On the Iron at Big Cloud/Marley
There are some men they remember on the Hill Division—Marley is one of them; and his story goes back to the days before the fire wiped out what the strike had left of the old rambling shops at the western end of the Big Cloud yards, back to the time when "Royal" Carleton was young in the superintendency of the division, when Tommy Regan, squat, fat and paunchy was master mechanic, and Harvey was division engineer, and Spence was chief dispatcher, when the Big Fellows, as they were called, wrestled with the rough of it, shaking the steel down into a permanent right of way, shackling the Rockies, welding the West and the East.
Marley was not a "Big Fellow" in either sense of the word.
Officially, when he started in, he wasn't anything—that is, anything in particular. Sort of general assistant, assistant section hand, assistant boiler washer, assistant anything you like to everybody—Marley's duties, if nothing else, were multifarious.
Physically, he was a queer card. He was built on plans that gave you the impression Dame Nature had been doing a little something herself along the lines of original research and experimentation—and wasn't well enough satisfied with the result to duplicate it! Anyway, as far as any one ever knew, there wasn't but one Marley produced. Maybe nature, even, isn't infallible; maybe she made a mistake, maybe she didn't. You couldn't call him deformed—and yet you could! That's Marley exactly—when you get to describing him you get contradictory. It must have been his neck. That lopped off two or three inches from his stature because he hadn't any! But if that shortened him down to, say, five feet five, which isn't so short after all—there's the contradiction again, you see—the length of his arms at least was something to marvel at, they made up for the neck. Regan used to say Marley could stand on the floor of the roundhouse and clean out an engine pit without leaning over. The master mechanic was more or less gifted with imagination, but he wasn't so far out, not more than a couple of feet or so, at that. Marley's hair, more than anything else that comes handy by way of comparison, was like the stuff, in color and texture, the fellows on the stage light and put in their mouths so as to blow out smoke like a belching stack under forced draft—tow, they call it. Eyes—no woman ever had any like them—big and round and wide, with a peculiar violet tinge to them, and lids that had a trick of closing down with a little hesitating flutter like a girl trying to flirt with you.
But what's the use! Marley, piecemeal, would never look like the short-stepping, springy-walked, foreshortened, arms-flopping Marley with the greasy black peaked cap pulled over his forehead, the greasy jumper tucked into greasier overalls who sold his hybrid services to the Transcontinental for the munificent sum of a dollar ten a day.
Marley's arrival and introduction to Big Cloud was, like Marley himself, decidedly out of the ordinary and by no manner of means commonplace. Marley arrived "'boing it" in a refrigerator car.
They ice the cars at Big Cloud and, luckily for Marley, the particular one he had, in some unexplained way, managed to appropriate required a little something more than icing. They pulled him out in about as flabby a condition as a sack of flour. He didn't say anything for himself mainly because he was pretty nearly past ever saying anything for himself or anybody else. The boys who found him cursed fluently because he wasn't a pleasant sight, and then carried him up Main Street on the door of a box-car with the hazy notion that MacGuire's Blazing Star Saloon was the most fitting Mecca available.
Marley continued to play in luck. Mrs. Coogan, the mother of Chick Coogan, that is, who went out in the Fall blizzard on the Devil's Slide some years before, spotted the procession as it passed her little shack, halted it, made a hasty, but none the less comprehensive, examination, amplified it by a few scathing remarks on discovering the proposed destination, peremptorily ordered them into her bit of a cottage and installed Marley therein.
He was pretty far gone, pretty far—and he hung on the ragged edge for weeks. Nobody knows what Mrs. Coogan did for him except Marley himself; but it was generally conceded that she did more than she could afford for anybody, let alone doing it for a stray hobo.
Marley got well in time, of course, for, than old, motherly Mrs. Coogan there was no better nurse, even if she had few comforts and dainties and less money to buy them with; and then Marley got a job—or rather Mrs. Coogan got one for him.
There wasn't anything Mrs. Coogan could have asked for and not got that was within their power to give her—she was Chick's mother, and with Carleton or Regan or any of the rest of them that was enough. But Mrs. Coogan never asked anything for herself—she had the Coogan pride.
