Moral: If you want a quiet elopement don’t choose a locomotive cab
WILLIAM EDWARD HAYES
MR. HUTTON’S ear was purple from the pressure he put against it with the telephone receiver. Mr. Hutton’s face was between a dirty red and a dark mauve, with the latter color predominating around his trembling jaws. Mr. Hutton, in short, was doing his best to explode, but the division superintendent on the other end of the circuit wouldn’t let him. The division superintendent was telling his red-necked master mechanic a thing or two that needed to be told at once, and the red-necked master mechanic was taking it.
The super’s voice wasn’t exactly gentle, coming through that hard rubber cylinder, because Mr. Hutton’s bright and smiling young assistant could hear every word that was being said. The assistant, however, whose name was Gatchley, bent himself discreetly over the report before him and didn’t even once look up. He didn’t even raise his eyes until Mr. Hutton finally got a chance to speak.
Mr. Hutton said: “Is it my fault if business is gettin’ better? Is it my fault if we ain’t got engines? You’d think it was my own personal railroad an’ my own personal job to see that they got an engine every time they yelp.”
The assistant, who was aware that Mr. Hutton had hung up without being able to tell the division super his thoughts, faced his superior and said: “In all my experience I’ve never seen it fail, Mr. Hutton. If anything goes wrong it’s the motive-power department to blame. I hope there’s nothing—”
“There’s plenty,” Mr. Hutton howled. He got up and tried to light a black cigar stump that flared up like a frayed Roman candle and then puffed itself out. “There’s that danged silk they got back.”
“Oh,” Mr. Gatchley said. “I knew the freight-traffic men were trying—”
“They got it,” Mr. Hutton exploded and glared at his cigar. “An’ instead of runnin’ it over tire cut-off an’ missin’ this division altogether, they now inform me, at five o’clock p.m., that we gotta have an engine an’ a crew ready at seven-fifty because they’ve made a change in the routin’ an’ the stuff’s movin’ this way. Fifteen cars of it on a schedule faster’n anything else on the railroad. An’ they wait until now—”
He broke off and called the roundhouse. Since the roundhouse foreman was his inferior he could speak his piece. He did. And when the roundhouse foreman said the only engine he could possibly have ready would be the 1631, Mr. Hutton demanded to know just why in the so-and-so the other bigger and better engines all had to be somewhere in service.
Then he shouted into the transmitter: “How about
“Mills an’ Byers,” the roundhouse foreman answered sullenly. “An’ if you don’t like them—”
“Who? Who’s that fireman?” Mr. Hutton demanded. “Archie Byers is the fireman. Coffee Mills at the throttle. An’ if they—”
“Byers, hunh? Anybody else you could get in his place?” “If you wanna keep the silk here until about eleven bells.”
Mr. Hutton banged the receiver onto its hook. He glared over at the discreet Mr. Gatchley, who was again raising his eyes from his report.
“Byers,” he growled. “That’s who you—that’s who ” “Yes, Mr. Hutton,” the assistant affirmed. “As I was saying before the telephone interrupted. It seems that Byers is again offending with his black smoke. And you know how they keep after us on this smoke question. You know how I’ve cautioned Archie Byers, and how I’ve ridden with him and tried to get him to fire these engines properly to keep his smoke colorless. You know—”
“Byers,” Mr. Hutton said with a sort of grinding of his teeth and a faraway look in his smoky eyes. His fists closed. “Smart fireman. Wise boy. The black smoke artist. The lad who told me to my teeth that the reason some of these sixteen hundreds made black smoke was because the firebox was faulty in design. An’ I designed the fireboxes.” He pulled his lips back from big white teeth. “Let’s se« that report.”
Mr. Gatchley handed it over with a discreet cough. “You’ll note that Byers is scheduled to come up for promotion next week, Mr. Hutton. I’m sorry to have to chalk this last offense of making black smoke up against him.
But—well, he came through Carlton on that westward grade fogging up the whole town, and the authorities have complained again. I had a man checking him on the eastbound trip with that same engine the day before, and he laid a screen over Cabbage Hill that’d hide an army.”
'K/fR. HUTTON took the report and glared at it. He tried to light his cigar again with the same effect— the frayed end blazed, sparks spilled down his vest, the cigar went out. He hurled it against the wall and blew his
“How he ever got hired as a fireman in the first place is a mystery to me,” Mr. Hutton choked. “Dumb roundhouse foreman did it in a pinch. I shoulda dumped him before he got started. Nerve, cheek, brass. Even to walkin’ right up on my own front porch to call on my girl— my daughter.” Mr. Hutton slapped the report in the face and glared at Mr. Gatchley, who cleared his throat again.
