Tommy Regan speaks of it yet; so does Carleton; and so, for the matter of that, does the Hill Division generally—and there's a bit of a smile goes with it, too, but the smile comes through as a sort of feeble thing from the grim set of their lips. They remember it—it is one of the things they have never forgotten—Dan McGrew and the Kid, and the night the Circus Special pulled out of Big Cloud with Bull Coussirat and Fatty Hogan in the cab.

Neither the Kid nor McGrew were what you might call born to the Hill Division; neither of them had been brought up with it, so to speak. The Kid came from an Eastern system—and McGrew came from God-knows-where. To pin McGrew down to anything definite or specific in that regard was something just a little beyond the ability of the Hill Division, but it was fairly evident that where railroads were there McGrew had been—he was old enough, anyway—and he knew his business. When McGrew was sober he was a wizard on the key—but McGrew's shame was drink.

McGrew dropped off at Big Cloud one day, casually, from nowhere, and asked for a job despatching. A man in those days out in the new West wasn't expected to carry around his birth certificate in his vest pocket—he made good or he didn't in the clothes he stood in, that was all there was to it. They gave him a job assisting the latest new man on the early morning trick as a sort of test, found that he was better, a long way better than the latest new man, gave him a regular despatcher's trick of his own—and thought they had a treasure.

For a month they were warranted in their belief, for all that McGrew personally appeared to be a rather rough card—and then McGrew cut loose. He went into the Blazing Star Saloon one afternoon—and he left it only when deposited outside on the sidewalk as it closed up at four o'clock on the following morning. This was the hour McGrew was supposed to sit in for his trick at the key; but McGrew was quite oblivious to all such considerations. A freight crew, just in and coming up from the yards, carried him home to his boarding house. McGrew got his powers of locomotion back far enough by late afternoon to reach the Blazing Star again—and the performance was repeated—McGrew went the limit. He ended up with a week in the hands of little Doctor McTurk.

McTurk was scientific from the soles of his feet up, and earnestly professional all the rest of the way. When McGrew began to get a glimmering of intelligence again, McTurk went at him red-headed.

"Your heart's bad," the little doctor flung at McGrew, and there was no fooling in his voice. "So's your liver—cirrhosis. But mostly your heart. You'll try this just once too often—and you'll go out like a collapsed balloon, out like the snuffing of a candle wick."

McGrew blinked at him.

"I've heard that before," said he indifferently.

"Indeed!" snapped the irascible little doctor.

"Yes," said McGrew, "quite a few times. This ain't my maiden trip. You fellows make me tired! I'm a pretty good man yet, ain't I? And I'm likely to be when you're dead. I've got my job to worry about now, and that's enough to worry about. Got any idea of what Carleton's said about it?"

"You keep this up," said McTurk sharply, refusing to sidestep the point, as, bag in hand, he moved toward the door, "and it won't interest you much what Carleton or anybody else says—mark my words, my man."

It was Tommy Regan, fat-paunched, big-hearted, good-natured, who stepped into the breach. There was only one place on this wide earth in Carleton's eyes for a railroad man who drank when he should have been on duty—and that was a six-foot trench, three feet deep. In Carleton's mind, from the moment he heard of it, McGrew was out. But Regan saved McGrew; and the matter was settled, as many a matter had been settled before, over the nightly game of pedro between the superintendent and the master mechanic, upstairs in the super's office over the station. Incidentally, they played pedro because there wasn't anything else to do nights—Big Cloud in those days wasn't boasting a grand-opera house, and the "movies" were still things of the future.

"He's a pretty rough case, I guess; but give him a chance," said Regan.

"A chance!" exclaimed Carleton, with a hard smile. "Give a despatcher who drinks a chance—to send a trainload or two of souls into eternity, and about a hundred thousand dollars' worth of rolling stock to the junk heap while he's boozing over the key!"

"No," said Regan. "A chance—to make good."

Carleton laid down his hand, and stared across the table at the master mechanic.

"Go on, Tommy," he prompted grimly. "What's the answer?"

"Well," said Regan, "he's a past master on the key, we know that—that counts for something. What's the matter with sending him somewhere up the line where he can't get a drink if he goes to blazes for it? It might make a man of him, and save the company a good operator at the same time—we're not long on operators."

"H'm!" observed Carleton, with a wry grin, picking up his cards again one by one. "I suppose you've some such place as Angel Forks, for instance, in mind, Tommy?"

"Yes," said Regan. "I was thinking of Angel Forks."

"I'd rather be fired," submitted Carleton dryly.

"Well," demanded Regan, "what do you say? Can he have it?"

"Oh, yes," agreed Carleton, smiling. "He can have that—after I've talked to him. We're pretty short of operators, as you say. Perhaps it will work out. It will as long as he sticks, I guess—if he'll take it at all."

"He'll take it," said Regan, "and be glad to get it. What do you bid?"

