CAUGHT BY THE COW-CATCHER
I'M NOT as young as I once was. That sad truth came home to me at Winnipeg, after the Canadian Club dinner where I tried to tell five hundred comfortably
fed westerners how little I really knew about the Permanence of the Poetic Instinct.
“It’s dreadful, simply dreadful!” said the Thin Lady who came dolorously up to me when it was all over. There were actual tears in her eyes. She looked so wretched, indeed, that I was almost ready to forgive her for trying to
make me that way.
“What’s so dreadful?” I asked, preparing for the worst.
“I remember you at Varsity,” said the Thin Lady, wiping her eyes, “and it’s dreadful— what you've lostl"
“But really, you know, I’ve gained,” I contended, resenting the commiserative air with which she still inspected me.
“Yes. that’s it,” she cried with both a quick* note of triumph and a truly feminine lack of consistency. “You’ve gained. You’ve—you’ve got solid. You look worldly. You’re no longer spirituel. It’s gone, gone, gone, all that first fine careless rapture of youth!”
I drew a deep breath and tried to tell the lady that I was sorry, but that Time quite often does these scurvy tricks to us, provided our organs are sound and our consciences are clear, as we crawl along towards fifty. I acknowledged
that 1 was a bit heavier of frame than in those far-off undergraduate days when I smoked, too much and wore a lean and hungry look and was eventually sent west to keep from going
into a decline. But I protested that for all my avoirdup’ois I still strove to keep in touch with the affairs of the spirit, still did absurdly visionary things, still, somewhere at the core of the unwieldly hulk which she so naively lamented, tried to keep alive some tiny spark of the once divine fire.
Loop-The-Loop Age Passed
BUT, without knowing it, she had let the cat out of the bag. I was no longer “the promising young author of the provincial reviewer. I was a middle-aged man, a solid citizen with every promise of settling down into an arm-chair old age, a person who would probably prefer a comfortable Chesterfield and a copy of Bryce’s “Commonwealth” to the perils of looping the loop in a Sopwith bi-plane.
For that reason, from the very first, the entire matter impressed me as rather unnecessary, as rather absurd. It smacked a trifle too openly of saffron journalism. It carried the taint of holding human life altogether too cheap. And it eventually impressed as an editorial presuming on privileges which was not to be lightly condoned.
It began just as we were pulling out of Kenora, blithely bound for the Coast. And it descended on me like Sinn Fein confetti on an Orange parade. The Very Managing Editor, who was accompanying me to that Coast, or,
rather, I should say, who was conducting me thither, came into the dining-car where I was quietly ensconced before a modest hut nourishing luncheon of white-fish. He came with a sheet of yellow paper in his hand and a broad smile of triumph on his bespectacled face.
“We've got ill" he proclaimed with the air of Archimedes immediately after the bath-tub incident.
“Got what?” I asked as I began to transfer the slab of buttered white-fish from its platter to my plate.
“The official permit,” he mysteriously exulted as he took possession of the chair opposite me. And this Editor Man, I must stop to explain, was not like other editor men I had known. My earlier idea of an editor was that of a sullen if slightly obese individual who sat in a swivelchair in a singularly inaccessible office, casually irradiating rejection-slips and indolently blue-pencilling the plums out of a hard-working author’s product. But this Editor Man was different. He obviously didn’t believe in the old-fashioned Marianna-in-the-Moated-Grange way of conducting a magazine. He performed his editing remarkably like a wolverine acquiring its repasts. When he wanted copy, he went out and captured it. Or rather ho pounced on it like the Great Horned Owl, rejecting later what he eventually could not assimilate. He patrolled Canada very much as a policeman patrols a suburban beat, unearthing the modest violets of the ink-well and persuading them to do things which they apparently had nursed
no earthly intention of doing.
But I never suspected, as I viewed that glowing eye and that triumphantly-flourished yellow telegram, that I was about to be induced to essay something hitherto quite foreign to my wishes and contrary to my inclinations.
“What official permit?” I asked, with an increasingly disagreeable feeling just below the midriff.
