Remarks: None

I

I WAS sorry for Regan. He was a good lineman when that woman left him alone. He was n’t the best I ever seen. He was too young and he had n’t been around enough. But at that he was good enough to rate a job in a good wire train. And if he could of had a decent chancet at breaking in he would of been hard to beat. But he did n’t, and he ain’t likely to get it now until they electrify hell.

I needed another lineman and I was just about to tell the Man to send me out one when Scarfe got me to put Regan on. We’d cleared up one morning and the men was hanging up their tools and taking off their overalls in the shop car. The night’s work was all done and I was writing it up on the swindle sheet when Scarfe come up to the drafting table.

’I got a friend I want to get a job for, Jig. What’s the chance of getting him into this train?’

‘Is he a good lineman?’

‘He’s as good as I am on transmission work.’

‘That’d be good enough for me if this was transmission work, Scarfe. But it ain’t. How is he on catenary?’

‘I don’t think he ever worked none on railroad electrifyin’.’

‘Then why don’t he get him another job at tower building or wire stringing? They’s plenty of that going on.’

Scarfe looks kind of funny. ‘Well, Jig, I think it’s his wife. All the transmission work’s out in the sticks. I think she kind of likes to live near the bright lights, so he wants to get a job here.’

I was surprised to hear nonsense like that out of Scarfe. He’s got right good sense. So I arced at him a little.

‘I suppose if this guy’s wife taken a notion she wanted to see the West Coast, I’d have to take this wire train out there and electrify some of them redwood trees, would n’t I?’

‘Lay off it, Jig. This guy’s a friend of mine and needs a job bad.‘

‘Sounds to me like what he needs is a divorce or a club to beat some sense into that woman. The whole rig’s bum, Scarfe. You say yourself this guy’s never been in a wire train. What good would he be to us out here rebuilding this interlocking at night while he was wondering which of them bright lights was shining down on his woman? You know what this job’s like. You can’t afford to have a guy on it that’s seeing blue eyes where he ought to be seeing red lights. Don’t look so huffy: I meant signal lights.’

‘He’s a good man, Jig. I could carry him a few nights, and after he caught on he’d cut it fine.’

‘ He might. But I can get men that ’ll cut it fine the first night.’

‘Jig, I’d like it mighty well to . . .‘

‘Sorry, Scarfe. But as long as I can get men that know the difference between a cross-track feeder and a rivet gun, it’s only fair to the company to do it. Sorry, but it’s no dice.’

Just then the engineer come in for me to sign the release slip for the engine, and the other linemen scrambled out to ride it back to the transfer. Scarfe he did n’t go with ’em, though. He waited till they was all gone and him and me was the only ones left in the train. Then he come over to me again.

’Jig, I rigged this wrong. I should of knowed better and I’m sorry. Now I want to tell you the truth about this Regan guy.’

‘All right, Scarfe, let her rip.’

‘Me and Regan was buddies for years. Clumb buddies on half a dozen big transmission jobs. He was as good a lineman as ever wore a belt, considering he was young. Then he met up with a broad out there in the sticks where some guy had ditched her. He fell for her something awful. She seen he was making good money, so she marries him. He’d been shooting craps and he had a roll you could of used to guy a gin pole with. So she got him to quit his job and go to town to spend it. He done it. Then when his dough was gone and he wanted to look up another job and make some more she would n’t leave town. He went off alone finally and come out to the job where I was at. He was useless; like to fell out of every tower he clumb. All the time he was worryin’ about that woman. The Man finally canned him. But he goes down to the pool hall and knocks off another little roll with them dice. And then he goes back to his wife and they spend it. That’s been going on now about three years. The reason he don’t get a transmission job is he’s blackballed with every company in this part of the country. I’ve got him into jobs before; he done fine with ’em till that woman got to bothering him and then it’s the same old story. I figured she’d quit him and so the best thing was just to let it drift till she did. But she ain’t going to quit him. She ain’t getting any younger or fancier and she knows how good them dice can treat him when they take the notion.’

‘And he puts up with it?’

‘Laps it up. He thinks the sun just comes out to light up them gold teeth of hers.’

‘ Somebody ought to lay her out real careful on a pile of broken bottles and run a steam roller over her a few times.’

