His name was Owsley—Jake Owsley—and he was a railroad man before ever he came to Big Cloud and the Hill Division—before ever the Hill Division was even advanced to the blue-print stage, before steel had ever spider-webbed the stubborn Rockies, before the Herculean task of bridging a continent was more than a thought in even the most ambitious minds.

Owsley was an engineer, and he came from the East, when they broke ground at Big Cloud for a start toward the western goal through the mighty range, a comparatively young man—thirty, or thereabouts. Then, inch by inch and foot by foot, Owsley, with his ballast cars and his boxes and his flats bumping material behind him, followed the construction gangs as they burrowed and blasted and trestled their way along—day in, day out, month in, month out, until the years went by, and they were through the Rockies, with the Coast and the blue of the Pacific in sight.

First over every bridge and culvert, first through every cut, first through every tunnel shorn in the bitter gray rock of the mountain sides, the pilot of Owsley's engine nosed its way; and, when the rough of the work was over, and in the hysteria of celebration, the toll of lives, the hardships and the cost were forgotten for the moment, and the directors and their guests crowded the cab and perched on running boards and footplates till you couldn't see the bunting they'd draped the engine with, and the mahogany coaches behind looked like the striped sticks of candy the kids buy on account of more bunting, and then some, and the local band they'd brought along from Big Cloud got the mouthpieces of their trombones and cornets mixed up with the necks of champagne bottles, and the Indian braves squatted gravely at different points along the trackside and thought their white brothers had gone mad, Owsley was at the throttle for the first through run over the division—it was Owsley's due.

Then other years went by, and the steel was shaken down into the permanent right of way that is an engineering marvel to-day, and Owsley still held a throttle on a through run—just kept growing a little older, that was all—but one of the best of them, for all that—steadier than the younger men, wise in experience, and with a love for his engine that was like the love of a man for a woman.

It's a strange thing, perhaps, a love like that; but, strange or not, there was never an engineer worth his salt who hasn't had it—some more than others, of course—as some men's love for a woman is deeper than others. With Owsley it came pretty near being the whole thing, and it was queer enough to see him when they'd change his engine to give him a newer and more improved type for a running mate. He'd refuse point-blank at first to be separated from the obsolete engine, that was either carded for some local jerk-water, mixed-freight run, or for a construction job somewhere.

"Leave her with me," he'd say to Regan, the master mechanic. "Leave me with her. You can give my run to some one else, Regan, d'ye mind? It's little I care for the swell run; me and the old girl sticks. I'll have nothing else."

But the bluff, fat, big-hearted, good-natured, little master mechanic, knew his man—and he knew an engineer when he saw one. Regan would no more have thought of letting Owsley get away from the Imperial's throttle than he would have thought of putting call boys in the cabs to run his engines.

"H'm!" he would say, blinking fast at Owsley. "Feel that way, do you? Well, then, mabbe it's about time you quit altogether. I didn't offer you your choice, did I? You take the Imperial with what I give you to take her with—or take nothing. Think it over!"

And Owsley, perforce, had to "think it over"—and, perforce, he stayed on the limited run.

Came then the day when changes in engine types were not so frequent, and a fair maximum in machine-design efficiency had been obtained—and Owsley came to love, more than he had ever loved any engine before, his big, powerful, 1600-class racer, with its four pairs of massive drivers, that took the curves with the grace of a circling bird, that laughed in glee at anything lower than a three per cent grade, and tackled the "fives" with no more than a grunt of disdain—Owsley and the 1601, right from the start, clipped fifty-five minutes off the running time of the Imperial Limited through the Rockies, where before it had been nip and tuck to make the old schedule anywhere near the dot.

For three years it was Owsley and the 1601; for three years east and west through the mountains—and a smile in the roundhouse at him as he nursed and cuddled and groomed his big flyer, in from a run. Not now—they don't smile now about it. It was Owsley and the 1601 for three years—and at the end it was still Owsley and the 1601. The two are coupled together—they never speak of one on the Hill Division without the other—Owsley and the 1601.

Owsley! One of the old guard who answered the roll call at the birth of the Hill Division! Forty years a railroader—call boy at ten—twenty years of service, counting the construction period, on the Hill Division! Straight and upright as a young sapling at fifty-odd, with a swing through the gangway that the younger men tried to imitate; hair short-cropped, a little grizzled; gray, steady eyes; a beard whose color, once brown, was nondescript, kind of shading tawny and gray in streaks; a slim, little man, overalled and jumpered, with greasy, peaked cap—and, wifeless, without kith or kin save his engine, the star boarder at Mrs. McCann's short-order house. Liked by everybody, known by everybody on the division down to the last Polack construction hand, quiet, no bluster about him, full of good-humored fun, ready to take his part or do his share in anything going, from a lodge minstrel show to sitting up all night and playing trained nurse to anybody that needed one—that was Owsley.

Oh, you, in your millions, who ride in trains by day and night, do you ever give a thought to the men into whose keeping you hand your lives? Does it ever occur to you that they are not just part of the equipment of iron and wood and steel and rolling things to be accepted callously, as bought and paid for with the strip of ticket that you hold, animate only that you may voice your grumblings and your discontent at some delay that saves you probably from being hurled into eternity while you chafe impatiently and childishly at something you know nothing about—that they, like you, are human too, with hopes achieved and aspirations shattered, and plans and interests in life? Have you ever thought that there was a human side to railroading, and that—but we were speaking of Owsley, Jake Owsley, perhaps you'll understand a little better farther on along the right of way.