“The order from the C. P. R. head-office allowing you to ride the cow-catcher,” was the blandly exultant reply.
“To what?” I demanded, inspecting him with a startled eye.
“To ride out on the cow-catcher,” he airily asserted, “while we’re going through the Rockies.”
“I fail to recall expressing any particular desire to ride on that particular part of a train,” I said with dignity.
“I know you didn't, but Great Scott, man. can’t you see the story in it?” demanded my Very Managing Editor. “It’s never been done. It’s something new. It s the sort of thing that brings you up short. ‘Canadian Poet Goes Through the Rockies on Cow-Catcher’ -how’s that for a story to put on the A. P. wires?
How’s that for publicity? That ought to fetch them.
“But I’m not hungering for that sort of publicity,” 1 attempted to point out. ‘Tm a retiring and quiet-living man of letters. And if I haven't always succeeded in shunning the sensational, 1 have at least tried to do so. I’m a poet. And I’ve a lot of poetry to write yet. What you seem to want is a professional bridge-jumper!”
“But you're not getting my view-point,” argued that impatient manager of men. “It’s the chance of a lifetime. It’s a chance any man of imagination ought to jump at.” I had jumped at it, all right, hut not quite in the manner he meant,
“These are very comfortable cars,” 1 remarked as 1 stopped the waiter from taking away my white-fish “Think of the brand new thrill you’ll get out of an experience like that!” pursued the obdurate one.
"If I survive," I amended.
“It’ll be a great story,” he remarked, apparently not hearing me. "And it’s mighty decent of those Montreal officials to stretch a point, and send on this permit,” “How do you mean stretch a point?" I asked, catching a straw as drowning men will.
“It’s not exactly Hovle, you know, to carry passengers on cow-catchers not exactly legal.”
“Precisely!" I interpolated. "And 1 believe in ht sanctity oí the Law. I hold that every man ought”--
“Oh, that’ll be fixed all right,” explained the overamiable executioner confronting me. “All you’ll have to do is siga the different releases.”
“What releases?” I demanded.
My Cogitation Not Too Cheery
EVEN the humble hobo, I remembered, never resorted to the cow-catcher as a medium of transportation. He invariably preferred the comparative safety of riding the rods or perching himself protectively amidship on the bumpers.
“You'll have to sign papers releasing the company from all liability in case of accident, of course. But that’s merely a matter of form, merely nominal. The thing’s settled, as far as we’re concerned. And you’re going to have the experience of a life-time. Something you’ll never forget!”
“I fancy not!” I acquiesced. I even smiled rather wanly. But I didn’t finish my luncheon. The diner seemed hot and stuffy, and I wanted to be alone. Í was glad to escape to the observation-car (the remotest point I remembered, from the cöw-catcher contrivance at the front end) and there I sat thinking of my wasted life.
I remembered how muddled up I’d left my papers at home and how I’d overlooked paying my insurance premium and neglected helping my friends and neighbors as I might have helped them. I remembered how I had three different books on the way, three great books, which now might never be completed. I thought of my family and wondered if they would miss me. I got to thinking about despatcher’s mistakes, such as Frank Packard loves to write of, and just how often it is the East-bound Overland Limited crashes head-on into the West-Bound Transcontinental Flier.
I recalled having seen such things on the screen, having seen them with depressing regularity. There was a motion-picture girl, I remembered, named Phillips, who was always leaping on or off flying trains, with a villain close behind her. My respect for that girl went up several notches. But they’d probably taken her in her infancy, as I’m told they do with Swedish tumblers, and from the time of her earliest youth trained her in her train work. But with me it was different. A lot of good money had been wasted on my education. They’d even sent me to Oxford—and now it was all to end in making a costly profluet like that into a human bumper-rail, a sort of collision mat, out on the end of an eleven-coach express! I speculated as to the percentage of derailments and “headons” and wash-outs which occurred on even a well-managed road like the C.P.R. I pondered as to why cow-catchers wereever invented and just why they were called cowcatchers, since they obviously repulsed mo-re than they eni rapped the wandering bovine. I found myself secre^ approving of the European habit of eliminating all su appurtenances from locomotives.
