Maguire was a little, washed-out, kind of toil-bent hostler in the roundhouse—and he married old. How old? Nobody knew—not even old Bill himself—fifty something. Mrs. Maguire presented him with a son in due course, and the son's name was Patrick Burke Maguire—but the Hill Division, being both terse and graphic by nature and education, called him "Noodles."

Noodles wasn't even a pretty baby. Tommy Regan, who was roped in to line up at the baptismal font and act as godfather because old Bill was a boiler-washer in the roundhouse, which was reason enough for the big-hearted master mechanic, said that Noodles was the ugliest and most forbidding looking specimen of progeny he had ever seen outside a zoological garden. Of course, be it understood, Regan wasn't a family man, and god-fathering wasn't a job in Regan's line, so when he got outside the church and the perspiration had stopped trickling nervously down the small of his back and he'd got a piece of blackstrap clamped firmly home between his teeth, he told old Bill, by way of a grim sort of revenge for the unhappy position his good nature had led him into, that the offspring was the dead spit of its father—and he congratulated Noodles.

The irony, of course, was lost. The boiler-washer walked on air for a week. He told the roundhouse what Regan had said—and the roundhouse laughed. Bill thought the roundhouse thought he was lying, but that didn't dampen his spirits any. It wasn't everybody could get the master mechanic of the division to stand up with their kids! Everybody was happy—except Noodles. Noodles, just about then, developed colic.

Noodles got over the colic, got over the measles, the mumps, the whooping cough, and the scarlet fever—that may not have been the order of their coming or their going, but he got over them all. And when he was twelve he got over the smallpox; but he never got over his ugliness—the smallpox kind of put a stop-order on any lurking tendency there might have been in that direction. Also, when he was twelve, he got over all the schooling the boiler-washer's limited means would span, which wasn't a university course; and he started in railroading as a call boy.

There was nothing organically bad about Noodles, except his exterior—which wasn't his fault. One can't be blamed for hair of a motley red, ubiquitous freckles wherever the smallpox had left room for them, no particular colored eyes, a little round knob of uptilted nose, and a mouth that made even the calloused Dutchy at the lunch counter feel a little mean inwardly when he compared it with the mathematically cut slab of contract pie, eight slabs to the pie plate, and so much so that he went to the extent of—no, he never gave Noodles an extra piece—but he went to the extent of surreptitiously pocketing Noodles' nickel as though he were obtaining money under false pretenses—which was a good deal for Dutchy to do—and just shows.

There was nothing organically bad about Noodles—not a thing. Noodles' troubles, and they came thick and fast with the inauguration of his railroad career, lay in quite another direction—his irrepressible tendency to practical jokes, coupled with a lack of the sense of the general fitness of things, consequences and results, and an absence of even a bowing acquaintance with responsibility that was appalling.

The first night Noodles went on duty as call boy, armed with a nickel thriller—that being only half the price of a regular dime novel—and visions of the presidency of the road being offered him before he was much older, Spence was sitting in on the early night trick. There was a lot of stuff moving through the mountains that night, and the train sheet was heavy. And even Spence, counted one of the best despatchers that ever held down a key on the Hill Division, was hard put to it, both to keep his crowding sections from treading on each other's heels, and to jockey the east and westbounds past each other without letting their pilots get tangled up head-on. It was no night or no place for foolishness—a despatcher's office never is, for that matter.

Noodles curled himself up in a chair behind the despatcher—and started in on the thriller. His first call was for the crews of No. 72, the local freight east, at 8.35, and there was nothing to do until then unless Spence should happen to want him for something. The thriller was quite up to the mark, even "thriller" than usual, but Noodles left the hero at the end of the first chapter securely bound to the mill-wheel with the villain rushing to open the gate in the dam—and his eyes strayed around the room.

It wasn't altogether the novelty of his surroundings—no phase of railroading was altogether a novelty to any Big Cloud youngster—there was just a sort of newness in his own position that interfered with any protracted or serious effort along literary lines. From a circuit of the room, his eyes went to the fly-specked, green-shaded lamp on the despatcher's table, then from the lamp to the despatcher's back—and fixed on the despatcher's back.

His eyes held there quite a long time—then his fingers went stealthily to the lapel of his coat. Spence had a habit when hurried or anxious of half rising from his chair, as though to give emphasis to his orders every time he touched the key. Spence was both hurried and anxious that night and the key was busy. In the somewhat dim light, Spence, to Noodles' fancy, assumed the aspect of an animated jumping jack.

Deftly, through long experience, Noodles coiled his pin with a wicked upshoot to the center of attack, cautiously lowered his own chair, which had been tilted back against the wall, to the more stable position of four legs on the floor, leaned forward, and laid the pin at a strategic point on the seat of Spence's chair. Two minutes later, kicked bodily down the stairs, Noodles was surveying the Big Cloud yards by moonlight from the perspective of the station platform.

Noodles' career as a call boy had been brief—and it was ended. Old Bill, the boiler-washer, came to the rescue. He explained to Regan who the godfather of the boy was and what bearing that had on the case, and how he'd larruped the boy for what he'd done, and how the boy hadn't meant anything by it—and could the boy have another chance?