“I must say,” Mr. Gatchley said, “he does have cheek. As a fireman he does well enough, I suppose. His main offense is this smoke business, and that’s only when he’s on one of these 1600 engines about which he complains. He says if you fire them lightly you lose pressure with a heavy train because the draft tears the fire loose at the back end, and—”
“I know what he says,” Mr. Hutton blasted grimly. “An’ I know what I’d do right now—this minute—if I had another fireman I could use.”
“I warned Byers the last time, Mr. Hutton, that you’d probably pull him out of service. I don’t need to tell you the sort of reply he made.”
“Gatchley, I said I was going to clean up the black smoke on this division if I had to tear the pants off every fireman on the railroad.”
“I tore the pants off a few of them and I got results.” Mr. Hutton found another cigar but didn’t light it. He clamped his teeth over it. “Byers comes up for promotion. Oh, does he!” The cigar wobbled a little. “The hungrylookin’ drink of water that come up on my front porch, right in front of my face, with a box of cheap candy in one hand an’a bouquet of posies in another. Nerve! Cheek! Brass! Listen to me, Gatchley. He’s goin’ out with that silk tonight. All right. I got to let him go. But I’m goin’ with it. I’ll ride the crew car on the tail end. I’ll keep my eyes open. You get one of your men up to Cabbage Hill.
You watch every inch of that climb. I’ll show him—”
“Mr. Hutton, don’t you think I’d better get a note off to Byers to the effect that you’d like to talk this over with him—this smoke business?” Mr. Gatchley cleared his throat. “I’ll make an appointment.” • C
“Talk to him! I’ll talk to him all right! I’ll—”
The door from the anteroom opened and both men jerked eyes toward it. It opened quietly and a tall young man with a quiet smile stepped in. He stood just inside the door with his hat in his hand, his hair slicked back, his long jaw clean from a recent scraping.
“Excuse me, Mr. Hutton, for coming in like this,” the visitor said, his smile widening, “but I’ve been trying to see you for two days now and you haven’t been in town, and I thought—”
“So you thought, Byers,”
Mr. Hutton beamed, “that you’d try to—well, Byers,
here I am, and I don’t mind telling you you’re the very person I want to see. Right now. You—”
“What I wanted to mention was a sort of private matter, Mr. Hutton,” Archie Byers said bashfully, “so if I can —I mean since it’s about Betty an’ me I—”
Mr. Hutton was out of his chair. The unlit cigar fell from his lips. Mauve diffused over his cheeks. Then he got out, “Betty! My girl!” He made strange noises in his throat. Then he blasted, “Sit down !”
/^OFFEE MILLS was a very sad gentleman with a very contrary nature which, as any conductor on the division would tell you, was not so unusual for an engineer. He was Archie Byers’ cabmate, and the more earnestly Archie talked, the more Mr. Mills shook his head.
Mr. Mills said: “Yuh just won’t understand, Archie, that I gotta go on livin’ here, an’, with the help o’ God an’ my own good sense, I got to keep on workin’ here.”
“I know, Coffee, but this—” Archie broke off with exasperation. He hunched his shoulders and hunted for more words.
They stood in the shadow of the coal chute on the off side away from the outbound engine spur. It was 7.45 p.m. and the darkness here was intense. Three steps away loomed the long boiler and the high drivers of engine 1631, with steam blubbering at her pops and the compressor on the jacket sighing.
“I’m just dead set agin’ it, Archie,” Coffee declared lugubriously. “Look at it my way. I been here longer’n you, an’ I got more at stake.”
“But nobody need know anything about it,” Archie protested. “She—”
“Nobody need to,” Coffee agreed, “but just as sure as fate somebody’ll find out it was on this engine you done it, an’ then—an’ here’s another thing. She’s the daughter of a motive-power official. An’ besides you know as well as I that it’s agin’ the law to carry a passenger in a cab. If she’s so all fired set on this, why can’t she get a later passenger train. She can—”
“A passenger train. Tomorrow!” Archie gestured with quick despair. “Come on, Coffee. The least you can do is give us a pair of your extra overalls. She’ll get her coat ruined. She—”
Coffee walked away muttering to himself.
Archie glared after him. then turned to that third shadow crouched down there out of sight.
“Contranold devil,” Archie muttered. “I hate to see you ruin that coat, Betty. You know yourself an engine cab isn't the cleanest place in the world.”
“Only one thing matters, Archie,” Betty said. She gave his arm a little squeeze.
“Scared?” Archie asked with a touch of awe.
“Are you?” Her voice had music and laughter and strength.