McGrew had been at Angel Forks—night man there—for perhaps the matter of a month, when the Kid came to Big Cloud fresh from a key on the Penn. They called him the Kid because he looked it—he wasn't past the stage of where he had to shave more than once a week. The Kid, they dubbed him on the spot, but his name was Charlie Keene; a thin, wiry little chap, with black hair and a bright, snappy, quick look in his eyes and face. He was pretty good on the key, too; not a master like McGrew, he hadn't had the experience, but pretty good for all that—he could "send" with the best of them, and there wasn't much to complain about in his "taking," either.

The day man at Angel Forks didn't drink—at least his way-bill didn't read that way—and they gave him promotion in the shape of a station farther along the line that sized up a little less tomb-like, a little less like a buried-alive sepulcher than Angel Forks did. And the Kid, naturally, being young and new to the system, had to start at the bottom—they sent him up to Angel Forks on the morning way freight the day after he arrived in Big Cloud.

There was something about the Kid that got the train crew of the way freight right from the start. They liked a man a whole lot and pretty sudden in their rough-and-ready way, those railroaders of the Rockies in those days, or they didn't like him well enough to say a good word for him at his funeral; that's the way it went—and the caboose was swearing by the Kid by the time they were halfway to Angel Forks, where he shifted from the caboose to the cab for the rest of the run.

Against the rules—riding in the cab? Well, perhaps it is—if you're not a railroad man. It depends. Who was going to say anything about it? It was Fatty Hogan himself, poking a long-spouted oil can into the entrails of the 428, while the train crew were throwing out tinned biscuits and canned meats and contract pie for the lunch counter at Elk River, who invited him, anyhow.

That's how the Kid came to get acquainted with Hogan, and Hogan's mate, Bull Coussirat, who was handling the shovel end of it. Coussirat was an artist in his way—apart from the shovel—and he started in to guy the Kid. He drew a shuddering picture of the desolation and the general lack of what made life worth living at Angel Forks, which wasn't exaggerated because you couldn't exaggerate Angel Forks much in that particular respect; and he told the Kid about Dan McGrew and how headquarters—it wasn't any secret—had turned Angel Forks into what he called a booze-fighter's sanatorium. But he didn't break through the Kid's optimism or ambition much of any to speak of.

By the time the way freight whistled for Angel Forks, the Kid had Bull Coussirat's seat, and Coussirat was doing the listening, while Hogan was leaning toward them to catch what he could of what was going on over the roar and pound of the 428. There was better pay, and, what counted most, better chances for a man who was willing to work for them out in the West than there was in the East, the Kid told them with a quiet, modest sincerity—and that was why he had come out there. He was looking for a train despatcher's key some day after he had got through station operating, and after that—well, something better still.

There wasn't any jolly business or blowhard about the Kid. He meant what he said—he was going up. And as far as McGrew was concerned, he'd get along with McGrew. McGrew, or any other man, wouldn't hold him back from the goal he had his eyes set upon and his mind made up to work for. There was perhaps a little more of the youthful enthusiasm in it that looked more buoyantly on the future than hard-headed experience would; but it was sincere, and they liked him for it—who wouldn't? Bull Coussirat and Fatty Hogan in the days to come had reason to remember that talk in the cab.

Desolate, perhaps, isn't the word to describe Angel Forks—for Angel Forks was pretty enough, if rugged grandeur is counted pretty. Across the track and siding, facing the two-story wooden structure that was the station, the bare gray rock of a cut through the mountain base reared upward to meet a pine-covered slope, and then blend with bare, gray rock once until it became a glaciered peak at the sky line; behind the station was a sort of plateau, a little valley, green and velvety, bisected by a tumbling, rushing little stream, with the mountains again closing in around it, towering to majestic heights, the sun playing in relief and shadow on the fantastic, irregular, snow-capped summits. It was pretty enough, no one ever disputed that! The road hung four-by-five-foot photographs of it with eight-inch-wide-trimmed-with-gilt frames in the big hotel corridors East, and no one who ever bought a ticket on the strength of the photographer's art ever sent in a kick to the advertising department, or asked for their money back—it looked all right from the car windows.

But sign of habitation there was not, apart from the little station—not even a section man's shanty—just the station. Angel Forks was important to the Transcontinental on one count, and on one count only—its siding. Neither freight nor passenger receipts were swelled, twelve months in or twelve months out, by Angel Forks; but, geographically, the train despatcher's office back in Big Cloud never lost sight of it—in the heart of the mountains, single-tracked, mixed trains, locals, way freights, specials, and the Limiteds that knew no "rights" on earth but a clean-swept track with their crazy fast schedules, met and crossed each other as expediency demanded.

So, in a way, after all, perhaps it was desolate—except from the car windows. Horton, the day man that the Kid was relieving, evidently had found it so. He was waiting on the platform with his trunk when the way freight pulled in, and he turned the station over to the Kid without much formality.