Regan said, "Yes," and said it shortly, more because he was busy at the time and wanted to get rid of Old Bill than from any predisposition toward Noodles. Noodles wasn't predisposing any way you looked at him, and Regan had a good look at his godson now for about the first time since he'd sponsored him, and he didn't like Noodles' looks—particularly. But Regan, not taking too serious a view of the matter, said yes, and put Noodles at work over in the roundhouse under the eye of his father.

Here, for a month, in one way or another, Noodles succeeded in making things lively, and himself cordially disliked by about everybody in the shops, the roundhouse, and the Big Cloud yards generally. And there was a hint or two thrown out, that reached Regan's ears, that old Bill had known what he was doing when he got one of the "big fellows" as godfather for as ugly a blasted little nuisance as the Hill Division had known for many a long day. Regan got to scowling every time he saw Noodles' unhandsome countenance, and he took pains on more than one occasion to give a bit of blunt advice to both Noodles and Noodles' father—which the former received somewhat ungraciously, and the latter with trepidation.

And then one night as it grew dark, just before six o'clock, while Bill and the turner and the wipers were washing up and trying to put in the time before the whistle blew, Noodles dropped into the turntable pit and wedged the turntable bearings with iron wedgings. Half an hour later, when the night crew came to swing it for the 1016, blowing hard from a full head of steam and ready to go out and couple on to No. 1 for the westbound run, they couldn't move it. It took them a few minutes before they could find out what the matter was, and another few to undo the matter when they did find out—and No. 1 went out five minutes late.

Nobody asked who did it—it wasn't necessary. They just said "Noodles," and waited to see what Noodles' godfather would do about it.

They did not have long to wait. The Limited five minutes late out of division and the delay up to the motive-power department, which was Regan's department, would have been enough to bring the offender, whoever he might be, on the carpet with scant ceremony even if it had been an accident. Regan was boiling mad.

Noodles didn't show up the next day. Deep in Noodles' consciousness was a feeling that his nickel thriller and a certain spot he knew up behind the butte, where many a pleasant afternoon had been passed when he should have been at school, was more conducive to peace and quietness than the center of railroad activities—also Noodles ached bodily from his father's attentions.

Old Bill, too, kept conveniently out of sight down in a pit somewhere every time the master mechanic showed his nose inside the roundhouse during the morning—but by afternoon, counting the edge of Regan's wrath to have worn smooth, he followed Regan out over the turntable after one of the master mechanic's visits.

"Regan," he blurted out anxiously, "about the bhoy, now."

"Well?" snapped Regan, whirling about.

The monosyllable was cold enough in its uncompromise to stagger the little hostler, and drive all thoughts of the carefully rehearsed oration he had prepared from his head. He scratched aimlessly at the half circle of gray billy-goat beard under his chin, and blinked helplessly at the master mechanic. Noodles lacked much, and in Noodles was much to be desired perhaps—but Noodles, for all that, had his place in the Irish heart that beat under the greasy jumper.

"He's the only wan we've got, Regan," stammered the harassed roundhouse man appealingly.

"It's a wonder, then, you've not holes in the knees of your overalls giving thanks for it," declared Regan grimly. "That's enough, Bill—and we've had enough of Noodles. Keep him away from here."

"Ah, sure now, Regan," begged the little hostler piteously, "yez don't mean ut. The bhoy's all right, Regan—'tis but spirit he has. Regan, listen here now, I've larruped him good for fwhat he's done—an' 'twas no more than a joke."

"A joke!" Regan choked; then brusquely: "That'll do, Bill. I've said my last word, and I'm busy this afternoon. Noodles is out—for keeps."

"Ah, Regan, listen here"—Noodles' father caught the master mechanic's arm, as the latter turned away. "Regan, sure, ut's the bhoy's godfather yez are."

The fat little master mechanic's face went suddenly red—this was the last straw—Noodles' godfather! Regan had been catching more whispers than he had liked lately anent godfathers and godfathering. His eyes puckered up and he wheeled on the boiler-washer—but the hot words on the tip of his tongue died unborn. There was something in the dejected droop of the other's figure, something in the blue eyes growing watery with age that made him change his mind—old Bill wasn't a young man. As far back as the big-hearted, good-natured master mechanic could remember, he remembered old Bill—in the roundhouse. Always the same job, day after day, year after year—boiler-washing, tinkering around at odd jobs—not much good at anything else—church every Sunday in shiny black coat, and peaked-faced Mrs. Maguire in the same threadbare, shiny black dress—not that Regan ever went to church, but he used to see them going there—church every Sunday, Maguire was long on church, and week days just boiler-washing and tinkering around at odd jobs—a dollar-sixty a day. Regan's pucker subsided, and he reached out his hand to the boiler-washer's shoulder—and he grinned to kind of take the sting out of his words.

"Well, Bill," he said, "as far as that goes, I renounce the honor."

"Raynownce ut!" The boiler-washer's eyes opened wide, and his face was strained as though he had not heard aright. "Raynownce ut! Ut's an Irish Protystant yez are, Regan, the same as me an' the missus, an' did yez not say the words in the church!"

"I did," admitted Regan; "though I've forgotten what they were. It was well enough, no doubt, for a kid in swaddling clothes—but it's some time since then." Then, with finality: "Go back to your work, Bill—I can't talk to you any more this afternoon."

