Opinions, right or wrong, on any subject are a matter of individuality—there have been different opinions about Flannagan on the Hill Division. But the story is straight enough—from car-tink to superintendent, there has never been any difference of opinion about that.

Flannagan was the wrecking boss.

Tommy Regan said the job fitted Flannagan, for it took a hard man for the job, and Flannagan, bar none, was the hardest man on the payroll; hardest at crooking elbows in MacGuire's Blazing Star Saloon, hardest with his fists, and hardest of all when it came to getting at the heart of some scalding, mangled horror of death and ruin that a man wouldn't be called a coward to turn from—sick.

Flannagan looked it. He stood six feet one in his stockings, and his chest and shoulders were like the front-end view you'd get looking at a sturdy, well-grown ox. He wasn't pretty. His face was scarred with cuts and burns enough to stall any German duelling student on a siding till the rails rusted, and the beard he grew to hide these multitudinous disfigurements just naturally came out in tussocks; he had black eyes that could go coal black and lose their pupils, and a shock of black hair that fell into them half the time; also, he had a tongue that wasn't elegant. That was Flannagan—Flannagan, the wrecking boss.

There's no accounting for the way some things come about—and it's pretty hard to call the turn of the card when Dame Fortune deals the bank. It's a trite enough saying that it is the unexpected that happens in life, but the reason it's trite is because it's immeasurably true. Flannagan growled and swore and cursed one night, coming back from a bit of a spill up the line, because they stalled him and his wrecking outfit for an hour about half a mile west of Big Cloud—the reason being that, like the straw that broke the camel's back, a circus train in from the East, billed for a three days' lay-off at Big Cloud, had, seeking siding, temporarily choked the yards, already glutted with traffic, until the mix-up Gleeson, the yardmaster, had to wrestle with would have put a problem in differential calculus into the kindergarten class.

Flannagan was very dirty, and withal very tired, and when, finally, they gave him the "clear" and his flat and caboose and his staggering derrick rumbled sullenly down toward the roundhouse and shops, the sight of gilded cages, gaudily decorated cars, and converted Pullmans that were second-class-tourist equipment painted white, did not assuage his feelings; neither was there enchantment for him in the roars of multifarious beasts, nor in the hybrid smells that assailed his nostrils from the general direction of the menagerie. Flannagan, for an hour's loss of sleep, with heartiness and abandon, consigned that particular circus, also all others and everything thereunto pertaining, from fangless serpents to steam calliopes, to regions that are popularly credited with being somewhat warmer than the torrid zone on the hottest day in mid-summer. But then—Flannagan did not know.

Opinions differ. Flannagan was about the last man on earth that any one on the Hill Division would have picked out for a marrying man; and, equally true the other way round, about the last man they would have picked out as one a pretty girl would want to marry. With her, maybe, it was the strength of the man, since they say that comes first with women; with him, maybe, it was just the trim little brown-eyed, brown-haired figure that could ride with the grace of a fairy. Anyway, the only thing about it that didn't surprise any one was the fact that, when it came, it came as sudden and quick as a head-on smash around a ninety-degree curve. That was Flannagan's way, for Flannagan, if he was nothing else, was impulsive.

That night Flannagan cursed the circus; the next day he saw Daisy MacQueen riding in the street parade and—but this isn't the story of Flannagan's courtship, not but that the courtship of any man like Flannagan would be worth the telling—only there are other things.

At first, Big Cloud winked and chuckled slyly to itself; and then, when the circus left and Flannagan got a week off and left with it, it guffawed outright—but when, at the end of that week, Flannagan brought back Mrs. Flannagan, née Daisy MacQueen, Big Cloud stuck its tongue in its cheek, wagged its head and waited developments.

This is the story of the developments.

