would probably deserve it most. But Allan’s mind was made up, and he lost no opportunity to perfect himself. Often, after supper, he would return to the dispatchers’ office and prevail « 72 » upon the night operator to permit him to attend to his work for awhile, and in this way he got valuable practice; but he longed for the day when he should be given a key of his own—when the responsibility would be all his.

The chance came at last. He was just finishing up his work, one evening, preparatory to going home to supper, when the instrument on the chief-dispatcher’s desk began to call. Allan, without really listening, heard the message:

“Night man at Byers Junction reported sick. Send substitute.”

The chief-dispatcher clicked back “O. K.,” and closed the key. Then he wheeled about in his chair and met Allan’s eager eyes.

“There’s a job for you,” he said, “if you want it.”

“Want it!” echoed Allan. “I certainly do!”

“And if you think you can fill it,” the chief added. “The work at Byers is pretty heavy.”

“I’ll do my best,” Allan promised.

The chief looked at him for a moment longer, then nodded quickly and glanced at his watch.

“You’ll do,” he said. “And you’ve only got thirty minutes. You’ll have to catch Number Sixteen.”

“All right, sir; I’ll catch it,” said Allan, and he went down the steps two at a time.

Mary Welsh was just spreading the cloth preparatory to getting supper when Allan raced up the « 73 » steps leading from the street below and burst in at the door.

“Why!” cried Mary. “What ails th’ boy!”

“Hooray!” yelled Allan, and seized her and danced around with her in his arms. “I’m going to be an op-e-ra-tor!”

“Well, I’m sure,” gasped Mary, releasing herself and reaching up to push the loosened hairpins back into place, “that ain’t so wonderful. You’d ought t’ been a oppeyrator long ago! A railroad ain’t got no sense o’ gratitude!”

“There, there!” cried Allan. “The road’s all right—and I’ve got to catch Number Sixteen—and I wonder if there’s a crust of bread or a cold potato, or anything of that sort handy?”

“Crust o’ bread, indade!” snorted Mary, glancing at the clock. “You’ll have your supper. Go an’ git washed, an’ I’ll have it ready fer ye in a jiffy.”

“All right,” said Allan, “but I warn you I’ll be back in just a minute and a half.”

Indeed, it was not much longer than that; but when he came in again, his face shining from a vigorous rubbing, supper was almost ready—an egg fried to a turn, with a bit of broiled ham beside it, bread and butter, blackberry jam, a glass of milk, and a piece of apple-pie—just the sort of toothsome, topsy-turvy meal a healthy boy likes.

“Mary,” he said, “you’re a jewel!” and he stopped to hug her before he sat down.

« 74 »

“None o’ yer blarney!” she retorted, and affected to push him away, as she gave the last touches to the table.

Allan pulled up his chair and fell to with an appetite born of health and good digestion—an appetite unspoiled by over-indulgence, or by French confections, requiring no stimulus but that which work honestly done gave it. He ate with one eye on the clock, for he was not going to run any risk of missing his train, and at the end of five minutes, pushed back his chair and rose with a sigh of satisfaction.

“That was great!” he said. “Now if I may have one of those luscious doughnuts of yours, or a piece of that pie, to keep the wolf from the door to-night—”

“Doughnut, indade!” cried Mary. “What do you suppose I’ve been doin’ all this toime! Here’s your lunch,” and she set on the table a little basket, covered with a snowy napkin.

Allan’s eyes were shining at this new proof of her thoughtfulness for him.

“Mary,” he began.

“There, there,” she interrupted; “git along or you’ll miss your train. Good-bye. An’ take good keer o’ yerself, my dear.”

Allan snatched up hat and basket.

“Good-bye,” he said. “I’m certainly a lucky boy!”

She stood at the door watching him as he crossed the yards.

« 75 »

“Yes,” she murmured to herself, turning back into the house as he passed from sight, “an’ I’m a lucky woman!”

Dan Breen, the caller, met Allan as he stepped upon the station platform.

“Here’s yer card,” he said, and held out a little envelope.

“My card?” repeated the boy, taking the envelope mechanically.

“Yes, yer card; how did ye expect t’ ride—pay yer way?”

“Oh,” said Allan, understanding suddenly; “my pass. Yes; thank you,” and he swung aboard Number Sixteen just as it was pulling out.

When the conductor came through to collect the tickets, the boy proudly produced the card, which commanded all employees of the road to “pass the bearer, Allan West, on all trains, over main line and branches, Ohio Division, P— & O— Railway.” The conductor glanced at it and then at the boy, nodded, and passed on.

Half an hour later, with fast-beating heart, Allan dropped off the train at the little frame shanty which served as the operator’s office at Byers Junction. The day operator had been compelled to work thirty-five minutes overtime, and was in no very genial humour in consequence, for if there is one point of honour upon which all operators agree, it is that they shall relieve each other promptly. « 76 » So the day operator, whose name was Nevins, and who knew that his supper would probably be cold when he got to it, merely nodded to the boy when he appeared in the doorway, put on his coat and hat, picked up his lunch-basket, and went out without saying a word.

Allan, his pulses racing, set his basket on the table, took off coat and hat, hung them on a nail near the window, and looked about the little room. The instrument was calling, but not for him, so he had leisure to examine the orders which fluttered from a hook on the wall near by. One was for a train which would be due in a few minutes, and Allan went to the door to see that the signals were properly set and burning.

White is no longer a safety signal on any of the larger railroads. The colours now in use are red for danger, and green for safety. Under the old system, the red lens of the lantern might drop out or a tramp might smash it, leaving the lantern showing a white light past which the engineer would run, thinking everything all right. So green was substituted for white, and now white means danger just as much as red does. The only light past which an engineer may run is a green one. In fact, the first rule under the “Use of Signals” is that a signal imperfectly displayed, or the absence of a signal from a place where one is usually shown, must be regarded as a stop signal.

The railroads are trying all the time to find some « 77 » third colour which can be used satisfactorily in signalling. Red for danger and green for safety are very well, as far as they go; but a caution signal is badly needed—one which will not absolutely stop a train, but which will warn the engineer to get it under control and proceed carefully. No such signal which will do the work required of it under all conditions has as yet been devised, although yellow is now used on some roads for this purpose.

Of course there are one or two other colours used. A combined green and white signal, for instance, is used to stop a train at a flag station; and a blue flag by day, or a blue light by night, displayed at one or both ends of an engine, car, or train, indicates that workmen are under or about it. When thus protected, it must not be coupled to or moved, and no man may remove these signals but the one who placed them there. This rule is enforced absolutely to safeguard, as far as possible, the lives of the employees of the road.

The only fault in the system—as in all systems—is that human beings are not infallible, and mistakes are sometimes bound to happen. The signals may be wrongly set, or when rightly set, may not be seen. Fog or smoke may obscure them, and the engineer rushes by, trusting that all is well. If he obeyed the rules, he would stop and make sure; but that would delay the train, perhaps needlessly, and trains must be run on time. The engineer who « 78 » fails to run on time, either through timidity or overcaution, is very soon relegated to the work-train or the yard-engine—a humiliating fall for the master of the queenly flyer.

As Byers was a junction, there were two signals there for the government of trains, one a train-signal on the front of the shanty, and the other a semaphore just outside the door. The train-signal was merely an arm or signal-blade, operated by a lever inside the shanty. Normally, this arm hung down in a perpendicular position and showed green, which meant proceed; but when the operator wanted an approaching train to stop, he pulled the lever, raising the arm to a horizontal position. At night, of course, it would not be possible for an engineer to see the position of this arm, so at the inner end of it was a large casting with two holes in it, one fitted with a green lens and the other with a red one. Behind this a lamp was placed, and when the arm hung down for safety, the light shone through the green lens. When it was raised, the red lens was thrown before the light and indicated danger.

The semaphore was a tall pole just outside the door. At its top was a cross-arm, bearing at either end red lanterns at night, to indicate its position, and operated by a lever at the foot of the pole. When the arm at the top stood in a perpendicular position, displaying the signals one above the other, it indicated that P. & O. trains could pass; when « 79 » the arm was thrown to a horizontal position, displaying the signals one beside the other, it cleared the track for the connecting road. A ladder on the side of the pole enabled the person in charge of it to mount and attach the lanterns at nightfall. He was supposed to take them down and fill and clean them sometime during the day. There is, it may be added, a semaphore at every railroad-crossing which is worked on just this principle.

Allan had, of course, in preparing himself for the duties of operator, familiarized himself with all the signals used; and, as has been said, he stepped to the door of the shanty to assure himself that the train-signal was raised and showing red and that the lanterns on the semaphore were burning properly, so that the train which was almost due would stop to receive the orders intended for it. Then his heart gave a sudden sickening leap, for the light of neither train-signal nor semaphore was showing at all!

Already he fancied that, far down the road, he could hear the hum of the approaching train! The day operator, despite the lateness of the hour, had not taken the trouble to light the signals. It was not his duty, strictly speaking, but there are times when more is expected of a man than his mere duty. It might not have really mattered, of course; the absence of any signal would bring the train to a stop, if the engineer obeyed the rules; but at the very least, it would have been his duty to report at « 80 » headquarters that the signals at Byers were not burning, and Allan would have incurred a reprimand, and a severe one, in the first half-hour in his new position.

All this flashed through the boy’s mind much more rapidly than it can be set down here. In an instant, he had sprung to the train-signal, lowered it, touched a lighted match to the wick of the lamp, and then, as the flame flared up, hoisted the signal into place. Then, with a single glance, he assured himself that the semaphore lanterns were not in the shanty. Evidently the day man had not taken the trouble to bring them down and clean them; and the boy, without pausing to take breath, started to climb the pole. As he neared the top, he saw the lanterns swinging in place; but to light them, especially for the first time, was a ticklish job.

He heard the train whistle for the crossing half a mile away, and his hands began to tremble a little, despite all effort to steady them. He reached out, drew one lantern to him, snapped it open, and, after an instant’s agony, got it lighted. Then he grabbed for the other. It swung for a moment beyond his reach, and the effort nearly overbalanced him; but he caught himself, got it at last, drew it to him, lighted it, and snapped it shut again, just as the headlight of the approaching engine flashed into view. He ran hurriedly down the ladder. As he reached the door of the office, he « 81 » heard his call. He jumped to the instrument and answered.

“Where have you been—asleep?” came the question.

“I was fixing the lanterns on the semaphore,” Allan answered.

“Hasn’t first ninety-seven reached Byers?”

“There’s a train just pulling in,” Allan answered, and at that moment the conductor appeared in the doorway.

“Are you first ninety-seven?” Allan asked him.

“Yes,” replied the newcomer. “Any orders?”

Allan handed them to him with a sigh of relief that all was well, and notified the dispatcher that first ninety-seven had reached Byers at 7.16.

It may be well to explain, at this point, that the regular freight-trains on every road are usually run in sections, the number of sections depending upon the amount of freight to be moved. For instance, if, toward the middle of the afternoon, there has accumulated in the yards at Wadsworth only enough west-bound freight for a single train, the cars are made up, and at seven o’clock, immediately following the accommodation, regular west-bound freight-train No. 97 is started toward Cincinnati, and runs as nearly as possible on the schedule given it in the time-table.

If, however, there are too many cars for one engine to handle, they are made up into two trains, and the first one that goes out is called the first section, « 82 » and displays at the front of the engine two green lights to show that another section is following. Ten minutes later, the second section is sent out, displaying no signals. Theoretically, both sections constitute one train, and the track cannot be used by any other train until both get by; but this is a theory which is constantly broken in practice. Sometimes, when freight business is heavy—in the fall, for instance, when the grain crops are being moved and the merchants throughout the country are laying in their supplies for the holidays—there will be three or four sections of each of the regular freight-trains.

But while this system allows for a certain expansion of traffic to suit the road’s business, by far the greater part of the freight in the busy season is handled by “extras”—that is, by trains which have no place on the time-card and no regular schedules, but which must run from station to station, whenever the track happens to be clear. For instance, as soon as Number Two, the east-bound flyer, pulls into the yards at Wadsworth, an extra west-bound freight will be started out, with orders to run extra to the end of the division. The conductor is armed with the time-card, and must keep out of the way of all trains which appear on it. He is also provided with meeting orders for all the other extras which happen to be going over the road at the same time, and must take care to comply with them. As he goes from station to station, « 83 » he is kept informed as to whether any of the regular trains are behind time, so that he need not wait on any of them unnecessarily, but may get over the road as rapidly as possible. The actual conduct of the train is left largely to him and to the engineer, so that their responsibility is no light one.

All of this sounds much easier than it really is. As a matter of fact, the task of carrying on the business of a single-track road, where it is practically impossible for all trains to run on time, where meeting-points must be provided for all freight-trains, without delaying them unduly, and where the passenger-trains must have always a clear track and opportunity to make up as much time as possible, if they happen to be late, is one of the most delicate and nerve-racking that could be imagined, though under the new double-order system it is not so bad as it was under the old single-order one.

The burden of keeping things moving and of getting the trains over the road in the shortest possible time, falls principally upon the dispatcher at headquarters, but every operator along the road bears his part, and an important part. He must keep awake and alert for any orders the dispatcher may wish to send him; he must note the passage of every train and report to the dispatcher the exact moment at which it passed; and he must be sure that the station signals are properly displayed, and that all orders are properly delivered. Upon the faithful fulfilment of these duties does the safety « 84 » of trains depend; but especially upon the second, for unless the dispatcher knows accurately the exact position of every train, disaster is sure to follow.

Only once that night did Allan have any trouble. That was about three o’clock in the morning. There had not been many orders for Byers, for traffic was light, and he had passed the time listening to the orders sent the other operators and studying the time-card and book of rules with which all operators are provided. But at last his sounder began to clatter out the already familiar "-..., -..., B, B," which was the call for Byers. He answered it and took down the following message on his manifold sheet:

“Hold extra east, eng. 632, at B.”

Allan repeated it at once from his copy, and a moment later, “Com 3.10 C R H” was flashed back to him.

The “com” meant “complete,” showing that the order had been accurately repeated; the “3.10” was the time the order was sent, and the “C R H” were the initials of the superintendent, which are signed to all train-orders. Three copies must be made of every such order, one for the conductor, one for the engineer, and the other for preservation by the operator. This is done by using tissue-paper for the orders—which are usually called “flimsies” for that reason—between the sheets of which carbon-paper has been placed. A steel-pointed instrument called a stylus is used to write with, instead « 85 » of pen or pencil, in order that the impression through the three sheets may be clear and distinct.

A few minutes after Allan had taken the order, the extra east pulled in, and the conductor, Bill Higgins, stalked into the office.

“Any orders?” he asked.

Allan handed him two copies of the order just received, then waited, his own copy in his hand, for Higgins to read the order aloud to him, as required by the rules. But instead, the conductor merely glanced at it, then, with a savage oath, crumpled it up in his hand and started to leave.

“Aren’t you going to read it?” Allan asked.

“Read it? I have read it!” answered Higgins, savagely.

“Not aloud to me,” Allan pointed out.

“What do you mean, you young fool?” demanded Higgins, turning upon him fiercely. “D’ you think I don’t know my business?”

“I only know,” replied Allan, paling a little as he saw that Higgins had been drinking and was in a very ugly mood, “that the rules require you to read that order aloud in my presence.”

“Well, what of it? That rule was made, mebbe, by th’ same fool that just sent this order holdin’ me here fer an hour, when I could git into Hamden easy as pie afore Number Ten was due! What do I care fer th’ rules? This here road’s goin’ t’ blazes, anyway!” and he turned to go.

“Very well,” said Allan, evenly; "you will do as « 86 » you think best, of course. But if you don’t obey the rules, I shall have to report you."

At the words, Higgins sprang around again, purple with rage.

“Report me!” he shouted. “Why, you young whipper-snapper, I’ll spoil that putty face o’ your’n,” and he raised his fist.

“Hello, here,” called a voice from the door. “What’s the trouble?” and Allan glanced past the irate conductor to see the engineer standing in the doorway. “What’s up, Bill?” he repeated, coming in. “What’s the kid done?”

“Threatened to report me if I don’t read this here order to him,” answered Higgins sullenly.

The engineer glanced sharply from one to the other.

“Is that all?” he said. “And you were going to fight about a little thing like that, Bill?”

“No kid shall report me!” growled Bill, but he looked a little foolish.

“Well, then, read the order,” advised the engineer, easily.

Bill hesitated an instant, then smoothed out the crumpled paper.

“’Hold extra east, engine 632, at Byers,’” he snapped out, and handed the engineer his copy.

“’Hold extra east, engine 632, at Byers,’” repeated the latter. “Correct.”

The conductor turned without another word and left the office. The engineer followed him with his « 87 » eyes until he disappeared in the darkness, and then turned back to Allan.

“Would you really have reported him?” he asked, eying the boy curiously.

“Yes,” answered Allan, slowly. “I think I should. He was drunk.”

“He has been drinking,” admitted the engineer. “Personally, I detest him. But he’s got the sweetest little wife you ever saw, and three kids that worship him; so he can’t be wholly bad. What would become of them if he’d lose his job? Of course, you can report him yet, if you want to. But I’d think it over first,” and the engineer followed Higgins out into the night.

Allan did think it over, and the result was that the superintendent never heard of that encounter in the little Byers office.

« 88 »



Every night must end, although that one, as it seemed to Allan, was at least forty hours long. His greatest difficulty was to keep awake, for he had been working all day before he came on duty. More than once he caught himself nodding, until, at last, he dared not sit still in his chair, but went out upon the stretch of cindered path before the shanty and tramped up and down it, pausing now and then at the door to make sure his instrument was not calling him. The cool air of the night blew sleepiness from his eyes, at last, and he stood for a long time gazing out over the silent fields. Away in the distance a cock crew; others answered it, hailing the dawn; for the eastern sky began to show a tinge of gray. From every tree and coppice came sleepy twitterings, which, as the east grew brighter, burst into songs of joy to greet the rising sun.

Birds never make the mistake that some boys and girls do, of rising with sour faces—"wrong end « 89 » first." They know how much it adds to the day’s happiness to start the day right; they are always glad when morning comes, and they never forget to utter a little song of praise and gratitude for another sunrise. Then they fly to the brook and take their bath, and hunt cheerfully for breakfast. Nor do they lose their tempers if they can’t find some particular worm or bug of which they are especially fond. Truly, bird-ways are worth imitating.

Allan sat down in the door of the shanty to watch the daily miracle which was enacting before him, but which most people have come to regard as a matter of course. It was the first sunrise he had seen for many months—in fact, since the days, seemingly years ago, when he had risen every night to take his trick at guarding the track from train-wreckers. Now, as he sat here, watching the brightening east, all the adventures of that time came vividly back to him, and he smiled to himself as he reviewed them one by one. He had made many firm friends—and one enemy, Dan Nolan, the vicious and vindictive scoundrel who had tried in so many ways to injure him; and had finally joined the gang of desperate tramps who had given the road so much trouble, and who, caught in the very act of trying to wreck the pay-car, had been sentenced to a term in the penitentiary.

Allan had incurred Nolan’s enmity the very first day of his service with the road. Nolan had been « 90 » a member of Jack Welsh’s section-gang, and had been discharged for drunkenness. He knew, however, that the place on the gang would be hard to fill, and expected to be taken back again. But that very day, Allan, who had walked all the way from Cincinnati in search of employment, came along, and Welsh, impressed by the boy’s frank and honest face, had given him the place. Nolan had blustered, threatened, and even tried to kill him; and had ended by being sent to the State prison.

Allan’s face darkened as he recalled Nolan’s many acts of enmity, and the thought came to him that he had not yet heard the last of the scoundrel. But this gloomy mood did not endure long, for suddenly a radiant yellow disk peeped over the hills to the east, and flooded the world with golden splendour. The birds’ songs of praise burst forth afresh, and every tree, every plant, every flower and blade of grass, seemed to lift its head and bow toward the east to greet the luminary upon which all life upon the earth depends. Its warm rays drank the dew from the meadows, and over the brook, which ran beside the road, a filmy mist steamed upward from the water. Away off, across the fields, Allan could see a man ploughing, and a herd of cows wandered slowly over a near-by pasture, cropping the fresh grass and blowing clouds of warm and fragrant breath out upon the cool air. Allan resolved that so long as he held this trick, every dawn should find him at the door watching « 91 » for the sunrise, the wonder and mystery and beauty of which he was just beginning to understand.

A call from his instrument summoned him back into the office. There were a number of orders to take for trains from east and west, which were to meet and pass at Byers, and by the time these had been duly received, repeated, and O. K.’d, six o’clock had come and gone. Six o’clock was the hour of relief, but Nevins did not appear. After that, every minute seemed an hour, and Allan began to understand Nevins’s feelings the night before, when his own relief did not arrive. He began to fear that he would miss the morning accommodation train to Wadsworth. If he did, he could not get home before noon, and he was desperately tired and sleepy. He went to the door and looked out, but saw no sign of Nevins, and was just turning back into the office, when a low, sneering laugh almost at his elbow caused him to start around. It was Nevins, who stood there grinning maliciously. He had evidently come around the corner of the house, while Allan was looking out across the fields.

“Well,” he sneered, “how d’ ye like it?”

“I don’t like it at all,” said Allan.

“After this,” added Nevins, pushing past him, “you be on time and I will. That’s all I want of you.”

“We’ll have to rearrange our tricks,” said Allan, his cheek flushing at the other’s tone. "I can’t get here until the evening accommodation at six-thirty; « 92 » so suppose you come on half an hour later in the morning. That will even things up."

Nevins growled a surly assent, and turning his back ostentatiously, he hung up his coat and flung himself into the chair.

“There are three orders,” added Allan. “One of them—”

“Oh, shut up!” snarled Nevins. “I can read, can’t I?”

“Yes; no doubt you can. But the rules require that I explain outstanding orders to you before I go off duty.”

Nevins looked up at him, an ugly light in his eyes.

“So you’re that kind, are you?” he queried. “Little Sunday-school boy. Ain’t you afraid your mamma’s worryin’ about you?”

“Don’t you want me to—”

“I don’t want you to do nothin’ but get out!” Nevins broke in, and took the orders from the hook and looked over them. “As I said before, I can read. I suppose you can, too. So don’t bother me.”

An angry retort rose to Allan’s lips, but he choked it back; and at that instant a whistle sounded down the line, and the roar of an approaching train. He had just time to grab coat and lunch-basket and swing aboard, and in a moment was off toward Wadsworth.

He sank into a seat, his heart still hot at Nevins’s insolence; and yet, on second thought, he was glad « 93 » that he had not yielded to the impulse to return an angry answer. It was natural that Nevins should have been provoked, though the delay of the night before was not Allan’s fault in the slightest degree; and, in any event, there was no use making an enemy of a fellow who might be able to do a great deal of mischief. But one thing Allan resolved on, his lips set: he would explain outstanding orders to Nevins, whether the latter chose to listen or not.

Mary Welsh was waiting for him at the door.

“You poor boy,” she said. “You’re half-dead fer sleep!”

“Only a quarter dead,” Allan corrected, “and I’ll soon be good as new. What’s that I smell?” he added, wrinkling his nose, as he stepped inside the door. “Hot biscuits?”

“You go git washed,” retorted Mary, with affected sternness, “an’ you’ll see what it is when ye git t’ table. Hurry up, now!”

“All right,” laughed the boy. “I know you, Mary Welsh.”

And when he sat down, he found that his nose had told him correctly. The biscuits were flaky and white and piping hot, with golden butter melting over them; and there were three slices of bacon cut very thin and browned to a turn; and potato-cakes—not those soggy, squashy potato-cakes which are, alas! too familiar—but crisp and brown, touching the palate in just the right way. Ah, Mary, you have achieved something in this « 94 » world that many of your more “cultured” sisters may well envy you! How few of them could create potato-cakes like yours!

It was after eight o’clock when Allan finally climbed the stair to his little room under the roof, and went to bed. Mary had darkened the windows, so that the light should not disturb him, and he dropped off to sleep almost at once. I know the physiologists tell us that sound sleep is impossible after a hearty meal, but, candidly, I don’t believe it. Healthy animals, at least, have no difficulty in sleeping after eating; in fact, a nap almost always follows a meal. Watch your cat or dog after you have fed them. The cat will make a hasty toilet and curl up for a snooze; the dog will drop down behind the stove or in a sunny corner out-of-doors without even that formality. It is only when the stomach has been ruined by long years of overfeeding that one must use all the precautions which physical culturists and health-food advocates and cranks of that ilk advise—must eschew biscuits for bread two days old, and half-starve oneself in order to live at all. But the healthy boy may eat whatever he pleases, in moderation, and be none the worse for it.

So all the day Allan slept, never once so much as turning over, hearing nothing of the comings and goings in the house. Indeed, Mary Welsh took care that there should be little noise to disturb him. Mamie, when she came home from school at noon, « 95 » was promptly warned to keep quiet, and ate her dinner as silently as a mouse. Not until the sun was sinking low in the west and a glance at the clock assured her that he must be awakened, did she climb the stair which led to his little room and tap gently at his door.

“Allan!” she called. “Allan!”

“Yes?” he answered sleepily, after a moment.

“You must be gittin’ up, if you’re goin’ t’ ketch your train,” she said.

“All right; I’ll be down in a minute,” and he sprang out of bed and into his clothes in a jiffy.

Mary had his supper smoking hot on the table, and Mamie, who had just come home from school, sat down with him to keep him company.

“I don’t like your new position very well, Allan,” she said, as she poured out his coffee for him.

“Why not?” he asked, smiling down into the serious little freckled face.

“Why, you’re going to be away from home every evening,” she explained. “Who’s going to help me get my lessons, I’d like to know?”

Allan laughed outright.

“So that’s it? Well, we’ll have to make some arrangement about it. Maybe in the morning, as soon as I get in—”

“You’ll do no such thing,” broke in Mrs. Welsh, sharply. "When you git home in th’ mornin’ you’re goin’ straight t’ bed, jest as soon as you git « 96 » your breakfast. Mamie kin git her own lessons. It’ll do her good. You’re fair spoilin’ th’ child."

“I’ll tell you,” said Allan, “I’ll get up half an hour earlier in the afternoon. There’s no sense in my sleeping so long, anyway. It’ll make me stupid. You hurry straight home from school, and we’ll have plenty of time.”

Mamie clapped her hands. Then she sprang from her chair, flew around the table, threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.

“Allan, you’re a dear!” she cried. “A perfect dear!”

It was at this moment that the door opened and Jack Welsh came in, grinning broadly as he saw the tableau at the table.

“Mary,” he said, “it seems to me that Mamie’s gittin’ t’ be a very forrerd sort o’ body. It’s scandalous th’ way she runs arter th’ boys.”

“Only arter one boy, Jack,” corrected his wife, “an’ I don’t care how much she runs arter him. But how did ye happen t’ git home so early?”

“I was hungerin’ fer a sight o’ your black eyes, me darlint,” answered Jack, winking at Allan, and he passed his arm about his wife’s trim waist and gave her a tremendous hug.

“Go way, ye blarney!” she cried, beating him off. “Do ye wonder your child’s forrerd when her father sets her sich an example? An’ I s’pose you’ll be wantin’ your supper now. Well, it ain’t ready!”

« 97 »

“No,” said Jack, releasing her, “I’ve got t’ go back t’ th’ yards first t’ see th’ roadmaster. I’ll be back in about half an hour. Come along, Allan, if you’re goin’.”

Allan put on coat and hat, picked up the luncheon-basket, which Mary had already packed for him, kissed Mamie again, and followed Jack down the steep path which led to the street. He turned at the gate to wave good-bye to Mary and Mamie, who stood watching them from the door above, then followed Jack across the maze of tracks toward the station.

“Th’ fact o’ th’ matter is, Allan,” said Jack, in a low voice, as the boy caught up with him, “I come home early on purpose t’ see you.”

“To see me?” Allan repeated, and when he glanced at Jack, he saw that his face was very grave.

“Yes, t’ see you,” said Jack again, and hesitated, as though reluctant to impart the news which he knew would be unwelcome.

“What is it?” asked Allan, and a little shiver ran through him, for he knew that Jack would not speak so without good reason.

The elder man hesitated yet a moment.

“Dan Nolan’s loose,” he said, at last, his voice hoarse with emotion.

« 98 »



“Dan Nolan’s loose,” repeated Jack, as though his companion had not heard, and then walked on in silence.

Allan’s heart gave a sickening leap—not in the least of fear, for he had never been afraid of Nolan, but of anxiety for the property of the company. He knew Nolan’s revengeful and vindictive nature; he knew that he would never rest content until he had avenged himself upon the company for sending him to the penitentiary. For himself he did not fear; Nolan, who was a coward at heart, a lazy, overgrown bully, had never dared attack him openly. He recalled how the thought of Nolan had oppressed him that morning. There was something prophetic in it!

“But I don’t understand,” he said, at last. “I thought Nolan had been sent to the penitentiary for three years.”

“So he was,” growled Jack, "an’ he’d got a stiffer dose than that if he hadn’t been the coward an’ traitor he was. You know he turned State’s « 99 » evidence an’ testified agin his pals, an’ so managed t’ git hisself off with three year, while all th’ others got ten. I’d hate t’ be in Nolan’s shoes when they do git out. They’ll certainly never rest till they git even with him."

“But how did he get out?” asked Allan, again. “He hasn’t been in the penitentiary more than six months.”

“Only five months,” corrected Jack, grimly. “Purty justice I call that! It’s enough t’ disgust an honest man! What’s th’ use o’ being honest, anyway, if that’s all they do to a dirty scoundrel like Dan Nolan? No wonder they’s lynchin’ parties every now an’ then!”

“Jack,” laughed Allan, “you don’t believe a word you’re saying, and you know it!”

“Well, anyway,” said Jack, “it makes me fair sick at heart t’ think of it! Here’s this cowardly blackguard loose agin, an’ y’ know he’s got it in fer ye!”

“Oh, I can take care of myself,” said Allan, easily.

“In a fair fight ye could,” agreed Jack. “But ye know as well as I do that he won’t fight fair. He’ll be tryin’ some of his cowardly tricks on ye, jest like he did afore. I won’t be able t’ sleep fer worritin’ about it!”

“Oh, nonsense, Jack! You don’t need to worry, at all. I’ll keep my eyes open. But you haven’t told me yet how he got out. Was he pardoned?”

« 100 »

“Oh, wuss’n that!” answered Jack, disgustedly. “They went an’ put him on th’ pay-roll!”

“On the pay-roll!” repeated Allan. “Oh, you mean he’s been parolled?”

“Yes; what’s that mean?”

“It means that he’s released during good behaviour. As soon as he does anything wrong he’ll be whisked back into the penitentiary, and won’t get out again till his term’s out.”

“Much good that’ll do,” commented Jack, “arter th’ mischief’s done! That’s like lockin’ th’ stable door arter th’ hoss is stole!”

“He’s probably promised to be good.”

“He’d promise anything,” said Jack; “why, he’d sell his soul t’ th’ devil, t’ git another chance at ye. Ye must look out fer yourself, me boy.”

“I will,” promised Allan, with a laugh, as he swung himself aboard the train. “Don’t worry.”

But when the train had started and he was alone with his thoughts, without the fear of Jack’s sharp eyes seeing what was passing in his mind, the smile faded from his lips. After all, seek to evade it as he might, there was some danger. Nolan was vindictive—he would seek revenge first of all, unless his nature had been completely changed, which was scarcely to be expected. If he would fight fairly, there was very little to apprehend from him; but Allan knew perfectly well that he would not do this. He would work in the dark, undoubtedly; he would « 101 » watch for a chance to injure his enemy without running any risk himself.

So it was in a decidedly serious frame of mind that Allan left the train at Byers Junction and entered the little frame building which was his office. Nevins, the day man, grunted the gruffest kind of a greeting, caught up his coat and lunch-basket, and hastened away, while Allan sat down, looked over the orders, and familiarized himself with the condition of things. There was an order or two to acknowledge, and a report to make, and half an hour passed almost before he knew it.

As he leaned back in his chair to rest a moment, he happened to glance through the window, and was surprised to see Nevins walking up and down the track, at a little distance, as though waiting for some one. He still had his lunch-basket in his hand, and evidently had not yet gone home to supper. Allan watched him, with a feeling of uneasiness which he could not explain. At last, he saw Nevins make an impatient gesture, and after looking up and down the track again, walk rapidly away in the direction of the little village where he boarded.

First Ninety-eight pulled in at that moment and stopped for orders; orders for an extra west had to be received, and a train on the connecting road had to be passed on its way, and by the time he was at leisure again he had forgotten all about Nevins. He got out his copy of the book of rules, « 102 » and looked through it to be sure that he was familiar with the rules which governed each emergency.

The book opened with a “General Notice,” to the effect that “to enter or remain in the service is an assurance of willingness to obey the rules; obedience to the rules is essential to the safety of passengers and employees; the service demands the faithful, intelligent, and courteous discharge of duty; to obtain promotion, capacity must be shown for greater responsibility; and employees, in accepting employment, assume its risks.”

The general rules which followed were easily remembered. Among other things they prohibited the use of intoxicants by employees, while on duty, and the warning was given that “the habitual use of intoxicants, or the frequenting of places where they are sold, is sufficient cause for dismissal.” The officials of the railroads all over the country have come to realize the need for a cool head, steady nerves, and unimpaired judgment in every man who holds a railroad position, from the lowest to the highest, and conditions which were only too common a generation ago would not now be tolerated for a moment. The standard of character, of intelligence, and of conduct required from their employees by railroads, and by almost every other industrial enterprise, has been steadily growing higher, and while skill and experience, of course, still count for much, character and habits also weigh heavily in the scale.

« 103 »

A whistle down the line told him that the extra west, for which he had an order, was approaching. He went to the door and assured himself that the signal was properly set, then, as the train pounded up, called up the dispatchers’ office and reported its arrival. A moment later, a heavy step sounded on the platform and Bill Higgins entered. Allan handed him the order silently, and stood waiting for him to read it, wondering if there would be another quarrel like that of the night before. But Higgins read the order aloud, without protest, then folded it up, put it in his pocket, and turned to go. Allan sat down again at his key; but after a moment he realized that Higgins was still standing beside his chair. He glanced up in surprise, and saw that the big conductor was fiddling nervously with his lantern.

“Fact is,” he burst out, catching Allan’s eye, “I made a fool o’ myself last night. I want you to fergit it, m’ boy.”

“I will,” said Allan, heartily, and held out his hand.

Bill grasped it in his mammoth palm and gave it a mighty squeeze.

“’Tain’t fer my own sake,” he added, and his voice was a little husky.

“I know,” said Allan, quickly. “It’s all right. I’ve forgotten it.”

“Thank’ee,” said Bill, awkwardly, and turned away.

« 104 »

Allan watched his burly figure until it disappeared through the door. He was glad that he had taken the engineer’s advice and not reported him. After all, the man was good, at heart; and besides, there were the wife and children.

