A story of sand-hog courage and a duel that not even a caisson disaster could terminate

BORDEN CHASE August 1 1936


A story of sand-hog courage and a duel that not even a caisson disaster could terminate

BORDEN CHASE August 1 1936



STEEL WALLS of the caisson lifted on four sides to a flat roof that was close above their heads. A dozen swaying electric lamps made round holes in the hazy blackness. Heat was a live thing that pulled at their naked backs with heavy hands. It numbed them; dragged at their feet like the wet sand that formed the caisson floor. It pulsed with the beat of compressed air that poured from a round black pipe them. Heat, pressure, darkness and sand—these things were the world of the sand hogs who worked eighty feet below the surface of the waterfront.

Ted Field watched two men setting a heavy timber to brace one corner of the caisson. One, a six-foot miner with black hair matted thick UJXHI his chest, drove his sledge hard against the base of the stick. Wood splintered and he cursed. He threw the beam aside.

“Nice work, Kildare,” said the foreman. Sarcasm was in his voice. “That's three braces you’ve split this shift.” “What of it?” said the miner.

"Split another and I’ll knock out a few teeth for you.” There was no answer from the miner, but Field had expected none. When Terry Donlin promised a man some broken teeth, he meant exactly what he said. His live four inches of height had brought him the nickname of Runt, but for ten years he had kept his place as foreman of the hardest sand-hog gang in the trade. Field had seen him take on one heavy-chested giant after another. Sometimes he was beaten to his knees, sometimes lelt flat on his back with a pair of bruised eyes and a nose that would never again be straight. But always the man he fought must carry away scars that would throb and ache, and serve as a reminder that he had lifted his fists to the Runt. It was possible to beat him if you were willing to pay in broken ribs and torn ears. But Field knew the Runt was a hard man to convince.

They had been together on a score of tunnel and caisson jobs—Field as company engineer and the Runt as gang foreman. The engineer was quiet, soft-sjxjken, and had a strange understanding of the ways of men who work below ground. He knew their habits, their superstitions and the fears that came to these sand hogs. He had seen the shovels stop as though ujxm a signal while miners tilted their heads to one side and listened. To what?

Field had never been quite able to determine. True, he had spent as much time under ground as most of the gang, but he was an engineer. Figures, angles and tape lines were the tools of his trade. The miners worked with timber and shovel in a mass of soft moving sand that was alive. It spoke to therr. in a voice that was strange to an outsider but easily understood by sand hogs.

He had often talked with the Runt. Asked him of these odd whisperings. But the Runt had never been able to shape an answer in adequate words.

“Something,” he said. “Something happens inside of you and—well, it tells you. I don’t know how or why, Ted. A sort of warning—and then a half dozen men are gone and (lie river is lifting around your throat.”

“And you always know before it comes?”

“Always an hour, a minute, perhaps it’s only a split second before the crash. But you feel it coming.”

NOW TI IEY were driving down through the last twenty feet of sand to bed rock. The walls of the caisson rested on knife edges that bit sharply into the brown particles. Heavy timber braces were set to guide them, and the Runt watched the placing of these beams with an intensity that puzzled the engineer. Field knew it was the taut moment on the job; a moment when forty-eight pounds of compressed air thrust against every square inch of surface, and the whole explosive mass threatened to burst through the smallest opening beneath the cutting edges. He realized that a single mistake might bring the river ikxxling into the caisson. But the Runt was old in the world below ground. Field had been with him on many similar occasions when the foreman laughed and joked with his men. Today it was different, and the engineer wondered if that voice had spoken again.

He crossed to the far corner of the caisson, where a group of miners were busy with a brace. Above them a narrow tube led up to a man lock set at the street level. A wooden ladder rested against the caisson wall, and from the top of this it was possible to reach the bottom rungs of another iron ladder set in the tube. It was the only exit—as though the men worked in a floorless barn with no doors or windows, while above them in the low roof was a slender smokestack through which they must crawl to reach the outer world.

They worked quietly, pausing often to test a brace with a sudden hammer blow. At times they glanced at this small foreman who watched them, and there was an occasional question that was answered sharply by the Runt. “Ready to sink it a few feet?” asked Field.

“Just about,” said the Runt. “Call the top and tell them to start loading.”