‘I’d like to burn her heart out with a steel torch, but I doubt if a torch’d cut into where it’s at. That would n’t do Regan no good, noway. He’s still nuts about her and always will be till he gets over it by hisself. You can’t say nothin’ to him. I tried when he was first fixing to marry her. All that come of it was him pulling his pliers on me. Yes, he did — and him and me good friends, too. I taken his pliers away and throwed ’em out a window and told him to wise up. But he would n’t wise up then, and he ain’t since. And now he’s in a bad way. His belt and tools is in hock, and unless you’ll give him a chancct they might as well stay there. I don’t think he never worked at nothing but line work, and he would n’t want to, noway.’

‘You say he’s a good lineman.’

‘Yes. He’ll catch on to railroad work fast. I think he might come out of it and get shut of this broad if he could get back on a good job again. I hate to pester you about it, but it’s serious. I kind of feel like it might be the last chance he’d ever get. I was n’t never going to say nothing about this, Jig, but I would n’t be here talking to you if it was n’t for him. He done me about the same kind of favor I done you last winter and . . .’

‘O.K., Scarfe. I did n’t know it was that serious with you.’

Scarfe had done me what he called a favor. It was on a breakdown. He’d dumb about forty yards through a mess of broke and burning wire a asbestos squirrel could n’t of crossed to where I was hanging in my belt so cold I did n’t even know my overalls was on fire. He beat out the fire and carried me over to a body beam, walking and crawling all the way along wire I would n’t of hung a lunch bucket on. Him and me had beds side by side in the hospital for almost a month, but I never did learn the whole story till the day they come in to give him the medal.

‘Bring him out to-night, then. But remember, I ain’t promising to keep him unless he can cut it. I’d like to do you both a favor, now I know all about it, but this work’s too risky to fool with a man that ain’t on his toes.‘

‘Much obliged, Jig. I’ll carry him till he gets going.’

II

Regan come in with Scarfe that night about ten-thirty. He was a nice-looking guy, not big like Scarfe, but not no runt. He looked soft like he had n’t been working for a while, but he had a kind of a good-natured face and good steady eyes. And he had a way about him I liked, not nervous or jerky, but quick and easy-moving. You could see he was a lineman right off; he walked like one and he talked like one.

‘I guess Scarfe told you,’ he says to me, ‘I ain’t never been in no wire train before.’

‘Yeah. Ever use steel skates?’

‘No. I never clumb no steel pole in my life. I’ve used wood hooks a bit, though, and dumb some towers.‘

‘Well, don’t try no steel skates at night. You can practise on ’em in the mornings after the sun’s up till you get used to ’em. In the meantime you just do what work they is to be done on the decks of the tower cars or off the ladders. I guess you’ve worked off ladders, ain’t you?’

‘ Yeah. Plenty in transmission work.’

‘All right. Working on these decks will be new to you. Watch out you don’t trip on some of the scrap hardware and spill off the top. It’s a long fall down to the tracks when them towers are pulled up. Have you worked much around hot wire?’

‘ I’ve worked twenty-three and fortyfour and sixty-six hundred with rubber gloves. And I’ve worked clearance rigs on transmission crossings. What’s the voltage here?‘

‘Fourteen thousand. We work it all on a time-clearance basis. Most of this railroad yard has to be hot for service all but a few hours of every night. So don’t never go up on deck till I’ve told you the wire’s dead and you’ve saw the ground sticks on it. And when me or Beckett, the straw boss, says, “Everybody down!” that’s what it means. If you fool around on deck after hearing that, you’ll find yourself about half cooked before you ever get to hell. And remember, even when we got the power out on one section of wire, all the other wire in the yard will most likely be hot. You keep close to Scarfe. He knows every kilowatt in this yard by its front name and he’ll keep you away from them.’

‘Yes, sir.’

Regan was all right. He was green at catenary, but you can’t expect a man to come right off transmission work and savvy a railroad job the first night. It’s too different. In transmission work you just got towers to build or wire to string out over open country. You can start out in the morning and work till your tail drags with nothing to bother you. In railroad work you always got to wait till you can get the use of the track. And in a hot yard you got to wait till track and power clearance synchronize. And then you got to get your train moved in to where you want it, your towers pulled up to the right level, your deck lights set, and your men to work. And you got to do it fast. And you got to keep your work in hand so that you can tie it up quick and get your train out faster than you taken it in if the signal tower suddenly needs your track to handle traffic on.