"Raynownce ut!" The words reached Regan as he turned away and started across the tracks toward the platform, and in their tones was something akin to stunned awe that caused him to chuckle. "Raynownce ut!—an' yez said the words forninst the priest!"

Regan's chuckle, however, was not of long duration, either literally or metaphorically. During the rest of the afternoon the boiler-washer's words got to swinging through Regan's brain until they became an obsession, and somewhere down inside of him began to grow an uncomfortable foreboding that there might be something more to the godfathering business than he had imagined. He tackled Carleton about it before the whistle blew.

"Carleton," said he, walking into the super's office, and picking up a ruler from the other's desk, "don't laugh, or I'll jam this ruler down your throat. If you can answer a straight question, answer it—otherwise, let it go. What's a godfather, anyhow?"

Carleton grinned.

"You ought to know, Tommy," he said.

"I was running without a permit and off schedule at the time, and I was nervous," said Regan. "What happened, or what the goings-on were, I don't know. What is it?"

Carleton shook his head gravely.

"I'm afraid not, Tommy," he said. "You're in the wrong shop. Information bureau's downstairs to the right of the ticket office."

"Thanks!" said Regan.

And that was all the help he got from Carleton—then. But that night over their usual game of pedro in the super's office, it was a little different. Carleton, as he pulled the cards out of the desk drawer and tossed them on the table, pulled a small book from his pocket and tossed it to Regan.

"What's this?" inquired the master mechanic.

"It's not to your credit to ask—it's a prayer book," Carleton informed him. "Be careful of it—I borrowed it."

"You didn't need to say so," said Regan softly.

"Page two hundred and eight," suggested Carleton. "See if that's what you were looking for, Tommy."

Regan thumbed the leaves, found the place and began to read—and a sickly sort of pallor began to spread over his face.

"'You are his sureties that he will renounce the devil and all his works,'" he mumbled weakly.

"Yes," said Carleton cheerfully. "There's some little responsibility there, you see. But don't skip the parenthesis; get it all, Tommy—'until he come of age to take it upon himself.'"

Regan didn't say a word—nor was the smile he essayed an enthusiastic success. He read the "articles" over again word by word, pointing the lines with his pudgy forefinger.

"Well," inquired Carleton, "what do you make of the running orders, Tommy?"

"The devil and all his works!"—it came away from Regan now with a rush from his overburdened soul. "D'ye mean to say that—that"—Regan choked a little—"that I'm responsible for that brick-topped, monkey-faced kid?"

"'Until he come of age,'" Carleton amplified pleasantly.

Regan's Celtic temper rose.

"I'll see him hung first!" he roared suddenly. "'Twas no more than to please Maguire that I stood up with the ugly imp! And mabbe I said what's here and mabbe I didn't, but in any event 'tis no more than a matter of form to be repeated parrot-fashion—and it means nothing."

"Oh, well," said the super slyly, "if you feel that way about it, don't let it bother you."

"It will not bother me!" said Regan defiantly, with a scowl.

But it did.

Regan slept that night with an army corps of red-headed, pocked, and freckled-faced little devils to plague his rest—and their name was Noodles. His thoughts were unpleasantly more on Noodles than his razor when he shaved the next morning, and the result was an unsightly gash across his chin—and when he made his first inspection of the roundhouse an hour later he was in a temper to be envied by no man. His irritability was not soothed by the sight of Maguire, who rose suddenly in front of him from an engine pit as he came in.

"Regan," said the old fellow, "about the bhoy——"

"Maguire," said Regan, in a low, fervent voice, "you bother me about that again and I'll fire you, too!"

"Wait, Regan." There was a quaver in the little hostler's voice, and he appeared to stand his ground only by the aid of some previously arrived at, painful resolution that rose superior to his nervousness. "Wait, Regan—mabbe yez'll not have to. I talked ut over wid the missus last night. I've worked well for yez, Regan, all these years—all these years, Regan, I've worked for yez here in the roun'house—an' I've worked well, though ut's mesilf that ses ut."

"That's nothing to do with it," snapped the master mechanic.

"Mabbe ut has, an' mabbe ut hasn't." The watery-blue eyes sought the toes of their owner's grease-smeared, thickly-patched brogans. "I talked ut over wid the missus. Sure now, Regan, yez weren't thinkin' fwhat yez said, an' yez didn't mean fwhat yez said yisterday about raynowncin' the word ye'd passed. Yez'll take ut back, Regan?"

"Take it back? I'll be damned if I do!" said Regan earnestly.

The little hostler's body stiffened, the watery-blue eyes lifted and held steadily on the master mechanic, and for the first time in his lowly life he raised a hand to his superior—Maguire pointed a forefinger, that shook a little, at Regan.

"'Tis blasphymus yez are, Regan!" he said in a thin voice. "An' 'tis no blasphymay I mean, God forbid, fwhen I say yez'll be damned if yez don't. Before a priest, Regan, an' in the church av God, Regan, yez swore fwhat yez swore—an' 'tis the wrath av God, Regan, yez'll bring down on your head. Mind that, Regan! Fire me, is ut?" The little hostler's voice rose suddenly. "All these years I've worked well for yez, Regan, but I'll work no more for a man as 'ud do a thing loike thot—an' the missus ses the same. Poor we may be, but rayspect for oursilves we have. Yez'll niver fire me, Regan—I fire mesilf. I'm through this minute!"