Maybe that same impulsiveness of Flannagan's, that could be blind and bullheaded, coupled with a passion that was like a devil's when aroused, was to blame; maybe the women of Big Cloud, following the lead of Mrs. MacAloon, the engineer's wife and the leader of society circles, who shook her fiery red head and turned up her Celtic nose disdainfully at Daisy MacQueen, had something to do with it; maybe Daisy herself had a little pride—but what's the use of speculating? It all goes back to the same beginning—opinions differ.

Tongues wagged; Flannagan listened—that's the gist of it. But, once for all, let it be said and understood that Daisy MacQueen was as straight as they make them. She hadn't been brought up the way Mrs. MacAloon and her coterie had, and she liked to laugh, liked to play, liked to live, and not exist in a humdrum way ever over washtubs and a cook stove—though, all credit to her who hadn't been used to them, she never shirked one nor the other. The women's ideas about circuses and circus performers were, putting it mildly, puritanical; but the men liked Daisy MacQueen—and took no pains to hide it. They clustered around her, and, before long, she ruled them all imperially with a nod of her pretty head; and, as a result, the women's ideas from puritanical became more so—which is human nature, Big Cloud or anywhere else.

At first, Flannagan was proud of the little wife he had brought to Big Cloud—proud of her for the very attitude adopted toward her by his mates; but, as the months went by, gradually the wagging tongues got in their work, gradually Flannagan began to listen, and the jealousy that was his by nature above the jealousy of most men commenced to smolder into flame. Just a rankling jealousy, directed against no one in particular—just jealousy. Things up at the little house off Main Street where the Flannagans lived weren't as harmonious as they had been.

In the beginning, Daisy, not treating the matter seriously, answered Flannagan with a laugh; finally, she answered him not at all. And that stage, unfortunately far from unique in other homes than Flannagan's the world over, was reached where only some one act, word or deed was needed to bring matters to a head.

Perhaps, after all, there was poetic justice in Flannagan's cursing of the circus, for it was the circus that supplied that one thing needed. Not that the circus came back to town—it didn't—but a certain round, little, ferret-eyed, short, pompadour-haired, waxed-mustached, perfumed Signor Ferraringi, the ringmaster, did.

Ferraringi was a scoundrel—what he got he deserved, there was never any doubt about that; but that night Flannagan, when he walked into the house, saw only Ferraringi on his knees before Daisy, heard only impassioned, flowery words, and, in the blind fury that transformed him from man to beast, the scorn, contempt and horror in Daisy's eyes, the significance of the rigid little figure with tight-clenched hands, was lost. Ferraringi had been in love with Daisy. Flannagan knew that, and his seething brain remembered that. The circus people had told him so; Daisy had told him so; Ferraringi had told him so with a snarl and a threat—and he had laughed—then.

One instant Flannagan hung upon the threshold. He was not a pretty sight. Back from a wreck, he was still in his overalls, and these were smeared with blood—four carloads of steers had gone into premature shambles in the ditch. One instant Flannagan hung there, his face working convulsively—and then he jumped. His left hand locked into the collar of the ringmaster's coat, his arm straightened like the tautening chains of his own derrick crane, and, as the other came off his knees and upright from the yank, Flannagan's right swung a terrific full-arm smash that, landing a little above the jaw, plastered one side of that tonsorial work of art, the waxed and curled mustache, flat into Ferraringi's cheek.

Ferraringi's answer, as he wriggled free, was a torrent of malediction—and a blinding flash. Daisy screamed. The shot missed, but the powder singed Flannagan's face.

It was the only shot that Ferraringi fired! With a roar, high-pitched like the maddened trumpeting of an elephant amuck, Flannagan with a single blow sent the revolver sailing ceiling high—then his arms, like steel piston rods, worked in and out, and his fists drummed an awful, merciless tattoo upon the ringmaster.

The smoke from the shot filled the room with pungent odor. Chairs and furniture, overturned, broken, crashed to the floor. Daisy, wild-eyed, with parted lips, dumb with terror, crouched against the wall, her hands clasped to her breast—but before Flannagan's eyes all was red—red.