"God be with you till we meet again," was about the gist of what Horton said—and he said it with a mixture of sympathy for another's misfortune and an uplift at his own escape from bondage struggling for the mastery, while he waved his hand from the tail of the caboose as the way freight pulled out.

There was mighty little formality about the transfer, and the Kid found himself in charge with almost breathtaking celerity. Angel Forks, Dan McGrew, way freight No. 47, and the man he had relieved, were sort of hazy, nebulous things for a moment. There wasn't time for them to be anything else; for, about one minute after he had jumped to the platform, he was O.S.-ing "out" the train that had brought him in.

It wasn't quite what he had been used to back in the more sedate East, and he grinned a little to himself as his fingers tapped the key, and by the time he had got back his O. K. the tail of the caboose was swinging a curve and disappearing out of sight. The Kid, then, had a chance to look around him—and look for Dan McGrew, the man who was to be his sole companion for the days to come.

He found McGrew upstairs—after he had explored all there was to explore of the ground floor of the station, which was a sort of combination kitchen, living room and dining room that led off from the office—just the two rooms below, with a ladder-like staircase between them leading up above. And above there was just the one room under the eaves with two bunks in it, one on either side. The night man was asleep in one of these, and the Kid did not disturb him. After a glance around the rather cheerless sleeping quarters, he returned downstairs, and started in to pick up the threads of the office.

Dusk comes early in the fall in the mountains, and at five o'clock the switch and semaphore lamps were already lighted, and in the office under a green-shaded lamp the Kid sat listening to some stray time stuff coming over the wire, when he heard the night man moving overhead and presently start down the stairs. The Kid pushed back his chair, rose to his feet, and turned with outstretched hand to make friends with his new mate—and his outstretched hand drew back and reached uncertainly to the table edge beside him.

For a long minute neither man spoke—staring into each other's eyes. In the opening through the partition at the foot of the stairs, Dan McGrew seemed to sway a little on his feet, and his face, what could be seen of it through the tawny beard that Angel Forks had offered him no incentive to shave, was ashen white.

It was McGrew who broke the silence.

"Hello, Charlie!" he said in a sort of cheerful bravado, that rang far from true.

"So you are Dan McGrew! The last time I heard of you your name was Brodie." The Kid's lips, as he spoke, hardly seemed to move.

"I've had a dozen since then," said McGrew, in a pleading whine, "more'n a dozen. I've been chased from place to place, Charlie. I've lived a dog's life, and——"

The Kid cut him short, in a low, passionate voice:

"And you expect me to keep my mouth shut about you here—is that it?"

McGrew's fingers plucked nervously, hesitantly at his beard; his tongue circled dry lips, and his black eyes fell from the Kid to trace aimlessly, it seemed, the cracks in the floor.

The Kid dropped back into his chair, and, elbows on the table, chin in hands, stared out across the tracks to where the side of the rock cut was now no more than a black shadow.

Again it was McGrew who broke the silence.

"What are you going to do?" he asked miserably. "What are you going to do? Use the key and put them wise? You wouldn't do that, would you—Charlie? You wouldn't throw me down—would you? I'm—I'm living decent here."

The Kid made no answer—made no movement.

"Charlie!" McGrew's voice rose in a high-pitched, nervous appeal. "Charlie—what are you going to do?"

"Nothing!" The Kid's eyes were still on the black, rock shadow through the station window, and the words came monotonously. "Nothing! As far as I am concerned, you are—Dan McGrew."

McGrew lurched heavily forward, relief in his face and voice as he put his hands on the Kid's shoulders.

"You're all right, Charlie, all right; I knew you wouldn't——"

The Kid sprang to his feet, and flung the other's hands roughly from his shoulders.

"Keep your hands off me!" he said tensely. "I don't stand for that! And let's understand each other. You do your work here, and I do mine. I don't want to talk to you. I don't want you to talk to me. I don't want anything to do with you—that's as straight as I know how to put it. The first chance I get I'll move—they'll never move you, for I know why they sent you here. That's all, and that's where we stand—McGrew."

"D'ye mean that?" said McGrew, in a cowed, helpless way.

The Kid's answer was only a harsh, bitter laugh—but it was answer enough. McGrew, after a moment's hesitation, turned and went silently from the room.

A week passed, and another week came and went, and neither man spoke to the other. Each lived his life apart, cooked for himself, and did his work; and it was good for neither one. McGrew grew morose and ugly; and the Kid somehow seemed to droop, and there was a pallor in his cheeks and a listless air about him that was far from the cheery optimism with which he had come to take the key at Angel Forks.