Regan glared disdainfully.

"Have you been drinking, Maguire?" he inquired caustically.

Noodles' father did not answer. He brushed past the master mechanic, walked through the big engine doors, and halted just outside on the cinders.

"'Tis forsworn yez are, Regan," he said heavily. "Yez may make light av ut now, but the day'll come, Regan, fwhen yez'll find out 'tis no light matter. 'Tis the wrath av God, Regan, 'll pay yez for ut, yez can mark my words."

Regan stared after the old man, his eyes puckered, his face a little red; stared after the bent form in the old worn overalls as it picked its way across the tracks—and gave vent to his feelings by expectorating a goodly stream of blackstrap juice savagely into the engine pit at his side. This did not help very much, and for the rest of the morning, while he inwardly anathematized Noodles, Noodles' father and the whole Noodles family collectively, he made things both uncomfortable and lively for those who were unfortunate enough to be within reach of his displeasure.

"The wrath of God!" communed Regan angrily. "I always said Noodles took after his father, both by disposition and looks! It'll be a long time before the old man gets another job—a long time."

And therein Regan was right. It was a long time—quite a long time—measured by the elasticity of the boiler-washer's purse, which wasn't very elastic on the savings from a dollar-sixty a day.

Old Bill Maguire, perhaps, was the only one who hadn't got quite the proper angle on the "rights" he carried—which were worse than those of a mixed local when the rails were humming under a stress of through traffic and the despatchers were biting their nails to the quick trying to take care of it. Not, possibly, that it would have made any difference to the little worn-out hostler if he had; for, whether from principle, having deep-seated awe for the church and its tenets that forbade even a tacit endorsement of what he considered Regan's sacrilege, or because of the public slight put upon his family—the roundhouse hadn't failed to hear his first conversation with Regan, and hadn't failed to let him know that they had—or maybe from a mixture of the two, Maguire was beyond question in deadly earnest. But if old Bill hadn't got his signals right, and was reading green and white when it should have been red, the rest of the Hill Division wasn't by any means color blind; it was pretty generally understood that for several years back all that stood between Maguire and the scrap heap—was Regan. Not on account of any jolly business about godfather or godfathering, but because that was Regan's way—old Bill puttered around the roundhouse on suffrance, thanks to Regan, and didn't know it, though everybody else did, barring patient little Mrs. Maguire and Noodles, who didn't count anyhow.

Nor did the little hostler even now pass the color test. Short-tongued, a hard, grimy lot, just what their rough and ready life made them, they might have been, those railroaders of the Rockies, but their hearts were always right. In the yards, in the trainmaster's office, in the roadmaster's office they pointed Maguire to the quiet times, to the extra crews laid off, to the spare men back to their old ratings, to the section gangs pared down to a minimum, and advised him to ask Regan for his job back again—they never told him he couldn't do a man's work any more.

"Ask Regan!" stuttered the old boiler-washer, and the gray billy-goat beard under his chin, as he threw his head up, stuck out straight like a belligerent chevaux de frise. "Niver! Mind thot, now! Niver—till he takes back fwhat he said—not av I starrve for ut!"

Regan, during the first few days, the brunt of his temper worn off, experienced a certain relief, that was no little relief—he was rid, and well rid, of the Noodles combination. But at the end of about a week, the bluff, big-hearted master mechanic began to suck in his under lip at moments when he was alone, as the stories of old Bill's futile efforts after a job, and old Bill's rather pitiful defiance began to sift in to him. Regan began to have visions of the little three-room shack way up in the waste fields at the end of Main Street. A dollar-sixty a day wasn't much to come and go on, even when the dollar-sixty was coming regularly every pay day—and when it wasn't, the cost of food and rent didn't go down any.

Regan got to thinking a good deal about the faded little old drudge of a woman that was Mrs. Maguire, and the bare floors as he remembered them even in the palmy days of Noodles' birth when he had attended the celebration, bare, but scrubbed to a spotless white. She hadn't been very young then, and not any too strong, and that was twelve years ago. And he got to thinking a good deal about old Bill himself—not much good any more, but good enough for a dollar-sixty a day from a company he'd served for many a long year—in the roundhouse. There had never been over much of what even an optimistic imagination could call luxury in the Maguire's home, and the realization got kind of deep under the worried master mechanic's skin that things were down now to pretty near a case of bread to fill their mouths.

And Regan was right. Even a week had been long enough for that—a man out of a job can't expect credit on the strength of the pay car coming along next month. Things were in pretty straitened circumstances up at the Maguires.

And the more Regan thought, the hotter he got under the collar—at Noodles. Where he had formerly disliked and submitted to Noodles' existence in a passive sort of way, he now hated Noodles in a most earnest and whole-hearted way—and with an unholy desire in his soul to murder Noodles on sight. For, even if Noodles was directly responsible and at the bottom of the pass things had come to, Regan's uncomfortable feeling grew stronger each day that indirectly he had his share in the distress and want that had moved into headquarters up at the top of Main Street. It wasn't a nice feeling or a nice position to be in, and Regan writhed under it—but primarily he cursed Noodles.

