On the Iron at Big Cloud/Shanley's Luck
Generally speaking, Carleton, the super, was a pretty good judge of human nature, and he wasn't in the habit of making many breaks when it came to sizing up a man—not many. He did sometimes, but not often. However——
Shanley came out from the East, third class, colonist coach, billed through to Bubble Creek, B. C. Not that Shanley had any relatives or friends there, nor, for that matter, any particular reason for wanting to go there—it was simply a question of how far his money would go in yards of pink-colored paper, about two and one-half inches wide, stamped, printed, countersigned, and signed again to obviate any possible misunderstanding that might arise touching the company's liability for baggage, the act of God, dangers foreseen and unforeseen, personal effects or resultant personal defects whether due to negligence or not—it was all one. The colonist ticket was a bill of lading, and the "goods" went through "O. R.," owner's risk.
This possibly may not be strictly legal, but it is strictly safe—for the company. Furthermore, the directors didn't have to sit up very late at night to figure out that if they got the colonists' money first there would be none left for legal advice in case of eventualities, and that's the way it was with about nine hundred and ninety-nine out of every thousand colonists. The company, of course, did take some risk—they took a chance on the one-thousandth man. The company had sporting blood.
If Shanley had only known what was going to happen, he could have saved some of his money on that ticket. As it stands now, he has still got transportation coming to him from Little Dance on the Hill Division to Bubble Creek, B. C. That may be an asset, or it may not—Shanley never asked for it.
Third class, colonist, no stop over allowed, red-haired, freckle-faced, an uptilt to the nose, a jaw as square as the side of a house, shoulders like a bull's, and a fist that would fell an ox—that was Shanley. That was Shanley until the sprung rail that ditched the train at Little Dance caused him the loss of two things—his erstwhile status in the general passenger agent's department, and a well-beloved and reeking brier.
Both were lost forever—his status partly on account of the reasons before mentioned, and partly because Shanley wasn't particularly interested in Bubble Creek; his brier because it became a part, an integral part, of that memorable wreck, as Shanley, who was peacefully smoking in the front-end compartment of the colonist coach when the trouble happened, left the pipe behind while he catapulted through the open door—it was summer and sizzling hot—and landed, a very much dazed, bewildered, but not otherwise hurt Shanley, halfway up the embankment on the off side of a scene of most amazing disorder.
The potentialties that lie in a sprung rail are something to marvel at. Up ahead, the engine had promptly turned turtle, and, as promptly giving vent to its displeasure at the indignity heaped upon it, had incased itself in an angry, hissing cloud of steam; behind, the baggage and mail cars seemed to have vied with each other in affectionate regard for the tender. Only the brass-polished, nickel-plated Pullmans at the rear still held the rails; the rest was just a crazy, slewed-edgeways, up-canted, toppled-over string of cars, already beginning to smoke as the flames licked into them.
The shouts of those who had made their escape, the screams of those still imprisoned within the wreckage, the sight of others crawling through the doors and windows brought Shanley back to his senses. He rose to his feet, blinked furiously, as was his habit on all untoward occasions, and the next instant he was down the embankment and into the game—to begin his career as a railroad man. That's where he started—in the wreck at Little Dance.
In and out of the blazing pyre, after a woman or a child; the crash of his ax through splintering woodwork; the scorching heat; prying away some poor devil wedged down beneath the débris; tinkling glass as the heat cracked the windows or he beat through a pane with his fist—it was all hazy, all a dream to Shanley as, hours afterward, a grim, gaunt figure with blackened, bleeding face, his clothes hanging in ribbons, he rode into the Big Cloud yards on the derrick car.
Some men would have hit up the claim agent for a stake; Shanley hit up Carleton for a job. But for modesty's sake, previous to presenting himself before the superintendent's desk, he borrowed from one of the wrecking crew the only available article of wearing apparel at hand—a very dirty and disreputable pair of overalls. Dirty and disreputable, but—whole.
"I want a job, Mr. Carleton," said he bluntly, when he had gained admittance to the super.
"You do, eh?" replied Carleton, looking him up and down. "You do, eh? You're a pretty hard-looking nut, h'm?"
Shanley blinked, but, being painfully aware that he undoubtedly did look all if not more than that, and being, too, not quite sure what to make of the super, he contented himself with the remark:
"I ain't a picture, I suppose."
"H'm!" said Carleton. "Been up at the wreck, I hear—what?"
"Yes," said Shanley shortly. No long story, no tale of what he'd done, no anything—just "Yes," and that was what caught Carleton.
"What can you do?" demanded the super.
"Anything. I'm not fussy," replied Chanley.
"H'm!" said Carleton. "You don't look it." And he favored Shanley with another prolonged stare.
Shanley, at first uncomfortable, shifted nervously from one foot to the other; then, as the stare continued, he began to get irritated.