Field turned to a small telephone and gave orders to the surface crew that would send the long arm of the derrick swaying above the caisson. Pig iron would be hoisted from a near-by pile and stacked high upon the flat roof. This additional weight would drive the cutting edges deep into the sand and bring the caisson nearer to bed rock. It was all a routine part of the work, and it was the habit of the gang to wait until the huge box started its downward movement before they climbed to the safety of the lock. Today the Runt did not wait.

“All right, men,” he said. “Up you go!”

“What’s the hurry?” asked Field.

The Runt lifted a handful of sand and sifted it between his fingers. “There’s clay in the sand,” he said. “Thin stuff—almost like mud, Ted. I don’t like the feel of it.”

Field had studied the vertical maps carefully. He knew they were supposed to continue in sand for the remaining twenty feet, but maps had been proved incorrect at times. And this waterfront was an old glacial deposit in which any type of ground structure could be expected. He nodded and reached for his coat.

“Okay with me,” he said. “Let’s go up.”

And then a miner laughed.

Men who had started toward the ladder, paused and turned toward the foreman. There had been challenge in that laugh, deliberate and filled with purpose. Field recognized it and stopped with an arm thrust partly through the sleeve of his coat. He swung slowly and looked at the man who had laughed.

TT WAS as he expected—Paddy Crowder. And Field

wondered if here in the mist-filled caisson he was to get an answer to a question that had troubled him for weeks. It had started that day at the lock door when Crowder asked the Runt for work.

“Think you can swing a shovel with these men?” The Runt had laughed and pointed to the towering miners of his gang.

“I know darn well I can.”

“Sure of yourself, eh?”

“Yes,” said Crowder and grinned into the Runt’s eyes.

“You look as though a good breeze would blow you


“Why not find out?” asked Crowder.

For the first time, the Runt had turned away from a man who challenged him. And this had been strange—more than strange. Paddy Crowder was small. He was even smaller than the Runt. His shoulders were wide, but the muscles were smooth things that would slip along beneath the skin rather than bunch into knots as did those of the other miners. And his skin was white, bleached by years of work in North Country mines. He talked seldom, but when he did it was of things that had happened hundreds of feet below ground, and of hard-rock men who would laugh at the labors of the sand hogs.

A story of sand-hog courage and a duel that not even a caisson disaster could terminate

The Runt had never found cause for complaint; Crowder’s thin arms carried their share of the weight when a timber was to be set, and he moved sand with speed equal to any of the larger men. But lately that laugh had been growing louder, sharper. There was no outright disobedience of the Runt’s orders, but rather a mocking agreement to every measure of safety suggested by the foreman.

Field waited for the showdown. There had been other tifnes when miners laughed at the Runt. Swaggering sixfooters had disputed an order and found themselves beaten down by the sheer recklessness of his attack. Where the average man would think twice, the Runt would double his fists and start swinging. And, win or lose, when the fight was over it was the Runt who was the master.

There was a thunder of metal against steel that told of the first load of weights to reach the caisson roof. The walls stirred slightly. Field sensed rather than saw this, for his eyes were upon the Runt. The undersized foreman was standing ankle deep in the sand by the ladder. Others of the gang were grouped about in a close circle, waiting.

“Get up that ladder, Crowder,” ordered the Runt.

“Sure—when I lind my tobacco. It’s lost and I need a chew.”

“Never mind the tobacco. Get going.”

"Aw, what’s the hurry? If you’re worried, go ahead. I’ll be along later.”

He turned and walked deliberately to the far side of the caisson. For a time he poked about the sand, then carefully patted his trouser pockets. With exaggerated slowness he drew out a package of tobacco and placed a pinch in his jaws. He leaned against the caisson wall and yawned.

There was doubt in the eyes of the gang. Men looked one to another and then turned to stare at the Runt. Field’s breath was short. He waited for that headlong rush that would send the Runt tearing into Crowder. And even as he waited, he knew that it would not come.

IT WAS weird; something he could not understand. For days he had seen the Runt’s eyes narrow and two thick lumps appear at the base of his jaws when he studied Crowder. To the engineer this had always been a sign of smashing fists and charging feet. Each day he had waited and wondered. And now he saw the Runt turn away from Crowder and order the men up the ladder.

Field slipped his arms into the coat. He felt for his flashlight and found he had misplaced it. Then he saw it in the sand not far from Crowder and he crossed to get it.

“Come on, Ted,” said the Runt, and his voice was thin. “Be right with you,” answered Field.

“Sure; don’t wait for us,” laughed Crowder.

The Runt waited until the last man had gone above. He stepped away from the ladder and watched Field, pick up the flash. Then he walked slowly toward Crowder.

