The McWilliams Special, Part 2 of 3
On the West End we had all night to prepare, and at five o’clock next morning every man in the operating department was on edge. At precisely 3.58 A.M. the McWilliams Special stuck its nose into our division, and Foley-pulled off No. 1 with the 466 — was heading her dizzy for McCloud. Already the McWilliams had made up thirty-one minutes on the one hour delay in Chicago, and Lincoln threw her into our hands with a sort of “There, now! You fellows — are you any good at all on the West End?” And we thought we were.
Sitting in the dispatcher’s office, we tagged her down the line like a swallow. Harvard, Oxford, Zanesville, Ashton — and a thousand people at the McCloud station waited for six o’clock and for Foley’s muddy cap to pop through the Blackwood bluffs; watched him stain the valley maples with a stream of white and black, scream at the junction switches, tear and crash through the yards, and slide hissing and panting up under our nose, swing out of his cab, and look at nobody at all but his watch.
We made it 5.59 A.M. Central Time. The miles, 136; the minutes, 121. The schedule was beaten — and that with the 136 miles the fastest on the whole 1026. Everybody in town yelled except Foley; he asked for a chew of tobacco, and not getting one handily, bit into his own piece.
While Foley melted his weed George Sinclair stepped out of the superintendent’s office — he was done in a black silk shirt, with a blue four-in-hand streaming over his front — stepped out to shake hands with Foley, as one hostler got the 466 out of the way, and another backed down with a new Sky-Scraper, the 509.
But nobody paid much attention to all this. The mob had swarmed around the ratty, old, blind-eyed baggage-car which, with an ordinary way-car, constituted the McWilliams Special.
“Now what does a man with McWilliams’s money want to travel special in an old photograph-gallery like that for?” asked Andy Cameron, who was the least bit huffed because he hadn’t been marked up for the run himself. ” You better take him in a cup of hot coffee, Sinkers,” suggested Andy to the lunch-counter boy. “You might get a ten-dollar bill if the old man isn’t feeling too badly. What do you hear from Denver, Neighbor?” he asked, turning to the superintendent of motive power. “Is the boy holding out?”
“I’m not worrying about the boy holding out; it’s whether the Five-Nine will hold out.”
“Aren’t you going to change engines and crews at Arickaree?”
“Not to-day,” said Neighbor, grimly; “we haven’t time.”
Just then Sinkers rushed at the baggage-car with a cup of hot coffee for Mr. McWilliams. Everybody, hoping to get a peep at the capitalist, made way. Sinkers climbed over the train chests which were lashed to the platforms and pounded on the door. He pounded hard, for he hoped and believed that there was something in it. But he might have pounded till his coffee froze for all the impression it made on the sleepy McWilliams.
“Hasn’t the man trouble enough without tackling your chicory?” sang out Felix Kennedy, and the laugh so discouraged Sinkers that he gave over and sneaked away.
At that moment the editor of the local paper came around the depot corner on the run. He was out for an interview, and, as usual, just a trifle late. However, he insisted on boarding the baggage-car to tender his sympathy to McWilliams.
The barricades bothered him, but he mounted them all, and began an emergency pound on the forbidding blind door. Imagine his feeling when the door was gently opened by a sad-eyed man, who opened the ball by shoving a rifle as big as a pinch-bar under the editorial nose.
“My grief, Mr. McWilliams,” protested the interviewer, in a trembling voice, “don’t imagine I want to hold you up. Our citizens are all peaceable —-”
“Why, man, I’m not even asking for a subscription; I simply want to ten —-”
“Get out!” snapped the man with the gun; and in a foam the newsman climbed down. A curious crowd gathered close to hear an editorial version of the ten commandments revised on the spur of the moment. Felix Kennedy said it was worth going miles to hear. “That’s the coldest deal I ever struck on the plains, boys,” declared the editor. “Talk about your bereaved parents. If the boy doesn’t have a chill when that man reaches him, I miss my guess. He acts to me as if he was afraid his grief would get away before he got to Denver.”
Meantime Georgie Sinclair was tying a silk handkerchief around his neck, while Neighbor gave him parting injunctions. As he put up his foot to swing into the cab the boy looked for all the world like a jockey toe in stirrup. Neighbor glanced at his watch.
“Can you make it by eleven o’clock?” he growled.
“Denver or the ditch, Neighbor,” laughed Georgie, testing the air. “Are you right back there, Pat?” be called, as Conductor Francis strode forward to compare the Mountain Time.
“Right and tight, and I call it five-two-thirty now. What have you, Georgie?”
“Five-two-thirty-two,” answered Sinclair, leaning from the cab window. “And we’re ready.”
“Then go!” cried Pat Francis, raising two fingers.
“Go!” echoed Sinclair, and waved a backward smile to the crowd, as the pistons took the push and the escapes wheezed.
A roar went up. The little engineer shook his cap, and with a flirting, snaking slide, the McWilliams Special drew slipping away between the shining rails for the Rockies.