"The good Lord be praised," she would say—Mrs. Coogan was sincerely devout. "I'm able to worrk, so I am, an' fwhy should I?"
Why should she? They smiled at her as men smile when something touches them under the vest, and they want to say the proper thing—and can't. They smiled—and gave her their washing.
Mrs. Coogan tackled Regan on Marley's behalf.
The master mechanic scratched his head in perplexity, but his reply was prompt and hearty enough.
"Sure. Sure thing, Mrs. Coogan," he said. "Send him down to me. I'll find him something to do."
To Marley he talked a little differently.
"I ain't quite sure I like the looks of you," he flung out bluntly enough, taking in the new man from head to toe. "There's no job for you, but I'll give you a chance."
Marley's eyes came down in a flutter.
"Thanks, sir," he mumbled nervously.
Tommy Regan wasn't used to being "sir" ed—the Hill Division did its business with few handles and it wasn't long on the amenities.
"Humph!" he ejaculated with a snort, and a stream of black-strap laid the dust on a good few inches of engine cinders. "You can hand any thanks you've got coming over to Mother Coogan. And say"—the master mechanic wriggled his fat forefinger under Marley's nose—"thanks are all right as far as they go, but I figure you owe her something over and above that, what?"
A faint flush came into Marley's cheeks and he darted a quick look at Regan. His eyes were on the ground and his hands had suddenly disappeared in his pockets before he answered.
"I'm going to board with her a spell," he said in a slow way, as though he was measuring every word before it was uttered.
"Are, eh?" grunted Regan, but the grunt carried a grudging note of approval. "Well, maybe that'll help some. You can report at noon, Marley, and make yourself generally handy around. I reckon you'll find enough to do."
"Thanks, sir," said Marley again, as he turned away.
Regan, leaning on the turntable push-bar in front of the roundhouse, followed with his eyes as the other crossed the tracks in the direction of the town, then he spat profoundly again.
"Queerest looking specimen that ever blew into the mountains, and we've had some before that were in a whole class by themselves at that," he remarked, screwing up his eyebrows. "Makes you think of a blasted gorilla the way he's laid out, what? Well, we'll give him a try anyway," and, with a final glance in the direction of the retreating figure, the master mechanic went into the roundhouse for his morning inspection of the big moguls on the pits.
It took the division and Big Cloud some time to size up the new man, and then just about when they thought they had they found they hadn't.
Marley, if he was nothing else, was a contradictory specimen.
Mrs. Coogan said it was like the good Lord was kind of paying her special attention, kind of giving her another son—"so quiet an' accommodatin' an' handy to have around. A good bhoy was Marley—a foine lad." One hand would rest on her hip, and the other would smooth the thin white hair over her ear with quick, nervous, little pats as she talked, and the gray Irish eyes, a little dim now, would light up happily. "Yes, ut's more than I deserve; but I always knew the Lord wud provide. 'Tain't so easy to move the tubs around as it uster be. I guess I knew it, but I wasn't willin' to admit it till I had somebody to do it for me. Sivinty-wan I was last birthday. 'Tain't old for a man, but a woman—indade he's a foine lad, an' 'tis myself that ses ut."
Down at headquarters Mrs. Coogan's praise went a long way, and after Carleton and Regan and the others in the office got accustomed to seeing him around they came to accept him in a passive, indifferent sort of a way. He was a curious case, if you like, but inoffensive—they let it go at that.
The men had their view-point. Marley didn't talk much, didn't draw out the way a new hand was expected to in order to establish his footing with the fraternity. Least of all did he make any overtures tending to anything like an intimate relationship with any of his new associates. Marley was never one of the group behind the storekeeper's office that had stolen out from the shops for a drag at their pipes and a breath of air; never on the platform to exchange a word of banter with the crews of the incoming trains; never amongst the wipers and hostlers in the roundhouse who lounged in idle moments in the lee of a ten-wheeler with an eye out across the yards against the possible intrusion of Regan or some other embodiment of authority. He was civil enough and quick enough to answer when he was spoken to, but his words were few—no more than a simple negative or affirmative if he could help it. And when he himself was in question there was not even that—Marley became dumb.