Elbow Bend, were it not for the insurmountable obstacles that Dame Nature had seen fit to place there—the bed of the Glacier River on one side and a sheer rock base of mountain on the other—would have been a black mark against the record of the engineering corps who built the station. Speaking generally, it's not good railroad practice to put a station on a curve—when it can be helped. Elbow Bend, the whole of it, main line and siding, made a curve—that's how it got its name. And yet, in a way, it wasn't the curve that was to blame; though, too, in a way, it was—Owsley had a patched eye that night from a bit of steel that had got into it in the afternoon, nothing much, but a patch on it to keep the cold and the sweep of the wind out.

It was the eastbound run, and, to make up for the loss of time a slow order over new construction work back a dozen miles or so had cost him, the 1601 was hitting a pretty fast clip as he whistled for Elbow Bend. Owsley checked just a little as he nosed the curve—the Imperial Limited made no stop at Elbow Bend—and then, as the 1601 sort of got her footing, so to speak, on the long bend, he opened her out again, and the storm of exhausts from her short, stubby stack went echoing through the mountains like the play of artillery.

The light of the west-end siding switch flashed by like a scintillating gem in the darkness. Brannigan, Owsley's fireman, pulled his door, shooting the cab and the heavens full of leaping, fiery red, and swung to the tender for a shovelful of coal. Owsley, crouched a little forward in his seat, his body braced against the cant of the mogul on the curve, was "feeling" the throttle with careful hand, as he peered ahead through the cab glass. Came the station lights; the black bulk of a locomotive, cascading steam from her safety, on the siding; and then the thundering reverberation as the 1601 began to sweep past a long, curving line of boxes, flats and gondolas, the end of which Owsley could not see—for the curve.

Owsley relaxed a little. That was right—Extra No. 49, west, was to cross him at Elbow Bend—and she was on the siding as she should be. His headlight, streaming out at a tangent to the curve, played its ray kaleidoscopically along the sides of the string of freights, now edging the roof of a box car, now opening a hole to the gray rock of the cut when a flat or two intervened—and then, sudden, quick as doom, with a yell from his fireman ringing in his ears, Owsley, his jaws clamping like a steel trap, flung his arm forward, jamming the throttle shut, while with the other hand he grabbed at the "air."

Owsley had seen it, too—as quick as Brannigan—a figure, arms waving frantically, for a fleeting second strangely silhouetted in the dancing headlight's glare on the roof of one of the box cars. A wild shout from the man, fluttering, indistinguishable, reached them as they roared by—then the grind and scream of brake-shoes as the "air" went on—the answering shudder vibrating through the cab of the big racer—the meeting clash of buffer plates echoing down the length of the train behind—and a queer obstructing blackness dead ahead ere the headlight, tardy in its sweep, could point the way—but Owsley knew now—too late.

Brannigan screamed in his ear.

"She ain't in the clear!" he screamed. "It's a swipe! She ain't in the clear!" he screamed again—and took a flying leap through the off-side gangway.

Owsley never turned his head—only held there, grim-faced, tight-lipped, facing what was to come—facing it with clear head, quick brain, doing what he could to lessen the disaster, as forty years had schooled him to face emergency. Owsley—for forty years with his record, until that moment, as clean and unsmirched as the day he started as a kid calling train crews back in the little division town on the Penn in the far East! Strange it should come to Owsley, the one man of all you'd never think it would! It's hard to understand the running orders of the Great Trainmaster sometimes—isn't it? And sometimes it doesn't help much to realize that we never will understand this side of the Great Divide—does it?

The headlight caught it now—seemed to gloat upon it in a flood of blazing, insolent light—the rear cars of the freight crawling frantically from the main line to the siding—then the pitiful yellow from the cupola of the caboose, the light from below filtering up through the windows. It seared into Owsley's brain lightning quick, but vivid in every detail in a horrible, fascinating way. It was a second, the fraction of a second since Brannigan had jumped—it might have been an hour.

The front of the caboose seemed to leap suddenly at the 1601, seemed to rise up in the air and hurl itself at the straining engine as though in impotent fury at unwarranted attack. There was a terrific crash, the groan and rend of timber, the sickening grind and crunch as the van went to matchwood—the debris hurtling along the running boards, shattering the cab glass in flying splinters—and Owsley dropped where he stood—like a log. And the pony truck caught the tongue of the open switch, and, with a vicious, nasty lurch, the 1601 wrenched herself loose from her string of coaches, staggered like a lost and drunken soul a few yards along the ties—and turned turtle in the ditch.

It was a bad spill, but it might have been worse, a great deal worse—a box car and the van for the junk heap, and the 1601 for the shops to repair fractures—and nobody hurt except Owsley.