Two weeks passed, and then one night, after the Kid had gone to bed, two men pitched a rough, weather-beaten tent on the plateau below the station. Hard-looking specimens they were; unkempt, unshaven, each with a mount and a pack horse. Harvey and Lansing they told McGrew their names were, when they dropped in for a social call that night, and they said that they were prospectors—but their geological hammers were bottles of raw spirit that the Indians loved, and the veins of ore they tapped were the furs that an Indian will sell for "red-eye" when he will sell for no other thing on earth. It was against the law—enough against the law to keep a man's mouth who was engaged in that business pretty tightly shut—but, perhaps recognizing a kindred spirit in McGrew, and warmed by the bottle they had hospitably brought, before that first night was over no secret of that sort lay between them and McGrew.

And so drink came to Angel Forks; and in a supply that was not stinted. It was Harvey and Lansing's stock in trade—and they were well stocked. McGrew bought it from them with cash and with provisions, and played poker with them with a kitty for the "red-eye."

There was nothing riotous about it at first, not bad enough to incapacitate McGrew; and it was a night or two before the Kid knew what was going on, for McGrew was cautious. Harvey and Lansing were away in the mountains during the daytime, and they came late to fraternize with McGrew, around midnight, long after the Kid was asleep. Then McGrew began to tipple steadily, and signs of drink came patently enough—too patently to be ignored one morning when the Kid relieved McGrew and went on for the day trick.

The Kid said nothing, no word had passed between them for two weeks; but that evening, when McGrew in turn went on for his trick, the Kid went upstairs and found a bottle, nearly full, hidden under McGrew's mattress. He took it, went outside with it, smashed it against a rock—and kept on across the plateau to the prospectors' outfit. Harvey and Lansing, evidently just in from a day's lucrative trading, were unsaddling and busy over their pack animals.

"Hello, Keene!" they greeted in chorus; and Lansing added: "Hang 'round a bit an' join in; we're just goin' TO cook grub."

The Kid ignored both the salutation and the proffered hospitality.

"I came down here to tell you two fellows something," he said slowly, and there was a grim, earnest set to his lips that was not to be misunderstood. "It's none of my business that you're camping around here, but up there is railroad property, and that is my business. If you show your faces inside the station again or pass out any more booze to McGrew, I'll wire headquarters and have you run in; and somehow, though I've only met you once or twice, I don't fancy you're anxious to touch head-on with the authorities." He looked at the two steadily for an instant, while they stared back half angrily, half sheepishly. "That's fair warning, isn't it?" he ended, as he turned and began to retrace his steps to the station. "You'd better take it—you won't get a second one."

They cursed him when they found their tongues, and did it heartily, interwoven with threats and savage jeers that followed him halfway to the embankment. But their profanity did not cloak the fact that, to a certain extent, the Kid's words were worthy of consideration.

The extent was two nights—that night, and the next one.

On the third night, or rather, far on in the early morning hours, the Kid, upstairs, awakened from sleep, sat suddenly up in his bunk. A wild outburst of drunken song, accompanied by fists banging time on the table, reached him—then an abashed hush, through which the click of the sounder came to him and he read it mechanically—the despatcher at Big Cloud was making a meeting point for two trains at the Bend, forty miles away, nothing to do with Angel Forks. Came then a rough oath—another—and a loud, brawling altercation.

The Kid's lips thinned. He sprang out of his bunk, pulled on shirt and trousers, and went softly down the stairs. They didn't hear him, they were too drunk for that; and they didn't see him—until he was fairly inside the room; and then for a moment they leered at him, suddenly silent, in a silly, owl-like way.

There was an anger upon the Kid, a seething passion, that showed in his bloodless face and quivering lips. He stood for an instant motionless, glancing around the office; the table from the other room had been dragged in; on either side of it sat Harvey and Lansing; at the end, within reach of the key, sat Dan McGrew, swaying tipsily back and forth, cards in hand; under the table was an empty bottle, another had rolled into a corner against the wall; and on the table itself were two more bottles amongst greasy, scattered cards, one almost full, the other still unopened.

"S'all right, Charlie," hiccoughed McGrew blandly. "S'all right—jus' havin' little game—good boy, Charlie."

McGrew's words seemed to break the spell. With a jump the Kid reached him, flung him roughly from his seat, toppling him to the floor, and stretched out his hand for the key—but he never reached it. Harvey and Lansing, remembering the threat, and having more reason to fear the law than on the simple count of trespassing on railroad property, lunged for him simultaneously. Quick as a cat on his feet, the Kid turned, and his fist shot out, driving full into Lansing's face, sending the man staggering backward—but Harvey closed. Purling oaths, Lansing snatched the full bottle, and, as the Kid, locked in Harvey's arms, swung toward him, he brought the bottle down with a crash on the back of the Kid's head—and the Kid slid limply to the floor.

White-faced, motionless, unconscious, the Kid lay there, the blood beginning to trickle from his head, and in a little way it sobered the two "prospectors"—but not McGrew.

"See whash done," said McGrew with a maudlin sob, picking himself up from where the Kid had thrown him. "See whash done! Killed him—thash whash done."