He waited until he heard the train puff away, reported its departure, and then picked up the book of rules again. He ran over the definitions—definition of “train,” “section,” “extra,” and so on, which there is no need to repeat here—with which, indeed, the readers of this series ought already to be familiar.

Following the definitions came the train-rules, with instructions as to the time-card, and the signal rules. The latter are especially interesting, for every one who has travelled on a railway has noticed the signals made by hand, flag, or lantern, and has no doubt wondered what they meant. A hand, flag, or lantern swung across the track means stop; raised and lowered vertically, proceed; swung vertically in a circle across the track, when the train is standing, back; and there are other signals to indicate when the train has broken in two, and to order the release or application of the air-brakes. Rule No. 13 is that “any object waved violently by any one on or near the track is a signal to stop,” and a stop signal must always be obeyed, no matter at what cost—to run by such a signal means instant dismissal.

There are other signals, too, which are of interest « 105 » to passengers, particularly the whistle signals. There are sixteen of these, but the more important ones are: one short blast, stop; one long blast on approaching stations, junctions, or railroad-crossings at grade; two long blasts followed by two short ones on approaching public crossings at grade, which is the signal most frequently heard by the travelling public. A succession of short blasts means danger ahead—and is used, too, to scare cows and horses off the track.

There is yet another class of signals, which are given with the signal-cord which runs overhead through every passenger-coach. Every one, of course, has seen this cord, and has also seen the conductor use it to signal to the engineer. It is connected with a little valve over the door of the car, and every time the conductor pulls it, there is a little hiss from the valve as of escaping steam. This is the compressed air escaping. The valve is connected with a compressed-air line which runs through the entire train, and every pull on the cord blows a little whistle in the cab of the engine. Two pulls at this cord, when the train is moving, means stop at once; when the train is standing, two pulls is the signal to start. Four pulls means reduce speed, and five, increase speed. Three pulls is the signal usually heard, and indicates that the train is to stop at the next station. It is always answered by two toots from the whistle to show that the engineer understands. This compressed-air line « 106 » long ago replaced the old signal-cord which rang a bell in the cab.

A call sounded on his instrument, and Allan laid down the book again to answer it. There was a short order to be taken, and just as he repeated it and snapped his key shut, he heard a step at the door behind him. He glanced around carelessly, then started suddenly upright, for on the threshold peering in at him stood Dan Nolan.

« 107 »



For a moment, neither of them spoke. Then Nolan drew back as though to go away, but thought better of it, entered the little room slowly, and without waiting for an invitation, sat down in the remaining chair.

“Howdy,” he said, and smiled at Allan in a manner intended to be amiable.

“How are you?” Allan answered, striving vainly to guess what object Nolan could have had in coming here.

Nolan coughed dismally.

“You see I’m out,” he said, grinning sheepishly.

“Yes; I heard this evening that you had been parolled.”

Nolan coughed again.

“It’d have been murder to keep me in any longer,” he said. “One lung’s gone as it is. Th’ doctor told th’ board I’d be dead inside o’ six months if I wasn’t let out.”

And, indeed, as Allan looked at him more closely, he could see the change in him. He was thinner « 108 » and his face had a ghastly pallor, revolting to see. An experienced police officer would have recognized the prison pallor at a glance—the pallor which all criminals acquire who serve a term in jail; but to Allan it seemed proof positive of the progress of his old enemy’s disease, and his heart was stirred with pity.

“That’s too bad,” he said. “I hope you’ll get well, now you’re out again.”

Nolan shook his head lugubriously.

“Not much hope o’ that, I guess,” he answered. “Arter all, it’s no more’n I deserve fer treatin’ you th’ way I did.”

Allan stared at him in astonishment. Repentance was the last thing he had ever expected of Nolan, and he scarcely knew how to answer.

“Oh, it wasn’t so bad as that,” he managed to say, at last.

“It’s mighty kind o’ you t’ say so,” replied Nolan, humbly, “but I know better. I tell you, durin’ th’ last three months, arter I was locked up in my cell every night, I had plenty o’ time t’ think things over, an’ I begun t’ see what a blamed skunk I’d been.”

There was a whine in his voice not wholly genuine. Allan would have doubted its genuineness still more could he have seen the grimace which Nolan made at his back as he turned away to take an order. He was vaguely troubled. If Nolan was sincerely repentant, he did not wish to be unjust to him, yet, « 109 » at the same time, he could not wholly believe in the reality of a change so at variance with Nolan’s character. Something of this hesitation was visible in his face, as he looked up from taking the message.

“I don’t blame you fer doubtin’ me,” Nolan added. “If I was in your place, I’d kick me out.”

“Oh, I’m not going to do that,” protested Allan, laughing at the twisted pronouns. “How did you happen to come to Byers?”

Nolan’s face wrinkled a little, but the answer came readily enough.

“I’d been to Wadsworth,” he explained. “Th’ people at th’ pen. bought me a ticket an’ sent me back—but I was ashamed t’ stay there—I was ashamed fer anybody t’ see me. They all knowed what I’d done. So I thought I’d go t’ Parkersburg, where I’ve got an uncle who kin git me work, an’ give me a chance t’ earn an honest livin’.”

“And you’re going to walk?” asked Allan.

“Sure,” answered Nolan. “How else? I ain’t a-goin’ t’ jump no train—that’s agin th’ law. An’ I knows mighty well none o’ th’ trainmen ’d let me ride.”

Allan was silent a moment. He remembered vividly the time when he himself had walked from Cincinnati to Wadsworth in search of work; he remembered how long and weary each of those hundred miles had seemed. And he had been strong « 110 » and healthy, while Nolan was evidently weak and sick, not fit at all for such a journey.

Nolan, who had been watching Allan’s face intently, rose suddenly to his feet.

“Don’t you worry about me,” he said. “I ain’t wuth it. Besides, I’ll git along all right.”

“But maybe I can help you,” Allan began.

“No, you can’t; I won’t let you. I ain’t got that low,” and Nolan, crushing his hat fiercely down upon his head, strode to the door. “Good-bye,” he called over his shoulder, “an’ good luck.”

“Good-bye,” answered Allan, and watched him with something almost like respect until his figure was swallowed up in the darkness.

Outside in the night, Nolan was striding up and down, waving his clenched fists wildly in the air, his face convulsed with passion.

“Th’ fool!” he muttered, hoarsely. “Th’ fool! Th’ goody-goody ape! Wanted t’ help me! Oh, I couldn’t ’a’ stood it—I’d ’a’ been at his throat in a minute more. I’ll show him! I’ll show him!”

He circled the shanty cautiously until he reached a spot whence, through the window, he could see Allan bending over his key. He shook his fist at the unconscious boy in a very ecstasy of rage.

“I’ll fix ye!” he cried. “I’ll fix ye!”

He saw Allan stir uneasily in his chair, as though he had heard the threat, and for an instant he stood motionless, with bated breath, his clenched fist still « 111 » in the air. Then he realized the impossibility of being overheard at such a distance, and laughed weakly to himself.

“You’ve lost yer nerve, Dan,” he said. “You’ve lost yer nerve! No, I’m blamed if y’ have!” and he straightened up again and shook his fist fiercely in the air.

“Hello,” said a voice just behind him, “what’s all this about?” and a hand grabbed his wrist.

Nolan turned with a little cry of fright. He gave a gasp of relief as he recognized Nevins.

“What d’ ye want t’ scare a feller like that fer?” he demanded, wrenching his wrist loose.

“Were you scared?” asked Nevins, with a little sneer. “Lost your nerve, hey?”

“No, I ain’t lost my nerve,” retorted Nolan, savagely, “an’ you’ll soon find it out, if you tries t’ git smart with me! I didn’t tell all I knowed at th’ trial!”

Even in the darkness, Nolan could see how Nevins’s face changed, and he laughed triumphantly. Nevins echoed the laugh, but in an uncertain key.

“Oh, come, Dan,” he said, “don’t get mad. I didn’t mean anything.”

But Nolan was not one to be generous with an adversary when he had him down.

“No,” he went on slowly, "I didn’t tell all I knowed. Let’s see—last fall you was night operator at Harper’s—an’ th’ station was robbed—an’ « 112 » when th’ day man come on in th’ mornin’ he found you gagged an’ bound in yer chair, sufferin’ terrible. I didn’t tell th’ court how willin’ you was t’ git tied up, nor how we happened t’ choose th’ night when th’ station was full o’ vallyble freight, nor how you got a share o’ th’ swag—"

“Oh, come, Dan,” Nevins broke in, “what’s the use of raking all that up again? Of course you didn’t tell. I knew mighty well you wouldn’t give a friend away.”

“There’s no tellin’ what I’ll do if I lose my nerve,” said Nolan, threateningly. “Where ’re you stoppin’?”

“Over here at the village. And mighty dull it is.”

“Well, they’s nobody here knows me,” said Nolan. “S’pose we go over to your room an’ have a talk.”

“All right,” agreed Nevins, after an instant’s hesitation. And they walked away together. “What are you going to do now?” he asked, a moment later.

“Th’ fust thing I’m a-goin’ t’ do,” answered Nolan, his eyes shining fiercely, “is t’ git even with that dirty rat of an Allan West, who sent me to th’ pen.”

“All right,” said Nevins, heartily. “I’m with you there. I don’t like him, either. Only, of course, you’ll not—you’ll not—”

“Oh, don’t be afeerd,” snarled Nolan. "I ain’t « 113 » a-goin’ t’ kill him. I got too much sense t’ run my head in a noose. Besides, that ain’t what I want. That ain’t good enough! I want somethin’ t’ happen that’ll disgrace him, that he’ll never git over—somethin’ that’ll haunt him all his life. He holds his head too high, an’ I’m a-goin’ t’ make him hold it low!"

“I see,” said Nevins, thoughtfully. “Well, we can manage it some way.”

“O’ course we kin,” agreed Nolan, and licked his lips eagerly. “Afore I git through with him, he’ll be sorry he was ever born!”

Nevins nodded.

“We can manage it,” he repeated. “Here we are,” he added, and stopped before a two-story frame dwelling-house. “My room is up-stairs. Come along,” and he opened the front door.

Nolan followed him through the door and up the stairs. Nevins opened another door, struck a match to show his companion the way, and then lighted a lamp which stood on a table in the middle of the room. Then he closed the door and locked it, and going to the window, pulled down the blind so that no one could see in from the outside. Then he went to a bureau which stood in one corner, unlocked it and got out a box of stogies, a sack of sugar, a bottle of whiskey, and two glasses. He stirred up the fire in the little stove which warmed the room, and set over it a kettle which he filled with water from the pitcher on his washstand. « 114 » Nolan, who had been watching him with greedy eyes, licking his lips from time to time, dropped into a chair with a grunt of satisfaction.

“You’re all right, Nevins,” he said. “You treat a feller decent.”

“Of course I do,” agreed Nevins, “especially when he’s my friend. Now we can talk.”

An hour later, any one looking in upon them, would have seen them sitting together before the fire, their heads nodding, and the room so filled with tobacco-smoke that the flame of the lamp showed through it dim and yellow. Nevins was snoring heavily, but Nolan was still awake and was muttering hoarsely to himself.

“That’s it!” he said. “That’s th’ ticket! You’ve got a great head, Nevins! No, I’ll never tell—not arter you’re helpin’ me out this way. Why, we kin work it easy as greased lightnin’. Nobody’ll ever know—an’ that kid’ll never git over it. He’s that kind—it’ll haunt him! Why, I wouldn’t be surprised if he went crazy!”

Nevins awoke with a start.

“Come on,” he said, “let’s go to bed.”

“All right,” assented Nolan, and arose heavily, and began to undress, lurching unsteadily from side to side. “But you certainly are a peach, Nevins, t’ think of a scheme like that!”

“Oh, that was easy,” protested Nevins, who was winding his alarm-clock. “That was easy.”

« 115 »

“It’ll fix him,” Nolan chuckled. “He’ll never sleep sound ag’in!”

“And he won’t be such a pet at headquarters,” Nevins added. “In fact, I think his connection with the P. & O. will end then and there.”

“O’ course,” Nolan assented. “But it ain’t that I’m thinkin’ of so much. It’s of him thinkin’ an’ worryin’ an’ goin’ crazy about it. Mebbe he’ll kill hisself!”

Even Nevins, hardened as he was, could not repress a shudder as he saw Nolan’s countenance convulsed with horrible mirth. There was something revolting and fiendish about it. He turned quickly and blew out the light.

“Come on,” he said, almost harshly. “Get to bed. It’s nearly midnight.”

But even after they were in bed, he could hear Nolan chuckling ecstatically to himself, and shrank away from him in disgust.

« 116 »



The operator’s work at Byers Junction was more important and difficult than at any of the other small stations on the line, because, as has already been explained, it was at that point that the track of the D. W. & I. joined that of the P. & O., and all D. W. & I. trains ran over the P. & O. tracks as far as West Junction, a distance of about eight miles. This complicated the traffic problem and the movement of trains much more than a simple crossing would have done, for the trains had to be kept out of each other’s way not only at the junction, but for the whole length of that stretch of track which was used in common by the two roads.

The P. & O. was considerably the older of the two, and had been built along the main line of traffic from east to west—the line which, in the old days, had been followed by the stage-coach. As the State became more thickly settled, other lines sprang up, and finally, when rich deposits of coal were discovered in Jackson County, the D. W. & I. was built to tap this territory and connect it with the northwestern part of the State. The « 117 » P. & O. also ran through Jackson County, and, of course, soon built a branch to the coal-fields, so that when the work of construction on the new road began it was found that it would closely parallel the P. & O. for a distance of about eight miles. The new road was short of cash at the time, as most roads in the building are, and decided to use the P. & O. track for that distance, instead of building a track of its own.

So a traffic arrangement was made, the junction points established, and joint operators placed there. This arrangement, which, as was at first supposed, would be only temporary, was continued from year to year, the P. & O. getting a good rental out of this stretch of track, and the D. W. & I. never accumulating a sufficient balance in the treasury to build a track of its own—at least, whenever it did get such a balance, it was always needed for some more pressing purpose, and the old arrangement was allowed to stand. When a railroad has to fight to earn the interest on its bonds, it is willing to do anything that will give it a longer lease of life.

The D. W. & I. was, as will be seen, an unimportant road. It ran only one passenger-train a day in each direction, and, as it was not on the way to anywhere, its business, both freight and passenger, was purely local. At the beginning of its existence, it had hauled a great deal of coal for the Chicago market, but this business had been killed by the development of the great Pocahontas « 118 » fields in West Virginia. Luckily for the road, it was discovered at this time that it might serve as a link between the mighty N. & W. and C. H. & D. to connect the Pocahontas fields with Chicago, so, while the east end of the line gradually degenerated into a streak of rust, traffic on the west end, from Wadsworth to Dayton, became heavier than ever, as train after train of coal and coke, from the West Virginia fields, passed daily over this little stretch of track, and then rushed away to the busy city by the lake. It was a good deal like a man living on one lung, or with one side partially paralyzed; yet a certain sort of life is possible under those conditions, and this one-sided traffic provided the only dividend the D. W. & I. had ever paid, and permitted the road to struggle along without going into the hands of a receiver.

Owing to this double use of this little stretch of track, the operators at both Byers and West Junction were what is called “joint operators;” that is, they served as operator for both roads, received orders from both headquarters, and so managed the traffic that there should be no conflict. This consisted, for the most part, in holding the D. W. & I. trains until the P. & O. trains were out of the way; for the trains of the more important road were always given precedence, and the others had to make the best of it and hurry through whenever there was an opening. The P. & O. dispatcher had absolute control over the track, and the D. W. & I. « 119 » trains were not turned back to the control of that road until they had got back upon their own line.

At night, luckily, there was very little traffic over the D. W. & I.—so little that it had not bothered Allan at all. But during the day trick, traffic was much livelier, and it required a cool head and steady judgment to get everything past without confusion. There was, both at Byers and West Junction, a long siding upon which trains could be held until the track ahead was clear, but they were used only when absolutely necessary, for the ideal and constant endeavour of dispatcher, operator, and every other employee of a railroad is to keep things moving.

Only by keeping things moving, can a railroad be profitably operated. One stalled train soon blocks a dozen others, and any derangement of the time-card means delayed mails, wrathful passengers, irate trainmen, and a general tangle of traffic almost certain to result in accident. To keep things moving on a single-track road, such as the P. & O., requires no little judgment and experience, as well as the power of reaching the wisest decision instantly. There must be, too, in the ideal dispatcher, an element of daring, for chances have to be taken occasionally, and in railroading, more than in any other business, he who hesitates is lost. Not of foolhardiness, be it understood, for the foolhardy dispatcher soon comes to grief; but he must, as it were, expect the best, not the worst, and govern « 120 » himself accordingly. Before he sits down at his desk, he must make up his mind that during his trick, every train is going to get over the road on time, and then bend every energy to accomplish that result. This, it may be added, is the secret of all successful train-dispatching.

Nevins reported on time next morning, and greeted Allan with unusual affability; but his eyes were bloodshot, and though he pretended to listen to Allan’s explanation of the orders in force, it was evident that his attention wandered and that he was making no effort to understand.

“All right,” he said, when Allan had finished. “I’ve got that all straight,” and he sat down heavily before the table.

His hand trembled perceptibly as he opened his key, and Allan, as he put on his coat, noticed the confused way in which he started to answer the dispatcher’s question about the position of a train.

The dispatcher cut in sharply.

“Who is this?” he asked.


“What’s the matter—been out all night?”

Nevins, who knew that Allan had heard the question, reddened to his ears.

“Now try again,” added the dispatcher, “and brace up.”

Nevins, by a mighty effort, controlled his uncertain muscles, and sent the remainder of the message accurately, but considerably slower than usual.

« 121 »

The dispatcher acknowledged it.

“All right,” he said, “but take my advice and go out and put your head under the pump. You need it. The way you sent that message reminds me of a man going down the street so drunk that the only way he can walk straight is to watch every step he takes.”

Nevins reddened again and growled unintelligibly.

As for Allan, he caught up his lunch-basket and hurried out of the office, sorry that he had overheard the reprimand, but scarcely able to suppress his laughter at the aptness of it. For Nevins had sent the message in just that slow, painful, dignified way.

The accommodation stopped at the junction a few minutes later, and he swung aboard and settled into a seat. As the train started, some unaccountable impulse caused him to lean toward the window and look back at the little shanty. A man was just entering the door. Allan caught but a glimpse of him, and yet it seemed to him in that instant that he recognized the slouching figure of Dan Nolan.

He sank back into his seat strangely troubled. Could it, indeed, be Nolan? Was he hanging about the place for some sinister purpose? Then he thrust the thought away. It could not have been Nolan. That worthy was by this time many miles away, on the road to Parkersburg, in search of a chance to make an honest living.

« 122 »

When Allan stepped upon the platform of the Wadsworth station that evening, lunch-basket in hand, to take the train back to Byers, he was surprised to find Jack Welsh there awaiting him.

“I didn’t want t’ go home early agin,” Jack explained. “Mary ’d scent somethin’ wrong and ’d git th’ whole story out o’ me. I don’t want her t’ be worrited about this business.”

“About what business?” asked Allan.

“Oh, you know well enough. About Dan Nolan. He was here yistidday arternoon. Some o’ th’ boys seen him over t’ James’s saloon. Jem Tuttle says he seen him jump on second ninety-eight. I thought mebbe he might ’a’ gone t’ Byers.”

“He did,” said Allan, quietly. “I saw him.”

“Ye did!” cried Jack. “I hope ye did fer him!”

“Why, Jack,” protested Allan, “the poor fellow’s nearly dead with consumption. He’s on his way to Parkersburg to look for work. He says he wants a chance to earn an honest living.”

“He told ye that, did he? An’ was ye fool enough t’ set there with your mouth open an’ gulp it all down? I give ye credit fer more sense than that!”

Allan reflected that Nolan certainly had lied about his unwillingness to steal a ride. And the figure he had seen that morning vanishing through the door of the Byers station recurred to him.

“I did believe it,” he admitted finally. "He « 123 » looked so sick and weak that I couldn’t help but pity him."

“Pity a toad!” said Jack, contemptuously. “Pity a snake! An’ he’s a thousand times wuss ’n any snake! He’s jest waitin’ fer a good chance t’ bite!”

“Well, I’ll take care he doesn’t get the chance,” Allan assured him, and clambered aboard the train at the sharp “all aboard!” of the conductor.

The more he thought over the circumstances of Nolan’s appearance the night before, the more strongly was he inclined to believe that Jack’s warning was not without reason. Nolan, perhaps, hoped to put him off his guard, to catch him napping, and then, in some underhanded way, to “get even.”

“Well, he sha’n’t do that,” murmured Allan to himself. “I’ll keep my eyes open. And if Mr. Nolan is up to any such little game, I think he’ll get the worst of it.”

With which comforting reflection, he leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes, and took a little cat-nap until the junction was reached.

When he entered the little office, he found Nevins sitting listlessly at the table, his head in his hands. He glanced up quickly as Allan entered, with a kind of guilty start, and the boy noticed how pale and tired he looked. Nevins nodded, in answer to his greeting, then got unsteadily to his feet and stood drumming nervously with his fingers upon the table.

« 124 »

“You look regularly done up,” said Allan. “Had a hard day?”

“Hard!” echoed Nevins, hoarsely. “I should say so—hard’s no name for it! They’ve been tryin’ to send all the freight in the country through here. And everybody snortin’ mad, from the dispatchers down to the brakemen. You heard how that smarty lit into me the first thing this mornin’. It’s enough to make a man throw up the job!”

Allan saw how overwrought he was and dropped into the chair without replying, and began to look over the orders on the hook. Nevins watched him, his face positively haggard. Just then the sounder clicked off a rapid message, as the operator at Hamden reported the passage of a train to the dispatcher at headquarters.

“Hello,” said Allan; “there’s a special coming west. Do you know what it is?”

“It’s the president’s special,” answered Nevins, moistening his lips nervously. “A lot of the big guns are on it, on their way to attend a meeting at Cincinnati. They’ve kept the wires hot all day—nothing but thirty-nine, thirty-nine, thirty-nine. The other business had to take its chance.”

Thirty-nine, it may be explained in passing, is the signal used for messages of the general officers, and indicates that such messages have precedence over all other messages except train-orders.

Nevins paused a moment longer, gazing down at Allan’s bent head, and opened his mouth once or « 125 » twice as though to speak; then, seizing his coat and hat, fairly rushed from the place.

Allan hung up the order-hook again, and as he did so, he noticed that Nevins’s lunch-basket was standing on the floor near the window. Nevins had evidently been so upset and nervous from the hard day’s work that he had forgotten it.

He glanced at his watch and saw that it was 6.58. Hamden, which had reported the passage of the special, was only eight miles away, so the train would pass the junction within five or six minutes. Allan knew that when a train carrying the high officials went over the road, the way was kept clear for it, it was given the best engine and the nerviest engineer, and every effort was made to break records. There was no order for it at the junction, his signal would give it a clear track, and it would sweep by without slackening speed.

As a matter of precaution, he went to the door to be sure the signal was properly set, and stood there, looking down the track in the direction whence the train was coming. He had a clear view for perhaps half a mile, and sure enough, a minute later, he saw a headlight flash into view, and the rails began to hum as they only do when a train is running a mile a minute. A long whistle from the engine showed that the engineer had seen the signal and knew that the track was clear.

Then suddenly, the boy’s heart stood still, for « 126 » down the track, toward West Junction, he heard the chug-chug of an approaching freight!

Just what happened in the instant that followed Allan never clearly remembered. His brain seemed paralyzed; his senses swam and the world grew dark before him as though some one had struck him a heavy blow upon the head. Then, instinctively, his hand flew to the lever which controlled the train-signal and swung it over; but he had no hope that the engineer of the special would note the change. He was too close upon it, and besides he had assured himself that it showed an open track and so would not look at it again.

An instant later, there was a report like a pistol-shot. Allan heard the sharp shriek of applied brakes, the shrill blast from the whistle which told of “Danger ahead!” He saw the special sweep past, shaken throughout its entire length by the mighty effort made to stop it; then he sank limply down on the threshold of the door, and buried his face in his hands, not daring to see more.

« 127 »



The crowd of officials aboard the president’s special was a jolly one. To get away, even for a few days, from the toil and moil of headquarters was a genuine and welcome vacation, and though there were three stenographers aboard, all of whom were kept busy, there remained plenty of time for story-telling and good-natured quizzing. At the head of the party was President Bakewell, dressed in the height of fashion, holding his present position not so much because of any intimate knowledge of practical railroading as because of his ability as a financier, his skill as a pilot in days when earnings decreased, when times were bad, and when the money for running expenses or needed improvements had to be wrung from a tight market. At doing that he was a wizard, and he wisely left the problems of the actual management of the road to be solved by the men under him.

These, with very few exceptions, had risen from the ranks. They knew how to do everything from driving a spike to running an engine. They had « 128 » been drilled in that best of all schools, the school of experience. The superintendents knew their divisions, every foot of track, every siding, every fill, bridge, and crossing, more thoroughly than the ordinary man knows the walk from his front door to the gate. They had gone over the road so often, had studied it so thoroughly, that they had developed a sort of special sense in regard to it. Put them down anywhere along it, blindfolded, on the darkest night, and, at the end of a moment, they could tell where they were. They knew each target by its peculiar rattle as the train sped past. They knew the position of every house—almost of every tree and rock—along it. They knew the pitch of every grade, the degree of every curve; they knew the weak spots, and laboured ceaselessly to strengthen them.

Now, as the special swept westward from general headquarters, superintendent after superintendent clambered aboard, as his division was reached, and pointed out to the president and other general officers the weak spots along it. He showed where the sidings were insufficient, where the grade was too steep to be passed by heavy trains, where a curve was too sharp to be taken at full speed without danger, where a bridge needed strengthening or replacing by a masonry culvert. He pointed out stations which were antiquated or inadequate to the growing business of the road, and suggested « 129 » changes in schedule which would make for the convenience of the road’s patrons.

For a railroad is like a chain—it is only as strong as its weakest link, and the tonnage which an engine can handle must be computed, not with reference to the level track, but with reference to the stiffest grade which it will have to pass before reaching its destination—except, of course, in cases where the grade is so stiff, as sometimes happens on a mountain division, that it becomes a matter of economy to keep an extra engine stationed there to help the trains over, rather than trim the trains down to a point where a single engine can handle them.

The president listened to the arguments and persuasive eloquence of his superintendents, and nodded from time to time. His stenographer, sitting at his elbow, took down the recommendations and the reasons for them, word for word, as well as a comment from the president now and then. As soon as general headquarters were reached again, all this would be transcribed, typewritten copies made and distributed among the general officers; the recommendations would then be carefully investigated and approved or disapproved as might be.

At Parkersburg, Superintendent Heywood and Trainmaster Schofield, of the Ohio division, got aboard, to see that the needs of their division received proper consideration. Athens, Zaleski, McArthur, « 130 » and Hamden were passed, and the two officials exchanged a glance. They had a recommendation to make which, if approved, would mean the expenditure of many thousands of dollars.

“The next station is Byers Junction,” said Mr. Heywood. “From there to West Junction, as you know, the D. W. & I. uses our track. In view of the great increase of traffic during the last year both Mr. Schofield and I feel that the D. W. & I. should either be compelled to build its own track, or that the P. & O. should be double-tracked between those points.”

“Hm!” commented the president. “How far is it?”

“Seven and a half miles.”

“Do you know how much another track would cost?”

“Not less than fifty thousand dollars.”

“What return do we get from the D. W. & I. for the use of our track?”

“It has averaged ten thousand dollars a year. But their freight business is increasing so that I believe it will soon be fifteen thousand.”

“Hm!” commented the president again. “Why don’t they borrow the money and build their own track?”

“In the first place, their credit isn’t very good,” Mr. Heywood explained, "and in the second place, for them to buy and get into shape a separate right of way would cost probably two hundred thousand « 131 » dollars. We have our right of way, all grades are established, and all we have to do is to lay a second track along the one we already have."

“It sounds easy, doesn’t it?” laughed the president. “I don’t know anything that’s easier than building a railroad—on paper.”

“It would be a good investment,” said Mr. Schofield, rallying to the support of the superintendent. “It would return at least twenty per cent. on the cost. If we don’t get another track, we’ll have to shut the D. W. & I. out. A single track won’t handle the business any more. There’s always a congestion there that affects the whole road.”

The president puffed his cigar meditatively. Good investments appealed to him, and the reasons for the improvement certainly seemed to be weighty ones.

“Besides,” went on Mr. Schofield, “there’s always the danger of accident to be considered. A single one might cost us more than the whole eight miles of track.”

“Ever had any there?”

“No—none so serious as all that. But we’ve escaped some mighty bad ones by the skin of our teeth.”

The president smiled.

“Don’t try to scare me,” he said.

“I’m not. But it’s a serious matter, just the same. There’s the office now,” added Mr. Schofield, pointing to the little frame building. He saw « 132 » a figure standing in the doorway, and knew that it was Allan West. “There’s the boy,” he began, when a report like a pistol-shot stopped him.

Instantly he grasped the arms of his seat, as did all the others, for they knew that the train had run over a torpedo. A second later, they were all jerked violently into the air as the brakes were jammed on and the engine reversed. Every loose object in the car was hurled forward with terrific force, and a negro porter, who was walking past bearing a tray of glasses, was shot crashing through the thin front partition, and disappeared with a yell of terror. A window, shattered by the strain, rained its fragments in upon the floor, and through the opening thus made, the occupants of the car could hear the shrieking brakes and labouring engine. In a moment, it was over; the train jerked itself to a stop; paused an instant as if to regain breath, and then, as the brakes were released, started with a jump back toward the office it had just passed. A moment later, something seemed to strike it and hurl it backward, but the car did not leave the rails. The impetus slowly ceased, and the train came to a stop just opposite the semaphore.

Without saying a word, the officials hastened outside. They knew perfectly well what had happened. A head-end collision had been averted by the narrowest possible margin; indeed, it had not been wholly averted, but had been so reduced in force that no great damage had been done.

« 133 »

“Lucky our train was a light one,” muttered Mr. Schofield, as he jumped to the ground. “I wonder if he thinks now I was trying to scare him?” and he shuddered at the thought of what would have happened had the engineer been unable to control the train. If it had been a regular passenger, with eight or ten heavy Pullmans crowding after the engine, even the most powerful brakes would have been unable to hold it.

Superintendent Heywood, his face very stern, hurried forward toward the engine. It was his duty to investigate the accident, to place the blame, and to see that the guilty person was punished. He regretted, as he had often done before, that the only punishment the road could inflict was dismissal from the service. Such a punishment for such a fault seemed so feeble and inadequate!

Bill Roth, the engineer of the special, was walking about his engine, examining her tenderly to see what damage she had sustained from the tremendous strain to which she had been subjected and from the collision which had followed.

“She’s all right,” he announced to Mr. Heywood. “Nothing smashed but her pilot and headlight,” and he patted one of the huge drivers as though the engine were a living thing and could feel the caress.

The superintendent nodded curtly and hurried on. Twenty feet down the track, the pilot and headlight also smashed, loomed a freight-engine. « 134 » A single glance told Mr. Heywood that it belonged to the D. W. & I.

“I’ll run her in on the siding,” he said to Mr. Schofield, who was at his elbow.

The latter nodded and started on a run for the office, in order to get into touch at once with the dispatchers’ office. Neither official understood, as yet, how the accident had happened; but there would be time enough to inquire into that. The first and most important thing was to get the track clear so that the special could proceed on its way and the regular schedule be resumed.

As Mr. Schofield sprinted toward the office, he glanced at the train-signal and noted that it was set at danger. He must find out why their engineer had disregarded that warning, for he knew that the brakes had not been applied until the train was past the signal. Bill Roth was one of the oldest and most trusted engineers on the road, else he would not have been in charge of the special, but the best record on earth could not excuse such carelessness as that.

So Mr. Schofield reflected as he sprang up the steps that led to the door of the shanty. There he paused an instant, for at the table within stood Allan West, ticking off to headquarters a message telling of the accident, and asking for orders. Not until he came quite near could the trainmaster see now drawn and gray the boy’s face was. He waited until the message was finished and the key clicked « 135 » shut. Then he stepped forward and laid his hand gently on the boy’s arm.

“All right, Allan,” he said. “No harm done, though it was a mighty close shave. You sit down there and pull yourself together, while I get this thing straightened out.”

In a moment he had headquarters.

“Eng. 315 running extra delayed at Byers Junction ten minutes. Will leave Junction 7.18. A M S.”

“O. K.,” flashed the answer from the dispatcher, who at once proceeded to modify his other orders in accordance with this delay.

As the trainmaster snapped the key shut, the superintendent appeared at the door.

“All ready,” he said.

“The track’s open,” said Mr. Schofield. “I’ve notified Greggs,” and the two men ran down the steps and started toward the train. “Did you notice the signal?” he added.

“Yes,” answered the superintendent, “and I asked Roth about it. He and his fireman both swear that it showed clear when they looked at it a moment before they reached it. Roth merely glanced at it and then looked back at the track. But the fireman says that it seemed to him it was swinging up just as they rushed past it. Then they hit the torpedo.”

“And where did it come from?”

« 136 »

“Lord only knows. There’s something mysterious about this affair, Schofield.”

“I know there is,” and the trainmaster’s face hardened. “I’m going to stay right here till I get to the bottom of it.”

Mr. Heywood nodded.

“Yes—I think that’s best. Who’s the night operator here now?”

“Allan West,” answered the other, speaking with evident difficulty.

The superintendent stopped for an instant, then went on whistling softly.

“Too bad,” he said, at last. “Have you asked him anything about it?”

“No; he seemed all unstrung. But he kept his head. He was reporting the accident and asking for orders when I got to the office.”

“Good; I hope he wasn’t to blame—though the setting of the train-signal at the last instant looks bad.”

“Yes,” assented Mr. Schofield, “it does.”

“Of course, I’m sorry for the boy; but if he was at fault, not even all he has done for the road can—can—”

“No,” broke in Mr. Schofield, curtly; “I know it can’t. Don’t be afraid. I’ll go to the bottom of the matter, regardless of who is hurt. I’ll fix the blame.”

The superintendent nodded without replying. Both men were more moved than they cared to « 137 » show. For they were fond of the boy and had been very proud of him.

Mr. Heywood glanced at his watch, saw that it pointed to 7.18, and gave the signal to the conductor.

And as the train pulled away, Mr. Schofield started slowly back toward the shanty. The task before him was about the most unpleasant that he had ever faced.

But his countenance was impassive and composed as he mounted the steps to the door.

« 138 »



Allan had recovered somewhat from the nervous shock the threatened accident had given him, and was receiving a message as Mr. Schofield entered. The latter paused a moment to look at him—at the handsome, honest, boyish face; the broad and open brow bespeaking intelligence and character, the mouth firm beyond his years, the eyes steady and fearless; and as he looked, a weight seemed to drop from his heart. Whoever was to blame, he knew instinctively that it was not Allan West.