There was nothing small about Regan—there never was. He wasn't small enough not to do something. He couldn't very well ask the yardmaster or the section boss to give Maguire a job when he wouldn't give the old man one himself, so he sent word up to Maguire to come back to work—in the roundhouse.

Maguire's answer differed in no whit from the answer he had made to Gleason, the yardmaster, and every one else to whom he had applied for a job—Maguire was in deadly earnest.

"Niver!" said he, to the messenger who bore the olive branch. "Mind thot, now! Niver—till he takes back fwhat he said—not av I starrve for ut!"

Regan swore—and here Regan stuck. Noodles! His gorge rose until he choked. Kill the brat? Yes—murder was in Regan's soul. But to proclaim Noodles as a godson—Noodles as a godson! He had done it once not knowing what he was doing, and to do it now with the years of enlightenment upon him—Regan choked, that was all, and grew apoplectically red in the face. It wasn't the grins and laughs of the Hill Division that he knew were waiting for him if he did—it was just Noodles.

When Regan had calmed down from this explosion, he inevitably, of course, got back to the old perspective—and for another week the Maguire family up Main Street occupied a reserved seat in his mind.

Carleton only spoke to him once about it, and that was along toward the end of the second week, as they were walking uptown together at the dinner hour.

"By the way, Tommy," said the super, "how's Maguire getting along?"

Regan's thoughts having been on the same subject at that moment, he came back a little crossly.

"Blamed if I know!" he growled.

Carleton smiled. Moved by the same motive perhaps, he had gone into the Cash Grocery Store on the corner the day before and found that Maguire's credit was re-established—thanks to Regan—though Timmons, the proprietor, had been sworn to secrecy.

"One of you two will have to capitulate before very long," he said, with a side glance at Regan. "And I don't think it will be Maguire."

"Don't you!" Regan flung out. "You think it will be me?"

"Yes," laughed Carleton.

"When I'm dead," said Regan shortly. "Had any word from those Westinghouse fittings yet? I'm waiting for them now."

"I'll see about them," said Carleton. "I'm going East this afternoon."

And there wasn't any more said about Maguire.

Meanwhile, if Regan's rancor against Noodles had reached a stage that was acute, Noodles had reached a stage of reciprocative hatred that was positively deadly. So far as elemental passion and savagery had developed in twelve years, and Noodles was not a backward boy, just so far had he developed his malevolence against Regan. Things were in a pretty strained condition in the environment of the Maguire shack; Noodles was unhappy all the time, and hungry most of the time. He heard a good deal about Regan and the depths a man could sink to, and enough about the immutable inviolability of church tenets and ordinances to satisfy the most fanatic disciple of orthodoxy—to say nothing of the deep-seated conviction of the wrath of God that must inevitably fall upon one who had the sacrilegious temerity to profane those tenets.

Mostly, Noodles imbibed this at twilight over the sparsely set table, and when the twilight faded and it grew dark—they weren't using kerosene any more at the Maguires—he could still sense the look on his mother's face that mingled anxiety and gentle reproof; and he edged back his chair out of reach of his father's cuffs, which he could dodge in the daylight and couldn't in the dark—for on one point Regan and the old hostler were in perfect accord.

"An' yez are the cause av ut!" old Bill would shout, swinging the flat of his hand in the direction of Noodles' ear every time his violent oratory reached a climacteric height where a period became a physical necessity.

Take it all round, what with the atmosphere of gloom, dodging his father's attentions, his mother's tears when he had caught her crying once or twice, and an unsatisfied stomach, black vengeance oozed from every pore of Noodles' body. His warty little fists clenched, and his unlovely face contorted into a scowl such as Noodles, and only Noodles, thanks to the background that nature had already furnished him to work upon, could scowl.

Noodles set his brains to work. What he must do to Regan must be something awful and bloodcurdling; and, realizing, perhaps, that, being but twelve, he would be handicapped in coping with the master mechanic single-handed, he sought the means of assistance that most logically presented itself to him. Noodles lay awake nights trying to dovetail himself and Regan into the situations of his nickel thrillers. There wasn't any money with which to buy new nickel thrillers, but by then Noodles had accumulated quite a stock, and he knew them all off pretty well by heart, the essentials of them, anyhow.

Noodles racked his brain for a week of nights—and was in despair. Not that the nickel thrillers did not offer situations harrowing enough to glut even his blood-thirsty little soul—they did—they were peaches—he could see Regan's blood all over the bank vault that the master mechanic had been trying to rob—he could see Regan walking the plank of a pirate ship, while the pirates cheered hoarsely—and he fairly revelled in every one of them—until cold despair would clutch again at his raging heart. They were peaches all right, but somehow they wouldn't fit into Big Cloud—he couldn't figure out how to get Regan to rob a bank vault, and there weren't any pirates in the immediate vicinity that he had ever heard of.

Then inspiration came to Noodles one night—and he sat bolt upright in bed. He would shadow Regan! A fierce, unhallowed joy took hold of Noodles. Noodles had grasped the constructive technique of the thriller! Every hero in every nickel thriller shadowed every villain to his doom. Regan's doom at the end was sure to take care of itself once he had found Regan out—but the shadowing came first.