“Oh, man! When he finds out,” Archie breathed and the breath was tremulous.
“Maybe Coffee’s right,” Betty said. “Perhaps I ought to wait and take the morning passenger train and meet you at Huntingdon and-—”
“We started this, Bett. We—”
The two shadows merged and stayed one for a long breath, and then a voice said behind them: “These here ain’t as clean as they might be.”
Coffee put something in Archie’s hands. Archie shook out a suit of faded overalls. He tendered them to Bett.
“What the well-dressed bride-to-be will wear for her going away,” Bett said with a giggle.
“If you was a daughter o’ mine,” Coffee moaned, “I’d—”
“But I’m not,” Bett said impudently.
“Looks like,” Coffee mumbled, “bein’ bom on the railroad, an’ havin’ to eat cinders three times a day all your life with a guy like your pa is, you’d have more sense in pickin’ somebody to spend the rest of your life with. But I guess there ain’t any accountin’ for some tastes. Git on that engine. We got silk cornin’ an’ you know what silk means.”
The 1631 was a Pacific type passenger engine, a giant in her day, and still as fast as they made ’em. She had a roomy cab with good springs beneath it, and front cab windows that a man could get through without squeezing the life out of himself. She was a hand-bomber, which means tr.at she was shovel fired instead of fed by the automatic stokers.
The fifteen cars of silk—express cars loaded and sealed from the outside—rolled in from the West at eight o’clock, five minutes off the tight schedule. The 1631, in the spur, was ready to roll, and Coffee Mills backed her down as soon as the inbound engine was cut off. He glanced worriedly over toward Archie’s side of the cab, and Archie smiled back at his engineer. Bett was crouched low in front of the left-hand seat box, with an old coat of Archie’s thrown over her. Archie had fixed the gauge lights so that only a dim glow burned over the steam clock. Otherwise the cab was in total darkness.
The conductor came up with the orders while the coupling was being made. He hung on the gangway steps and handed the tissues up to Coffee. “Nothing to worry us, Coffee, if you can take the bridle off. Nothing but that slow spot in the sag just before we hit Cabbage Hill. Ten miles per over new track.”
“Anything to make it tough,” Coffee groaned. “A heavy train, a bad steamer—”
“Take it easy,” the conductor cheered. “You know you got company on board.”
Coffee shot a quick look at the skipper. “Who told you?” He swallowed.
“I saw him get on,” the skipper grinned evilly.
“You saw who get on?”
“Why Hutton, of course. He’s riding the crew car with us.”
Archie met Coffee’s sad eyes with a sinking at his middle.
Coffee said: “An’ I got a woman an’ childum dependin’ on this job ...”
ARCHIE LOOKED back along the >■ train. His heart wasn’t doing just right. He saw the usual lamps and flares, saw the signal for the air-brake test, saw the crew of guards running alongside the dark cars. The men who guarded this precious cargo with their very lives.
But he wasn’t thinking of them. He wasn’t thinking of silk that’s insured by the mile, and therefore propelled across the steel as fast as wheel can roll it. His thoughts didn’t include those small tight bales that jammed those sealed cars, each car worth a fortune.
Continued on page 53
Continued from page 17—Starts on page 16
He was remembering that brief spell in Hutton’s office at a few minutes past five, and he was wondering, if for Bett’s sake, they oughtn’t to stop it now. Stop it while the air was exhausting in the cab and that flare at the rear of the train was sweeping downward in the sign that the brakes were all okay. She could still get off and they could . . .
A lantern waving caught his eye and his cheeks burned. There would be no turning back. If Hutton, in the course of his climb from a scoop and an engine deck to the master mechanic’s chair, had lost all the human touch, that was Hutton’s fault. He, Archie Byers, and Bett Hutton were still human, and they didn’t care who knew it. Hadn’t they both decided that?
They’d decided it right there at the head of the stairs after Hutton had all but kicked Archie out of his office. Archie hadn’t known that Bett would be outside, listening. But she had heard Hutton’s savage denunciation. She had heard her father say,' “Byers, you’re a shame an’ a disgrace. You’re an impudent, cheeky, brassy nobody that oughtta be back on the cinder pit, an’ it’s back on the cinder pit you’re gonna be ! Back there shovellin’ out cinders, which is your level.”
And she had heard Archie try to get a word in, saying, “But, Mr. Hutton. I’m up for promotion next week. Promotion to running. That’ll mean more pay, That’ll mean I can give Bett—”
Her father breaking in, “You can’t give Bett a danged thing, Byers. Nothin’. No daughter of mine’s gonna soil her hands with a lousy fireman who ain’t ever gonna run an engine on this railroad if I can help it. Promotion! You! D’yuh think I’d trust an engine in your care? You, with a black smoke record against you?”