"Look here," he flung out suddenly. "I ain't on exhibition." I come for a job. I ain't got any letters of recommendation from pastors of churches in the East. I ain't got anything. My name's Shanley, an' I haven't even got anything to prove that."
"You've got your nerve," said Carleton, leaning back in his swivel chair and tucking a thumb in the armhole of his vest. "Ever worked on a railroad?"
"No," answered Shanley, a little less assertively, as he saw his chances of a job vanishing into thin air, and already regretting his hasty speech—a few odd nickels wasn't a very big stake for a man starting out in a new country, and that represented the sum total of Shanley's worldly wealth. "No, I never worked on a railroad."
"H'm," continued Carleton. "Well, my friend, you can report to the trainmaster in the morning and tell him I said to put you on breaking. Get out!"
It came so suddenly and unexpectedly that it took Shanley's breath. Carleton's ways were not Shanley's ways, or ways that Shanley by any peradventure had been accustomed to. A moment before he wouldn't have exchanged one of his nickels for his chances of a job, therefore his reply resolved itself into a sheepish grin; moreover—but of this hereafter—Shanley back East was decidedly more in the habit of having his applications refused with scant ceremony than he was to receiving favorable consideration, which was another reason for his failure to rise to the occasion with appropriate words of thanks.
Incidentally, Shanley, like a select few of his fellow creatures, had his failings; concretely, his particular strayings from the straight and narrow way, not having been hidden under a bushel, were responsible, with the advice and assistance of a distant relative or two—advice being always cheap, and assistance, in this case, a marked-down bargain—for his migration to the West, as far West as the funds in hand would take him—Bubble Creek, B. C, the distant relatives saw to that. They bought the ticket.
Shanley, still smiling sheepishly and in obedience to the super's instruction to "get out," was halfway to the door when Carleton halted him.
"Yes, sir?" said Shanley, finding his voice and swinging around.
"Got any money?"
Shanley's hand mechanically dove through the overalls and rummaged in the pocket of his torn and ribboned trousers—the pocket had not been spared—the nickels, every last one of them, were gone. The look on his face evidently needed no interpretation.
Carleton was holding out two bills—two tens.
"Cleaned out, eh? Well, I wouldn't blame any one if they asked you for your board bill in advance. Here, I guess you'll need this. You can pay it back later on. There's a fellow keeps a clothing store up the street that it wouldn't do you any harm to visit—h'm?"
With gratitude in his heart and the best of resolutions exuding from every pore—he was always long on resolutions—Shanley being embarrassed, and therefore awkward, made a somewhat ungraceful exit from the super's presence.
But neither gratitude nor resolutions, even of steel-plate, double-riveted variety, are of much avail against circumstances and conditions over which one has absolutely, undeniably, and emphatically no control. If Dinkelman's clothing emporium had occupied a site between the station and MacGuire's Blazing Star saloon, instead of the said Blazing Star saloon occupying that altogether inappropriate position itself, and if Spider Kelly, the conductor of the wrecked train, had not run into Shanley before he had fairly got ten yards from the super's office, things undoubtedly would have been very different. Shanley took that view of it afterward, and certainly he was justified. It is on record that he had no hand in the laying out of Big Cloud nor in the control of its real estate, rentals, or leases.
Railroad men are by no stretch of the imagination to be regarded as hero worshipers, but if a man does a decent thing they are not averse to telling him so. Shanley had done several very decent things at the wreck. Spider Kelly invited him into the Blazing Star.
Shanley demurred. "I've got to get some clothes," he explained.
"Get 'em afterward," said Kelly; "plenty of time. Come on; it's just supper-time, and there'll be a lot of the boys in there. They'll be glad to meet you. If you're hungry you'll find the best free layout on the division. There's nothing small about MacGuire."
Shanley hesitated, and, proverbially, was lost.
An intimate and particular description of the events of that night are on no account to be written. They would not have shocked, surprised, or astonished Stanley's distant relatives—but everybody is not a distant relative. Shanley remembered it in spots—only in spots. He fought and whipped Spider Kelly, who was a much bigger man than himself, and thereby cemented an undying friendship; he partook of the hospitality showered upon him and returned it with a lavish hand—as long as Carleton's twenty lasted; he made speeches, many of them, touching wrecks and the nature of wrecks and his own particular participation therein—which was seemly, since at the end, about three o'clock in the morning, he slid with some dignity under the table, and, with the fond belief that he was once more clutching an ax and doing heroic and noble service, wound his arms grimly, remorselessly, tenaciously, like an octopus, around the table leg—and slept.
MacGuire before bolting the front door studied the situation carefully, and left him there—for the sake of the table.