Regan was n’t used to rawhiding the work for short shots and then having nothing to do, but he caught on fast and he was smart about planning his work so ho would n’t never foul us if we had to move sudden. And he was a good lineman. He could handle a rope or walk wire or steel or hang off a ladder with anyone. He dumb nice, too — quick, light-footed, and easy-moving. He was n’t used to working at night with only flood lights for light, but he never said nothing about it, and in a couple of nights he was running around in the dark like a mole.

And if he was green on catenary he made up for it by hard work. He was always the first guy to follow me and Beckett on deck when the train stopped at a new place. He’d be the first guy to grab a hook ladder when I put the spotlight upon some work that could n’t be reached from the deck. He was handy about stretching out the blocks when we was getting ready to tension. And he was quick to help swing out a outrigger when we had to lay on one track and do our work out over the next one. He never batted a eye about working on that outrigger. The first time he seen us use one, it was n’t no more than locked in its stirrups when he walks out on it. I calls to him: —

‘Regan, hook your belt on that messenger wire. You’re just about six foot above the smokestack of any freight that wants to go under you there. If it taken a notion to puff just right, it’d knock you and that outrigger, too, three foot in the air.’

‘I figured if one come under me I’d just step clear of the outrigger and stand on the ware till it went by.’

‘That’s right. But keep your belt hooked over the wire. That’s what you’re wearing it for.’

‘Yes, sir.’

A freight did take a blast at him that same night and knocked him off the wire, but his belt held him all right. And when it was over he just went back to work, not paying no more attention to it than he done to the way the other guys kidded him.

Scarfe helped him a lot. Them two was real buddies. Before Regan come along, Scarfe he’d always been a loner. He was as good a lineman as I ever seen, but he mostly worked alone and he did n’t hang out none with the other guys offen the job. I figured he might of been born that way or he might of had him a buddy got killed. But when Regan come to work and I seen them two together I knowed why Scarfe had n’t never paired up with no one else. Him and Regan worked together all the time and they was a sweet pair. What Regan did n’t know about catenary Scarfe did, and he learnt Regan fast. They’d are at each other all the time.

‘All right, Mr. Scarfe, if you stand there much longer your feet’ll grow roots right down through the deck!’

‘ Well, just as quick as you get your hand out of the company’s pocket and get up that ladder I ’ll hand you these blocks!’

Regan was good about the hot wire, too. Anybody’s apt to be nervous around hot wire. And they was many a night’s work in that yard we done with the gang just eighteen inches from a look at the Holy Ghost. But Regan did n’t mind it, and he was n’t careless, neither. He’d look it all over in that calm way he had and then he’d get in good position and go right to work on the cold side of a set of insulators just as steady as if he’d never heard of a lineman burning up. He watched close how we put the ground sticks on to protect us, and when he come up on deck after us he taken Scarfe aside.

‘This wire running right across the deck here is the one we seen the ground sticks put on, ain’t it?’

‘Yeah. It’s dead. You noticed how Jig put his hand on it when we first come up, did n’t you?’

‘Yeah. But how about them insulators down there by the end of the deck behind Beckett?‘

‘That’s a air break — cold on this side, hot on the other. That’s what Beckett’s standing there for, so no one won’t forget and reach or walk past them insulators.’

‘I would n’t put my hands acrost no insulators in this yard if I seen a bolt bag full of gold pieces hanging on the other side!’

I noticed when we holed up in a siding after that first shot Regan he borrows a blueprint off me and, instead of spending the slack time drinking coffee and throwing water and rough-housing like the other guys done, he got Scarfe to explain a air break to him and to learn him off the prints about sectionalizing circuits. In the morning after we’d cleared up and the other guys had went home, Regan takes a pair of skates out of the shop car and puts in about a hour of his own time practising climbing a pole with ’em. In a few days he could run up and down a steel pole like a shadow.

III

In short, Regan caught hold good, and after a few nights Scarfe come around to see me again.

‘Well, what do you think of my boy, Regan?’