All this did not help him any—he wasn't what you'd call exactly popular! So, if he had little to say for himself, the men had plenty, and the general opinion was that he was a surly brute that by no possible chance was any credit to the Hill Division and by no manner of means an acquisition to Big Cloud.
A few, very few, took a more charitable view, basing it on the shy, slow flutter of Marley's eyelids—they charged it up to an acute sensitiveness of his grotesque and abnormal appearance. That isn't the way they put it, though.
"Looks like hell, an' he knows it," said they judicially. "Let the beggar alone."
It was good advice, whether their analysis was or wasn't—Pete Boileau, the baggage master, can vouch for that. As the time-worn saying has it, it came like a bolt from the blue, and—but just a minute, we're overrunning our targets and that means trouble.
Things had gone along, as far as Marley was concerned, without anything very startling or out of the way happening for quite a spell, and Regan, who had stood closer to Chick Coogan than any other man on the division before the young engineer died, had begun to look on Marley with a little more interest—as a sort of deus ex machina for Mrs. Coogan. It seemed to afford the big-hearted master mechanic a good deal of relief. He got to talking about it to Carleton one morning about a month after Marley's advent to the Hill Division.
"No, of course, I don't know anything about him," he said. "Nobody does, I guess they don't. But he minds his own business and does what he has to do well enough, h'm? The old lady's been getting a little feeble lately—kind of wearing out, I guess she is. I was thinking Marley was worth a little more than a dollar ten a day, what?"
They were sitting in the super's office, and Carleton's glance, straying out through the window from where he sat at his desk, fastened on Marley's clumsy, ungainly figure hopping across the yard tracks from the roundhouse toward the station platform. He smiled a little and looked back at Regan.
"I guess so, Tommy—if it will do her any good. I wouldn't bank on it, though. He's a queer card. Impresses you with the feeling that there's something you ought to know about him—and don't. I've a notion, somehow, I've seen him before."
"Have you?" said Regan. "That's funny. I've thought I had myself once or twice, but I guess it's imagination more than anything else. Anyway, he seems to remember what Mrs. Coogan did for him. I dunno what she'd do even now without the board money, little as it is, to help out. There's no use borrowing trouble I suppose, but later on I dunno what on earth she'll do. She's prouder than a sceptered queen—and she won't be able to wash much longer, nor take a boarder either, what?"
Carleton sucked at his briar for a moment in silence.
"We've all got to face the possibility of the scrap heap some day, Tommy," he said soberly. "But it's harder for a woman, I'll admit—bitter hard. Sometimes things don't seem just right. If you want to give Marley a small raise, go ahead."
The master mechanic nodded his head.
"I think I will," he announced. "He's queer if you like, but that's his own business. Never a word out of him nor a bit of trouble since——"
Regan's words stopped as though they had been chopped off with a knife. Both men, as though actuated by a single impulse, had leaped to their feet. Behind them their chairs toppled unheeded with a crash to the floor, and for an instant, as their eyes met each other's, the color faded in their cheeks. It had come and gone like a flash—a wild, hoarse scream of rage, a brute scream, horrid, blood curdling, like the jungle howl of some maddened beast plunged in a savage, blind, all-possessing paroxysm of fury.
Themselves again in a second, the master mechanic and superintendent sprang to the window.
On the platform, up at the far end, the great form of Pete Boileau rocked and swayed like a drunken man, and clinging to him, his legs twined around the other's knees, his arms locked around the baggage-master's body just above the elbows—was Marley!
Regan and Carleton gazed spellbound. There was something uncanny, inhuman about the scene—like a rabid dog that had leaped, snarling, for the throat hold.
Suddenly, Marley's legs with a quick, wriggling slide, released their hold, his whole form appeared to shrink, grow smaller, he seemed to crouch on his knees at the other's feet, then his body jerked itself erect to its full stature with a movement swift as a loosed bowstring, his arms flew up carrying a great burden, and over his shoulders, over his head, a sprawling form hurtled through the air.
"Merciful God! He's killed him!" gasped Carleton, dashing for the door. "Come on, Tommy. Quick!"
