On the Iron at Big Cloud/"Where's Haggerty?"
The Hill Division was proud enough over it, of course, for Carleton was its old chief; but, none the less, it read General Order Number 38 with dismay and misgiving.
"T. J. Hale," the G. O. ran, "is hereby appointed Superintendent of the Hill Division, with headquarters at Big Cloud, vice H. B. Carleton promoted to General Manager of the System."
"Now who in the double-blanked, blankety-blanked blazes is Hale?" demanded the roundhouse and the engine crews.
"Carleton was all to the good, h'm?—what!" growled the dispatchers.
The train crews swung their lanterns with a defiant air, and the passenger conductors juggled their punches around their little fingers, smiling a superior smile to themselves. Hale might be a good man, perhaps he was, but Carleton was—"Royal" Carleton. "I guess he'll get along all right with us, but he don't want to get fresh, that's all. Where'd he come from, h'm?"
That question, at first, no one seemed able to answer. The general impression was that the Transcontinental had got him from some Eastern road. Certainly he was a new man, bran new, to the System.
And then the renown of one Haggerty, who was braking on a passenger local, became great, and, in consequence, the displeasure of the Division increased.
Said Haggerty: "When I was on the Penn five years back, this fellow Hale was assistant super. I knew him well. You wanter look out for him, you can take my little word for that. He's a holy terror, an' that's a fact. Got any chewin'?"
Haggerty got his chewing, being an egregious liar; and Hale got a damaged reputation for the same reason.
But Haggerty got more than his chewing—and he had not long to wait. On the day that the new super was expected, Haggerty, on passenger local Number Seven, got into Big Cloud about noon, and, taking advantage of the ten-minute wait for refreshments, straddled a stool at the lunch-counter. Between bites, he fired questions at Spence the dispatcher, who was bolting his mid-day meal.
"Hale come yet?" he demanded.
"Haven't seen him," replied Spence.
"When d'ye expect him?" persisted Haggerty.
"I don't know," Spence answered.
"Oh, don't be so blasted close!" snapped Haggerty. "You ain't givin' away any weighty secret if you let out what time his special'll be along, I suppose."
"I haven't heard of any special," said Spence. "Say, Haggerty, they tell me Hale's an old friend of yours, h'm? No wonder you're anxious. I forgot about that. As soon as I get word about him, I'll wire up the line to you so's you can jump your train, come back on a hand-car, and be here on the platform to meet him."
"You go to blazes!" retorted Haggerty, and scowled across the counter at an inoffensive looking little fellow who had taken the liberty of smiling at the dispatcher's words.
At Haggerty's look, the smile disappeared in a cup of coffee raised hastily to the lips. "Huh!" snorted Haggerty, by way of driving home to the other the audacity and temerity of his act, and likewise the inadvisability of repeating it. Haggerty was galled. Once before that morning he had been obliged to relegate this insignificant, squint, eye-glassed individual, who had persisted in riding on the platform, to a proper sense of submission. And the method employed had been no more delicate a one than that of jerking the man bodily into the car by the collar of his coat. "Huh!" he repeated, with rising inflexion.
"No, Haggerty," went on Spence pleasantly, "don't you worry. I won't fail you. When the super steps off the train, and the first words he says is, 'Where's Haggerty?' and you're not here to respond in kind I can plainly see there'll be doings. Oh, no, don't you fret, I'll not throw you down on anything like that—'twouldn't be wise for us, that's got to live with him, to rile him up at the outset! No, it certainly wouldn't, what?"
"You go bite on a brake-shoe, you're too sharp to be munchin' doughnuts," snarled Haggerty. And, swinging himself from his seat, he went back to his train.
An hour later when he reached Elk River, the end of his run, he found a telegram waiting for him from Spence. He sucked in his under lip as he read it.
"You sly joker," wired the dispatcher, "why didn't you tell us that your friend came up with you on Number Seven?"
Haggerty pushed his cap to the back of his head, and swore softly under his breath. He began to go over in his mind the passengers that had been aboard the train when they ran into Big Cloud. No one individual seemed to stand out carded and waybilled as the new super.
Then an idea struck Haggerty, and he climbed into the rear coach where Berkely, his conductor, was making up his report sheets.
"Say, Jim," said Haggerty, "was there any passes into Big Cloud this mornin'?"
Berkely looked up suspiciously. "You mind your own business, an' you'll get along better!" he snapped.
"Oh, punk!" returned Haggerty. "My count's the same as your'n, ain't it? What's the matter with you, then? Honest, Jim, I wanter know. Was there any passes?"