There had been a lot more and Mr. Hutton had done all the talking, and the gist of it was that if Archie Byers made so much as a wisp of black smoke again, and if he even so much as gave Bett Hutton another thought—well, Mr. Archie Byers would undoubtedly have to try his talents elsewhere.
Mr. Archie Byers was thinking of all this as the 1631 belched rockets from her stack on the eastward rise out of town. Archie was on the deck with his long frame bent, his long fingers clutched about the handle of his scoop. He pressed an ample foot on the iron pedal beneath the butterfly fire door, and the door clanged open.
White flame pulsed with the throb in the stack, the pull of the draft, and Archie sprayed coal over the bright spots. He watched the back end and kept the fire
light, and hoped that Coffee wouldn’t forget and drop his bar to pull the guts out of the grates.
That this, in all probability, was his last trip, he and Bett both realized. But love laughed at locksmiths and other mechanics, including Mr. Hutton. Archie grinned and kept swinging in the coal. Coffee continued to beat the big Pacific on the back, and the silk accelerated nobly.
A little more in that front left comer, Archie thought, and sprayed his coal up there. Nerve, cheek, brass. You had to have all three to take a charming young lady up to the altar without a job behind you and with a very small sum saved. He could have had more, of course, if it hadn’t been for looking after his two sisters. But they were on their own now. He’d stood by them until they’d got through business school and had got jobs. So now he was free to . . .
He’d be free tomorrow. He and Bett together. But there’d be another job somewhere. Business was picking up all over the country and he could fire anybody’s engine, Mr. Hutton to the contrary.
This black smoke business. If you made black smoke these brass hats put it down that you didn’t know how to get the proper combustion, and you couldn’t tell ’em otherwise. In their day with the scoop they’d made black smoke plentifully, but of course that was before anybody on a railroad knew anything about B. t. u.’s and hydrogen and oxygen. In their day people just railroaded and got over the road the best they could, and counted themselves lucky if they lived out their natural lives. But with all this efficiency, and with men spotted here and there to check you . . .
ARCHIE FOUND himself looking out Zi at the plume he was making, seeing it in the darkness as a well-trained fireman is taught to see. Then he grinned again. Why should he worry now? He was kicking seven years of seniority in the pants. He didn’t care. Why should he be concerned if his smoke wasn’t colorless? Tomorrow w'ould be another day and so far as this railroad was concerned all his future was behind him.
Every now and then, while the engine clattered over the rail joints and whipped its million-dollar cargo along behind it, eastward to the waiting markets which would turn it into hose and gowns and intimate things for milady, Archie found time to climb up to his seat and whisper into Bett’s pink ear.
“We’re rolling down to Rio, Bett,” he said once. “Eloping on an engine. Not every girl can have that to look back to.” He wasn’t afraid, but his voice would tremble. And behind him the million-dollar cargo roared with the cinders pelting down upon it.
And Bett, squeezed his hand and said, “I cut my eye teeth on a piece of throttle gland packing.” .She had to speak with her lips in his ear, and the soft touch of them made everything right.. “I rode my first engine when I was three. I know this pike as well as you do, Archie. And it. doesn’t seem right that we’re both riding it for the last time. We’ll miss it like everything.”
It was in an engine cab that Archied first met her, riding the length of the freight yards with Hopper McGee, for whom Archie had then been firing. Riding down through the yards to make a short cut to a girl’s house where she was to visit. He remembered how she’d looked at him that day and the way she’d said, “How can anybody as skinny as you are have the back for a job like this?” And she. had laughed boyishly, with her short hair blowing about her pert, little face and lights in her blue eyes.
He remembered hearing how Hutton had forbidden her after that even to go near the passenger station, but that had not stopped her. He remembered that first, night he’d called at. her house with his candy and his flowers . . .
“Look, Archie! Lights!” He hadn’t noticed the lights. He was on the seat behind her and had been staring at. the back of her little head, just a dim blob there in the shadow. Fie hadn’t been aware that they were out so far. “The caution lights in the sag,” Bett said.
And Archie stuck his head out, while across the cab his running mate twisted on the air. Coffee was mumbling to himself, his drooping mustache making his sad face longer. He was mumbling about slowing, and about tonnage and about the hill beyond.
Archie said: “A swell place to put down new steel. No rest for me as we start up Cabbage Hill. Slowing us for that grade.” He shook his head.
And Bett said: “You can sit up by me when we get through Powder Tunnel, It won’t be long from there, and a lot of it is downgrade ”
She squeezed his hand and he set his cap down over his eyes.