Both men were down the stairs in a space of time that Regan, at least, chunky and fat, has never duplicated before or since. Carleton, hard-faced and tight-lipped, led the way, with the picture beating into his brain of Boileau's senseless form on the ground and the other above tearing like a beast at its prey. He wrenched the door of the station open, sprang out on to the platform, stopped involuntarily, and then ran forward again.
The baggage-master's form was on the ground lying in a curled-up, huddled heap, and he was senseless all right—if he wasn't something more than that. But the rest of Carleton's mental picture was wrong, dead wrong. Right beside where the fight, if fight it could be called, had taken place was a baggage truck, and over this, his head down, his two great arms wound round his face, shoulders heaving in convulsive sobs, Marley was crying like a broken-hearted child.
Take him any way you like, look at him any way you like, Marley, whatever else he was, was a contradictory specimen.
Any other man with a skull a shade less tender than Boileau's—it must have been made of boiler plate—would never have drawn another pay check. And even granting the boiler plate part of it, it was something to wonder at. He had gone through the air like a rocket, and his head had caught the full of it when he landed. How far? Carleton never said. He measured it—twice. But he never gave out the figures of Boileau's aerial flight. Pete was a big man, six feet something, and heavy for his height. The strength of four ordinary men concentrated in one pair of arms might have done it perhaps; mathematically it wouldn't figure out any other way. Carleton never said. But what's the use! The division did some tall thinking over it—and Marley cried!
They picked up Pete Boileau and carried him into the station, and the contents of a fire bucket over his head opened his eyes. But it was a good fifteen minutes before he could talk, and by that time when they got over their scare and thought of Marley the baggage truck was deserted.
"What started it!" growled Boileau, repeating Carleton's inquiry. "I'm hanged if I know. I was jossing him a little—nothing to make anybody sore. I was only funning anyhow, and laughing when I said it."
"Said what?" demanded Regan, cutting in.
"Why, nothing much. He looked so queer hopping across the tracks like a monkey on a stick that I just asked him why he didn't cut out railroading and hit up a museum for a job, and then before I knew it he let out a screech and was on me like a blasted catamount."
"Serves you right," said the master mechanic gruffly. "I guess you won't nag him again, I guess you won't. And none of the other men won't neither if they've had any notion that way."
"He's a wicked little devil," snarled Boileau. "And the strength of him"—the baggage-master shivered—"he ain't human. He'll kill somebody yet, that's what he'll do!"
Pete's summing up was a popular one—the men promptly ticketed and carded Marley as per Boileau's bill of lading. There wasn't any more doubt about him, no discussions, no anything. They knew Marley at last, and they liked him less than ever; but, also, they imbibed a very wholesome respect for the welfare of their own skins. A man with arms whose strength is the strength of derrick booms is to be approached with some degree of caution.
Marley himself said nothing. Carleton and Regan got him on the carpet and tried to get his version of the story, but for all they got out of him they might as well have saved their time.
A pathetic enough looking figure, in a way, he was, as he stood in the super's office the afternoon of the fight. The shoulders were drooping giving the arms an even longer appearance than usual, no color in his face, the violet eyes almost black, with a dead, hunted look in them. Sorrow, remorse, dread—neither Regan nor Carleton knew. They couldn't understand him—then. Marley offered no explanation, volunteered nothing. Boileau's story was right—that was all.
"You might have killed the man," said Carleton sternly, at the end of an unsatisfactory twenty minutes. "You can thank your Maker you haven't his blood on your hands—it's a miracle you haven't. Don't you know your own strength? We can't have that sort of thing around here."
Marley's face seemed to grow even whiter than before and he shivered a little, though the afternoon was dripping wet with the heat and the thermometer was sizzling well up in the nineties—he shivered but his lips were hard shut and he didn't say a word.
Carleton, for once in his life when it came to handling men, didn't seem to be altogether sure of himself. An ordinary fight was one thing, and, generally speaking, strictly the men's own business; but everything about Marley, from his arrival at Big Cloud to the sudden beastlike ferocity he had displayed that morning, put a little different complexion on the matter. A puzzled look settled on the super's face as he glanced from Marley to the master mechanic, while his fingers drummed a tattoo on the edge of his desk.