"No, there wasn't," grunted Berkely, cooling down a little.
"Well, then, you might have said so at first, instead of jumpin' a fellow for nothin'," said Haggerty, and went out of the car to hang meditatively over the handrail and spit reflectively at the ties.
"Now wouldn't that sting you?" he demanded of the universe in general. "Wouldn't that sting you? Who ever heard of a new super comin' on the job ridin' a local on a ticket! An' me askin' when he was goin' to turn up. Oh, yes, it sure would sting you! That funny boy Spence'll pass this along an'—oh, punk! I ain't sure it wouldn't have been better if I'd kept my mouth shut about knowin' Hale, but who'd ever thought he'd come up on my train! How was I to know, h'm?" And during all that afternoon's layup at Elk River, Haggerty pondered the matter. He continued to ponder it as they pulled out for the return trip in the evening, and he was still pondering it when they whistled for Big Cloud.
There was no moon up that night, and it was pretty dark as they ran in. Haggerty, with his lantern, was standing on the rear end. As the train slowed itself to a halt, a man came tearing down the station platform at a run.
"Where's Haggerty?" he called breathlessly. "Where's——"
"Here," said Haggerty promptly, leaning out over the steps and showing his light. "What d'ye want?"
"Oh, all right," said the man. "I'll be back—" and he disappeared in the shadow of the station.
"He acts like he was nutty," muttered Haggerty, and swung himself off the steps.
But, though Haggerty waited, the man did not come back, and he had not come back when the train began to roll out of the station, and Haggerty was again on the rear platform of the car. Then, just as his hand reached out to open the door, he stopped and started suddenly as though he had been stung.
A voice came out of the darkness from the other side of the track over by the roundhouse. "Where's Haggerty?" it demanded anxiously.
Then Haggerty tumbled, and his face went red with rage. He leaned far out over the rail, and, forgetful that the pantomime was lost in the darkness, shook his clinched fist in the direction from whence the voice had come.
"You go to he-ee-ll-lll!" he bawled, the exclamation shaken into syllables by reason of the car wheels jolting over the siding switches at that precise moment. And then, his senses being very acute, from where the light shone in the dispatcher's window he thought he heard, above the momentarily increasing rattle of the train, a laugh—a laugh that produced anything but a quieting effect on his already outraged sensibilities.
Now Haggerty was not the nature of those who can pass lightly over a joke at their own expense, especially if that joke be too prolonged and carries with it a hint of underlying venom. Therefore, as the "one on Haggerty" spread over the division, and scarcely an hour of the day passed that the cry "Where's Haggerty?" did not reach his ears, he began to sulk and treasure up his injury. The division was rubbing it in pretty hard. But the curious part of it all was that his bitterness was not directed against himself who was the direct cause of his discomfiture, nor against Spence who was the indirect cause, but against Hale, who was no cause at all.
Just once had Haggerty seen the superintendent. Hale was pointed out to him on the platform at Big Cloud, and Haggerty had ducked hastily back inside his train. Hale was the inoffensive little fellow he had treated with such scant courtesy at the lunch-counter, the insignificant, squint-eye-glassed individual he had hauled from the car platform by the coat collar! When Haggerty's mingled feelings of perturbation and amazement permitted him any speech at all, it was rather incoherent.
"That—the runt!" he gasped, and subsided into an empty seat.
And in this inelegant, but pithy, summing up of the capacity and dimensions of the new official the division was with him to the last section hand. Him—a railroad man! The Hill Division remembered "Royal" Carleton and was ashamed, and it rankled for the shame that it considered had been put upon it. Out of it all, Haggerty was the only thing of saving grace! So upon Haggerty they loosened, behind the humor, some of their bitterness. Haggerty became the safety valve of the division.
A month had gone by and Hale had lived well up to what his appearance had led them to expect. He might have been an automaton for all the signs of life that emanated from his office. Just routine, the routine business, routine, that was all. The disquiet and unrest that brooded over the division became contempt—the kind of contempt that made the car-tinks put on airs, and in their heart of hearts figure themselves better railroad men than he who sat over them in supreme authority.
Even Haggerty no longer ducked out of sight when circumstances required that he should breathe the same air as his superior. Haggerty had acquired a swagger; also, he now voiced his opinion, his cordially poor opinion, of Mr. Hale without restraint and with no check upon his tongue.
And then Haggerty got a shock. It was imparted by Spence.
"Got it from Hale's clerk last night," said the dispatcher. "He's going to run an inspection special over the division, and he's picked out the fag end of all things for the crew. He picked you first, Haggerty."