A battered, bruised, reeling, staggering form before him curled up suddenly and slid in a heap at his feet. Flannagan, with groping hands and twitching fingers, reached for it—and then, with a rush, other forms, many of them, came between him and what was on the floor.

It was very good for Ferraringi, very good, for that was all that saved him—Flannagan was seeing only red.

The neighbors lifted the stunned ringmaster, limp as rags, to his feet. Flannagan brushed his great fist once across his eyes in a half-dazed way, and glared at the roomful of people. Suddenly, he heaved forward, pushing those nearest him violently toward the door.

"Get out of here!" he bellowed hoarsely. "Get out, curse you, d'ye hear! Get out!"

There were men in that little crowd, men besides the three or four women, Mrs. MacAloon amongst them; men not reckoned overfaint of spirit in Big Cloud by those who knew, but they knew Flannagan, and they went—went, half carrying, half dragging the ringmaster, oiled and perfumed now in a fashion grimly different than before.

"Get out!" roared Flannagan again to hurry them, and, as the last one disappeared, he whirled on Daisy. "And you, too!" he snarled. "Get out!"

Terrified, shaken by the scene as she was, his words, their implication, their injustice, whipped her into scorn and anger. White-lipped, she stared at him for an instant.

"You dare," she burst out, "you dare to——"

"Get out!" Flannagan's voice in his passion was a thick, stumbling, guttural whisper. "Get out! Go back to your circus—go where you like! Get out!" His hand dove into his pocket, and its contents, bills and coins, what there was of them, he flung upon the table. "Get out—as far as all I've got will take you!"

Daisy MacQueen was proud—perhaps, though, not above the pride of other women. The blood was hot in her cheeks; her big, brown eyes had a light in them near to that light with which she had faced Ferraringi but a short time before; her breath came in short, hard, little gasps. For a full minute she did not speak—and then the words came cold as death.

"Some day—some day, Michael Flannagan, you'll get what you deserve."

"That's what I'm gettin' now—what I deserve," he flung back; then, halting in the doorway: "You understand, eh? Get out! I'm lettin' you down easy. Get out of Big Cloud! Get out before I'm back. Number Fifteen 'll be in in an hour—you'd better take her."

Flannagan stepped out on the street. A curious little group had collected two houses down in front of Mrs. MacAloon's. Flannagan glanced at them, muttered a curse; and then, head down between his shoulders, clenched fists rammed in his pockets, he headed in the other direction toward Main Street. Five minutes later, he pushed the swinging doors of the Blazing Star open, and walked down the length of the room to where Pete MacGuire, the proprietor, lounged across the bar.

"Pete"—he jerked out his words hoarsely—"next Tuesday's pay day—is my face good till then?"

MacGuire looked at him curiously. The news of the fracas had not yet reached the Blazing Star.

"Why, sure," said he. "Sure it is, Flannagan, if you want it. What's——"

"Then let 'em come my way," Flannagan rapped out, with a savage laugh; "an' let 'em come—fast."

Flannagan was the wrecking boss. A hard man, Regan had called him, and he was—a product of the wild, rough, pioneering life, one of those men who had followed the grim-faced, bearded corps of engineers as they pitted their strength against the sullen gray of the mighty Rockies from the eastern foothills to the plains of the Sierras, fighting every inch of their way with indomitable perseverance and daring over chasms and gorges, through tunnels and cuts, in curves and levels and grades, against obstacles that tried their souls, against death itself, taping the thin steel lines they left behind them with their own blood. Hard? Yes, Flannagan was hard. Un-cultured, rough, primal, he undoubtedly was. A brute man, perhaps, full of the elemental—fiery, hot-headed, his passions alone swayed him. That side of Flannagan, the years, in the very environment in which he had lived them, had developed to the full—the other side had been untouched. What Flannagan did that night another might not have done—or he might. The judging of men is a grave business best let alone.