The sunlight next morning was not charitable to Shanley. Where yesterday he had borne the marks of one wreck, he now bore the marks of two—his own on top of the company's. Up the street Dinkelman's clothing emporium flaunted a canvas sign announcing unusual bargains in men's apparel. This seemed to Shanley an unkindly act that could be expressed in no better terms than "rubbing it in." He gazed at the sign with an aggrieved expression on his face, blinked furiously, and started, with a step that lacked something of assurance, for the railroad yards and the trainmaster's office.
He was by no means confident of the reception that awaited him. If there is one characteristic over and above any other that is common to human nature, it is the faculty, though that's rather an imposing word, of worrying like sin over something that may happen but never does. Shanley might just as well have saved himself the mental worry anent the trainmaster's possible attitude. He did not report to the trainmaster that morning, never saw that gentleman until long, very long afterward. Instead, he reported to Carleton——at the latter's urgent solicitation in the shape of a grinning call-boy, who intercepted his march of progress toward the station.
"Hi, you, there, cherub face!" bawled the urchin politely. "The super wants you—on the hop!"
Shanley stopped short, and, resorting to his favorite habit, blinked.
"Carleton. Get it? Carleton," repeated the messenger, evidently by no means sure that he was thoroughly understood; and then, for a parting shot as he sailed gayly up the street: "Gee, but you're pretty!"
Carleton! Shanley had forgotten all about Carleton for the moment. His hand instinctively went into his pocket—and then he groaned. He remembered Carleton. But worst of all, he remembered Carleton's twenty.
There were two courses open to him. He could sneak out of town with all possible modesty and dispatch, or he could face the music. Not that Shanley debated the question—the occasion had never yet arisen when he hadn't faced the music—he simply experienced the temptation to "crawl," that was all.
"It looks to me," he ruminated ruefully, "as though I was up against it for fair. Just my luck, just my blasted luck, always the same kind of luck, that's what. 'Tain't my fault neither, is it? I ain't responsible for that darned wreck—if 'twasn't for that I wouldn't be here. An' Kelly, Spider he said his name was, if 'twasn't for him I wouldn't be here neither. What the blazes did I have to do with it? I always have to stand for the other cuss. That's me every time, I guess. An' that's logic."
It was. Neither was there any flaw in it as at first sight might appear, for the last test of logic is its power of conviction. Shanley, from being a man with some reasonable cause for qualms of conscience, became, in his own mind, one deeply sinned against, one injured and crushed down by the load of others he was forced to bear.
He explained this to Carleton while the thought of his burning wrongs was still at white heat, and before the super had a chance to get in a word. He began as he opened the office door, continued as he crossed the room, and finished as he stood before the super's desk.
The scowl that had settled on Carleton's face, as he looked up at the other's entrance, gradually gave way to a hint of humor lurking around the corners of his mouth, and he leaned back in his chair and listened with an exaggerated air of profound attention.
"Just so, just so," said he, when Shanley finally came to a breathless halt. "Now perhaps you will allow me to say a word. It may not have occurred to you that I sent for you in order that I might do the talking—h'm?"
This really seemed to require no answer, so Shanley made none.
"Yesterday," went on Carleton, "you came to me for a job, and I gave you one, didn't I?"
"Yes," admitted Shanley, licking his lips.
"Just so," said Carleton mildly. "I hired you then. I fire you now. Pretty quick work, what?"
"You're the doctor," said Shanley evenly enough. He had, for all his logic, expected no more nor less—he was too firm a believer in his own particular and exclusive brand of luck. "You're the doctor," he repeated. "There's a matter of twenty bucks——"
"I was coming to that," interrupted Carleton; "but I'm glad you mentioned it. I'll be honest enough to admit that I hardly expected you would. A man who acts as you've acted doesn't generally—h'm? "
"I told you 'twasn't my fault," said Shanley stubbornly.
Carleton reached for his pipe, and struck a match, surveying Shanley the while with a gaze that was half perplexed, half quizzical.
"You're a queer card," he remarked at last. "Why don't you cut out the booze?"
"'Twasn't my fault, I tell you," persisted Shanley.
"You're a pretty good hand with your fists, what?" said Carleton irrelevantly. "Kelly's no slouch himself."
Shanley blinked. It appeared that the super was as intimately posted on the events of the preceding evening as he was himself. The remark suggested an inspection of the fists in question. They were grimy and dirty, and most of the knuckles were barked; closed, they resembled a pair of miniature battering-rams.
"Pretty good," he admitted modestly.
"H'm! About that twenty. You intend to pay it back, don't you?"
"I'm not a thief, whatever else I am," snapped Shanley. "Of course, I'll pay it back. You needn't worry."
"When?" insisted Carleton coolly.
"When I get a job."
