Just Plain Nuts

I

MOST linemen act crazy at times. But Feldow was crazy. I should of knowed it the first time I seen him. It was a crazy sight. And the last I seen of him was worse than that. I still do see it when I’ve eat or drank something that don’t set good in my stomach just before I turn in.

I parked my car by the insulator dump and taken my belt and tools and walks across the tracks to where I could see the wire trains laying on the siding. It was about midnight and rainy; every wire in that yard was hot, and all the insulators was crackling and spitting flame where the rain run acrost them. You could just about feel the kilowatts chasing each other around in the wet. And they was plenty of kilowatts in that yard.

Outside the train I stopped and just looked up at it a minute. It’s good to be coming back to work when you been loafing. I liked seeing all that wire overhead again. And I kind of wanted to size up the yard, too. But it was too dark to see anything but the arcing, so I figured I’d just as well to go on in and learn it off the blueprints.

They was a lineman standing in the vestibule of the shop car as I swung into the train. I did n’t know then it was Feldow. I did n’t know who it was. He had his back turned to me and I could n’t even see that beard. All I could see was his size and them big arms stretched up to where a leak was spitting flame acrost a couple of bells in a cross-track feeder. He seemed to be trying to talk to it.

‘ Master! Master! ’

It sounded so crazy I figured I was n’t hearing it right. I thought they must be someone up a pole on the other side of the train and this guy was talking to him. So I just walks right by him and into the shop car. I hung my belt in the working end and went on in to the end where the men loafed. They was in there loafing, too. You could n’t never get a track to work on in that yard till after two o’clock. The traffic was too heavy in it.

I did n’t know no one in the gang, but I seen the Duke hanging over his blueprint table serious as ever, so I gets a cup of water and pours it in his back pocket and in a minute he feels it and turns around.

‘Jig!’ he says. ‘I was n’t looking for you till to-morrow night. How’d you get here so fast?’

‘Drove straight through when I got your wire. You says hurry, so I figures you meant just before now.’

‘Well, son, you’re a sight for sore eyes. Sure you ain’t too tired to work to-night?’

‘I ain’t worked since that damned horse put me in the income-tax lists. But I got it all spent and I’m fixing to go back to work like a honest man now. My belt’s hanging in the shop car.’

‘You can leave it there. You’re foreman of this wire train from now on. I’m general foreman of the whole job, but I ain’t dared get off the deck of this one train in a week. Slim and Bitch are the only two first-class men I got, and each of them is running his own train.

I had a guy running this one that the company sent out here as a catenary expert. The night he come out he walked acrost a wood-stick insulator with both hands on the body span!’

‘Where’d they bury him at?’

‘There was n’t much to bury. I was so disgusted I did n’t even go to the funeral.’

‘Everything in the yard hot?’

‘Just about. Work everything on a clearance basis. Some of the new stuff’s cold yet, but everything else is hot. And there’s a third rail to every track. I’d take you out and show you around, but it’s too dark to see anything. You’ll have to get it off the prints. Come over here and I ’ll show you what we’re doing to-night. It’s plenty.’

II

It was plenty. That job was one of the worst messes I was ever in. It was an old yard, one of the first ones ever to be electrified, and we was rebuilding all the old overhead wiring. We did n’t have nothing to do with the third rail, of course, only to keep out of the way of it. But everything overhead had to be rebuilt and replaced and they was a sight of new stuff to build, too. Traffic was so heavy there we could only use the tracks for about four hours a night. And we had to leave all the wire in the yard in shape for service by six-ten in the morning when the commuters’ trains begun again.

I did n’t think much of the gang the Duke give me. They was young and they looked green. The only one I knowed was Beckett Jakes, so I made him straw boss. He was a good lineman. He could read a print and follow orders and keep his head in tight places. He did n’t have no imagination about figuring out new stuff, but he was dependable and he was the best I had. By and by the Duke went over to Kincaid’s train and I calls Beckett in to me.

‘Glad to see you, Jig. How was Havana?’

‘Good. And richer now than when I went there. And God knows it’s warmer than this, but spring’s coming. What kind of linemen we got in this train ? ’

‘Sorry. They’re willing, but they’re young and dumb. And they’re scared.’

‘Scared of what?’

‘ Hot wire. They seen that guy burn hisself up and they ain’t forgot it. But they’re willing and you can steady ’em down all right.’

‘I and you,’ I says. ‘You’re my straw boss, Beckett.’

He liked that. ‘Jig, I’m right obliged to you. I’ll put out the work for you if it kills me.’

‘It won’t. I’ll be here with you and I’ll back you up on anything you do. Now tell me about this gang man by man.’

‘ Nothing to tell. They was all grunts before they come here and still would be if we could get good men. But the Eastern’s got most of the best men in the country. So we have to get along with these. They ’re all green — that is, all but Feldow. Did you notice him?’

‘Is he that big guy with the full beard that’s just come in off the vestibule and sets there by the stove reading?’

‘ Yeah. Notice what he’s reading?‘

‘No. I just noticed it because it ain’t a paper. I think I seen that guy outside when I come in. What’s he reading?’

‘The Bible.’

‘The Bible?’