It frightened them, McGrew's words—Harvey and Lansing. They looked again at the Kid and saw no sign of life—and then they looked at each other. The bottle was still in Lansing's hand, and he set it back now on the table with a little shudder.

"We'd better beat it," he croaked hoarsely. "By daylight we want to be far away from here."

Harvey's answer was a practical one—he made for the door and disappeared, Lansing close on his heels.

McGrew alternately cursed and pleaded with them long after they were out of earshot; and then, moved by drunken inspiration, started to clear up the room. He got as far as reaching for the empty bottles on the floor, and that act seemed to father a second inspiration—there were other bottles. He reeled to the table, picked up the one from which they had been drinking, stared at the Kid upon the floor, brushed the hair out of his eyes, and, throwing back his head, drank deeply.

"Jus'er steady myself—feel shaky," he mumbled.

He stared at the Kid again. The Kid was beginning to show signs of returning consciousness. McGrew, blinking, took another drink.

"Nosh dead, after all," said McGrew thickly. "Thank God, nosh dead, after all!"

Then drunken cunning came into his eyes. He slid the full bottle into his pocket, and, carrying the ether in his hand, stumbled upstairs, drank again, and hid them craftily, not beneath the mattress this time, but under the eaves where the flooring met and there was a loose plank.

When he stumbled downstairs again, the Kid was sitting in a chair, holding his swimming head in his hands.

"S'all right, Charlie," said McGrew inanely.

The Kid did not look at him; his eyes were fixed upon the table.

"Where are those bottles?" he demanded suspiciously.

"Gone," said McGrew plaintively. "Gone witsh fellows—fellows took 'em an' ran 'way. Whash goin' to do 'bout it, Charlie?"

"I'll tell you when you're sober," said the Kid curtly. "Get up to your bunk and sleep it off."

"S'my trick," said McGrew heavily, waving his hand toward the key. "Can't let nusher fellow do my work."

"Your trick!" The words came in a withering, bitter rush from the Kid. "Your trick! You're in fine shape to hold down a key, aren't you!"

"Whash reason I ain't? Held it down all right, so far," said McGrew, a world of injury in his voice—and it was true; so far he had held it down all right that night, for the very simple reason that Angel Forks had not been the elected meeting point of trains for a matter of some three hours, not since the time when Harvey and Lansing had dropped in and McGrew had been sober.

"Get up to your bunk!" said the Kid between his teeth—and that was all.

McGrew swayed hesitantly for a moment on uncertain legs, blinked soddenly a sort of helpless protest, and, turning, staggered up the stairs.

For a little while the Kid sat in his chair, trying to conquer his dizzy, swimming head; and then the warm blood trickling down his neck—he had not noticed it before—roused him to action. He took the lamp and went into the other room, bathed his head in the wash-basin, sopping at the back of his neck to stop the flow, and finally bandaged it as best he could with a wet cloth as a compress, and a towel drawn tightly over it, which he knotted on his forehead.

He finished McGrew's abortive attempt at housecleaning after that, and sat in to hold down the rest of the night trick, while McGrew in sleep should recover his senses. But McGrew did not sleep. McGrew was fairly started—and McGrew had two bottles at command.

At five-thirty in the morning, No. 81, the local freight, west, making a meeting point, rattled her long string of flats and boxes on the Angel Forks siding; and the Kid, unknotting his bandage, dropped it into a drawer of his desk. Brannahan, No. 81's conductor, kicked the door open, and came in for his orders.

"Hello, Kid!" exclaimed Brannahan. "What you sitting in for? Where's your mate?"

"Asleep," the Kid laughed at him. "Where do you suppose he is! We're swopping tricks for a while for the sake of variety."

Brannahan stooped and lunged the stub of the cigar in his mouth over the lamp chimney, and with the up-draft nearly extinguished the flame; then he pulled up a chair, tilted back and stuck his feet up on the desk.

"Guess most anything would be variety in this God-forsaken hole," he observed between puffs. "What?"

"Oh, it's not so bad—when you get used to it," said the Kid.

He edged his own chair around to face Brannahan squarely—the wound in the back of his head was bleeding again; perhaps it had never stopped bleeding, he did not know.

Brannahan made small talk, waiting for the fast freight, east, to cross; and the Kid smiled, while his fingers clutched desperately now and then at the arms of his chair to keep himself from pitching over, as those sickening, giddy waves, like hot and cold flashes, swept him.

Brannahan went at last, the fast freight roared by, No. 81 pulled out, and the Kid went back to the wash-basin and put his bandage on again.

The morning came and went, the afternoon, and the evening; and by evening the Kid was sick and dropping weak. That smash on his head must have been more serious than he had thought at first; for, again and again, and growing more frequent, had come those giddy flashes, and once, he wasn't sure, but it seemed as though he had fainted for a moment or two.