Flannagan let go his hold then; not at once, but gradually. That night spent in the Blazing Star was the first of others, others that followed insidiously, each closer upon the former's heels. Daisy had gone—had gone that night—where, he did not know, and told himself he did not care. He grew moody, sullen, uncompanionable. Big Cloud took sides—the women for Flannagan; the men for the wife. Flannagan hated the women, avoided the men—and went to the Blazing Star.

There was only one result—the inevitable one. Regan, kindly for all his gruffness, understanding in a way, stood between Flannagan and the super and warned Flannagan oftener than most men were warned on the Hill Division. Nor were his warnings altogether without effect. Flannagan would steady up—temporarily—maybe for a week—than off again. Steady up just long enough to keep putting off and postponing the final reckoning. And then one day, some six months after Daisy Flannagan had gone away, the master mechanic warned him for the last time.

"I'm through with you, Flannagan," he said. "Understand that? I'm out from under, and next time you'll talk to Carleton—and what he'll have to say won't take long—about two seconds. You know Carleton, don't you? Well, then—what?"

It was just a week to a day after that that Flannagan cut loose and wild again. He made a night and a day of it, and then another. After that, though by that time Flannagan was quite unaware of the fact, some of the boys got him home, dumped him on his bed and left him to his reflections—which were a blank.

Flannagan slept it off, and it took about eighteen hours to do it. When he came to himself he was in a humor that, far from being happy, was atrocious; likewise, there were bodily ailments—Flannagan's head was bad, and felt as though a gang of boiler-makers, working against time, were driving rivets in it. He procured himself a bracer and went back to bed. This resulted in a decidedly improved physical condition, but when he arose late in the afternoon any improvement there might have been in his mental state was speedily dissipated—Flannagan found a letter shoved under his door, postmarked the day before, and with it an official manila envelope from the super's office.

He opened the letter and read it—read it again while his jaws worked and the red surged in a passion into his face; then, with an oath, he tore it savagely into shreds, flung the bits on the floor and stamped upon them viciously with his heavy nail-heeled boot.

The official manila he did not open at all. A guess was enough for that—a curt request to present himself in the super's office, probably. Flannagan glared at it, then grabbed his hat, and started down for the station. There was no idea of shirking it; Flannagan wasn't that kind at any time, and just now his mood, if anything, spurred him on rather than held him back. Flannagan welcomed the prospect of a row about anything with anybody at that moment—if only a war of words.

Carleton's office was upstairs over the ticket office and next to the despatchers' room then, for the station did duty for headquarters and everything else—not now, it's changed now, and there's a rather imposing gray-stone structure where the old wooden shack used to be; but, no matter, that's the way it was then, for those were the early days when the road was young and in the making.

Flannagan reached the station, climbed the stairs, and pushed Carleton's door open with little ceremony.

"You want to see me?" he demanded gruffly, as he stepped inside.

Carleton, sitting at his desk, looked up and eyed the wrecking boss coolly for a minute.

"No, Flannagan," he said curtly. "I don't."

"Then what in blazes d'ye send for me for?" Flannagan flung out in a growl.

"See here, Flannagan," snapped Carleton, "I've no time to talk to you. You can read, can't you? You're out!"

Flannagan blinked.

"Was that what was in the letter?"

"It was—just that," said Carleton grimly.

"Hell!" Flannagan's short laugh held a jeering note of contempt. "I didn't open it—or mabbe I'd have known, eh?"

Carleton's eyes narrowed.

"Well, you know now, don't you?"

"Sure!" Flannagan scowled and licked his lips. "I'm out, thrown out, and——"

"Then, get out!" Carleton cut in sharply. "You've had more chances than any man ever got before from me, thanks to Regan; but you've had your last, and talking won't do you any good now."

Flannagan stepped nearer to the desk.