“Slowin’ ain’t bad enough,” Coffee yelled from the throttle. “They7 gotta stop us. Or am I seein’ things?”
Archie saw what Coffee meant. A yellow flare was swinging. Coffee answered with two wheezy coughs from a watery whistle and drew more air from the train line.
“It’s stop,all right,’’Archie called back. “I wonder ...”
Down in the sag was a bridge over a dry creek bed. The headlight pointed out the bridge and the watchman standing by it. Coffee had the engine down to a creep.
“If we stop here.” Bett said in a hushed
tone, “Dad might come over from the
crew car and —”
“Maybe he won’t have a chance,” Archie answered hopefully. “But it looks—”
Fie didn’t finish. FIc too was watching that slowly swinging yellow light there near the bridge where other yellow flares were stationary—the lights that marked the caution zone. The train was down almost to a dead stop, just creeping along there, not five miles an hour. Just across the bridge the long climb up Cabbage Hill began, the division’s ruling grade at 1.6 per cent. The kind of hill you ought to get a run for. The kind of hill . . .
The watchman’s yellow light raised at. that instant in the signal to proceed. The watchman was on Coffee’s side of the track. Coffee whistled twice and opened his throttle slowly. There was the responding jerk as the slack in the heavy train ran out. The sparks belched from the engine’s stack.
Coffee eased on across the bridge. Archie got back to the deck and poised himself with his scoop. He set his left foot near the pedal, ready to snap open the doors.
But he didn’t snap them open. He heard Coffee yell: “They’re swingin’ us
down ! We ain’t got ’em all !”
Archie sprang to the gangway and looked back. He could see part of the train standing there by those lights. Flis fingers gripped the grab irons.
“We’ve parted,” Archie cried back. “We’ve broken in two but the air—the brakes haven’t set. The—”
“We ain’t got ’em all,” Coffee repeated, reaching for the brake valve. “I see—”
“You don’t need ’em all!”
A third man was in the cab behind them and they saw it was the watchman. Only he wasn’t a watchman at all. He was a thin, tight spring of a man with a thin, mean face. And he carried a gun in a steady hand.
“Fley! Look here!” Coffee yelled and glared at the gun. “Look here, you—
“You do the looking,” the man snapped. “Open that throttle. Take ’em away!”
THE MAN’S eyes and gun were trained on the engineer. He stood at Archie’s side, having come down from over the coal. Flis back was to Archie’s seat. Archie shot a frightened glance toward Bett. He saw the huddled shadow. He made a motion with his arm. A million things whirled chaotically in his mind. Bett was the only thing that was clear. He didn’t dare open his mouth. He made a move with his arm again.
Coal slid down from the tender behind him. He looked over his shoulder. If Bett could only get out that front cab
window—out there on the running board where nothing could happen to her. Out there alongside the jacket. She knew engines. She knew what made the wheels go round . . .
Two other men were sliding down into the cab. The one with the gun didn’t turn round. He stood glaring at Coffee with his gun levelled.
“If this is a stick-up,” Archie cried, “you—”
“He’s good at guesses,” the man with the gun flung over his shoulder. A sneer was on his pinched pale face. Then he addressed Coffee, speaking loudly enough to be heard above the thunder and bellow of the working engine the engine working on a grade with the steam slipping.
“Open that throttle,” the man said. “Keep rolling.”
“1 gotta have steam,” Coffee said sadly. He pointed to the dim gauge. “If you want me to stop—”
“I’ll tell you where to stop,” the gunman said. He turned to Archie, but didn’t take his eyes off Coffee. He spoke to Archie out of the comer of his mouth. “Put in a fire.”
Archie slugged the grates, covered the bright spots, manoeuvred so that he could shoot a glance behind him. Flis seat was empty. He tried to see into the shadows down in front of the seat. He could see nothing. Bett had got his signal. But the tunnel. Lord! Fle’d forgotten all about that. Bett out there on the running board . . .
“Don’t take all night. Steam!” The gunman was barking at him again. Archie swung the scoop. His mind began to put things in order. The brass hats hadn’t sent the silk over the cut-off, the new division to the south of them, because they must have suspected something at the last minute. Archie remembered hearing somebody at the roundhouse wondering. Sometimes they switched the silk that way, when they were suspicious, or when they got a tip that some organized attempt might be made.