‘Yeah. The Bible. If you don’t believe it, take a look.’

I taken a look. I been in a few wire trains and I did n’t figure nothing could happen in one would surprise me. But this did. Feldow was the biggest lineman I ever seen. I guess he was six feet six; with all his working clothes on he looked like a transposition tower. He had a full beard, too. He looked like some of them pictures of Klondikers. And he looked tough and nasty, too; like the guy that would be the trouble maker in a gang, the guy that kicks on the weather and always wants to do the job the way he seen it done somewhere else before. He just looked ugly as hell. But there he set hugging that Bible like he’d found something good in it.

And then I taken notice of something else. They was n’t no roughhousing in the train. No one setting fire to newspapers, no one throwing water, no jokes, no one laughing. There was n’t nothing in that train but the sound of the motor in the lighting plant humming quiet and even and the men setting around in two or three little groups talking in low tones like somebody’d just been hurt; and Feldow, setting there reading his Bible. It was too quiet. Outside they was a gale of wind blowing by the windows and the sound of the other trains whistling and clanking acrost the yard. But inside they was n’t nothing but the men whispering and the hum of that motor. That was all.

‘Cheerful bunch,’ I says to Beckett. ‘ Anyone killed last night ?‘

‘No. One of Imber’s men stepped off a span and broke his leg, but it ain’t that. They’re always like this.’

‘That fellow always reading his book so careful?’

‘That’s all he does but work.’

‘How’s his work?’

‘That’s the funny part of it. He’s the best lineman we got. I seen damned few anywhere was better.’

‘Funny I would n’t know him. Where does he come from?’

‘That’s funny, too. No one knows where he comes from. And we got men here been on every job in the country. He must of come from one of them jobs in the far West. He knows catenary work, though, and knows it good.’

‘What kind of guy is he?’

‘Nuts.’

‘What do you mean, nuts?’

‘Just plain nuts!’

‘Well, how does it show?’

‘Religious. When he first come out here he could n’t talk about nothing but God and sin. All the time trying to reform everyone. The guys just laughed at him. Then that goldbricker got burned up and Feldow he claimed it was punishment for sin. He talked so much about it that Slim Kincaid kicked him out of his train. But he’s such a good hot-wire man the Duke wanted to keep him; so he put him over in this train. He used to rave about it over here, but I shut him up.’

‘How?’

‘I asked him, if he was so crazy about God, why did n’t he touch something hot and go have a look at Him. That stopped him.’

‘How is he since?’

‘Nuts as ever, but he keeps it to himself. He won’t have nothing to do with the others only at work. And not much then. He mostly works alone. He works good, too — careful and fast and uses his head. And he can climb like a squirrel, big as he is. But if you try to talk to him about anything but work he just pops off at you with something about God or Jehovah or someone like that.’

‘You say he likes to work near hot wire?’

‘ Yeah. Nuts about it. That’s about all we use him for. He’s the only man in the outfit except me that’s safe with it. And he gets jealous when I work any of it. He loves it. The only time you’ll ever see him grin is when he’s right close to something hot. Then he grins to himself and talks about God. I guess maybe he figures God and electricity are about first cousins.‘

‘I don’t know nothing about that, but they ain’t nothing could introduce him to God faster than a hot wire. Is he careful when he’s near it? ’

‘Yeah. Steady as a rock. He’s jealous. He wants to do it all alone. He’s got the other men scared so they lay back, but he can do more than the whole bunch of them could anyway, so we’re better off as it is.‘

‘You say he hates you?’

‘Hates my guts. He knows I ain’t afraid of his nonsense.’

‘You can fire him if you like. I’ll back you up. I always stand behind my straw bosses.’

‘I don’t want to fire him. I got nothing against him. He’s just plain nuts. Cut I can look out for myself all right and he’s a good man to have in the train. We got too few of ’em as it is.’

‘You don’t reckon he’s just trying to get up nerve enough to burn hisself up like that guy over at the Eastern done this fall?’

‘No. What’s he waiting for if that’s what he wants to do? He’s had plenty of chances.’

‘All right. I’ll talk with him when I get time. Now when did you last inspect belts in this train?’

‘Monday night.’

‘All right. Go inspect them now. Body belts and safeties both. I’m going in to talk to the gang.’

III

I walks in to the other end of the car and stands there a second looking at them. I knowed they’d been talking about me. A gang always talks about a new boss. But no one says nothing when I went in and Feldow never even looks up. So I says: —

‘Boys, I want to talk to you a minute.’

One or two that was reading put down their papers and they all looked at me — all but Feldow. He goes right on reading like I was n’t there. I stood it a minute and then I seen he was n’t going to stop, so I says: —

‘Put down that book, lineman, and pay attention! ’

I figures if I was going to have trouble with him, then was the time to have it. But we did n’t have no trouble. He looks up perfectly calm and closes the book and listens.

‘ I’m your new boss. You can call me Jig. I only got two rules; if you follow them I’m the easiest guy to get along with you ever seen. One of them is to work safe and the other is to work hard. Beckett Jakes is straw boss from now on. You’ll obey his orders the same as if they was mine.’