"Talkin'! Who's talkin'?" he flared in sudden bravado. "Didn't I tell you I didn't read your damned letter? Didn't I, eh, didn't I? D'ye think I'd crawl to you or any man for a job? I'm out, am I? D'ye think I came down to ask you to take me back? I'd see you rot first! T'hell with the job—see!"

Few men on the Hill Division ever saw Carleton lose his temper—it wasn't Carleton's way of doing things. He didn't lose it now, but his words were like trickling drops of ice water.

"Sometimes, Flannagan," he said, "to make a man like you understand one has to use your language. You say you'd see me rot before you asked me for the job back again—very well. I'd rot before I gave it to you after this. Now, will you get out—or be thrown out?"

For a moment it looked as though Flannagan was going to mix it there and then. His eyes went ugly, and his fists, horny and gnarled, doubled into knots, as he glared viciously at the super.

Carleton, who was afraid of no man, or any aggregation of men, his face stern-set and hard, leaned back in his swivel chair and waited.

A tense minute passed. Then Flannagan's better sense weighed down the balance, and, without so much as a word, he turned, went out of the room, and stamped heavily down the stairs.

Goaded into it, or through unbridled, ill-advised impulse, men say rash things sometimes—afterward, both Flannagan and Carleton were to remember their own and the other's words—and the futility of them. Nor was it to be long afterward—without warning, without so much as a premonition, quick and sudden as doom, things happen in railroading.

It was half past five when Flannagan went out of the super's office; it was but ten minutes later when, before he had decanted a drop from the bottle he had just lifted to fill his glass, he slapped the bottle back on the bar of the Blazing Star with a sudden jerk. From down the street in the direction of the yards boomed three long blasts from the shop whistle—the wrecking signal. It came again and again. Men around him began to move. Chairs from the little tables were pushed hurriedly back. The bell in the English chapel took up the alarm. It stirred the blood in Flannagan's veins, and whipped it to his cheeks in fierce excitement—it was the call to arms!

He turned from the bar—and stopped like a man stunned. There had been times in the last six months when he had not responded to that call, because, deaf to everything, he had not heard it. Then, it had been his call—the call for the wrecking crew, and, first of all, for the wrecking boss; now—there was a dazed look on his face, and his lips worked queerly. It was not for him, he was barred—out.

Slowly he turned back to the bar, rested his foot on the rail, and, with a mirthless laugh and a shrug of his shoulders, reached for the bottle again. He poured the whisky glass full to the brim—and laughed once more and shrugged his shoulders as his fingers curled around it. He raised the glass—and held it poised halfway to his lips.

Quick-running steps came up the street, the swinging doors of the Blazing Star burst open and a call boy shoved in his head.

"Wreckers out! Wreckers out!" he bawled. "Number Eighty's gone to glory in Spider Cut. Everybody's killed"—and he was gone, a grimy-faced harbinger of death and disaster; gone, speeding with his summons to wherever men were gathered throughout the little town.

An instant Flannagan stood motionless as one transformed from flesh to sculptured clay—then the glass slid from his fingers and crashed into tinkling splinters on the floor. The liquor splashed his boots. Number Eighty was the eastbound Coast Express! Like one who moves in unknown places through the dark, so, then, Flannagan moved toward the door. Men looked at him in amazement, and stood aside to let him pass. Something was tugging at his heart, beating at his brain, impelling him forward; a force irresistible, that, in its first, sudden, overwhelming surge he could not understand, could not grasp, could not focus into concrete form—could only obey.

He passed out through the doors, and then for the first time a cry rang from his lips. There were no halting, stumbling, uncertain steps now. Men running down the street called to Flannagan as he sped past them. Flannagan made no answer, did not look their way; his face, strained and full of dumb anguish, was set toward the station.