“Get out !” he said.

“Go to hell,” grinned Crowder.

It was then it happened. Sound filled the caisson as another load of pig iron settled on the roof. The walls moved downward—slowly at first and then faster. Air screamed through the disturbed sand. It grew to a howling roar that drowned all other sounds. And suddenly Field saw the steel roof of the caisson closing down upon his head. Four feet -three he crouched and ran toward the tube that led to safety. Crowder was running, too. And behind him the Runt. Timbers between roof and sand snapped like matchwood. A lashing splinter of wood slashed against a steel wall that moved steadily down.

“Get back!”.cried the Runt.

His arm caught Field by thè shoulder and spun him. He lunged forward and gripped Crowder, threw him to the sand. He pointed to the timbers beneath the tube. The strain of the falling roof had whipped them from place and made of each a weapon of destruction. Each was bent like a bow that is drawn taut. Even as he looked, a twelve-bytwelve splintered and thrust upward into the tube. Others followed and soon the narrow entrance was choked.

The scream of escaping air and tortured wood was loud in their ears. And suddenly darkness filled the caisson. It was not the soft, partial darkness of the upper world. Here below ground it had texture and body. The utter absence of light pressed against their eyes. And with it came panic.

Something it was flat and hard thrust against Field’s shoulder. He dropped to his knees and knew the caisson roof had touched him. A hand closed on his arm and he heard the Runt calling his name.

“Yes—yes!” he cried.

“Dig!” yelled the Runt. “Dig down. Scoop the sand away— make a pit !”

Field pawed at the floor like a burrowing creature. Beside him was the Runt and he heard a shovel rasp against sand. Near by was another shovel that dipped and swung. The engineer reached for his flash. He snapped it on and a white circle played on the roof above.

“Not a chance,” he said. “It’s still coming down.”

'Flic Runt did not answer. I le had sctxiixxl out a shallow pit. and near him Crowder was kneeling in another. Now they worked toward each other and joined the hollows. Field was on his chest. He crawled forward and slid over the rim. The roof of the caisson was but two feet above the surrounding floor, and it was still dropping.

And now Field saw what men can do with a shovel. Crowder and the Runt swept the sand away in a ten-foot circle. They whipped it far out into the narrowing space between roof and lkxir, enlarging the pit, deejxning it. The sand was a constant blur, and through it Field could see the piston-like arms of the miner and foreman.

A shudder ran through the caisson as the roof flushed with the sand. The Runt put down his shovel and leaned against the sloping wall. Crowder crouched on his haunches. Field swept the light about their prison.

Wet sand mixed with mud was below them, and sloping upward on all sides was an unbroken wall. Above, sealing them in as the lid of some huge container, was the caisson roof. And against this played the light from Field’s flash.

“Looks as though the maps were wrong,” said the Runt quietly. He pointed to the mud floor. “Thought we were supposed to be in sand.”

“Is that why it dropped?” asked Crowder.

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Field nodded and his smile was grim. “The cutting edges ripped through that stuff as though it were butter.” He turned to the Runt. “Where was your voice that time?”

The Runt was silent. A series of sharp knocks on the roof brought a twisted grin to his face. He lifted a shovel and rapped the blade against the steel over his head.

“Well they know we’re here, at least,” said Field.

THERE WAS small comfort in the thought. He could picture the anxious crowd of sand hogs gathered on the roof of the caisson. There would be argument, suggestion, a thousand and one methods to effect the rescue. And each would be rejected. 11 was as though an inverted drinking glass had been thrust down into wet sand with three ants cooped within a slight depression. Air confined beneath the bottom of the glass would keep back the water for a time, but how to remove the ants? Should the men on top cut through the steel, escaping air would allow the chamber to Hood.

"We could drive a small tunnel to the tube,” suggested Field.

“No good,” said the Runt. “We’ll never make it in time. Uxik at your feet.”

Field glanced down. Water had covered the bottoms of his high-laced boots. It was at his ankles and creeping up. He watched for a moment and figured that fifteen minutes would bring it to his chin. Soon they would be standing with their faces pressed to the steel roof. And the water would follow.

“Know any good prayers?” asked Field, and it was only half in jest.

There was no answer. Field looked toward the Runt and found him watching Crowder. His eyes were black things that smoldered beneath the light of the Hash. His lower lip was tight between his teeth, and when Field touched his arm he did not turn.

“Crowder,” he said at length. “You told me to go to hell.”