"You had some provocation, Marley," he said slowly, "I don't want you to think I'm not taking that into consideration—but not enough to work up any such deviltry as you exhibited. You'll never get on with the men here after this. They'll make things pretty hard for you. I think you'd better go—for your own sake."
There was dead silence in the super's room for a half minute, then Regan, who had been sitting with his chair tilted back and his feet up on the window-sill, dropped the chair legs to the floor and swung around.
"I put Logan up firing yesterday," said he. "There's a night job wiping in the roundhouse. What do you say about it, Carleton?"
It was Marley who answered.
"Yes!" he said fiercely.
Carleton jabbed at the bowl of his pipe with his forefinger and his eyebrows went up at Marley's sudden animation. Marley's eyes met his with a single quick glance, and then the eyelids fluttered down covering them. There was something in the look that caught the super, something he couldn't define. There was a plea, but there was something more—like a pledge, almost, it seemed.
"All right," he said shortly; then, nodding at Marley in dismissal: "I hope you will remember what I've said. You may go."
Marley hesitated as though about to speak and changed his mind, evidently, for he turned, walked straight to the door and out, then his boots creaked down the stairs.
"He'll be away from the men there, all except a few," said the master mechanic, as though picking up the thread of a discussion. "And as for them, I'll see there's no trouble. There's Mrs. Coogan now that——"
"Yes, Tommy"—Carleton smiled a little—"I didn't put your interest all down to love for Marley."
"What gets me," muttered Regan screwing up his eyes, as his teeth met in the plug he had dragged with some labor from his hip pocket, "what gets me is the way he went to crying afterward. Like a kid, he was. It was the blamedest thing I ever saw, what?"
"I don't think he's responsible for himself when he gets like that," replied Carleton. "That's exactly what I am afraid of. It comes over him in a flash, making a very demon of him, and then the relaxation the other way is just as uncontrollable. I don't suppose he can help it, he's made that way. It wouldn't make so much difference in an ordinary man, but with strength like his"—Carleton blew a ring of smoke ceilingwards—"you saw what he did to Boileau."
"I ain't likely to forget it," said Regan. "But if he's left alone I guess he'll be all right. Any man that's fool enough to do anything else now will do it with his eyes open, and it's his own funeral."
Those of the night crew in the roundhouse were evidently of the same mind. They received him, it is true, with little evidence of cordiality, but their aloofness was decidedly pronounced, and they looked askance at the queer figure as it dodged in and out of the shadows cast by the big mountain racers, or, at times, stood silently by one of the engine doors under the dim light of an oil lamp staring out across the black of the turntable to the twinkling switch lights in the yard. They didn't like him, but they had learned their lesson well; and, as the weeks slipped away, they practised it—he was to be left alone.
One thing they grudgingly admitted—Marley could work, and did. Clarihue, the night turner, was man enough to give another his due any time, no matter what his own personal feelings might be, and there was some talk, after a bit, between him and the master mechanic about Marley getting the next spare run firing.
Clarihue even went so far as to hint at it as a possibility to Marley, and for his pains got a surprise—he wasn't used to seeing the chance of promotion turned down. Marley had shaken his head and would have none of it. He was satisfied where he was. That was all there was to that. Clarihue drew back into his shell after that. Marley could wipe till his hair was gray for all he cared.
So Marley wiped; but at Mrs. Coogan's cottage, as the summer waned, there wasn't as much washing done as there had been, and the company doctor got to dropping in too frequently to put his visits down to the old-time occasional friendly calls for an afternoon chat. And then, one day in the early fall, the washing stopped altogether, and the doctor's face was puckered and serious as he left the cottage and headed down Main Street to the station. He entered Carleton's office and, after a few words between them, the super sent for Regan.
That evening Carleton's private car was waiting on the siding when Number Two, the Eastbound Limited, Chick Coogan's old train, pulled in.
As the little yard switcher importantly coughed the super's car on to the rear Pullman, Regan, in his Sunday best, a store suit of black twill, with boiled shirt and stiff collar, came out of the station with Mrs. Coogan on his arm.