"I'll give you one," said Carleton—"Royal" Carleton the boys called him, the squarest man that ever held down a division. "I'll give you one where your fists will be kept out of mischief, and where you can't hit the high joints quite as hard as you did last night. But I want you to understand this, Shanley, and understand it good and plenty and once for all, it's your last chance. You made a fool of yourself last night, but you acted like a man yesterday—that's why you're getting a new deal. You're going up to Glacier Cañon with McCann on the construction work. You won't find it anyways luxurious, and maybe you'll like McCann and maybe you won't—he's been squealing for a white man to live with. You can help him boss Italians at one seventy-five a day, and you can go up on Twenty-nine this morning, that'll take care of your transportation. What do you say?"
Shanley couldn't say anything. He looked at the super and blinked; then he looked at his fists speculatively—and blinked.
Carleton was scribbling on a piece of paper.
"All right, h'm?" he said, looking up and handing over the paper. "There's an order on Dinkelman, only get some one else to show you the way this time, and take the other side of the street going up. Understand?"
"Mr. Carleton," Shanley blurted out, "if ever I get full again, you——"
"I will!" said Carleton grimly. "I'll fire you so hard and fast you'll be out of breath for a month. Don't make any mistake about that. No man gets more than two chances with me. The next time you get drunk will finish your railroad career for keeps, I promise you that."
"Yes," said Shanley humbly; and then, after a moment's nervous hesitation: "About Kelly, Mr. Carleton. I don't want to get him in bad on this. You see, it was this way. He left early—that's what started the fight. I called him a—a—quitter—or something like that."
"H'm, yes; or something like that," repeated Carleton dryly. "So I believe. I've had a talk with Kelly. You needn't let the incomprehensible workings of that conscience of yours prick you any on his account. Kelly knows when to stop. His record is O. K. in this office. Kelly doesn't get drunk. If he did, he'd be fired just as fast as you will be if it ever happens again."
"If I'm never fired for anything but that," exclaimed Shanley in a burst of fervent emotion, "I've got a job for life. I'll prove it to you, Mr. Carleton. I'm going to make good. You see if I don't."
"Very well," said Carleton. "I hope you will. That's all, Shanley. I'll let McCann know you're coming."
Shanley's second exit from the super's presence was different from the first. He walked out with a firm tread and squared shoulders. He was rejuvenated and buoyant. He was on his mettle—quite another matter, entirely another matter, and distinctly apart from the paltry consideration of a mere job. He had told Carleton that he would make good. Well, he would—and he did. Carleton himself said so, and Carleton wasn't in the habit of making many breaks when it came to sizing up a man—not many. He did sometimes, but not often.
Shanley did not take the other side of the street on the way to Dinkelman's—by no means. He deliberately passed as close to the Blazing Star saloon as he could, passed with contemptuous disregard, passed boastfully in the knowledge of his own strength. A sixteen-hundred class engine with her four pairs of forty-six-inch drivers can pull countless cars up a mountain grade steep enough to make one dizzy, but Shanley would have backed himself to win against her in a tug of war over the scant few inches that separated him from MacGuire's dispensary as he brushed by. None of MacGuire's for him. Not at all. Red-headed, freckle-faced, barked-knuckled, bulwarked-and-armor-cased-against-temptation Shanley dealt that morning with Mr. Dinkelman, purveyor of bargains in men's apparel.
The dealings were liberal—on the part of both men. On Shanley's part because he needed much; on Mr. Dinkelman's part because it was Mr. Dinkelman's business, and his nature, to sell much—if he could—safely. This was eminently safe. Carleton's name in the mountains stood higher than guaranteed, gilt-edged gold bonds any time.
The business finally concluded, Shanley boarded Twenty-nine, local freight, west, and in due time, well on in the afternoon, righteously sober, straight as a string, cleaned, groomed, and resplendent in a new suit, swung off from the caboose at Glacier Cañon as the train considerately slackened speed enough to give him a fighting chance for life and limb.
He landed safely, however, in the midst of a jabbering Italian labor gang, who received his sudden advent with patience and some awe. A short, squint-faced man greeted him with a grin.
"Me name's McCann," said he of the squint face. "This is Glacier Cañon, fwhat yez see av ut. Them's the Eyetalians. Yon's fwhere I roost an' by the same token, fwhere yez'll roost, too, from now on. Above is the shack av the men. Are yez plased wid yer introduction? 'Tis wan hell av a hole ye've come to. Shanley's the name, eh? A good wan, an' I'm proud to make the acquaintance."
Shanley blinked as he stretched out his hand and made friends with his superior, and blinked again as he looked first one way and then another in an effort to follow and absorb the other's graphic description of the surroundings.
The road foreman's summary was beyond dispute. Glacier Cañon was as wild a piece of track as the Hill Division boasted, which was going some. The right of way hugged the bald gray rock of the mountains that rose up at one side in a sheer sweep, and the trains crawled along for all the world like huge flies at the base of a wall. On the other side was the Glacier River with its treacherous sandy bed that had been the subject of more reports and engineers' gray hairs than all the rest of the system put together. The construction camp lay just to the east of the Cañon, and at the foot of a long, stiff, two-mile, four-per-cent grade. That was the reason the camp was there—that grade.