“Yeah, so I did,” said Crowder. “Looks as though I called the turn.”

There was no fear in his voice. Crowder was not afraid to die. And neither was the Runt. Field knew that; he had been in tight places with the little foreman before and had heard him laugh and clown with a group of sand hogs trapped in a Hooded tunnel. But something stronger, stranger than death, was in this pit beneath the caisson roof. Field saw it in the Runt’s eyes, heard it in his voice. And he tried for the answer.

“We all say foolish things.” he said.

“He told me to go to hell,” repeated the Runt.

Crowder’s voice was sharp. “All right. I heard you.”

“I don’t take that sort of talk, Crowder.” Field snapiied off the light and his voice came out of the blackness. “Guess it doesn't make much difference now, Runt.” “It makes a big difference.”

“Don’t suppose anyone will ever know about it.”

"You’re right. Field.” said the Runt. “They can’t know about it -can’t know about anything that happens to us.”

“Aw, shut up!” Crowder’s voice was loud.

“No, Crowder, I won’t shut up. You told me to go to hell.”

Field snapped on the light. Those voices breaking out of the darkness bothered him. They were unreal, strained. And now he saw the Runt crawling toward Crowder. “What are you doing?” he asked.

The Runt was smiling. Field realized it was the first time the foreman had smiled in weeks; the first time since Crowder had come on the job.

“What are you doing?” Field repeated. The Runt crept forward. “They can’t know what happens,” he said. “Put up your hands, Crowder.”

“You’re crazy,” said Crowder. “What’s the use of fighting now? We’ll be through in a few minutes. Look—the water’s over our knees.”

“Put up your hands, Crowder. We’re going to fight.”

FIELD TOOK his finger from the light button and blackness covered them. “Take it easy. Runt.”

“Yeah, dying ain’t so tough if you keep the yellow down,” said Crowder.

And then the Runt laughed. It was a wild laugh, a crazy laugh that danced from the steel roof and stilled the voice of Crowder. Field breathed deeply and lifted his hands. Men had been known to crack up in tight places.

“Easy, Runt,” he said. “Take it easy.” He heard the sound of a fist as it landed on flesh. The light went on again and there was an ugly rip in Crowder’s cheek. The miner was backing slowly on hands and knees. And the Runt followed.

“Crowder,” he cried. “Put up your hands—put ’em up! I’m going to fight you—do you hear me?”

“So it got you, eh, Runt?” said Crowder nervously.

The Runt slashed a fist against his jaw. “I’m not crazy,” he yelled.

“Sure—I know you ain’t,” said Crowder. “Just scared—that’s all. But don’t let it throw you, Runt. It won’t last long.” He was still backing away and the Runt followed, crouching, swaying from the hips. And now he was grinning and coaxing Crowder to come in and fight. He lunged forward. Both fists beat against the miner’s jaw. Crowder lowered his head and covered it with his arms.

“Fight!” cried the Runt. “Fight back! You’ve been looking for it.”

Crowder’s arms were limp. “I don’t want to fight now, Runt,” he said. “There’s only a minute or two left and—” Tears of rage were in the Runt’s eyes. His lips were back from his teeth.

“You’ve got to fight. I can’t die—not this way—”

His fist drew an angry welt across the miner’s face. But still Crowder backed away and did not lift his arms. Instead, he glanced at Field and shook his head as though in pity. The engineer was leaning against the sand wall. There was a horrid strangeness in the Runt’s actions. Field knew the foreman was sane; that it was not fear of death that sent him crawling after the miner. But there was some other fear —some nameless thing that drove him to waste his last few moments in a senseless burst of fury.

The water had lifted to their hips. The Runt splashed forward, and Field raised his thumb to bring on the blackness that might give Crowder this last moment to pray, or whatever it was that men did when death was close. And with the darkness came sudden heat that poured down from the caisson roof. A white spot of molten metal grew in one section of the steel. Crowder cursed.

“Look !” he cried. “The fools are cutting through with a torch. They don’t even want us to have the last minute.”

“Good lord !” yelled the Runt. “They’ll dump the air out of here—the water—” He grabbed Crowder and shook him. “Hurry! Put up your hands!”

Field turned away. He heard the first splutter of running metal as the torch flame cut through. He drew a deep breath and wondered what it would be like on the other side. Compressed air screamed through the two-inch hole in the roof, and water lifted above their waists.

“S’long, Runt,” called Field.