They all nod, the way guys will when they ain’t sure whether you want them to say something but want you to know they heard what you said. Feldow was the only one who opened his mouth. He just, kind of bows and says: —

‘I see thy hand.’

He did n’t say it like it was meant for me, either. He did n’t say it like it was meant for no one. The minute he says it all the other guys look around at each other like they was doing when I taken that squint at them through the door— kind of scared. It puzzles me, but I figure I better not let it go. So I looks right at him and says: —

‘Don’t be stingy with yourself, lineman! You can see both my hands any time you want! ’

The other guys set up right smart and looks from me to Feldow and back again. They about half figured a fight out of it. But Feldow either did n’t want to fight or he had n’t meant nothing by it. Cause all he does is set there still looking not quite at me and say it again: —

‘I see thy hand.’

‘Well, if all you want to do is to look at it, I guess I won’t break no bones in it for a while!’

And then I goes over to my table and starts trying to find a night’s work in the blueprints.

About two-twelve the special-duty man comes in and says we can have Track 3 for fifty-six minutes. I’d got the work figured out all right, so I tells him to roll us down under the signal bridge and hang the train there for a while.

I went out and inspected my ground sticks and then I woke up the boys and told them it was last chance for coffee for about a hour. After that we just set around and waited till the train taken us out there. When we got there we had to wait on a clearance report, cause everything down at that end of the yard was hotter than a electric chair. I took notice the boys seemed a little nervous, so I says to them: —

‘It’s all hot down here, boys. You stay right in the car till I’ve seen the ground sticks on. After that you’re all right. If you got any doubt about anything, don’t go near it till I O.K. it.’

That cheered ’em up some. As soon as the clearance man come in for me to sign the slip, I taken the whole gang outside and showed ’em the ground sticks with my flashlight.

‘All right, boys. You seen them grounds with your own eyes. Nothing with a ground stick can bite you even if they make a mistake and shoot it hot from the dispatcher’s office right while we’re working it. Let’s go!’

They come laughing up the ladders after me just as cheerful as you please. I was in front of ’em and I stood right in the glare of a dishpan light and stuck my bare hand on the wire where they could all see me do it. It’s remembering to do little things like that that gets a gang to trust you.

You would of thought them old-time designers laid out yards with the special purpose of burning up linemen instead of running trains. This old yard was full of death traps. I guess that was one of the reasons we was rebuilding it.

We was tearing out old feeder wire that night. I’d started with that because it was easy and it give me a chance to size up my men before we got to anything tough or tricky. The feeder run right along the messenger there and the messenger was low. I had all the towers on my tower cars run up high and we could work most of it right from the decks. All we had to do was take the wire locks off and let the old feeder right down on the deck. We cut it into short sections as we done it, of course, so they was n’t no danger of a long piece swinging around and kissing something hot over one of the other tracks.

Wherever it was too high to reach right from the deck, I made the boys use ladders. They would of clumb right up on the messenger and set there while they worked, but I stuck to the ladders. A man on a ladder is safer. He ain’t so apt to lose his balance and grab for something. And they was too many places in that yard where a man could grab something hot.

The men done fine. It was dark as sin and they was a gale blowing, for it had stopped raining and turned off cold. But we had a good lighting plant and plenty of dishpan lights. And they was a good spirit in the gang. Each of the guys was taking his regular turn at all the parts of the work. They did n’t wait on turns, either. They crowded each other to get at the work, which is one sign of a good gang. All but Feldow, that is. Feldow was n’t crowding no one.

While we was out in mid-span farthest from the hot wire, he just stomped up and down the deck, picking up a wire lock or handing someone the bolt cutters once in a while, but not really doing nothing. I would of arced at him, but I remembered what Beckett had said, so I just kept quiet till we come to some hot stuff. There I arced at him, but it was to hold him back.

The feeder finally run into a bus line about fifteen foot above the deck. And they was only about a four-foot section of that bus dead. But I had n’t no more than stopped the train under it when Feldow hooked a long ladder into that dead section and starts up. None of them other guys tried to crowd him out and do it theirselves like they done with each other, neither. He barks at one of them: —

‘Hold that ladder from swinging!’

And up he went climbing like a scared cat. I did n’t really doubt him, but I did n’t like so much hurrying around hot wire.

So I arcs at him: —

‘Just a minute there, lineman!’

He stops about halfway up the ladder and looks down at me. They was something in his eyes like I never seen nowhere before. I could n’t tell what it was. I had a funny feeling it was n’t Feldow behind that face at all. It was something else, something looking out of his eyes, something — well, goofy. The other men had quit talking and the light made them look funny, too. They just stood there not saying nothing; all you could hear was the whining of the wind and the hum of the kilowatts in the hot wire all around us. And nothing to see but a bunch of faces looking all strange like deck lamps make guys look and Feldow looking down at me from the ladder. I had a kind of a feeling maybe he was going to jump off that ladder right onto me. But just then a blast of wind knocked the ladder out of the hand of the guy who was holding it. The hooks held the ladder all right, but Feldow taken a long swing on it. And that seemed to make things all right again. I grabs the ladder and tells the guy was holding it to watch his work. And when I looks up at Feldow he looks like a man again.