Locking the stable door when the horse is gone is a procedure that is very old. It did not originate with the directors of the Transcontinental—they never claimed it did. But their fixed policy, if properly presented before a court of arbitration, would have gone a long way toward establishing a clear title to it. If they had built a switchback at the foot of the grade in the first place, Extra Number Eighty-three, when she lost control of herself near the bottom coming down, would have demonstrated just as clearly the necessity for one being there as she demonstrated most forcibly what would happen when there wasn't. All of which is by way of saying that rock or no rock, expense or no expense, the door was now to be locked, and McCann and his men were there to lock it.
McCann explained this to Shanley as he walked him around, up the track to the men's shanties, over the work, and back again down the track to inspect the interior of the dwelling they were to share in common—a relic of deceased Extra Number Eighty-three in the shape of a truckless box-car with dinted and bulging sides—dinted one side and bulged the other, that is.
"But," said Shanley, "I dunno what a switchback is."
"Who expected it av ye?" inquired McCann.
"An' fwhat difference does ut make? Carleton sint word ye were green. Ye've no need to know. So's ye can do as yez are told an' make them geesers do as they are told, an' can play forty-foive at night—that's the point, the main point wid me, an' it's me yez av to get along wid—'twill be all right. Since Meegan, him that was helpin' me, tuk sick a week back, I've been alone. Begad, playin' solytare is——"
"I can play forty-five," said Shanley.
McCann's face brightened.
"The powers be praised!" he exclaimed. "I'll enlighten ye, then, on the matter av switchbacks, me son, so as ye'll have an intilligent conception av the work. A switchback is a bit av a spur track that sticks out loike the quills av a porkypine at intervuls on a bad grade such as the wan forninst ye. 'Tis run off the main line, d'ye mind, an' up contrariwise to the dip av the grade. Whin a train comin' down gets beyond control an' so expresses herself by means av her whistle, she's switched off an' given a chance to run uphill by way av variety until she stops. An' the same holds true if she breaks loose goin' up. Is ut clear?"
"It is," said Shanley. "When do I begin work?"
"In the mornin'. 'Tis near six now, an' the bhoys'll be quittin' for the night. Forty-foive is a grand game. We'll play ut to-night to our better acquaintance. I contind 'tis the national game av the ould sod."
Whether McCann's contention is borne out by fact, or by the even more weighty consideration of public opinion, is of little importance. Shanley played forty-five with McCann that night and for many nights thereafter. He lost a figure or two off the pay check that was to come, but he won the golden opinion of the little road boss, which ethically, and in this case practically, was of far greater value.
"He's a bright jool av a lad," wrote McCann across the foot of a weekly report.
And Carleton, seeing it, was much gratified, for Carleton wasn't in the habit of making many breaks when it came to sizing up a man—not many. He did sometimes, but not often. Shanley was making good. Carleton was much gratified.
Of the three weeks that followed Shanley's advent to Glacier Cañon, this story has little to do in a detailed way; but, as a whole, those three weeks are pointed, eloquent, and important—very important.
Italian laborers have many failings, but likewise they have many virtues. They are simple, demonstrative, and their capacity for adoration—of both men and things—is very great.
From Jacko, the water boy, to Pietro Maraschino, the padrone, they adored Shanley, and enthroned him as an idol in their hearts, for the very simple reason that Shanley, not being a professional slave-driver by trade, established new and heretofore undreamed-of relations with them. Shanley was very green, very ignorant, very inexperienced—he treated them like human beings. That was the long and short of it. Shanley became popular beyond the popularity of any man, before or since, who was ever called upon to handle the "foreign element" on the Hill Division.
And the work progressed. Day by day the cut bored deeper into the stubborn mountain-side; day by day the Glacier River gurgled peacefully along over its treacherous sandy bed, one of the prettiest scenic effects on the system, so pretty that the company used it in the magazines; day by day regulars and extras, freights and passengers, east and west, snorted up and down the grade, the only visitations from the outside world; night after night Shanley played forty-five with McCann in the smoky, truckless box-car.
Also the camp was dry, very dry, dryer than a sanatorium—that is, than some sanatoriums. Carleton had been quite right. There was no opportunity for Shanley to hit the high joints quite as hard as he had that night in Big Cloud—there was no opportunity for him to hit the high joints at all. Shanley had not seen a bottle for three weeks. Therefore Shanley felt virtuous, which was proper.
Some events follow others as the natural, logical outcome and conclusion of preceding ones; others, again, are apparently irrelevant, and the connection is not to be explained either by logic, conclusion, or otherwise. Rain, McCann's departure for Big Cloud, and Pietro Maraschino's birthday are an example of this.