"Aw, forget it!" growled Haggerty, with a scowl.
"I think there's something behind it, though," Spence went on, his voice modulated confidentially. "Between you and me, Haggerty, the inspection trip is a bluff."
Haggerty pricked up his ears. "How's that?" he demanded.
"Well," said Spence serenely, backing to a safe distance, "I think he's hurt at the way you've cut him since he's been here. He's pining for your company, and——"
Haggerty sprang to his feet from the baggage truck on which he had been seated, and shook his fist frantically at the fast retreating figure. He was still gesticulating fiercely and muttering savagely to himself when the window in the dispatcher's room overhead opened softly, and Spence stuck out his head.
"Hey, there, Haggerty," he called, "quit practising that deaf and dumb alphabet. You haven't got any time to waste. You want to run along and get the missus to press out a pair of panties, and iron a boiled shirt for you. You'll get your orders in the morning."
"Come down for one minute," choked Haggerty, his rage fanned to a white heat by the knowledge of his own impotence, for Spence, as he well knew, was safely entrenched behind locked doors. "Just one minute, an' I'll make your face look like it had never been born. I will that!"
"Haggerty," said Spence in an injured tone, as the window closed, "you are disgruntled."
But Haggerty was to be still more disgruntled, for the next morning, true to Spence's words, he found himself assigned to Inspection Special Number Eighty-nine. Haggerty was not happy; but he boarded the forward car, as they pulled out for the mountains with the mental resolution that he would keep out of the super's way.
Resolutions, however, like many other things, are sometimes rudely upset in the face of conditions that are not taken into account in the reckoning. They had been running at a forty-mile clip, and were about into the yard at Coyote Bend, when Haggerty nearly went to the floor as the "air" came on with a sudden rush, and the train came jerking to a halt like a bucking bronco. The whistle was going like mad for the block ahead. Haggerty grabbed his red flag, dropped to the ground, and ran back past the super's car to take his distance.
Up ahead, he could see the tail end of a freight disappearing around the bend, crawling into safety on the siding. Nothing very interesting about that, somebody would get Tokio for laying out the Special, he supposed. Maybe the freight had had a breakdown, and was off schedule making the Bend. Personally, Haggerty did not care. It made very little difference to him. He picked up a handful of stones, and began to plug them at the nearest telegraph pole. Suddenly he changed the direction of his shots, and let fly with all his might at a gopher he had spotted squatting in front of his hole.
"Holy Mac!" he ejaculated in unbounded astonishment. "I believe I hit the cuss!"—and he went back to see.
Just as he got down the embankment, the Special began to whistle for her flag, one—two—three—four, and Haggerty, scrambling to the track again, began to run. But fast as he ran, he had only covered about half the distance when the train began to move. It was, therefore, a very breathless and panting Haggerty who just managed to grab the rail of the rear car—the super's car!
There was nothing for it but to pass through and Haggerty, with his acquired swagger, started. The super was alone in the rear compartment, seated at a table, a mass of papers before him. Haggerty was industriously rolling up his flag as he passed along.
Haggerty stopped and swung around at the sound of his name.
Hale reached his hand into a box of cigars that lay open on the table, selected one carefully, lighted it, and leaned back in his chair. "I would like to offer you one, Haggerty," he said quietly, "but I am afraid you would misunderstand."
Haggerty shifted a little before the super's look. Somehow, there wasn't any squint at all; instead, behind the glasses, the gray eyes were remarkably bright and clear, and their steadiness was discomposing—to Haggerty.
"It seems," said Hale, a little smile playing around the corners of his mouth, "that they don't measure men by the same standard out West here that they did when we were back on the Penn together, eh?"
Haggerty reddened. His only belief would have been in bluster; but, curiously enough, there was something about this little man, he couldn't tell just what, that made bluster impossible. Therefore, Haggerty held his peace, and his fingers played nervously with the flag, twirling it around and around awkwardly.
"Don't make any mistake, Haggerty," the super continued pleasantly. "I'm not trying to rub it in. I want you to know that I've heard the story. I want you to know that I didn't nose it out. I heard it at the lunch-counter that day after you went out, and before the men there knew who I was. I want to start straight with you, Haggerty."
Haggerty was puzzled and flustered at this opening. "Well, sir," he blurted out, "of course you know it was all a lie. I only did it for a josh."
"Yes, I understand," Hale answered. "In itself it didn't amount to anything, but the consequences are a little more than you reckoned on, aren't they? It's acted like a boomerang, and you're pretty sore, Haggerty, aren't you?"
