The Nerve of Foley, Part 2
When I walked into the round-house in the evening, with a pair of overalls on, Foley was in the cab getting ready for the run.
Neighbor brought the Flyer in from the East. As soon as he had uncoupled and got out of the way we backed down with the 448. It was the best engine we had left, and, luckily for my back, an easy steamer. Just as we coupled to the mail-car a crowd of strikers swarmed out of the dusk. They were in an ugly mood, and when Andy Cameron and Bat Nicholson sprang up into the cab I saw we were in for trouble.
” Look here, partner,” exclaimed Cameron, laying a heavy hand on Foley’s shoulder; ” you don’t want to take this train out, do you? You wouldn’t beat honest working men out of a job?”
I’m not beating anybody out of a job. If you want to take out this train, take it out. If you don’t, get out of this cab.”
Cameron was nonplused. Nicholson, a surly brute, raised his fist menacingly.
“See here, boss,” he growled, “we won’t stand no scabs on this line.”
” Get out of this cab.”
” I’ll promise you you’ll never get out of it alive, my buck, if you ever get into it again,” cried Cameron, swinging down. Nicholson followed, muttering angrily. I hoped we were out of the scrape, but, to my consternation, Foley, picking up his oil-can, got right down behind them, and began filling his cups without the least attention to anybody.
Nicholson sprang on him like a tiger. The onslaught was so sudden that they had him under their feet in a minute. I jumped down, and Ben Buckley, the conductor, came running up. Between us we gave the little fellow a life. He squirmed out like a cat, and backed instantly up against the tender.
“One at a time, and come on,” he cried, hotly. “If it’s ten to one, and on a man’s back at that, we’ll do it different.” With a quick, peculiar movement of his arm he drew a pistol, and, pointing it squarely at Cameron, cried, ” Get back!”
I caught a flash of his eye through the blood that streamed down his face. I wouldn’t have given a switch-key for the life of the man who crowded him at that minute. But just then Lancaster came up, and before the crowd realized it we had Foley, protesting angrily, back in the cab again.
“For Heaven’s sake, pull out of this before there’s bloodshed, Foley,” I cried; and, nodding to Buckley, Foley opened the choker.
It was a night run and a new track to him. I tried to fire and pilot both, but after Foley suggested once or twice that if I would tend to the coal he would tend to the curves I let him find them – and he found them all, I thought, before we got to Athens. He took big chances in his running, but there was a superb confidence in his bursts of speed which marked the fast runner and the experienced one.
At Athens we had barely two hours to rest before doubling back. I was never tired in my life till I struck the pillow that night, but before I got it warm the caller routed me out again. The East-bound Flyer was on time, or nearly so, and when I got into the cab for the run back, Foley was just coupling on.
“Did you get a nap?” I asked, as we pulled out.
“No; we slipped an eccentric coming up, and I’ve been under the engine ever since. Say, sbe’s a bird, isn’t she? She’s all right. I couldn’t run her coming up; but I’ve touched up her valve motion a bit, and I’ll get action on her as soon as it’s daylight.”
“Don’t mind getting action on my account, Foley; I’m shy on life insurance.”
“You’re safe with me. I never killed man, woman, or child in my life. When I do, I quit the cab. Give her plenty of diamonds, if you please,” he added, letting her out full.
He gave me the ride of my life; but I hated to show scare, he was so coolly audacious himself. We had but one stop -for water- and after that all down grade. We bowled along as easy as ninepins, but the pace was a hair-raiser. After we passed Arickaree we never touched a thing but the high joints. The long, heavy train behind us flew round the bluffs once in awhile like the tail of a very capricious kite; yet somehow -and that’s an engineer’s magic- she always lit on the steel.
Day broke ahead, and between breaths I caught the glory of a sunrise on the plains from a locomotive-cab window. When the smoke of the McCloud shops stained the horizon, remembering the ugly threats of the strikers, I left my seat to speak to Foley.
” I think you’d better swing off when you slow up for the yards and cut across to the round-house,” I cried, getting close to his ear, for we were on terrific speed. He looked at me inquiringly. ” In that way you won’t run into Cameron and his crowd at the depot,” I added. ” I can stop her all right.”
He didn’t take his eyes off the track. “I’ll take the train to the platform,” said he.
“Isn’t that a crossing cut ahead ? he added, suddenly, as we swung round a fill west of town.
“Yes; and a bad one.”
He reached for the whistle and gave the long, warning screams. I set the bell-ringer and stooped to open the furnace door to cool the fire, when – chug!
I flew up against the water-gauges like a coupling-pin. The monster engine reared right up on her head. Scrambling to my feet, I saw the new man clutching the air lever with both hands, and every wheel on the train was screeching. I jumped to his side and looked over his shoulder. On the crossing just ahead a big white horse, dragging a buggy, plunged and reared frantically. Standing on the buggy seat a baby boy clung bewildered to the lazyback; not another soul in sight. All at once the horse swerved sharply back; the buggy lurched half over; the lines seemed to be caught around one wheel. The little fellow clung on ; but the crazy horse, instead of running, began a hornpipe right between the deadly rails.
I looked at Foley in despair. From the monstrous quivering leaps of the great engine I knew the drivers were in the clutch of the mighty air-brake; but the resistless momentum of the train was none the less sweeping us down at deadly speed on the baby. Between the two tremendous forces the locomotive shivered like a gigantic beast. I shrank back in horror; but the little man at the throttle, throwing the last ounce of air on the burning wheels, leaped from his box with a face transfigured.
“Take her!” he cried, and, never shifting his eyes from the cut, he shot through his open window and darted like a cat along the running-board to the front.