‘You understand that whole bus is hot on both sides of them section insulators, Feldow?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘All right. See to it you keep in the clear. And don’t drop the end of the feeder. Pass it down to someone’s hand no matter how short it is when you cut it. I ain’t taking no chances with even a scrap bouncing off this deck and into that third rail.’

‘Yes, sir. I’ll get it all right.’

He did, too. I ain’t seen many men work easier. He swung up that ladder just as easy as he’d of rolled into bed. He belted hisself up short to it and went to work, elbows close to him, body still, no quick motions, no reaching around, no struggle. He kept the handles of the bolt cutters close to him, too. You could of passed his whole body through a eighteen-inch pipe and not bothered his work. He could keep it that close to him. He balanced hisself good on the ladder and when he was done he come down it like oil flowing down a stick. After I’d seen that I made up my mind to keep him no matter how nuts he was.

IV

He was just as nuts as he was good, though. He would n’t do a stroke with no one else. He always made out a good reason. Just when I stopped the train at a new place he’d be splicing a line or working the stiffness out of a wire lock or fooling with some hardware or any damned thing to keep him busy till the other guys got paired. Then he’d jump in and find something they had n’t found and do it hisself— and do it good. He was smart about finding work and what he done counted. Only he just would do it alone. And whenever we got near something hot the others would lay back till he’d found what he wanted and went to work on it — alone. And they did n’t kid him about it like they done each other.

He loved that hot wire. I never seen nothing like it. I did n’t catch on to how much till I went to pull the grounds after our first shot. We was all done and the conductor was standing down on the track raw hiding me to be off there. They was a express due on the track I was on in about seven minutes and I guess the conductor did n’t trust me to have sense to clear for it. Lots of conductors are like that.

‘For God’s sake get that thing off there!’ he bawls.

‘Quit crying!‘ I tells him. ‘It won’t be God’s worry when I get mine. It’ll just be a joke on the Devil. I’ll be off here in one minute if that engineer’s awake.’

He stomps off toward the signal tower and I guess he would of throwed the block against that express in another two minutes. But we was only about thirty seconds from the switch and I was all set to move.

‘Everybody down! I’m pulling the grounds and giving up the power. No one on deck again till I O.K. it!’

The boys jumps for the ladders, tickled to death to get a chance at the stove and coffee, and I starts to take off my ground when I seen Feldow. He was standing in the shadow of a dishpun light, just standing there watching me. When he seen I seen him he give a start.

‘I’d like to pull that ground for you, sir.’

‘Did n’t you hear me say, “Everybody down”?’

‘Yes, sir, but I understand hot wire. Let me pull that stick for you while you signal the engine for your move.’

He was about half asking me and half telling me. He was looking at the end of the ground stick where it was hooked on the wire. And his eyes was all funny again. Mad as I was, I was scared. Not scared of sticking the express and not scared of Feldow. It was something else — something that come into his eyes whenever he got near anything hot. I walks over to him kind of shivering inside and feeling like I was in the wrong. I never had no one make me feel like that before.

‘Feldow, get down that ladder before I knock you down it!’

His eyes come right the minute I said it. He jumps for the ladder and tumbles down it without a word. I went back and unscrewed my ground stick. Then I ducked, cause the yard was lousy with induction, and lifted it off the wire. It give a little spurting snap and they was a arc of flame spat about four inches from the wire to the end of the stick just like it generally does. But just with that arc I heard something else. It come from the end of the shop-car vestibule where Feldow had just went down and it made my blood run cold.

‘ Master!’

Just that. I whips my head over the side, thinking someone must of stuck his foot in the third rail. But they was n’t no flash down there nor no stink. And then I seen the door of the shop car was open, though none of the boys would of left it open as cold a night as that. But that scream — if I’d had time to think about it I might of took to believing in a Devil again. I did n’t have time, though. I had to move the train. So I signals the engineer and in a minute we was up in the clear and I goes down into the shop car.

The boys was standing by the stove drinking coffee. But they was drinking it quiet, not laughing and kidding like they ought to be, to be in out of the cold for a while. I looks over beyond them and there set Feldow with his face in the Bible. He had n’t even pulled his gloves off. He was just setting there reading like he had n’t been out all evening. I walks over to him.

‘Feldow.’

‘Sir?’

‘Did you holler at me when you come down off the deck just now?’

‘No, sir.’

‘Did you holler at all?’

‘No, sir.’

‘Did you hear anyone holler?’

‘No, sir.’

Beckett steps up. ‘What’s wrong, Jig?’

‘I heard something funny just when I pulled that ground. All hands in the train?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Take a flashlight and go back there where we just come from and make sure one of them grunts from the other train did n’t fall and hurt hisself on the way over to our train for something.’

Beckett goes off and I turns to the gang.

‘Boys, when I say, “Everybody down,” that’s what it means. If I catch any of you waiting on deck after I ’ve said it, he’d better have a parachute on!’

The guys nod to each other and Feldow he waits for a second to be sure I’m through and then he picks up the Bible. In ten minutes Beckett comes in and says everything’s O.K.