I thought over many other things. But about me, all the time, I felt Destiny weaving her silken threads, strand by strand, very much as the warrior spider wraps up t be helpless blue-bottle.
ÍT WAS at Regina that I was once more sufficiently master of myself to inspect the gallows from which I was to swing. On a blithe spring morning when, I suppose, the sunlight was bright enough to other people and the thin prairie air must have impressed them as a good deal like Sparkling Burgundy, I indulged in my first detailed and face-to-face inspection of an actual cow-catcher. There was laughter and gaiety all about me, on that long, sunwashed depot-platform, with light hearted tourists mailing picture postcards and Indians selling polished steer, horns (for buffalo) and the bright-clad members of the Royal Mounted doing their best to live up to the motionpicture traditions of their force. But I was not myself.
I felt distrait and depressed in spirits. So, after solemnly dropping my mail in the blood red box on the stationfront, I looked about to make sure I was alone and unobserved. Then, like a thief in the night, I sidled furtively westward, creeping away towards the head of the long train resting like a winded deer-hound after her coursing across the open prairie.. I edged rather guiltily along the panting locomotive and drew up with a fine parade of indifferency close beside that ridiculous iron hog-snout of a thing known as a Cow-Catcher.
It impressed me as a very precarious shelf on which to deposit, however temporarily, a precious human life. It was as unfitted for such purposes, I could see, as was the sloping green-iced eyebrow of a glacier. It was expressly designed, I discovered, not for holding you on, but for throwing you off, And I abandoned my earlier intention of seating myself, in an experimental sort of way, on this particular cow-catcher while the propelling machinery behind it was comfortably at rest. For I was distressed to find, not only that its metalled top shelf was inhospitably narrow and crowded with bolt-heads, but that it was also closely showered with cinders and well-powdered with dust, deep-bedded in engine-oil. So I merely stood staring at it, as mausoleum stock-holders stare at the high-priced shelf where later they are to repose.
All Kinds of Cow-Catchers
THREE quarters of the way across the continent, in fact, I fell into the habit of surreptitiously inspecting cow-catchers, very much as men who are about to be married inspect the home-life of their friends. And I found, to my surprise, that practically no two cow-catchers were alike. They had their idiosyncracies of structure and contour, a good deal as human noses have. Some were heavy and short, some were high and narrow, some were pitted and bumpy. As we left the level prairie behind us and entered the Mountain Division and crept closer and closer to the fateful Rockies, I even began to encounter cow-catchers encumbered with heavy steel chains and a substantial banded pole called a “bunter”. These were for use, I was casually informed, in case of rock slides, which were not infrequent in the mountains, especially in the Spring. And this, I morosely remember-, ed, was Spring-time. Then there were snow-slides, when a township or two of snow went down a mountain-side, careless of the pin-scratch of a railway-line infinitesimally indenting its downward course. From the pressure of its own weight, I was told, this snow packed itself into a fairly good imitation of marble. The “sheds”, of course protected a good deal of the right-of-way. But occasionally the locomotive had to buck those macadamized drifts about the same as a foot-baller bucking the line. And sometimes it was merely mud, mud set free by the warming sun, gooey mud which the cow-catcher rooted through like a clipper’s bow through a fog-bank. Sometimes, too, a bridge went out, and the rail-ends were left hanging over empty air, with—“-But in every case the picture was a dispiriting one, something it were better for the imagination not to dwell on.
Then I made still another discovery. I found that the Mountain Division was stippled with tunnels and trestles and canyon-cuts and hair-pin and horse-shoe curves with side-drops where you could look down a sheer three thousand feet. And this led me to pondering why my cowcatcher riding couldn’t have been done on the nice open prairie, where the travelling was all open and aboveboard, and you could see for a good five miles exactly what waa in front of you. Then, still later, in talking with a fireman who had just come out of the hospital after jumping (where a bridge had been burned out), I gleaned the cheering fact that quite often, in the mountain runs, they went slap-bang into a bear.