The openness and friendly tones of the super took hold of Haggerty, and he warmed toward the other.
"Well, yes, sir, I suppose I am," he admitted.
Hale nodded. "Now, I want you to see the other side of it, Haggerty—my side. No division of any railroad, or anything else for that matter, can do itself justice unless everyone connected with it is pulling together for it. I want every man out here with me, and first of all I want you. There is nothing destroys respect so much as ridicule. The division, much after the fashion that an epidemic of measles springs up amongst children, took it into their heads to dislike the successor of Mr. Carleton, no matter who he might be. Now, unfortunately, instead of having checked the spread, the germs are being fostered because, back of their fun with you, a description of contempt for me is constantly kept alive. So I want you to coöperate with me, Haggerty, and show them that, after all, whether I'm a holy terror or not, whether I'm a runt of a giant, no matter what, I'm entitled to a fair deal out here in the West. There, Haggerty, that's a pretty long sermon for me. I'm not much at preaching. Just turn what I've said over in your mind, that's all. I think I can safely offer you a cigar now. Will you have one?"
Haggerty accepted the cigar with a flustered mumble of thanks, and as he went forward to the other coach he chewed the end pensively.
"Well, how's the little fellow? Hope the ride ain't makin' him car-sick," sneered Slakely, the conductor.
Haggerty strode up to the other, and shoved his fist savagely within an inch of Slakely's nose.
"I'll have you know, the super's all right, you wall-eyed coyote, you! I'm tellin' you he's a man. Do I hear any re-marks to the contrary?"
"Say," gasped Slakely blankly, retreating down the aisle, "what's the matter with you, anyway?"
"That's what's the matter!"—Haggerty's explanation was more forcible than explicit, though the meaning of his clenched fist which he shook at the other was pointed enough in its inference. "That's what's the matter, my bucko," he repeated fiercely, "an' don't you forget it! I'm givin' it to you straight, an' I'll take none of your lip about it neither! See?"
Haggerty had raised the standard. Not, perhaps, as the super had expected; but according to his own ideas, or rather to his fiery temper which led him to act blindly on the spur of the moment as his impulse directed.
But it was not this method of Haggerty's, if such a term could by any stretch of the imagination be applied to Haggerty, that was to bring about the desired result, and at the same time rid him of his tormentors—tormentors who continued to sound the cry, "Where's Haggerty?" with undiminished frequency—tormentors who were much too wary to allow themselves to be caught anywhere within striking distance, for Haggerty's forearm was a thing to wonder at. Instead, the end came from another source as totally different as it was unexpected. It came on the third day of the inspection trip, up in the Rockies at the new bridge across the Stony River—and it was the new bridge that did it.
They were to lay out there for the morning, and Haggerty started in to employ the two or three hours of leisure this gave him by looking over the work. It wasn't much of a bridge as bridges go, for the Stony wasn't much of a river; but the approaches were enough to pull the heart out of the stoutest bridge crew that ever toiled and sweated and slaved. Just rock, solid, gray, massive; and so it was blast, blast, blast, hour after hour all through the day, day after day. One span, resting on the shore abutments, was to bridge the cañon that yawned six hundred feet below, where the Stony swirled and eddied, a foaming, angry, chattering, little stream.
On the eastern side, where Haggerty stood, the anchorage was pretty well under way, but over across on the western shore they were still pitting their blasting powder against the stubborn rock of the mountainside. Haggerty crossed over on the old bridge to take a look at this. Just as he reached the other side a stationary engine blew shrilly for a blast, and the men began to run for cover. Haggerty pulled his watch and marked the time—one minute and fifteen seconds. Then the blast thundered, echoed, reechoed, and died away through the mountains. He joined the men as they went back to their work.
"Holy Mac!" he exclaimed to the foreman, as he peered over the edge of the excavation and looked down some fifteen or twenty feet to the ledge where the men were already busy again. "Holy Mac! You've got to look sharp, eh?"
"Oh, I dunno," replied the foreman. "We give 'em plenty of time. When the whistle blows the men hump it. We don't touch the button till the last one is crawlin' over the top of the bank. Then, with the time fuse, there's a minute, lots of time."
Haggerty looked on for awhile, then he turned away, sat down by one of the shanties, and loaded his pipe. The pipe once alight, he settled himself in a more comfortable position by sprawling on his back, his hands under his head. From where he lay, he commanded a view of the other side of the river as well as the work before him. He could see Hale across there talking to one of the bridge engineers. He watched the two men lazily, in drowsy contentment, until he lost sight of them as they started to come over to his side, then his attention became riveted again on his immediate surroundings.