It was getting on to ten o'clock now, and he sat, or, rather, lay forward with his head in his arms over the desk under the lighted lamp. The sounder was clicking busily; the Kid raised his head a little, and listened. There was a Circus Special, west, that night, and No. 2, the eastbound Limited, was an hour off schedule, and, trying to make it up, was running with clear rights while everything else on the train sheet dodged to the sidings to get out of the way. The sounder stopped for an instant, then came the dispatcher's "complete"—the Circus Special was to cross the Limited at L'Aramie, the next station west of Angel Forks. It had nothing to do with the Kid, and it would be another two hours at least before the Circus Special was along.

The Kid's head dropped back on his arms again. What was he to do? He could stick out the night somehow—he must stick it out. If he asked for a relief it was the sack for the man upstairs—it was throwing McGrew cold. It wouldn't take them long to find out what was the matter with McGrew! And surely McGrew would be straight again by morning—he wasn't any better now, worse if anything, but by morning surely the worst of the drink would be out of him. McGrew had been pretty bad all day—as bad as the Kid had ever seen a man. He wondered a little numbly about it. He had thought once that McGrew might have had some more drink hidden, and he had searched for it during the forenoon while McGrew watched him from the bunk; but he had found nothing. It was strange, too, the way McGrew was acting, strange that it took so long for the man to get it out of his system, it seemed to the Kid; but the Kid had not found those last two bottles, neither was the Kid up in therapeutics, nor was he the diagnostician that Doctor McTurk was.

"By morning," said the Kid, with the moan, "if he can't stand a trick I'll have to wire. I'm afraid to-night 'll be my limit."

It was still and quiet—not even a breeze to whisper through the cut, or stir the pine-clad slope into rustling murmurs. Almost heavily the silence lay over the little station buried deep in the heart of the mighty range. Only the sounder spoke and chattered—at intervals—spasmodically.

An hour passed, an hour and a half, and the Kid scarcely moved—then he roused himself. It was pretty near time for the Circus Special to be going through to make its meeting point with the Limited at L'Aramie, and he looked at his lights. He could see them, up and down, switch and semaphore, from the bay window of the station where he sat. It was just a glance to assure himself that all was right. He saw the lights through red and black flashes before his eyes, saw that the main line was open as it should be—and dropped his swooning, throbbing head back on his arms once more.

And then suddenly he sat erect. From overhead came the dull, ominous thud of a heavy fall. He rose from his chair—and caught at the table, as the giddiness surged over him and his head swam around. For an instant he hung there swaying, then made his way weakly for the stairs and started up.

There was a light above—he had kept a lamp burning there—but for a moment after he reached the top nothing but those ghastly red and black flashes met his eyes—and then, with a strange, inarticulate cry, he moved toward the side of the room.

Sprawled in a huddled heap upon the floor beneath the eaves, collapsed, out like the snuffing of a candle wick, as Doctor McTurk had said some day he would go out, dead, lay Dan McGrew—the loose plank up, two empty bottles beside him, as though the man had snatched first one and then the other from their hiding place in the wild hope that there might be something left of the supply drained to the last drop hours before.

The Kid stooped over McGrew, straightened up, stared at the lifeless form before him, and his hands went queerly to his temples and the sides of his head—the room spun dizzily around and around, the lamp, the dead man on the floor, the bunks, a red-and-black flashed whirl—the Kid's hands reached grasping into nothingness for support, and he slipped inertly to the floor.

From below came the sharp tattoo of the sounder making the Angel Forks call, quick, imperative at first—then like a knell of doom, in frantic appeal, the despatchers' life and death, the seventeen—and, "Hold Circus Special." Over and over again the sounder spoke and cried and babbled and sobbed like a human soul in agony; over and over again while the minutes passed, and with heavy, resonant roar the long Circus Special rumbled by—but the man on the night wire at Angel Forks was dead; and the Kid was past the hearing—there were to come weeks, while he raved in the furious delirium and lay in the heavy stupor of brain fever, before a key meant anything to him again.

It's queer the way things happen! Call it luck, if you like—maybe it is—maybe it's something more than luck. It wouldn't be sacrilege, would it, to say that the hand of God had something to do with keeping the Circus Special and the Limited from crashing head-on in the rock-walled, twisting cañon, four miles west of Angel Forks, whatever might be the direct means, ridiculous, before-unheard-of, funny, or absurd, that saved a holocaust that night? That wouldn't be sacrilege, would it? Well, call it luck, if you like—call it anything you like. Queer things happen in railroading—but this stands alone, queerest of all in the annals of fifty roads in a history of fifty years.

The Limited, thanks to a clean-swept track, had been making up time, making up enough of it to throw meeting point with the Circus Special at L'Aramie out—and the despatcher had tried to Hold the Circus Special at Angel Forks and let the Limited pass her there. There was time enough to do it, plenty of it—and under ordinary circumstances it would have been all in the night's work. But there was blame, too, and Saxton, who was on the key at Big Cloud that night, relieving Donkin, who was sick, went on the carpet for it—he let the Limited tear through L'Aramie before he sent his order to Angel Forks, with the Circus Special in the open cutting along for her meeting point with nothing but Angel Forks between her and L'Aramie.