‘He’s still here, ain’t he?’

‘Yeah. I knowed you would n’t fire him when you seen how good he is.’

‘You was right about him. He’s a lineman and he’s going to be a good catenary lineman. How’s his home life coming?’

‘He’s still living with that woman. And he won’t say no more about it than he ever would, so I guess she’s got him down as bad as ever. But that don’t bother you, does it?’

‘Hell, no. It ain’t my business, just so he comes in here sober at night. As long as his work lasts like this, he’s O.K. with me.’

It lasted till the night after he drawed his first pay. If him and his woman was fighting before that, they was n’t no sign of it on the job and that was all I give a damn about. Pay night was a Saturday. It was a good one, too. We’d had some overtime and they must of been right close to a hundred bucks in the linemen’s envelopes. When I give Regan his, he taken a look at the amount where it’s wrote on the outside and grins.

‘Thanks, Jig.’

‘Nothing to thank me for, Regan. You earned it. And if you keep on like you been doing, you’ll earn a lot more like it.’

As luck would have it, the railroad was running a lot of Sunday excursions to the seashore that morning, and after about three-ten we could n’t get no track at all. I had the engineer run us up on a siding and I hung the train up for the night. I put the boys to work cleaning up tools, inspecting and reeving blocks, and generally overhauling our equipment. But they was n’t a night’s work in that, and a little after five o’clock we was done. Beckett he takes out his pay and looks at it.

‘That either ain’t enough or it’s too much! Shoot a fiver, Joe!’

‘Wait a minute,’ I says. ‘If you guys want to shoot craps in here, I’ll go over to the office. Keep a good lookout, though.’

I’d signed the engine off, so I did n’t go back to the train till about seven. All but Scarfe had rode the engine in.

‘Well, who done the winning?’

‘ Beckett and Paul Renford. The rest of us lost our shirts.’

‘Somebody’s got to if anyone wins. Regan lose too?’

‘Yeah. They dry-cleaned him.’

‘How’d he take it?’

‘Good. He don’t never squawk over losing. His woman will, though. She’ll holler till her teeth get hot.’

I don’t know how much hollering she done, but that night Regan come in to the train with a black eye. It was n’t one of them real good ones that come free with a quart of whiskey and a loose tongue, but it was black, all right. His hands was n’t cut or bruised none, neither, so I just about knowed where that black eye come from. They ain’t many men around could of give Regan a black eye and kept from bruising his hands too. I did n’t say nothing about it, but of course the other guys kidded him. He did n’t seem to mind it none; he just taken it with a kind of a foolish grin until Joe Mitchell made that wise crack.

’How did you say you got it now, Regan? You’ve told us so many ways I’ve forgot which of ’em you meant.’

Regan grins so no one would n’t take it serious and says: —

’Oh, I got it off a swinging door.’

Joe he looks at it real close: ‘Looks to me more like it was a swinging whore! ’

And then Joe was picking hisself up off the floor and it looked mean till I got between ’em.

‘If you guys want to fight, just wait till I write out your time!’

Joe he spits out a tooth and some blood and I guess he would of went for Regan if he had n’t saw I had my pliers out.

‘I ain’t looking for no fight, but it’s a hell of a note when you can’t make a good-natured crack without a guy getting sore and busting your teeth out!’

’Just one tooth!’ I says. ‘Regan, are you through fighting or do you want me to fire you so you can spend the whole night at it?’

‘Naw,’ says Regan. ‘I don’t want to fight no more. But if any of the rest of you guys want to pop off at me about this lamp, make sure it’s me you’re kidding.’

Joe he was a pretty decent guy. ‘If I’d knowed it was a broad give it to you, Regan, I would n’t of said that. If you want to fight some more, I ’ll meet you anywhere you say, but if you don’t, it suits me.’

’Forget it, Joe. I’m sorry I got so hot. I should of knowed you did n’t mean nothing by it.’

So that was that, and them two did n’t fight no more.

IV

But they was more wrong with Regan than that eye. I found it out directly we went out to work. About one-twelve the special-duty man come in and says we can have one of the new tracks all night and a twenty-fiveminute shot on another right off. I told him to take us out and uncouple so we could leave one tower car and half the gang with the all-night job and then I’d take t he engine and the other tower car and the rest of the outfit and cruise around the yard working when and where we could.