It might of been the wind. They was a awful wind blowing, and sometimes at night it makes mighty queer sounds over a railroad yard. I’d just about decided that was it when I come to remember that open door. The wind never blowed that door open. And then I remembered how I seen Feldow looking up at them arcs over the leaky insulators when I come into the train. He’d been saying, ‘ Master! ’ then. And the more I thought about it, the surer I was Beckett had it right. The guy really was nuts. And he must of thought God and electricity was just about. first cousins the way he acted when he seen a arc. I thought about canning him right off for that lie. But he was a good lineman no matter what he thought, and I’d seen enough of my train to know I needed a good lineman in it.

V

The rest of the night everything went smooth as a good garter. Feldow did n’t take no more spells. It got cold and they was n’t no arcs showing the way they will when it’s wet and warm. Beckett done fine with the straw bossing and the rest of the guys done the best they could, which was n’t too bad.

In the morning, after we’d cleared up and I’d sent the gang home, the Duke come in. I was making out my swindle and he taken a look at it and grins all over.

‘That’s the kind of a progress sheet I’ve been wanting to see for three weeks. How’s your gang t’

‘You can read what we done.’

‘No. No. The work’s all right. I mean the men themselves.’

‘O.K. I would n’t want to go into a four-track breakdown with ’em, but in a month I ’ll have a good gang out of ’em.’

‘Beckett all right?’

‘Doing fine. I cut the train oncet and give him half and he done good with it.’

‘What do you think of Feldow?’

‘O.K. on the work. Goofy otherwise. But I ain’t no missionary. He’s got just as much right to read the Bible when we’re cleared up as the other guys got to read the racing charts.’

‘That’s the way I figure it. You can can him any time you like. But he’s a valuable man if you can get the work out of him.’

‘That’s what I’m paid to do, ain’t it?’

The Duke mostly left us alone on that job. He trusted me and Slim and Bitch and he had men in the substation he did n’t, so we never seen much of him.

For a week or more we done fine. It was clear and cold and we rawhided to keep warm and done a lot of work. Feldow, he done more than any three men in the train. I’d just begun to forget about that queerness the first night when we hit another wet warm spell.

We was changing over switches on some sectionalizing feeders and the work had to be done away from the train. The switches set up on bracket racks on the poles. Changing ’em was tricky work. The racks was about forty foot above the ground in the first place, and in the second they was so small a man could n’t work on them and keep more than about fifteen inches from the hot side. If it had n’t been for Feldow I’d of done it myself. It ain’t right to send kids like I had into a mess like that. Beckett could of done it, but I’d had to lend him to Slim for tensioning. So Feldow done them for me and he was a wizard at it.

Well, the night it turned warm, Feldow was over changing a switch for me. I could n’t even get my train on the track next to the pole. He’d clumb up to the body beam and gone acrost on that.

’I’ve sent a grunt with a water lamp over to the butt of the pole, Feldow. Drop your hand line to him and he’ll land the old junk for you and pull you up the new. And remember, everything’s hot on the west side of that switch.’

‘Yes, sir. I’ll get it all right.’

I could only hold the track I was on about twenty-five minutes, so I put the gang to riveting and put the spotlight over onto Feldow to help him.

’I got to be off here in about twenty minutes, Feldow. If it gets to raining too bad or you can’t see with just that lamp after I’ve gone, you can come down and walk over to the train and get some coffee and finish up when we get that long shot after four o’clock.’

‘I’m all right. Take that light offen me. It blinds me.’

It kept getting wetter and wetter and everything in the yard was spitting and flashing by the time I had to move, so I calls to him again.

‘Got to clear up, Feldow. You can knock off if you want till we get back.’

‘Even in darkness and doubt I shall serve thee!’ he shouts. And the minute I hears his voice I knowed he was nuts again. But just then the conductor come running out with a order I got to clear right away. As luck would have it, it was a freight about a mile long, and by the time I got my train up to the siding, that freight had cut me off from walking over to where Feldow was at. I could n’t get up on deck to put the spotlight on him, either, cause we was lying under low hot wire.

The tail end of that freight had n’t no more than cleared when I starts to walk over. I could n’t get my train off the siding for ten minutes and I was worried about that nut. His voice had sounded awful bad when I had to clear. I’d just stepped around the end of the freight when I bumped right smack into Feldow’s grunt.

‘For God’s sake, Jig, come over here!’

‘What’s wrong? Feldow burnt?’

‘No. He’s all right that way. But I think he’s gone nuts!’

‘He could n’t. He’s nuts already. How’s it showing?’

‘Ever since this rain come on so bad just after you cleared, he’s taken to shouting about would n’t the mast arm be guyed. They ain’t no mast arm on that pole, is they?’

‘No. They ain’t one in six poles of there. And it ain’t got nothing to do with what he’s working noway. Are you sure you heard him right?‘

‘No. He was n’t saying it to me noway. He was just shouting up at them big transmission insulators where they’re leaking.’

‘Well, we’ll go take a look.’

‘Jig, I ain’t going back there. I’m quitting.’

‘What do you mean, quitting?’

‘I’m through. I won’t work around a guy like that.’

He was just a kid or I ’d of smacked him.

‘Come on, son, take a brace. I’m going back there and you’re coming with me. He ain’t going to hurt you with me there.’