In this case the switch must have been what these gunmen wanted. That bad slow in the sag there—that gave them a chance to part the train while it was in motion. They’d parted it and turned the angle cock on the air connection so the brakes wouldn’t set when the couplings separated. They couldn’t handle a whole train. They didn’t want the rest of the crew and the load of guards that rode the crew car to be in the way. Archie smiled grimly as he swung his scoop. That was the way of it. Back down in there in that sag, fifteen miles from the nearest telegraph office, five miles from the nearest telephone, and wilderness around them. It would take hours to get help; hours for a member of that crew to get to a telephone.
Archie’s heart suddenly stopped. That meant that when these gunmen did order the stop, something would happen to the engine crew. They weren’t going to leave any possible witnesses. They—and Bett! Bett was out there on the running board, crouched down by the jacket!
Archie was sweating when he finally closed the fire door and blinked for his sight. Then he thought, brightly, “If I could get Coffee to slow ’em down maybe Bett would take the cue and drop off. She could get out on the pilot and crawl down and drop off and save herself, anyway.”
But he couldn’t whisper to Coffee. Fie saw Coffee now, glaring ahead and chewing on his mustache. Then he noticed Coffee’s foot in front of his seat and his heart thudded. Coffee was inching a big wrench toward him. Coffee was going to try to—
It all happened very suddenly. It happened even as Archie tiied to shout a warning. Fie stared as he saw Coffee lean over and suddenly come up with the wrench in his right hand. He aimed the wrench at the water glass. He was trying to break the glass and let that awful cloud of scalding steam pour into the cab. _
But the gunman’s finger was quicker. There was a spat, a spurt of blue flame.
Continued on page 56
Continued from page 54
The wrench clattered against the backhead of the boiler and fell to the floor. Coffee jerked up in his seat, his face white with pain. He clawed at the front of his faded overalls and pitched to the floor, writhing.
Archie stared with horror in his eyes, and the muscles of his throat constricted. Then he realized that the gunman was speaking to him.
“You can run this thing?” the man snapped.
Archie said, weakly, “Yes! But—I have to fire it—too. This is a grade—”
“Go to it.”
“How far?” Archie stared at Coffee, who was still now. The two men behind this gunman were pulling Coffee back out of the way near the coal gate.
“Milepost 1097,” the gunman answered in that lifeless voice. “You savvy?”
“Yes.” Two miles yet-—no, three miles. Three good miles. “Just over the top of the hill—the other side of Powder bore.”
ARCHIE GLANCED up at the steam Y*. gauge. The needle was slipping. You could tell by the sluff-sluff in the stack, and the dragging roll of the drivers. Then he remembered Bett and his eyes hardened with little lights behind them.
Fifteen miles an hour. That’s about what he was rolling. These guys might have a flawless plan, but Archie had a better one. He got up to the throttle and peered along the tunnel his headlight made. He slipped the throttle in one notch. Not enough for anybody to notice. The grade here was tougher. The engine was biting into it. He didn’t know how many of the silk cars he had hold of, but he must have at least half the train. He didn’t know what these gunmen intended to do with the loot once they got it, but that didn’t bother him. They might have a couple of heavy planes, or they might have trucks on the highway. The main thing now was to get her down to a creep so Bett could get off. Then—
“You going to let her die?” The gun was jabbed into his ribs.
Archie straightened and looked at the gauge. He’d lost more steam. He dropped his lever a notch forward, which lowered his gear. Then he got down and looked at his fire. It was in sorry shape. He took the scoop and slugged the grates. There at the back end where the fire had been light so as to keep his smoke clear, the fire was all tom up. He piled coal into those rear comers. Good green coal.
When he got back to the throttle, blinking for his sight, he saw that he was down to no more than eight per. He dropped the lever again and the sound in the stack changed. All he cared about was getting Bett off. She would understand by his slowing up this way. The engine throbbed and thundered and sounded like it had a string of a hundred freight cars. Archie had her down in the comer now, which is the equivalent of putting a car in low gear on a rise it could take in high.
A milepost passed him. The tunnel was just ahead. If Bett was ever going to get off, this was the place. Three or four miles an hour. No faster.
“If you stall here ...” The gun was
“If you have already sent along your renewal, please disregard this request entirely.”
This sentence appears at the top of all notices sent you advising that your subscription is due for renewal.
The routine of a large subscription list requires a period of a few days before a renewal can be recorded. A notice, therefore, may in some instances go forward to you even after remittance actually has reached us. In such cases, please ignore the notice and accept our regrets and thanks.
in his ribs, and Archie turned to the white, lifeless face at his shoulder blade.
“Let me look at the water,” Archie said. “She won’t stall. It’s a pull and my steam got too low. I’ve got to turn on the injector now.”