An incongruous pair they looked. The little old lady's walk was in painful contrast to the burly master mechanic's stride—her short steps had a painful, hesitating, uncertain waver to them. One hand gripped tenaciously at Regan's coat-sleeve, while the other held the faded, old-fashioned shawl close about her thin, bent shoulders. She carried her head drooped forward a little, hiding the face under the quaint poke bonnet.
A moment later Carleton, too, emerged from the station and joined them.
The station hands and the loungers eyed the trio with curiosity, and then stared in amazement as the two officials helped the old lady up the steps of the private car—Mrs. Coogan was getting the best of it, whatever it meant.
The three disappeared inside, but presently Regan and Carleton came out again, and the super dropped to the station platform. He held out his hand to the master mechanic as Frank Knowles, the conductor, lifted his finger to Burke in the cab.
"Good-by, Tommy; and good luck," he called, as the train began to move out. "Don't hurry, take all the time you need."
"All right," Regan shouted back. "Good-by."
Carleton stood for a moment watching the tail lights grow dimmer until, finally, they shot suddenly out of sight with the curve of the track, then he turned to walk back along the platform—and stopped.
Crouched back against the wall of the freight house, deep in the shadows, was Marley.
"Here you, Marley," Carleton called.
Marley, evidently believing himself to have been unobserved, started violently, and then came slowly forward.
"What are you hiding there for?" demanded the super.
"I wanted to see Mrs. Coogan off," Marley answered a little defiantly.
The tone of the other's voice did not please Carleton.
"You've a queer way of doing it then," he snapped shortly
Marley was twisting his hands, staring down the track.
"I said good-by before I came down to work,"—he spoke as though talking to himself.
"Oh!" said Carleton, and looked at Marley sharply, "I suppose you know what she went East for?"
"Yes," said Marley gruffly. That was all—just "yes." And with that he turned abruptly and started across the tracks for the roundhouse.
Carleton, taken aback, watched him in angry amazement, then the scowl that had settled on his face broke in a smile, and he shrugged his shoulders.
"Guess Tommy is right," he muttered, as he went on toward the office. "Marley's all in a class by himself. We've never had anything like him in the mountains before."
It was four days before Mrs. Coogan and the master mechanic came back. Days during which Marley slipped into Dutchy's lunch counter at deserted moments for his meals, and, if that were possible, drew into himself closer than ever.
The boys were curious about Mrs. Coogan, naturally; curious enough even to question Marley. He had one answer, only one. "She's sick, I guess," he said. They got nothing more out of him than that.
One thing Marley did, though, that Clarihue, while he thought nothing of it at the time, remembered well enough afterwards. He asked the turner to give him a sheet of railroad paper and a manila, and in his spare moments the night before Mrs. Coogan came back he labored, bent over the little desk where the engine crews signed on and off, scratching painstakingly with a pen. Clarihue caught a glimpse of the sheet in passing before Marley hastily covered it up—just a glimpse, not enough to read a single word, just enough to marvel a little at the wiper's hand. Marley was a pretty good penman.
Marley, of course, being on night duty slept daytimes, but the afternoon Regan brought Mrs. Coogan back to the cottage he must have heard them coming, for he was standing in the little sitting-room when they came in.
Mrs. Coogan kind of hesitated on the threshold, then she called out quickly in a faltering way:
"Marley, Marley, is that you?"
Marley was twisting his hands nervously. His eyes shot a rapid glance from the old lady to the master mechanic, and then the eyelids fluttered down.
"Sure," he said, "it's me."
She stumbled toward him and burst into tears, crying as though her heart would break.
"Marley, Marley," she sobbed, "don't lave them do ut. Don't lave them do ut, there's a good bhoy, Marley."
Marley never moved, just licked his lips with his tongue and his face grew whiter. Queer, the way he acted? Well, perhaps. Never a move to catch the frail, tottering figure, never a word to soothe the pitiful grief. He stood like a man listening as a judge pronounces his doom. Oh, yes, queer, if you like. Marley, whatever else he was, was a contradictory specimen.
It was Regan who caught the old lady in his arms, and led her gently into her bedroom off the parlor.