He gained the platform and raced along it. Shouts came from across the yards. Up and down the spurs fluttered the fore-shortened little yard engine, coughing sparks and wheezing from her exhaust as she bustled the wrecking train together; lamps swung and twinkled like fireflies, for it was just opening spring and the dark fell early; and in front of the roundhouse, the 1014, blowing hard from her safety under a full head of steam, like a thoroughbred that scents the race, was already on the table.

With a heave of his great shoulders and a sweep of his arms, Flannagan won through the group of trainmen, shop hands, and loungers clustered around the door, and took the stairs four at a leap.

A light burned in the super's office, but the voices came from the despatchers' room. And there in the doorway Flannagan halted—halted just for a second's pause while his eyes swept the scene before him.

Regan, the master mechanic, by the window, was mouthing curses under his breath as men do in times of stress; Spence, the despatcher, white-faced, the hair straggling into his eyes, was leaning over the key under the green-shaded lamp, over the key clearing the line while the sounder clicked in his ears of ruin and of lives gone out. Harvey, the division engineer, was there, pulling savagely at a brier with empty bowl. And at the despatcher's elbow stood Carleton, a grim commander, facing tidings of disaster, his shoulders braced and bent a little forward as though to take the blow, his jaws clamped tight till the lips, compressed, were bloodless, and the chiselled lines on his face told of the bitterness in his heart.

Then Flannagan stepped forward.

"Carleton," he cried, and his words came like panting sobs, "Carleton, give me back my job."

It was no place for Flannagan.

Carleton's cup was already full to overflowing, and he swung on Flannagan like a flash. His hand lifted and pointed to the door.

"Get out of here!" he said between his teeth.

"Carleton," cried Flannagan again, and his arms went out in supplication toward the super, "Carleton, give me back my job—give it back to me for to-night—just for to-night."

"No!" the single word came from Carleton's lips like a thunder clap.

Flannagan shivered a little and shrank back.

"Just for to-night," he mumbled hoarsely. "Just for——"

"No!" Carleton's voice rang hard as flint. "I tell you, no! Get out of here!"

Harvey moved suddenly, threateningly, toward Flannagan—and, as suddenly, Flannagan, roused by the act, brushed the division engineer aside like a plaything, sprang forward, and, with a quick, fierce grip, caught Carleton's arms and pinioned them, vise-like, to his sides.

"And I tell you, yes!" his voice rose dominant with the power, the will that shook him now to the depths of his turbulent soul. As a man who knows no law, no obstacle, no restraint, as a man who would batter down the gates of hell itself to gain his end, so then was Flannagan. "I tell you, yes! I tell you, yes! My wife and baby's in that wreck to-night?"

Turmoil, shouts, the short, quick intermittent hiss of steam as the 1014, her cylinder cocks open, backed down to the platform, the clash of coupling cars, a jumbled medley of sounds, floated up from the yard without—but within the little room, the chattering sounder for the moment stilled, there fell a silence as of death, and no man among them moved or spoke.

Flannagan, gray-faced, gasping, his mighty grip still on Carleton, his head thrown forward close to the other's, stared into the super's face—and, for a long minute, in the twitching muscles of the big wrecker's face, in the look that man reads seldom in his fellows' eyes, Carleton drew the fearful picture, lived the awful story that the babbling wire had told. "Royal" Carleton, square man and big of heart, his voice broke.

"God help you, Flannagan—go."

No word came from Flannagan's lips—only a queer choking sound, as his hands dropped to his sides—only a queer choking sound, as he turned suddenly and jumped for the door.

On the stairs, Dorsay, the driver of the 1014, coming up for his orders, passed Flannagan.

"Bad spill, I hear," growled the engineer, as he went by. "The five hundred and five's pony truck jumped the rails on the lower curve and everything's in the ditch. Old Burke's gone out and a heap of the passengers with him. I——"

Flannagan heard no more—he was on the platform now. Coupled behind the derrick crane and the tool car were two coaches, improvised ambulances, and into these latter, instead of the tool car, the men of the wrecking gang were piling—a bad smash brought luxury for them. Shouts, cries, hubbub, a babel of voices were around him, but in his brain, repeated and repeated over and over again, lived only a phrase from the letter he had torn to pieces, stamped under heel that afternoon—the words were swimming before his eyes: "Michael, dear, we've both been wrong; I'm bringing baby back on the Coast Express Friday night."