He felt the water cold against his stomach. It was coming faster now with no pressure to hold it. He looked up again. An iron nipple had been thrust past the glowing edges of the hole. And as he watched, a rushing stream of compressed air spouted into the caisson.

“An air hose!” he cried. “They’re sending down air. Look. Runt—they’ve got a hose hooked on to that nipple.”

P)R AN instant three faces were directed toward the hissing stream. Crowder laughed and pounded his hand on the Runt’s back. The foreman’s hands were still clenched, but now he lowered them slowly to his sides. Field dipped beneath the water and caught up a shovel.

It would be easy now. With pressure forcing down the water they could tunnel toward the tube. He started to dig.

Four hours had gone when they reached the first timber that blocked the exit. Four hours in which the trapped men had scooped away the sand and packed it carefully behind them. There was room for but one to work in the narrow drift. The others must pass the sand along and fill in the rear of their burrow. Crowder laughed and talked as he swung his shovel. And when Field heard men digging toward them from beneath the tube, he shouted aloud. Only the Runt was silent.

Crowder found an axe. He stretched full length and hacked at the timbers. Each stroke was an effort, and long before he had cut through the first he was relieved by the Runt. More hours passed—how many, Field had no way of determining. Then the caisson stirred and threatened to bring the walls of their burrow in upon them. And in that moment Field knew fear. “No!” he yelled. “No—not now!” Crowder was beside him and it was not until minutes later that he realized the miner’s fingers had numbed his arm with the tension of their grip. They were chest down on the sand, facing each other. For a time neither moved. Then they heard the sound of a shovel. The Runt was digging—and with every stroke he cursed.

Always the tapping followed them on the roof above. They answered with reassuring raps of the shovel blade. Soon utter weariness forced them to rest. The constant drain of compressed air acted as a drug that slowed their movements and deadened their muscles. Sand bit at their shoulders and arms. It left raw spots that throbbed and stung. The axe dulled and chewed slowly through tightly crossed timbers. But Field did not care. He heard the sand hogs who drove toward them laughing and shouting as they worked. He grinned when Crowder’s foot slipped and opened a gash in his arm. What was a ripped arm? He was alive, and soon he would be out in the open with nothing above his head but sky and clouds.

Only the Runt was silent. He worked methodically, slowly, with infinite precision. When an opening was made that showed the grinning faces of the rescue party, he turned wearily aside and motioned Crowder and Field to go ahead. He was the last to climb the ladder. He was the last to step into the long iron cylinder that was the man lock. And when the exhaust valve was opened a hairbreadth to allow an hour’s decompression period, the Runt stretched full length on the floor and slept.

Night was over the waterfront when the lock door opened. Flaring lights had been strung about, and Field thought he had never before seen so many people gathered in one place. They stared at the group who stepped from the lock. There were cheers and a woman sobbed. Hands reached out and touched them. People laughed and called them by name. Newspaper reporters pushed forward importantly and cameras were thrust into their faces.

“What’s it all about?” asked Field.

“Oh, word got around you fellows were trapped,” said an engineer. “Looks as though you’re due for a celebration.” “Celebration!” said Field. “I want a shower and a bed.” He turned to the foreman. “That what you think, Runt?”

The Runt did not answer. A reporter with pencil and crumpled envelope asked for his story. He pushed him aside. Other newspaper men had rushed Crowder, and the miner was laughing and answering questions. The Runt forced a way through the circle. His lips were drawn tightly against his teeth, as though to still a nerve that jumped and pulled at cords of his throat. One hand lifted and the fingers clamped on Crowder’s wrist.

“Put ’em up, Crowder.” he said. And there was flatness in his speech.

FIELD HAD moved in behind the Runt.

He saw astonishment in Crowder’s eyes. For an instant the miner smiled and moved as if to dismiss the whole thing with a laugh. Then he stiffened. His eyes met with the Runt’s. Understanding was there. He lifted his arms and forced a clearing in the crowd. He crouched and raised his fists.

“All right. Runt.” he said quietly.

That was a fight. Those who lived on the waterfront had come to expect the rough and tumble brawling of the sand hogs. They had seen these heavy-chested giants stand toe to toe and slug for the better part of an hour. It had seemed strange that men should laugh while they fought, and with the next breath go arm in arm down the street to the nearest bar. But soon they learned that these miners fought for the sheer joy of fighting. It was fun.