"You mustn't give way like that, Mrs. Coogan," he said kindly. "Just lie down for a. spell and you'll feel better. I'll ask Mrs. Dahleen, next door, to come in."
It took the master mechanic several minutes to quiet her and persuade her to do as he asked, but when he came out again Marley was still standing, exactly as before, in the centre of the room. With a black scowl on his face, Regan motioned the other outside, and, once on the street, he laid the wiper low. Hard tongued was Regan when his temper was aroused and he did not choose his words.
"What d'ye mean by treating her like that, you scrapings from the junk heap, you!" he exploded. "You know well enough what she went away for, and if you've any brains in that ugly head of yours you know well enough what she's come back to, without any printed instructions to help you out. What are you playing at, eh? What do you mean? You're not fit to associate with a dog! And she the woman that spent about her all to save your miserable carcass, you—you——"
"You'd better stop!"—the words came like the warning hiss of a serpent before it strikes. Marley's face was livid, and his great gnarled hands were creeping slowly upward above his waist line.
With a startled oath, Regan leaped quickly back: and then, separated by a yard, the men stood eying each other in silence.
It was gone in a flash as it had come, for Marley, with a shudder, dropped his hands limply to his sides, and the color crept slowly back into his cheeks.
"There is no chance for her?"—no trace of the passionate outburst of an instant before remained. The question came low, hesitating—more like an assertion combined with a wistful appeal for contradiction.
It took Regan longer to recover himself, and it was a minute before he answered. Then he shook his head.
"She'll be stone blind in a month," he said gruffly.
Marley's eyes came up to the master mechanic's—and dropped instantly with their habitual little flutter.
"Ain't no doubt, no chance of a mistake?" he ventured.
Again Regan shook his head.
"Not a chance. The best man we could find East made the examination. We're arranging to get her into an institute—a home for the blind somewhere."
"I thought you would"—Marley's voice was monotonous. "That's what she was talking about, wasn't it?"
"Yes," said Regan.
Marley wagged his head with a judicial air.
"That'll kill her," he remarked, as though stating a self-evident, but commonplace, fact. "That'll kill her."
"I'm afraid it will," the master mechanic admitted gravely. "But there's nothing else to do. It's impossible for her to stay here. She's got to have some one to look after her, and she has no money. God knows I wish we could, but we can't see any other way than put her in some place like that."
"I thought you would if it turned out bad," said Marley again, in dead tones. "I figured it out that way when you were gone." His hands were traveling in an aimless fashion in and out of his pockets. Suddenly he half pulled out an envelope, started, hastily shoved it back, and looked at Regan. "I—I got a letter to post," he muttered.
"Well, supposing you have," said Regan a little savagely—Regan wasn't interested in letters just then,—"supposing you have, you needn't——"
But Marley was well across the street.
The master mechanic gasped angrily, choked—and went into Mrs. Dahleen's cottage on his errand. It was wasted breath to talk to Marley anyhow.
It didn't take long for the news to spread around Big Cloud, and for three days they talked about Mrs. Coogan pretty constantly—after that they talked about Marley.
The Westbound Limited schedules Big Cloud for 2:05 in the afternoon, and on the third day after Mrs. Coogan's return Marley came down the street about half-past one, and crossed the tracks to the shops. Regan was in the fitting-shop when Marley walked in.
"I'd like to speak to you," said Marley, going straight up to the master mechanic.
"Well?" grunted Regan, none too cordially
"I'd like you to come over to Mr. Carleton's office with me."
There was something in Marley's voice, feverish, impelling, something in his face, that stopped the impatient question that sprang to Regan's lips. He looked at the ungainly, grotesque figure of the wiper for an instant curiously, then without a word led the way out of the shops.
They traversed the yard in silence, climbed the stairs in the station, and entered the super's room. Marley closed the door and stood with his back against it.
Carleton, at his desk, looked from one to the other in surprise.
"Hello," said he. "What's up?"
The master mechanic jerked his thumb at Marley, and appropriated a chair.
"He wanted me to come over. I don't know what for."
Carleton turned inquiringly to the wiper.
"What is it?" he demanded.
Marley walked slowly across the room until he reached the super's desk. His face was drawn, and he wet his lips with the tip of his tongue.