When it settles down for a storm in the mountains, it is, if the elements are really in earnest, torrential, and prolonged, and has the effect of tying up construction work tighter than a supreme court injunction could come anywhere near doing it.
McCann had business in Big Cloud, whether personal or pertaining to the company is of no consequence, and the day the storm set in—the morning having demonstrated that its classification was not to be considered as transient—he seized the opportunity to flag the afternoon freight eastbound. This was natural and logical, and an opportunity not to be neglected.
That this day, however, should be the anniversary of the day the padrone's mother of blessed memory had given birth to Pietro Maraschino in sunny Naples fifty-three years before is, though apparently irrelevant, far from being so; and since its peculiar and coincident happening cannot be laid at the door of either logical, natural, scientific, or philosophical conclusions, and since it demands an explanation of some sort, it must, perforce, be attributed to the metaphysical—which is a name given to all things about which nobody knows anything.
"Yez are in charge," said McCann grandiloquently, waving his hand to Shanley as he swung into the caboose. "Yez are in charge av the work, me son. See to ut. I trust ye."
As the work at the moment was entirely at a standstill and bid fair to remain so until McCann's return on the morrow, this was very good of McCann. But all men like words of appreciation, most of them whether they deserve them or not, so Shanley went back into the box-car out of the rain to ponder over the tribute McCann had paid him, and to ponder, too, over the new responsibility that had fallen to his lot.
He did not ponder very long; indeed, the freight that was transporting McCann could hardly have been out of sight over the summit of the grade, when a knock at the door was followed by the entrance of the dripping figure of the padrone.
Shanley looked up anxiously.
"Hello, Pietro," he said nervously, for the weather wasn't the kind that would bring a man out for nothing, and he was keenly alive to that new responsibility. "Hello, Pietro," he repeated. "Anything wrong?"
Pietro grinned amiably, shook his head, unbuttoned his coat, and held out—a bottle.
Shanley stared in amazement, and then began to blink furiously.
"Here!" said he. "What's this?"
"Chianti," said Pietro, grinning harder than ever.
"Key-aunty." Shanley screwed up his face. "What the devil is key-aunty?"
"Ver' good wine from Italia," said the beaming padrone.
"It is, is it? Well, it's against the rules," asserted Shanley with conviction. "It's against the rules. McCann 'u'd skin you alive. He would. Where'd you get it? What's up, eh? It's against the rules. I'm in charge."
Pietro explained. It was his birthday. It was very bad weather. For the rest of the afternoon there would be no work. They would celebrate the birthday. Meester McCann had taken the train. As for the wine—Pietro shrugged his shoulders—his people adored wine. Unless they were very poor his people would have a little wine in their packs, perhaps. He was not quite sure where they had got it, but it was very thoughtful of them to remember his birthday. Each had presented him with a little wine. This bottle was an expression of their very great good estime of Meester Shanley. Perhaps, later, Meester Shanley would come himself to the shack.
"It's against the rules," blinked Shanley. "McCann 'u'd skin you alive. Maybe I'll drop in by and by. You can leave the bottle."
Pietro bobbed, grinned delightedly, handed over the bottle, and backed out into the storm.
Shanley, still blinking, placed the bottle on the table, and gazed at it thoughtfully for a few minutes—and his thoughts were of Carleton.
"If 'twere whisky," said he, "I'd have no part of it, not a drop, not even a smell. I would not. I would not touch it. But as it is——" Shanley uncorked the bottle.
Not at all. One does not get drunk on a bottle of Chianti wine. A single bottle of Chianti wine is very little. That is the trouble—it is very little. After three weeks of abstinence it is very little indeed—so little that it is positively tantalizing.
The afternoon waned rapidly—and so did the Chianti. Outside, the storm instead of abating grew worse—the thunder racketing through the mountains, the lightning cutting jagged streaks in the black sky, the rain coming down in sheets that set the culverts and sluiceways running full. It was settling down for a bad night in the mountains, which, in the Rockies, is not a thing to be ignored.
"'Tis no wonder McCann found it lonely," muttered Shanley, as he squeezed the last drop from the bottle. "'Tis very lonely, indeed"—he held the bottle upside down to make sure that it was thoroughly drained—"most uncommon lonely. It is that. Maybe those Eyetalians'll be thinkin' I'm stuck up, perhaps—which I am not. It's a queer name the stuff has, though it's against the rules, an' I can't get my tongue around it, but I've tasted worse. For the sake of courtesy I'll look in on the birthday party."
He incased himself in a pair of McCann's rubber boots, put on McCann's rubber coat, and started out.
"An' to think," said he, as he sloshed and buffeted his way up the two hundred yards of track to the construction shanties, "to think that Pietro came out in cruel bad weather like this all for to present his compliments an' ask me over! 'Twould be ungracious to refuse the invitation; besides my presence will keep them in due bounds an' restraint. I've heard that Eyetalians, being foreigners, do not practice restraint—but, being foreigners, 'tis not to be held against them. I'm in charge, an' I'll see to it."