Not a hundred feet separated us from the crossing. I could see the baby’s curls blowing in the wind. The horse suddenly leaped from across the track to the side of it; that left the buggy quartering with the rails, but not twelve inches clear. The way the wheels were cramped a single step ahead would throw the hind wheels into the train; a step backward would shove the front wheels into it. It was appalling.
Foley, clinging with one hand to a headlight bracket, dropped down on the steam-chest and swung far out. As the cow-catcher shot past, Foley’s long arm dipped into the buggy like the sweep of a connecting-rod, and caught the boy by the breeches. The impetus of our speed threw the child high in the air, but Foley’s grip was on the little overalls, and as the youngster bounded back he caught it close. I saw the horse give a leap. It sent the hind wheels into the corner of the baggage-car. There was a crash like the report of a hundred rifles, and the buggy flew in the air. The big horse was thrown fifty feet; but Foley, with a great light in his eyes and the baby boy in his arm, crawled laughing into the cab.
Thinking he would take the engine again, I tried to take the baby. Take it? Well, I think not!
” Hi! there, buster!” shouted the little engineer, wildly; ” that’s a corking pair of breeches on you, son. I caught the kid right by the seat of the pants,” he called over to me, laughing hysterically. “Heav,ens! little man, I wouldn’t ‘ve struck you for all the gold in Alaska. I’ve got a chunk of a boy in Reading as much like him as a twin brother. What were you doing all alone in that buggy? Whose kid do you suppose it is? What’s your name, son?”
At his question I looked at the child – and I started. I had certainly seen him before; and, had I not, his father’s features were too well stamped on the childish face for me to be mistaken.
“Foley,” I cried, all amaze, ” that’s Cameron’s boy – little Andy!”
He tossed the baby the higher; be looked the happier ; he shouted the louder.
” The deuce it is! Well, son, I’m mighty glad of it.” And I certainly was glad.
In fact, mighty glad, as Foley expressed it, when we pulled up at the depot, and I saw Andy Cameron with a wicked look pushing to the front through the threatening crowd. With an growl he made for Foley.
” I’ve got business with you – you – “
” I’ve got a little with you, son,” retorted Foley, stepping leisurely down from the cab. I struck a buggy back here at the first cut, and I hear it was yours.” Cameron’s eyes began to bulge. ” I guess the outfit’s damaged some – all but the boy. Here, kid,” he added, turning for me to hand him the child, “here’s your dad.”
The instant the youngster caught sight of his parent he set up a yell. Foley, laughing, passed him into his astonished father’s arms before the latter could say a word. Just then a boy, running and squeezing through the crowd, cried to Cameron that his horse had run away from the house with the baby in the buggy, and that Mrs. Cameron was having a fit.
Cameron stood like one daft – and the boy catching sight of the baby that instant panted and stared in an idiotic state.
“Andy,” said I, getting down and laying a band on his shoulder, ” if these fellows want to kill this man, let them do it alone – you’d better keep out. Only this minute he has saved your boy’s life.”
The sweat stood out on the big engineer’s forehead like dew. I told the story. Cameron tried to speak; but he tried again and again before he could find his voice.
“Mate,” he stammered, “you’ve been through a strike yourself – you know what it means, don’t you? But if you’ve got a baby – -” he gripped the boy tighter to his shoulder.
” I have, partner; three of ’em.”
” Then you know what this means,” said Andy, huskily, putting out his hand to Foley. He gripped the little man’s fist hard, and, turning, walked away through the crowd.
Somehow it put a damper on the boys. Bat Nicholson was about the only man left who looked as if he wanted to eat somebody; and Foley, slinging his blouse over his shoulder, walked up to Bat and tapped him on the shoulder.
“Stranger,” said he, gently, ” could you oblige me with a chew of tobacco?”
Bat glared at him an instant; but Foley’s nerve won.
Flushing a bit, Bat stuck his hand into his pocket; took it out; felt hurriedly in the other pocket, and, with some confusion, acknowledged he was short. Felix Kennedy intervened with a slab, and the three men fell at once to talking about the accident.
A long time afterwards some of the striking engineers were taken back, but none of those who had been guilty of actual violence. This barred Andy Cameron, who, though not worse than many others, had been less prudent; and while we all felt sorry for him after the other boys had gone to work, Lancaster repeatedly and positively refused to reinstate him.
Several times, though, I saw Foley and Cameron in confab, and one day up came Foley to the superintendent’s office, leading little Andy, in his overalls, by the hand. They went into Lancaster’s office together, and the door was shut a long time.
When they came out little Andy had a piece of paper in his hand.
” Hang on to it, son,” cautioned Foley; “but you can show it to Mr. Reed if you want to.”
The youngster handed me the paper. It was an order directing Andrew Cameron to report to the master-mechanic for service in the morning.
I happened over at the round-house one day nearly a year later, when Foley was showing Cameron a new engine, just in from the East. The two men were become great cronies; that day they fell to talking over the strike.
” There was never but one thing I really laid up against this man,” said Cameron to me.
What’s that?” asked Foley.
“Why, the way you shoved that pistol into my face the first night you took out No. 1.”
“I never shoved any pistol into your face.” So saying, he stuck his hand into his pocket with the identical motion he used that night of the strike, and leveled at Andy, just as be had done then – a plug of tobacco. ” That’s all I ever pulled on you, son; I never carried a pistol in my life.”
Cameron looked at him, then he turned to me, with a tired expression:
” I’ve seen a good many men, with a good many kinds of nerve, but I’ll be splintered if I ever saw any one man with all kinds of nerve till I struck Foley.”–FIN