A Cow-Catcher by Any Other Name
THAT gave me a great deal to think over. I had been talking too much, I saw, about the passing of the frontier, about the final conquering of the wilderness. And I had been placing too implicit a faith, I also saw, in the significance of names. I had at first thought of a cowcatcher as bumping into nothing more ominous than a cow. But that catcher, in the wildness of mountain re* gions such as this, might just as well-be called a grizzlycatcher. And from what I understood of the grizzly and his ways, he actively resented being interfered with by man and his machineries. He would prove anything but a desirable travelling companion, after being scooped up by a V-shaped bar of iron and plastered at your side against a hot locomotive-end. There was every promise, in fact, that he would take out his resentment on the expostulating stranger whose perch he was so unceremoniously appropriating.
I even essayed a still further investigation of cow-catchers, so-called, at tlfis new thought, and found that a passenger seated thereon was quite out of sight of the locomotive-driver reclining on padded side-cushions up in his funk-hole of a cab. So there’d be no chance to signal or call for help. You’d be out there alone in your No-Man’s Land of claw and fang and fore-paws, with a fair field and no favori as the old saying goes. You and your recently humiliated grizzly would be there in a little world of your own, arguing the matter out to a finish, without any interfering outsiders.
I began to lose weight on that trip. I lost weight so perceptibly that the Thin Lady back in Winnipeg would surely have viewed me with less open disapproval. I became abstracted and self-immured and impervious to the merriment about me. I found no beauty in the Foot-Hills and saw no humor in even the airiest of George Ham’s anecdotes. I couldn’t smile over the story of that Press Association special which hove-to, in the heat of last
August, directly below the S......Mineral Springs, when
one hundred and forty-eight thirsty scribes and editors and advertising-men, having climbed the long hill and drunk deep of the potent waters, no longer nursed a shred of suspicion as to the efficacy of those springs, since for two seismic days they stood side-tracked and a carefully planned itinerary stood shattered. What were mineral springs, after all, compared to being mangled on a cinderstrewn gridiron? What was being held up with a tummyache for forty-six hours compared to being hurtled through the air far out on the unprotected end of an express-train, like a rabbit hanging limp in the teeth of a running hound?
And from my new-formed habit of studying engines I found that even when crawling out of a yard their undershot front jaw wobbled perilously from side to side and pounded over frogs and seemed altogether undecided as to whether they ought to jump the tracks or keep on until they bowled over a grizzly or two. And it seemed a lonely place, out there in front with a hot boiler and a bank of coal-fire between you and the rest of that carefree train. It was the place which, if anything hit, would most unmistakably be hit first. It made a man feel like a butterfly on the radiator of a race-motor, or a red ant on an anvil. I began to see that railway trains, in this speed-mad land of ours, travelled at far too great a speed. I began to sympathize with the St. Catharines City Fathers who, when the old Great Western was first built and they essayed their initial ride on a bench-lined flat-car and the engine attained the unparalleled speed of fourteen miles an hour, as a single man removed themselves from the aforesaid flat-car and landed in a sand-pile.
I Fall to Brooding
I was warned that I ought to wear fur, as the mountain air when going forty miles an hour would cut through to the bone. I was further advised to take a bottle of “hootch” along with me, to be resorted to before the cold took the gripping-power out of my fingers and let me fall a waif by the wayside. I was also secretly tipped off to carry an automatic in my overcoat pocket, to clear the track of bull-moose as we went. And I was finally and solemnly led to one side and advised to wear a trunk-strap about my waist, like a city window-cleaner, so that I could hitch it over something and keep from falling under the wheels, in case of vertigo..
IT SO cheered me up, in fact, that I gottodreaming about sailing through aeons and aeons of starless space a-straddle a red-hot planet which the time-table in my pale-green toga clearly showed was to collide with Wernicke’s Comet. And still again I’d remember how I’d left my papers unsorted at home and how I’d promised to help Gibbon get the Canadian Authors’ Association on its feet and how few there were, after all, to uphold the dignity of our national literature. Then I’d fall to brooding again over those three unfinished books of m i n e—and I’d recall how now I’d be judged only by the callow efforts of my unfulfilled youth.