Ihey greeted him in the largest of the three bunk-houses. They greeted him heartily, sincerely, uproariously, and with fervor. They were unfeignedly glad to see him, and if he had not been by nature a modest man he would have understood that his popularity was above the popularity ever before accorded to a boss. Likewise, their hospitality was without stint. If there was any shortage of stock—which is a matter decidedly open to question—they denied themselves that Shanley might not feel the pinch. Shanley was lifted from the mere plane of man—he became a king.
A little Chianti is a little; much Chianti is to be reckoned with and on no account to be despised. Shanley not only became a king, he became regally, imperially, royally, and majestically drunk. Also there came at last an end to the Chianti, at which stage of the proceedings Shanley, with extravagant dignity and appropriate words—an exhortation on restraint—waddled to the door to take his departure.
It was very dark outside, very dark, except when an intermittent flash of lightning made momentary daylight. Pietro Maraschino offered Shanley one of the many lanterns that, in honor of the festive occasion, they had commandeered, without regard to color, from the tool boxes, and had strung around the shack. Further, he offered to see Shanley on his way.
The offer of assistance touched Shanley—it touched him wrong. It implied a more or less acute condition of disability, which he repudiated with a hurt expression on his face and forceful words on his tongue. He refused it; and being aggrieved, refused also the lantern Pietro held out to him. He chose one for himself instead—the one nearest to his hand. That this was red made no difference. Blue, white, red, green, or purple, it was all one to Shanley. His fuddled brain did not differentiate. A light was a light, that was all there was to that.
The short distance from the shanty door to the right of way Shanley negotiated with finesse and aplomb, and then he started down the track. This, however, was another matter.
Railroad ties, at best, do not make the smoothest walking in the world, and to accomplish the feat under some conditions is decidedly worthy of note. Shanley's performance beggars the English language—there is no metaphor. For every ten feet he moved forward he covered twenty in laterals, and, considering that the laterals were limited to the paltry four feet, eight and one-half inches that made the gauge of the rails, the feat was incontestably more than worthy of mere note—it was something to wonder at. He clung grimly to the lantern, with the result that the gyrations of that little red light in the darkness would have put to shame an expert's exhibition with a luminous dumb-bell. The while Shanley spoke earnestly to himself.
"Queshun is am I drunk—thash's the queshun. If I'm drunk—lose my job. Thash what Carleton said—lose my job. If I'm not drunk—s'all right. Wish I knew wesser I'm drunk or not."
He relapsed into silent communion and debate. This lasted for a very long period, during which, marvelous to relate, he had not only reached a point opposite his box-car domicile, but, being oblivious of that fact, had kept on along the track. Progress, however, was becoming more and more difficult. Shanley was assuming a position that might be likened somewhat to the letter C, owing to the fact that the force of gravity seemed to be exerting an undue influence on his head. Shanley was coming to earth.
As a result of his communion with himself he began to talk again, and his words suggested that he had suspicions of the truth.
"Jus' my luck," said he bitterly. "Jus' my luck. Allus same kind of luck. What'd I have to do wis Peto Mara—Mars—Marscheeno's birthday? Nothing. Nothing 'tall. 'Twasn't my fault. Jus' my luck. Jus' my——"
Shanley came to earth. Also his head came into contact with the unyielding steel of the left-hand rail, and as a result he sprawled inertly full across the right of way, not ten yards west of where the Glacier River swings in to crowd the track close up against the mountain base.
Providence sometimes looks after those who are unable to look after themselves. By the law of probabilities the lantern should have met disaster quick and absolute; but, instead, when it fell from Shanley's hand, it landed right side up just outside the rail between two ties, and, apart from a momentary and hesitant flicker incident to the jolt, burned on serenely. And it was still burning when, five minutes later, above the swish of leaping waters from the Glacier River now a chattering, angry stream with swollen banks, above the moan of the wind and the roll of the thunder through the mountains, above the pelting splash of the steady rain, came the hoarse scream of Number One's whistle on the grade.
Sanderson, in the cab, caught the red against him on the right of way ahead, and whistled insistently for the track. This having no effect, he grunted, latched in the throttle, and applied the "air." The ray of the headlight crept along between the rails, hovered over a black object beside the lantern, passed on again and held, not on the glistening rain-wet rails—they had disappeared—but on a crumbling road-bed and a dark blotch of waters, as with a final screech from the grinding brake-shoes Number One came to a standstill.
"Holy MacCheesar!" exclaimed Sanderson, as he swung from the cab.
He made his way along past the drivers to where the pilot's nose was inquisitively poked against the lantern, picked up the lantern, and bent over Shanley.
"Holy MacCheesar!" he exclaimed again, straightening up after a moment's examination. "Holy MacCheesar!"