‘I’ll go if you will, then. But it’s something awful. No good ever come of a guy reading the Bible and praying like he does all the time noway.’

‘Or shooting craps and drinking and tomcatting like the rest of us do, either! What do you care what he does? You don’t have to do it!’

‘You come over and see!’

I went and the kid was right. It was something awful to see. You could n’t see much of it, either. The light from the water lamp did n’t get up that far and his lantern was n’t showing nothing. All they was was little patches of moonlight showing through the clouds. We could just see him kneeling on the rack. He must of been within six inches of the hot side and he had both hands raised up over his head like he was reaching for something. Every little while a swirl of that fog would close in and then we could n’t see him. And what he was reaching for I don’t know. They was n’t nothing above him but them transmission lines spitting and flashing and making that noise like a million mad rattlesnakes. It give me the creeps.

‘Feldow, you all right?’

He acted like he did n’t hear me, though the men on Kincaid’s train looked up and they was a quarter of a mile off. And then he taken to talking.

‘Master, guide me! Master, guide me!’

The moon come out full for a minute and there he was, cap off, beard dripping rain, and about half crying and half whining.

I await thy word, Master. Guide

me! ’

The kid beside me shook all over.

‘God, ain’t that awful?’

‘I got to get him. He might stick his hands right into them kilowatts if he goes on like this. Hold that lamp to give me all of it you can! ’

‘Don’t go up there alone, Jig! Something awful’ll happen if you go up there in the dark with him! Get some help!’

I seen the kid was like to faint. I did n’t want to go up there myself. But I did n’t want that fool to burn hisself up, neither. And I knowed if I did n’t go after him I’d spend the rest of my life knowing I was yellow.

‘Hold that light like you’re told before I take these pliers and beat your brains out!’

It was hard to climb in the dark. I did n’t have no steel skates, neither, but I was just as glad of that cause they make a racket and I figured my only chance was to get at him quiet. I kept in to the back side of the pole, where he could n’t see me. I did n’t like that climb much. I knowed where all the hot wire on that pole should of been, but I did n’t know what changes he might of made. I did n’t want to climb into no hot lead just because I could n’t see it. I could hear good, though, and, wet as it was, I figured I’d hear the hum in anything before I got to it.

Well, I got to the beam and over it all right. I was just going to stick my hands on the hang brace above it and swing up onto that when I struck my chin right smack into a wire. It give me a awful scare. Of course, the minute I felt it I knowed I was safe. You never feel the wire that burns you up. But all the same it scares you to find a lead like that where you know it ain’t got no place to be. I could n’t see it, it was that dark again. But I knowed better than to move till I could. I just stood still and waited. A gust of wind and rain hit them transmission insulators again and they begun to spit harder than ever. The minute they did, Feldow begun to talk to them.

‘Guide me, Master, guide me! In darkness and doubt have I waited thy word. Faithfully and well have I served thee. Thy weapon waits in my hand for thy guidance. In flame shall I cleanse their sins that they may come to thy presence purged of evil! Guide me, Master, guide me!’

Just then the moon come out and I taken a look at that wire I’d bumped. It was a scrap of feeder tap, part of the junk he’d dismantled. But it was n’t dismantled. It was wire-locked to the new cold side of the feeder, and the tail of it was run back over the hang brace. The way he had it rigged, all he would of had to do was to stand on the beam and throw that tail into the hot side of the switch. The minute it hit there it would shoot every damned one of them fourteen thousand volts right through into the messenger of Track 3. And every man in Slim Kincaid’s train was working on that Track 3 messenger a quarter of a mile away.

But here was the funny part of it. Slim had a ground stick on that messenger. And Feldow knowed it, cause that same ground was protecting him. He seen me and Slim check it before he went over to the pole to work. And so he could n’t of burned up Slim’s train if he’d wanted. He could scare the sin out of them, but he could n’t hurt them and he knowed it. I could n’t figure that out.

I tied his freak lead to the brace where it was grounded good and then I slips up the pole to where I was just behind him. He was still kneeling on the rack with his back to me, but he was n’t talking no more. I got close enough to grab him if my voice made him jump and then I says: —

‘How you getting on, Feldow?’

I had my pliers in my hand and I thought I was going to need them. He whips around and glares at me like the animals in a zoo when people stick umbrellas through the bars. Dark as it was, I could see his eyes shining like a couple of burning torches. I held my pliers right where he could see them catching the glare off the water lamp. It was a bum place for a fight, but I had the best of it, cause I had one leg locked through a step and he was out on the rack with nothing to grab but insulators and half of them hot. He looks at me.

‘I’m finished stripping. I was waiting on you to bring the train back with the new junk. I sent the grunt over for it and he said it ain’t, done yet.’

As soon as he spoke about the work he was just as steady as you’d want. I calmed down, too, hearing him talk so natural, and I taken his lantern and got a look at what he’d done. I kept in good position to kick him off if he acted funny. But he did n’t. His work was done and done good.

‘ What you got that lead running off the cold side of your switch for?’

‘Extra ground for double protection. If one of Kincaid’s men was to stick a long hanger into something hot the surge would come this way.’