But I demurred. Sadly and firmly I said: No. I was not worthy of it.
"They did that with D’Annunzio,” my captor reminded me. “With D’Annunzio up in his Caproni.”
But hour by chilling hour my Managing. Editor would converse blithely on just what would be the wildest part of the Rockies for the ride. He’d re-enumerate how my description, when the battle was over, ought to be well-balanced but dithy-
rambic, clearly outlined but unmistakably climactic, something like the Victor Hugo scene on the ship with the emancipated cannon, or a Nellie McClung speech on the Suppression of The Woman Voter. He even suggested getting a hand-car out in front and procuring a movie of me, of Me, registering careless defiance of the aerial perils of the peaks.
“But I’m not D’Annunzio,” I sapiently observed, having my suspicions as to what that camera would register, once it caught me huddled up against a grimy steam-chest with terror in my heart and a cinder in my eye. So I held my peace. I held my peace and grew thinner and sadder, and waited for the Zero Hour to come.
AND then it was, as usual, the Unexpected that happened. Just when the fire of hope burned lowest and I’d written a carefully-worded letter which I assumed they’d find on my body, my Very Managing Editor confronted me for a second time with a yellow sheet in his hand.
“It’s an outrage,” he averred, sinking despondently into the car-seat.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, hoping against hope that perhaps we’d all been called East by some timely catastrophe.
“The operating department won’t stand for it,” he lamented.
“For what?” I inquired, trying not to look too optimistic.
“For that cow-catcher stuff.”
“And why won’t they?” I demanded, with a fine show of indignation.
“They say they can’t take chances.”
I had to smile at that, to smile quietly but knowingly. “But I thought you intimated there weren’t any?”
I gently reminded him. “They’re nominal, purely nominal. But this divisional superintendent says he lost one of his best engineers in a slide last week, and”---
“Then the whole thing’s off,” I said with a great sigh of disappointment—at least I tried to make it look like disappointment.
“I suppose so,” he acknowledged.
“That doesn’t seem fair,” I protested, squaring my jaw as the movie-men do in all such cases.
And I left him there to brood over his disappointment. I left him to go through to the diner, where I ordered and ate what impressed me as the most satisfactory meal of the entire trip. I even began to see a strange new beauty in the Rockies about me and found an invigorating nip in the air which had hitherto escaped me and remembered that it would be very pleasant to see Victoria once more in early Spring, with the pansies all in bloom and the Empire gardens a riot of tangled color. There was an uplift about this western country, I told myself, which keys a man up to the higher things, keeps him on his toes, quickens his pulse-beat, turns his thoughts to the happy future. And I fell asleep that night with the rhythmic dickety-dick of the rail-ends pulsing pleasantly up through my carpeted compartment flooring, thinking what a sane and comfortable place a first-class C.P.R. sleeper can be for a passenger to ride in I’m short, I was perfectly happy once more.
1TOOK a new lease of life on the Pacific side of the triangle up the Coast. It
seemed not only a very beautiful trip, with those placid inland waterways of hooker-green so magically tinting to mauve and heliotrope and the snow-clad mountains a vivid claret in the light of the setting sun, but it seemed something thrown in, something taken away and unexpectedly returned. I didn’t even object to starting East again on a nine-
car G.T.P. “Fish Special” carrying iced halibut out of Prince Rupert to the New England States. This, of course, was the Very Managing Editor’s great idea. We rode in the train-crew’s caboose, and had to supply our own grub. Our Editor, of course, managed that. He may have been a war-hero, but, I noticed to my secret satisfaction, he didn’t eat like a hero. For he ordered for our quartette, I found, as our three-day com-
missariat on that “Fish Special,’ eleven dollars’ worth of chicken sandwiches, white meat only, ten pounds of hard-center chocolates, one box of fudge, a bag of gumdrops, six large bottles of sodarpop. twelve double boxes of cork-tipped cigarettes, and five pounds of cloying and squashy-looking bu!k-dates which had seen better days. Where
or how he ever disinterred so much saccharinit.y out of the virile West is one of the enduring mysteries of the trip.