They were getting ready for another blast. Haggerty sat up. It was rather exciting to see the men come scrambling out of the hole. The whistle had just gone three toots. They were coming now, one head after another popping up over the edge, then the shoulders, and finally the men on their feet running like deers for shelter—not far, only a few yards, for the excavation itself afforded protection, once clear of it. Haggerty himself was not fifteen yards away.
He counted the men as they came out. It was the eighteenth who, just as his head and shoulders appeared, waved an arm and shouted: "All out. Let 'er go!" He saw the foreman bend over the battery and make the connection that would spark the time-fuse at the other end, and then a groan of horror went up around him. Number Eighteen, with a cry and a desperate effort to pull himself over the top, had slipped back and disappeared from sight!
Haggerty's pipe dropped to the ground from between his teeth, his heart seemed to stop its beats, a cold sweat broke out upon his face. He was on his feet now, and the foreman's words were ringing in his ears: "Then there's a minute, lots of time! Then there's a minute, lots of time!"
He began to run, and the seconds, as he ran, lengthened into years and cycles. "My God!" he muttered in a catchy way.
But fast as he ran, someone was faster than he. Five yards from the edge of the excavation, a figure, small, short, speeding like the wind, passed him. It was Hale—the super!
Behind, the foreman's voice bellowed hoarsely: "Come back! Come back! Ye can't get to the fuse! D'ye hear!"
"Mabbe," mumbled Haggerty between his teeth, "mabbe we can get the man. Mary, Mother, help us!"
Hale, flat on the ground, was making to swing himself over as Haggerty, for the second time, caught him by the collar of his coat. "You ain't strong enough," he grunted, yanking the super back. "You help me from the top"—and over the edge he went himself.
"Then there's a minute, lots of time!"—the words came again unbidden. How much, in God's name how much, of that minute had gone, how much was left? His teeth were set, his heart pounds so fierce and rapid that his breath came hard and choked, as he lowered himself to a little ledge, projecting out some seven or eight feet below the surface that had caught and held the body of Number Eighteen. The man lay there groaning. It was easy to see what had happened. A misplaced step in the climb, then a loosened rock, his balance gone, and the stone had crashed down upon his legs and ankles.
There was a look of helpless terror in the eyes of the wounded man as Haggerty reached and bent over him. "Get out," the white lips quivered. "You ain't got time. I give the signal. The blast'll be goin' now."
"There's a minute, lots of time," said Haggerty in a sing-song, crazy way. He was trying to fit the words to an air he had heard somewhere. Queer he couldn't remember it, the words were straight enough! Then he laughed—foolishly—as he worked like a madman!
He had raised the man in his arms and now, heaving with all his strength, was gradually pushing him up, up. The strain became terrific. Haggerty's muscles cracked. One of his arms was almost useless to him owing to the narrowness of the ledge that, to maintain even a precarious footing as, little by little, he rose to an upright position, forced him tight against the wall of rock and earth. Haggerty panted with cruel, gasping sobs. "Then there's a minute, lots of time!" The repetition of the words came surging upon him with a shock of horror, lending him a frenzied strength. A desperate twist, and he had made the half-turn that brought his back to the cutting. His other arm was free now. A heave, and he had swung Number Eighteen above his shoulders within reach of the super's outstretched hands. A second more, and, with Hale pulling above and Haggerty lifting below, the man, with a cry of agony as his wounded leg banged limply against the ground, was forced up over the bank.
"Quick, Haggerty! For God's sake, be quick yourself," cried Hale. "Hurry, man, hurry!"
"There's a minute"—Haggerty sprang for the top of the bank, clutched it—"lots of—" The last word was blotted out as he dragged himself over the edge, and heard Hale's sharp command: "Lie flat!" From behind and below him came the roar of the detonation, he felt the ground shake and quiver beneath him, the echoes were rolling and reverberating like a park of artillery—then Hale's low, fervent: "Thank God!"
It was Hale who got it first as the mob of men rushed forward, cheering, laughing, gabbling hysterically. And it was at Hale's uplifted hand that the clamor died suddenly away, and in its stead came the super's voice in quiet tones: "Where's Haggerty?"
"Aw, gwan!" sputtered Haggerty sheepishly, trying to fight his way out of the crowd that pressed upon him to haul and maul him, to thump his back, to shake his hand. "Aw, gwan! I wanter get me pipe that I left over by the shanty."