"It's about Mrs. Coogan," he said jerkily. "Five thousand would be enough, wouldn't it?"
Carleton stared at the man as though he were mad, and Regan hitched his chair suddenly forward.
"Will you swear to give it to her if I get it for you?"—Marley's hand, clenched, was on the desk, and he leaned his body far forward toward the super. There was no flutter of the eyelids now, and his eyes stared into Carleton's without a flicker. "Swear it!" he cried fiercely.
Carleton drew back involuntarily.
"Marley," he said soothingly, "you're not yourself, you——"
"No, I'm not mad." Marley broke in passionately. "I know what I'm talking about. I know she'd die in one of them charity places. It's up to me. She treated me white—the only soul on God's earth that ever did. And maybe, maybe too, it'll help square accounts. You'll play fair and swear she gets the money, won't you?"
"I don't understand," said Carleton slowly; "but I'll swear to give her anything you have to give."
Marley nodded quickly.
"That's all I want," he said. "There ain't much to understand." He fumbled in his pocket and brought out a newspaper clipping, a column long, which he laid on the desk. "I guess you'll get it all there."
The heavy "set" of the heading leaped up at Carleton. "$5,000 REWARD." Below, halfway down the column, was the reproduction of a photograph—Marley's.
Regan was up from his chair, bending over the super's shoulder.
"I thought I'd seen you somewhere before"—Carleton's voice sounded strained and hollow in his own ears. "It must have been the picture. I remember now. You—you killed a man in Denver a year ago."
"It's all there," said Marley, licking his lips again. "I never saw him before. I killed him like I almost killed Boileau this summer. I didn't know till afterward that he was rich, not until the family hung out that reward."
Carleton did not speak. Regan reached viciously for his plug. Marley stirred uneasily, and drew the back of his hand across his forehead. It came away soggy wet. In the silence the chime of the Limited's whistle floated in through the open window, then, presently, the roar of the train and the grinding shriek of the brake-shoes.
"My God," said Carleton in a whisper, "you want me to give you up and get the reward—for her!"
A queer smile flickered across Marley's face. Heavy steps came running up the stairs. There was a smart rap upon the door and a man stepped quickly inside. For a second his eyes swept the little group. Then he whirled like a flash, and the blue-black muzzle of a revolver held a bead on Marley's heart.
"Ah, Shorty," he cried grimly, "we've got you at last, eh? Put out your hands!"
Without protest, with the same queer smile on his face, Marley obeyed. There was a little click of steel, and he dropped his locked wrists before him.
"You're Mr. Carleton, aren't you?" the newcomer had swung to the desk.
"Yes," said Carleton numbly.
"I'm Hepburn of the Denver police," went on the officer. "We appreciate this, Mr. Carleton. Shorty here has been badly wanted for a long time. We got your letter yesterday."
Hepburn paused to reach into his pocket, and in the pause Carleton's eyes met Marley's—and he understood. Marley had written the letter himself and signed his, Carleton's, name. And, too, it was clear enough now, the telegram he had puzzled over the previous afternoon. It was lying before him on his desk. His eyes dropped to it. "Will be on hand on arrival of Limited, (signed) Denver."
"We can't give you any receipt for him as you requested," continued Hepburn, drawing a paper out of his pocket; "but here's an acknowledgment that his capture is due to information furnished by you. I guess that will answer the purpose. You won't have any trouble getting the reward." He handed the paper to Carleton.
The super took it mechanically, and started as it crackled in his fingers.
"Now," said Hepburn briskly, "I don't want to appear abrupt, but there's a local East at two-twenty. We'll move along, Shorty. Good-by, Mr. Carleton. Next time you're in Denver look us up." He took Marley's arm and moved toward the door.
"Don't—tell her, Mr. Carleton"—there was a catch in Marley's voice, and the words came low.
Carleton did not answer. He was staring at the paper in his hand—Marley's price.
Regan had turned his back, with a hasty movement of his fist to his eyes.
"Don't tell her"—the plea came again from the doorway.
Carleton tried to speak and his voice broke, then he cleared his throat.
"She will never know, Marley," he said huskily.