He sat down with an audible sigh of relief, and got out a cigar and lighted it. A moment later, Allan repeated the message, closed his key and looked up with a smile. Mr. Schofield had proved himself a friend tried and true, and one upon whom he knew he could rely.

“Well,” said the trainmaster, answering the smile, “I’ve come to find out how it all happened. Suppose you tell me the story.”

Allan passed his hand quickly across his eyes.

« 139 »

“I really know very little,” he began. “I came on duty at the usual time, and took an order or two. Then I heard the operator at Hamden report the special. I knew it would be here in a few minutes, and as I had no order for it—”

“You’re sure there was no order for it?” interrupted Mr. Schofield.

“Yes, sir; I had just looked over the orders on the hook. So I went to the door to be sure the signal showed a clear track.”

“It did show a clear track, did it?”

“Yes, sir. I stood there a moment longer; and then I heard the special coming and saw its light flash around the curve. I watched it coming—it must have been running nearly a mile a minute.”

“It was—all of it,” said Mr. Schofield.

“Well, it was almost at the switch, when I heard another engine chug-chugging up the grade from West Junction. I don’t remember clearly just what I did for the next moment or two—I have a sort of recollection that I jerked the signal over and then I heard a shot—”

“It was a torpedo.”

“A torpedo?” echoed Allan. “But who—”

“I haven’t the slightest idea. We’ll look into that after awhile. Go ahead with your story.”

Allan paused a moment to collect his thoughts.

“I heard the brakes go on and saw the special sort of humping itself up in the effort to stop—”

« 140 »

“It was humping itself, and no mistake,” agreed the trainmaster. “And we were rattling around inside like dried peas in a pod.”

“And then,” Allan went on, “I thought I heard the trains come together, and things sort of went black before me; but I managed to pull myself together enough to report that the track was blocked. I was doing that when you came in.”

“Yes, I heard you. Now let’s find out how that freight got past West Junction. The operator there must have had an order to hold it until the special passed.”

He sat down before the key and called West Junction. The operator there, who had heard of the accident, answered almost instantly. At the same moment, the conductor and engineer of the freight, having assured themselves that no great damage had been done, and having replaced their shattered headlight by a lantern from the caboose, came in to report and ask for orders.

Mr. Schofield waited until he had received an answer to his question, then he closed the key and arose and faced them.

“The operator at West Junction says you left there at 6.20,” he said. “How does it come it took you nearly an hour to make eight miles?”

“We got a hot-box,” explained the conductor, "the worst I ever see. It was about midway of the train, so nobody smelt it till it got so bad it blazed up, and then I happened to see it when I looked « 141 » out the winder of the caboose. When we opened the box, we found it dry as a bone, not a bit of dope in it—regularly cleaned out. I’ll bet it hadn’t been packed for a month. The journal was swelled so tight it took us half an hour to get it down."

“Yes, an’ we used nearly all th’ water in th’ tank doin’ it,” broke in the conductor. “An’ then when I tried t’ start, I found th’ brakes set, an’ we lost ten minutes more lookin’ for th’ air-hose that had busted an’ puttin’ on a new one.”

A hot-box, it should be explained in passing, is caused by imperfect lubrication of the axles of cars or engines, at the point where they pass through the journal-bearings. As they revolve rapidly under the great weight upon them, the friction generates heat, unless the surfaces are properly oiled, and this heat causes the journal to swell until it sticks in the bearing and refuses to revolve at all. Not infrequently the heat is so great that it generates a flame and sets the car on fire. To keep the journal lubricated, it is enclosed in a metal box, called a journal-box, and this is filled with axle-grease, or “dope,” as railroaders call it. In every railroad yard where trains are made up, there is a gang of men whose sole business it is to go from car to car, dope-bucket in hand, and make sure that all journal-boxes are properly filled. For hot-boxes are a prolific source of trouble. So are burst air-hose. Air-brakes, operated by compressed air, are very generally in use now on freight-cars as well as passenger-coaches. « 142 » The compressed air is carried under the cars in iron pipes, but the coupling is of rubber-hose, in order to allow some play as the cars bump together or strain apart, and this hose frequently bursts under the great pressure. A burst hose instantly sets all the brakes, and the train-hands must first find the break, and then replace the burst coupling with a new one.

Mr. Schofield had listened to all these explanations with furrowed brow. Now he turned abruptly to the conductor.

“When you found you had run over your time,” he demanded, “how does it come you proceeded without a flag?”

“We hadn’t run over our time,” protested the conductor, hotly. “We had till 7.08 to make the Junction. We supposed of course the operator here knew his business and would protect us.”

“You would have been protected if I’d known you were coming,” said Allan, quickly, “but I had no order for you.”

“What!” demanded the engineer, incredulously, “do you mean to say th’ dispatcher didn’t cover us?”

“I certainly do.”

“An’ you didn’t git no order fer th’ special to meet us here?”

“I got no order whatever.”

The engineer, his face very red, produced from his pocket a soiled piece of tissue-paper.

« 143 »

“Read that,” he said, and handed it to the trainmaster.

Mr. Schofield opened it, his face very stern.

“’Engine 618,’” he read, "’will run extra from West Junction to Byers Junction and will keep clear of special passenger-train west, engine 315, after 7.08 P. M.’"

“We’d have got here all right at 7.06,” went on the engineer, truculently. “We had three minutes.”

“What time did the special pass?” asked Mr. Schofield.

“At 7.05,” answered Allan.

The trainmaster nodded, and handed the order back to the engineer.

“You boys are all right,” he said. “You’re evidently not to blame.”

The engineer chuckled.

“You bet we ain’t,” he agreed. “But that’ll be th’ last o’ Mister Dispatcher on this road, I reckon. Who was it?”

“Greggs,” answered the trainmaster, tersely.

“Hum!” said the engineer, after a moment’s reflection. “I’d never have thought Greggs’d make a break like that. If it’d been Jenkins, now.”

“When did you realize that something was wrong?” asked Mr. Schofield, with a little impatient jerk of the head.

“When I saw that signal swung up. I knowed nobody’d handle it so rough as that without mighty good cause. So I jammed on th’ brakes an’ jerked « 144 » open th’ sand-box an’ reversed her; an’ then in about a second, I see another headlight comin’ at me, an’ I knowed what was up.

“’Git out o’ here!’ I yelled to Joe—he’s my fireman—but he’d seen her comin’, too, an’ didn’t need no warnin’ from me. I see him jump an’ I was jest a-goin’ t’ foller suit, when I see th’ other feller had his train under control. We had slowed up considerable, too—we hadn’t been comin’ very fast, but th’ heavy train behind us shoved us on—so we jest give her a little love-tap, as it were, an’ stopped.”

“A little harder one and we’d have been off the track,” added the conductor. “I can’t understand Greggs makin’ a mistake like that. I always thought he was the best man in the office. I don’t see how he could have overlooked giving you an order for us.”

“Better men than Greggs have made mistakes,” retorted the trainmaster, a little tartly.

“Well, we must be gettin’ on,” said the conductor, eying Allan, curiously. “The investigation will show who was to blame.”

Allan was already calling up the D. W. & I. headquarters.

“Eng. 618,” he reported, “delayed by hot-box, just arrived here and wants orders.”

In a moment the answer flashed back.

“Eng. 618 will leave Byers Junction at 7.38 and run extra to Wellston.”

« 145 »

Allan repeated it, got it O. K.’d, and handed a copy to each of the two men. They read it aloud, glanced at their watches, and stalked out. A moment later, Allan and the trainmaster heard the exhaust as the engine started. As soon as the train was past the switch, Allan turned the semaphore and lowered the train-signal to show a clear track. Then he came back and sat down by the trainmaster, who was puffing his cigar reflectively.

“You’re fonder of fresh air than I am,” remarked the latter, as a little gust of wind rustled the orders which hung on the hook near the window. “We’d better have that down, hadn’t we?”

Allan, glancing at the window, noticed for the first time that the lower sash was raised.

“Why, I didn’t know it was open,” he said, and going to it, took out the stick which supported the sash and let the sash down. “Nevins must have raised it before he went away.”

“Well, if it had been me,” remarked the trainmaster, “I’d have noticed that wind blowing down my back before this. But we don’t seem to be getting much nearer the solution of this accident—or, rather, we haven’t discovered yet why it didn’t happen.”

“Why it didn’t happen?” repeated Allan.

“Yes. Let us review the circumstances. At 6.20, this D. W. & I. freight passes West Junction, with right of way to Byers Junction until 7.08. That gives it forty-eight minutes to make a run « 146 » which is usually made in twenty-five or less. But it develops a hot-box and bursts an air-hose and is delayed about half an hour. Still, it would have reached here a minute or so ahead of time, and it certainly had the right of way until 7.08.

“You, however, have received no order for this freight, and thinking the track from here to West Junction clear, you set your signals accordingly for the special which is nearly due, and which passes at 7.05. Just as it is passing, you hear the freight approaching, and throw the signal over. But the engineer, being almost upon it, doesn’t see it. An instant later, however, a torpedo explodes, and the engineer manages to stop the train and begin backing before the freight hits it. The engineer of the freight, meanwhile, has seen the signal change, and then sees another headlight rushing down upon him, and manages to get his train pretty well under control before the crash comes. So not much damage is done. But why? What was to keep the special from dashing itself to pieces against the freight?”

“It was the torpedo,” answered Allan.

“Precisely. The torpedo. And where did the torpedo come from? Did it drop from heaven at precisely the right instant? I don’t believe in that sort of miracle. Did it just happen to be there? That would be a miracle, too. No, I believe that some one, at that spot, heard the trains coming, or saw you swing the signal up, realized what was « 147 » about to happen, and placed that torpedo on the track. Now, who was it?”

Allan, of course, was utterly unable to answer.

“And whoever it was,” added the trainmaster, “why doesn’t he come and tell about it? A fellow who does a thing like that has no reason to run away and hide.”

He stopped, chewing the end of his cigar nervously, a wrinkle of perplexity between his eyes.

“He must have been a railroad man,” went on the trainmaster; “a brakeman, conductor, or section-man, or he wouldn’t have had that torpedo in his pocket. Unless it was a tramp who’d stolen it. But a tramp would have been here long ago to claim his reward; and a railroad man would have come to make his report. No; I can’t understand it.”

He was interrupted by a sharp call on the instrument. Allan answered it.

“Make report at once,” clicked the sounder, “of accident to engs. 315 and 618 at Byers Junction. Greggs.”

“Eng. 618,” Allan reported, “leaving West Junction at 6.20, delayed thirty minutes by hot-box, in collision with eng. 315 at 7.05 just west of Byers Junction. Both engines slightly damaged.”

“Why didn’t you hold special and protect eng. 618?” came the query.

“No order to that effect was sent me,” Allan answered. “I supposed the track clear.”

« 148 »

There was a moment’s pause. Then the sounder started again.

“Following order was sent Byers Junction at 5.50: ’Eng. 315, special west, will meet extra east, eng. 618, at Byers Junction.’ Operator at Byers, initial N., repeated this, and it was O. K.’d, so that train was fully covered and should have been protected. Useless to deny that order was received.”

Allan had turned as white as a sheet, and his hands were trembling convulsively as he opened the key.

“Will investigate and report in a moment,” he answered, and then turned to the trainmaster, his eyes dark with horror.

“You heard?” he asked.

The trainmaster nodded, and his face, too, was very grave.

“You’re sure there was no such order?” he inquired.

“I came on at 6.40,” said Allan, “and went over all the orders on the hook very carefully. I’m sure there was no such order there,” and he motioned toward the “flimsies” which hung on the wall beside the window.

Mr. Schofield took down the hook and began to go slowly over the orders. In a moment, a sharp exclamation broke from him.

“What is it?” asked Allan, a sudden horrible fear seizing his heart and seeming to crush it.

The trainmaster detached from the hook one of « 149 » the sheets of tissue-paper, and spread it out before him, his face very stern.

“’Engine 315,’” he read, “’special west, will meet extra east, engine 618, at Byers Junction.’”

Then he leaned back in his chair and gazed at Allan with accusing eyes.

« 150 »



For an instant, Allan scarcely understood. He sat as one stunned by a terrific blow. Then the truth burst upon him like a lightning-flash. He had overlooked the order; two of the flimsy pieces of tissue-paper had stuck together, and he had not perceived it! The accident, had it occurred, would have been his fault; that it did not occur was due to no act of his, but to some mysterious, unexplainable Providence. Morally, he was as guilty as though the trains had dashed together at full speed. Even now, because of his carelessness, they might have been one piled-up mass of twisted iron and splintered wood, with a score of human beings buried in the wreckage. The utter horror of the thought turned him a little dizzy. Then he arose, and took down his coat.

“What are you going to do?” demanded the trainmaster, who had been watching him closely.

“There’s only one thing for me to do, isn’t there?” asked Allan, with a wan little smile. "That is to get out. I see I’m not fit for anything « 151 » better than section-work, after all. I’ll ask Jack Welsh for my old job—that is, if the road will have me."

“Sit down,” commanded Mr. Schofield, sternly. He saw how overwrought the boy was. “There’s no use jumping at conclusions. Besides, you’ve got to stay your trick out here, no matter how guilty you are. There’s your call now,” he added, as the key sounded.

Allan answered it mechanically, took down the message, repeated it, and had it O. K.’d. By the time that was done, he had partially regained his self-control.

“Of course I’ll serve out the trick,” he said. “But I didn’t suppose I’d ever have a chance to serve another. A mistake like that deserves the severest punishment you can inflict.”

“You mean you think Nevins left the order on the hook and that you overlooked it?”

“Certainly,” said the boy. “How else could it have happened?”

“I don’t know. But neither can I understand how you could have overlooked it if you were at all careful. There are only three others on the hook.”

“I wasn’t as careful as I should have been,” said Allan in a low voice, “that’s certain.”

He was sure that he, and he only, had been at fault. Any other explanation seemed ridiculous.

“Did Nevins say anything about this train when you came on duty?” pursued the trainmaster.

« 152 »

Allan made a mighty effort at recollection.

“No,” he said, at last; “I’m sure he didn’t. We talked a moment about the special, and he spoke of the heavy day’s work he’d had. That was all. If he’d said he had an order for it, I certainly shouldn’t have forgotten it right away.”

“Then Nevins broke the rules, too,” said Mr. Schofield, and got out his book of rules. “The second paragraph on page seventy-six reads as follows: ‘When both day and night operators are employed, one must not leave his post until relieved by the other, and the one going off duty must inform the one coming on respecting unfinished business and the position of trains.’”

“He waited until I had looked over the orders,” said Allan, with a lively remembrance of Nevins’s attitude toward that particular rule. “He supposed that I could read, and if there was anything I didn’t understand I’d have asked him.”

Mr. Schofield put his book back into his pocket, and got out another cigar. His nerves were jangling badly, and he felt the need of something to quiet them.

“Well,” he said, at last, “I’m sorry.”

And Allan bowed his head. He accepted the sentence of dismissal which the words implied; it was just. He saw all the air-castles which he had builded so hopefully come tumbling about him; he was overwhelmed in the ruins. He realized that there was no future for him in railroading; no place at the top. He had forfeited his right to serve the road, to expect promotion, by that one mistake, that one piece of carelessness. At least, he told himself, it had taught him a lesson, and one that he would never forget. It had taught him—


« 153 »

Some one stumbled heavily up the steps to the door, and Mr. Schofield uttered a sharp exclamation of astonishment. Allan started around to see upon the threshold the strangest apparition his eyes had ever rested on.

Two figures stood there so daubed with mud, so bedraggled with dirty water, so torn and bruised and soiled as scarcely to resemble human beings. One was tall and thin, the other not so tall and much heavier. The shorter figure held the tall one by the back of the neck in a grip so tight and merciless that such of the latter’s face as was visible through its coating of mud was convulsed and purple. One eye was closed and swollen, while the other seemed starting from its socket. Both men had lost their hats, and their hair was matted with mud, reddened, in the case of the shorter one, with blood.

All this Allan saw at a glance, for in the next instant, the tall figure had been flung violently into the room, while the other entered after him, closed the door, and stood leaning against it, breathing heavily.

For a moment, not a word was spoken. The trainmaster and Allan stared in amazement from one « 154 » of these strange figures to the other. The tall one lay where he had fallen, gasping for breath; the other, having recovered somewhat, got out a handkerchief from some recess, and made an ineffectual effort to blow his nose. Then, as he caught the expression of the others’ faces, he grinned so broadly that some of the mud on his cheeks cracked and scaled off.

“Ye don’t happen t’ have a bath-tub handy, do ye, Allan?” he inquired, in a voice so familiar that the boy jumped in his chair, and even Mr. Schofield started perceptibly.

“Jack!” cried Allan. “Why, what—”

He stopped, unable to go on, breathless with sheer astonishment.

“Is it really you, Welsh?” asked the trainmaster.

“Yes, Misther Schofield; it’s me, or what’s left o’ me,” said Jack, passing his hand ruefully over his head, and gazing down at his tattered garments.

“And who’s this?” asked the trainmaster, with a gesture toward the prostrate figure on the floor.

“I don’t know th’ dirty scoundrel’s name,” answered Jack, “but you’ll know him, I reckon, as soon as we scrape th’ mud off. But afore I tell th’ story, I would loike t’ wash up.”

“All right,” said Allan, starting from his chair, “here you are,” and he poured some water from a bucket into a wash-pan which stood on a soap-box beside the window. A towel hung from a roller on « 155 » the wall, and a piece of soap lay on the window-sill. It was here he washed up every night before he ate his midnight lunch.

Jack took off the remains of his coat, one sleeve of which had been torn out at the shoulder, rolled up his shirt-sleeves, and plunged his head into the water with a grunt of satisfaction. He got off the worst of the mud, threw out the dirty water, and filled the pan with fresh. From this he emerged fairly like his old self, and rubbed face and head violently with the towel. When he had finished, an ugly cut was visible high on his forehead, near the roots of his hair. He touched it tenderly, and held the towel against it, for the washing had started it to bleeding again.

“Here, let me see that,” said Mr. Schofield, peremptorily. He led Jack near the lamp, despite his protests that it was only a scratch, examined the cut, got out his handkerchief, dipped it in clean water, and washed the wound carefully. Then he took from his pocket a little case of court-plaster, drew the edges of the cut together, and stuck a sheet of the plaster over it.

“There,” he said, when the operation was finished, "that will soon be all right. And let me give you a piece of advice, Welsh, and you, too, Allan—never go about this world without a case of court-plaster in your pocket. Men, especially railroad men, are always getting little knocks and cuts, not worth considering in themselves, but which may « 156 » become poisoned, if left open, and cause a great deal of trouble. A snip of court-plaster stops all chance of that. So take my advice—"

There was a sudden movement behind them, and Jack hurled himself toward the door just in time to catch the other mud-bespattered figure as it was disappearing over the threshold. There was a moment’s struggle, then Jack got his deadly neck-grip again, and walked his captive back into the room.

“So ye thought ye’d git away, did ye?” he demanded, savagely. “Thought ye’d give me th’ slip! Not after th’ hard work I had gittin’ ye here, me boy!”

He closed the door with his disengaged hand, then led his prisoner up to the light.

“Do ye know him?” he asked of Allan and the trainmaster, but neither of them saw anything familiar in the distorted and mud-grimed features which the rays of the lamp disclosed. They noticed, however, with what an agony of fear the prisoner stared at them with the single eye which was open.

“Ye don’t know him, hey?” said Jack, seeing their blank countenances. “Well, ye wouldn’t know yer own father under such a layer o’ mud. Let’s wash him off. Then he’ll look more nateral.”

He shoved the prisoner toward the bucket of water, in spite of his suddenly desperate struggles. Then, pinching his neck savagely, he bent him down toward the bucket, and with his free hand splashed « 157 » the water over his face. Then he forced him up to the towel, rubbed his face vigorously, and finally spun him around toward the astonished onlookers.

Allan gave a gasp of amazement.

“Why, it’s Nevins!” he said.

“Nevins!” echoed Mr. Schofield, coming a step nearer. “Why, no—yes it is, too!”

“And who may Nevins be?” demanded Jack.

“Nevins is the day operator here,” said Mr. Schofield. “Let him go, Jack; he can’t escape.”

Jack reluctantly released his grip of the unlucky operator’s neck.

“I don’t know,” he said, dubiously. “If you’d chased him five mile, an’ fought him at th’ bottom of a ditch, an’ had him hit you in th’ head with a rock, mebbe you wouldn’t be so sure o’ that!”

“But what has he done?” demanded Mr. Schofield.

“Well, I don’t exactly know,” answered Jack, deliberately, moving again between the prisoner and the door, and sitting down there. “But it was some deviltry.”

Mr. Schofield also sat down, more astonished than ever.

“See here, Welsh,” he said, “you’re not drunk?”

“Hain’t drunk a drop fer a matter o’ tin year, Mr. Schofield. Th’ effects wore off long ago.”

“He is drunk, Mr. Schofield,” broke in Nevins, quickly. "I smelt it on his breath. I’ll have the « 158 » law on him. He assaulted me out there in a ditch and nearly killed me. I’ll see if a man’s to be treated that way by a big, drunken bully—"

But Mr. Schofield stopped him with a gesture.

“That will do,” he said, coldly. “Don’t lie about it. I know that Welsh isn’t drunk. We’ll have his story first, and then yours. Fire away, Jack.”

“Well,” began Jack, “jest as th’ torpedy went off—”

“Which torpedo?”

“Why, th’ one that th’ special exploded.”

“Oh, begin further back than that—begin at the beginning.”

“Well, then, jest as I jammed th’ torpedy on th’ track—”

“Was it you put it on the track?” cried Mr. Schofield.

“Why, sure,” said Jack. “Didn’t ye know that? Who else could it ’a’ been?”

“But how did you come to do that?”

“Why,” said Jack, “whin I heerd th’ special whistling away off up th’ line, an’ th’ signal showin’ a clear track, an’ knowed they was a freight comin’ up th’ grade, what else should I do but plant a torpedy? I didn’t have time t’ git t’ th’ office—besides, I knowed they was some diviltry on an’ I wanted t’ lay low till I could git Nolan—”

“Nolan!” echoed the trainmaster, more and more amazed.

« 159 »

“Sure, Nolan—Dan Nolan—you raymimber him. I thought it was him I had, an’ mighty dissipinted I was whin I found my mistake. But I thought I’d better bring this feller along, anyhow, an’ find out what it was he done when he raised th’ windy there an’ leaned in—”

A flash of understanding sprang into Mr. Schofield’s eyes, and he glanced quickly at Nevins. But the latter’s face was turned away.

“See here, Jack,” said the trainmaster, leaning forward in his chair, “we’ll never get anywhere in this way. I want you to begin at the very beginning and tell us the whole story.”

“Well, sir,” said Jack, “I would, but I’m afeerd th’ story’d be too long.”

“No, it wouldn’t. We want to hear it.”

“All right, then,” Jack agreed, and settled back in his chair. “Ye may as well set down, Misther Nevins,” he added.

“Yes, sit down,” said Allan, moved with pity at the other’s bedraggled and exhausted condition. He brought forward the box which served as washstand, and pressed Nevins gently down upon it.

The latter resisted for a moment; then, suddenly, he collapsed in a heap upon the box and buried his face in his hands, his whole body shaken by a dry, convulsive sobbing.

« 160 »



The paroxysm lasted only for a moment, then Nevins pulled himself together with a mighty effort, looking about him with a pitiful attempt at bravado. Mr. Schofield glanced at him, then turned his back, for Nevins’s countenance, not engaging at any time, was now positively hideous.

“Go ahead with your story, Welsh,” he said.

“Well, sir,” Jack began, “I waited fer Allan this evenin’ t’ tell him that Nolan had come back, an’ when he told me that Nolan had been out here—”

“Nolan out here?” interrupted the trainmaster, and Allan related the conversation of the night before.

“When I heerd all that,” began Jack, again, "I knowed that Nolan was up to no good; I knowed that he had come out here t’ do th’ boy dirt; an’ all th’ whinin’ an’ crocydile tears in th’ world couldn’t convince me no different. So when Allan got on th’ accommydation, I left a message with th’ caller fer my old woman, tellin’ her I’d be late, « 161 » an’ jumped on th’ back platform jest as th’ train pulled out."

Mr. Schofield nodded. He was beginning to understand the occurrences which had seemed so mysterious.

At that moment a freight pulled in, and the conductor entered to get the orders. He cast an astonished glance at Nevins, but the presence of the trainmaster stifled any questions which may have been upon his lips, and he read his order, signed for it, and went out again. Allan went to the door, assured himself that the signals were properly set, then shut the door and resumed his seat on the table beside the instrument.

“Well,” Jack continued, "I knowed th’ boy’d be mad if he thought I was follerin’ him—he never did like it, even when Nolan was arter him last year—so I stayed there on th’ back platform, an’ dropped off in th’ dark down there by th’ water-plug. I set down in th’ shadder of a pile o’ ties an’ waited. I see Allan come over here, an’ purty soon th’ other feller come out and hiked away fer th’ village, like he had a date with his best girl an’ was an hour late.

“I was gittin’ mighty hungry, and beginnin’ t’ feel purty foolish, too; fer I really hadn’t nothin’ t’ go on except that Dan Nolan had been here th’ day afore. It was gittin’ cold, too, but I turned up my collar, pulled my cap down over my ears, lighted my pipe behind th’ ties, an’ arranged myself « 162 » as comf’table as I could. I rammed my hands down in my pockets, t’ keep ’em warm, an’ snuggled up agin th’ logs. Somethin’ jabbed me in th’ side, an’ when I felt t’ see what it was, I found I had a torpedy in my pocket. I’d put it there in th’ mornin’ thinkin’ I might need it afore night, and hadn’t been back t’ th’ section shanty since. Well, I eased it around so’s it wouldn’t jab me, and leaned back agin.

“But th’ minutes dragged by mighty slow, an’ nothin’ happened. I could see Allan, through th’ windy, bendin’ over th’ table, or readin’ in a book. I couldn’t see my watch, it was too dark, an’ I didn’t dare strike another match, fer fear somebody’d see it, but I jedge it was clost to seven o’clock, an’ I was sort o’ noddin’ back agin th’ pile o’ ties, with my eyes shet, when I heerd two men a-talkin’ on th’ other side o’ th’ pile, an’ in a minute I was wide awake, fer I knowed one o’ th’ voices belonged t’ Dan Nolan.”

Jack paused to enjoy the effect of the words. He could certainly find no fault with his audience on the score of inattention. Allan and Mr. Schofield were regarding him with rapt countenances; and at the last words, Nevins, too, had started to a strained attention, his quick, uneven breathing attesting his agitation.

“Yes, it was Nolan,” Jack repeated, “an’ th’ other one was that felly there,” and he indicated Nevins with a motion of the finger.

« 163 »

“‘Well, did ye do it?’ Nolan asked.

“‘Yes, I done it,’ said th’ other. ’How about th’ freight?’

“‘I left her three mile back,’ says Nolan, ’with th’ wust hot-box ye iver see. An’ when she tries t’ start she’ll find an air-hose busted. She can’t git here till way arter seven.’

“‘Th’ special’ll be along about seven-five, I think,’ says Nevins, ’an’ it’ll be a-comin’ a mile a minute.’

“‘Bully!’ says Nolan, an’ laughs to himself. ’I guess that prig’ll hev suthin’ t’ think about th’ rest of his life. I guess he won’t stay much longer with this road.’

“I knowed they was talkin’ about Allan,” Jack went on, "and I tell you my blood was a-boilin’ considerable; it was all I could do t’ keep myself from jumpin’ up an’ grabbin’ them two scoundrels an’ knockin’ their heads together till I’d smashed ’em. But I couldn’t see yet jest what it was they was up to. So I thought I’d set still an’ try t’ find out. An’ purty soon I did find out.

“‘But you’ve got t’ git th’ order back on th’ hook,’ says Nolan. ’If y’ don’t, it’ll be you who’ll suffer an’ not that rat.’

“’Niver worry,’ says Nevins, ’I’ll git it back. I’ve pervided fer all thet.’

“Even yet I couldn’t understand,” Jack added. “I couldn’t believe that any two human bein’s would be sich divils as them words’d indicate. I thought « 164 » mebbe I was dreamin’, but I pinched myself an’ it hurt. Then I thought mebbe I hadn’t heerd right. I jest couldn’t b’lieve my own ears.

“‘Well, I can’t stay here,’ says Nevins. ’I must be gittin’ over by th’ shanty. I’ve got t’ watch my chance.’

“‘I’ll go along,’ says Nolan. ’Mebbe I kin help. Anyway, I’m a-goin’ t’ stay till th’ thing comes off.’

“They come around from behind th’ pile o’ ties, and I see them run across th’ track an’ dodge in among that little grove o’ saplings down yonder. In a minute, they come out at th’ edge by the shanty, an’ I see one o’ them creep up an’ look through th’ windy. Then he fell flat on th’ ground, an’ I see Allan git up an’ come t’ th’ door. Th’ semyphore and train-signal both showed a clear track. I jumped up t’ start acrost an’ warn him, an’ jest then I heerd th’ special whistle. I knowed then what ’d happen unless somethin’ was done mighty quick t’ keep th’ special from runnin’ past. I grabbed out th’ torpedy an’ jabbed it over th’ rail, an’ then started on a run fer th’ shanty, but th’ special was comin’ lickety-split, an’ I hadn’t hardly gone a rod afore it come singin’ along. I stopped t’ see what’d happen when it hit that torpedy. I knowed they’d be some mighty lively times fer a minute.”

“There were,” said Mr. Schofield, ruefully, and rubbed an abrasion on his wrist.

“An’ then,” Jack continued, "my heart jumped « 165 » right up in my throat, fer I heerd that freight come chuggin’ up th’ grade. It hadn’t been held as long as Nolan thought it would, an’ it looked to me fer a minute as though th’ trains’d come t’gether right by the semyphore. But that special was comin’ like greased lightnin’. I see th’ signal go up with a jerk, then th’ ingine hit my torpedy, and th’ brakes went on. I turned around t’ see what Allan was doin’, an’ I see him kind o’ keel over in th’ door. An’ then I see somethin’ else—I see that scoundrel there raise th’ windy, put th’ stick under it, climb up to th’ sill, lean in an’ do somethin’—I couldn’t tell jest what."

“I know what it was,” said Mr. Schofield, his eyes flashing and his face very stern. “He replaced on the hook the order covering the freight, which he had taken away with him.”

“Well,” said Jack, "I knowed it was some deviltry, an’ I started fer him as fast as my legs’d carry me. He slid back t’ th’ ground, an’ reached up his hand t’ let th’ windy down agin, an’ then he heerd me comin’. He jest took one look, an’ then lighted out across th’ fields, over fences, through a strip o’ woods back yonder, up a hill an’ down th’ other side—me after him, an’ gainin’—fer I was goin’ t’ ketch him, if I dropped dead th’ next minute. I reckon we must ’a’ run three or four mile, an’ he wasn’t more’n a hunderd feet ahead o ’me, when I see him stop sudden, run a little way t’ th’ right, then stoop an’ pick up somethin’. I was almost on « 166 » him, when he throwed it at me, an’ it was a rock," Jack added, "with a sharp edge, an’ it went through my hat an’ caught me in the head. If it hadn’t been fer th’ hat, I reckon I’d been stretched out then and there.

“But at th’ time, I didn’t hardly feel I was hit. I jest jumped fer him, an’ over we went together, clawin’ like Kilkenny cats, into a ditch half full o’ mud. It was that had stopped him, but I didn’t see it till I was right on it, an’ it was too late then t’ stop. Well, that mud was somethin’ fierce—but ye kin jedge fer yerselves,” he added, with an expressive gesture at his bedraggled attire and that of his opponent.

“It didn’t last very long, though,” he added, “or I reckon we’d both been suffycated. I got one good lick at his eye, and then got a hold of his neck, an’ he jest wilted. He wasn’t no match fer me, nohow—he’s too long an’ spindle-legged. Well, I managed t’ git him out o’ th’ ditch, an’ marched him back here,—an’ that’s all,” he added, abruptly.

For a moment Mr. Schofield did not speak, but sat looking at Nevins with an expression of loathing as though that worthy were something venomous and unclean.

“Nevins,” he said, at last, "I have known a good many cold-blooded scoundrels in my day, but none to compare with you. I believe I am speaking the exact truth when I say that hanging would be too « 167 » good for you. You are a disgrace to humankind—you ought to be hunted off the earth like vermin—you and that rascally comrade of yours."

Nevins shivered and shrank together under the withering tone.

“How did you get mixed up with such a scoundrel?” asked the trainmaster, at last.

“He—he made me,” Nevins blurted out. He had intended, at first, to deny everything, to brazen it out, to affirm his innocence of any wrong-doing. But the net of evidence had been drawn too tightly around him; he saw there was no possible chance of escape.

Made you?” repeated Mr. Schofield. “You mean he had a hold of some kind upon you?”

“He—I was afraid of him,” muttered Nevins, sullenly. “He said he wanted to get even with West for sending him to the pen.”

“And you agreed to help? Not only that, it was you who furnished the plan. I know very well that Nolan hasn’t sense enough to work out such a pretty one.”

“He said he wanted to get even with West,” Nevins repeated. “He wanted to break him, to disgrace him, to make him lose his job, to give him something to think about all the rest of his life.”

“Yes, it was a pretty plan,” said Mr. Schofield, musingly; “about the most fiendish I ever heard of. Suppose you tell us how it was worked.”

Nevins grinned cunningly.

« 168 »

“I’m not going to incriminate myself,” he said “I’m not such a fool.”

Mr. Schofield made a gesture of impatience.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “You can’t incriminate yourself any more than you are incriminated. Besides, all I’m going to do to you is fire you, and I’d do that if you never spoke another word in your life. I’ve said hanging is too good for you, but I’m going to let somebody else take the trouble of having you convicted. This won’t be your last scrape—unless you make a decided ’bout face! But I’ll get Nolan,” he added. “I’ll get Nolan, if it takes a dozen years.”

“Oh, all right,” said Nevins, looking vastly relieved. "You’re welcome to Nolan; and I’m going to get as far away from here as my money will carry me. I don’t want to see Nolan, myself. It was this way. I heard that order for the freight sent to West Junction, and then, pretty soon, came the order for the special to me. Nolan was here in the office at the time, and I remarked to him that if the freight could be held up half an hour or so after it left West Junction, it would be just the chance he was looking for.

“‘I’ll fix that,’ he said, ‘if you’ll keep that order off the hook.’

“I promised him I would, and he ran out and hooked on to a freight that was just pulling out for Wadsworth. He dropped off at West Junction, and it was pretty dark by that time, so he was able « 169 » to remove the dope and packing from one of the journal-boxes of the D. W. & I. freight without any one seeing him. Then the train started, and he got aboard, and rode back on it until the hot-box stopped it. Then he dropped off, cut an air-hose, to be sure they couldn’t get here ahead of time, and then started to walk the rest of the way back.