Men with little black bags brushed by him and tumbled into the rear coach—the doctors of Big Cloud to the last one of them. Dorsay came running from the station, a bit of tissue, his orders, fluttering in his hand, and sprang for the cab. 1014's exhaust burst suddenly into quick, deafening explosions, the sparks shot volleying heavenward from her short stack, the big, whirling drivers were beginning to bite—and then, through the gangway, after the engineer, into the cab swung Flannagan—Flannagan, the wrecking boss.

Spider Cut is the Eastern gateway of the Rockies, and it lies, as the crows fly, sixteen miles west of Big Cloud; but the right of way, as it twists and turns, circling and dodging the buttes that grow from mounds to foothills, makes it on the blue-prints twenty-one decimal seven. The running time of the fast fliers on this stretch is—but what of that? Dorsay that night smashed all records, and the medical men in the rear coach tell to this day how they clung for life and limb to their seats and to each other, and most of them will admit—which is admitting much—that they were frightened, white-lipped men with broken nerves.

As the wreck special, with a clash and clatter, shattered over the switches in the upper yard and nosed the main line, Stan Willard, who had the shovel end of it, with a snatch at the chain swung open the furnace door and a red glow lighted up the heavens. Dorsay turned in his seat and looked at the giant form of the wrecking boss behind him—they had told him the story in the office.

The eyes of the two men met. Flannagan's lips moved dumbly; and, with a curious, pleading motion, he gestured toward the throttle.

Dorsay opened another notch. He laughed a grim, hard laugh.

"I know," he shouted over the roar. "I know. Leave it to me, Flannagan."

The bark of the exhaust came quicker and quicker, swelled and rose into the full, deep-toned thunder of a single note. Notch by notch, Dorsay opened out the 1014, notch by notch, and the big mountain racer, answering like a mettlesome steed to the touch of the whip, leapt forward, ever faster, into the night.

Now the headlight played on shining steel ahead; now suddenly threw a path of light across the short, yellow stubble of a rising butte, and Dorsay checked grudgingly for an instant as they swung the curve—just for an instant—then into the straight again, with wide-flung throttle.

It was mad work, and in that reeling, dizzy cab no man spoke. The sweep of the singing wind, the wild tattoo of beating trucks, the sullen whir of flying drivers was in their ears; while behind, the derrick crane, the tool car and the coaches writhed and wriggled, swayed and lurched, tearing at their couplings, bouncing on their trucks, jerking viciously as each slue took up the axle play, rolling, pitching crazily like cockleshells tossed on an angry sea.

Now they tore through a cut, and the walls took up the deafening roar and echoed and reëchoed it back in volume a thousandfold; now into the open, and the sudden contrast was like the gasping breath of an imprisoned thing escaped; now over culverts, trestles, spans, hollow, reverberating—the speed was terrific.

Over his levers, bounding on his seat, Dorsay, tense and strained, leaned far forward following the leaping headlight's glare; while staggering like a drunken man to keep his balance, the sweat standing out in glistening beads upon his grimy face, Stan Willard watched the flickering needle on the gauge, and his shovel clanged and swung; and in the corner, back of Dorsay, bent low to brace himself, thrown backward and forward with every lurch, in the fantastic, dancing light like some tigerish, outraged animal crouched to spring, Flannagan, with head drawn into his shoulders, jaws outthrust, stared over the engineer's back, stared with never a look to right or left, stared through the cab glass to the right of way ahead—stared toward Spider Cut.

Again and again, with sickening, giddy shock, wheel-base lifted from the swing, the 1014 struck the tangents, hung a breathless space, and, with a screech of crunching flanges, found the rails once more.