Noodles slept feverishly for the rest of the night, and the following evening he snooped down Main Street and took up his position in a doorway on the opposite side of the street from Regan's boarding house. In just what dire deed of criminal rascality he expected to trap the master mechanic he did not know, but that Regan was capable of anything, and that he would catch him in something, Noodles now had no doubt—that was what the shadowing was for—he grimly determined that he would be unmoved by appeals for mercy—and his heart beat high with optimistic excitement.

Regan came out of the boarding house; and, bare-footed in lieu of gum-shoes, and hugging the shadows a block behind—Noodles had refreshed his memory on the most improved methods—Noodles trailed the master mechanic down the street. Two blocks down, Regan halted on the corner and began to peer around him. Noodles' lips thinned suddenly—it began to look promising already—what was Regan up to? A man came down the cross street, joined Regan, and the two started on again toward the station. A little disappointed, Noodles, still hugging the shadows, resumed the chase—it was only Carleton, the superintendent.

From the platform, Noodles watched the two men disappear through the far door of the station. Free from observation now, he hurried along the platform past the station, and was in time to see a lamp lighted upstairs in the side window of the super's office. Noodles waited a moment, then he tiptoed back along the platform, and cautiously pushed open the door through which the others had disappeared. The door of the super's room on the upper story opened on the head of the stairs and, still on tiptoe, Noodles reached the top. Here, on his knees, his eyes glued to the keyhole, he peered into the room—Regan and the super were engaged in their nightly game of cards. There was nothing to raise Noodles' hopes in that, so he descended the stairs and took up his position behind the rain barrel at the corner of the building, where he could watch both the window and the entrance.

At half past ten the light went out, Regan and Carleton came down the stairs and headed uptown. Noodles, not forgetting the shadows, trailed them. At the corner where Carleton had joined Regan, Carleton left Regan, and Regan went on two blocks further and disappeared inside his boarding house. Noodles, being a philosopher of a sort, told himself that none of the heroes ever succeeded the first night—and went home.

The next night, and the three following night, Noodles shadowed Regan with the same results. By the fifth night, with no single differing detail to enliven this somewhat monotonous and unproductive programme, it had become dispiriting; and though Noodles' thirst for vengeance had not weakened, his faith in the nickel thrillers had.

But on the sixth night—at the end of the second week since Noodles and Noodles' father had turned their backs upon the roundhouse—things were a little different. Noodles, in common with every one else in Big Cloud, was quite well aware that the super's private car had been coupled on No. 12 that afternoon, and that Carleton had gone East.

Regan came out of his boarding house at the same hour as usual, and Noodles dodged along after him down the street—Noodles by this time, for finesse, could have put a combination of Nick Carter and Old Sleuth on the siding until the grass sprouted between the ties. Noodles dodged along—in the shadows. Regan didn't stop at the corner this time, but he kept right along heading down for the station. Regan passed two or three people going in the opposite direction up the street of the sleepy little mountain town, but this did not confuse Noodles—Noodles kept right along after Regan. There was no Carleton to-night, and Regan's criminal propensities would have full scope—Noodles' hopes ran high.

Regan reached the station, went down the platform, and disappeared as usual through the same door. A little perplexed, Noodles followed along the platform; but, a moment later, from his coign of vantage behind the rain barrel, he saw the light flash out from the super's window—and his heart almost stood still. What was Regan doing in the super's office—alone! Noodles' face grew very white—Carleton had a safe there—he had got Regan at last! It had taken a lot of time, but none of the heroes ever got the villain until after pages and pages of trying to get him. He had got Regan at last!

Noodles crept from the shelter of the rain barrel stealthily as a cat, and, with far more caution than he had ever exercised before, pushed the outside door open and went up the stairs. There wasn't any hurry; he would give Regan time to drill through the safe, and perhaps even let the master mechanic get the money before giving the alarm—Noodles bitterly bemoaned the fact that he would have to give the alarm at all and let anybody else in on it, but, owing to the fact that he had been unable to finance a revolver with which to hold up the master mechanic red-handed and cover himself with glory at the same time, there appeared to be nothing else to do.

It was just a step from the head of the stairs to the door of the super's room across the hall. Noodles negotiated it with infinite circumspection, and, on his knees as usual, his heart pounding like a trip hammer, got his eye to the keyhole. He held it there a very long time, until he couldn't see any more through hot, scalding, impotent tears; then he edged back across the hall, and sat down on the top step—Regan was playing solitaire.

Hands dug disconsolately in his pockets, playing mechanically with a bit of cord that was about their sole contents, Noodles sat there—and his faith in nickel thrillers was shaken to the core. Noodles' thoughts were too complex for coherency—that is, for coherency in any but one of his thoughts—he hated Regan worse than ever, for he couldn't altogether expurgate the nickel thrillers from his mind on such a short notice, and he could hear Regan gloat and hiss "Foiled!" in his ear.