“Turn on anything,” the gunman snapped, “but keep this train going.” Archie swallowed. This injector business was just a gag. There was one right in« front of him, but if he got to the one on the left side of the cab he could peek out that front window. He could see if Bett . . .
The gunman followed him across the cab. He fumbled with the injector valve and got it working, but he was looking along the dark running board that hugged the boiler. It was sharply in silhouette against the headlight glow. It was empty.
A wild exultation filled him. Bett had got off. She had taken advantage of the creep to climb down on the pilot, then leap to the ditch.
Archie went back to the throttle. His hand closed over the grip and pressed the latch to open it. But his arm didn’t move. The exultation died. The tunnel was in front of him, and two miles on the other side of it—what?
Back of him lay the still form of Coffee. Dead men could tell nothing. They wouldn’t want Archie to tell anything. Not these grim-eyed men. On the other side of the tunnel, two miles and a little more from here, there were probably others waiting. They would finish Archie and go about their business. They knew it would be hours before anybody could be notified. And on this old main line, now used only for freight since the cut-off to the south had been completed, there would be no trains along. Nothing to bother them. Hours for their looting and for their getaway.
Suddenly, with his heart pounding over the quickness of his inspiration, Archie backed off his seat and snapped open his fire doors. It was a long chance to take, but with Bett safe now it wouldn’t hurt to try. With Bett off the engine . . .
He slugged the grates, piled the green coal in around the back comers, heaped it at the door. The engine was ready to pop now, with a boiler full of water and the steam up to par. He didn’t have to look at his smoke. He knew its color. It would make Mr. Hutton turn livid in his tracks, but it was the one big hope now.
A RCHIE WAS back at the throttle as E\ the stack, entering the hole in the black escarpment ahead, belched out its poison against the low roof of Powder Tunnel. The noise was deafening as the narrow walls closed down against the cab, and the black smoke enveloped the engine.
Beside him, in the sudden whirl of those fumes, Archie heard the gunman cough. Archie pulled the handkerchief he wore about his neck up over his mouth and nostrils.
“Open that—throttle,” the gunman choked violently. “Hurry and—get—out of here!”
Archie nodded and pulled the throttle back. There was no more response in speed than if you’d step on the gas with your flivver in low. A little jerk, heavier clouds. Black smoke.
He closed his eyes and held his breath. The gunman was shaking him violently.
The smoke in the cab had obliterated the gauge lamp almost completely. Just an orangy smudge marking the backhead of the boiler. Archie could barely make out the gunman with his handkerchief to his nose. Only an indistinct form. Back of him somebody else coughed, slightly, as if trying to hold it back. Then the third gunman, whose cough came from across the cab.
“Speed!” The one at Archie’s elbow chanced the word.
Archie pointed to the throttle, wide on the quadrant, raised his shoulders, held his nose with thumb and forefinger. Through his front cab window he could see the orange blur that told him his headlight was pointing bravely ahead of the smoke.
Down on the floor it wouldn’t be so bad.
Archie was wishing he could lie on his face.
He was wishing he could get his handkerchief soaked at the water can. That would help, too.
The gunman at his side tried to say something. He was coughing steadily now.
Archie tried to gauge time and distance. How long could he stand it? How long would it take for the gassy smoke to lay these outlaw's low'? The tunnel w'as seven tenths of a mile long, the grade ascending eastward. He must be a third of the way through it. His speed w'as perhaps five miles an hour. No more than that. Eight minutes, or ten minutes? i No one on earth could live through the gas that long. Archie, too. began to cough now, the gas biting his throat. No use holding back.
What w'as that? A cry !
“Don’t—(cough)—Dutch ! You’ll—”
One of the three men crying to the other. Crying and coughing. Then a groan and a cough that seemed to sink aw'ay.
“I—got—to get—outta here—” Another voice was shouting in desperation.
More coughing. The pressure at Archie’s side wasn’t that of a gun, now. A body was slumping against him. He couldn’t open his eyes to look. They w'ere burning horribly.
Archie’s head began to topple forward. Dizziness assailed him. He realized dimly that the gunman who had been standing beside him w'as now' on his knees. The man’s head w'as in Archie’s lap. The man was clutching at his throat, with his eyes rolling back.
Out of the tunnel. He must get out of this hell. Archie kept his mind clear enough for that. Bett. She was safe. She was off. Funny how things kept revolving. His thought w'as a revolving pattern. He couldn’t get beyond it. Get out of the tunnel. Get this engine stopped. Out of the tunnel . . .
He tugged at his Johnson bar—the lever that controlled the gear. It worked by an air piston so that it required just a touch. But he had to tug with all the strength left to him to get it lifted. Through that haze of consciousness that w'as like the curtain of his smoke, he somehow' realized that the sound in the stack had changed. The engine had lunged ahead. Three thousand horses lunging against a light load.