That was the despatcher's end of it—the other end is a little different. Whether some disgruntled employee, seeking to revenge himself on the circus management, loosened the door of one of the cars while the Special lay on the siding waiting for a crossing at Mitre Peak, her last stop, or whether it was purely an accident, no one ever knew—though the betting was pretty heavy on the disgruntled employee theory—there had been trouble the day before. However, be that as it may, one way or the other, one thing was certain, they found the door open after it was all over, and—but, we're over-running our holding orders—we'll get to that in a minute.

Bull Coussirat and Fatty Hogan, in the 428, were pulling the Special that night, and as they shot by the Angel Forks station the fireman was leaning out of the gangway for a breath of air.

"Wonder how the Kid's making out?" he shouted in Hogan's ear, retreating into the cab as they bumped over the west-end siding switch with a shattering racket. "Good kid, that—ain't seen him since the day he came up with us."

Hogan nodded, checking a bit for the curve ahead, mindful of his high-priced, heavily insured live freight.

"Did ever you hear such a forsaken row!" he ejaculated irrelevantly. "Listen to it, Bull. About three runs a year like this and I'd be clawing at iron bars and trying to mimic a menagerie. Listen to it!"

Coussirat listened. Every conceivable kind of an animal on earth seemed to be lifting its voice to High Heaven in earnest protest for some cause or other—the animals, beyond any peradventure of doubt, were displeased with their accommodations, uncomfortable, and indignantly uneasy. The rattle of the train was a paltry thing—over it hyenas laughed, lions roared, elephants trumpeted, and giraffes emitted whatever noises giraffes emit. It was a medley fit for Bedlam, from shrill, whistling, piercing shrieks that set the ear-drums tingling, to hoarse, cavernous bellows like echoing thunder.

"Must be something wrong with the animals," said Coussirat, with an appreciative grin. "They weren't yowling like that when we started—guess they don't like their Pullmans."

"It's enough to give you the creeps," growled Fatty Hogan.

Coussirat reached for the chain, and with an expert flip flung wide the furnace door—and the bright glow lighted up the heavens and shot the black of the cab into leaping, fiery red. Coussirat swung around, reaching for his shovel—and grabbed Hogan's arm instead, as a chorus of unearthly, chattering shrieks rent the air.

"For the love of Mike, for God's sake, Fatty," he gasped, "look at that!"

Perched on the tender, on the top of the water tank, just beyond the edge of the coal, sat a well-developed and complacent ape—and, as Coussirat looked, from the roof of the property car, behind the tender, another swung to join the first.

"Jiminy Christmas!" yelled Hogan, screwed around in his seat. "The whole blasted tribe of monkeys is loose! That's what's wrong with the rest of the animals—the little devils have probably been teasing them through the barred air-holes at the ends of the cars. Look at 'em! Look at 'em come!"

Coussirat was looking—he hadn't stopped looking. Along the roof of the property car they came, a chattering, jabbering, swaying string of them—and on the brake wheel two sat upright, lurching and clinging for dear life, the short hair blown straight back from their foreheads with the sweep of the wind, while they peered with earnest, strained faces into the cab. And the rest, two dozen strong now, massed on the roof of the property car, perilously near the edges for anything but monkeys, inspected the cab critically, picked at each other's hides, made gestures, some of which were decidedly uncomplimentary, and chattered volubly to their leaders already on the tender. The tender seemed to appeal. Down came another monkey via the brake-rod, and swung by its tail with a sort of flying-trapeze effect to the tender—and what one did another did—the accommodation on the water tank was being crowded—the front rank moved up on the coal.

"Say!" bawled Coussirat to his mate. "Say, Fatty, get up and give 'em your seat—there's ladies present. And say, what are we going to do about it? The little pets ought to be put back to bed."

"Do nothing!" snapped Hogan, one wary eye on the monkeys, and the other on the right of way ahead. "If the circus people don't know enough to shut their damned beasts up properly it's their own lookout—it's not our funeral, whatever happens."

The advance guard of the monkeys had approached too close to the crest of the high-piled coal, and as a result, while they scrambled back for firmer footing, they sent a small avalanche of it rolling into the cab. This was touching Coussirat personally—and Coussirat glared.

Coussirat was no nature faker—he knew nothing about animals, their habits, peculiarities, or characteristics. He snatched up a piece of coal, and heaved it at the nearest monkey.

"Get out, you little devil—scut!" he shouted—and missed—and the effect was disconcerting to Coussirat.

Monkeys are essentially imitative, earnestly so—and not over-timid when in force—they imitated Coussirat. Before he could get his breath, first one and then another began to pick up hunks of coal and heave them back—and into the cab poured a rain of missiles. For an instant, a bare instant, Coussirat stood his ground, then he dove for the shelter of his seat. Soft coal? Yes—but there are some fairish lumps even in soft coal.