Noodles' hands came out of his pocket—with the cord. He wound one end around the bannisters, and began to see-saw it back and forth aimlessly in the darkness. There wasn't any good of shadowing Regan any more—but he wasn't through with Regan. Noodles had a soul above discouragement. Only what was he to do? If the nickel thrillers had failed him in his hour of need, he would have to depend on himself—only what was he to do? Noodles stopped see-sawing the cord suddenly—and stared at it through the darkness, though he couldn't see it. Then he edged down another step, turned around on his knees, and knotted one end of the cord—it was a good stout one—to one side of the bannisters, about six inches from the level of the hall floor. There was a bannister railing on each side, and he stretched the cord tightly across to the other bannister, and knotted it there. That would do for a beginning! It didn't promise as gory a dénouement as he thirsted for, and he was a little ashamed of the colorlessness of his expedient compared with those he'd read about, but there wasn't anybody else likely to use those stairs before Regan did, and it would do for a beginning—Regan would get a jolt or two before he reached the bottom!

Noodles retreated down the stairs and retired to the rain barrel. Waits had been long there before, but to-night the time dragged hopelessly—he didn't expect to see very much, but he would be able to hear Regan coming down the stairs, so he waited, curbing his impatience by biting anxiously on the ends of his finger nails.

Suddenly Noodles leaned head and shoulders far out from behind the rain barrel to miss no single detail of this, the initial act of his revenge, that he could drink in, his eyes fastened on the station door—the light in the window above had gone out. Very grim was Noodles' face, and his teeth were hard set together—there was no foolishness about this. The super's door upstairs opened and shut—Noodles leaned a little farther forward out from the rain barrel.

Meanwhile, Regan, upstairs, was not in a good humor. Regan, when alone, played a complicated and somewhat intricate species of solitaire, a matter of some pride to the master mechanic, and that evening he had had no luck—his combinations wouldn't work out. So, after something like fifteen abortive attempts that consumed the better part of an hour and a half, and victory still remaining an elusive thing, Regan chucked the cards back into Carleton's drawer in disgust, knocked the ashes out of his pipe, refilled the pipe for company homeward, and, growling a little to himself, blew out the super's lamp. He walked across to the door, opened and shut it, and stepped out into the hall. Here, he halted and produced a match, both because his pipe was as yet unlighted, and because the stairs were dark. He struck the match, applied it to the tamped tobacco, puffed once—and his eyes, from the bowl of his pipe, focused suddenly downward on the head of the stairs. Regan's round, fat little face went a color that put the glowing end of the match, still held mechanically over the pipe bowl, to shame, and the fist that wasn't occupied with the match clenched with the wrath that engulfed him—Noodles!

For a moment, breathing heavily with rage, Regan glared at the cord—then the match, burning his fingers, did not soothe him any, and he dropped it hastily, swearing earnestly to himself. Then he bent down, cut away the cord with his knife, and in grim, laborious silence—Regan was a heavy man, and the stairs had a tendency to creak that was hard to suppress—descended step by step. Regan was consumed with but one desire for the present or the hereafter—to get his hands on Noodles.

Where Noodles had been stealthy, Regan was now positively devilish in his caution and cunning. Step by step he went down, testing each foothold much after the fashion of a cat that stretches out its paw, and, finding something not quite to its liking, draws it back, and, shaking it vigorously, tries again more warily—and the while a fire unquenchable burned within him.

He reached the door at the bottom, found the knob, waited an instant—then suddenly flung the door wide open and sprang out on the platform. Noodles' form, projecting eagerly far out from the rain barrel not five yards away, was the first thing his eyes lighted upon. Regan had no time to waste in words. He made a dash for the rain barrel—and Noodles, with a sort of surprised squeak of terror, turned and ran.

A fat man, ordinarily, cannot run very fast, and neither can a twelve-year-old boy; but, with vengeance supplying wings to the one, and terror imparting haste to the other, the time they made from the rain barrel along the platform past the baggage room and freight shed, off the platform to the ground, and up the track to the construction department's storehouse, a matter of a hundred and fifty yards, stands good to-day as a record in Big Cloud.

It was pretty near a dead heat. Noodles had five yards' start when he left the rain barrel; and when he reached the end of the storehouse he had five yards' lead—no more. A premonition of disaster began to twine itself around Noodles' heart in a sickly, dispiriting way. He dashed along beside the wall of the building—and after him lunged Regan, grunting like a grampus, a threat in every grunt.

It was a long, low, windowless building, and halfway up its length was the door—Noodles had known the door to be unlocked at nights for the purpose of loading rush material for the bridge gangs in the mountains to go out by the early morning freight west at 4.10—and his hope lay in the door being open now. The place was full to the ceiling with boxes, bales, casks, barrels and kegs, and amongst them in the darkness, being of small dimensions himself, he could soon lose Regan. He reached the door, snatched at the latch—the door was unlocked—and with an uplift immeasurable upon his young soul, that gave vent to itself in a hoot of derision, Noodles flung himself inside.

Regan, still panting earnestly, the beads on his brow now embryonic fountain-heads that sent trickling streams down his face, lurched, pretty well winded, through the door five yards behind Noodles—and then Regan stopped—and the thought of Noodles was swept from Regan's mind in a flash.

The smell of smoke was in his nostrils, and like a white, misty cloud in the darkness it hung around him—and through it, up toward the far end of the shed, a fire showed yellow and ugly, that with a curious, hissing, sibilant sound flared suddenly bright, then died to yellow ugliness again.