He w'ould get on the floor now. He just had to stay awake until he felt the outside air. Then that air brake. He w'ould stop. He w'ould . . .
On the floor, it seemed that the train w'as pointed skyward like a rocket, gushing out smoke behind it. Then it w'as revolving too, and making him dizzy. Spinning, while the gas was strong in his mouth and his lungs w'ere bursting. If he could get to that water cooler and dash some over his head! But he couldn’t crawl. He couldn’t move. The lights w'ere fading. But they weren’t lights, really. There couldn’t be any lights.
The lights w'ere in his brain and they were going out, and there was . . . That was air! Fresh air. Cool, clean air. The roar was different, too. He was out—outside of that hole and that hell! He tried to open his eyes. He tried to get up.
He staggered heavily on one knee and crashed against the backhead. He had his eyes open and was making out a dim blob of light. The gauge lamp. He told himself he’d have to find his brake valve, lie felt out in the darkness, his eyes burning, tears rolling dovm through the smudges on his cheeks.
That little brass handle. So far away. Fingers reaching for it feebly. His body reeling backward, toppling. This engine with a wide throttle and the bar hooked up. Out of control. Nobody—to—help in this . . .
He went down, sinking into a black void and yet trying to rouse himself. Trying
to rouse himself when he was certain that
the brakes were on the wheels. The brakes w'ere on but—he hadn’t—touched —his valve—anything . . .
MR. HUTTON said: “Yuh feel
Archie didn’t feel so well. He blinked at Mr. Hutton, w'ho w'as standing in the cab with a lot of other people. Then he saw' Bett. It might have been anybody in those baggy overalls, with that grimy face, but there w'as only one voice like hers.
Bett said: “Take a good big drink of this, Archie.” She had the w'ater can.
Archie took a big drink. Then he sputtered, and finally made w'ords come. Archie said: “I—thought, Bett, that you got off before—”
“Don’t strain yourself tryin’ to talk," Mr. Hutton said. “If you don’t feel like savin’ anything—”
“But,” Archie said, “did we—lord! I— must’ve passed out before w'e could get ’em stopped and—”
“You got everything stopped but the train,” Mr. Hutton thundered. “Bett did that job for you. She figgered you was about gone.”
“Bett!” Archie struggled upright. “But I slowed for her—to get—off—”
“I thought I’d better stick around, Archie,” Bett said impishly. “It’s a good thing I did. I w'as on top of the cab when that gunman shot Coffee. I was on top looking down through the ventilator.” Archie blinked. “You mean you got my signal to get out the front window' on the running board and then — you — you crawled on top instead and—”
“I craw'led on top,” Bett answered. “I was looking round for something to do to distract their attention, but when they shot Coffee -well, I thought I’d better get somewhere else. So I got down on the pilot.
I knew we’d be in the tunnel in an instant, and when I saw you keep getting slower and slower instead of highballing it through there, I thought I’d better give you any help I could.”
Archie stared at her. He staggered to his feet. His head and jumper w'ere wet w'here they’d dashed water on him to bring him around. Somebody helped steady him.
Archie said: “So it was you w'ho—who put the air on when I—couldn’t reach my valve. You—you rode through the tunnel on the pilot beam down under the boiler front and—the gas didn’t get you. The one place where you could ride ; . .” “That’s w'here I rode,” Bett said. “I sort of figured you were trying to gas them, and that you might get too much yourself. So as soon as we got through the tunnel,
I opened the angle cock on the pilot’s air hose and stopped you.”
Archie turned bewildered eyes on the master mechanic. Mr. Hutton w'as standing proudly with his chest out and a gleam in his eye.
“You,” Archie said. “I thought they left you dowm the grade with the rest of the train. Am I seeing things, or—”
“He came up the hill with the smoke checker, Archie,” Bett said. “He had a man on tire hill to w'atch your smoke, and the man had a gasoline speeder. He saw just part of the train go by, so he got his speeder on the track and went dowm the hill to see what happened. He brought dad up here with him.”
“You told him, Belt, about—us?” Archie asked in a hushed tone, fearfully.
“She told me about you,” Mr. Hutton thundered. “I always said you had more nerve an’ cheek an’ brass than—well, we gotta get this silk movin’. An’ we gotta get Coffee to a doctor. So if you an’ Bettil get up on that seat over there outta the way, I’ll take this blasted engine down the hill.”
Bett and Archie got out of the way. They couldn’t say anything more. They just held on to each other while the engine rolled backward, drifting.