This night they saw two men lift their fists in quiet rage. Crowder opened a cut above the Runt’s eye with his first blow. Over and again the miner’s fist slashed at this crimson mark. It was cold, methodical ; a business-like piece of destruction by a mechanic who knew every angle of the trade. There were a dozen times and a dozen places where Crowder might have scored with right or left. But he ignored them. That eye; always that eye.

There was movement in the crowd as a blue uniformed officer appeared. A ring of mud-stained miners closed about him. There were explanations, a laugh or two and the officer turned away. And still Crowder’s fists punished that bleeding eye.

Field stood with two other engineers who asked questions. But he did not answer. He was watching the Runt as he moved in—always in. The foreman’s head was down, and he too had found a mark. Right and left, he threw fists at a spot on Crowder’s chest. It was a. blue mark now. And just beneath it the miner’s heart was starting to feel the effects of this constant punishment.

Fjeld had never before seen the Runt fight like this. It was deadly. But then he realized he had never before actually seen the man who had been trapped with him in the caisson. This was a different Runt— one who was strange, even to the men of his gang. From that time when he had first turned away from Crowder, the sand hogs had stared and wondered. Some thought he had lost his grip, gone yellow. There had been laughter. And suddenly the undersized foreman was raging in their midst—fighting four men and taking fearful punishment before he was battered to his knees. After that the men had waited silently. With them waited Field, who liked the Runt and respected him. There must be an explanation.

Now he saw Crowder shift his attack. The miner’s hands were wet and red. They beat against a single eye that never left Crowder’s chest. A slow lump lifted beneath it. The eye blinked. And the Runt bored in with both fists slashing at Crowder’s heart. The miner’s face was unmarked. Not a single blow had landed above his shoulders. But now his eyes were glazed and dull. His arms had lost their snap and once he stumbled.

Still the Runt moved in. He was pawing blindly now. Both eyes were tightly closed and his head was tilted, as though to listen to the sound of Crowder’s breathing and from it take the direction of his movements.

“You told me to go to hell, Crowder.” It was the first word, and it came through lips that were puffed and swollen. “Yeah, Runt, so 1 did.”

Crowder’s fist tore the Runt’s ear. Field moistened his lips and tried for understanding that .same understanding he had seen in Crowder’s eyes. What was it? Why had Crowder laughed when the Runt turned away. Field knew the two men had disliked each other from the first meeting. But that was natural. Dwarfed by the men of the gang, they were men apart. Crowder resented the Runt’s authority and underestimated his skill and courage. He was new in compressed air and had never seen the Runt’s cool daring when danger walked into a tunnel. Caissons were toys to be laughed at when Crowder told of hard-rock men in mile-deep mines. But today he had learned. Wet sand and mud had brought him closer to death than years in the mines. He had seen the Runt send out the gang. . .

Light came to the engineer. That voice the Runt had been warned. Something had told him of disaster and he had sent out the gang in time. Crowder had stayed —deliberately. Then Field remembered the cold courage with which the Runt, too, had waited. The foreman had refused to go and leave a man of his gang to die.

“We’d better stop it before they kill each other,” cried a miner who sfixxl beside Field. “Look at them! Those runts are out on their feet—and afraid to quit.” And then Field understood. He knew, even as Crowder had known for weeks. A fear more real than death had held the Runt’s fists at his side. Losing face. To be beaten by a smaller man ! The Runt could laugh at a river that climbed slowly to drown him—he could grin when a swaggering giant smashed his nose flat upon his cheek—two men, three, it made no difference so long as the odds were against the Runt. Then he could fight. And if he lost, he was still a man.

But that greater courage, that courage to fight when the odds were balanced . . . “You told me—to go to hell—Crowder.” It was the Runt again. His voice was weak and blurred with blood that choked his mouth. But he still moved in and his fists pounded against flesh.

“Yeah, Runt.” Crowder’s voice was a whisper. “And—and I’m sorry. You’re a —good foreman.”

Crowder pitched forward to his knees. He could no longer lift his hands. But there was no fear in his voice, no pleading. Rather, it carried a note of respect.

The Runt was down too. l ie stumbled over the kneeling miner and his head rested on Crowder’s chest. He was smiling; twisting that battered face into a grin that was ghastly.

“It wasn’t your fists, Crowder,” he whispered. “Not that.”

“No, feller,” said Crowder. “I know— don’t you think I had to lick it? I’m— I’m a runt, too.”

“But a good runt.”

“That goes double, feller.”

And somehow, Field knew that neither would ever again turn away from a smaller man. They had tested their courage, and it was good.