Again and again—but the story of that ride is the doctors' story—they tell it best. Dorsay made the run that night from Big Cloud to Spider Cut, twenty-one point seven miles, in nineteen minutes.

There have been bad spills on the Hill Division, bad spills—but there have never been worse than on that Friday night when the 505 jumped the rails at the foot of the curve coming down the grade just east of Spider Cut, shot over the embankment and piled the Coast Express, mahogany sleepers and all, into splintered wreckage forty feet below the right of way.

As Dorsay checked and with screaming brake-shoes the 1014 slowed, Flannagan, with a wild cry, leaped from the cab and dashed up the track ahead of the still-moving pilot. It was light enough—the cars of the wreck nearest him, the mail and baggage cars, had caught, and, fanned by the wind into yellow flames, were blazing like a huge bonfire. Shouts arose from below; cries, anguished, piercing, from those imprisoned in the wreck; figures, those of the crew and passengers who had made their escape, were moving hither and thither, working as best they might, pulling others through shattered windows and up-canted doors, laying those who were past all knowing beside the long row of silent forms already tenderly stretched upon the edge of the embankment.

A man, with face cut and bleeding, came running toward Flannagan. It was Kingsley, conductor of Number Eighty. Flannagan jumped for him, grasped him by the shoulders and stared without a word into his face.

But Kingsley shook his head.

"I don't know, Flannagan," he choked. "She was in the first-class just ahead of the Pullmans. There's—there's no one come out of that car yet"—he turned away his head—"we couldn't get to it."

"Couldn't get to it"—Flannagan's lips repeated the phrase mechanically. Then he looked—and understood the grim significance of the words. He laughed suddenly, jarring hoarse, as it is not good to hear men laugh—and with that laugh Flannagan went into the fight.

The details of that night no one man knows. There in the shadow of the gray-walled Rockies, men, flint-hearted, calloused, rough and ready though they were, sobbed as they toiled; and while the derrick tackles creaked and moaned, axe and pick and bar swung and crashed and tore through splintering glass and ripping timber.

What men could do they did—and through the hours Flannagan led them. Tough, grizzled men, more than one dropped from sheer weariness; but ever Flannagan's great arms rose and fell, ever his mighty shoulders heaved, ever he led them on. What men could do they did—but it was graying dawn before they opened a way to the heart of the wreck—the first-class coach that once ahead of the Pullmans was under them now.

Flannagan, gaunt, burned and bleeding, a madman with reeling brain, staggered toward the jagged hole that they had torn in the flooring of the car. They tried to hold him back, the man who had spurred them through the night alternately with lashing curse and piteous prayer, the man who had worked with demon strength as no three men among them had worked, the man who was tottering now at the end in mind and body, they tried to hold him back—for mercy's sake. But Flannagan shook them off and went—went laughing again the same fearful laugh with which he had begun the fight.

He found her there—found her with a little bundle lying in the crook of her outstretched arm. She moaned and held it toward him—but Flannagan had gone his limit, his work was done, the tension broke.

And when they worked their way to the far end of the car after him, those hard, grim-visaged followers of Flannagan, they found a man squatted on an up-ended seat, a woman beside him, death and desolation and huddled shapes around him, dandling a tiny infant in his arms, crooning a lullaby through cracked lips, crooning a lullaby—to a little one long hushed already in its last sleep.

Opinions differ. But Big Cloud to-day sides about solid with Regan.

"Flannagan?" says the master mechanic. "Flannagan's a pretty good wrecking boss, pretty good, I don't know of any better—since the Almighty had him on the carpet. He's got a plot up on the butte behind the town, he and Daisy, with a little mound on it. They go up there together every Sunday—never've known 'em to miss. A man ain't likely to fall off the right of way again as long as he does that, is he? Well, then, forget it, he's been doing that for a year now—what?"

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