But I profIeretl 11(1 irit.irisin. I as still alive, still sound in body and whole of limb. I didn't mind the icy ta iturnity of the train (rews who stunib~d over our dunnage and looked (lisjaritfd over our soda pop. I didn't mind sleeping on pine boards with a suit-ease for a pillow, and deferring morn i rig ablutions until we eame to a water tank. There were, of (ourse, the u~wal nurn her of mud-slides for that t inie of year. But these didn't greatly both-
• me. I luxuriated in (lie deep-seated satisfaction of ding at the tail-end of a train instead of out in front of it even enjoyed the majesty of the mountains by day and íe beauty of the A «rom hovering over Alaska by ight. I enjoyed sitting up in the cupola watching the x'king tops of the nine refrigerator-cars weaving about íe hill-cuts and the precipice-edges, getting an occasional limpse of a far-off moose and a scampering black bear nd of valley homesteads And then my poor little toy alloon of satisfaction went up in a puff of smoke. FT WENT up when the Managerial A Editor climbed into the caboose, at Pitman I think it was, and announced with a coarse shout of triumph that this time he’d got ’em. I didn’t altogether like his tone. Yet it wasn’t until I caught sight of the tell-tale yellow telegram in his hand that I could be reasonably sure
Continued on page 48
Caught by the Cow-catcher
Continued from page 13
he wasn't referring to hives or fleas or measles or something like that. But my heart sank, the next moment, when I beheld that familiar Wellington-after Waterloo gleam in his eye.
“The Canadian National people are sending that permit,” he proclaimed, like a returning-officer announcing a big sweep in Ward Eleven.
“A permit for what?” I asked, merely to fence for time.
“For you to ride the cow-catcher,” was the fateful message that came to me. “We’ll get the releases for you to sign up at the next stop. Isn’t that fine?”
“Yep, it’s fine,” I echoed, a trifle thinly.
“And that’ll still get you into the roughest section of this mountain going,” exulted my friend the enemy.
“Great!” I admitted, with sickly fervor. But I was experiencing a sensation suspiciously like that which had come to me when I first stepped into the cold-storage room of the halibut plant at Rupert. I felt that I needed weather-strips about the end of my pant-legs. I felt that my nether extremities were encased in cboppediceandmy oxfords were made of gla-ca
ier-shavings. After all these days, after all these care-free hours, I was still being hounded by that grisly black-iron hand. I was still being pursued by that ominous Cow-Catcher.
“No danger of those official permits going astray?” I offhandedly suggested.
“They’re up ahead, waiting for us,” announced my happy-eyed tormentor.
“Superb!” I managed to say, with all that was left of my composure. For I knew that the die had been cast. I could see that there was no respectable way of wriggling out of the thing. So I set about to prepare myself for the worst. I went out on the back platform of the caboose and communed with my soul. I gazed up at the sky and the eternal peaks about me, very much as the man in “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” must have done. And what was left of our dessicated dates and our soda-pop and our gum-drops were as ashes in my mouth that day at dinner. It was a matter of supreme indifference to me that the last of our tenuous chickensandwiches had long since disappeared. Such things, after all, are trivial before the solemn ordeals of life.
'T'HE worst feature of all our earthly A ordeals, I have found, is in the anticipation. Especially is this true with the man of imagination. And authors, of course, are supposed to have imagination. For, once I was perched up on that cowcatcher with Weston Taylor’s duffel-bag for a seat-pad and with the Managing Editor’s old army ulster buttoned over my chamois-lined great-coat (and an unexpected supply of rather mussed softcenter chocolates in the outside pocket on my right where I felt a revolver ought to repose) I found myself much more comfortable than I had expected to be.