Crash went the plate-glass face of the steam gauge! It was a good game, a joyous game—and there was plenty of coal, hunks and hunks of it—and plenty of monkeys, "the largest and most intelligent collection on earth," the billboards said.

Crash went the cab glass behind Fatty Hogan's head—and the monkeys shrieked delight. They hopped and jumped and performed gyrations over each other, those in the rear; while those on the firing line, with stern, screwed up, wizened faces, blinking furiously, swung their hairy arms—and into the cab still poured the hail of coal.

With a yell of rage, clasping at his neck where the glass had cut him, Fatty Hogan bounced forward in his seat.

"You double-blanked, blankety-blanked, triple-plated ass!" he bellowed at Coussirat. "You—you damned fool, you!" he screamed. "Didn't you know any better than that! Drive 'em off with the hose—turn the hose on them!"

"Turn it on yourself," said Coussirat sullenly; he was full length on his seat, and mindful that his own glass might go as Hogan's had. "D'ye think I'm looking for glory and a wreath of immortelles?"

Funny? Well, perhaps. Is this sacrilege—to say it wasn't luck?

Crash! There was a hiss of steam, a scalding stream of water, and in a moment the cab was in a white cloud. Mechanically, Hogan slammed his throttle shut, and snatched at the "air." It was the water glass—and the water glass sometimes is a nasty matter. Coussirat was on his feet now like a flash, and both men, clamped-jawed, groped for the cock; and neither got off scathless before they shut it—and by then the train had stopped, and not a monkey was in sight.

Jimmie Burke, the conductor, came running up from the rear end, as Coussirat and Hogan swung out of the gangway to the ground.

"What's wrong?" demanded Burke—he had his watch in his hand.

"Monkeys," said Hogan, and he clipped the word off without any undue cordiality.

"How?" inquired Burke.

"Monkeys," said Hogan—a little more brittle than before.

"Monkeys?" repeated Burke politely.

"Yes, monkeys!" roared Hogan, dancing up and down with the pain of his scalded hands. "Monkeys—that's plain enough, ain't it? Monkeys, blast you!—MONKEYS!"

To the group came one of the circus men.

"The door of the monkey car is open!" he announced breathlessly. "The monkeys have escaped."

"You don't say!" said Coussirat heavily.

"Yes," said the circus man. "And, look here, we'll have to find them; they couldn't have got away from the train until it stopped just now."

"Are they intelligent," inquired Coussirat in a velvet voice, "same as the billboards say?"

"Of course," said the circus man anxiously.

"Well, then, just write them a letter and let them know when to be on hand for the next performance," said Coussirat grimly. "There's lots of time—we can hang around here and stall the line for another hour or two, anyway!"

Burke and Hogan were in earnest consultation.

"We're close on the Limited's time as it is," said Hogan. "And look at that cab."

"We'd better back up to the Forks, then, and let her cross us there, that's the safest thing to do," said Burke—and swung his lamp.

"Look here," said the circus man, "we've got to find those monkeys."

Burke looked at him unhappily—monkeys had thrown their meeting point out—and there was the trainmaster to talk to when they got back to Big Cloud.

"Unless you want to spend the night here you'd better climb aboard," he snapped. "All right, Hogan—back away!" And he swung his lamp again.

Ten minutes later, as the Circus Special took the Angel Forks siding and the front-end brakeman was throwing the switch clear again for the main line, a chime whistle came ringing long, imperiously, from the curve ahead. Fatty Hogan's face went white; he was standing up in the cab and close to Coussirat, and he clasped the fireman's arm. "What's that?" he cried.

The answer came with a rush—a headlight cut streaming through the night, there was a tattoo of beating trucks, an eddying roar of wind, a storm of exhausts, a flash of window lights like scintillating diamonds, and the Limited, pounding the fish-plates at sixty miles an hour, was in and out—and gone.

Hogan sank weakly down on his seat, and a bead of sweat spurted from his forehead.

"My God, Bull," he whispered, "do you know what that means? Something's wrong. She's against our order."

They found the Kid and Dan McGrew, and they got the Kid into little Doctor McTurk's hands at Big Cloud—but it was eight weeks and more, while the boy raved and lay in stupor, before they got the story. Then the Kid told it to Carleton in the super's office late one afternoon when he was convalescent—told him the bald, ugly facts in a sort of hopeless way.

Carleton listened gravely; it had come near to being a case of more lives gone out on the Circus Special and the Limited that night than he cared to think about. He listened gravely, and when the Kid had finished, Carleton, in that quiet way of his, put his finger instantly on the crux of the matter—not sharply, but gently, for the Kid had played a man's part, and "Royal" Carleton loved a man.

"Was it worth it, Keene?" he asked. "Why did you try to shield McGrew?"

The Kid was staring hard at the floor.

"He was my father," he said.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook