This is Martin Bradley's story; an excerpt, if you will, from the pages of railroading where strange and grim things are, where death and laughter lock arms in the winking of an eye, and are written down as though akin. There have been better men than Martin Bradley—and worse. Measure him as you will, that is one matter; in the last analysis frailty is a human heritage, and that is another. On the Hill Division they called him a game man.

Bradley was a fireman, a silent, taciturn chap. Not sullen or surly—don't get that idea—more quiet than anything else, never much of anything to say. When a laugh was going around Bradley could appreciate the fun, and did; only his laugh seemed tempered somehow by something behind it all. Not a wet blanket, not by any means—they didn't understand him then, perhaps, didn't pretend to—he never invited a confidence or gave one—but the boys would crowd up and make room for Bradley any time, as they dragged at their pipes and swopped yarns in the murk of the roundhouse at the midnight lunch hour, about the time Bradley used to stroll in, snapping his fingers together softly in that curious, absent-minded way he had of doing—for Bradley was firing for Smithers then on the 582, that took the local freight, west, out of Big Cloud in the small morning hours.

Well set-up, jumper tucked in his overalls, the straps over husky shoulders, thick through the chest, medium height, stocky almost, steady black eyes, a clean-shaven, serious face, the black hair grizzled a little and threading gray—that was Martin Bradley. A bit old to be still firing, perhaps, but he had had to take his turn for promotion with the rest of the men when he came to the Hill Division. He'd have gone up in time, way up, to the best on the division, probably, for Regan had him slated for an engine even then, only——But we'll come to that in a moment; there's just a word or two to "clear" the line before we have "rights" through to the terminal.

Big Cloud in those days, which was shortly after the line was laid through the Rockies, and the East and West were finally linked after the stress of toil and hardship and bitter struggle was over, was a pretty hard burg, pretty hard—a whole lot harder than it is to-day. There was still a big transient population of about every nationality on earth, for the road, just because they could operate it, wasn't finished by a good deal, and construction camps were more numerous than stations. Bridge gangs were still at work; temporary trestles were being replaced with ones more permanent; there were cuts through the gray of the mountain rock to be trimmed and barbered with dynamite; and there were grades and approaches and endless things to struggle over; and—well, Big Cloud was still the Mecca of the gamblers, the dive keepers, and the purveyors of "red-eye," who had flocked there to feed like vultures on the harvest of pay checks that were circling around. It was a pretty hard place, Big Cloud—everything wide open—not much of any law there in the far West in the shadow of the Rockies. It's different to-day, of course; but that's the way it was then, when Martin Bradley was firing on the Transcontinental.

Bradley from the first boarded with the MacQuigans. That's how, probably, he came to think more of young Reddy MacQuigan, who was a wiper in the roundhouse, than he did of any of the rest of the railroad crowd. Perhaps not altogether for young Reddy's sake; perhaps on account of Mrs. MacQuigan, and particularly on account of old John MacQuigan—who wasn't any good on earth—a sodden parasite on the household when he was drunk, and an ugly brute when there wasn't any money forthcoming from the products of Mrs. MacQuigan's ubiquitous washtubs to get drunk with. For old John MacQuigan, between whom and Bradley there existed an armed truce, each regarding the other mutually as a necessary evil, had no job—for two reasons: first, because he didn't want one; and, second, because no one would have given him one if he had. Mrs. MacQuigan, a patient, faded-out little woman, tireless because she had to be tireless, shouldered the burden, and hid her shame as best she could from her neighbors. Reddy? No; he didn't help out much—then. Reddy used to stray a little from the straight and narrow himself—far enough so that it was pretty generally conceded that Reddy held his job in the roundhouse on account of his mother, who did Regan's washing; and, as a matter of cold fact, that was about the truth of it; and, as a matter of cold fact, too, that was why the big-hearted master mechanic liked Martin Bradley.

"I dunno," Regan used to say, twiddling his thumbs over his fat paunch, "I dunno; it's about the last place I'd want to board, with that drunken pickings from the scrap heap around. The only decent thing old John 'll ever do will be to die—h'm? About a week of it would finish me. Bradley? Yes; he's hung on there quite a spell. Pretty good man, Martin. I dunno what Mrs. MacQuigan would do without him. Guess that's why he stays. I'm going to give Martin an engine one of these days. That'll help out some. When? When his turn comes. First chance I get. I can't poison anybody off to make room for him—can I?"

And now just a single word more, while we're getting back the "complete," to say that this had been going on for two or three years; Martin Bradley boarding at the MacQuigans' and firing the 582; young Reddy wiping in the roundhouse, and on the ragged edge of dismissal every time the pay car came along; Mrs. MacQuigan at her washtubs; old John leading his disreputable, gin-soaked life; Tommy Regan between the devil of discipline and the deep blue sea of soft-heartedness anent the MacQuigans' son and heir—and we're off, the tissue buttoned in our reefer—off with a clean-swept track.

It was pay day, an afternoon in the late fall, and, growing dusk, the switch lights in the Big Cloud yards were already beginning to twinkle red and white and green, as Martin Bradley, from the pay car platform, his pay check in his pocket, swung himself to the ground and pushed his way through a group of men clustered beside the car. He had caught sight of Regan across the spur going into the roundhouse a moment before, and he wanted a word with the master mechanic—nothing very important—a requisition for an extra allowance of waste. And then, amongst the crowd, he caught sight of some one else, and smiled a little grimly. Old John MacQuigan, as he always did on pay days, was hovering about first one, and then another, playing good fellow and trying to ring himself in on the invitations that would be going around presently when the whistle blew.

Bradley, his smile thinning a little as old John, catching sight of him in turn, sidled off, passed through the group, crossed the turntable—and halted abruptly, just outside the big engine doors, as Regan's voice came to him in an angry growl.

"Now mind what I say, Reddy! Once more, and you're through—for keeps. And that's my last word. Understand?"

"Well, you needn't jump a fellow before he's done anything!" It was Reddy MacQuigan, answering sullenly.

There was silence for a moment; then Regan's voice again, pretty cold and even now.

"I dunno," he said. "I figure you must have been brought into the world for something, but I dunno what it is. You're not to blame for your father; but if I let a mother of mine, and nearing sixty years, slave out the little time she's got left, I'd want to crawl out somewhere amongst the buttes and make coyote meat of myself. Jump you before you've done anything—eh!" The little master mechanic's voice rose suddenly. "I saw you sneak uptown an hour ago when you left the pay car—one drink for a start—h'm! Well, you put another on top of it, and it'll be for a—finish! I'd do a lot for that fine old lady of a mother of yours, and that's why I've taken the trouble to come over here and warn you what'll happen if you put in the night you're heading for. 'Tisn't because I can't run the roundhouse without you, my bucko—mind that!"

Bradley was snapping his fingers in his queer, nervous way. Reddy MacQuigan made no answer; at least, Bradley did not hear any, but he heard Regan moving toward the door. He had no wish to talk to the master mechanic any more, not just at that moment anyhow, so he crunched through the engine cinders to another door, entering the roundhouse as Regan went out on the turntable and headed across the tracks for the station.

Two pits away, Reddy MacQuigan, with a black scowl on his face, leaned against the steam chest of the 1004. Bradley, pretending not to see him, swung through the gangway and into the cab of the 582. There, for half an hour, he busied himself in an aimless fashion; but with an eye out for the young wiper, as the latter moved about the roundhouse.

The whistle was blowing and Reddy was pulling off his overalls, as Bradley swung out of his cab again; and he was shading a match from the wind over the bowl of his pipe just across the turntable, as Reddy came out. He tossed away the match, puffed, and nodded at MacQuigan.

"Hello, Reddy," he said in his quiet way, and fell into step with the boy.

MacQuigan didn't answer. Bradley never spoke much, anyhow. They crossed the tracks and started up Main Street in silence. Here, the railroaders, in groups and twos and threes, filled the street; some hurrying homeward; others dropping in through the swinging doors, not infrequently located along the right of way, where gasoline lamps flared out over the gambling hells, and the crash of tin-pan pianos, mingled with laughter and shouting, came rolling out from the dance-hall entrances.

Bradley, with his eyes in front of him, walked along silently. Upon MacQuigan's young face had settled the black scowl again; and it grew blacker as he glanced, now and then, at the man beside him. Behind them came a knot of his cronies—and some one called his name.

MacQuigan halted suddenly.

"Well, so long, Martin," he said gruffly. "I'll be up a little later."

Bradley's hand went out and linked in the other's arm.

"Better come on home, Reddy," he said, with one of his rare smiles.

"Later," Reddy flung out.

"Better make it now," said Bradley quietly.

The group behind had come up with them now, and, crowding into Faro Dave's place, paused a moment in the entrance to absorb the situation.

"Be a good boy, Reddy, and do as you're told," one of them sang out.

Reddy whirled on Bradley, the hot blood flushing his face.

"I wish you'd mind your own blasted business!" he flared. "I'm blamed good and sick of you tagging me. This isn't the first time. You make me weary! The trouble with you is that you don't know anything but the everlasting grouch you carry around. You're a funeral! You're a tight-wad. Everybody says so. Nobody ever heard of you spending a cent. Go on—beat it—leave me alone!"

Bradley's face whitened a little, but the smile was still on his lips.

"Better draw your fire, Reddy; there's no need of getting hot," he said. "Come on home; you know what'll happen if you don't; and you know what Regan told you back there in the roundhouse."

"So you heard that, eh?" Reddy shot at him. "I thought you did; and you thought you'd fool me by hanging around there, playing innocent, to walk home with me, eh?"

"I wasn't trying to fool you," Bradley answered; and his hand went now to the wiper's shoulder.

"Let go!" snarled Reddy. "I'll go home when I feel like it!"

Bradley's hand closed a little tighter.

"Don't make a fool of yourself, Reddy," he said gravely. "You'll——"

And that was all. MacQuigan wasn't much more than a boy, not much more than that, and hot-headed—and his chums were looking on. He freed himself from Bradley's hold—with a smash of his fist in Bradley's face.

Fight? No; there wasn't any fight. There was a laugh—from old John MacQuigan, who had been trailing the young bloods up the street. And as Bradley, after staggering back from the unexpected blow, recovered himself, Reddy MacQuigan, followed by old John, was disappearing into Faro Dave's "El Dorado" in front of him.

Bradley went home alone.

Supper was ready—it was always ready, as everything else was where little old Mrs. MacQuigan was concerned; and there were four plates on the red-checkered tablecloth—as there always were—even on pay day! Bradley sat down, with Mrs. MacQuigan opposite him.

Not much to look at—Mrs. MacQuigan. A thin, sparse little woman in a home-made black alpaca dress; the gray hair, thinning, brushed smooth across her forehead; wrinkles in the patient face, a good many of them; a hint of wistfulness in the black eyes, that weren't as bright as they used to be; not very pretty hands, they were red and lumpy around the knuckles. Not much to look at—just a little old woman, brave as God Almighty makes them—just Mrs. MacQuigan.

Bradley, uneasy, glancing at her furtively now and again, ate savagely, without relish. There wasn't much said; nothing at all about old John and young Reddy. Mrs. MacQuigan never asked a question—it was pay day.

There wasn't much said until after the meal was over, and Bradley had lighted his pipe and pushed back his chair; with Mrs. MacQuigan lingering at the table, kind of wistfully it seemed, kind of listening, kind of hanging back from putting away the dishes and taking the two empty plates off the table—and then she smiled over at Bradley as though there wasn't anything on her mind at all.

"Faith, Martin," she said, "sure I don't know at all, at all, what I'd be doing not seeing you around the house; but it's wondered I have often enough you've not picked out some nice girl and made a home of your own."

The words in their suddenness came to Bradley with a shock; and, his face strained, he stared queerly at Mrs. MacQuigan.

A little startled, Mrs. MacQuigan half rose from her chair.

"What is it, Martin?" she asked tremulously.

For a moment more, Bradley stared at her. Strange that she should have spoken like that to-night when there seemed more than ever a sort of grim analogy between her life and his, that seemed like a bond to-night drawing them closer—that seemed, somehow, to urge him to pour out his heart to her—there was motherliness in the sweet old face that seemed to draw him out of himself as no one else had for more years than he cared to remember—as even she never had before.

"What is it, Martin?" she asked again.

And then Bradley smiled.

"I've picked her out," he said, in a low voice. "I'm waiting for a little girl that's promised some day to keep house for me."

"Oh, Martin!" cried Mrs. MacQuigan excitedly. "And—and you never said a word!"

Bradley's hand dove into his inside pocket and came out with a photograph—and the smile on his face now was full of pride.

"Here's her picture," he said.

"Wait, Martin—wait till I get my spectacles!" exclaimed Mrs. MacQuigan, all in a flutter; and, rising, she hurried over to the little shelf in the corner. Then, adjusting the steel bows over her ears, with little pats to smooth down her hair, she picked up the photograph and stared at it—at the picture of a little tot of eight or nine, at a merry, happy little face that smiled at her roguishly.

"She's ten now, God bless her!" said Bradley simply. "That was taken two years ago—so I haven't so long to wait, you see."

"Why—why, Martin," stammered Mrs. MacQuigan, "sure you never said you was married. And the wife, Martin, poor boy, she's—she's dead?"

Bradley picked up the photograph and replaced it in his pocket—but the smile now was gone.

"No—I don't know—I never heard," he said. He walked over to the window, pulled the shade and stared out, his back to Mrs. MacQuigan. "She ditched me. I was on the Penn then—doing well. I had my engine at twenty-five. I went bad for a bit. I'd have gone all the way if it hadn't been for the kiddie. I'd have had more to answer for than I'd want to have, blood, perhaps, if I'd stayed, so I pulled up stakes and came out here." He turned again and came back from the window. "I couldn't bring the kiddie, of course; it was no place for her. And I couldn't leave her where she was to grow up with that in her life, for she was too young then, thank God, to understand; so I'm giving her the best my money'll buy in a girl's school back East, and"—his voice broke a little—"and that's the little girl I'm waiting for, to make a home for me—some time."

Mrs. MacQuigan's hands fumbled a little as she took off her spectacles and laid them down—fumbled a little as she laid them on Bradley's sleeve.

"God be good to you, Martin," she whispered, and, picking up some dishes, went hurriedly from the room.

Bradley went back again and stood by the window, looking out, snapping his fingers softly with that trick of his when any emotion was upon him. Strange that he should have told his story to Mrs. MacQuigan to-night! And yet he was glad he had told her; she probably would never refer to it again—just understand. Yes; he was glad he had told her. He hadn't intended to, of course. It had come almost spontaneously, almost as though for some reason it was meant that he should tell her, and——

Bradley's eyes fixed on a small boy's figure that came suddenly streaking across the road and flung itself at the MacQuigans' little front gate; then the gate swung, and the boy came rushing up the yard. Bradley thought he recognized the figure as one of the call boys, and a call boy running like that was always and ever a harbinger of trouble. Instinctively he glanced back into the room. Mrs. MacQuigan was out in the kitchen. Bradley stepped quickly into the hall, and reached the front door as the boy began to pound a tattoo with his fists on the panels.

Bradley jerked the door open.

"What's wrong?" he demanded tersely.

The light from the hall was on the boy now—and his eyes were popping.

"Say," he panted, in a scared way, "say, one of Reddy's friends sent me. There's a wild row on at Faro Dave's. Reddy's raisin' the roof, an'——"

Bradley's hand closed over the youngster's mouth. In answer to the knock, Mrs. MacQuigan was hurrying down the hall.

"What's the matter, Martin?" she questioned nervously, looking from Bradley to the boy and back again to Bradley.

"Nothing," said Bradley reassuringly. "I'm wanted down at the roundhouse to go out with a special." He gave the boy a significant push gatewards. "Go on, bub," he said. "I'll be right along."

Bradley went back into the house, picked up his cap, and, with a cheery good-night to Mrs. MacQuigan, started out again. He walked briskly to the gate and along past the picket fence—Mrs. MacQuigan had the shade drawn back, and was watching him from the window—and then, hidden by the Coussirats' cottage next door, he broke into a run.

It wasn't far—distances weren't great in Big Cloud in those days, aren't now, for that matter—and in less than two minutes Bradley had Faro Dave's "El Dorado" in sight down Main Street—and his face set hard. He wasn't the only one that was running; men were racing from every direction; some coming up the street; others, he passed, who shouted at him, and to whom he paid no attention. In a subconscious way he counted a dozen figures dart in through the swinging doors of the "El Dorado" from the street—news of a row travels fast.

Bradley burst through the doors, still on the run—and brought up at a dead halt against a solidly packed mass of humanity; Polacks and Swedes and Hungarians from the construction gangs; a scattering of railroad men in the rear; and more than a sprinkling of the harder element gathered from all over town, the hangers-on, the sharpers, and the card men, the leeches, the ilk of Faro Dave who ran the place, and who seemed to be intent on maintaining a blockade at the far end of the barroom.

The place was jammed, everybody craning their necks toward the door of the back room, where Faro Dave ran his stud, faro and roulette layouts; and from there, over the shuffling feet of the crowding men in the bar, came a snarl of voices—amongst them, Reddy's, screaming out in drunken fury, incoherently.

Bradley, without ceremony, pushed into the crowd, and the foreigners made way for him the best they could. Then he commenced to shoulder through the sort of self-constituted guard of sympathizers with the house. One of these tried to block his way more effectually.

"You'd better keep your hands off, whoever you are," the man threw at him. "The young fool's been putting the place on the rough ever since he came in here. All Dave wants to do is put him out of the back door, and——"

"Thash the boy, Reddy! Don't lesh him bluff you—saw him change cards m'self. Damn thief—damn cheat—thash the boy, Reddy!" It was old John MacQuigan's voice, from the other room, high-pitched, clutter-tongued, drunken.

Then a voice, cold, with a sneer, and a ring in the sneer that there was no mistaking—Faro Dave's voice:

"You make a move, and I'll drop you quicker'n——"

Bradley's arms swept out with a quick, fierce movement, hurling the man who tried to block him out of the way; and, fighting now, ramming with body and shoulders, throwing those in front of him to right and left, he half fell, half flung himself finally through the doorway into the room beyond—too late.

"Thash the boy, Reddy!"—it was old John's maudlin voice again. "Thash the——"

The picture seared itself into Bradley's brain, lightning-quick, instantaneous, but vivid in every detail, as he ran: The little group of men, three or four, who had been sitting at the game probably, seeking cover in the far corner; Reddy MacQuigan, swaying a little, standing before a somewhat flimsy green-baized card table; old John, too far gone to stand upright alone, leaning against the wall behind Reddy; Faro Dave, an ugly white in his face, an uglier revolver in his hand, standing, facing Reddy across the table; the quick forward lunge from Reddy, the crash of the table as the boy hurled it to the floor and flung himself toward the gambler; the roar of a revolver shot, the flash of the short-tongued flame; a choking scream; another shot, the tinkle of glass as the bullet shattered the ceiling lamp; then blackness—all but a dull glow filtering in through the barroom door, that for the first instant in the sudden contrast gave no light at all.

Bradley, before he could recover himself, pitched over a tangled mass of wrecked tables—over that and a man's body. Somebody ran through the room, and the back door slammed. There were shouts now, and yells—a chorus of them from the barroom. Some one bawled for a light.

Bradley got to his knees, and, reaching to raise the boy, wounded or killed as he believed, found his throat suddenly caught in a vicious grasp—and Reddy's snarling laugh was in his ears.

"Let go!" Bradley choked. "Let go, Reddy. It's me—Martin."

Reddy's hands fell.

"Martin, eh?" he said thickly. "Thought it was—hic—that——"

Reddy's voice sort of trailed off. They were bringing lamps into the room now, holding them up high to get a comprehensive view of things—and the light fell on the farther wall. Reddy was staring at it, his eyes slowly dilating, his jaw beginning to hang weakly.

Bradley glanced over his shoulder. Old John, as though he had slid down the wall, as though his feet had slipped out from under him, sat on the floor, legs straight out in front of him, shoulders against the wall and sagged a little to one side, a sort of ironic jeer on the blotched features, a little red stream trickling down from his right temple—dead.

Not a pretty sight? No—perhaps not. But old John never was a pretty sight. He'd gone out the way he'd lived—that's all.

It was Martin Bradley who reached him first, and the crowd hung back while he bent over the other, hung back and made way for Reddy, who came unsteadily across the room—not from drink now, the boy's gait—the drink was out of him—he was weak. There was horror in the young wiper's eyes, and a white, awful misery in his face.

A silence fell. Not a man spoke. They looked from father to son. The room was filling up now—but they came on tiptoe. Gamblers, most of them, and pretty rough, pretty hard cases, and life held light—but in that room that night they only looked from father to son, the oaths gone from their lips, sobered, their faces sort of gray and stunned.

Bradley, from bending over the dead man, straightened up.

Reddy MacQuigan, with little jabs of his tongue, wet his lips.

"The old man's gone, ain't he?" he said in a queer, lifeless way.

"Yes," said Bradley simply.

MacQuigan looked around the circle sort of mechanically, sort of unseeingly—then at the form on the floor. Then he spoke again, almost as though he were talking to himself.

"Might just as well have been me that fired the shot," he whispered, nodding his head. "I'm to blame—ain't I? An' I guess—I guess I've finished the old lady, too." He looked around the circle again, then his hands kind of wriggled up to his temples—and before Bradley could spring to catch him, he went down in a heap on the floor.

MacQuigan wasn't much more than a boy, not much more than that—but old enough in another way. What he went through that night and in the days that followed was between MacQuigan and his God. Life makes strange meeting points sometimes, and sometimes the running orders are hard to understand, and sometimes it looks like disaster quick and absolute, with everything in the ditch, and the right of way a tangled ruin—and yet when morning breaks there is no call for the wrecking crew, and it comes to you deep down inside somewhere that it's the Great Despatcher who's been sitting in on the night trick.

Reddy MacQuigan went back to the roundhouse a different MacQuigan than he had left it—sort of older, quieter, more serious—and the days went by, a month or two of them.

Regan, with a sort of inward satisfaction and some complacency, tugged at his scraggly brown mustache, and summed it up pretty well.

"Did I not say," said Regan, "that the only decent thing old John would ever do would be to die? H'm? Well, then, I was right, wasn't I? Look at young Reddy! Straight as a string—and taking care of the old lady now. No; I ain't getting my shirts starched the way Mrs. MacQuigan used to starch them—but no matter. Mrs. MacQuigan isn't taking in washing any more, God bless her! I guess Reddy got it handed to him pretty straight on the carpet that night. I'll have him pulling a throttle one of these days—what?"

Bradley? Yes; this is Martin Bradley's story—not Reddy MacQuigan's. But Reddy had his part in it—had running orders to make one more of those strange meeting points fixed by the Great Despatcher that we were speaking about a minute ago.

It was three months to the day from old John MacQuigan's death that Bradley, in from a run, found a letter waiting for him up at Mrs. MacQuigan's—and went down under it like a felled ox! Not the big thing to do? Well, perhaps not—all that he cared for in life, everything that he lived for, everything that had kept him straight since his trouble years ago, snatched from him without a moment's warning—that was all. Another man might not have lost his grip—or he might. Bradley lost his—for a little while—but they call him to-day a game man on the Hill Division.

White-faced, not quite understanding himself, in a queer sort of groping way, Bradley, in his flood of bitter misery, told Mrs. MacQuigan, who had watched him open the letter—told her that his little housekeeper, as he had come to call the kiddie, was dead. Not even a chance to see her—an accident—the letter from the lawyers who did his business, transmitting the news received from the school authorities who knew only the lawyers as the principals—a letter, trying to break the news in a softer way than a telegram would have done, since Bradley was too far away to get back East in time, anyhow.

And Mrs. MacQuigan put her arms around him, and, understanding as only her mother's heart could understand, tried to comfort him, while the tears rained down the sweet old face. But Bradley's eyes were dry. With his elbows on the table, holding his chin in his hands, his face like stone, he stared at the letter he had spread out on the red checkered cloth—stared for a long time at that, and at the little photograph he had taken from his pocket.

"Martin, boy," pleaded Mrs. MacQuigan, and her hand brushed back the hair from his forehead, "Martin, boy, don't take it like that."

And then Bradley turned and looked at her—not a word—only a bitter laugh—and picked up his letter and the picture and went out.

Bradley went up on the 582 with the local freight, west, that night, and there was a dare-devil laugh in his heart and a mechanical sense of existence in his soul. And in the cab that night, deep in the mountains, Bradley lost his grip. It seemed to sweep him in a sudden, overwhelming surge; and, with the door swung wide, the cab leaping into fiery red, the sweat beads trickling down his face that was white in a curious way where the skin showed through for all the grime and perspiration, he lurched and snatched at his engineer's arm.

"Life's a hell of a thing, ain't it, Smithers?" he bawled over the roar of the train and the swirl of the wind, wagging his head and shaking imperatively at Smithers' arm.

Smithers, a fussy little man, with more nerves than are good for an engineer, turned, stared, caught a something in the fireman's face—and tried to edge a little farther over on his seat. In the red, flickering glare, Bradley's eyes had a look in them that wasn't sane, and his figure, swaying with the heave of the cab, seemed to shoot back and forth uncannily, grotesquely, in and out of the shadows.

"Martin, for God's sake, Martin," gasped the engineer, "what's wrong with you?"

"You heard what I said," shouted Bradley, a sullen note in his voice, gripping the engineer's arm still harder. "That's what it is, ain't it? Why don't you answer?"

Smithers, frightened now, stared mutely. The headlight shot suddenly from the glittering ribbons of steel far out into nothingness, flinging a filmy ray across a cañon's valley, and mechanically Smithers checked a little as they swung the curve. Then, with a deafening roar of thunder racketing through the mountains, they swept into a cut, the rock walls towering high on either side—and over the din Bradley's voice screamed again—and again he shook Smithers' arm.

"Ain't it? D'ye hear—ain't it? Say—ain't it?"

"Y-yes," stammered Smithers weakly, with a gulp.

And then Bradley laughed—queerly.

"You're a damn fool, Smithers!" he flung out, with a savage jeer. "What do you know about it!" And throwing the engineer's arm from him, his shovel clanged and clanged again, as into the red maw before him he shot the coal.

Smithers was scared. Bradley never said another word after that—just kept to his own side of the cab, hugging his seat, staring through the cab glass ahead, chin down on his breast, pulling the door at intervals, firing at intervals like an automaton, then back to his seat again. Smithers was scared.

At Elk River, the end of the local run, Smithers told the train crew about it, and they laughed at him, and looked around to find out what Martin Bradley had to say about it—but Bradley wasn't in sight.

Not much of a place, Elk River, not big enough for one to go anywhere without the whole population knowing it; and it wasn't long before they knew where Bradley was. The local made a two hours' lay-over there before starting back for Big Cloud; and Martin Bradley spent most of it in Kelly's place, a stone's throw from, the station. Not drinking much, a glass or two all told, sitting most of the time staring out of the window—not drinking much—getting the taste of it that he hadn't known for a matter of many years. Two glasses, perhaps three, that was all—but he left Kelly's for the run back with a flask in his pocket.

It was the flask that did it, not Smithers. Smithers was frightened at his silent fireman tippling over his shovel, good and frightened before he got to Big Cloud, and Smithers did not understand; but Smithers, for all that, wasn't the man to throw a mate down cold. Neither was Bradley himself bad enough to have aroused any suspicion. It was the flask that did it.

They made Big Cloud on the dot that morning—11.26. And in the roundhouse, as Bradley stepped out through the gangway, his overalls caught on the hasp of the tool-box on the tender, and the jerk sent the flask flying into splinters on the floor—at Regan's feet.

The fat little master mechanic, on his morning round of inspection, halted, stared in amazement at the broken glass and trickling beverage, got a whiff of the raw spirit, and blinked at Bradley, who, by this time, had reached the ground.

"What's the meaning of this?" demanded Regan, nonplussed. "Not you, Bradley—on the run?"

Bradley did not answer. He was regarding the master mechanic with a half smile—not a pleasant one—more a defiant curl of his lips.

Smithers, discreetly attempting to make his escape through the opposite gangway, caught Regan's attention.

"Here, you, Smithers," Regan called peremptorily, "come——"

Then Bradley spoke, cutting in roughly.

"Leave Smithers out of it," he said.

Regan stared for another moment; then took a quick step forward, close up to Bradley—and got the fireman's breath.

Bradley shoved him away insolently.

It was a minute before Regan spoke. He liked Bradley and always had; but from the soles of his feet up to the crown of his head, Regan, first and last, was a railroad man. And Regan knew but one creed. Other men might drink and play the fool and be forgiven and trusted again, a wiper, a shop hand, a brakeman, perhaps, or any one of the train crew, but a man in the cab of an engine—never. Reasons, excuses, contributory causes, counted not at all—they were not asked for—they did not exist. The fact alone stood—as the fact. It was a minute before Regan spoke, and then he didn't say much, just a word or two without raising his voice, before he turned on his heel and walked out of the roundhouse.

"I'm sorry for this, Bradley," he said. "You're the last man I expected it from. You know the rules. You've fired your last run on this road. You're out."

But Regan might have been making some comment on the weather for all the concern it appeared to give Bradley. He stood leaning against the tender, snapping his fingers in his queer way, silent, hard-faced, his eyes far away from his immediate surroundings. Smithers, a wiper or two, Reddy MacQuigan amongst them, clustered around him after Regan had gone; but Bradley paid no attention to them, answered none of their questions or comments; and after a little while pushed himself through them and went out of the roundhouse.

Bradley didn't go home that day; but Reddy MacQuigan did—at the noon hour. That's how Mrs. MacQuigan got it. Mrs. MacQuigan did not wait to wash up the dishes. She put on the little old-fashioned poke bonnet that she had worn for as many seasons as Big Cloud could remember, and started out to find Regan. She ran the master mechanic to earth on the station platform, and opened up on him, fluttering, anxious, and distressed.

"Sure, Regan," she faltered, "you did not mean it when you fired Martin this morning—not for good."

Regan pulled at his mustache and looked at her—and shook his head at her reprovingly.

"I meant it, Mrs. MacQuigan," he said kindly. "You must know that. It will do neither of us any good to talk about it. I wouldn't have let him out if I could have helped it."

"Then listen here, Regan," she pleaded. "Listen to the why of it, that 'tis only me who knows."

And Regan listened—and the story lost nothing in the telling because the faded eyes were wet, and the wrinkled lips quivered sometimes, and would not form the words.

At the end, big-hearted Regan reached into his back pocket for his plug, met his teeth in it, wrenched a piece away without looking at her, and cleared his throat—but he still shook his head.

"It's no use you talking, Mrs. MacQuigan," he said gruffly, to hide his emotion. "I'd fire any man on earth, 'tis no matter the who or why, for drinking in the cab on a run."

"But, Regan," she begged, catching at his arm, "he'll be leaving Big Cloud with his job gone."

"And what then?" said Regan. "Mabbe 'twould be the best thing—h'm?"

"Ah, Regan," she said, and her voice caught a little, "sure, 'twould be the end of Martin, don't you see? 'Tis me that knows him, and 'twill not last long, the spell, only till the worst of it is over—Martin is too fine for that, Regan. If I can keep him by me, Regan, d'ye mind? If he goes away where there's nobody to give him a thought he'll—he'll—ah, Regan, faith, Regan, 'tis a lot you've thought of Martin Bradley the same as me."

Regan examined a crack in the planking of the station platform minutely, while Mrs. MacQuigan held tenaciously to his coat sleeve.

"I dunno," said Regan heavily. "I dunno. Mabbe I'll——"

"Ah, Regan!" she cried happily. "I knew 'twas——"

"Not in a cab!" interposed Regan hastily. "Not if he was the president of the road. But I'll see, Mrs. MacQuigan, I'll see."

And Regan saw—Thornley, the trainmaster. And after Thornley, he saw Reddy MacQuigan in the roundhouse.

"Reddy," said he, with a growl that wasn't real, "there's a vacancy in the engine crews—h'm?"

"Martin's?" said Reddy quickly.

"Yes," said Regan. "Do you want it?"

"No," said Reddy MacQuigan shortly.

"Good boy," said the fat little master mechanic. "Then I'll give it to you just the same. Martin's through in here; but he'll get a chance braking for Thornley. You'll run spare to begin with, and"—as Reddy stared a little numbly—"don't break your neck thanking me. Thank yourself for turning into a man. Your mother's a fine woman, Reddy. I guess you're beginning to find that out too—h'm?"

So Reddy MacQuigan went to firing where Martin Bradley had fired before, and his pay went up; and Bradley—no, don't get that idea—whatever else he may have done, Martin Bradley didn't make a beast of himself. Bradley took the job they offered him, neither gratefully nor ungratefully, took it with that spirit of utter indifference for anything and everything that seemed to have laid hold of him and got him in its grip—and off duty he spent most of his time in the emporiums along Main Street. He drank some, but never enough to snow him under; it was excitement that he seemed to crave, forgetfulness in anything that would absorb him for the moment. It was not drink so much; it was the faro tables and the roulette and the stud poker that, crooked from the drop of the hat, claimed him and cleaned him out night after night—all except Mrs. MacQuigan's board money, that they never got away from, him. Mrs. MacQuigan got that as regularly now that she didn't need it with Reddy to look after her as she had when she was practically dependent upon Bradley for it all.

Silent, grim, taciturn always, more so now than ever, Bradley went his way; indifferent to Regan when Regan buttonholed him; indifferent to Thornley and his threats of dismissal, meant to jerk Bradley into the straight; indifferent to every mortal thing on earth. And the Hill Division, with Regan leading, shook its head. There wasn't a man but knew the story, and, big under the greasy jumpers and the oil-soaked shirts, they never judged him; but Bradley's eyes held no invitation for companionship, so they left him pretty much alone.

"I dunno," said Regan, tugging at his mustache, twiddling with his thumbs over his paunch, "I dunno—looks like the scrap heap at the end of the run—h'm? I dunno."

But Mrs. MacQuigan said no.

"Wait," said she, with her patient smile. "It's me that knows Martin. It's a sore, hurt heart the boy has now; but you wait and see—I'll win him through. It's proud yet you'll be to take your hats off to Martin Bradley!"

Martin Bradley—a game man—that's what they call him now. Mrs. MacQuigan was right—wasn't she? Not perhaps just in the way she thought she was—but right for all that. Call it luck or chance if you like, something more than that if it strikes you that way—but an accident in the yards one night, a month after Bradley had lost his engine, put one of the train crew of the Rat River Special out of commission with a torn hand, and sent a call boy streaking uptown for a substitute. Call it luck if you like, that the work train with a hybrid gang of a hundred-odd Polacks, Armenians, and Swedes, cooped up in a string of box cars converted into bunk houses, mess houses and commissariat, a window or two in them to take the curse off, and end doors connecting them for the sake of sociability, pulled out for the new Rat River trestle work with Reddy MacQuigan handling the shovel end of it for Bull Coussirat, who had been promoted in the cab—and Bradley as the substitute brakeman on the front end. Well, maybe it was luck—but that's not what they call it on the Hill Division.

Perhaps no one quite understood Bradley, even at the end, except Mrs. MacQuigan; and possibly even she didn't get it all. Inconsistent, to put it mildly, that a man like Bradley would have let go at all? Well, it's an easy matter and a very human one, to judge another from the safe vantage ground of distance—isn't it? Some men take a thing one way, and some another; and in some the feelings take deeper root than in others—and find their expression in a different way. Ditched from the start, Bradley hadn't much to cling to, had he—only the baby girl he had dreamed about on the runs at night; only the little tot he had slaved for, who some day was to make a home for him? But about the Rat River Special——

It was midnight when they pulled out of Big Cloud; and Bradley, in the caboose, glanced at Heney's tissue, which, as a matter of form, the conductor gave him to read. The Special was to run twenty minutes behind No. 17, the westbound mail train, and make a meeting point with the through freight, No. 84, eastbound, at The Forks. The despatchers had seized the propitious moment to send the rolling camp through in the quiet hours of traffic, with an eye out to getting the foreigners promptly on the job in the morning for fear they might draw an extra hour or two of time—without working for it! The Special was due to make Rat River at four o'clock.

Bradley handed back the order without comment, picked up his lantern, and started for the door.

"No need of going forward to-night," said Heney, laying his arm on Bradley's arm. "We've only a short train, a dozen cars, and we can watch it well enough from the cupola. It's damn cold out there."

"Oh, I guess it's all right, Heney," Bradley answered—and went out through the door.

There weren't any platforms to the box cars, just small end doors. Once in camp, and stationary on a siding, the cars would be connected up with little wooden gangways, you understand? Bradley, from the platform of the caboose, stepped across the buffer, and made his way through several cars. One was pretty much like another; a stove going, and stuffy hot; the foreigners stretched out in their bunks, some of them; some of them playing cards on the floor; some asleep; some quarrelling, chattering, jabbering; a hard looking lot for the most part, black-visaged, scowling, unshaven, gold circlets dangling in their ears—bar the Swedes.

Bradley worked along with scarcely more than a glance at the occupants, until, in the fourth car, he halted suddenly and shoved his lamp into the face of a giant of a man, who squatted in the corner, sullen and apart, with muttering lips.

"What's wrong with you?" he demanded brusquely.

The man drew back with a growl that was like a beast's, lips curling back over the teeth. Bradley stared at him coolly, then turned inquiringly to the crowd in the car. He was greeted with a burst of unintelligible, polyglot words, and spontaneous, excitable gesticulations. Bradley shrugged his shoulders, and slammed the door behind him.

Outside on the buffer, he reached for the ladder, swung himself up the iron rungs to the top of the car, and, with his lantern hooked in his arm, sat down on the footboard, bracing himself against the brake wheel, and buttoned his reefer—there was another night—to think—ahead of him.

To think—if he could only forget! It was that fearful sense of impotency—impotency—impotency. It seemed to laugh and jeer and mock at him. It seemed to make a plaything of this father love of his. There was nothing—nothing he could do to bring her back—that was it—nothing! Soul, life, mind and body, he would have given them all to have saved her—would give them now to bring her back—and there was only this ghastly impotency. It seemed at times that it would drive him mad—and he could not forget. And then the bitter, crushing grief; the rebellion, fierce, ungovernable, that his all should have been taken from him, that the years he had planned should be turned to nothing but grinning mockery; and then that raging sense of impotency again, that rocked his turbulent soul as in an angry, storm-tossed sea.

Time passed, and he sat there motionless, save for the jolting of the train that bumped him this way and that against the brake wheel. They were into the mountains now; and the snowy summits, moon-touched, reared themselves in white, grotesque, fanciful shapes, and seemed, cold in their beauty, to bring an added chill to the frosty night. Ahead, far ahead, the headlight's ray swept now the track, now the gray rock side, now, softly green, a clump of pines, as the right of way curved and twisted and turned; now, slowing up a grade, the heavy, growling bark of the exhaust came with long intervals between, and now, on the level, it was quick as the tattoo of a snare drum, with the short stack belching a myriad fiery sparks insolently skyward in a steady stream; around him was the sweep of the wind, the roar of the train, the pound of the trucks beating the fish-plates, the sway, the jerk, the recovery of the slewing cars, and, curiously, the deep, brooding silence of the mountains, frowning, it seemed, at this sacrilege of noise; behind, showed the yellow glimmer from the caboose, the dark, indistinct outline of a watching figure in the cupola.

Suddenly, snatching at the brake wheel to help him up, Bradley sprang erect. From directly underneath his feet came a strange, confused, muffled sound, like a rush of men from one end of the car to the other. Then there broke a perfect bedlam of cries, yells, shouts and screams—and then a revolver shot.

In an instant Bradley was scrambling down the ladder to investigate—they could not hear the row, whatever it was, in the caboose—and in another he had kicked the car door open and plunged inside. A faint, bluish haze of smoke undulated in the air, creeping to the roof of the car; and there was the acrid smell of powder—but there was no sign of a fight, no man, killed or wounded, sprawling on the floor. But the twenty men who filled the car were crouched in groups and singly against the car sides; or sat upright in their bunks, their faces white, frightened—only their volubility unchecked, for all screamed and talked and waved their arms at once.

They made a rush for Bradley, explaining in half a dozen languages what had happened. Bradley pushed them roughly away from him.

"Speak English!" he snapped. "What's wrong here? Can't any of you speak English?"

An Italian grabbed his arm and pointed through the door Bradley had left open behind him to the next car forward. "Pietro!" he shouted out wildly. "Gotta da craze—mad—gotta da gun!"

"Well, go on!" prodded Bradley. "He's run into the next car. I understand that—but what happened here? Who's Pietro?"