“I put the order in my pocket, went to supper as soon as West relieved me, and then hurried back so that I would be sure to get the order back on the hook. The only thing I was afraid of was that Nolan wouldn’t be able to hold the freight long enough, and that it would pull in here ahead of the special. I was pretty sure, though, that even in that case I could get the order back on the hook without any one seeing me. I left my lunch-basket behind, and if there hadn’t been any other way, I was going back after it, and jab the order on the hook when West wasn’t looking. So there wasn’t much risk, after all.”

“No,” said Mr. Schofield, bitterly, “not for you. But how about the people in the special?”

“Well,” answered Nevins, deliberately, “I don’t believe I fully realized what was going to happen until the special came singing down the track. Then I turned sort of sick at my stomach; but I kept my head enough to raise the window, and put the order on the hook. Then I heard that fellow coming for me and lit out. But I wasn’t fast enough.”

« 170 »

“I’d ’a’ got you,” remarked Jack, grimly, “if I’d had to chase you clear across to ’Frisco.”

“All right,” said Nevins, who, in telling his story, had regained a little of his cheerfulness. “You beat me fairly. And I’m glad the wreck didn’t happen. Now, if you gentlemen will permit me, I will bid you a fond adieu.”

“Good-bye,” answered Mr. Schofield. “Write me where you are, the first of the month, and the pay due you will be sent on to you. And if I were you, I’d let this experience teach me a lesson. You’re young yet. You can get back all you’ve lost. And remember, besides any question of right or wrong, it pays to be honest, to do right; for every one who is dishonest or does wrong is sure to suffer for it.”

“I’ve found that out,” agreed Nevins. “I don’t believe I’ll forget it,” and he opened the door, from in front of which Jack moved grudgingly, and vanished into the outer darkness. In that instant, too, he vanished from this story, for by daybreak he was speeding west toward Cincinnati. There he bought a ticket for Denver, and somewhere in the west, at the present day, he is no doubt living—let us hope honestly and usefully.

« 171 »



The lamp seemed to shine more brightly and the air of the office seemed somehow clearer and cleaner when the door shut behind Nevins and the sound of his footsteps died away. Mr. Schofield arose and shook himself, as though to rid himself of some infection. Then he glanced at his watch. It was nearly midnight.

“It’s time I was getting back to town,” he said. “I’ve got to join the special again in the morning. Isn’t there an extra west about due here?”

“Yes, sir,” Allan answered. “There’s one due in about ten minutes.”

“Well, I’ll take it; I dare say the conductor can fix me up a berth in the caboose. You’d better come with me, Jack,” he added, as Allan set the signal to stop the train. “Your wife’s probably trying to figure out what’s happened to you, and I think she’s entitled to an explanation.”

“Not much sleep will she be gittin’ this night,” Jack chuckled. “She’ll be havin’ me tell th’ whole story foive times, at least!”

« 172 »

“And, by the way, Allan,” went on Mr. Schofield, casually, “you needn’t report for duty to-morrow night.”

Allan’s face flushed. Of course there would have to be an investigation. He had forgotten that.

“Very well, sir,” he said, quietly, though he could hear the heavy breathing which told that Jack Welsh did not think it well, at all.

“Because you know,” the trainmaster went on, smiling queerly, “that the day trick here is vacant now, and, of course, it naturally falls to you. I will get some extra man to take it to-morrow, so that you can get a good night’s rest—you need it. You will report for duty the next morning.”

Allan’s heart was in his throat, and he dared not trust himself to speak, but he held out his hand, and the trainmaster gripped it warmly.

“And I’m mighty glad,” said Mr. Schofield, not wholly unaffected himself, “that you’ve come out of this affair so well. I was afraid for a time that you wouldn’t—and I couldn’t have felt any worse if it had been my own boy. There she comes,” he added, in another tone, as a whistle sounded far down the line. “Come on, Welsh; we mustn’t keep her waiting. Good-bye, Allan,” and he sprang down the steps.

But Allan held Jack back for a whispered word.

“After all, Jack,” he said, brokenly, squeezing the broad, honest, horny palm in both his own, "it « 173 » was you who saved the train, not I. You deserve the reward, if there’s to be one. I didn’t do anything—only stood staring here like a fool—"

“Cut it out, boy; cut it out,” broke in Jack, gruffly. “You did all ye could. I jest happened t’ be there.”

“But oh, Jack, if you hadn’t been! And no one would ever have known who caused the wreck! Every one would have thought it was my fault!”

“I know three people who wouldn’t!” protested Jack. “Their names is Mary, Mamie, an’ Jack Welsh!”

“Nonsense, Jack,” said Allan, laughing, though his eyes were bright with tears. “Why, I’d have thought so myself!”

“There’s th’ train,” broke in Jack, hastily. “See ye in th’ mornin’,” and tearing himself away, he followed Mr. Schofield down the steps.

Allan, watching from the door, saw them jump aboard the caboose before it had fairly stopped. The trainmaster exchanged a word with the conductor, who swung far out and waved his lantern to the engineer; and as Allan lowered the signal to show a clear track, the train gathered way again and sped westward into the night, toward Wadsworth. He watched it until the tail lights disappeared in the darkness, then he turned back into the little room and sat down before his key, his heart filled with thanksgiving.

« 174 »

The dispatcher at headquarters, calling Byers Junction to send a message to the trainmaster, soon found out that he was aboard the freight, and in consequence that fortunate train was given a clear track, and covered the twenty-eight miles to Wadsworth in forty-five minutes. One o’clock was striking as Jack Welsh climbed the steep flight of steps that led to his front door. At the top, he found a shawled figure waiting.

“Why, Mary,” said he, “you’ll be ruinin’ your health, me darlint, stayin’ up so late.”

“Yes,” she retorted, “an’ I’ll be goin’ crazy, worritin’ about ye. Where’ve ye been, Jack Welsh?”

“Niver ye mind. Is my supper ready?”

“Supper? Ye mane breakfast, don’t ye?”

“Call it what ye like, so it’s fillin’. Fer I’ve got an awful emptiness inside me. Didn’t I send ye word by Dan Breen that I’d be a little late?”

“An’ do ye call one o’clock in th’ mornin’ a little late?” she queried, with irony.

“Well,” said Jack, tranquilly, walking on through toward the kitchen, “that depends on how ye look at it. Some folks might call it a little early.”

A lamp was burning on the kitchen table, and as Jack came within its circle of light, Mary, who was close behind, saw for the first time the condition of his clothes.

“Jack!” she screamed, and rushed up to him, « 175 » and then she saw the piece of court-plaster on his forehead, as well as the various minor bumps and contusions which he had received. “Have ye been fightin’?” she demanded, sternly.

“Yes, darlint,” answered Jack, cheerfully.

“An’ got hurted?” and she touched the wound tenderly.

“Only a scratch, Mary; ye ought t’ see th’ other felly.”

“Who was he, Jack?”

“His name’s Nevins—but ye don’t know him.”

“Tell me about it,” she commanded, her eyes blazing. “All about it!”

“Well, it’s a long story, darlint,” said Jack, teasingly, “an’ I don’t feel quite ekal to it on an empty stomach. I guess I’d better go over t’ th’ daypo restaurant an’ git a snack. I ain’t had nothin’ t’ eat since noon o’ yistidday.”

“O’ course I kept your supper hot fer ye, Jack,” she assured him, softening instantly. “You go git washed an’ git into some clean clothes, so you’ll look a little less like a hobo, an’ I’ll have it on th’ table in a jiffy.”

Mary Welsh was one of those admirable housekeepers whom no emergency finds unprepared. Jack’s supper had long ago evaporated and dried up in the process of keeping it warm; even the tenderest steak, kept in an oven for seven hours, will acquire a leathery texture and a flavour of old shoes. But a fresh piece of steak was frying in « 176 » a moment, and some sliced potatoes sputtering in the pan beside it; the coffee-pot was set on again, and the pantry rummaged for such supplies as it could furnish. It was some little time before Jack reappeared, for he had to change his clothes from the skin out, as well as get the mud off the skin itself. When, at last, he did come down the stairs, the meal, fresh, appetizing, and smoking hot, was awaiting him on the table.

“Mary, you’re a jewel,” he said, as he drew up his chair, and fell to.

“Yes,” she observed, dryly, “I’ve allers heerd that th’ way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”

“Well, I’d rather have me heart in me belly than in me pocketbook,” retorted Jack. “Lucky I had on me old clothes,” he added; “they’ll niver be fit t’ wear agin.”

Mary sat down opposite him expectantly.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “Mebbe I kin wash ’em an’ patch ’em so’s they’ll be all right, Jack.”

“All right fer a scarecrow, mebbe, but not fer a swell like me. Now, Mary, you go ahead an’ tell me all that’s happened, while I finish me supper.”

“But there hain’t anything happened t’ me, Jack,” she protested, filling his empty cup. "I jest stayed at home, an’ seen Allan off, an’ got your supper. An’ then Dan Breen come an’ said you’d be late. He’d seen ye git on th’ accommydation an’ thought « 177 » mebbe you’d been called out on th’ road somewheres. So I put Mamie to bed, an’ then jest set an’ waited. It seemed an awful long time."

Jack pushed his empty plate away from him, and glanced at the clock, which was ticking merrily away on the mantelpiece.

“Why, it’s half-past one!” he cried, in mock amazement. “We must be gittin’ t’ bed, Mary. We won’t want t’ git up at all in th’ mornin’,” but Mary was not alarmed, for she saw him fumbling in his pocket for his pipe, and knew that the story would not be long delayed.

Nor was it. Once the pipe was started, the story started, too, and Mary listened to every word with rapt attention, only interrupting from time to time, as it progressed, with an exclamation of astonishment or anger. When he had finished, she jumped up and came around the table to him, and kissed him and hugged him and even cried over him a little, for she loved him with her whole big Irish heart.

“Why, Jack, darlint,” she cried, “you’re a reg’lar hayro—like one reads about in th’ story-books.”

“A hayro!” echoed Jack, with a roar of laughter which was promptly stilled for fear of waking Mamie. “Listen to ye! Jack Welsh a hayro!”

“You’re my hayro, anyway,” said Mary, softly, as they mounted the stairs together to their bedroom.

« 178 »

One morning, about two weeks later, Mr. Schofield sat at his desk in his office, looking through his mail.

“You knew that Penlow is going to resign on the first?” he asked, glancing across at the chief-dispatcher, who sat facing him on the other side of the broad expanse of quartered oak.

“Yes—what’s the matter?”

“Well, he’s getting old. He’s been roadmaster nearly twenty years; and I guess he’s laid up a snug little fortune—enough to keep him the rest of his life. I think he’s sensible to quit when he’s got enough.”

“Yes—more sensible than lots of us who keep right on working till we drop. Who are you going to appoint in his place?”

“Well,” answered Mr. Schofield, slowly, “it will go naturally to one of the section-foremen—and I’m going to offer it to the best one on the road.”

The roadmaster, it may be remarked in passing, is a sort of magnified section-foreman. He has general supervision over a number of sections forming a subdivision, and all the foremen on that subdivision report to him. He has charge of all the track forces employed on his subdivision, and is responsible for keeping the track, fences, road-bed, bridges, culverts, and everything else pertaining to the roadway, in repair. He is supposed to spend most of his time out on his division, and to know every foot of it more intimately and minutely than « 179 » any one else. He must be sure that the men under him understand their duties and perform them properly; he must attend in person to the removal of landslides, snow, or other obstructions, and in case of accident must take the necessary force to the place and use every effort to clear the road. Officially, he is known as a supervisor, and it will be seen that his position is one of considerable importance and responsibility.

“I’m going to offer it to the best one,” repeated Mr. Schofield.

“I think I know who you mean,” said the chief-dispatcher, smiling. “He’ll be all right.”

“Yes, he’s a good man; and he’s done more for this road than most of us. I’d probably be a dead man by now and you’d be filling my shoes, if it hadn’t been for him. That may not seem to you a cause for unmitigated rejoicing, but it does to me. I’m not quite ready, yet, to pass in my checks. It was really he, you know, who prevented that accident at Byers. If it hadn’t been prevented, this road would have needed a whole new complement of general officers. The old ones would have been wiped out.”

The chief-dispatcher nodded.

“Found any trace of Nolan?”

“No—not a trace,” and Mr. Schofield’s face clouded. "I’ve had our detectives scouring that whole country, but he seems to have disappeared completely. I believe he has left for other parts. « 180 » I only hope he’ll stay there. If I could catch him, I’d have him back in the pen. in short order."

He looked up as some one entered, and saw that the newcomer was Jack Welsh, who came in with a slightly sheepish air, holding his cap in his hand.

“I dunno what Misther Schofield wants t’ see me fer,” he had said to his wife that morning, when the trainmaster’s message was delivered to him. “I ain’t been doin’ nothin’ t’ git hauled up on th’ carpet fer.”

“O’ course you ain’t,” agreed Mary, warmly, instantly championing his cause. “An’ don’t ye take none o’ his lip, Jack. Give him as good as he sinds.”

“All right, darlint,” and Jack chuckled. “O’ course it don’t matter if I lose me job. You kin take in washin’. An’ I’m feelin’ th’ need o’ resting fer a year or two, anyway. So I’ll slug him in th’ eye if he ain’t properly respectful.”

Yet the sheepishness in Jack’s demeanour, as he stood before the trainmaster, was not due to any feeling of subserviency or false modesty. It was rather embarrassment because of unfamiliar surroundings, and because of the many eyes centred upon him and the many ears straining to hear what would follow.

“Good morning, Welsh,” said Mr. Schofield, with a gruffness assumed for the occasion. “How is everything on Twenty-one?”

« 181 »

“All right, so far as I know, sir,” answered Jack.

“So far as you know?”

“Well, ye see, sir, I ain’t been over it since yistidday evenin’. No tellin’ what’s happened in the night.”

“Does anything ever happen to it in the night?”

“Yes, sir; sometimes a hoss gits acrost a cattle-guard, and a train hits him an’ musses up the road-bed frightful. An’ them porters on th’ diners are allers throwin’ garbage off th’ back platform,—t’ say nothin’ o’ th’ passengers, who don’t seem t’ do nothin’ but stuff theirselves with oranges, an’ banannys an’ apples, an’ drop th’ remains out th’ windy. Th’ porters ort t’ be ordered t’ take their garbage int’ th’ terminals an’ git rid of it there, an’ th’ passengers ort t’ be pervided with waste-baskets t’ receive sech little odds an’ ends as they can’t swaller.”

“I’ll think of it,” said Mr. Schofield, making a note on a pad of paper at his elbow. “I don’t know but what the suggestion is a good one. And now, Welsh, I’m sorry to say that we’ll have to get a new foreman for Section Twenty-one.”

Jack blinked rapidly for a moment as though he had received a blow between the eyes. Then he pulled himself together.

“All right, sir,” he said, quietly. “When must I quit?”

“On the first. Who’s the best man in your gang?”

« 182 »

“Reddy Magraw knows all th’ ins an’ outs o’ section-work, sir. He’d make a good foreman.”

Mr. Schofield made another note on the pad.

“Penlow’s also going to quit on the first,” he remarked, casually, without looking up.

“Not fired, sir?” asked Jack, quickly. “I know he’s old, but he’s a mighty good man.”

“No; he resigned. Going to take the world easy. You’re to take his place.”

For a moment, Jack seemed not to understand. Then his face turned very red; a profuse perspiration broke out across his forehead. He mopped it away with his big red handkerchief, and I dare say, dabbed his eyes once or twice, for his first thought was of Mary’s joy when she should hear the news.

“Ye could find a better man fer it, Mr. Schofield,” he said, at last.

“No, I couldn’t,” retorted the trainmaster; “not if I searched this division from end to end. You’re the best section-foreman we’ve got, Welsh, and you’ll make the best roadmaster we’ve ever had. And I may add that I’m mighty glad of the chance to give you a promotion which you richly deserve. There isn’t a man in the employ of this road—no, not from the superintendent down—who has done more for it than you have. The road never forgets such services.”

The dispatchers had come crowding to the door, and in the corridor outside a group of trainmen had stopped, attracted by this unusual orating. And « 183 » when the trainmaster stopped and wrung Welsh’s hand, there was a little burst of applause, for every man on the road knew and liked Jack Welsh. This public commendation completed his confusion, and he stumbled from the room and down the stairs, looking as though he had received a whipping. It was some time before he could gather courage to go home; and when he finally got there, he found the news had preceded him. Reddy Magraw had heard it and had rushed over to congratulate him—so Mary was waiting for him, her eyes alight, and she hugged him and kissed him and made much of him.

“Though it’s no more than ye deserve, Jack,” she said, at last. “Indade, it’s not so much. Why, Reddy tells me that Mr. Schofield stood up there before th’ whole crowd an’ said you was th’ best man on th’ road, from th’ sup’rintindint down.”

“I’ll break Reddy’s head when I ketch him,” threatened Jack. “But o’ course I was dissipinted that they didn’t make me gineral manager. I told Mr. Schofield so, an’ he said I should ’a’ had th’ job, only it didn’t happen t’ be vacant.”

Back in the offices, Mr. Schofield continued the work of going through his mail, another big batch of which had just been brought in. Among the letters he opened, was a long, portentous-looking one from general headquarters. He glanced through it and chuckled.

“It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good,” he « 184 » remarked. “That narrow escape at Byers has convinced the general officers that we need a double track there. That shaking up they got did more good than all the talk we could have talked. We can go ahead with it as soon as we like,” and he tossed the letter across the desk to the chief-dispatcher, his face shining. “I don’t know anything that could have pleased me more,” he added. “It means so much to this division. Do you know, George, I’m glad things happened just as they did! Providence certainly had its eye on us that time!”

« 185 »



Allan, meanwhile, had assumed the day trick at Byers Junction—a position carrying with it increased responsibilities, and, it may be added, an increased salary. He had long ago started an account at the Wadsworth Savings Bank, to which he was now able to make a substantial addition every month.

Only one incident served to mar the pleasure of those first days in his new position. Jim Anderson had come to him one evening with a face in which joy and sorrow struggled for the mastery.

“Read that,” he said, and thrust a letter into Allan’s hand.

Allan opened it and read. It was a letter from an uncle, a brother of Jim’s father. The two had been estranged by family differences years before, and the brother, who had moved to Philadelphia and engaged in business there, had dropped entirely out of the other’s life. Now he was writing that his own wife and child were dead, that he was getting old and lonely, and that he would be glad to have « 186 » his brother’s son and widow live with him. He could offer the latter a good home, and the former would be sent to college, and drilled to succeed his uncle in business. Although he did not say so, it was evident from the letter that if Jim proved worthy, he would take the place left vacant by the death of his uncle’s own boy.

“Well,” asked Jim, when Allan had finished, “what do you think of it?”

“Think of it? Why, I think it’s fine! Don’t you?”

“I don’t know,” said Jim, hesitatingly. “For one thing, I don’t want to leave Wadsworth. For another thing, I want to be a machinist.”

“Well, here’s a chance to be a big one. There are scientific courses at college which will give you just what you need. You won’t have to work in the shops all your life—you can be bigger than all that.”

“Then you’d advise me to go?”

“I certainly should,” answered Allan, warmly. “Though I’ll miss you awfully,” he added.

“I tell you what,” said Jim, “maybe I can persuade uncle to—”

But Allan interrupted him with a shake of the head.

“No,” he said; “it’s not the same. You’re his nephew and have a claim upon him—besides, you’re going to take his son’s place. I haven’t any claim.”

« 187 »

And Jim, looking at him, decided to say no more about it.

“But I’ll come over and visit you,” Allan promised, “the first vacation I get.”

So a few evenings later, he saw Jim and Mrs. Anderson off on their way to Philadelphia, and then walked slowly homeward, a very lonely boy.

Now that his evenings were again his own, he spent many of them at the Wadsworth Public Library, and also bought some carefully selected books of his own—which is about the best investment any boy can make. Every boy ought to have for his very own the books which he likes best, and these should be added to every year, as the boy’s taste changes and matures, so that his library will come to be a sort of index of his growth and development. Not many books, but loved ones, should be the motto.

Allan had, in his common-school education, a splendid foundation on which to build, and on this he reared a beautiful and noble edifice—an edifice which any boy who wishes can rear for himself—of acquaintance with the best books. This house of the imagination, with its lofty halls and great rooms, and gilded towers, was empty enough at first, but it soon became peopled with most engaging friends,—among them John Halifax, Tom Pinch, John Ridd, David Copperfield, D’Artagnan and his three comrades, Henry Esmond, Amyas Leigh, and that sweetest, bravest of all maidens, « 188 » Lorna Doone. He accompanied great travellers to far countries; he fought with Richard Lion Heart against Saladin, with Napoleon against Wellington; with Washington against Howe and Clinton and Cornwallis. He read of the gallant Bayard, fearless and without reproach, of King Arthur and his knights, and something of the beauty and romance of chivalry entered into his own soul. In a word, he was gaining for himself a priceless possession—a possession worth more to its owner than gold, or silver, or precious stones; a continual delight and never-failing comfort—a knowledge of good books.

The librarian advised him as to the best editions to buy for his own use, and he soon found that nearly all the great books were published in little volumes to be slipped easily into the pocket, and costing not more than fifty or sixty cents each. It was these little volumes which he grew especially to love—they were so companionable, so pretty, and yet so strong and serviceable. He got into the habit of putting one into his pocket every morning. He could read it on the train, going out and returning, and during the day in such odd times as his work permitted. It is wonderful how much one can accomplish in the way of reading by watching the spare moments; Allan realized, as he had never done before, how much of every day he had wasted. The time that had been lost was lost for ever; but « 189 » the present and the future were his, and he determined to make the most of them.

No one can associate with wise and witty and gallant people, even in books, without showing the effects of it. Some of their wisdom and wit and gallantry, be it never so little, passes to the reader; he learns to look at the world and the people in it with more discerning eyes; life gains a larger meaning; it becomes more full of colour and interest. The result, in the end, is what, for want of a better word, we call culture; a word meaning originally the tilling and cultivating of the ground, and afterwards coming to be applied to the tilling and cultivating of the mind. Its most valuable result is the acquirement of what we call taste—another clumsy word and inexpressive, by which we mean the power to discern and to enjoy the right things—good literature, good music, good pictures—and to know and to reject the wrong things.

It was this faculty which Allan was gradually acquiring—so slowly and subtly that the change was not perceptible from day to day—scarcely from month to month. But at the end of a year, he was quite a different boy; he had grown mentally and physically; he was getting more out of life; he was beginning to understand the people about him; he could distinguish the gold from the dross, the true from the sham; and the more this power grew, the more did his respect and love and admiration grow for the humble friends among « 190 » whom his lot was cast. They were genuine and true, speaking from the heart, happy without envy, honest and kind, ready to excuse and to forget another’s fault and to reach out a helping hand to any one who needed it. He began to see, dimly and imperfectly, that the great, warm heart of America beats, not in the mansions of the rich, but in the humble and unpretentious homes scattered up and down this great land of ours, each sheltering a little family, living its own life, struggling toward its own ideals, and contributing its own mite to the world’s happiness and progress.

Nearly a year had passed; a year of which every day had brought its pleasures and its duties. Allan had become one of the best operators on the road; the difficult business of the position at Byers Junction he handled easily and without confusion. He had gained confidence in himself. The trainmen liked him, for they found him ever willing and helpful; they respected him, too, for his decisions were prompt and intelligent and always just. The dispatchers knew they could rely on him, and the business of the junction was left more and more under his control. In fact, he came to be himself a sort of dispatcher over those eight miles of track between his office and West Junction.

As he stands in the door of the office this spring morning, watching a passenger-train which has stopped at the big tank to take water, he is worth « 191 » looking at. His face is not handsome, as we use the word, but it is frank and open, with a manliness beyond its years. His eyes are blue-gray, clear, and direct; his mouth is a little large, with sensitive lips and a quirk at the corner which shows a sense of humour—altogether an attractive face and one to inspire liking and confidence.

A good many people had left the train, during its halt, to stretch themselves and get a breath of fresh air. These clambered on board again, at the conductor’s signal, and after a preliminary puff or two, the train started slowly, clinking over the switch, and rattling away westward. A moment later, Allan’s eyes caught a glint of colour at the edge of the little grove of saplings near the office, and a girl, carrying a bouquet of wild flowers, ran up the little bank to the track. She stood for an instant staring after the disappearing train, took a quick step or two as if to follow it, then, evidently seeing the uselessness of such pursuit, turned and walked slowly toward the operator’s shanty. Not until she was quite near did Allan recognize her; then, with a curious little leap of the heart, he saw that it was the girl who had rushed into Superintendent Heywood’s office one day long ago, to summon him to his train. Allan remembered that her father had called her Bess.

She came up the little cinder path and stopped before the door without any hint of recognition in her eyes.

« 192 »

“Can you tell me when the next train for Wadsworth leaves?” she asked.

“Not until five-nine,” he answered.

“And it is now?”

“It is now one-fifty-one.”

“Oh, dear,” she sighed, and he saw that in the year which had intervened since he had seen her last, she had grown more distractingly pretty than ever—more mature and womanly. “Well,” she continued, her foot on the lowest step, “I suppose I may as well come in and sit down. This is the station, isn’t it?”

“This is the operator’s office,” he said. “The Byers station is that frame building you can just see up the track yonder.”

“It seems an awful way,” she remarked, gazing pensively in the direction of his gesture.

“It’s nearly half a mile; altogether too far for you to walk,” said Allan, with conviction.

“Oh, then I may stay here?”

“You certainly may,” Allan hastened to assure her, and placed his best chair at her disposal. “But it isn’t—well—palatial.”

She glanced around the dingy little room, with its rusty stove, its primitive lavatory, its rough, clapboarded walls, and then at the fresh-faced young fellow anxiously awaiting the verdict.

“It’s cosy,” she said, and settled herself comfortably upon the chair.

“I’m afraid I don’t keep it quite as tidy as I « 193 » might,” said Allan, suddenly conscious that it was anything but tidy. “You see the old broom wore out, and we haven’t got a new one yet.”

“Well, it’s about time for spring house-cleaning, you know—do men ever have spring house-cleaning?”

“This one will,” Allan promised, and smiled down into her friendly eyes.

Just then the familiar signal, “31,” which heralded the transmission of a train-order, sounded from the table, and he sat down to receive it. After it had been repeated and confirmed, he turned again to his guest.

“Hadn’t I better wire your father,” he asked, “that you are here and will be home on Number Thirteen this evening?”

She stared at him in amazement.

“Why, how do you know who my father is?” she demanded.

“I happened to be in his office one day about a year ago, when you came after him,” he explained.

“Oh,” she said, but she still looked at him a little doubtfully.

“My name’s West,” he added.

“Allan West?” There was a genuine interest in her eyes now. “Oh, I’ve heard papa speak of you.”

“Nothing very bad, I hope?”

“No—quite the contrary. Why,” she added, gasping a little, as though just realizing it, "then « 194 » you’re the boy who—who saved the pay-car and—"

“The very same,” he interrupted, blushing in spite of himself. “Shall I send the message?”

“Yes; please do. Papa will be worried when he comes to the train to meet me and finds me not on it—especially as my coat and grip and umbrella are. He’ll think I’ve been kidnapped.”

“You were left, then?” he asked.

“Yes; I was on my way home from visiting a friend at Deer Park, and was so tired with sitting, that when the train stopped here to take water, I thought I’d get off and walk the kinks out. Then I saw a beautiful patch of these wake-robins and violets just at the edge of that little grove, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to gather a few; and I suppose I must have gone into the grove deeper than I intended, for I didn’t hear the train start, and was never so astonished in my life as when I came out on the track and found it gone.”

Allan smiled at the earnestness with which she told the story.

“I’ll wire your father,” he said, and called up headquarters. For a few minutes there was a sharp interchange of dots and dashes. Then Allan closed the key and turned back to her.

“It’s all right,” he said. “He understands.”

“I think it’s perfectly wonderful your being able to talk to each other that way,” she commented. “What did he say?”

« 195 »

“He said,” stammered Allan, confused by the sudden question; “he said it was all right.”

What Mr. Heywood really said was: “All right. Keep her there and bring her in on thirteen, and don’t make love to her any more than you can help.”

She noticed the stammer and gazed at him with her clear eyes, which, he saw now, were blue.

“Was that all he said?”

“Well, he said he’d meet you at the train this evening.”

“Yes; and what else?”

“He said,” answered Allan, floundering desperately, “that, if you had to be left somewhere, he was glad it was here.”

The Vision bent over ostensibly to brush an imaginary speck of dust from her skirt, but in reality to conceal a smile. When she sat erect again, her face was quite demure.

“So am I,” she agreed. “It would have been horrible to be left at a place where I didn’t know any one—of course, I don’t really know you,” she added, hastily, “but I’ve heard papa speak of you so much that you seem to be a sort of friend of the family.”

“I should like to be,” he said, colouring at his own temerity.

“Well, it isn’t so difficult. We’re really rather a companionable family.”

He gasped a little at the dazzling vista the words suggested.

« 196 »

“I don’t know what I should have done,” she went on, “if I had had to sit here so long without any one to talk to or anything to read. Oh, you have a book there,” she added, noticing the little book which was lying open face downward beside the key. “What is it?”

“This,” answered Allan, laughing and picking up the thin little volume bound in black, “is the book of rules. I’m afraid it wouldn’t interest you. But I have a splendid one in my pocket.”

He went to his coat and got it out.

“Have you ever read it?” he asked as he handed it to her.

She glanced at the title.

“Les Misérables,” she read, making rather a botch of it. “What does that mean?”

“’The miserable ones,’ I think.”

“I don’t like to read about miserable people.”

“Oh, they’re not all miserable,” he protested, taking the book eagerly, and opening it. “The old bishop, for instance, Bishop Welcome—may I read you something?”

She nodded, her eyes on his glowing face.

“The old bishop, you know, gave all his money to help others, went to live in the little old hospital and made them move the beds to the building which had always been the bishop’s palace. He said it was all a mistake—that there should be twenty-six people crowded together in that little building, while the big one next door had only him and his sister « 197 » and his housekeeper in it. He never locked his door, and came to be so loved by the people that they called him Bishop Welcome. Let me read you this chapter,” and he turned to the seventh of the first book. “I don’t pronounce the French names very well, but you mustn’t mind.”

“I won’t,” she promised, and settled herself more comfortably in her chair. He interested her strangely—he was somehow different from the other boys she knew. They never talked to her in this way.

And he began to read her the account of the bishop’s meeting with that redoubtable brigand, Cravatte, a bold wretch who had organized a band of outlaws, and even robbed the cathedral at Embrun of all its gold-embroidered vestments. In the midst of the excitement, the bishop arrived, on the way to visit his parishioners in the mountains. His friends attempted to persuade him to turn back.

“‘There exists, yonder in the mountains,’ said the bishop, ’a tiny community no bigger than that, which I have not seen for three years. They need to be told of the good God now and then. What would they say to a bishop who was afraid? What would they say if I did not go?’

“‘But the brigands, monseigneur?’

“‘Hold,’ said the bishop, ’I must think of that. You are right. I may meet them. They, too, need to be told of the good God.’

« 198 »

“‘But, monseigneur, there is a band of them! A flock of wolves!’

“‘It may be that it is of this very flock of wolves that Jesus has constituted me the shepherd. Who knows the ways of Providence?’

“‘They will rob you!’

“‘I have nothing.’

“‘Do not go, monseigneur. In the name of Heaven! you are risking your life!’

“‘Is that all?’ asked the bishop. ’Well, I am not in the world to guard my life, but to guard souls.’”

So he went, and the brigands did not harm him. He reached the little village, and wished to celebrate a mass, but there were no vestments. Nevertheless, the mass was announced, and then one night there was left at the house where the bishop was staying a great chest, and when it was opened all the vestments which had been stolen from the cathedral were found there, together with a paper reading, “From Cravatte to Bishop Welcome.”

“Wouldn’t you like to do a thing like that?” asked Allan, with sparkling eyes, when the chapter was finished.

And Bess Heywood nodded, not trusting herself to speak.

For a moment their hearts were very close together; for the wholesome, generous heart of youth longs ever to do noble deeds; to emulate the hero who "never turned his back, but marched breast « 199 » forward;" to fight with strong and valiant soul; to ride forth in knight-errantry, with lance a-rest and sword on thigh, against wrong and treachery and deceit. And well it is that youth dreams dreams and sees visions and makes high resolves, however middle-age may laugh, and cynics sneer, and graybeards shake their heads. For, in the words of Philip Sidney, “Who shoots at the midday sun, though he be sure he shall never hit the mark, yet as sure he is he shall shoot higher than he who aims but at a bush.” So let youth aim at the sun while it has heart for the venture; and leave crabbed age to choose the bush for its mark if it will.

« 200 »



So the afternoon passed happily; with reading, with talking, with little confidences, interrupted, now and then, by the busy instrument on the table, or by some trainman stalking in to get his orders, and going out with a knowing smile upon his lips. All too soon, as it seemed to Allan, the night man came up the steps; for the first time in his experience, Allan found the sight of him unwelcome. Ten minutes later, the train was bearing him and Bess Heywood homewards. That half-hour journey never seemed so short.

Mr. Heywood was awaiting them on the grimy Wadsworth platform.

“Thank you, Allan,” he said, “for taking care of the runaway. I thought she was old enough to travel alone, but it seems I was mistaken. I’ll have to send a nurse along hereafter.”

“Good-bye, Allan,” said the Vision, holding out her hand, and Allan was quite shocked, when he took it, by its smallness and softness.


« 201 »

“Good-bye,” he answered, but his tongue dared not pronounce her name.

He watched them until they disappeared in the darkness, then turned away across the yards, meditating anxiously whether a Being with a hand so small and soft, so evidently fragile, could long withstand the buffets of a world so rude and harsh as this one.

“Well, young lady,” said Mr. Heywood, at the dinner-table that evening, “I hope you were sufficiently punished for your thoughtlessness in wandering away from your train.”

“It wasn’t such terrible punishment, papa,” answered Bess. “I had a very pleasant afternoon. I think Allan is just fine.”

“So do I,” agreed her father promptly. “He’s a nice boy.”

“And he knows such a lot,” added Bess. “I felt a perfect booby.”

“Quite a salutary feeling for a young lady,” nodded her father. “Especially for one who has always had an excellent opinion of herself.”

“Oh, papa!” protested Bess. “I’m not conceited!”

“No, not that precisely,” agreed her father; "but most girls, when they get to be about eighteen, and have all the boys making sheep’s-eyes at them, begin to think that this world was made especially for them, and that nobody else has any right in it, « 202 » except perhaps to hustle around and provide them with ribbons and chiffon ruffles. It’s good for them to get a hint, now and then, that the world is really something more than a pedestal for them to stand on."

Bess sighed, a little dismally.

“I never understood before,” she said, “how awfully I’ve been wasting my time.”