‘The hell it would! It’s grounded on the signal bridge between here and there! ’

‘I don’t trust other people’s grounds.’

‘If you put it on for a ground, why did n’t you lock it to that brace instead of just laying it acrost the top like that?’

‘The weight of it’s enough to make all the contact it needs on as wet a night as this. I was going to take it off the minute I finished anyhow.’

And they was just enough truth in all that to make me half believe it. No matter what he said in that crazy prayer, he had enough lineman’s sense to know he could n’t burn up Kincaid’s train as long as that ground stick was there. And he knew enough about Slim to know he’d be using his test pantograph for a extra ground anyway.

‘Feldow, did you hear me holler at you from the butt of this pole a minute ago?’

‘No, sir.’

‘It’s funny you would n’t. The men on that train halfway acrost the interlocking heard it and looked up!’

‘I did n’t hear a thing. This leakage is making an awful racket.’

It was, too. He was cunning as hell, that guy. Everything he done he had about a half excuse for.

‘How long you been done?’

‘Maybe ten minutes.‘

‘And you did n’t hear me?’

‘No, sir.’

‘What you been doing since you finished — smoking?’

‘I have not. Nor have I ever smoked or sinned in any form, though I know that I am born in sin, live in sin, and will die in sin with the single hope of redemption in the service of . . .’

‘Cut out that nonsense! Do you like your job?’

He got down on his knees at that. Right down on his knees and held up his arms to me like he’d done to them arcs.

‘Forgive me, forgive me! Please forgive me! Make me your tool; use me as you will, but forgive my erring ways. I will do anything for you, anything. I will save your soul if you but forgive me. I . . .‘

I felt foolish as hell to have the poor nut begging me like that.

‘Look here, Feldow. I got no fault to find with your work. It’s first class. But I would n’t let them other guys spend the company’s time sinning on the job and I can’t let you spend it praying when it fouls the work. You’re only working ten hours a night. Suppose you rig it to get your praying done by day.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘And take that crazy grounding contraption off right away. Kincaid’s got two grounds protecting you.’

‘Yes, sir.’

VI

He’d come right again and he was so set to please I did n’t have the heart to say no more. I wondered as I slid down the pole whether I ought n’t to of canned him. But I needed him like the devil. He was worth any three men I had, now that I’d had to give Beckett to Slim. And he proved it the rest of the night. He rawhided it all alone up there in the cold and wet and left a sweet job behind him. I was just giving him a good word on it when Slim Kincaid come through the door of the train. We was cleared up for the night and the men was standing around the stove taking off their wet clothes. Slim looks at me like a thundercloud.

‘Jig, what the hell was the idea of taking my ground stick off that signal bridge?’

That burnt me up. Slim knew me too well to think I’d move a ground of my own, much less anybody else’s, without warning everyone in the yard.

‘I never touched your damned ground. What do you mean?’

‘Somebody pulled my ground stick off the signal bridge and just left it laying . . .‘

‘Master, forgive me! Forgive my erring . . .’

I jumped, but I missed him. He’d broke for the door, bawling and screaming, just ahead of me. On the vestibule I stops long enough to throw my pliers at him and I hit him, too — hit him right in the back of the head. They knocked him down, but he was up again and running like a deer before I could catch him. I chased him awhile, but I did n’t have a chance. So by and by I give it up and come back to the train.

‘I could n’t catch him, Slim. But I bet if I ever do, him and that God of his shakes hands two minutes later.’

I drawed Slim a plan of the way that nut had it rigged to burn him up, and Slim he scratches his head.

‘It’s all right as far as it goes, but he did n’t figure far enough. Stealing that ground offen the signal bridge was n’t enough. I had my test pantograph up and he knowed it. He could of throwed a hundred thousand volts right acrost our train and never done no more harm than scare us as long as that test pan was up. That’s how come us not to get no static when he taken our ground offen the signal bridge. The yard was lousy with static to-night.’

‘ Slim, let’s take a look at the grounding on your test pan and mine.’

We done it, and both grounds was cut. They ’d been cut by a man that knowed his business, too. He’d left just enough copper there to ground static. But it never would of grounded no hot surge.

‘ Well, Jig, I ’m right sorry I was so hot with you. I reckon they can’t no one be blamed for what a crazy man does.’

‘You reckon he wanted you and Beckett special and was willing to burn up the whole train to get you two, or do you think he just wanted all he could get?’

‘Can’t tell. He hated me. He was in my train before you come back from Havana and I told the Duke I would n’t keep him. He had all my guys sore from telling them they was sinners.’

‘Did you have words with him?’

‘Not special. I just told him they was a whole big world around us and God could run every last bit of it to suit Hisself except just that one train I’m paid to be boss of. Then he taken to hollerin’ about blasphemy or some such nonsense and I got the Duke to transfer him.’

‘Well, I guess that’s the last of him.’

‘If it ain’t, the next time I see him will be. I bet I could break that thick skull with my pliers even if you could n’t!’

VII

You never seen a change in a gang like they was in mine after we’d got rid of Feldow. The boys taken his tools and throwed ’em in the river and then they burnt his belt and safety in the stove, and after that everything was just right. They shot craps when the train was cleared up and laughed and joked and told lies about their women and really acted natural again. And, much as I missed Feldow’s work, I was glad to be shut of him.