I didn’t feel like a matador posted on the horns of a charging Andalusian bull. I didn’t feel a bit like a rabbit gripped in the jaws of a running hound. We snaked along comfortably enough, for the first hundred yards, and then we started to get up speed. I had an odd impression, not of being carried, but of being projected into space. I had also an odd feeling of isolation and defencelessness. I felt like a hostage sent ahead to insure the safety of all those behind me. And for that reason, I suppose. I became personally and rather pointedly interested in the condition of the road-bed over which I was careening. I kept a morbid eye on every curve that unfolded itself. I inspected every culvert and appraised every trestle and authenticated every signalpost. And I wondered if the engineer on the black iron monster that separated us had his mind on his job that day. But there was no dust; there were no cinders. Our engine, I had been at considerable pains to determine, was an oil-burner, calling for one hundred and twenty gallons to the car, drinking up exactly 26,130 gallons on her run from Prince George to McBride. I began to experience a happy sense of cool, clear mountain air flowing over me like an opal river. I still winced a trifle, it’s true, as the pilot wheels pounded over a switch-point and my little steel portico shook like a water-spaniel’s head at a momentary unevenness in the road bed.’
I was always glad, in fact, when we got past those switches, for I knew then we weren’t going to sidestep carelessly into the long string of gravel empties against which Little Me would have to be the buffer-beam, when the smash came. There was, it is true, an exceptional amount of jigging and jogging on the part of the rodded iron shelf supporting me. But there were no rock-slides and no washouts, no cinnamon bears andgrizzlies and not even a wandering cow to claim proprietorship over her usurped catcher. I even began to enjoy the experience, to be proud of my courage. This, I told myself, was a new way to drink up speed. It was like taking it neat, without dilution and without a chaser. One could here feel the sting of the raw liquor. Then I thought about Icarus, and just how I’d phrase some of my more emotional descriptive paragraphs. And I even pictured the crew and the passengers shaking hands with me, when it was all over, and crowding round and asking what my sensations were..........
No crowd, Alack! At Finish
BUT there was no hand-shaking, no crowding round, when it was all overThis was due to a small and insignificant thing which I first espied a good half-mile ahead of me as the train straightened out and we went thundering down a slope of unwavering right-of-way. It was a small thing which I first took to be a black squirrel, as it played about the tieends and skipped with its bushy black tail from one side of the rail to the other. But that was before I detected the stripe of white going down its narrow arched back. I still had several hundred yards of breathing space, in that clear mountain air, after my small animal, little bigger than a man’s hand on the horizon, had been definitely recognized. Yet he began to loom large in my thoughts. For I had seen him often enough .about the wood-lots and the rail-fences of my native countv, though I had been led to believe he usually preferred the murk of midnight to the bright light of day for his wanderings. I had long since learned not to interfere with him, not to defy him and not to make friends with him.
He still seemqd trivial enough as we bore down on him. He struck me as singularly insignificant to the eye, compared with the charging black mogul so raucously invading his demesne. But he was, I knew, quite otherwise to the nose. I hoped, for a forlorn moment or two of false optimism, that he would waken to a sane and reasonable appreciation of his physical inferiority and seek safety in flight, But timidity was not one of his traits. My heart sank as I saw him stand erect and defiant. I could sniff the impending catastrophe. I knew what was coming, knew it as well as though it were already upon me. And still we thundered on, pounding down I grade at forty good miles an hour. We swept on, awakening the immemorial | peaks as we went, a hundred thousand tons of steel against a tiny furred body little bigger than a kitten’s.
But to the end that diminutive animal held his own. He waited, fortified by the knowledge of his own venom. Then, at last, he hurled his malodorous defiance at the black-bodied Juggernaut sweeping over him......And at the helpless auth-
or squatting back on its cow-catcher.... And at the army coat worn by this author, which the rightful owner shortly afterwards dropped discreetly down a canyonside. For we had, alas, collided with that mephitine musteloid carnivore commonly known as the Canadian polecat.
And the rest, as Hamlet said, is silence.