“If you never waste any more, my dear, you’ll have nothing to regret. Most women don’t wake up to the fact that they’re wasting their time until they’re middle-aged, and by that time they’ve fallen into such a habit of doing so that they can’t change.”

“I believe,” added Bess, thoughtfully, “that I’ll ask Allan to the party I’m going to give next week.”

“Do, by all means,” said her father, heartily. “It will do you good, and it won’t hurt him.”

So it came to pass, a few days later, that the postman mounted the steps to the little Welsh cottage and left there a tiny envelope addressed to “Mr. Allan West.” Mary received it, and turned it over and over.

“It’s from a girl,” was her comment. “Bad cess to her. But I knowed th’ girls couldn’t let sich a foine-lookin’ lad as that alone. They’ll be makin’ eyes at him, an’ pertendin’ t’ edge away, an’ all th’ toime invitin’ him on—don’t I know ’em!” And Mary grew quite warm with indignation, entirely « 203 » forgetting that she herself had been a girl once upon a time, and an adept in all the arts of that pretty game of advance and retreat which she now denounced so vigorously.

She laid the letter on Allan’s plate, and noted the little shock of surprise with which he found it there when he sat down to supper that evening.

“Hello; what’s this?” he asked, picking it up.

“It’s a letter come fer ye this mornin’,” answered Mary, and she and Jack and Mamie all waited for him to open it, which he did with a hand not wholly steady.

“‘Miss Elizabeth Heywood,’” he read, “‘requests the pleasure of Mr. Allan West’s company, Thursday evening, April 28th. Seven o’clock.’”

“Well, of all th’ forrerd minxes!” burst out Mary. “Why, when I was a girl, I’d a’ no more thought o’ writin’ a young man t’ come an’ see me—”

Jack interrupted her with a roar of laughter.

“Why, Mary,” he cried, “don’t ye see! It’s a party she’s askin’ him to—th’ sup’rintindint’s daughter!”

“A party! Th’ sup’rintindint’s daughter!” and Mary paused between jealousy for her boy and pride that he should have received such an invitation.

“An’ of course he’ll go,” added Jack, with decision. “It’s a shame t’ kape a foine felly like Allan shut up here with us old fogies.”

“Well, I’ll say this,” said Mary, pouring out the « 204 » coffee, “if he does go, they won’t be no finer lookin’ young felly there.”

And I am inclined to think that Betty Heywood thought so, too, when she came forward to meet him that Thursday evening.

“How glad I am to see you,” she said, with a bright smile of welcome.

As for Allan, he was for the moment tongue-tied. If she had been a vision in her gray travelling-suit, what was she now, clad, as it seemed to him, in a sparkling cloud of purest white? She noticed his confusion, and no doubt interpreted it aright—as what girl would not?—for she went on, without appearing to notice it:

“And I want my mother to know you. Here she is, over here,” and she led the way to a beautiful woman of middle age, who sat in a great chair at one end of the room, the centre of a little court. “Mother, this is Allan West.”

Mrs. Heywood held out to him a hand even smaller and softer than her daughter’s.

“I am glad to know you, my boy,” she said. “Mr. Heywood has spoken so much of you that I feel as though I had known you a long time. Won’t you sit down here by me awhile?”

Betty gave a little nod of satisfaction, and hurried away to meet some other guests, whirling away with her the circle which had been about her mother’s chair. Allan sat down, thinking that he « 205 » had never heard a voice as sweet as Mrs. Heywood’s.

“We invalids, you know,” she went on, with a little smile, “must be humoured. We can’t go to people, so people must come to us. It’s like Mahomet and the mountain.”

“I wasn’t thinking of that,” answered Allan, with a shy glance of admiration, “but of the fisherman and the Princess.”

“So you know your Arabian Nights!” said Mrs. Heywood, colouring faintly with pleasure at the compliment. “That is right—every boy ought to know them. But you make me feel a sort of impostor. I have used that reference to Mahomet and the mountain all my life, but I don’t know that I ever really heard the story. Do you know it?”

“Bacon tells about it in one of his essays,” Allan answered. “It seems that Mahomet announced one day that he would call a hill to him, and offer up prayers from the top of it. A great crowd assembled and Mahomet called the hill again and again, but it didn’t move, and finally, without seeming worried or abashed, he announced that, since the mountain wouldn’t come to Mahomet, Mahomet would go to the mountain, and marched away to it as proudly as though the mountain had obeyed him.”

“That is the first time I ever heard the whole story,” said Mrs. Heywood, laughing, and she shot him a little observing glance, for he seemed an « 206 » unusual boy. Then she led him on to tell her something of himself, and almost before he knew it, he was telling her much more than he had ever thought to tell any one. There was a subtle sympathy about her—in her smile, in her quiet eyes—which there was no resisting.

She sent him away, at last, to join the younger guests, but he did not feel at ease with them, as he had with the older woman. They were all polite enough, but youth is selfish, and Allan soon found that he and they had few interests in common; there was nothing to talk about; they had not the same friends, nor the same habits of thought; there were no mutual recollections to laugh over, nor plans to make for next day or next week. Of his hostess he saw very little, for her other guests claimed her attention at every turn—Betty Heywood was evidently immensely popular.

So Allan was glad, on the whole, when the time came to take his leave, and as he walked homeward under the bright stars, he was forced to admit that his first evening in society had been, in a way, a failure. He resolved that he did not care for it and would not go again. Indeed, he had no chance, for Bess Heywood’s friends voted him a “stick,” and soon forgot all about him. Nor did that young lady herself preserve a very vivid recollection of him, for her days were filled with other duties and pleasures. Her mother’s invalidism threw upon her much of the responsibility of household management, « 207 » and she was just at the age when social claims are heaviest and most difficult to evade. Not that she sought to evade them, for she enjoyed social relaxation, but in the whirl of party and ball, of calling and receiving calls, the memory of that afternoon in the operator’s shanty at the Junction grew faint and far away.

And Allan, in the long evenings, buried himself in his books and banished resolutely whatever dreams may have arisen in his heart, with such philosophy as he possessed.

He soon had other things to think about. One of the dispatchers, in a moment of carelessness, had issued contradictory orders which had resulted in a wreck. In consequence he was compelled to seek a position somewhere else, and everybody below him in the office moved up a notch. The extra dispatcher was given a regular trick, and his place in consequence became vacant.

A day or two later, Allan received a message from the trainmaster ordering him to report at headquarters, and when he did so, he found that he was to be initiated into the mysteries of the dispatchers’ office.

“That is, if you want the job,” added Mr. Schofield.

Allan pondered a moment. The responsibilities of such a position frightened him. As an operator, he had only to carry out the orders sent him; but as a dispatcher it would be his duty to issue those « 208 » orders. The difference was the same as that between the general of an army and the private in the ranks. The private has only to obey orders, without bothering as to their wisdom or folly; if a defeat follows, it is the general who must answer for it. So each dispatcher has under him, for eight hours every day, one hundred miles of track, and a regiment of operators and trainmen, who must obey his orders without question. That stretch of track is the battlefield, and the victory to be gained is to move over it, without accident, and on time, such passenger and freight trains as the business of the road demands. This is the problem which confronts the dispatcher every time he sits down before his desk.

All this flashed through Allan’s mind in that moment of reflection. And yet he did not really hesitate. He knew that the only road of advancement open to him lay through the dispatchers’ office. There was no way around. If he faltered now, he must remain an operator always.

“Of course I want the job, sir,” he said. “The only question is whether I’m good enough.”

“Well, there’s only one way to find out,” said Mr. Schofield, grimly. "The principal thing to remember is that never, under any circumstances, must you lose your head. Keep cool, and you’ve got the battle half won. But if you ever let the work get on your nerves, it’s all over. You don’t remember Dan Maroney? He was before your « 209 » time. Well, Maroney was one of the best operators we had on the road, a bright fellow, and I finally called him in to take the extra dispatcher’s trick. He seemed to pick up the work all right, and I hadn’t any doubt he would make a good dispatcher. One night, the regular dispatcher reported sick, and so I sent for Dan. He took off his coat and sat down at the desk, and the dispatcher who was going off duty explained to him how the trains lay and what orders had been issued. Dan seemed to catch on all right, so the other dispatcher put on his coat and went home. About twenty minutes later, I happened into the office, and there was Dan, lying back in his chair, white as a sheet and trembling like a leaf.

“‘Why, what’s the matter, Dan?’ I asked. ‘Are you sick?’

“‘No, I ain’t sick, Mr. Schofield,’ he said, and grinned the ghastliest grin I ever saw on a man’s face. ‘But I ain’t fit for this job. I’ve lost my nerve.’

“And, in fact, he was nearly scared to death. Well, we tried to bolster him up and help him along, but it was no use. He’d lost his nerve, as he said, and he never got it back again. He’s agent and operator now at Bluefield, and that’s as far as he’ll ever get. So whatever you do, don’t lost your nerve.”

“I’ll try not to,” said Allan.

“I’ve often thought,” added Mr. Schofield, "that « 210 » a dispatcher was a good deal like a lion-tamer. You know, the tamer enters the cage with perfect safety so long as he keeps his beasts under control. But the moment he loses his nerve, they seem to know it, some way, and perhaps he gets out of the cage alive and perhaps he doesn’t. If he does, he never dares go back. He’s lost his grip on the beasts and they no longer fear him. Well, the railroad is like that. Lose your grip on it, and it’s all over; the only thing to do is to get out as quick as you can."

“I’m going to do my best,” said Allan. “I’ll look it right in the eye.”

“Good. That’s the spirit! You will report here for duty to-morrow morning at seven o’clock. I’ll send Jones out to Byers in your place.”

And Allan left the office, resolved that whatever happened, he would keep his nerve.

« 211 »



The dispatchers’ office is, as has already been remarked, the brain of the railroad. It is there that all orders relating to the movement of trains originate; and these orders keep the blood circulating, as it were—keep the system alive. Let the brain be inefficient, and this movement becomes clogged and uncertain; traffic no longer flows smoothly, as it does when the brain is well. Fortunately, the brain of a railroad can be replaced when it breaks down or wears out, and in so far the road is superior to a mere human being, who has only one brain and can never, by any possible means, get another. And so there is about the road something terrible and remorseless.

Every one has heard the story of Frankenstein, that unfortunate scientist who conceived the idea that he might make a man; who did really succeed in manufacturing a being something akin to human shape, and in animating it with life. But, alas, he could not give it a soul, and the monster turned against its creator, pursuing him and his loved ones with implacable fury and torturing them with fiendish « 212 » delight. The railroad is such a monster; made by man to be his servant, but greater than its maker; grinding out men’s lives, in its fury; wearing out their brains in its service, and then discarding them; for the road must have always the best, and the jaded and second-best must step down and out.

Nowhere is the ruthlessness of this great machine more evident than in the dispatchers’ office, for it is here that the strain is always at the highest; and it is here, too, that deterioration is at once apparent, and is swiftly and inexorably punished. A defect of judgment, a momentary indecision, a mistake, and the delinquent’s days as a train-dispatcher are at an end.

In the office at Wadsworth there were always two dispatchers on duty. One had charge of the hundred miles of track stretching eastward to Parkersburg, and the other had charge of the hundred miles of track stretching southwestward to Cincinnati. The first is called the east end and the other the west end. There are six dispatchers, each of them being on duty eight hours a day. The first trick begins at seven in the morning and lasts till three in the afternoon; the second begins at three and lasts till eleven at night, and the third begins at eleven and lasts till seven in the morning. The new dispatcher begins with the third trick, east end, and gradually works up, as the other places are made vacant by promotions and dismissals, to the first trick, west end. From there, he graduates to « 213 » the chief-dispatchership, and on to trainmaster, superintendent, general superintendent, and general manager. That is the regular ladder of promotion—a ladder which, it may be added, very few have the strength to climb.

All the men in the dispatchers’ office of course knew Allan, and liked him, and he received a hearty greeting when he arrived for his first morning’s instruction. He drew up a chair beside the first trick man on the west end, popularly known as “Goody,” not because of any fundamental traits of character, but because his name happened to be Goodnough. “Goody” had reached his present position of primacy by working up regularly through the various grades, and train-dispatching had become to him a sort of second nature. He was a good-humoured, companionable fellow, with an inexhaustible fund of anecdote and a fondness for practical jokes which not even advancing years and a twinge of rheumatism now and then could diminish. It is related of him—but, there, to recount half the things related of him would be to add another book to this series.

Allan, as we have said, drew up his chair beside him and took his first real lesson in train-dispatching. He had, of course, a general idea of how the thing was done, but never before had any one taken the time or trouble to explain its intricacies to him. The dispatcher sat before a long desk, on which, beside his key, sounder, bottle of ink, pens, and so « 214 » on, lay the train-sheet, upon which the movement of every train was entered. The sheet, reduced to its simplest form, appears on the opposite page.

Just as Allan sat down, the operator at Harper’s called up and reported that Number Seven had passed there at 7.02. The dispatcher acknowledged the message and wrote “7.02” in the column devoted to Train No. 7, opposite Harper’s. A moment later, the operator at Madeira reported the passage of No. 70 at 6.04. This was also duly acknowledged and noted, and so on through the day, the columns of figures on the sheet were added to, showing the position, at that particular moment, of every train, freight or passenger, on the west end of the division. On the opposite side of the table sat the dispatcher in charge of the east end, recording, in a precisely similar manner, the progress of the trains on his end of the line.

When a conductor and engineer are called, they report at once at the dispatchers’ office, where there is a registry-book which they must sign. Passenger conductors and engineers, as well as passenger-engines, have regular runs, which they always make unless some accident prevents. Freight conductors and engineers are assigned to trains in the order in which they sign the book. There are in the employ of the road two men known as “callers,” whose sole business it is to notify the trainmen when they are wanted. For instance, three freight-trains are scheduled to leave, one at ten o’clock, another at 10.10, and a third at 10.20. It is the caller’s business to see that the crews for these trains are ready to take the trains out. A freight crew consists of engineer and fireman, conductor and two brakemen. The conductor and one brakeman, known as the rear-man, ride in the caboose. The other brakeman, known as the front-man, rides in the cab of the engine, and makes himself useful by ringing the bell, watching for signals, and so on, when he is not engaged in setting or releasing the brakes, or helping make up the train.

« 215 »

P. AND O. RAILWAY--Train Sheet

No. 70           No. 14 No. 22 No. 102 Train No. 1 No. 7       No. 97 No. 71
Grace Hawkes Harris Smith Conductor Brown Jones Hall Hess
Hill Curry Rosland Jackson Engineer Snyder Hooker Price Roads
906 1836 1430 1862 Engine 1473 1416 916 912
26 6 5 6 Cars 8 5 28 32
A. M.             A. M. A. M. A. M.                            
5:15 6:15 2:40 Cincinnati
5:50 6:45 3:00 Norwood
3:12 Madeira
3:27 Loveland
4:35 4:06 Midland City 6:42
5:07 Highland 6:15
5:12 Leesburg 6:12
5:18 East Monroe 6:07 6:59
5:32 Greenfield 5:56 6:40
Thrifton 7:00
5:48 Lyndon 5:48 6:24 6:50
5:54 Harper’s 5:43 6:18 6:40
6:03 Roxabel 5:34 6:54 6:03 6:25
6:07 Musselman 5:31 6:48 5:48 6:07
6:12 Anderson 5:25 6:42 5:40 5:50
6:25 Wadsworth 5:14 6:30 5:24 5:34
A. M.     A. M. A. M. A. M. A. M.

« 216 »

For each train that goes out, then, five men must be in readiness. The caller looks through his book, sees whose turn it is, goes to the dwellings of the men to be called, and notifies them of the hour they must be on duty. If any of them are ill or absent, he goes on and calls some one else. The passenger-trainmen, having regular runs, know, of course, the hours they must report for duty and do not need to be called. They are also paid a monthly salary, whereas the earnings of the freight crews vary with the amount of business done by the road. For each man must wait his turn. When business is slack and few freight-trains are needed, that turn is often a long time coming; but when business is heavy it frequently happens that the road finds itself short of men and the same crew which has just brought in one train is compelled to take out another, and is sometimes on duty for sixteen, twenty-four, and even thirty-six hours at a stretch. It is « 217 » then that nerves give way, that memories fail, that eyes which should be alert grow dim and weary,—orders are forgotten, signals are unseen, and a bad accident follows. Freight-men are paid by the trip, and not infrequently, in busy seasons, they make double time—that is, get in two days’ work in every twenty-four hours.

As has been said, the engineers and conductors register at once at the dispatchers’ office. Then the engineer goes on to the lower yards to look over his engine and see that it is in good shape, while the conductor waits for his orders. These are given to him in duplicate, one copy for himself and one for the engineer. He reads his copy aloud to the dispatcher, compares his watch with the big official clock, and then goes down to his train. As soon as the engine is coupled on, he gives the engineer his copy of the orders, which the engineer must read aloud to him. Then they compare watches, and the conductor goes off to show the orders to the rear brakeman, while the engineer shows his copy to the fireman and front brakeman. Thus every member of the crew knows under what orders the train is to proceed and its movement is not dependent upon the memory of one man alone. The dispatcher has also kept a copy of the orders, which he files away. At the time appointed in the orders, the conductor gives the word and the train starts on its journey.

The dispatcher has, meanwhile, entered the number « 218 » of the train, the names of conductor and engineer, the number of the engine and the number of cars on the train-sheet, as well as the hour and minute of the train’s departure. When it passes the first station, the operator there calls up the dispatcher and reports the hour and minute at which it passed. This also is entered on the sheet, and as the train proceeds, the column of figures devoted to it grows. The record of east-bound trains starts at the top of the sheet and grows downward, while that of west-bound trains starts at the bottom of the sheet and grows upward. It should be remembered that east-bound trains always bear even numbers, and west-bound trains odd numbers.

By this method, the dispatcher keeps a record on the sheet before him of the progress of every train. He knows the exact position of every train, or, at least, he knows the last station passed by each, and the probable time of its arrival, barring accident, at the next station. His problem is to keep all the trains moving, to keep a clear track for the passengers so that they can run on time, and to arrange meeting-points for trains going in opposite directions so that there will be no unnecessary delays.

It should be understood that, while a few of the larger railroads are double-tracked, the great bulk of the railroad business of this country is done over single-track roads. On these roads, points of meeting or passing must be at sidings, upon which one train can run while the other passes on the main « 219 » track. Such sidings are usually at stations, and the problem of making the trains meet there is a very delicate one.

In order to accomplish this with the least delay, the trains are divided into classes. The east-bound passengers always have the right of way, and expect a clear track. West-bound passengers must make arrangements to get out of the way of east-bound ones, but have precedence over all other trains. Regular freight-trains must make provision to leave the track clear for the passengers, while the extra freights, which have no regular schedule, creep from station to station as best they can, giving all the other trains a clear track—a sort of yellow dog which every one is privileged to kick.

All the regular trains, passenger and freight, run by the time-card. That is, each of them has its regular time for reaching and leaving every station on the road, and as long as all the trains are on time, things move smoothly and the dispatcher has an easy time of it. But it is indeed a red-letter day when all trains are on time. So many things may happen, there are so many possible causes of delay, that almost inevitably some of the trains will run behind. It is then that the dispatcher shows the stuff that is in him; if he knows his business thoroughly, he will not only keep the trains moving promptly, but will give those that are behind a chance to make up some of the time which they have lost.

« 220 »

The rules given for dispatchers in the book of rules are short—only about a third as long as those for section-foremen. They state that the dispatcher reports to the superintendent, that it is his duty to issue orders for the movement of trains and to see that they are transmitted and recorded, that he may not go off duty until another dispatcher relieves him and that he must explain to the dispatcher coming on the train-orders in force.

But how small a portion of the dispatcher’s duty this really represents! He must “know the road,”—every grade, siding, and curve. Nay, more; he must know the pitch of every grade, or he will give his engines such heavy loads that they will not be able to get over the road. He must know the capacity of every siding, or he may name one as a meeting-point for trains too long to pass there, except by breaking the trains up and see-sawing by a few cars at a time. He must know the capacity of every engine, so that he can tell just how many cars it can handle. He must know the disposition of every conductor and engineer, for some will complain without cause, while some will never ask for help until they absolutely need it. As a telegrapher, he must be expert in the highest degree; he must be quick and sure of decision, of an iron nerve and with a calmness which nothing can disturb.

None of which things are mentioned in the book of rules!

« 221 »



“Well, how’re ye goin’ t’ like it?” asked Jack Welsh at supper, that evening, noticing how thoughtfully the boy was eating.

“Oh, I shall like it,” answered Allan, confidently, looking up with a strange light in his eyes. “A position like that gives one such a sense of power and of responsibility. It’s worth doing.”

Jack nodded.

“That’s it!” he said. “That’s th’ spirit! Buck up to it, an’ it ain’t half so hard to do. That’s th’ way with everything in this world. Th’ feller who’s afeerd he’s goin’ t’ git licked, most ginerally does.”

“Well, I may get licked,” said Allan, “but if I do, it’ll be because I’m not strong enough, not because I’m afraid.”

“I’ve seen little men lick big ones by mere force o’ will,” said Jack. "Th’ big man was whipped afore he started in. I believe that most o’ th’ people who make a failure in this world, do it because they don’t keep on fightin’ as long as they’ve got any « 222 » wind left, but sort o’ give up an’ turn tail an’ try t’ run away—an’ th’ fust thing they know they git a clip on th’ jaw that puts ’em down an’ out."

In the days that followed, Allan certainly felt no inclination to run away. He applied his whole mind to acquiring a full knowledge of the dispatcher’s work. He studied diligently the various forms of train-order, and picked up such information as he could concerning the capacity of the various engines and the character of engineers and conductors. At the end of the week, he felt that he had the office work of the dispatcher pretty well learned. Another week was spent in “learning the road”—a week during which every daylight hour was spent in travelling over the road on freight and passenger, learning the location and length of sidings, the position of switches, water-tanks, and signals. Whenever he could he rode on the engine, for though that method of travel had long since lost its novelty, its fascination for the boy had increased rather than diminished. Besides, there was always a great deal of information to be picked up from the engineer, as well as no little entertainment. For the engineer, especially if he was an old one, was sure to possess a rich store of tales of the road—tales humourous or tragic, as the case might be—tales of practical jokes, of ghosts, of strange happenings, or of accidents and duty done at any cost, of fearless looking in the face of death.

He had taken a trip over the entire east end, on « 223 » the last day of the week, and decided to make the return trip on an extra freight, which was to leave Belpre, the eastern terminus of the freight business, about the middle of the afternoon. So he got a lunch at the depot restaurant at Parkersburg, and then walked across the big bridge which spans the Ohio there, reaching the yards at Belpre just as the freight was getting ready to pull out. He was pleased to find that the engineer was Bill Michaels, an old friend, who at once suggested that there was a place in the cab at Allan’s disposal, if he cared to occupy it.

Allan thanked him and clambered up right willingly, taking his place on the forward end of the long seat which ran along the left side of the cab—the fireman’s side. He watched the engineer “oil round”—that is, walk slowly around the engine, a long-spouted oil-can in his hand, and make sure that all the bearings were properly lubricated and all the oil-cups full. The fireman meanwhile devoted his energies to feeding his fire and getting up steam, and Allan perceived, from a certain awkwardness with which he handled the shovel and opened and shut the heavy door of the fire-box, that he was new to the business. But even a green fireman can get up steam when his engine is standing still, so the needle of the indicator climbed steadily round the dial, until at last, the pressure threw up the safety-valve and the engine “popped off.”

« 224 »

The fireman leaned wearily upon his shovel and scraped the sweat from his forehead with bent forefinger.

“Hot work, isn’t it?” said Allan, smiling.

“’Tain’t near so bad as ’twill be,” returned the fireman, whose name was Pinckney Jones, and who was known by his intimates as Pink, or Pinkey, a nickname which he had tried in vain to live down. “It’ll be a reg’lar wrastle t’ keep ’er goin’. Something’s got int’ th’ cantankerous old beast, an’ she won’t steam t’ save ye.”

He bent again to his task, raking and shaking up the fire, and throwing two or three more shovelfuls of coal into the blazing fire-box. Then the engineer clambered up, followed by the front brakeman, and took his seat on the other side of the cab. He stuck his head out the window, to watch for the conductor’s signal. Presently it came, he opened the throttle gently, and the train, slowly gathering headway, rattled over the switches, out of the yards, and straightened out for the journey westward.

“You want to be mighty careful this trip, Bill,” remarked the brakeman. “We’ve got two car-loads of wild animals back there. If we have a smash-up, there’ll be lions and tigers and Lord knows what all runnin’ loose about the country.”

“That would create considerable disturbance,” agreed Bill. “Well, I’ll try to keep her on the track. Where’re they billed to?”

« 225 »

“They’re goin’ to the Zoological Garden at Cincinnati. There’s a whackin’ big elephant in the first car and a miscellaneous lot of lions, tigers, snakes, and other vermin in the second. Yes, sir, there would be lively times if they got loose.”

“Ain’t there nobody with ’em?”

“Oh, yes; there’s a couple of fellers to feed ’em; but these ain’t the broken-to-harness, drawing-room kind of wild animals. They’re right from the jungle, and are totally unacquainted with the amenities of civilization.”

And then, well pleased with his own facility of diction, he got out a plug of tobacco, bit off a piece, and offered the plug to Bill. Bill accepted the offer, took a tremendous chew, and returned the remnant to its owner.

“And now, Pinkey,” he remarked, to the perspiring fireman, “if you’ll kindly git up a few more pounds of steam, we’ll be joggin’ along. Mebbe you don’t object to stayin’ here all night, but I’d like t’ git home t’ see my wife an’ children.”

“I’m a-doin’ my best,” responded Pinkey, desperately, “th’ ole brute jest won’t steam, an’ that’s all they is to it.”

“Yes,” said the engineer, with irony, but keeping one eye on the track ahead, “I’ve heerd firemen say th’ same thing lots o’ times. You’ve got to nuss her along, boy—don’t smother th’ fire that a-way. An’ keep th’ door shet.”

« 226 »

“How’m I a-goin’ t’ git th’ coal int’ th’ fire-box if I don’t open th’ door?” demanded Pinkey.

“Jim, swing it fer him,” said the engineer to the brakeman, and the latter, who had assisted at the breaking-in of many a green fireman, demonstrated to Pinkey how the door of the fire-box must be swung open and shut between each shovelful of coal. To fire an engine properly is an art which requires more than one lesson to acquire, but Pinkey made a little progress, and after awhile had the satisfaction of seeing the indicator-needle swing slowly up toward the point desired.

Just then, Michaels, glancing at his water-gauge, saw that it was getting rather low, and opened the throttle of the injector in order to fill the boiler; but instead of the water flowing smoothly through from the tank, there was a spurt of steam which filled the cab. He tried again, and with the same result.

“You blame fool!” he snorted, turning an irate face upon the unfortunate fireman, “didn’t you know enough t’ see that th’ tank was full afore we left Belpre? What ’d you think we’d steam on—air?”

“It was full,” quavered Pinkey. “I helped th’ hostler fill it.”

“Oh, come!” protested the engineer. “Mebbe you’ll tell me it’s full now!”

Without replying, Pinkey stooped and opened a « 227 » little cock on the front of the tank, near the bottom. Not a drop of water came out of it.

“Dry as a bone!” cried the engineer, his face purple. “Mebbe you’ll say I used it—mebbe you’ll say th’ engine drunk up a whole tankful inside o’ ten mile. Th’ only question is,” he added, with another glance at his gauge, “kin we git to Little Hocking?”

Little Hocking, the nearest station, was about four miles away, and it looked for a time as though the water in the boiler would not be sufficient to carry the train so far, and the fireman would be compelled to draw his fire, while the brakeman tramped to the next station for help. Such an accident would have made both engineer and fireman the laughing-stock of the road, besides leading to an investigation by the trainmaster, and a session “on the carpet.” So Bill, although boiling mad, nursed the engine along as carefully as he could, making every pound of steam count, and finally drew up in triumph beside the water-tank at Little Hocking.

“There, you lobster,” he said to Pinkey, wiping off the perspiration, “now fill her up.”

Pinkey lowered the spout of the water-tank, opened the gate and let the water rush down into the tank of the engine. It would hold seven thousand gallons, and the fireman waited until the water brimmed over the top and splashed down along the sides before he turned it off.

« 228 »

“Now,” he said, defiantly, to Michaels, “you see fer yourself she’s full. Th’ way she’s steamin’, I bet that won’t carry us to Stewart.”

The engineer grunted contemptuously.

“Remarkable, ain’t it, how much these green firemen know?” he remarked to the front brakeman, as he gently opened the throttle.

“You’ll see,” said Pinkey, doggedly, and fell to work “ladling in the lampblack.”

Michaels watched him for a few moments in silence.

“What’s the matter?” he inquired, at length. “Got a hole in the fire-box?”

“No; why?” asked Pinkey, pausing between two shovelfuls.

“Somebody buried back there, an’ you’re tryin’ to dig him out?” pursued the engineer, with a gesture toward the pile of coal in the tender.

“What you talkin’ about, anyway?” demanded Pinkey, staring at him in amazement.

“Say, Jim,” said the engineer to the brakeman, “take that scoop away from that idiot, will ye? Pinkey, git up there on your box an’ set down or I’ll report ye fer wastin’ th’ company’s fuel.”

“She won’t steam without coal,” protested Pinkey.

“No; nor she won’t steam with a bellyful like that, either,” retorted the engineer, throwing on the draft. “Now I’ve got t’ blow about half of it out the smoke-stack.”

« 229 »

He watched grimly as the black smoke swirled upward from the stack and blew away to the left toward a little farmhouse.

“That feller’ll think he’s livin’ in Pittsburg,” remarked the brakeman, as the smoke closed down over the house and shut it from view for an instant.

Michaels snorted with laughter. Then he opened the injector again—and again the steam spurted out into the cab.

Without waiting for an order, Pinkey bent and opened the tank-cock. A thin little trickle told that the water in the tank was almost exhausted.

“Great Jehoshaphat!” cried Michaels, and stared in perplexity at the brakeman. “Th’ tank’s sprung a leak,” he said, at last, with conviction. “I ain’t pumped a hundred gallon into her since we left Little Hocking.”

“They ain’t no leak,” asserted Pinkey. “I went all around th’ tank, an’ it ain’t leakin’ a drop. I don’t believe it’ll carry us further ’n Coolville,” he added, triumphantly.

Michaels turned back to his engine without trusting himself to reply; but it was only by the most careful nursing that those six miles were covered and the water-plug at Coolville reached. There the engineer made a personal inspection of the tank while Pinkey filled it, and he found, as the fireman had said, that it was perfectly tight. Allan, who was as deeply puzzled as any one, also examined the tank, and with the same result.

« 230 »

The conductor sauntered forward while the tank was being filled, and watched the operation with considerable curiosity.

“Say,” he asked, at last, “what ’re you fellers up to, anyway? Tryin’ t’ create a water famine?”

“Oh, go back to your dog-house an’ go to sleep,” retorted Michaels, whose temper was beginning to give way under the strain.

“I can’t sleep more’n eight hours at a stretch. Think we’ll be to Athens by then?”

The engineer picked up a lump of coal, and the conductor hastily retreated.

“Say,” he sung out over his shoulder, “don’t fergit there’s a pen-stock at Stewart. Don’t pass it—it might feel slighted,” and he dodged the lump of coal, as it whizzed past his head.

“Blamed fool!” muttered Michaels, and settled into his seat.

But the four men in the cab were strangely silent as the train started westward again. There was something mysterious and alarming about all this—something positively supernatural in the disappearance of fourteen thousand gallons of water within an hour. The engineer tried his injector nervously from time to time, but for half an hour or so it worked properly, and squirted the water into the boiler as required. Then, suddenly, came the spurt of steam which told that there was no more water to squirt.

“Well,” said the engineer, in an awed voice, « 231 » “that beats me. Even with th’ injector open all th’ time, no engine could drink water that way—why, it ’d flood her an’ flow out of her cupolo! Besides, her boiler ain’t more ’n half-full!”

Pinkey mechanically tried the cock again, and with the same result—the tank was nearly empty. Then, in a sort of trance, he turned to shovel in some more coal, but finding there was none lying loose within easy reach, took his rake, and climbed up the pile at the back of the tender, like a man walking in his sleep, and started to pull some coal down into the gangway.

An instant later, his companions heard a shriek of utter horror, audible even above the rattle of the engine, and the fireman rolled in a limp heap down the pile of coal, his face white as death, his eyes fairly starting from his head. If any man ever looked as though he had seen a ghost, Pinkey Jones was that man, and his terror was communicated in some degree to his companions.

“For God’s sake!” cried the brakeman, at last, seizing Pinkey by the collar and pulling him to an upright position. “What’s the matter?”

Instead of answering, Pinkey, his teeth chattering, tried to jump off the engine. The fireman grabbed him and pulled him back by main force.

“Come!” he said, shaking him fiercely. “Brace up! Be a man! What’s the matter?”

“Th—there’s a snake up there,” stuttered Pinkey. “Let me go!”

« 232 »

“A snake!”

“Big as my leg,” added Pinkey. “Black, with a red mouth! Let me go!”

The brakeman slammed him down on the seat and picked up the rake, while Allan armed himself with the bar of iron used for stirring up the fire.

“What was he doing?” asked the brakeman, when these preparations had been made.

“He—he had his head in the tank,” said Pinkey. “When he heard me comin’, he lifted it up an’ squirted water all over me!”

“Squirted water!” repeated Michaels, incredulously. “A snake? Oh, come!”

“Well, look at me,” said Pinkey. And indeed, they saw now that he was completely soaked.

“Why, he must ’a’ sent a stream like a fire-hose!” said the brakeman.

“He did,” agreed Pinkey. “It hit me so hard it knocked me backward down that pile o’ coal,” and he rubbed his head ruefully.

The three men in the cab stared at each other in amazement. A snake that could knock a man down with a stream of water!

“Well,” said Bill Michaels, grimly, at last, “all I kin say is that if they ever puts that snake on exhibition th’ biggest circus tent on earth won’t hold th’ crowds.”

“I’m goin’ up t’ take a look at him,” announced the brakeman, grasping the rake.

“I’ll go with you,” said Allan, reflecting that, « 233 » after all, a snake which did nothing more than deluge its assailants with water was not so very dangerous, and he followed the brakeman up the pile of coal.

The latter reached the top and peered cautiously over. The next instant, his cap flew from his head, carried away by a stream of water which whistled past him and fell upon Allan. The brakeman ducked, and the two crouched for a moment staring into each other’s eyes.

“Well, I’ll be blamed!” said the brakeman, hoarsely.

“Did you see anything?” asked Allan.

“Nothin’ but a thing that looked like a nozzle squirtin’ water at me!” and he wiped the water from his eyes. “Well, I’m as wet now as I kin git. I’m a-goin’ to see what it is,” and again he elevated his head cautiously over the top of the pile of coal.

Allan saw a stream of water strike him violently in the face; but he held his place and shook it off, and the next instant, roaring with laughter, fairly rolled down the coal into the cab, carrying the boy with him.

“What is it?” asked Pinkey with bated breath.

Allan shook his head and pointed to the brakeman, who sat on the floor of the cab, rocking to and fro, holding his sides, with tears and water running down his cheeks.

“He’s gone crazy!” cried Pinkey. “He’s seen it an’ ’s gone crazy!”

« 234 »

“Ho! ho!” roared the brakeman. “If you’d ’a’ seen his eye! If you’d only seen his eye!”

Michaels, who had managed to keep his lookout ahead only in the most intermittent fashion, closed the throttle and applied the brakes.

“I’m a-goin’ t’ see what this is,” he said, savagely, “if we never move another foot! What was it you seen, Jim? Whose eye?”

“If you’d ’a’ seen his little wicked eye!” yelled the brakeman. “Oh! I must go up an’ look at it agin!”

But the train creaked to a stop, and the engineer jumped down from his seat and seized Jim fiercely.

“Here, you,” he cried. “What is it? Speak out, or by George—”

“It’s th’ elephant!” gasped Jim. “Oh, if you’d ’a’ seen his eye a-twinklin’!”

Michaels dropped the brakeman and jumped to the ground, the others following. And there, sure enough, with his trunk sticking out of a little window in the front end of the car just back of the tender was the elephant. Even as they looked, the trunk stretched forward, and the end of it disappeared through the manhole in the top of the tank.

“What’s up?” inquired the conductor, running up from the rear of the train. “What you stoppin’ out here for, Bill? They’s no plug here!”

A stream of water caught him squarely on the side of the face, and left him dazed and speechless. « 235 » The engineer, fireman, and brakeman danced around, yelling and slapping their knees.

The conductor jumped out of range, wiped away the water, and regarded them disgustedly.

“Well, of all the blame fools!” he said. “It don’t take much to amuse some people.”

“What’s the joke?” asked the rear brakeman, coming up at that moment.

The elephant saw him, took deadly aim, and fired. The brakeman, with a yell of dismay, clapped his hands to his face. When he had cleared the water from his eyes, he saw four men dancing spasmodically up and down, fairly howling with mirth.

The brakeman gazed at them for a moment without comment, then turned on his heel and walked back to the caboose, waving his arms in the air in a very ecstasy of rage.

“Look at his eye,” gasped the front brakeman, when he could get his breath, and indeed the elephant’s right optic, which was the only one visible through the little window, was shining with unholy glee. He was having the time of his life.

The trainmen finally calmed down sufficiently to call one of the animal attendants, and an investigation followed. It was found that the elephant had managed to open the shutter which closed the little window by pulling out the catch. He had put his trunk through the window, and after some exploration, had found the opening through which the tank was filled. The cool water within had attracted « 236 » him, he had drank his fill, had given himself and the other occupants of the car a shower-bath and had then devoted himself to sprinkling the right of way until the water in the tank got too low for him to reach. Then he had retired within his car to meditate; but afterwards, finding the tank full again, had repeated the performance, and doubtless would have kept on doing so all the way to Cincinnati if he had not been discovered.

The shutter was closed and nailed shut, and the train finally proceeded on its way. At the next station, the conductor filed a message for headquarters, which the operator dutifully sent in.

“Extra west, Engine 1438, delayed twenty minutes by elephant. Stewart.”

The dispatcher who received the message requested that the word before the signature be repeated.

“E-l-e-p-h-a-n-t,” repeated the operator.

“What do you mean by elephant?” queried the dispatcher.

The operator happened to have a little pocket dictionary at hand, for he was not always sure of his spelling. He referred to it now.

“Elephant,” he answered, “a five-toed proboscian mammal.”

And what the dispatcher said in reply cannot be repeated here.

« 237 »



Allan had learned as much of the science of train-dispatching as it is possible to do without actual experience, and he was duly appointed operator at headquarters and extra dispatcher. He had a desk in the dispatchers’ office, where he worked ten and sometimes twelve hours a day receiving and sending the multitudinous messages which passed between the various officials of the road. This work was in one way not such good training for a future dispatcher as a trick out on the road, for here he had nothing whatever to do with the movement of trains; but on the other hand he was constantly in touch with the dispatchers, he could listen to their conversation and pick up matters of detail which no one would have thought to tell him; in such leisure moments as he had, he could sit down before the train-sheet and watch the actual business of dispatching trains; he could see how unusual problems were solved and unusual difficulties met; and all the information picked up thus, as it were, at haphazard, he stored away for future use, certain that it would some day be needed.

« 238 »

Not infrequently one of the dispatchers would relinquish his chair to him, and, for an hour or so, look after the operator’s duties, while Allan did the actual work of dispatching. But he knew that this was not a real test, for, in case of emergency, help was always at hand. It was with him much as it is with those amateur sociologists who assume the garb and habits of the poor, and imagine that they are tasting all the misery of life in the slums; forgetting that its greatest misery, its utter hopelessness, they can never taste, since they have only to walk out and away from the life whenever they choose, and be rid of it for ever. So Allan, in case of need, had only to lift his finger, and aid was at hand.

But at last the time came around when one of the dispatchers was to take his vacation; and one night, Allan reported for duty, to take the third trick on the east end. It was not without a certain tingling of the nerves that he sat down in the chair, looked over the sheet, and carefully read the written explanation of train-orders in force which the second-trick man had prepared for him.

“Understand?” the latter asked, when Allan had finished.

“Yes, I think so,” said the boy, and the dispatcher, nodding, took up his lunch-basket and left the office.

The weight of responsibility weighed on the boy for a time, and it was with no little nervousness « 239 » that he transmitted his first order; but this feeling gradually wore away and was replaced by one of confidence. After all, there was no cause to worry. The position of every train was marked there on the sheet before him; there was no excuse for mistake. And yet, as he thought of those mighty engines rushing through the night with their precious burdens, obedient to his orders, his pulses quickened with a sense of power.

Fortunately business was light and the trains were running on time, so he really had little to do; and when, at last, his relief came at seven o’clock, he arose from the desk with a sense of work well done, without mistake or accident. For two weeks, night after night, he sat at that desk, ordering the traffic over that hundred miles of track, and with every night he felt his confidence increase. Problems arose, of course, but his training had been of the very best; he never lost his head or his nerve, and when, at last, the dispatcher came back from his vacation, Allan returned to the operator’s desk conscious that he had “made good,” and that he would be strong enough to climb the ladder of promotion for some rounds, at least.

He had been kept at the office rather later than usual the evening after he had resumed his work as operator, for there happened to be a sudden rush of business to be attended to, and it was after six o’clock when he finally put on his coat and started home to supper. As he entered the dining-room, « 240 » he saw that supper had not yet been served, and from the kitchen he heard Jack’s voice raised excitedly.

“That you, Allan?” called Jack. “Come on out here.”

The boy entered the kitchen and saw Jack standing near the lamp, the evening paper in his hand.

“Did ye see this?” he asked, holding out the paper, and pointing to some flaring headlines on the first page. They read:


Four Convicts Scale the Wall of the
State Prison!


Had Made a Rope of Their Bedclothing and Carefully
Arranged the Details of Their Plan!

No Present Trace of Their Whereabouts—Had Been Sent
from Ross County under Ten-year Sentence
for Train-wrecking!

Not until he read the last line did Allan understand why Jack appeared so interested.

“Them’s our men,” said Jack; “but read the article.”

“Don’t read it now,” protested Mary; “supper’s about spoiled as it is.” And then an odour « 241 » from the stove caused her to fly to it. “Look a-there, now,” she added, “th’ p’taties nearly burned up! Come along, both o’ ye,” and taking the paper inexorably from Allan, she pushed them all in toward the table. “They’s no use in lettin’ th’ supper spile, even if all th’ convicts in th’ pen. got loose!”

Which, indeed, was true. And Allan did not fully understand the cause of Jack’s excitement until, near the end of the meal, a single remark fell from him.

“Well, all I’ve got t’ say,” he remarked, “is that I certainly pity Dan Nolan if them fellys git hold o’ him!”

Allan looked up with sudden interest.

“You haven’t heard anything from Nolan?” he asked.

“No,” said Jack; “but I’d like t’ bet them fellys’ll soon find out where he is. They ain’t a tramp’ll stand by him arter what he did, an’ they’ll pass th’ word along where he’s likely t’ be found. I reckon Nolan went south fer th’ winter, but it wouldn’t surprise me t’ see him show up around here afore th’ summer’s over.”

“Maybe he’s not a tramp,” objected Allan. “Maybe he’s working somewhere.”

“Workin’ nothin’!” exclaimed Jack, disgustedly. “Why, he’s fergot how.”

“Well, anyway,” said Allan, "I don’t believe he’ll ever come around here again. He’s broken « 242 » his parole and he knows the minute he sets foot in this State he’s in danger of being clapped back into prison."

“Yes, he knows that,” admitted Jack, “an’ yet I don’t believe even that’ll keep him away. They’s a kind o’ fascination seems t’ draw a man back t’ th’ place where he’s committed a crime. If they wasn’t, lots more’d escape than do.”

“Well,” laughed Allan, “I hope no fascination will draw our friends the train-wreckers back to this neighbourhood. But perhaps they’re safe in jail again before this.”

The morning papers, however, showed that they were anything but safe in jail. They had disappeared completely, and there seemed every reason to believe that confederates had been waiting to assist them, and that they had been able to discard their convict garb as soon as they reached the street. This conjecture became a certainty on the following day, when a labourer, cleaning one of the sewer inlets near the prison, had fished out four suits of convict clothing. All the mechanism of the law was set in motion in the effort to recapture them; descriptions and photographs were sent to every police-station in the middle west, a large reward was offered, the police drag-nets were drawn in, heavy with suspects, but the four fugitives were not among them. At the end of a week, the public, diverted by new sensations, had nearly forgotten « 243 » the episode, and Allan himself had long since ceased to think about it.

Allan had just finished up his work for the day. The hook was clear, and with a little sigh of relief, he closed his key after sending the last message. It had been a hard day, for all of the officers were out on the road at various points, and many of the messages that came to headquarters for them had to be repeated to the station where they happened to be at the moment.

The boy glanced at the clock and saw that it was nearly six; then he rose, stretched himself, and was putting on his coat when the door opened and the chief-dispatcher came in. One glance at his worried countenance told the boy that something was wrong.

“I just got a ’phone from the hospital,” he said, “that Roscoe, the night man at Coalville, was hurt awhile ago. He was coming down to catch his train, when a runaway horse knocked him down and broke his leg.”

“Who’s going out?” inquired one of the dispatchers.

“I don’t know yet,” answered the chief, a line of worry between his eyes. “I’ve sent the caller after Hermann. Here he is now,” he added, as the caller hurried into the office. “Well?”

“Hermann can’t come,” the caller announced. “He’s sick in bed with the grip.”

« 244 »

The chief glanced at the clock.

“We’ve only got ten minutes,” he said. “Whoever goes has got to catch the accommodation.”

“Why can’t I go?” asked Allan, coming forward. “I’ll be glad to, if it’ll be any help.”

“Will you?” said the chief, eagerly. “Good for you! But you’ve had a hard day. I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” he added. “I’ll hunt up an extra man at Parkersburg or Athens and send him to Coalville on Number Eleven. That will let you off at midnight.”

“All right,” agreed Allan. “I can stand it that long. But I want something to eat before I start.”

“Get a lunch at the restaurant. They can fix up a basket for you and you can eat it on the train.”

Allan nodded and went down the steps three at a time. It was raining heavily, but he dodged around the corner of the building into the restaurant without getting very wet, and six minutes later, basket in hand, he jumped aboard the accommodation, waving his hand to the chief-dispatcher, who stood looking anxiously from the window of his office to be sure that the boy made the train.

He was genuinely hungry, and he devoted the first fifteen minutes to a consumption of the lunch which the restaurant-keeper had put up for him. Then the conductor, who had glanced at his pass, nodded, and gone on to collect the tickets, came back and sat down beside him.

« 245 »

“I thought you had a trick in the dispatchers’ office?” he said.

“I have,” answered Allan, “but I’m going out to Coalville on an emergency call. The night man there had his leg broken, awhile ago, and the chief couldn’t get anybody in a hurry to take his place. So I volunteered.”

“Yes,” said the conductor, “I saw Roscoe hurt, and it was the queerest accident I ever heard of. I was coming down Main Street to report for duty, and I saw Roscoe coming down Bridge, with his lunch-basket in his hand. There was a horse hitched to a buggy standing at the corner, and a man who seemed to be fixing something about the harness. Well, sir, just as Roscoe stepped in front of it, that horse gave a leap forward, went right over him, and galloped lickety-split up the street. It was stopped up near the canal, not much hurt. But I couldn’t understand what started it. There wasn’t a thing to scare it, and it had been standing quiet as a lamb the minute before.”

“It was queer,” agreed Allan, thoughtfully. “Whose horse was it?”

“It was a livery-stable rig. A stranger had hired it for the afternoon. The livery-stable people said the horse had never run away before.”

“Did you find out who the stranger was?”

“No; but he was rather a nice-looking fellow. It was him who was fixing the harness. He helped pick Roscoe up and carry him into Steele’s drugstore, « 246 » and seemed to be mighty sorry for what had happened. He stayed till the doctor came and found Roscoe’s right leg broken, and helped lift him into the ambulance which took him to the hospital. Then he went up to pay the damages at the livery-stable. He was a drummer, I reckon. There’s a fellow in the smoker looks a good deal like him. I thought it was him, at first, and spoke to him, but he didn’t seem to know me.”

The train slowed up for a station and the conductor hurried away to attend to his duties. But nobody got aboard and he soon came back and sat down again by Allan.

“Business light to-night,” he remarked, and, indeed, there was not more than six or eight people on the train. “Though I’ve got two passengers,” he added, “riding in the baggage-car.”

“In the baggage-car?”

“Yes; they’re taking out the money to pay off the miners at Coalville, to-morrow morning. They’ve got a big, iron-bound chest, about all that four men can lift, and they’re sitting on it, armed to the teeth. There’s probably fifty or sixty thousand dollars in it. They take it out that way every month.”

“Isn’t there a bank at Coalville?”

“A bank? Bless your heart, no! The coal company runs a sort of little savings institution for its employees; but they don’t pay any interest, and I’ve heard it said they don’t encourage their men « 247 » to save anything. You see, as long as they can keep the men living from hand to mouth, there’s less danger of a strike; and if they do strike, it don’t take very long to starve ’em out. Oh, the company’s wise! It don’t want any bank at Coalville. Besides, I don’t imagine anybody’d be especially anxious to start a bank there. They’d be afraid the miners ’d get drunk some night and clean it out.”

“Are they so bad as all that?”

“They’re a tough gang, especially when they get liquor in them. The company doesn’t take any chances with them. It banks its money at Wadsworth and brings out just enough every month to pay them off. There’s always a wagon and half a dozen armed men ready to take it over to the company’s office, which is fitted up like a fort, and by noon next day, it’s all paid out and a big slice of it’s spent.”

“Why don’t they pay by check?”

“They tried it, but the saloon-keepers at Coalville charged five per cent. for cashing them and the men kicked.”

“Well, it strikes me it’s pretty dangerous,” remarked Allan.

“Oh, I don’t know. Nothing’s ever happened yet. Robbers, I don’t care how desperate they are, ain’t fond of running up against a gang of men armed with Winchesters,” and he went off to make another tour of the train.

« 248 »



Coalville was a hamlet worthy of its name, for its people not only mined coal, they breathed it, ate it, slept in it, and absorbed it at every pore. The town was divided into two parts, one on the hillside, the other in the valley. That portion on the hillside was popularly known as “Stringtown,” and consisted of row upon row of houses, all built upon the same plan, and arranged upon the slope which mounted gently upward from the mouth of the mine which gave the town its only reason for existence. These houses consisted invariably of three rooms and an attic, and into them were crowded the miners, for the most part Slavs or Poles. They had been brought direct from Europe, the immigration laws to the contrary notwithstanding, shipped out to the mine in car-load lots, assigned to the houses which were to be their homes, supplied with the tools necessary to mining, and put to work. By incessant labour, they were able to earn enough to provide themselves and their ever-increasing families with food enough to keep body « 249 » and soul together, and clothing enough to cover their nakedness. More they did not ask. They were not compelled to serve in the army, they were not under police surveillance, they paid no taxes. So they were happy and contented, imagining themselves free.

Down in the valley, a quarter of a mile away, was the town proper—that is to say, about a hundred houses, larger, cleaner, and more pretentious than the hovels on the hillside. Here the superintendents lived, the bosses, the office force, and most of the Americans employed about the mine. Here, too, were the bakery, the two stores, supposed to be run upon a competitive basis, but really under one management, and the fifteen saloons into which no small portion of the miners’ wages went, and which yielded an annual profit of about a thousand per cent. on the investment.

The company which owned the mine owned the town,—not the residences only, but the stores, the barber-shop, the bakery, the boarding-house, and even the saloons. The money which it paid out in wages flowed back to it, practically undiminished, through one of these channels; and these minor industries contributed in no small degree to the handsome dividends, issued quarterly, which the mine paid. Perhaps if the stockholders had known just how these dividends were earned, they might not have received them so complacently; but none of them thought it worth while to inquire—or perhaps « 250 » they feared to investigate too closely the sources of so satisfactory an income.

The town was not upon the railroad, which passed about half a mile to the east of it. Two spurs of track connected the mine with the main line, but these spurs were used solely for the company’s business, and no passengers were carried over them. Hence it was necessary for every one wishing to leave the town to tramp half a mile along a road muddy or dusty, according to the weather, to the little frame shack on the main line, which served as a station for the town. It may be that the exertion needed to leave the town was one reason why so many persons, once they had arrived there, remained, and never thereafter emancipated themselves from bondage to coal-dust, nor saw the sky except through the black clouds arising ceaselessly from the dumps. To only one class of person did the town turn a cold shoulder, and that was to the labour organizer. The company was most anxious to keep its men free from the “union” microbe, which was working such disastrous results upon the dividends of other mining enterprises; it believed that it was the best and most proper judge of the wages which its men should receive. Therefore, whenever a union man struck the town he found himself unable to secure a place to sleep or food to eat—he had to get out or starve; when he asked for employment, he found all the places taken and no prospect of a job anywhere. The company, « 251 » however, was generous; if the applicant happened to be out of money, he could always secure the funds necessary to take him away from Coalville.

The train pulled up before the little Coalville station on time; and Allan reported at once for duty and relieved the day man, who lived at Athens, and who hurried out to catch the accommodation, which would take him home.

For twenty minutes, Allan devoted himself to looking over the orders on the hook and getting acquainted with the position of trains; then his attention was attracted by a heavy bumping on the floor of the little waiting-room. It sounded as though a heavy trunk was being brought in, but when he looked through the ticket-window, he saw two men rolling a heavy chest end over end across the room.

The Coalville station contained three rooms. At one end was the waiting-room, with a row of benches along the wall; in the centre was the office, about six feet wide, in which the operator worked; and beyond it was another room where freight for Coalville was stored until it could be hauled away. There was a door from the office into both waiting-room and freight-shed as shown in the diagram.

It will be seen that the station had been constructed just as cheaply as possible. The passenger traffic to and from Coalville was not such as to require elaborate accommodations, and the freight for the town was allowed to take care of itself the best it could.

« 252 »

The Station at Coalville

« 253 »

The men who were bringing in the chest stopped where they had it in the middle of the waiting-room, and one of them, looking up, caught Allan’s eye as he looked at them through the ticket-window.

“We’d like to put this box in the freight-shed for awhile,” said the stranger. “The door’s locked, and we thought maybe you’d let us take it through your office.”

“Why, certainly,” answered Allan, who suspected at once that this was the chest containing the money for the miners, and he opened the door and helped them through with it. It was certainly heavy, but its weight, Allan decided, was more from its massive, iron-bound construction than from its contents.

The men went on into the freight-shed with it, and Allan heard them talking together, but he was called back to his instrument to take an order and for the moment forgot them. Presently one of them came out again, passed through the office, jumped down the steps of the waiting-room, and hastened away into the darkness.

It happened that there were two coal-trains to be started westward to Cincinnati just then, so perhaps half an hour passed before Allan looked up again. When he did so, he found the other custodian of the box standing at his elbow. He was a tall, slim man of middle age, with a black mustache « 254 » and dare-devil expression, which somehow made Allan think that he had been a cowboy. The slouch hat which he wore pulled down over his eyes added to this effect, as did the repeating rifle whose butt rested on the floor beside him. When the boy looked up, he nodded sociably, and sat down on the end of the table, one leg swinging in the air.

“It allers did beat me,” he began, “how a feller could learn t’ understand one o’ them little machines,” motioning toward the sounder.

“All it takes is practice,” answered Allan, leaning back in his chair. “It’s like everything else. Now I couldn’t hit a barn door with that rifle of yours, but I dare say you could hit a much smaller object.”

“Why, yes,” drawled the other, patting the gun affectionately. “I hev picked off my man at six hundred yards.”

“Your man?”

“I used t’ be depitty sheriff of Chloride County, Arizony,” explained the stranger. “Hopkins is my name—Jed Hopkins. Mebbe you’ve heerd o’ me?”

But Allan was forced to confess that he never had.

“Well, I’ve seen some excitin’ times,” Hopkins went on. “But life out thar ain’t what it was twenty year ago. I got disgusted an’ come back east an’ got this job.”

“Which job?” asked Allan.

« 255 »

“Oh, I’m special constable an’ guardeen o’ th’ company’s property. Not much doin’ now; but last year we had a strike, and I tell you, sir, things was fast an’ furious fer a couple o’ weeks. But them dagoes never saves no money—so we soon starved ’em out. I reckon that’s one reason th’ company pays in cash—a dago with cash in his pocket can’t pass a gin-shop—an’ they’s fifteen in Coalville, one right arter th’ other. About th’ only thing I’ve got t’ do now is to guard th’ company’s cash. That’s what’s in that big box in yonder,” he added, easily.

“Isn’t there some danger?” asked the boy.

“Danger?” repeated Hopkins, scornfully. “I should say not. Them vermin know me too well!”

Again his instrument called, and again Allan turned to answer it. Hopkins arose, went to the door of the waiting-room, and looked up and down the track.

“They’s usually a wagon waitin’ fer us,” he went on, coming back after a moment and resuming his seat. “Th’ company’s got an office, over at th’ mine, lined with steel an’ with steel shutters to th’ winders, with little loopholes in ’em. They had it fixed up last year when they was gittin’ ready fer th’ strike. And it was mighty useful.”

“Getting ready for the strike?”

“Sure. They knowed there’d be one as soon as they cut the men’s wages,” answered Hopkins, coolly. "Th’ fact is, th’ dumps was full o’ coal, « 256 » business was slack, an’ they wanted t’ shet down awhile."

It took Allan some moments to digest this answer.

“The miners don’t seem to have any show at all,” he remarked, at last.

“Well, sir, not much,” agreed Hopkins. “You see, they ain’t organized—they don’t belong to no union—and th’ company takes mighty good care they sha’n’t. My, th’ organizers I’ve bounced out o’ this town—it was right interestin’ till th’ company got wise an’ found a better way.”

“A better way?”

“Sure. You see, as soon as an organizer was fired out, he’d go around th’ country hollerin’ about th’ company, an’ callin’ it bad names. Sometimes this got into th’ papers an’ made things onpleasant, specially since th’ company couldn’t say it wasn’t so. So now, th’ organizer fer this district is on th’ pay-roll. He gits a hundred dollars a month, an’ when he gits up at th’ convention t’ report, he tells how he’s doin’ his best t’ organize our dagoes, but finds ’em so ign’rant an’ cantankerous that they don’t want no union. However, he hopes, before another year rolls around, t’ be able t’ convince ’em—an’ so on. It’s a smooth game—an’ has worked first rate, so far.”

Allan glanced up at Jed to see if he was in earnest, but he appeared entirely so.

“And what happened during the strike?”

“Oh, they tried t’ rush us an’ set fire t’ th’ mine—an’ « 257 » us in that steel-lined office, armed with Winchesters! They didn’t have no chance.”

“Were any of them hurt?”

“Th’ newspapers said that ten was slightly injured—which was true as fur as it went,” and Jed grinned. “Eight went t’ sleep an’ never woke up, but that was kept quiet. No use makin’ a stir about a few dagoes; besides, th’ law was on our side. Only,” added Jed, “I’d ’a’ liked it better if we’d fought out in th’ open. But th’ manager wouldn’t hear of it.”

Allan shivered slightly. Of course, the law was on the company’s side; the men were trying to destroy its property; and yet that scarcely seemed to justify shooting them down from behind a wall of steel.

“We ain’t had no trouble since,” Jed added. “They’ve l’arnt their lesson. But it wouldn’t surprise me t’ wake up ’most any night with a dago knife in my belly.”

He stretched himself and yawned dismally.

“Ten o’clock,” he said, glancing at his watch. “Looks like I’d have t’ stay here all night. What’s yer name, sonny?”

“Allan West.”

“You ain’t th’ reg’lar night man here?”

“No; the regular night man was hurt this afternoon, and I’m taking his place.”

Hopkins nodded; then suddenly he sat erect and listened.

« 258 »

“There they come,” he said; “it’s time,” and he started for the door.

Allan had heard no sound, and Hopkins came back, after having gone to the door of the waiting-room and looked up and down the track again.

“False alarm,” he said. “I thought I heerd three or four men walkin’. Say, I’m goin’ in an’ lay down an’ take a nap. I’m most dead fer sleep.”

“Do you think it’s safe?”

“Safe? Sho! I should say so! Besides, I’ll show you a trick. Come along.”

Allan followed him into the dark freight-shed.

Hopkins struck a match and by its light gathered together a pile of burlap from the pieces lying in the corners. He threw this down before the door.

“There,” he said. “Anybody who comes in that door ’ll hev t’ step over Jed Hopkins. I reckon nobody ’ll try that more ’n once. Now I’m goin’ t’ shet th’ door. You ’d better tell anybody who comes t’ give me fair warnin’ afore they opens it.”

“All right,” laughed Allan. “Good night.”

“Night,” answered Hopkins, brusquely, and closed the door.

Allan heard him arranging himself on the other side. Then all was still. The boy went back to his desk at the front of the office and sat down. There was no sound to break the stillness, and the sudden sense of fatigue which stole over him reminded him that he had already done a hard day’s work before starting for Coalville. Luckily, he was to be « 259 » relieved at midnight—an hour and a half more, and he would be free to go to sleep. He would sleep all the way back to Wadsworth. He must be sure to tell the conductor to call him and not let him be carried past his station. The conductor would understand—he would know, himself, what it was to work overtime.

He dropped his head on his hand, and sat staring out of the great window which formed the front of the office. The rays of light from the lamp on the wall beside him reached as far as the track which ran before the station, but beyond that was utter darkness. The rain had ceased, but the light was reflected in the puddles of muddy water which stood before the station, and the eaves were drip-dripping like the ticking of a clock. Once Allan thought he heard steps; and a moment later he fancied the floor creaked—it was no doubt Hopkins, moving in his sleep. A man must have nerves of iron to be able to sleep like that with a treasure-chest to guard; but then—

Some indescribable influence caused him to turn his head, and he found himself looking straight down the barrel of a revolver.

« 260 »



For an instant, Allan fancied that Jed Hopkins was playing a joke upon him, but when he glanced at the figure behind the revolver, he saw at once that it was shorter and heavier than that of the ex-plainsman. A slouch hat was pulled down over the eyes and a dirty red handkerchief tied over the mouth and chin, so that none of the face was visible except a short section of red, pimply, and unshaven cheek. All this the boy saw in the single second which followed his start of surprise on perceiving the revolver at his ear.

“Hands up,” muttered a hoarse voice, before Allan had time to move a muscle, and as he mechanically obeyed, his hands were seized from behind and bound together at the wrists in the twinkling of an eye.

“Now, tie him to his chair, Joe,” said his captor, and in another moment it was done. “Now the gag,” and before the boy could protest, a corn-cob, around which was wrapped a dirty rag, was forced « 261 » between his teeth and tied tightly to his head. Allan reflected grimly that he could appreciate a horse’s feelings when a bit was thrust into its mouth and secured there.

The man with the revolver lowered that weapon and regarded this handiwork with evident satisfaction.

“That’ll do,” he said, with a chuckle. “I reckon he won’t bother us.”

Allan, twisting his head around, saw that there were two men in the office besides the one with the revolver, and he fancied he could detect another walking up and down before the station. He knew, of course, that they were after the miners’ money, and the robbery had evidently been planned with great care—as it had need to be, to stand any chance of success.

“Now, there’s just one fellow in there,” continued the man, who was evidently the leader of the expedition, “and we’ve got to rush him. All ready?”

The others drew revolvers from their pockets and nodded, grouping themselves before the door which led into the freight-shed.

The leader got out a small dark-lantern, tested it, and then leaned over and blew out the lamp.

At the same instant, Allan, kicking out desperately, upset the other chair which stood at the operator’s desk. It fell with a crash, but the noise was drowned by a greater one, as the door was « 262 » flung back and the robbers plunged through and hurled themselves upon Jed Hopkins.

Just what happened in the next few minutes Allan never definitely knew, for the lantern carried by the leader was shattered in the first moment of the onset and the place was in utter darkness. The little station shook and quivered under repeated shocks, as though some heavy body was being dashed against the floor and walls of the freight-shed. He could hear the gasping breath and muttered oaths that told of a desperate struggle. Evidently, Jed was giving a good account of himself, even against those heavy odds. Then a revolver spoke, followed by a yell of pain. A moment later there was a second shot, and instantly all was still.

“I thought I told you,” began an angry voice—

“He made me do it!” broke in a fierce falsetto. “He put a hole right through my hand.”

Somebody struck a match and evidently took a quick survey of the place.

“We must be gettin’ out of this,” went on the first speaker. “Maybe somebody heard them shots. Charlie, you go out and bring up th’ wagon. We’ll break the lock.”

One of the men hurried through the office and out of the station, but Allan scarcely heard him. For he had managed to bring his arms down in front of him; in an instant he had found his key, and was calling wildly for Wadsworth. Wadsworth answered at once.

« 263 »

“This is West at Coalville,” Allan ticked off with feverish haste. “There are three robbers in station after coal company’s money. Have killed guard. Rush help. They’re going—”

Some one seized him and dragged him violently back from the instrument.

“You young hound!” cried a fierce voice. “I’ve a good notion to—”

“What was he doin’?” asked a voice from the door.

“Callin’ for help.”

The man in the door muttered a fierce oath.

“Bat him in the face!” he said, and Allan was struck a savage blow which sent him over backward upon the floor. He felt that his nose was bleeding, but he did not lose consciousness.

“We’ve got plenty of time,” went on the second speaker. “They can’t get anybody here inside of an hour. I wonder where that fool Charlie’s gone?”

As though in answer to the question, there came a rattle of wheels from the road outside, and Allan heard the men in the freight-shed smash the lock and open the door which led out upon the freight-platform at the side of the station.

“Here she is,” said a voice, and a moment later the chest was dragged toward the open door.

“How’d you manage about the operator?” asked a voice which Allan recognized with a start as belonging to Dan Nolan.

« 264 »

“He’s in there with his face mashed in.”

“Is he?” and Nolan laughed joyfully. “I was never gladder in my life than when I seen him git off th’ train t’-night. You know who he is, don’t you?”

“No; who is he?”

“He’s th’ skunk that flagged th’ pay-car an’ got us all pinched.”

There was a moment’s astonished silence.

“Are you sure?” asked a voice incredulously, at last.

“Sure? I should say so. I’ve been tryin’ t’ do fer him ever since I got out. You know that.”

“Yes,” growled one of the men; “we heard about it.”

“Well,” went on Nolan, triumphantly, “that was one reason I wanted t’ git th’ reg’lar man out o’ th’ way. I knowed they wouldn’t have much time t’ git another, an’ this feller bein’ right there in th’ office, might hev t’ come. An’ it worked as slick as greased lightnin’.”

“You’ve got more sense than I thought you had, Dan,” remarked another of the men.

“Now we’ve got him, we kin do fer him,” added Nolan.

“Oh, no, we can’t,” retorted the first speaker. “I won’t stand for that. Let the kid alone. He got a bullet through him that night. That’s enough!”

« 265 »

“All right,” assented Nolan, sulkily; “but I’m goin’ in t’ take a look at him.”

Allan heard him enter the office. A match flared up and for an instant blinded him. Then he saw Dan Nolan stooping over him, his eyes glittering with infernal triumph.

“Well, well,” he sneered, “so thet purty face o’ your’n ’s spiled at last! It’s my time now, you scab!” and he kicked the boy savagely in the side. “I don’t reckon you’ll be pokin’ your nose into other folks’s affairs much longer!”

Allan gazed up at him with contempt, not unmixed with pity, for he began to believe that Nolan was insane. That wolf-like ferocity, surely, could belong only to a disordered brain.

“Hurry up, there,” called a hoarse voice.

“What’re you goin’ to do with this?” asked somebody, and Allan knew that he referred to the body of Jed Hopkins.

“There’s only one thing to do,” said a third, and added a word in a voice so low that Allan could not hear it.

“He’s right,” agreed the first speaker.

“How about the other one?”

“We’ll take him out.”

“But he’ll peach!”

“I don’t care if he does. Besides, what can he tell?”

“If he’s heard us talkin’ in here, he can tell a good deal.”

« 266 »

There was a moment’s silence.

“See here,” said the first speaker, finally, “you fellows know how I feel about this sort of thing. It’s bad enough as it is; but there’s a difference in killin’ a man in a fight an’ killin’ him in cold blood. I don’t care who he is, I won’t stand fer nothin’ like that. I’ve said so once already and I stick to it.”

“Well,” remarked one of the others, “I guess you’re right. Nolan, you get him out.”

“All right,” said Nolan, who had reëntered the freight-shed to listen to this controversy, and he started toward the office.

“Can you handle him yourself?”

“Sure. I’ll jest drag him out in th’ cheer an’ set him down. Then he can’t bother us.”

“Well, be quick about it. And shut all the doors.”

Nolan entered the office and closed the door behind him. Then he groped about until he found the chair which Allan had overturned. This he dragged across the floor to the door which led into the waiting-room.

“Good-bye, Mr. West,” he said, in a low voice, pausing an instant on the threshold. “Good-bye, an’ think o’ me.”

Then he shut the door, and Allan heard him dragging the empty chair heavily across the other room. He swung open the outside door, bumped the chair down the steps, then came up again and « 267 » closed the door carefully. A moment later, there came the rattle of wheels and the quick clatter of horses’ hoofs; the noise died away down the road and all was still.