We had a lot of trouble building that yard, though. We got a carload of bum insulators, for example. Every time we’d cut in a set and move the train away from them for a hour, they’d smash. Just shatter. The metal fittings held all right, but them porcelain skirts just shattered from the strain. None of the boys got cut because they never done it while we was near them. We got a bunch of insulator experts from the factory and wasted a week fooling around with them, but they could n’t find out nothing. They finally guessed it was a bad strain of clay in the porcelain.

And then our wire would n’t hold a tension. It was n’t the turnbuckles slipping, neither, cause we wired them. It did n’t lose no tension out in the hot parts of the yard, but in the new tracks we just could n’t seem to hold it from one night to the next. Slim and I like to had words over it. I figured it was some of his green men using the instruments careless, though it was n’t like Slim to have that kind of stuff going on in his train. And he seemed to figure I wasn’t reading my tension charts right, though he knowed me too well to figure that way.

And then one wet night a big kite with a long heavy cord on it got away from somewhere and come right down acrost a couple of hot tracks. It blowed the breakers and burnt a lot of wire up and generally made a hell of a mess. It’s a wonder it did n’t kill half of us.

But somehow we got the job done and come to the last night. The work was all done. All we was doing was taking the permanent grounds off where we had ’em wire-locked to the new stuff and making a last inspection before they give it the load. They was just them two new tracks of the new stuff that was going to be shot hot at two o’clock. They was sectionalized from the rest of the yard with air breaks that was cut in right under the signal bridge.

A air break is just a insulating rig. You use it to cut a yard up into sections so you can get the power shut off while you work in one section and leave the rest of the yard hot for service. It’s a tricky thing to work near, cause in the break itself you only got about sixteen inches between hot and cold wires. And all them fourteen thousand volts in the hot are always just waiting for someone’s hand or arm or shoulder or tool to give ’em a path to surge acrost into the cold.

Well, that night I and Slim had our trains laying side by side just under the signal bridge and at the cold end of our breaks; his train under his and mine under mine. We was making the last adjustments and making ’em mighty careful, cause a surge or flash in there might of got us all.

Beckett, he was over in Slim’s train and he wanted to get something off mine. Instead of going down off the deck and walking acrost on the ground, he dumb up onto the signal bridge and starts to come acrost it. It was pitch dark up on the bridge and the first thing we knowed of it was the scream. It was the awfulest thing you’ll ever hear. Slim sticks a light up and there was Feldow.

He must of been laying on that bridge right above us all night. From the look of his hair and beard he’d been laying there a month. And Beckett had stepped right on him. We seen him stand up and lift Beckett over his head like a crate of insulators. Beckett had his pliers out and was beating him over the head like you would a mad dog, but Feldow did n’t pay no attention, though his face was already streaming blood. He just reached Beckett higher and higher. Slim give the light to a grunt and jumps for the bridge just the same time I did.

‘Watch out, Beckett! He’s trying to throw you acrost that break!’

He was, too. Beckett was stout, but he was small. Feldow could of throwed him any time he wanted. But he did n’t. He just held him there and turned that bloody face up to the sky while Beckett beat it.

‘Guide me, Master, guide me! In thy name shall I visit them with destruction! With flame shall l purge them that they be pure in thy sight!‘

It give me and Slim time to get up onto the bridge and get our hands on Beckett. But we could n’t even pull him down. Feldow held him there like the bolts hold a cross arm on a pole.

‘Catch Beckett, Slim!‘

I had n’t dared hit Feldow cause he was holding Beckett right over the air break. But I was afraid he’d drop him any minute. Slim braces hisself to hold Beckett and I reaches back for a good swing with the pipe wrench I ’d brung. But I never swings it. Just then he stops screaming and hands Beckett to Slim like he was giving him a cigarette. He looks at that air break fifteen foot or so below us and then he looks up at the sky again. Slim catches on right away.

‘Duck, boys! Flash!’

I heard the guys throwing theirselves down on the decks just as Feldow tore hisself out of my hands. He hollered once more: —

‘Master, I come!’

And he jumps right into the air break. . . .

VIII

I and Slim paid for the funeral. They was n’t no one else to do it. All the names of relatives and addresses he’d give the company was fakes. We never learned nothing more about him and I guess we never will. After we’d cleaned up the mess that morning I and Slim and Beckett set around talking.

‘I bet he knows who’s first cousin of them kilowatts now,’says Beckett. ‘I bet he’s giving the Devil a worse time than he give me.’

‘You ought n’t to kick,’says Slim. ‘I thought we was going to lose a lot more than just our eyebrows when that flash hit us. We come out lucky. He could of thro wed you into that break if he’d wanted. He could of killed the rest of us, too. He must of had any God’s number of chances while he was living in that lousy drainpipe by day and sneaking around busting insulators and slacking tension by night. It makes you sorry to see as good a man as that wind up that way.’

‘I ain’t kicking,’ says Beckett. ‘But I ain’t sorry, either. I hope he’s in the bottom of hell. That’s the only place for a guy like that. He was just plain nuts.’