Grim-faced now, his jaws clamped hard, Regan sprang forward toward the upper end of the shed. What was afire, he did not know, nor what had caused it—though the latter, probably, by a match dropped maybe hours ago by a careless Polack, that had caught and set something smoldering, and that was now breaking into flame. All Regan knew, all Regan thought of then, was the—powder. There were fifty kegs of giant blasting powder massed together there somewhere ahead, and just beyond where the fire was flinging out its challenge to him—enough to wreck not only the shed, but half the railroad property in Big Cloud as well.

Up the little handcar tracks between the high-piled stores Regan ran—and halted where a spurt of flame, ending in a vicious puff of smoke, shot out beside him, low down on the ground. It was light enough now, and in a glance the master mechanic caught the black grains of powder strewing the floor where a broken keg had been rolled along. A little alleyway had been left here running to the wall, and the fire itself was bursting from a case in the rear and bottom tier of stores on one side of this; on the other side were piled the powder kegs—and the space between, the width of the alleyway, was no more than a bare five or six feet.

There was no time to wait for help, the powder grains crunched under his feet, and ran little zigzag, fizzy lines of fire like a miniature inferno as the sparks caught them; at any moment it might reach the kegs, and then—Regan flung himself along the alleyway to the rear tier of cases, they were small ones here, though piled twice the height of his head—if he could wrench them away, he could get at the burning case below! Regan bent, strained at the cases—they were light and moved—he heaved again to topple them over—and then, as a rasping, ripping sound reached him from above, he let go his hold to jump back—too late. A heavy casting, that had been placed on top of the cases, evidently for economy of space, came hurtling downward, struck Regan on the head, glanced to his shoulder and arm, slid with a thump to the ground—and Regan dropped like a log.

A minute, perhaps two, it had all taken—no more. Noodles, crouched down against a case just inside the door, had seen the master mechanic rush by him; and Noodles, too, had seen the flame and smelt the smoke. Noodles' first impulse was to make his escape, his next to see if he could not turn this unexpected intervention of fate to his own account anent the master mechanic. Noodles heard Regan moving about, and he stole silently in that direction; then Noodles heard the heavy thump of iron, the softer thud of Regan's fall, and something inside him seemed to stop suddenly, and his face went very white.

"Mr. Regan! Mr. Regan!" he stammered out.

There was no answer—no sound—save an ominous crackle of burning wood.

Noodles stole further forward—and then, as he reached the spot where Regan lay, he stood stock-still for a second, petrified with fear—but the next instant, screaming at the top of his voice for help, he threw himself upon Regan, pounding frantically with the flat of his hands at the master mechanic's shoulder, where the other's coat was beginning to blaze. Somehow, Noodles got this out, and then, still screaming for help, began to drag Regan away from the side of the blazing case.

But Regan was a heavy man—almost too much for Noodles. Noodles, choking with the smoke, his eyes fascinated with horror as they fixed, now on the powder kegs—whose unloading, in company with a dozen other awe-struck boys, he had watched a few days before—now on the sparkling, fizzing grains of powder upon the floor, tugged, and wriggled, and pulled at the master mechanic.

Inch by inch, Noodles won Regan to safety—and then, on his hands and knees, he went back to sweep the grains away from the edge of the kegs. They burnt his hands as he brushed them along the floor, and he moaned with the pain between his screams for aid. It was hot in the narrow place, so narrow that the breath of flame swept his face from the case—but there was still some powder on the floor to brush back out of the way, little heaps of it. Weak, and swaying on his knees, Noodles brushed at it desperately. It seemed to spurt into his face, and he couldn't breathe any more, and he couldn't see, and his head was swirling around queerly. He staggered to his feet as there came a rush of men, and Clarihue, the turner, with the night crew of the roundhouse came racing up the shed.

"Good God, what's this!" cried Clarihue.

"It's—it's a fire," said Noodles, with a sob—and fell into Clarihue's arms.

They told Regan about it the next day when they had got his head patched up and his arm set. Regan didn't say very much as he lay in his bed, but he asked somebody to go to Maguire's and ask old Bill to come down.

And an hour later Maguire entered the room—but he halted a good yard away from the foot of Regan's bed.

"Yez sint for me, Regan," observed the little hostler, in noncommittal, far-away tones.

"I did, Maguire," said Regan diplomatically. "Things haven't been going as smooth as they might have over in the roundhouse since you left, and I want you to come back. What do you say?"

"'Tis not fwhat I say," said Maguire, and he moved no nearer to the bed. "'Tis whether yez unsay fwhat yez said yersilf. Do yez take ut back, Regan?"

"I do," said Regan in grave tones—but his hand reached up to help the bandages hide his grin. "I take it all back, Maguire—every word of it."

"Thot's all right, thin," said the little hostler, not arrogantly, but as one justified. "I'm sorry to see yez are sick, Regan, an' I'm glad to see yez are better—but did I not warn yez, Regan? 'Twas the wrath av God, Regan, thot's the cause av this."

"Mabbe," said Regan softly. "Mabbe—but to my thinking 'twas the devil and all his works."

"Fwhat's thot?" inquired Maguire, bending forward. "I didn't catch fwhat yez said, Regan."

"I said," said Regan, choking a little, "that Noodles is a godson any godfather would be proud to have."

"Sure he is," said Noodles' father cordially. "He is thot."

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