But the man's knowledge, like his English, was limited. He did not know much—Pietro was not one of them—Pietro had come only that morning to Big Cloud from the East—Pietro had gone suddenly mad—no man had done anything to make Pietro mad.

And then suddenly into Bradley's mind leaped the story that he had read in the papers a few days before of an Italian, a homicidal maniac, who had escaped from an asylum somewhere East, and had disappeared. The description of the man, as he remembered it, particularly the great size of the man, tallied, now that he thought of it, with the fellow who had been in the car when he had first passed through. He glanced quickly around—the man was gone. So that was Pietro!

Bradley started on the run for the next car ahead; and, subconsciously, as he ran, he felt the speed of the train quicken. But that was natural enough—they had been crawling to the summit of Mitre Peak, and, over that now, before them lay a four-percent grade to the level below, one of the nastiest bits of track on the division, curves all the way—only Bull Coussirat was hitting it up pretty hard for a starter.

In the next car the same scene was repeated—the smell of powder smoke, the blue haze hanging listless near the roof out of the air currents; the crouched, terrified foreigners, one with a broken wrist, dangling, where a bullet had shattered it. Pietro, Berserker fashion, was shooting his way through the train.

Bradley went forward more cautiously now, more warily. Strange the way the speed was quickening! The cars were rocking now with short, vicious slews. He thought he heard a shout from the track-side without, but he could not be sure of that.

Through the next car and the next he went, trailing the maniac; and then he started to run again. Stumbling feet, trying to hold their footing, came to him from the top of the car. With every instant now the speed of the train was increasing—past the limit of safety—past the point where he would have hesitated to use the emergency brakes, if there had been any to use—a luxury as yet extended only to the passenger equipment in those days. The Polacks, the Armenians, and the Swedes were beginning to yell with another terror, at the frantic pitching of the cars, making a wild, unearthly chorus that echoed up and down the length of the train.

Bradley's brain was working quickly now. It wasn't only this madman that he was chasing fruitlessly. There must be something wrong, more serious still, in the engine cab—that was Heney, and Carrol, the other brakeman, who had run along the top.

Bradley dashed through the door, and, between the cars, jumped for the ladder and swarmed up—the globe of his lamp in a sudden slew shivered against the car roof, and the flame went out in a puff. He flung the thing from him; and, with arms wide outspread for balance on his reeling foothold, ran, staggered, stumbled, recovered himself, and sped on again, springing from car to car, up the string of them, to where the red flare, leaping from the open fire box in the cab ahead, silhouetted two figures snatching for their hold at the brake-wheel on the front end of the forward car—Heney and Carrol. And as Bradley ran, a thin stream of flame spurted upward from the cab, and there came faintly, almost lost in the thunder of the train, the bark of a revolver shot—and the two figures, ducking instantly, crouched lower.

And then Bradley stood beside the others; and Heney, that no man ever called a coward, clutched at Martin Bradley and shouted in his ear:

"For God's sake, Martin, what'll we do? The throttle was wide at the top of the grade when he threw Bull Coussirat off. We saw it from the cupola. It's certain death to make a move for him!"

But Bradley made no answer. Tight-lipped, he was staring down into the cab; and a livid face stared back at him—the face of the man that he had stopped to look at as they had pulled out of Big Cloud—Pietro—the face, hideously contorted, of a maniac. And on the floor of the cab, stretched out, wriggling spasmodically, Reddy MacQuigan lay upon his back; and Pietro half knelt upon him, clutching with one hand at the boy's throat, pointing a revolver with the other at the roof of the car.

Wild, crazy fast now, the speed was; the engine dancing ahead; the cars wriggling behind; the yellow glimmer of the caboose shooting this way and that like a pursuing phantom will-o'-the-wisp; and from beneath the roofs of the cars rose that muffled, never-ending scream of terror from the Polacks, the Armenians and the Swedes—rose, too, from the roofs of the cars themselves, for some were climbing there. It was disaster absolute and certain not a mile ahead where the track in a short, murderous curve hugged Bald Eagle Peak, with the cañon dropping a thousand feet sheer down from the right of way, disaster there—if they ever got that far!

But Bradley, though he knew it well enough from a hundred runs, was not thinking of that. In a calm, strange way there seemed to come one more analogy between Mrs. MacQuigan's life and his—this human thing that looked like a gorilla was choking her son to death, the son that was making a home for her as she had dreamed he would do some day, the son that was all she had to depend upon. Mrs. MacQuigan's son—his little girl. Both out!

There seemed to flash before him the picture of the gray head bowed upon the red-checkered tablecloth in the little dining room, the frail shoulders shaking with the same grief that he was drinking now to the dregs, the same grief that he would have sold his soul to avert—only he had been impotent—impotent. But he was not impotent here—to keep those dregs from Mrs. MacQuigan, the only soul on earth he cared for now. And suddenly Bradley laughed—loud—high above the roar of the train, the shouts and screams of the maddened creatures it was sweeping to eternity, and the human gorilla in the cab shot its head forward and covered Bradley with its revolver, teeth showing in a snarl.

And so Bradley laughed, and with the laugh poised himself—and sprang far out from the car roof in a downward plunge for the tender, reached the coal and rolled, choking with the hot blood in his throat from the shot that had caught him in mid-air, rolled down with an avalanche of coal, grappled with the frothing creature that leaped to meet him, staggered to his feet, struggled for a moment, fast-locked with the madman, until a lurch of the engine hurled them with a crash against the cab frame, and the other, stunned, slid inertly from his grasp. And then for an instant Bradley stood swaying, clutching at his throat—then he took a step forward—both hands went out pawing for the throttle, found it, closed it—and he went down across Bull Coussirat's empty seat—dead.

Only a humble figure, Bradley, just a toiler like millions of others, not of much account, not a great man in the world's eyes—only a humble figure. Measure him as it seems best to you to measure him for his frailty or his strength. They call him a game man on the Hill Division. His story is told.

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