But they couldn't make head or tail of the cause of it. Everybody went on the carpet for it—and still it was a mystery. The main line was clear at the west end of the siding, and the switch was right; everybody was agreed on that, and it showed that way on the face of it—and that was as it should have been. The operator at Elbow Bend swore that he had shown his red, and that it was showing when the Limited swept by. He said he knew it was going to be a close shave whether the freight, a little late and crowding the Limited's running time, would be clear of the main line without delaying the express, and he had shown his red before ever he had heard her whistle—his red was showing. The engine crew and the train crew of Extra No. 49, west, backed the operator up—the red was showing.

Brannigan, the fireman, didn't count as a witness. The only light he'd seen at all was the west-end switch light, the curve had hidden anything ahead until after he'd pulled his door and turned to the tender for coal, and by then they were past the station. And Owsley, pretty badly smashed up, and in bed down in Mrs. McCann's short-order house, talked kind of queer when he got around to where he could talk at all. They asked him what color light the station semaphore was showing, and Owsley said white—white as the moon. That's what he said—white as the moon. And they weren't quite sure he understood what they were driving at.

For a week that's all they could make out of it, and then, with Regan scratching his head over it one day in confab with Carleton, the superintendent, it came more by chance than anything else.

"Blamed if I know what to make of it!" he growled. "Ordinary, six men's words would be the end of it, but Owsley's the best man that ever latched a throttle in our cabs, and for twenty years his record's cleaner than a baby's. What he says now don't count, because he ain't right again yet; but what you can't get away from is the fact that Owsley's not the man to have slipped a signal. Either the six of them are doing him cold to save their own skins, or there's something queer about it."

Carleton, "Royal" Carleton, in his grave, quiet way, shook his head.

"We've been trying hard enough to get to the bottom of it, Tommy," he said. "I wish to the Lord we could. I don't think the men are lying—they tell a pretty straight story. I've been wondering about that patch Owsley had on his eye, and——"

"What's that got to do with it?" cut in the blunt little master mechanic, who made no bones about his fondness for the engineer. "He isn't blind in the other, is he?"

Carleton stared at the master mechanic for a moment, pulling ruminatively at his brier; then—they were in the super's office at the time—his fist came down with a sudden bang upon the desk.

"I believe you've got it, Tommy!" he exclaimed.

"Believe I've got it!" echoed Regan, and his hand half-way to his mouth with his plug of chewing stopped in mid-air. "Got what? I said he wasn't blind in the other, and neither he is—you know that as well as I do."

"Wait!" said Carleton. "It's very rare, I know, but it seems to me I've heard of it. Wait a minute, Tommy." He was leaning over from his chair and twirling the little revolving bookcase beside the desk, as he spoke—not a large library was Carleton's, just a few technical books, and his cherished Britannica. He pulled out a volume of the encyclopedia, laid it upon his desk, and began to turn the leaves. "Yes, here it is," he said, after a moment. "Listen"—and he commenced to read rapidly:

"'The most common form of Daltonism'—that's color-blindness you know, Tommy—'depends on the absence of the red sense. Great additions to our knowledge of this subject, if only in confirmation of results already deduced from theory, have been obtained in the last few years by Holmgren, who has experimented on two persons, each of whom was found to have one color-blind eye, the other being nearly normal."

"Color-blind!" spluttered the master mechanic.

"In one eye," said Carleton, sort of as though he were turning a problem over in his mind. "That would account for it all, Tommy. As far as I know, one doesn't go color-blind—one is born that way—and if this is what's at the bottom of it, Owsley's been color-blind all his life in one eye, and probably didn't know what was the matter. That would account for his passing the tests, and would account for what happened at Elbow Bend. It was the patch that did it—you remember what he said—the light was white as the moon."

"And he's out!" stormed Regan. "Out for keeps—after forty years. Say, d'ye know what this'll mean to Owsley—do you, eh, do you? It'll be hell for him, Carleton—he thinks more of his engine than a woman does of her child."

Carleton closed the volume and replaced it mechanically in the bookcase.

Regan's teeth met in his plug and jerked savagely at the tobacco.

"I wish to blazes you hadn't read that!" he muttered fiercely. "What's to be done now?"

"I'm afraid there's only one thing to be done," Carleton answered gravely. "Sentiment doesn't let us out—there's too many lives at stake every time he takes out an engine. He'll have to try the color test with a patch over the same eye he had it on that night. Perhaps, after all, I'm wrong, and——"

"He's out!" said the master mechanic gruffly. "He's out—I don't need any test to know that now. That's what's the matter, and no other thing on earth. It's rough, damn rough, ain't it—after forty years?"—and Regan, with a short laugh, strode to the window and stood staring out at the choked railroad yards below him.

And Regan was right. Three weeks later, when he got out of bed, Owsley took the color test under the queerest conditions that ever a railroad man took it—with his right eye bandaged—and failed utterly.

But Owsley didn't quite seem to understand—and little Doctor McTurk, the company surgeon, was badly worried, and had been all along. Owsley was a long way from being the same Owsley he was before the accident. Not physically—that way he was shaping up pretty well, but his head seemed to bother him—he seemed to have lost his grip on a whole lot of things. They gave him the test more to settle the point in their own minds, but they knew before they gave it to him that it wasn't much use as far as he was concerned one way or the other. There was more than a mere matter of color wrong with Owsley now. And maybe that was the kindest thing that could have happened to him, maybe it made it easier for him since the colors barred him anyway from ever pulling a throttle again—not to understand!

They tried to tell him he hadn't passed the color test—Regan tried to tell him in a clumsy, big-hearted way, breaking it as easy as he could—and Owsley laughed as though he were pleased—just laughed, and with a glance at the clock and a jerky pull at his watch for comparison, a way he had of doing, walked out of Riley's, the trainmaster's office, and started across the tracks for the roundhouse. Owsley's head wasn't working right—it was as though the mechanism was running down—the memory kind of tapering off. But the 1601, his engine—stuck. And it was train time when he walked out of Riley's office that afternoon—the first afternoon he'd been out of bed and Mrs. McCann's motherly hands since the night at Elbow Bend.

Perhaps you'll smile a little tolerantly at this, and perhaps you'll say the story's "cooked." Well, perhaps! If you think that way about it, you'll probably smile more broadly still, and with the same grounds for a smile, before we make division and sign the train register at the end of the run. Anyway, that afternoon, as Owsley, out for the first time, walked a little shakily across the turntable and through the big engine doors into the roundhouse, the 1601 was out for the first time herself from the repair shops, and for the first time since the accident was standing on the pit, blowing from a full head of steam, and ready to move out and couple on for the mountain run west, as soon as the Imperial Limited came in off the Prairie Division from the East. Is it a coincidence to smile at? Yes? Well, then, there is more of the same humor to come. They tell the story on the Hill Division this way, those hard, grimy-handed men of the Rockies, in the cab, in the caboose, in the smoker, if you get intimate enough with the conductor or brakeman, in the roundhouse and in the section shanty—but they never smile themselves when they tell it.

Paxley, big as two of Owsley, promoted from a local passenger run, had been given the Imperial—and the 1601. He was standing by the front-end, chatting with Clarihue, the turner, as Owsley came in.

Owsley didn't appear to notice either of the men—didn't answer either of them as they greeted him cheerily. His face, that had grown white from his illness, was tinged a little red with excitement, and his eyes seemed trying to take in every single detail of the big mountain racer all at once. He walked along to the gangway, his shoulders sort of bracing further back all the time, and then with the old-time swing he disappeared into the cab. He was out again in a minute with a long-spouted oil can, and, just as he always did, started in for an oil around.

Paxley and Clarihue looked at each other. And Paxley sort of fumbled aimlessly with the peak of his cap, while Clarihue couldn't seem to get the straps of his overalls adjusted comfortably. Brannigan, Owsley's old fireman, joined them from the other side of the engine. None of them spoke. Owsley went on oiling—making the round slowly, carefully, head and shoulders hidden completely at times as he leaned in over the rod, poking at the motion-gear. And Regan, who had followed Owsley, coming in, got the thing in a glance—and swore fiercely deep down in his throat.

Not much to choke strong men up and throw them into the "dead-center"? Well, perhaps not. Just a railroad man for forty years, just an engineer, and the best of them all—out!

Owsley finished his round, and, instead of climbing into the cab through the opposite gangway, came back to the front-end and halted before Jim Clarihue.

"I see you got that injector valve packed at last," said he approvingly. "She looks cleaner under the guard-plates than I've seen her for a long time, too. Give me the 'table, Jim."

Not one of them answered. Regan said afterward that he felt as though there'd been a head-on smash somewhere inside of him. But Owsley didn't seem to expect any answer. He went on down the side of the locomotive, went in through the gangway, and the next instant the steam came purring into the cylinders, just warming her up for a moment, as Owsley always did before he moved out of the roundhouse.

It was Clarihue then who spoke—with a kind of catchy jerk:

"She's stiff from the shops. He ain't strong enough to hold her on the 'table."

Regan looked at Paxley—and tugged at his scraggly little brown mustache.

"You'll have to get him out of there, Bob," he said gruffly, to hide his emotion. "Get him out—gently."

The steam was coming now into the cylinders with a more businesslike rush—and Paxley jumped for the cab. As he climbed in, Brannigan followed, and in a sort of helpless way hung in the gangway behind him. Owsley was standing up, his hand on the throttle, and evidently puzzled a little at the stiffness of the reversing lever, that refused to budge on the segment with what strength he had in one hand to give to it.

Paxley reached over and tried to loosen Owsley's hand on the throttle.

"Let me take her, Jake," he said.

Owsley stared at him for a moment in mingled perplexity and irritation.

"What in blazes would I let you take her for?" he snapped suddenly, and attempted to shoulder Paxley aside. "Get out of here, and mind your own business! Get out!" He snatched his wrist away from Paxley's fingers and gave a jerk at the throttle—and the 1601 began to move.

The 'table wasn't set, and Paxley had no time for hesitation. More roughly than he had any wish to do it, he brushed Owsley's hand from the throttle and latched the throttle shut.

And then, quick as a cat, Owsley was on him.

It wasn't much of a fight—hardly a fight at all—Owsley, from three weeks on his back, was dropping weak. But Owsley snatched up a spanner that was lying on the seat, and smashed Paxley with it between the eyes. Paxley was a big man physically—and a bigger man still where it counts most and doesn't show—with the blood streaming down his face, and half blinded, regardless of the blows that Owsley still tried to rain upon him, he picked the engineer up in his arms like a baby, and with Brannigan, dropping off the gangway and helping, got Owsley to the ground.

Owsley hadn't been fit for excitement or exertion of that kind—for any kind of excitement or exertion. They took him back to his boarding house, and Doctor McTurk screwed his eyes up over him in the funny way he had when things looked critical, and Mrs. McCann nursed him daytimes, and Carleton and Regan and two or three others took turns sitting up with him nights—for a month. Then Owsley began to mend again, and began to talk of getting back on the Limited run with the 1601—always the 1601. And most times he talked pretty straight, too—as straight as any of the rest of them—only his memory seemed to keep that queer sort of haze over it—up to the time of the accident it seemed all right, but after that things blurred woefully.

Regan, Carleton and Doctor McTurk went into committee over it in the super's office one afternoon just before Owsley was out of bed again.

"What d'ye say—h'm? What d'ye say, doc?" demanded Regan.

Doctor McTurk, scientific and professional in every inch of his little body, lined his eyebrows up into a ferocious black streak across his forehead, and talked medicine in medical terms into the superintendent and the master mechanic for a good five minutes.

When he had finished, Carleton's brows were puckered, too, his face was a little blank, and he tapped the edge of his desk with the end of his pencil somewhat helplessly.

Regan tugged at both ends of his mustache and sputtered.

"What the blazes!" he growled. "Give it to us in plain railroading! Has he got rights through—or hasn't he? Does he get better—or does he not? H'm?"

"I don't know, I tell you!" retorted Doctor McTurk. "I don't know—and that's flat. I've told you why a minute ago. I don't know whether he'll ever be better in his head than he is now—otherwise he'll come around all right."

"Well, what's to be done?" inquired Carleton.

"He's got to work for a living, I suppose—eh?" Doctor McTurk answered. "And he can't run an engine any more on account of the colors, no matter what happens. That's the state of affairs, isn't it?"

Carleton didn't answer; Regan only mumbled under his breath.

"Well then," submitted Doctor McTurk, "the best thing for him, temporarily at least, to build him up, is fresh air and plenty of it. Give him a job somewhere out in the open."

Carleton's eyebrows went up. He looked across at Regan questioningly.

"He wouldn't take it," said Regan slowly. "There's nothing to anything for Owsley but the 1601."

"Wouldn't take it!" snapped the little doctor. "He's got to take it. And if you care half what you pretend you do for him, you've got to see that he does."

"How about construction work with McCann?" suggested Carleton. "He likes McCann, and he's lived at their place for years now."

"Just the thing!" declared Doctor McTurk heartily. "Couldn't be better."

Carleton looked at Regan again.

"You can handle him better than any one else, Tommy. Suppose you see what you can do? And speaking of the 1601, how would it do to tell him what's happened in the last month. Maybe he wouldn't think so much of her as he does now."

"No!" exclaimed Doctor McTurk quickly. "Don't you do it!"

"No," said Regan, shaking his head. "It would make him worse. He'd blame it on Paxley, and we'd have trouble on our hands before you could bat an eyelash."

"Yes; perhaps you're right," agreed Carleton. "Well, then, try him on the construction tack, Tommy."

And so Regan went that afternoon from the super's office over to Mrs. McCann's short-order house, and up to Owsley's room.

"Well, how's Jake to-day?" he inquired, in his bluff, cheery way, drawing a chair up beside the bed.

"I'm fine, Regan," said Owsley earnestly. "Fine! What day is this?"

"Thursday," Regan told him.

"Yes," said Owsley, "that's right—Thursday. Well, you can put me down to take the old 1601 out Monday night. I'm figuring to get back on the run Monday night, Regan."

Regan ran his hand through his short-cropped hair, twisted a little uneasily in his chair—and coughed to fill in the gap.

"I wouldn't be in a hurry about it, if I were you, Jake," he said. "In fact, that's what I came over to have a little talk with you about. We don't think you're strong enough yet for the cab."

"Who don't?" demanded Owsley antagonistically.

"The doctor and Carleton and myself—we were just speaking about it."

"Why ain't I?" demanded Owsley again.

"Why, good Lord, Jake," said Regan patiently, "you've been sick—dashed near two months. A man can't expect to get out of bed after a lay-off like that and start right in again before he gets his strength back. You know that as well as I do."

"Mabbe I do, and mabbe I don't," said Owsley, a little uncertainly. "How'm I going to get strong?"

"Well," replied Regan, "the doc says open-air work to build you up, and we were thinking you might like to put in a month, say, with Bill McCann up on the Elk River work—helping him boss Polacks, for instance."

Owsley didn't speak for a moment, he seemed to be puzzling something out; then, still in a puzzled way:

"And then what about after the month?"

"Why then," said Regan, "then"—he reached for his hip pocket and his plug, pulled out the plug, picked the heart-shaped tin tag off with his thumb nail, decided not to take a bite, and put the blackstrap back in his pocket again. "Why then," said he, "you'll—you ought to be all right again."

Owsley sat up in bed.

"You playing straight with me, Regan?" he asked slowly.

"Sure," said Regan gruffly. "Sure, I am."

Owsley passed his hand two or three times across his eyes.

"I don't quite seem to get the signals right on what's happened," he said. "I guess I've been pretty sick. I kind of had a feeling a minute ago that you were trying to side-track me, but if you say you ain't, I believe you. I ain't going to be side-tracked. When I quit for keeps, I quit in the cab with my boots on—no way else. I'll tell you something, Regan. When I go out, I'm going out with my hand on the throttle, same as it's been for more'n twenty years. And me and the old 1601, we're going out together—that's the way I want to go when the time comes—and that's the way I'm going. I've known it for a long time."

"How do you mean you've known it for a long time?" Regan swallowed a lump in his throat, as he asked the question—Owsley's mind seemed to be wandering a little.

"I dunno," said Owsley, and his hand crept to his head again. "I dunno—I just know." Then abruptly: "I got to get strong for the old 1601, ain't I? That's right. I'll go up there—only you give me your word I get the 1601 back after the month."

Regan's eyes, from the floor, lifted and met Owsley's steadily.

"You bet, Jake!" he said.

"Give me your hand on it," said Owsley happily.

And Regan gripped the engineer's hand.

Regan left the room a moment or two after that, and on his way downstairs he brushed the back of his hand across his eyes.

"What the hell!" he growled to himself. "I had to lie to him, didn't I?"

And so, on the Monday following, Owsley went up to the new Elk River road work, and—But just a moment, we've over-run our holding orders a bit, and we've got to back for the siding. The 1601 crosses us here.

Superstition is a queer thing, isn't it? Speaking generally, we look on it somewhat from the viewpoint of the old adage that all men are mortal save ourselves; that is, we can accept, with more or less tolerant condescension, the existence of superstition in others, and, with more or less tolerant condescension, put it down to ignorance—in others. But we're not superstitious ourselves, so we've got to have something better to go on than that, as far as the 1601 is concerned. Well, the 1601 was pretty badly shaken up that night in the spill at Elbow Bend, and when they overhauled her in the shops, while they made her look like new, perhaps they missed something down deep in her vitals in the doing of it; perhaps she was weakened and strained where they didn't know she was; perhaps they didn't get clean to the bottom of all her troubles; perhaps they made a bad job of a job that looked all right under the fresh paint and the gold leaf. There's nothing superstitious about that, is there? It's logical and reasonable enough to satisfy even the most hypercritical crank amongst us anti-superstitionists—isn't it?

But that doesn't go in the cabs, and the roundhouses, and the section shanties on the Hill Division. You could talk and reason out there along that line until you were blue in the face from shortness of breath, and they'd listen to you while they wiped their hands on a hunk of waste—they'd listen, but they've got their own notions.

It was the night at Elbow Bend that Owsley and the 1601 together first went wrong; and both went into hospital together and came out together to the day—the 1601 for her old run through the mountains, and Owsley with no other idea in life possessing his sick brain than to make the run with her. Owsley had a relapse that day—and that day, twenty miles west of Big Cloud, the 1601 blew her cylinder head off. And from then on, while Owsley lay in bed again at Mrs. McCann's, the 1601, when she wasn't in the shops from an endless series of mishaps, was turning the hair gray on a despatcher or two, and had got most of Paxley's nerve.

But what's the use of going into all the details—there was enough paper used up in the specification repair-sheets! Going slow up a grade and around a curve that was protected with ninety-pound guard-rails, her pony truck jumped the steel where a baby carriage would have held the right of way; she broke this, she broke that, she was always breaking something; and rare was the night that she didn't limp into division dragging the grumbling occupants of the mahogany sleepers after her with her schedule gone to smash. And then, finally, putting a clincher on it all, she ended up, when she was running fifty miles an hour, by shedding a driving wheel, and nearly killing Paxley as the rod ripped through and through, tearing the right-hand side of the cab into mangled wreckage—and that finished her for the Limited run. Do you recall that Owsley, too, was finished for the Limited run?

Superstition? You can figure it any way you like—they've got their own notions on the Hill Division.

When the 1601 came out of the shops again after that, the marks of authority's disapprobation were heavy upon her—the gold leaf of the passenger flyer was gone; the big figures on the tender were only yellow paint.

Regan scowled at her as they ran her into the yards.

"Damn her!" said Regan fervently; and then, as he thought of Owsley, he scowled deeper, and yanked at his mustache. "Say," said Regan heavily, "it's queer, ain't it? Blamed queer—h'm—when you come to think of it?"

And so, while the 1601, disfranchised, went to hauling extra freights, kind of a misfit doing spare jobs, anything that turned up, no regular run any more, Owsley, kind of a misfit, too, without any very definite duties, because there wasn't anything very definite they dared trust him with, went up on the Elk River work with Bill McCann, the husband of Mrs. McCann, who kept the short-order house.

Owsley told McCann, as he had told Regan, that he was only up there getting strong again for the 1601—and he went around on the construction work whistling and laughing like a schoolboy, and happy as a child—getting strong again for the 1601!

McCann couldn't see anything very much the matter with Owsley—except that Owsley was happy. He studied the letter Regan had sent him, and watched the engineer, and scratched at his bullet head, and blinked fast with his gray Irish eyes.

"Faith," said McCann, "it's them that's off their chumps—not Owsley. Hark to him singin' out there like a lark! An', bedad, ut's mesilf'll tell 'em so!'"

And he did. He wrote his opinion in concise, forceful, misspelled English on the back of a requisition slip, and sent it to Regan. Regan didn't say much—just choked up a little when he read it. McCann wasn't strong on diagnosis.

It was still early spring when Owsley went to the new loop they were building around the main line to tap a bit of the country south, and the chinook, blowing warm, had melted most of the snow, and the creeks, rivers and sluices were running full—the busiest time in all the year for the trackmen and section hands. It was a summer's job, the loop—if luck was with them—and the orders were to push the work, the steel was to be down before the snow flew again. That was the way it was put up to McCann when he first moved into construction camp, a short while before Owsley joined him.

"Then give me the stuff," said McCann. "Shoot the material along, an' don't lave me bitin' me finger nails for the want av ut—d'ye moind?"

So the Big Cloud yards, too, had orders—standing orders to rush out all material for the Elk River loop as fast as it came in from the East.

In a way, of course, that was how it happened—from the standing orders. It was just the kind of work the 1601 was hanging around waiting to do—the odd jobs—pulling the extras. Ordinarily, perhaps, somebody would have thought of it, and maybe they wouldn't have sent her out—maybe they would. You can't operate a railroad wholly on sentiment—and there were ten cars of steel and as many more of ties and conglomerate supplies helping to choke up the Big Cloud yards when they should have been where they were needed a whole lot more—in McCann's construction camp.

But there had been two days of bad weather in the mountains, two days of solid rain, track troubles, and troubles generally, and what with one thing and another, the motive-power department had been taxed to its limit. The first chance they got in a lull of pressure, not the storm, they sent the material west with the only spare engine that happened to be in the roundhouse at the time—the 1601—and never thought of Owsley. Regan might have, would have, if he had known it; but Regan didn't know it—then. Regan wasn't handling the operating.

Perhaps, after all, they needn't have been in a belated hurry that day—McCann and his foreigners had done nothing but hug their shanties and listen to the rain washing the ballast away for two days and a half, until, as it got dark on that particular day, barely a week after Owsley had come to the work, they listened, by way of variation, to the chime whistle of an engine that came ringing down with the wind.

McCann and Owsley shared a little shanty by themselves, and McCann was trying to initiate Owsley into the mysteries of that grand old game so dear to the hearts of Irishmen—the game of forty-five. But at the first sound of the whistle, the cards dropped from Owsley's hands, and he jumped to his feet.

"D'ye hear that! D'ye hear that!" he cried.

"An' fwhat av ut?" inquired McCann. "Ut'll be the material we'd be hung up for, if 'twere not for the storm."

Owsley leaned across the table, his head turned a little sideways in a curious listening attitude—leaned across the table and gripped McCann's shoulders.

"It's the 1601!" he whispered. He put his finger to his lips to caution silence, and with the other hand patted McCann's shoulder confidentially. "It's the 1601!" he whispered—and jumped for the door—out into the storm.

"For the love av Mike!" gasped McCann, staggering to his feet as the lamp flared up and out with the draft. "Now, fwhat the divil—from this, an' the misfortunate way he picks up forty-foive, mabbe, mabbe I was wrong, an' mabbe ut's queer after all, he is, an'——" McCann was still muttering to himself as he stumbled to the door.

There was no sign of Owsley—only a string of boxes and flats, backed down, and rattling and bumping to a halt on the temporary track a hundred yards away—then the joggling light of a trainman running through the murk and, evidently, hopping the engine pilot, for the light disappeared suddenly and McCann heard the locomotive moving off again.

McCann couldn't see the main line, or the little station they had erected there since the work began for the purpose of operating the construction trains, but he knew well enough what was going on. Off the main line, in lieu of a turntable and to facilitate matters generally, they had built a Y into the construction camp; and the work train, in from the East, had dropped its caboose on the main line between the arms of the Y, gone ahead, backed the flats and boxes down the west-end arm of the Y into the camp, left them there in front of him, and the engine, shooting off on the main line again, via the east-end arm of the Y, would be heading east, and had only to back up the main line and couple on the caboose for the return trip to Big Cloud—there were no empties to go back, he knew.

It was raining in torrents, pitilessly, and, over the gusts of wind, the thunder went racketing through the mountains like the discharge of heavy guns. McCann swore with sincerity as he gazed from the doorway, didn't like the look of it, and was minded to let Owsley go to the devil; but, instead, after getting into rubber boots, a rubber coat, and lighting a lantern, he put his head down to butt the storm, goat fashion, and started out.

"Me conscience 'ud not be clear av anything happened the man," communed McCann, as he battered and sloshed his way along. "'Tis wan hell av a night!"

McCann lost some time. He could have made a short cut over to the main line and the station; but, instead, thinking Owsley might have run up the track beside the camp toward the front-end of the construction train and the engine, he kept along past the string of cars. There was no Owsley; and the only result he obtained from shouting at the top of his lungs was to have the wind slap his voice back in his teeth. McCann headed then for the station. He took the west-end arm of the Y, that being the nearer to his destination. Halfway across, he heard the engine backing up on the main line, and, a moment later, saw her headlight and the red tail lights of the caboose as she coupled on.

Of course, it was against the rules—but rules are broken sometimes, aren't they? It was a wicked night, and the station, diminutive and makeshift as it was, looked mighty hospitable and inviting by comparison. The engine crew, Matt Duggan and Greene, his fireman, thought it sized up better while they were waiting for orders than the cab of the 1601 did, and they didn't see why the train crew, MacGonigle, the conductor, and his two brakemen, should have any the better of it—so they left their engine and crowded into the station, too.

There wasn't much room left for McCann when he came in like an animated shower bath. He heard Merle, the young operator—they'd probably been guying him—snap at MacGonigle:

"I ain't got any orders for you yet, but you'd better get into the clear on the Y—the Limited, east, is due in four minutes."

"Say!" panted McCann. "Say——" and that was as far as he got. Matt Duggan, making a wild dash for the door, knocked the rest of his breath out of him.

And after Duggan, in a mad and concerted rush, sweeping McCann along with it, the others burst through the door and out on the platform, as, volleying through the storm, came suddenly the quick, staccato bark of engine exhaust.

For a moment, huddled there, trying to get the rights of it, no one spoke—then it came in a yell from Matt Duggan.

"She's gone!" he screamed—and gulped for his breath. "She's gone!"

McCann looked, and blinked, and shook the rain out of his face. Two hundred yards east down the track, and disappearing fast, were the twinkling red tail lights of the caboose.

"By the tokens av all the saints," stammered McCann.

"Ut's—ut's——" He grabbed at Matt Duggan. "Fwhat engine is ut?"

It was MacGonigle who answered, as they crowded back inside again for shelter—and answered quick, getting McCann's dropped jaw.

"The 1601. What's wrong with you, McCann?"

"Holy Mither!" stuttered McCann miserably. "That settles ut! Ut's Owsley! 'Twas the whistle, d'ye moind—the whistle!"

Merle, young and hysterical, was up in the air.

"The Limited! The Limited!" he burst out, white-faced. "There ain't three minutes between them! She's coming now!"

MacGonigle, grizzled old veteran, cool in any emergency, whirled on the younger man.

"Then stop her!" he drawled. "Don't make a fool of yourself! Show your red and hold her here until you get Big Cloud on the wire—they're both running the same way, aren't they, you blamed idiot! Everything's out of the road far enough east of here on account of the Limited to give 'em time at headquarters to take care of things. Let 'em have it at Big Cloud."

And Big Cloud got it. Spence, the despatcher, on the early night trick, got it—and Carleton and Regan, at their homes, got it in a hurried call from Spence over their private keys, that brought them running to headquarters.

"I've cleared the line," said Spence. "The Limited is holding at Elk River till Brook's Cut reports Owsley through—then she's to trail along."

Carleton nodded, and took a chair beside the despatcher's table. Regan, as ever with him in times of stress, tugged at his mustache, and paced up and down the room.

He stepped once in front of Carleton and laughed shortly—and there was more in his words, a whole lot more, than he realized then.

"The Lord knows where he'll stop now with the bit in his teeth, but suppose he'd been heading the other way into the Limited—h'm! Head-on—instead of just tying up all the blamed traffic between here and the Elk—what? We can thank God for that!"

Carleton didn't answer, except by another nod. He was listening to Spence at the key, asking Brook's Cut why they didn't report Owsley through.

The rain rattled at the window panes, and the sashes shook under the gusts of wind; out in the yards below the switch lights showed blurred and indistinct. Regan paced the room more and more impatiently. Carleton's face began to go hard. Spence hung tensely over the table, his fingers on the key, waiting for the sounder to break, waiting for the Brook's Cut call.

It was only seven miles from Elk River, where the stalled passengers of the Limited—will you remember this?—grumbled and complained, pettish in their discontent at the delay, only seven miles from there to Brook's Cut, the first station east—only seven miles, but the minutes passed, and still Brook's Cut answered: "No." And Carleton's face grew harder still, and Regan swore deep down under his breath from a full heart, and Spence grew white and rigid in his chair. And so they waited there, waited with the sense of disaster growing cold upon them—waited—but Brook's Cut never reported Owsley "in" or "out" that night.

Owsley? Who knows what was in the poor, warped brain that night? He had heard her call to him, and they had brought him back the 1601, and she was standing there, alone, deserted—and she had called to him. Who knows what was in his mind, as, together, he and the 1601 went tearing through that black, storm-rent night, when the rivers, and the creeks, and the sluices were running full, and the Elk River, that paralleled the right of way for a mile or two to the crossing, was a raging torrent? Who knows if he ever heard the thundering crash with which the Elk River bridge went out? Who knows, as he swung the curve that opened the bridge approach, without time for any man, Owsley or another, to have stopped, if the headlight playing on the surge of maddened waters meant anything to him? Who knows? That was where they found them, beneath the waters, Owsley and the 1601—and Owsley was smiling, his hand tight-gripped upon the throttle that he loved.

"I dunno," says Regan, when he speaks of Owsley, "if the mountains out here have anything to do with making a man think harder. I dunno—sometimes I think they do. You get to figuring that the Grand Master mabbe goes a long way back, years and years, to work things out—if it hadn't been for Owsley the Limited would have gone into the Elk that night with every soul on board. Owsley? That's the way he wanted to go out, wasn't it?—with the 1601. Mabbe the Grand Master thought of him, too."

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