Allan’s head was aching horribly from the injuries which he had received and from the position in which he lay, and he managed finally, by a mighty effort, to twist himself over on his side. He struggled to get his hands free, but they had been bound too tightly—so tightly, indeed, that his wrists were chafed and swollen and his hands were numb. Nor could he free himself from the chair. The rope, apparently a piece of ordinary clothes-line, which held him fast to it, was knotted firmly at the back, hopelessly beyond his reach.

When he had satisfied himself of this, he lay still again, in the easiest posture he could assume. After all, he had only to possess his soul in patience, and help would come. The attack, he thought, must have taken place about half-past ten, and it must now be after eleven. The regular passenger-train would be along shortly before twelve, bringing his relief; he could not fail to be discovered then. He had only to lie still for less than an hour. Perhaps not so long. A freight would probably precede the passenger. Or it might be that the message he had sent to headquarters before he was snatched away from his instrument would bring help more promptly still.

Perhaps they were even now sending him a message « 268 » of encouragement. He listened, but heard no sound. Then he remembered that he had not heard the instrument for a long time. He decided that when he was jerked away from it, he had left the key open. That would tell them even more surely that something was wrong. As long as his key remained open, the entire line was out of service, and an investigation would follow in short order.

Yes, he would soon be found. And a great weariness settled upon him. He fought against it for a time; but his eyelids drooped and drooped. He had had a hard day, and a hard night. Tired nature could endure no more. His eyes closed.

He dreamed that he was upon the topmost pinnacle of a great mountain. Around him on all sides the rock fell away in abrupt and impassable precipices. How he had reached that spot he did not know; still less, how he would be able to leave it safely. He could not see the precipices, for everything was dark around him, but he felt that they were there. The darkness was absolute—no night he had ever known had been so dark. There were no stars in the sky, no moon, and yet it seemed to him that the sky was very near. And the silence frightened him.

Then, suddenly, to the left he discerned a point of light, which burst upon the darkness, cutting it like a sword. It grew and grew with astonishing rapidity, and he saw it was the sun. But it was not rising; it was coming straight at him from some « 269 » distant point in space; coming rapidly and surely. He felt the air about him growing strangely warm and radiant; warmer and more radiant; until the sweat broke out upon him and a deadly fear assailed him—a fear that here, upon this pinnacle of rock, he was to be consumed by fire. He looked wildly from side to side. There was no escape. Yet any death was preferable to death by fire, and with a quick intaking of the breath, he leaped far out, and fell, fell—

He opened his eyes with a start. For an instant, under the influence of the dream, he fancied that he was still upon the rock, so light and warm was the office. Then he heard the roar of fire, and angry tongues of flame licked under and around the door, casting a lurid glow across the floor.

« 270 »



For an instant, Allan stared stupidly at those red tongues of flame, licking merrily about the door—then, in a flash, he understood, and his pulses seemed to stop. The robbers had set fire to the station! It was in this way they proposed to get rid of the evidences of a crime far more serious than robbery. And thus, too, they hoped to get rid of the only witness of that crime not implicated in it—and then Allan remembered—it was not the robbers, it was Dan Nolan who had left him here to die—Nolan who had been told to place him in safety, and who had pretended to do so! He remembered Nolan’s last words, the chuckle which had accompanied them,—all this passed lightning-like through the boy’s mind, as a drowning man, in the moment before he loses consciousness, sees before him his whole life, in a kind of wonderful and fearful panorama.

And, indeed, Allan was as near death as any drowning man—and a death infinitely more horrible. Only for a breath did he lie there passive, « 271 » staring at the flames; then he strained and tugged at his bonds, regardless of torn flesh, of bleeding wrists, of aching muscles, but the knots held firmly. Finally, still tight to the chair, he managed to turn upon his hands and knees and to drag himself, inch by inch, toward the door which opened into the waiting-room. Would he reach it in time? He scarcely dared hope so, for the other door was crackling and smoking, threatening every instant to burst into a sheet of flame.

He did reach it, somehow, and raised himself to turn the knob and open it, when from behind him there came a blood-curdling yell, the smoking door burst open and a frantic apparition plunged through the sheet of flame, snatched open the other door before which Allan crouched, and, catching the boy by the collar as it passed, hurled itself on across the waiting-room and through the outer door to safety. There it dropped the boy heavily beside the track, and threw itself into a pool of muddy water, left by the rain of the evening before. In this it wallowed and rolled, as though enjoying the utmost luxury of the bath, and Allan, watching it, began to fancy it some kind of monstrous amphibian.

But at last the monster rose, shook itself, and a hoarse voice issued from it.

“Thought they had Jed Hopkins, did they? Shoot him an’ burn him—bound t’ git him some way! Not this time, gentlemen! Oh, no, not this time,” and Jed rubbed his hand over his head, leaving « 272 » himself almost bald, for his hair had been scorched off.

He stood an instant watching the flames. Then he remembered Allan, and strode toward him.

“Hello, kid,” he said. “What’d they do to you?”

The gag prevented Allan from uttering more than a hoarse grunt by way of answer.

Jed stooped down and looked at him more closely.

“Gagged, by gum!” he said, and reaching around behind the boy’s head, had the gag loose in a moment. “Not dead, eh?” he asked.

“No,” answered Allan, smiling despite his wounds. “Only knocked up a little.”

“An’ tied up, too,” added Jed, seeing the ropes for the first time. “I thought there was something queer about you when I dragged you out, but I didn’t hev time t’ stop an’ inquire what it was. There you are,” and he drew a knife from his pocket and severed the ropes. “Kin you stand up?”

He helped the boy to his feet, and after a moment of uncertainty, the latter was able to stand alone.

“Oh, I guess you ain’t much hurt,” said Jed, cheerfully. “Where’d all this gore come from?” and he indicated the boy’s shirt, the front of which was fairly soaked with blood.

“From my nose,” answered Allan, smiling again.

“Oh, that’s good fer ye!” Jed assured him. “Banged you on th’ nose, did they? Break it?”

« 273 »

“I don’t know,” and Allan touched it tenderly. “It’s pretty sore.”

“Let’s see,” said Jed, and seizing the swollen organ, he wiggled it back and forth, not regarding the boy’s pained protest. “No, it ain’t broke,” he announced, after a moment. “Hurt any place else?”

“I think not,” Allan replied, feeling himself all over. “Nothing more than a few bruises, at least. But aren’t you hurt? I thought you were dead.”

Jed passed his hand over his head again, and laughed.

“So did that feller who put his pistol to my head an’ pulled th’ trigger,” he said. “You see, they all piled on me so that it wasn’t fer some time I could git an arm loose an’ git my gun out.”

“I thought the station was coming down,” Allan remarked, “from the noise you made. It felt like an earthquake.”

“Yes, we did bump around considerable. Well, when I got my gun out, I jest fired it into th’ air sort o’ haphazard, an’ winged one o’ them.”

“Through the hand; it was he who shot at you.”

“He didn’t take no chance,” said Jed. “He made a lucky kick in th’ dark an’ caught me right on th’ wrist an’ knocked th’ pistol clean out o’ my hand. Then I felt th’ cold muzzle of a revolver pressin’ agin my head, an’ I reckoned Jed Hopkins’s time was up. Then I didn’t know no more till th’ fire begun t’ burn one hand, an’ that woke me up.”

« 274 »

“But how does it come you weren’t killed?”

“Mebbe my skull’s too thick fer a ordinary pistol-ball t’ make a hole in. But I remember jerkin’ my head away, an’ I reckon th’ ball hit me a kind o’ glance blow, jest enough t’ stun me. You kin see how it parted my hair fer me.”

He held down his head, and Allan saw, furrowed in the scalp, a raw and bleeding wound.

“If you happen t’ have a handkercher in yer pocket,” Jed added, “mebbe you’d better tie it up till I have time t’ git it sewed t’gether.”

Allan got out his handkerchief and tenderly bandaged the wound as well as he was able.

“I reckon I’ll be bald fer quite awhile,” remarked Jed, when that operation was finished. “You see, my hat was knocked off in th’ scuffle, an’ my hair was jest ketchin’ fire. I reckon I didn’t come to any too soon.”

“Well,” said Allan, “I’m glad you came to when you did, not only for your sake, but for my own. You saved my life, too, you know.”

“Oh, shucks!” Jed protested. “Not a bit of it. You’d ’a’ got out all right. But I’m wastin’ time. I’ve got t’ hike away on th’ trail o’ them robbers. Hello! Here comes help!”

The station was by this time almost wholly in flames, which shot high into the air and were reflected on the clouds. The light had been observed in the village and everybody turned out of bed, awakened by the shouts, and started for the scene « 275 » of the fire. The volunteer fire company, which possessed an antiquated hand-pump engine, got it out and yanked it along over the muddy road, although, if they had stopped to think, they would have known that there was no available water within reach of the station. However, at such a time, very few people do stop to think. It was, perhaps, a just punishment for their thoughtlessness that the members of the fire company were forced to tug the heavy engine back to the village by themselves, after the fire was over,—the populace, which had been only too eager to pull at the ropes on the outward trip, utterly refusing to lay a hand to them on the way back.

At the end of fifteen minutes, the station was surrounded by a seething mass of people, who understood imperfectly what had happened and applied their imaginations to supplying the details. It was Jed Hopkins who, in spite of his blistered face and scorched head, took the leadership and selected twenty men to form a posse to pursue the robbers. And just as this ceremony was completed, the midnight train pulled in and nearly a score of armed men leaped off, headed by the sheriff of Athens County.

He explained his presence in a moment. The dispatcher at Wadsworth, immediately upon receiving Allan’s warning, had called up the sheriff at Athens, told him of the robbery, and asked him to swear in a body of deputies and proceed to the scene « 276 » on the first train. He had also wisely concluded that where there had been so much fighting, there were doubtless some wounds to dress, and the company’s surgeon, armed with lint, bandages, and what not, had come down from Athens with the posse.

He set to work at once dressing the injuries which Allan and Jed Hopkins had sustained; while two linemen, who had come by the same train, started in to straighten out the tangle of wires and reestablish telegraphic communication. The operator who was to relieve Allan was also on the train, so the boy was free to return home, when he wished.

But he had no such intention.

“I’m going along,” he announced to Jed, as that worthy emerged, his head elaborately bandaged, from under the hands of the surgeon.

“All right, kid,” Jed agreed, good-naturedly. “Kin you ride?”

“Not very well; but I’ll manage to stick on.”

“Sure you kin stand it?” and Jed looked at him thoughtfully.

“If I can’t, I’ll drop out.”

“Well, come along; you were in at th’ beginnin’ an’ it’s no more’n fair you should be in at th’ end. Besides, you’ll be useful identifyin’ suspects. You’re th’ only one that seen ’em—they were on me afore I had my eyes open. But I left a mark on one of ’em—that’ll help. You say it went through his hand?”

« 277 »

“Right through his hand, I heard him tell one of the others.”

“Good; that won’t be easy to rub away! Now, men,” Jed went on, “we’ll divide into two parties. You men who come with th’ sheriff are armed, so you kin start at once. Th’ robbers drove off along this road. You start ahead, an’ I’ll go up to th’ mine an’ git arms fer my men an’ as many hosses as I kin find, an’ we’ll come right after you.”

The men murmured assent and started off along the road, the sheriff in the lead.

“But how can they ever catch them?” asked Allan, as he watched them disappear in the darkness.

“Ever hear th’ story of th’ turtle an’ th’ rabbit?” queried Jed.

“Yes—but this rabbit isn’t going to go to sleep.”

“Well, they’ll have t’ sleep sometime. Besides, we’ve got a messenger that kin go a million miles to their one,” and he motioned toward the wires overhead.

“You mean the telegraph?”

“Sure. Th’ fust thing fer you to do is t’ write out th’ best description ye kin of them robbers, an’ have it sent over th’ wire jest as soon as it’s fixed. It ort t’ go to every police station an’ tellygraft office within fifty mile o’ here. By mornin’, every road ort t’ be guarded, and them fellers’ll have to be mighty slick t’ slip through. Meanwhile, we « 278 » keep a-follerin’ ’em an’ pushin’ ’em on, an’ purty soon they’re caught between two fires. See?”

Allan nodded. He began to perceive that there was not so much urgency in starting off after the robbers as he had thought. The first thing was to spread the net, and then to drive them into it.

“An’ remember t’ make th’ description as full as ye kin,” added Jed. “Don’t leave out th’ bullet-hole. Every little helps. Ye didn’t happen t’ know any of ’em, did ye?”

“I recognized one of them,” answered Allan, in a low voice, “and I believe I know the others. They’re those convicts who got away from the penitentiary not long ago.”

“Th’ deuce they are!” cried Jed, slapping his thigh. “Oh, this is too easy—this is child’s play! Why, we’ve got ’em sure—every police-station in th’ State has got their photygrafts! Git that off jest as quick as ye kin, an’ then wait fer us here. We’ve got t’ come back this way, from th’ mine, an’ I’ll bring an extry hoss fer you.”

“All right,” agreed Allan, and Jed led his men away into the darkness.

A gasoline torch, hung to one of the telegraph-poles, flared and sputtered above the boy’s head, as he sat down on a rock beside the track to write the description required of him. At the top of the pole, silhouetted against the sky, he could see the linemen labouring to make the connection. The operator had already found an old box, placed it at « 279 » the foot of the pole, and screwed his instrument down to it, ready to commence work. Indeed, he had gone farther than that, and attached to the inside of the box a hook for orders—for that box would no doubt represent the Coalville station for some days to come.

Allan got from him a sheet of paper, braced his back against the pole, and began to write, using his knee as a table; he described the men as accurately as he could; then, with compressed lips, he added that in company with the gang was Dan Nolan, a prisoner parolled from the Ohio penitentiary, and that from some words he had overheard, he believed the other men to be the convicts who had escaped from there about a week before. As Jed Hopkins had said, every police-station in the State already had photographs of these men, and it did not seem possible that they could escape the net which this description would draw around them.

Suddenly the instrument on the box began to chatter, and Allan knew the connection had been made. As he read over his description, his ears mechanically caught the first words spelled out on the instrument, and his eyes clouded with sudden tears, for the words were:

“Is West safe?”

“Yes,” the operator answered. “He’s right here writing a description of the robbers.”

“O. K. Let’s have it,” clicked the instrument, and Allan handed the description over.

« 280 »

As he leaned forward, it seemed to him that something burst in his side; there was an instant’s rending pain, which wrung from him an agonized cry; then merciful nature intervened, and he fell back unconscious upon the ground.

« 281 »



Allan had said in his message that he had recognized Dan Nolan; yet, in the stress of his emotion at the time, the strangeness of Nolan’s appearance under the circumstances had not occurred to him. Yet it was strange; yes, more than strange. Here was Nolan in company with the men whom he had basely betrayed by turning State’s evidence, and apparently received by them again on terms of comradeship. How had they come to forgive him the one offence which criminals never forgive? What was it had turned aside their anger and persuaded them to admit again to their company a man who had been proved a traitor?

The chain of circumstances which led to this result was so peculiar that it is worth pausing a moment to describe.

Nolan had gone south, as Jack Welsh had predicted, after the failure of his attempt to wreck the special and to revenge himself on Allan; but drawn, as Jack had foreseen, by an irresistible attraction, he had gradually worked his way back to the north « 282 » again, and, not daring to return to Wadsworth, had finally drifted to Coalville. There, after loitering around the saloons, until they refused admission to so penniless and disreputable a customer, he had secured work as hostler in the company’s stables; where, if the wages were not large, neither was the work exhausting. Here Nolan had remained for some months, believing himself secure from discovery. He slept in a loft at the rear of the stable, and here, one night, he was awakened by a savage grip at his throat. He endeavoured to yell, but as he opened his mouth, something was stuffed into it that muffled the cry, and nearly choked him. Half-dead with fright, he felt himself lifted from the hay, passed down the ladder and borne out into the open air. Then he fainted.

When he opened his eyes, he fancied for a moment that he was dreaming, so weird and uncanny was the picture which confronted him. Black columns towered about him into the darkness overhead, like the pillars of a cathedral, and now and then he caught a glimpse of the ebon ceiling, shining with moisture, which dripped down the pillars to the floor. Just in front of him flickered a little fire, over which a pot was simmering. About the fire were grouped four figures; and as he looked from one to the other of them, Nolan’s senses reeled and his heart quaked, for, by the dancing light of the fire, he recognized the four men whom he had betrayed.

« 283 »

How had they come here? Their terms in prison, he knew, would not end for many years; buried as he was in this hole among the hills, associating only with the dullest and most depraved of human beings, he had heard nothing of their escape. How had they found him? Above all, what did they intend to do with him? He shuddered as he asked himself that last question.

His captors were talking earnestly among themselves, paying no heed to him, but at the end of a moment, one of them arose to examine the contents of the pot, and glancing at Nolan, perceived that his eyes were open.

“Why, hello, Dannie,” he cried, with a sort of unholy glee which frightened Dan more than any threats could have done, “how are ye?”

Dan could find no voice to answer, but the others got up and, moving nearer, sat down before him. Their eyes were shining as a cat’s do when it sees the mouse under its paw. And like the cat, they prepared to put their prey to the torture.

“Well, this is an unexpected pleasure,” said one.

“So glad to have you as our guest,” said another.

“Yes; we’ve got the spare room ready,” said a third, whereat they all laughed uproariously.

“The spare room—good!”

“A lofty chamber, Dannie; you’ll feel like a king.”

“And sleep like a top!”

“Even if the bed is rather hard.”

« 284 »

And then they all laughed again.

“Yes—and as long as you like! You’re our guest, Dannie. And we’re going to keep you awhile!”

Dan was bathed from head to foot in a cold sweat. He could not guess their meaning, but he knew it boded no good for him.

“We’ve been wanting to see you so bad,” one of the men went on, “ever since you treated us so well at the trial. Pity you couldn’t have held your tongue then, Dannie; you’d have had to stay in jail a little longer, but at least you’d have been alive.”

At last Dan found his tongue.

“You ain’t a-goin’ t’ kill me!” he cried. “You wouldn’t treat an old pal like that!”

“No, no, Dannie!” came the answer, soothingly, “we’re just going to put you in our spare room. Then I’m afraid we’ll have to bid you adieu. You see this State don’t agree with our health very well. We wouldn’t have stayed this long except for the pleasure of seeing you. Ain’t you glad?”

“How’d you know where I was?” Nolan asked.

The man laughed.

“Why, we’ve known where you were ever since you were let out on parole. We heard how you’d tried to wreck another train, and then lighted out for the south; we heard about your roustabouting on the wharves at Mobile, and stealing a case of tobacco from a warehouse and trying to sell it and « 285 » coming so near getting pinched that you had to get out of that place in a hurry, and start back north again. Why, we’ve got friends who, at a word from us, would have done for you a dozen times over—they knew what you’d done; but we were reserving that pleasure for ourselves, Daniel. And when we heard that you had stopped here, we decided to pay you a little visit on our way out of the State, and had this place fixed up for us, and here we are. But you don’t look a bit glad to see us!”

Dan, following the speaker with painful attention, caught a glimpse of an underworld whose existence he had never suspected—a confederacy of crime to which he, as a mere novice and outsider, had never been admitted. The one unforgivable crime to this association was to turn traitor, to “peach”—that is, to inform against one’s accomplices in order to escape oneself. That was exactly what Nolan had done, and he was now to pay for it.

The four men, as by a single impulse, rose to their feet, and one of them picked up a coil of rope which lay at the foot of the nearest pillar.

“Get up,” said one of them roughly, to Nolan.

But Nolan was paralyzed by fear, and incapable of movement, for he believed that they were going to hang him.

“Get up,” his captor repeated, and seizing him by the shoulder, jerked him to his feet.

Nolan clutched for support at the pillar against « 286 » which he had been leaning. He saw now that it was of coal, and he suddenly understood where he was. He had been brought to one of the abandoned workings of the mine; he knew there were many such, and that no one ever ventured into them through fear of the deadly fire-damp which almost always gathers in such neglected levels. And he knew there was no hope of rescue.

“Why, look at the coward!” cried his captor, disgustedly. “He’s as weak as a rag. It’s enough to make a man sick!”

Dan turned a piteous face toward him.

“You—you ain’t goin’ to hang me?” he faltered.

The men burst into a roar of laughter.

“No,” one of them answered, “we’re goin’ to save you from gettin’ hanged, as you certainly would be if we let you go. Really, you ought to thank us.”

Partially reassured, Dan managed to take a few steps forward. After all, they had said they were not going to kill him!

Then he stopped, with a quick gasp of dismay. At his feet yawned a pit, whose depth he could not guess. The torch which one of his captors bore disclosed the black wall below him, dripping with moisture, plunging into absolute and terrifying darkness.

Then Nolan understood. This was the “spare room.”

« 287 »

His teeth were chattering and a sort of hoarse wailing came from his throat, as they slipped the rope under his arms. He was only half-conscious; too weak with terror to resist. He felt himself lifted and swung off over the abyss; his body scraped downward along the rough wall, hundreds of feet, as it seemed to him; the moisture soaked through his clothes and chilled him. At last his feet touched solid ground, but his legs doubled helplessly under him and he collapsed against the wall. He felt the rope drawn from about him; then a kind of stupor fell upon him and for a time he knew no more.

At last he opened his eyes again and looked about him. He thought, at first, that he was sleeping in his loft, and that it was still night. Then he felt the rock at his back, and suddenly remembered all that had happened to him. His throat was dry and parched; his muscles ached, and every particle of strength had left his body. It seemed to him that hours and even days had passed while he lay there unconscious. Really, it had been only a few moments.

He stretched his hands out on either side and felt the rough and dripping wall; then he got uncertainly to his feet, and step by step, advanced along the wall, stumbling, and stopping from time to time all a-tremble with fear and weakness. He kept on and on for perhaps half an hour; the cavern seemed of mammoth proportions, and a new terror seized « 288 » him. Perhaps his captors had not really intended to leave him there to die; perhaps they only wished to frighten him; but if he wandered away into the mine there would be no hope for him.

He turned, and started back again with feverish haste. Suppose they should look for him, and finding him gone, give him up for lost? A dry sobbing choked him, but still he hastened on. And yet, how was he to tell when he had reached the spot to which he had been lowered? Might he not go past it? How was he to know?

He stared upward into the black void above him, but it showed no vestige of light. He raised his voice in a shrill cry, but there was no response except the echo flung back at him by the vault above. And again that convulsive trembling seized him, and he sank limply down against the wall. But whatever manhood he had rallied to his support; that love of life which is the one controlling force of cowardly natures asserted itself and gave him some semblance of self-control. He clasped his head in his hands and tried to think. To find his way back—and then it suddenly occurred to him that he had in his pocket some matches. He fumbled for them eagerly. Perhaps, with their help—

He struck one against the under side of his coat-sleeve, which was comparatively dry. It flared unsteadily, and then burned clearly. For a moment, Nolan was blinded by the flame; then he stared about him, scarcely able to believe his eyes. For « 289 » on every side the black walls shut him in. He was at the bottom of a pit, not more than thirty feet in diameter, and he had been walking round and round it, too agitated and stupefied by fear to notice that he was travelling in a circle.

The match sputtered and went out, and Nolan sat for a long time with the stump of it in his fingers. He was evidently at the bottom of a shaft sunk in search of another vein, or, perhaps, of a natural cavity in the rock. Of the height of the walls he could form no estimate, but they were so smooth and straight that ten feet were as impossible to him as a hundred. Decidedly there was no chance of escape unless his captors chose to assist him.

As he sat there musing, a light fell into the pit, and he looked up to see one of his captors gazing down at him by the light of a torch which he held above his head.

“I just came to say good-bye,” he called down.

“Good-bye?” echoed Nolan, hoarsely.

“Yes,—it will soon be dark, and we’re going to pull out for the west. Ohio’s too hot for us just now.”

“And—and you’re goin’ t’ leave me here?” cried Nolan.

“We certainly are. How do you like it?”

“But that’ll be murder!” Nolan protested. “You might swing fer it!”

“Oh, no, we mightn’t. You’ll never be found. « 290 » You’re done with this world, Daniel. Fix your thoughts upon the next.”

Nolan uttered a hollow moan. Then a sudden inspiration brought him to his feet.

“See here,” he said, “let me out o’ here an’ I’ll put y’ on to somethin’ good.”

His captor laughed mockingly.

“I’m afraid it’s not good enough, Daniel-in-the-lion’s-den,” he said. “You’re asking too big a price.”

“It’s sixty thousand dollars,” said Dan, still more eagerly. “You kin git it day arter t’-morrer, as easy as fallin’ off a log.”

The smile on the other’s face vanished and he stood for a moment looking thoughtfully down into the pit.

“Is there anything in this, or is it just moonshine?” he asked, at last.

“It’s straight!” Nolan protested. “It’s dead straight! Pull me out o’ here an’ I’ll tell you.”

“Wait a minute,” said the other, and disappeared.

Nolan waited with an anxiety that deepened with every passing second; but at last the light appeared again at the edge of the pit, and this time four faces looked down at him instead of one. The rope was lowered, he slipped it under his arms, and three minutes later stood again facing his captors.


« 291 »

Without speaking, they led him back to the place where their fire was still burning and motioned him to sit down.

“Now,” said one of them, “let’s have the story.”

“And if it’s straight, you’ll let me go?”

“If it’s straight, we’ll let you go. If it’s not, back you go into the pit, and this time you won’t have a rope to help you down.”

“Oh, I ain’t afeerd,” said Nolan. “It’s straight. But I think I ort t’ have some of it.”

“How much did you say there is?”

“Between fifty an’ sixty thousand dollars.”

“It’s not in a bank?”

“No; it’s in a box.”

“And we can get it within a day or two.”

“You kin git it day arter to-morrer.”

“If everything turns out well, you shall have a thousand dollars.”

“Oh, come,” protested Nolan, but the other stopped him with an impatient gesture.

“That or nothing,” he said, curtly, and Nolan surrendered, for he saw the man was in earnest.

“All right,” he said, glumly, and instinctively they all drew a little nearer the fire. “Th’ day arter t’-morrer,” he began, “they’ll come in on th’ evenin’ train a box containin’ sixty thousan’ in cold cash.”

“Whose is it?” asked one of the men.

“It b’longs t’ th’ mine company,” said Nolan; “it’s th’ men’s wages.”

And again the group drew a little closer together.

« 292 »



Jed Hopkins, at the head of his men, hastened away from the station toward the offices of the company. There were several things he wanted cleared up before starting in pursuit of the robbers. In the first place, what had happened to the wagon which was to have come after the chest; and, in the second place, what had become of the man he had sent out to look for it?

The latter question was quickly answered. As they passed through a little locust grove just beyond the station, Jed’s alert ear caught a stifled cry or gurgle to the left of the road, and without pausing an instant, he started toward it. The others followed, and a moment later, they found Jed’s companion bound to a tree and gagged as Allan had been.

His adventures were soon told. He had started along the road leading to the mine, expecting every moment to meet the wagon coming for the chest. Just as he reached the grove, he heard wheels approaching, and stopped, intending to hail it, but « 293 » before he could open his mouth, some one threw a heavy cloak or sack over his head from behind and pulled it tight, while some one else tripped him up and sat on him. His hands were tied, the gag forced into his mouth, and he was led to the tree and securely fastened. Then to his astonishment, he heard the wagon stop, and the men on it exchange greetings with his captors. The latter then clambered aboard and the wagon continued on toward the station.

“Was it the company’s wagon?” asked Jed.

“I couldn’t swear to it,” answered the other, chafing his wrists to start the circulation, “but it sounded mighty much like it.”

“Well, we must find out,” said Jed, and hurried forward.

As they neared the company’s office, they became aware of a dull pounding, as of some one hammering upon iron. It would cease for a moment and then begin again, louder than before. Not until they came quite near did any of the posse guess what it was; and it was Jed who guessed first.

“There’s somebody shut up in th’ office,” he said. “I’ll bet th’ robbers did it! Well, they’re clever ones fer sure!”

And this conjecture proved to be correct, as Jed found after a few moments’ shouted conversation with the prisoners. The first thing to be done was to get them out, but this was not so easy as might appear, for, as has already been stated, the little « 294 » building had been built to withstand a siege; it was lined with steel, the windows were heavily barred and the door was armoured. One of the prisoners explained that the door had been locked on them from the outside, but the key was not in the lock.

“They probably throwed it away arter they locked th’ door,” said Jed. “But we can’t find it in th’ dark. Th’ only thing t’ do is t’ break a couple o’ bars out o’ one o’ th’ winders, an’ make a hole big enough fer ’em t’ squeeze through.”

And, after twenty minutes’ hard work, this was accomplished.

There were four prisoners, one of whom was the paymaster and another the mine superintendent, and after they had crowded through the opening, they told the story of their capture.

The horses had been hitched to the wagon in the company’s stable, and it had then been driven to the homes of the superintendent and paymaster, picked them up, as the custom was, and then turned back toward the company’s office to get the two guards who awaited it there and who were to accompany it to and from the station. The guards were there, and the superintendent had unlocked the door, and led the way in to get the guns with which the guards were always armed. He had left the door open and the key in the lock, as he expected to go out again immediately. It was at that moment that the door was slammed shut and the key turned. « 295 » Those within the office had seen no one, nor heard any noise until the door closed.

“But what was your driver doin’ all that time?” asked Jed. “Why didn’t he give the alarm? Did they git him, too?”

“I don’t know. Probably they did. I don’t see how else his silence can be explained.”

“You didn’t hear any struggle?”

“No; still they might have silenced him with one blow.”

“Mighty hard to do,” said Jed, reflectively, “with him up there on th’ wagon-seat.”

“We’ll know in the morning,” remarked the superintendent. “We’ll probably find his body hid around here somewhere.”

“Well, we haven’t got time t’ look fer him now,” said Jed. “How many hosses kin we hev?”

“We’ve got six in the stable yet.”

“Let’s have ’em out,” and while they were being saddled and brought up, Jed picked out four of the men whom he knew to accompany him and his partner in the mounted pursuit of the robbers. One of them crowded through the hole in the window and passed out arms and ammunition. The remainder of the posse was dismissed, and returned slowly toward their homes, not without considerable grumbling that their services had been so lightly regarded.

At the end of ten minutes, Jed and his five companions were mounted and away. They were soon « 296 » back at the station, which was now only a smouldering mass of ruins, so quickly had the flames been able to consume the flimsy frame structure.

“Where’s that kid?” asked Jed. “I didn’t suppose he’d keep us waitin’.”

“Something’s th’ matter over there,” said one of the men, and pointed to a little group which had gathered at one side of the track.

Jed swung off his horse and hastened to investigate. He found that it had gathered about Allan West, who lay unconscious, his pale face looking positively ghastly under the flickering light of the gasoline torch, which hung from the pole above him.

“What’s th’ matter with him?” asked Jed. “He told me he wasn’t hurt.”

“He’s hurt in the side,” answered the surgeon, who was bending above the boy. “I think there’s a couple of ribs broken. He never mentioned the injury when I dressed his other wounds. Is there a hospital at Coalville?”

“Hospital?” Jed grunted, derisively. “Well, I should say not!”

“Number Nine’s due in about ten minutes,” said the operator. “You can fix up some sort of bed in the baggage-car and take him back to Wadsworth.”

“That’ll do,” agreed the surgeon, and bent again above the boy.

« 297 »

Jed stood watching him for a moment, shifting uneasily from one foot to the other.

“Think he’s very bad, doctor?” he asked, at last.

“Oh, no,” answered the surgeon. “Just overdone things, I guess, and fainted from the pain. He’ll be all right, as soon as I can get him to a place where I can fix him up.”

Jed heaved a sigh of relief.

“That’s good,” he said. “He’s a plucky kid. I’d hate to see him knock under,” and he strode away to join his men.

In another moment, they were off up the road in the direction taken by the robbers. The latter had a start of over an hour, but that did not worry Jed, because he knew they would soon find themselves on the horns of a dilemma. Either they must take the chest with them, or leave it behind. If they took it, they could not abandon the wagon, and yet they would scarcely dare to use it after daybreak, for it had the name of the mining company painted on its side. On the other hand, they would not abandon the chest until they had opened it and secured the contents, and Jed knew that it would be no easy job to break the chest open. So he rode on at a sharp canter, confident that the fugitives could not escape.

For some miles there were no branches to the road except such as led to houses among the hills a little back from it. So he rode on without drawing « 298 » rein, until he came to the place where the road forked. Here he found the sheriff and the posse which had set out on foot unable to decide which fork to take and unwilling to divide their forces.

“You wait a minute,” said Jed, jumping from his horse, and striking a match, he went a little way up one of the forks and examined the road minutely. “They didn’t come this way,” he announced, at last, and came back and went up the other fork. Here he repeated the same performance, lighting match after match. At last he stood erect with a grunt of satisfaction. “All right,” he said. “We’re on th’ trail.”

“How do you know we are?” inquired the sheriff, incredulously.

“No matter,” said Jed. “Take my word fer it. I didn’t live on th’ plains twenty year fer nothin’. Hello! What’s that?”

He was listening intently, but for some moments the duller ears of the other members of the posse could catch no sound. Then they heard, far up the road, the clatter of horses’ hoofs and the rattle of wheels. The sound came nearer and nearer, and Jed, who was peering through the darkness, suddenly drew his pistol and sprang to the middle of the road.

“Halt!” he cried, and the other members of the posse instinctively drew up behind him, their guns ready.

« 299 »

They could hear the wagon still lumbering toward them.

“Halt, or we fire!” cried Jed, again, but still the wagon came on, and a gray shape appeared in the darkness ahead.

Jed raised his pistol; then, with a sharp exclamation, thrust it back into his belt, sprang forward, and seized the approaching horses by the bridle.

The posse swarmed about the wagon. The sheriff struck a match, and painted on the wagon’s side descried the words:


“Why,” said the sheriff, in bewilderment, “this is th’ rig they run away with!”

“Precisely,” agreed Jed, coolly. “One of you men hold these horses, will you?”

The sheriff clambered to the seat and struck another match.

“The wagon’s empty,” he announced.

“I thought so,” said Jed, mounting beside him. “They took out th’ chest an’ then turned th’ rig loose.”

“And where are they?”

“They’re somewhere ahead openin’ that box. I’ll ride on with my men. You turn th’ wagon around an’ foller with as many as she’ll hold.”

« 300 »

“All right,” agreed the sheriff, and Jed sprang to horse again.

“Come on, boys,” he called, and set out up the road at a sharp gallop.

Mile after mile they covered, but without finding any sign of the fugitives. At last, Jed dismounted and again examined the road.

“We’ve passed ’em,” he announced. “They didn’t git this far. We’ve got ’em now, sure.”

The east was just showing a tinge of gray, as they turned to retrace their steps. Jed stopped every now and then to scrutinize the road. At the end of a mile, they met the sheriff and his party in the wagon.

“See anything of ’em?” he asked.

“Not a thing,” said Jed, “but they’re back there, somewhere. Wait a minute,” and he got down and looked at the road again. “By George!” he cried, “they ain’t far off! See, here’s where they turned th’ wagon an’ started her back.” Then he looked at the tracks again. “I don’t know, either,” he added. “I don’t believe they turned it at all. Look how it ran down in this gully here by the fence—it’s a wonder it didn’t upset. The horses turned toward home themselves.”