"What's wrong, Sandy?" snapped a voice behind him, the voice of Kelly, Spider Kelly, the conductor, who had hurried forward to investigate the unscheduled stop.
"Search me," replied Sanderson. "Looks like the Glacier was up to her old tricks. There's a washout ahead, and a bad one, I guess. But the meaning of this here is one beyond me. The fellow was curled up on the track just as you see him with the light burning alongside, that's what saved us, but he's as drunk as a lord."
As Kelly bent over the prostrate form, others of the train crew appeared on the scene. One glance he gave at Shanley's never-under-any-circumstances-to-be-forgotten homely countenance, and hastily ordered the men to go forward and investigate the washout ahead. Then he turned to the engineer.
"The man is not drunk, Sandy," said he.
"He is gloriously and magnificently drunk, Kelly," replied the engineer.
"What would he be doing here, then? He is not drunk."
"Sleeping it off. He is disgracefully drunk."
"Can ye not see the bash on his head where he must have stumbled in the dark trying to save the train and struck against the rail? He is not drunk."
"Can ye not smell?" retorted Sanderson. "He is dead drunk!"
"I have fought with him and he licked me. He is a man and a friend of mine"—Kelly shoved his lantern into Sanderson's face. "He is not drunk."
"He is not drunk," said Sanderson. "He is a hero. What will we do with him?"
"We'll carry him, you and me, over to the construction shanty, it's only a few yards, and put him in his bunk. He works here, you know. McCann's in Big Cloud, for I saw him there. After that we'll run back to the Bend for orders and make our report."
"Hurry, then," said the engineer. "Take his legs. What are you laughing at?"
"I was thinking of Carleton," said Kelly.
"Carleton? What's Carleton got to do with it?"
"I'll tell you later when we get to the Bend. Come on."
"H'm," said Sanderson, as they staggered with their burden over to the box-car shack. "I've an idea that bash on the head is more dirt than hurt. He's making a speech, ain't he?"
"Jus' my luck," mumbled the reviving Shanley dolefully. "Jus' my luck. Allus same kind of luck."
"Possibly," said Kelly. "Set him down and slide back the door. That's right. In with him now. We haven't got time to make him very comfortable, but I guess he'll do. I can fix him up better at the Bend than I can here."
"At the Bend? What d'ye mean?" demanded Sanderson.
"You'll see," replied Kelly, with a grin. "You'll see."
And Sanderson saw. So did Carleton—in a way.
Kelly's report, when they got to the Bend, was a work of art. He disposed of the nature and extent of the washout in ten brief, well-chosen words, but the operator got a cramp before Kelly was through covering Shanley with glory. The passengers, packed in the little waiting-room clamoring for details, yelled deliriously as he read the message aloud—and promptly took up a collection, a very generous collection, because all collections are generous at psychological moments—that is to say, if not delayed too long to allow a recovery from hysteria.
At Big Cloud, the dispatcher, because the washout was a serious matter that not only threatened to tie up traffic, but was tying it up, sent a hurry call to Carleton's house that brought the super on the run to the office. By this time the collection had been counted, and the total wired in, as an additional detail—one hundred and forty dollars and thirty-three cents. The odd change being a contribution from a Swede in the colonist coach who could not speak English, and who paid because a man in uniform, a brakeman acting as canvasser, made the request. A Swede has a great respect for a uniform.
"H'm," said Carleton, when he had read it all. "I know a man when I see one. Tell Shanley to report here. I guess we can find something better for him to do than bossing laborers. What? Yes, send the letter up on the construction train. One hundred and forty, thirty-three, h'm? Tell him that, too. He'll feel good when he sees it in the morning."
But Shanley did not feel good when he saw it in the morning, for he was nursing a very bad headache and a stomach that had a tendency to squeamishness. The letter was lying on the floor, where some one had considerately chucked it in without disturbing him. His eyes fell on it as he struggled out of his bunk. He picked it up, opened it, read it—and blinked. His face set with a very blank and bewildered expression. He read it again, and again once more. Then he went to the door and looked out.
A construction train was on the line a little below him, and a gang of men, not his nor Pietro Maraschino's men, were busily at work. As he gazed, his face puckered. The problem that had so obsessed him on his return journey from the birthday celebration the night before was a problem no longer.
"I was drunk," said he, with conviction. "I must have been."
He went back to the letter and studied it again, scratching his head.
"Something," he muttered, "has happened. What it is, I dunno. I was drunk, an' I'm not fired. I was drunk, an' I'm promoted. I was drunk, an' I'm paid well for it, very well. I was drunk—an' I'll keep my mouth shut."
Which was exactly the advice Kelly took pains to give him half an hour later, when Number One crawled down to the Canon and halted for a few minutes opposite the dismantled box-car, while the construction train put the last few touches to its work.