“Well, and where are the convicts?” asked the sheriff.

“They’re somewhere between here an’ th’ forks o’ th’ road,” said Jed. “They can’t git away!”

« 301 »

But by noon he was forced to confess that their capture was not going to be so easy as he had supposed. Practically every foot of the ground on both sides of the road had been beaten over, and yet not a trace of the robbers had been discovered. Nay, more than that, search as he might, Jed, with all his skill in woodcraft, was not able to discover where they had left the road. That four men, carrying a heavy chest, should have been able to cross the muddy fields which extended on both sides of the road without leaving some mark of their passage seemed absurd, and yet, after going over the ground for the third time, Jed was forced to confess himself defeated.

“They’re slick ones—that’s all I kin say,” he remarked, and mounted his horse and started back to Coalville.

The sheriff picketed every by-path; through all the neighbourhood the alarm was spread, and men were on the alert. Acting under instructions from the State authorities, the sheriffs of adjoining counties set a guard on every road by which Coalville could possibly be approached, and every one who could not give a satisfactory account of himself and who resembled in the least degree any one of the four convicts, was placed under arrest. The police of every city, the constables of every township, nay, the dwellers in every house, were on the lookout for the fugitives. It seemed impossible that they could escape through the meshes of a net so « 302 » closely drawn. Yet two days passed, and they had not been heard from. They had disappeared as completely as though the earth had opened and swallowed them.

« 303 »



When Allan opened his eyes, it was to find the kindly face of Mary Welsh looking down at him.

“Is it time to get up?” he asked, and tried to rise, but Mary pressed him gently back against the pillow.

“There, there, lay still,” she said.

“But what,” he began—and then a sudden twinge in the side brought back in a flash all that had occurred. “Am I hurt?” he asked.

“Not bad, th’ doctor says; but you’ll have t’ kape quiet fer awhile. They’s two ribs broke.”

“Two ribs!” repeated Allan.

“Right there in yer side,” said Mary, indicating the place.

“Oh, yes; that’s where Dan Nolan kicked me.”

“Where what?” cried Mary, her eyes flashing.

And Allan related in detail the story of his encounter with Nolan.

Before he had finished, Mary was pacing up and down the chamber like a caged tigress, her hands clasping and unclasping, her features working convulsively. « 304 » Allan, in the carefully darkened room, did not notice her agitation, and continued on to the end.

“You lay still,” she said, hoarsely, when he had ended; “I’ll be back in a minute,” and she hurried down the stair.

Once out of his sight, her self-control gave way completely; a dry sobbing shook her, a sobbing not of grief but of sheer fury. Jack was sitting listlessly by the window when she burst into the room.

“Why, what is it, Mary?” he cried, starting to his feet. “Is he worse? He can’t be! Th’ doctor said—”

“Jack,” said Mary, planting herself before her husband, “I want you t’ promise me one thing. If you iver git yer hands on Dan Nolan, kill him as you would a snake!”

“What’s Nolan been doin’ now?” he asked, staring in astonishment at her working features.

“It was him hurt our boy,” she said; “kicked him in th’ side as he laid tied there on th’ floor. Stood over him an’ kicked him in th’ side!”

Jack’s face was livid, and his eyes suffused.

“Are you sure o’ that?” he asked thickly.

“Allan told me.”

“Th’ fiend!” cried Jack. “Th’ divil!” and shook his fists in the air. Then he sat heavily down in his chair, shivering convulsively.

“An’ more’n that,” Mary went on, "he shut th’ « 305 » boy in th’ station an’ left him there t’ burn," and she repeated the story Allan had just told her.

When she had done, Jack rose unsteadily.

“You say th’ boy’s all right?” he asked.

“Yes—he ain’t got a bit o’ fever.”

“Then I’m goin’ t’ Coalville,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep with th’ thought of that varmint runnin’ loose. I’m goin’ t’ git him.”

Mary’s eyes were blazing.

“Good boy!” she cried. “When’ll you go?”

“Now,” he answered. “I kin jest ketch Number Four. Good-bye.”

“Good-bye, Jack,” she answered, and caught him suddenly in her arms and kissed him.

She watched him as he went down the path, then turned, and composing her face as well as she was able, mounted the stair and took up again her station by Allan’s bed.

Half an hour after Jack had got off the train at Coalville, he entered the office of the Coalville Coal Company.

“I want a gun,” were his first words.

“What for?” inquired the man at the desk.

“T’ look fer th’ robbers.”

The man gazed at him thoughtfully. There was something in Jack’s appearance, a certain wildness, which alarmed him a little.

“I don’t believe we care to employ any more deputies,” he said at last.

« 306 »

“I don’t want t’ be employed—I don’t want no wages—I’m a volunteer.”

At that moment, the door opened and a man came in,—a tall, thin man, whose head was bandaged and the skin of whose face was peeling off.

“Here, Jed,” said the man at the desk, glad to turn the task of dealing with a probable madman into more competent hands, “is a recruit. And, strangely enough, he doesn’t ask for pay.”

“It ain’t a bit strange,” protested Jack, and he explained briefly who he was.

When he had finished, Jed held out his hand.

“Shake,” he said. “That kid o’ your’n is all right—grit clear through. Will he git well?”

“Oh, he’ll git well, all right.”

“Good!” cried Jed, his face brightening. “I’ve been worryin’ about him considerable. How’d he git his ribs broke?”

“One o’ them fellers kicked him in th’ side,” explained Jack, and repeated the story he had heard from Mary.

“Th’ skunk!” said Jed, when he had finished, his face very dark. “Th’ low-down skunk! I only wish I could git my hands on him fer about two minutes.”

“So do I,” agreed Jack, his lips quivering. “That’s why I came.”

Jed held out his hand again.

“I’m with you!” he said. "We’ll go on a little « 307 » still-hunt of our own. I’d intended t’ go by myself, but I’ll be glad to hev you along."

So Jack, provided with rifle and revolver, presently sallied forth beside his new friend.

“No trace o’ them yet?” he asked.

“Not a trace,” Jed answered. “It beats me. But one thing I’m sure of—it’s possible that they managed t’ slip through my lines, but they didn’t take th’ chest with ’em.”

“Then what did they do with it?”

“That’s what I’m a-goin’ t’ find out,” said Jed, grimly. “It’s somewhere here in these hills, an’ I’m goin’ t’ find it if it takes ten years.”

And, indeed, after the first day’s search, it seemed to Jack that it might easily take much longer than that.

“There’s one thing they might ’a’ done with it,” Jed remarked, as they turned homeward in the twilight. “They might ’a’ shoved it up in some of th’ old workin’s around here. They’re full o’ fire-damp, o’ course, an’ no man could venture in them an’ live, so I don’t see jest how they’d work it. But to-morrer we’ll take a look at ’em.”

So the next morning they set out, carrying, instead of rifles, a collection of ropes, candles, and lanterns, which Jed had procured from the mine.

“I’ve got a plan of th’ old workin’s, too,” he said. "There’s some over on th’ other side of th’ hill which it ain’t any use wastin’ time on. Them fellers couldn’t ’a’ carried that chest over th’ ridge, « 308 » if they’d tried a month. But there’s six or eight on this side. There’s th’ fust one, over yonder," and he pointed to a black hole in the hillside. “All of these old workin’s,” he went on, “are what they call drifts—that is, wherever they found th’ coal croppin’ out, they started in a tunnel, an’ kept on goin’ in till th’ vein pinched out. Then they stopped and started another tunnel on th’ next outcrop. They’re all driven in on an incline, so they’ll drain theirselves, an’ as soon as th’ company stopped pumpin’ air into them, they probably filled up with gas, so we’ve got t’ be mighty careful.”

He clambered up to the mouth of the tunnel and peered into it cautiously.

“Can’t see nothin’,” he said. “Let’s try fer gas.”

He took from his pocket a leather bag, from which he extracted a little ball of cotton saturated in oil.

“Stand aside,” he said, and himself stood at one side of the mouth of the tunnel. Then, grasping the ball by a piece of wire attached to it, he struck a match, touched it to the cotton, and then hurled the ball with all his force into the opening.

It seemed to Jack that there was a sort of quick throb in the air, a sheet of flame shot out of the tunnel mouth, and an instant later a dull rumbling came from within the hill.

Jed caught up a lantern, snapped back the covering « 309 » of wire gauze which protected the wick, and lighted it.

“Come on,” he said. “It’s safe for awhile now,” and he led the way into the cavern.

For a moment Jack could see nothing; then as his eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, he discerned the black and dripping walls on either hand, and the dark void before, into which Jed walked, swinging the lantern from side to side.

But he did not go far. Fifty feet from the entrance, a pile of debris blocked the way. Jed swung his lantern over it and inspected it.

“No use t’ look any further in here,” he said. “This stuff’s been down a long time. Let’s go on to number two.”

The second tunnel was about five hundred feet from the first one, and resembled it exactly. But when Jed threw into it his blazing ball, there was no explosion.

“Hello!” he said, in surprise, and then, bending down, he saw the ball blazing brightly on the floor of the tunnel, some distance from the entrance. “Why, that hole is ventilated as well as a house!” he added. “Plenty of air there,” and catching up the lantern, which he had not extinguished, he started into the tunnel.

The air was fresh and pure, and Jed, looking about for an explanation, was not long in finding it.

“Look up there,” he said, pointing to where « 310 » a glimmer of light showed through the gloom above. “There’s a flue up there—an accident, most likely,—just a crack in the rock,—but it lets the gas out all right. Why, a feller could live in here—By George!” he added, “some feller has been livin’ here. Look there.”

Jack followed the motion of his finger, and saw, on the floor, a pile of half-burned coal. Over it was a bent piece of iron which had been driven into the floor and evidently served as a crane. A pot and a couple of pans lay near the base of one of the pillars which had been left to support the roof.

“And they was more than one,” Jed continued, and pointed to four lumps of coal grouped around the central pile. “They used them to set on. It’s dollars to doughnuts here’s where th’ gang stayed till they was ready t’ spring their trap. Th’ question is, are they here yet?”

“You kin bet your life they ain’t,” answered Jack, confidently.

“’Cause why?”

“’Cause we’re here t’ tell th’ tale. If they was here, they’d ’a’ picked us off ten minutes ago. Think what purty marks we made.”

“Mebbe they thought they was a posse with us.”

“Well, they don’t think so now, an’ they ain’t shot us yet.”

Jed nodded and moved forward.

« 311 »

“Well, if they ain’t here, mebbe th’ chest is,” he said, but they saw no sign of it, although they explored the chamber thoroughly. “They could ’a’ reached here with it easy enough,” he went on. “Th’ road’s jest down there, an’ th’ station ain’t over half a mile away. Nobody thought o’ their gittin’ out so clost to th’ station. That’s th’ reason I didn’t find their tracks. They drove th’ wagon on nearly six mile afore they turned it loose. Steady, steady,” he added, suddenly, and stopped.

At his feet yawned a pit of unknown depth. He swung his lantern over it and peered down, trying to see the bottom. Then he stood upright with a sharp exclamation.

“It’s down there,” he said.

“What is?”

“The chest. Look over. Don’t you see it?”

“I kin see something,” answered Jack, “but it might be a lump o’ coal, or any old thing. What makes you think it’s th’ chest?”

“I know it is,” Jed asserted. “You wait here till I git th’ ropes,” and he hurried away toward the mouth of the tunnel.

Jack, holding the lantern at arm’s length and shading his eyes with his other hand, leaned over the pit and stared down long and earnestly. But strain his eyes as he might, he could discern no details of the oblong mass below. That it should be the chest seemed too great a miracle.

« 312 »

But Jed was back in a moment, a coil of rope in his hand.

“Now I’ll show you,” he said, and laying down the rope, took from his pocket another of the oil-saturated balls, lighted it and dropped it into the pit.

It struck the bottom and sputtered for a moment, then burned clear and bright.

And the two men gazed fascinated at what it revealed to them.

The chest was there, as Jed had said; and beneath it, crushed against the rock, lay a man.

« 313 »



Only for an instant did Jed Hopkins and Jack Welsh stand motionless there on the edge of the pit, staring down at the gruesome sight the burning cotton disclosed to them. Then Jed sprang erect, his lips compressed, caught up the rope, and rapidly made a noose in one end of it.

“I’ll go down,” he said. “I’m th’ lightest, an’ I guess you kin handle me all right. Stand well back from th’ edge an’ git a good hold. Let it play over th’ rock here where it’s smooth. Ready?”

“All right,” Jack answered, taking a turn of the rope around his arm and bracing himself for the weight.

Jed sat down at the edge of the pit, placed one foot in the noose he had made, tested it, and then swung himself off. Jack paid out the line slowly and carefully, so that it might not get beyond his control. At the end of a moment, the line slackened, and Jack, looking down into the pit, saw his « 314 » companion bending over the ghastly figure crushed against the floor.

“He’s dead,” Jed announced, after a short examination. “He’s mashed right in. That box must o’ caught him square on th’ breast. He never knowed what hit him.”

“Who is he?” asked Jack, in an awed whisper, and then he started violently back, as something dark and uncanny whirred past his face,—for Jack was not without his superstitions, and the surroundings were certainly ghostly enough to impress the strongest heart. As he looked up, he fancied he saw two eyes gleaming at him out of the darkness; again there was a whir of wings past the lantern, and then he laughed aloud, for he saw his spectral visitor was only a bat.

“What’s th’ matter?” queried Jed, looking up in surprise. “I don’t see nothin’ t’ laugh at.”

“There’s a lot o’ bats up here,” explained Jack, a little sheepishly. “I was jest gittin’ ready t’ run—I thought they was banshees. Do you know who th’ pore feller is?”

Jed struck a match and examined the dead man’s face.

“No, I don’t know him,” he said at last. "An’ yet his face seems sort o’ familiar, too. Why, yes; it’s a feller who’s been workin’ around our stables. By gum! It’s th’ one thet druv th’ wagon! We’ve been lookin’ fer his corpse everywhere; an’ when we didn’t find it, we thought he was in « 315 » cahoots with th’ robbers an’ had skipped out with ’em! Now how do you suppose he got here?"

Jack, of course, could find no answer to the question, but stood staring stupidly down until Jed, by a mighty effort, rolled the box to one side, and passed the noose beneath the dead man’s arms.

“All right,” Jed called. “I think you kin lift him—he ain’t very heavy.”

And Jack slowly pulled the body up, hand over hand, the muscles he had acquired by long years of work on section standing him in good stead.

Then, as the ghastly face, hanging limply back, came within the circle of light cast by his lantern, he saw it clearly, and in the shock it gave him almost let the body fall.

“Good God!” he muttered. “Good God!” and stared down, fascinated, into the half-closed, lustreless eyes.

For the dead man was Dan Nolan.

Just how he had met death there at the bottom of that pit was never certainly known. Perhaps he had been sent down ahead to steady the chest in its descent and cast loose the ropes, and the chest had slipped or got beyond control of the men who were lowering it and crashed down upon him. Or perhaps he himself, helping to lower it, had lost his balance and fallen, only to be crushed by it as it, too, fell. His companions, terrified, no doubt, by the tragedy, had waited only to assure « 316 » themselves that he was dead, and had then drawn up the ropes and fled.

Some of those who knew the story of Nolan’s treachery to the robbers, believed that it was not an accident at all, but that his companions had deliberately used this method of avenging themselves and getting rid of him, now that his usefulness to them was past. Whether by accident or design, certain it was that Nolan had met his end miserably at the very place where his captors had intended him to die.

As soon as Jed was got out of the pit, help was summoned, for the box was far too heavy for two men to raise. The news that it had been found spread like wildfire, and a regular procession started for the mouth of the old mine to see it recovered. Among them was the paymaster, and, as soon as the box was hauled up, he produced a key from his pocket, turned it in the lock, and threw back the lid.

“Good!” he said. “They didn’t stop to open it. Knew they ran the risk of being held up and searched, and didn’t want any of the stuff to be found on them. They certainly had every reason to believe that it was safely planted here.”

“They didn’t have time t’ open it,” said Jed. "That lock was specially made—see how it throws three bolts instead o’ one. Nobody could ’a’ picked it. Th’ only way they could ’a’ got that chest open was t’ blow it, like a safe, an’ I don’t « 317 » suppose they was fixed fer that kind o’ work, comin’, as they did, straight from th’ pen."

“Or perhaps they was scared away by Nolan’s death,” added Jack. “I certainly wouldn’t ’a’ cared t’ stay here arter that!”

“Well, whatever the cause, the money’s here,” said the paymaster, and closed the lid again and locked it.

The evening shadows were lengthening along the path as Jack climbed up to the little house back of the railroad yards, and softly opened the door and entered. Mary was in the kitchen, and, at the sound of his step, turned toward him, her face very pale, her eyes asking the question her lips did not dare to utter. Jack saw the question and understood.

“He’s dead,” he said, briefly.

“Oh, Jack, not that!” cried Mary, her face gray with horror. “Not that! I didn’t mean it! God knows I didn’t mean it!”

“Don’t worry. ’Twasn’t me killed him. T knowed I couldn’t do it. But I’d ’a’ took him back to th’ pen, myself, an’ waited t’ see him locked up.”

Mary drew a deep breath of relief, and the colour returned to her face again.

“Thank God!” she said. “I was prayin’ all night, Jack, that you wouldn’t find him; I was so worrited t’ think that I’d let you go like that! And yet he wasn’t no better than a snake!”

« 318 »

“Well, he’s gittin’ his deserts now,” and Jack told her the story of the finding of the body.

Mary listened to the end without offering to interrupt.

“’Twas God’s judgment, Jack,” she said, solemnly, when he had finished. “But,” she added, with a quick return of housewifely instinct, “you must be half-starved.”

“I am purty hungry, an’ that’s a fact,” he admitted. “What’s that you’ve got on th’ stove? It smells mighty good,” and he sniffed appreciatively.

“It’s some chicken broth fer Allan. Would y’ like some?”

“A good thick beefsteak ’d be more in my line. How is th’ boy?”

“Comin’ on nicely,” answered Mary, as she hurried to the pantry. She reappeared in a moment, bringing back with her just the sort of steak Jack was thinking of.

He stared at it in astonishment.

“What are you,” he demanded, “a witch? Do you jest wave your wand an’ make things happen?”

“Oh, no,” laughed Mary. “I bought it this mornin’,” and the steak was soon sizzling temptingly in a skillet.

“And you’re sure th’ boy’s comin’ along all right?” he asked.

“Th’ docther says he kin set up day arter t’-morrer. « 319 » He’s got his side in a plaster cast, an’ says he’ll keep it there till th’ ribs knit. He says that won’t take long.”

The doctor, as will be seen, counted on Allan’s perfect health and vigorous constitution; nor did he count in vain, for two days later he permitted the patient to rise from the bed, helped him carefully to descend the stairs, and saw him comfortably installed in a great padded chair by the front window, whence he could look down over the busy yards.

“Why, it seems like old times,” he said, smiling, as he sank back into the chair. “It isn’t so very long ago that I was sitting here with a bullet-hole through me.”

“You certainly have had your share,” agreed the doctor. “It’s just about two years since I cut that bullet out from under your shoulder-blade. What did you do with it?”

“Here it is,” said Mary, and taking a small bottle from the mantelpiece, she showed the little piece of flattened lead inside.

“You’ll get over this a good deal quicker,” went on the doctor, reassuringly. “You may walk around a little, only be careful to move slowly and not to bring any strain or wrench upon the side. I’ll look in once in awhile and make sure you’re getting along all right,” and with that he was gone.

At the gate, Allan saw him meet a mail-carrier, « 320 » and pause to answer a question which the carrier put to him. Then he jumped into his buggy, and drove away, while the carrier mounted to the front door and knocked.

“I’ve got a registered letter here for John Welsh,” he said, when Mary opened the door. “Is he here?”

“Here I am,” said Jack, “but th’ letter must be fer some other John Welsh. Where’s it from?”

“It’s from Coalville.”

“Then it’s fer you, Jack,” said Mary, quickly.

“All right; sign for it here,” said the carrier, and presented the card and book.

Jack signed silently, and waited till the door closed behind the carrier.

“I don’t believe it’s fer me,” he said. “Who’d be sendin’ me a registered letter?”

“The best way to find out is to open it,” suggested Allan.

“Here, you open it,” said Jack, “an’ if it ain’t fer me, shut it up agin. I’ve heerd o’ people bein’ sent t’ jail fer openin’ letters that didn’t belong to ’em.”

“Very well,” assented Allan, and tore open the envelope and drew out the letter.

Jack noticed how his face changed and his hands trembled as he glanced through it.

“Put it back, boy,” he cried. “I knowed it wasn’t fer me. Put it back!”

« 321 »

“Yes, it is for you, Jack,” said Allan, looking up, his eyes bright with tears. Listen:

“‘Mr. John Welsh,
           “’Wadsworth, Ohio.

“’Dear Sir:—As you are no doubt aware, the Coalville Coal Company offered a reward of five thousand dollars for the recovery of the chest, with contents intact, which was stolen on the night of the 10th inst. Mr. Jed Hopkins and yourself succeeded in finding the chest, and an examination proved the contents to be undisturbed. It is with great pleasure, therefore, that I enclose the company’s check for twenty-five hundred dollars, your share of the reward, and the company desires also to thank you for the great service which you assisted in rendering it. Please acknowledge receipt of check.

“Very truly yours,
        “‘S. R. Alderson,

For a moment, Jack stood staring at Allan, incapable of utterance; then, by a mighty effort, he pulled himself together.

“But that ain’t right!” he protested, violently. “I didn’t find th’ chest! I didn’t do nothin’! It was Jed Hopkins. I jest went along! I didn’t do a blame thing! I won’t take it!”

Mary looked at him, her face alight with love and pride.

« 322 »

“That’s right, Jack!” she cried. “We don’t want nothin we hain’t earned honest—we won’t wrong nobody in this world!”

Allan sat looking at the slip of pink paper he held between his fingers.

“I don’t know,” he said, slowly. “It seems to me that you are certainly entitled to a portion of the reward—perhaps not to half of it. You surely helped some.”

“If I did, I don’t remember it,” said Jack. “Besides—”

A knock at the door interrupted him. Mary opened it, to find a tall, lean figure standing on the threshold.

“Why, it’s Jed Hopkins!” cried Allan. “Come in! Come in!”

“Sure I will,” laughed Jed, stooping a little as he entered the door. “An’ how is the kid?”

“The kid’s first-rate,” Allan assured him, clasping warmly the great palm held out to him. “Mary and Jack,” he went on, turning to the others, “this is the man who saved my life. He was on fire himself and the flames were all about him, but he stopped long enough to get hold of me and pull me out.”

“Oh, shet up!” protested Jed. “I didn’t stop at all. I jest sort o’ hooked on to you as I was goin’ past.”

Mary came up to him, all her heart in her face.

“We can’t thank you,” she said. "They ain’t « 323 » no use in our tryin’ t’ do that. But if that boy’d died like that—it—it—it would ’a’ broke our hearts."

“An’ this is th’ feller they think I’ll rob,” broke in Jack.

“Rob?” repeated Jed, looking at him.

“Do ye think fer a minute,” cried Jack, fiercely, “I’d take one penny o’ that reward? Not me! I didn’t earn it! Here!” and he seized the check from Allan’s fingers and crushed it into Jed’s hand. “Take it. It’s yourn.”

Jed, his face very red, stared from the check to Jack and from Jack to the check. Then a queer twinkle came into his eye.

“Oh, all right,” he said, “if you feel that way.”

“I do,” said Jack, “an’ so does Mary,” and he watched until Jed had folded the check and placed it in his pocket. “Now,” he went on, with a sigh of relief, “I feel better. O’ course you’ll stay t’ supper?”

“O’ course I will,” answered Jed, promptly, and Mary bustled away to prepare the meal.

And when it was served, half an hour later, Jed was given the place of honour between Jack and Allan, with Mamie and Mary across from him.

“Well,” he said, looking around at the smoking dishes, "this reminds me of old times, afore I pulled up stakes an’ went West. I was born in New Hampshire, an’ didn’t know when I was well « 324 » off, an’ so run away like so many fool boys do. I ain’t had a home since—an’ I’ve never had th’ nerve t’ go back thar an’ face my old mother that I deserted like that. You see, I jest want t’ show you what a good-fer-nothin’ skunk I am."

“You’ve got a home right here, if you want it,” said Mary, quickly, out of the depths of her heart.

Jed cleared his throat once or twice before he found the voice to answer.

“Mrs. Welsh,” he said, “I’m a-goin’ back now, jest as fast as a train kin take me. I wanted t’ come over fust an’ say good-bye t’ th’ kid. He’s clear grit. But I won’t never fergit them words o’ yours.”

At last he pushed his chair back from the table and rose.

“Th’ best meal I’ve eat in twenty year,” he said. “But I’ve got t’ go—my train starts at six-ten. How much do I owe you?”

“What!” cried Jack, his eyes flashing. “Owe us? Ye don’t owe us a cent!”

“Do you take me fer a dead beat!” shouted Jed. “I’m a-goin’ t’ pay fer that meal. Here,” he cried, and fillped a folded bit of pink paper out upon the table, “take that. It’s wuth it.”

Allan alone understood, and he began to smile, though his eyes were wet.

“You infernal galoot,” went on Jed, excitedly, "did you suppose fer a minute I’d take that « 325 » money? I was never so near lickin’ a man in my life! Take it, or by George, I’ll lick you yet!"

And with that, he jumped on Mamie, caught her up, kissed her, and fairly ran from the house.

« 326 »



But those were happy hearts he left behind him, and sweet were the dreams they dreamed that night. Mary, the summation and perfect example of Irish housewives, dreamed of a little home in the suburbs, with an orchard and garden, and a yard for chickens, and a house for the cow, and a pen for the pigs, where she could be busy and happy all day long, working for her loved ones. Jack dreamed of a new gown his wife should have, and of new dresses for Mamie, and some new books for Allan, and a new pipe for himself,—for Jack had only a limited idea of what twenty-five hundred dollars would accomplish. And Allan dreamed of the day when he, too, could come in as Jed Hopkins had done, and leave behind him a princely gift.

“Jack,” said Mary, at the table next morning, the memory of her dream still strong upon her, “I’ve been wishin’ we could move t’ some little place where we could kape chickens an’ a cow.”

“I wish so, too, Mary,” said Jack. “Mebbe some day we kin.”

« 327 »

“It ’d be jest th’ place fer Mamie,—she don’t git enough outdoors.”

“Why, what’s th’ matter with her?” asked Jack, with a quick glance at the child.

“Nothin’ at all,” Mary hastened to assure him; “but she ought t’ have a big yard t’ play in—an’ th’ tracks is mighty dangerous.”

“Yes, they is,” Jack agreed. “I wish we could git away from them.”

“Well, I’ll look around,” said Mary, and wisely let the subject drop there.

She did look around, and to such good purpose that two days later, which was Sunday, she led Jack triumphantly to a little house standing back from the road in a grove of trees, just outside the city limits.

“I wanted ye to look at it,” she said. “I thought mebbe you’d like t’ live here.”

From the triumphant way in which she showed him about the place, and pointed out its beauties and advantages, it was quite evident that her own mind was made up. And, indeed, it was a perfect love of a place. The house was well-built and contained eight rooms—just the right number; the yard in front was shaded by graceful maples, and flanked on the left by a hedge of lilac. Behind it was a milk-house, built of brick, and with a long stone trough at the bottom, through which cold, pure water from a near-by spring was always flowing. Then there was a garden of nearly half « 328 » an acre; an orchard containing more than a hundred trees, and outbuildings—just such outbuildings as Mary had always longed for, roomy and dry and substantial. Nearly an hour was consumed in the inspection, and finally they sat down together on the steps leading up to the front porch.

“It’s a mighty nice place,” said Jack. “There can’t be no mistake about that.”

“An’ it’s fer sale,” said Mary. “Fer sale cheap.”

“Well, he’ll be a lucky man what gits it.”

“Jack,” said Mary, with sudden intensity, “you kin be that man—all you have t’ do is to write your name acrost th’ back of that little slip o’ pink paper an’ give it t’ me. T’-morrer I’ll bring you th’ deed fer this place, an’ we’ll move in jest as soon as I kin git it cleaned up.”

Jack looked about him and hesitated.

“I wanted you t’ have a new dress, Mary,” he said at last. “A silk one, what shines an’ rustles when ye walk—like Mrs. Maroney’s.”

“What do I keer fer a silk dress?” demanded Mary, fiercely. “Not that!” and she snapped her fingers. “I got plenty o’ duds. But a home like this, Jack,—I want a home like this!”

There was an appeal in her voice there was no resisting, even had Jack felt inclined to resist, which he did not in the least. He took from his pocket the slip of pink paper, now a little soiled, and from the other the stump of a lead pencil. « 329 » Slowly and painfully he wrote his name, then handed the check to Mary.

“There you are,” he said. “An’ I’m glad t’ do it, darlint. Fer this place suits me, too.”

And a pair of red-birds in the lilac hedge were astonished and somewhat scandalized to see the woman, who had been sitting quietly enough, fling herself upon him and hug him until he begged for mercy.

Mamie had remained at home to entertain Allan, which she did by getting him to read to her. She had grown to like Jean Valjean, too, though she preferred the thrilling portions of the story to the quieter ones which told of Bishop Welcome. This time she chose to hear again of Jean Valjean’s flight across Paris with Cosette—how she shivered when he allowed that piece of money to rattle on the floor, or when, looking backward, he saw the police following him through the night; how she shuddered when he found himself trapped in that blind alley, hemmed in by lofty walls, where all seemed lost; and then the horrors of the hours that followed—But once Cosette was stowed safely away in the hut of the old, lame gardener, the curly head began to nod, and Allan, looking up at last from his reading, saw that she had gone to sleep.

He laid his book aside, and sat for a long time looking down over the yards, busy even on Sunday; « 330 » for the work of a great railroad never ceases, day or night, from year end to year end. He thought of the evening, nearly three years agone, when he had first crossed the yards by Jack Welsh’s side, a homeless boy, who was soon to find a home indeed. How many times he had crossed them since! How many times—

A man was crossing them now, a well-dressed, well-set-up man, whom, even at that distance, the boy knew perfectly. It was Mr. Schofield, who had proved himself so true a friend. Allan, as he came nearer, waved at him from the window, pleased at the chance for even a distant greeting; but instead of passing by, the trainmaster entered the gate and mounted toward the house. Allan had the door open in a moment.

“Why, hello,” said the trainmaster, shaking his outstretched hand warmly. “Are you as spry as all this? You’ll soon be able to report for duty.”

“I can report to-morrow, if you need me, sir,” Allan answered. “I can’t indulge in any athletics, yet, but I can work a key all right. Besides, I’m tired of sitting around doing nothing.”

“Well, we’ll say Thursday,” said Mr. Schofield. “I can manage to worry along without you till then.”

“I’ll be on hand Thursday morning,” Allan promised.

“Oh, I don’t want you in the morning—you’ll « 331 » report at eleven at night for the third trick, east end.”

“Why,” stammered Allan, his lips trembling, “why, do you mean—”

“I mean you’re a regular dispatcher,” explained the trainmaster, briefly. “Nothing extraordinary about it at all. Mr. Heywood has been made general manager, with headquarters at Cincinnati, so we all take a step up.”

“Then you’re—”

“Yes, I’m superintendent. Look about the same, don’t I?”

Allan held out his hands.

“I’m glad,” he said. “And I know one thing—there’s not a road on earth that’s got a better one!”

The doctor looked rather grave when Allan told him he was going to work Thursday night, but really there was little danger so long as the boy was careful to avoid strain on the injured side. The plaster cast had been removed, and in its place had been substituted by a broad leather bandage, drawn so tightly about the chest as to prevent all movement of the ribs. That was to stay there until the injury was quite healed. But, aside from the discomfort of this bandage, the boy was in no pain, he had had no fever after the second day; and, despite the fiery protests of Jack and Mary, « 332 » the doctor finally consented that Allan should go to work as he had promised.

“T’ think of a boy with two broke ribs in his body a-goin’ t’ work—an’ at sech a time o’ night!” fumed Mary, as she packed his lunch-basket for him. “But a railroad ain’t got no feelin’s. All it wants is t’ work a man till he’s played out an’ done fer, an’ then throw him away like an old glove.”

“Maybe I can get a job as crossing watchman when that time comes,” laughed Allan. “I ought to be good for a few years yet, anyway.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me a bit t’ be follerin’ yer coffin a week from now,” declared Mary, darkly; but, just the same, it would have surprised her very much.

Allan laughed again, as he took up his lunch-basket and started across the yards. He was a little early, but he wanted to spend an extra five or ten minutes going over the train-orders, to make sure that he understood them thoroughly. As he approached the station, he saw two carriages drive up. A number of young men and women got out of them—they had evidently been packed in pretty tight—and gathered in a voluble group on the platform, evidently waiting for the east-bound flyer, which was almost due.

Allan, passing quite near, suddenly found himself looking into the blue eyes of Betty Heywood. Instinctively he raised his hat.

« 333 »

“Why, how do you do,” she said, and held out her hand in the old, friendly manner. “I hear you’ve been distinguishing yourself again.”

“Just blundering into trouble,” he answered, smiling. “Some people are always doing that, you know.”

“Well, that’s better than running away from it—some people do that, too.”

“Oh, yes,” he agreed, and then stopped. He found it strangely difficult to talk to her with all these friends about her. If they were only alone together—

“I’m going away to school,” she went on, seemingly not noticing his shyness.

“Then you’ll be gone a long time?”

“Oh, I’m never coming back to Wadsworth—that is to live. You see, we’re moving to Cincinnati, where papa will have his headquarters. But, of course,” she added, “I shall often come back to see my friends. Oh, there’s my train! Good-bye!” and she held out her hand again.

“Good-bye,” said Allan; then, not trusting himself to speak, he turned hastily away and mounted the stairs to the office.

But he carried a sweet thought warm against his heart. Part of the duty of his first trick would be to guard Betty Heywood from harm, as the train which bore her sped eastward through the night.

« 334 »

And here this tale must end. Perhaps, some day, the story will be told of how Allan West fulfilled the duties of his new position; of the trials he underwent and the triumphs he achieved; of how he made new friends, yes, and new enemies, as every man must who plays a man’s part in the world; and of how, finally, he won great happiness in the days when the boys in cab, and caboose, and section-shanty loved to refer to him, with shining eyes and smiling lips, as “The young trainmaster; the best in the country—and a true friend to us!”


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Transcriber’s Note

Time Correction

On page 214, No. 70 is reported to pass Madeira at "7.04". However, the time of travel for No. 102 between Madeira and Norwood was 12 minutes and No. 70 left Norwood at “5:50” (according to the "Train Sheet"). So, “7.04” was changed to "6.04".