I left Beckett with some of the guys where they was a lot of work could be done in one place. I left Joe Mitchell with him. And I taken the other half of the outfit and Regan with me. It don’t never do no harm to keep two guys that just been fighting from working too close to each other till you’re sure they really are made up.

Regan he was n’t worth his weight in broke insulators. He fouled up the blocks every time we went to use ’em. He cut a piece of auxiliary wire before I even had time to mark it, so it was just the grace of God we did n’t have to run in a new piece two hundred yards long. He put a pair of pull-off bars on upside down so they would of tore the smokestack off a locomotive, let alone the pantograph off a electric, and he just generally fouled the whole job.

If we’d been working on stuff that was new to him I would n’t of said nothing. But this was just the same kind of work we’d been doing all week and he should of knowed better. I told him so, too, and he just nods kind of listless-like and says he’s sorry.

About four o’clock we got a few minutes in the clear and I sent the men down into the shop car to eat. That is, all but Regan. He was just finishing wire-locking a crossover when I had to move the train, so I left him out on it, and as soon as we got the track again I run the train back in under him and picked him up. Then I sent him down to eat. In a minute I went down to the shop car to get a blueprint and there set Regan drinking coffee but not eating nothing.

‘You better eat your dinner, son. We’re going to work right through till seven-fifty-six this morning.’

‘I ain’t got it with me, Jig. I’ll make out all right with just some coffee.’

’How come you ain’t got it with you? If it’s over in Beckett’s half, go after it. You can walk over there in a few minutes and no one wants to work on a empty gut.’

‘No. It ain’t over there. I did n’t bring it out with me. I’ll make out all right without none. I ain’t so hungry to-night.’

I starts to ask him why he’d come out without a dinner, and then I remembered. His woman had been too busy blacking his eye to make him up a dinner. So I says to him: —

‘They’s a couple of extra sandwiches in mine I ain’t going to eat. Help yourself to ’em.’

I almost had to force him to take ’em. But when he did he forgot about not being hungry and eat ’em like he had n’t saw no food for a week.

Eating did n’t help him none, though. All the rest of that night he was dopey. If we’d been working real close to anything hot I’d of sent him down off the deck till we got it done. But we was n’t. Down on them new tracks where we was you could get a lot of clearance all around you. And what with having a fight in the train, and it being the night after pay, I told the special-duty man to keep us there all night. It ain’t always you can work like that. Mostly you got to expect your gang to be just as good one night as the next or fire them that ain’t. But this was a long job and we was working seven nights a week on it. And when you’re running a show like that it pays you to use your head about timing the work to suit the men as much as you can. Regan and Joe was n’t neither of them soreheads and I figured that by the next night the whole outfit would be steadied down all right.

V

They was, too, all but Regan. He was just as useless as he’d been the night before. He just set around when we was cleared up like he was sulking to hisself. It was n’t over Joe, neither. Him and Joe spoke to each other civil when they come in that night and they buddied about carrying some rolls of guy wire over to the train before we went out to work.

When we got out to work, Regan was the first guy to follow me and Beckett on deck, but up there he did n’t seem to do no good. And that night we was out where it was hot all around us. We was working on Four, which was n’t hot, of course. Out in mid-span we had about eleven foot clearance from Three and Five, which was hot as the devil’s fork. But they was places at the cross spans, and where a couple of crossovers run through Four, that was n’t eighteen inches from the kilowatts. And that’s no place for a man that ain’t got his whole mind on the work.

I watched Regan close to see if he’d snap out of it. He did n’t do nothing wrong I could put my finger on, but he did n’t snap out of it, neither, so I says: —

‘ Boys, I want all but Scarfe and Paul and Beckett to lay back when we come to these spans and crossover breaks. Three men’s enough to do all we got to do there, and it’s too close to the hot to have a bunch hanging around. You other guys do the work out in the midspans.’

That suited everyone and it give Regan less chance of hurting hisself or someone else. But at that he like to kilt us all.

Out in one of the spans of Four they was a crossover dead end running diagonal acrost the span and about ten foot above deck level. It was red hot and we could n’t get power clearance on it. We had to go in under it to work, but before I run the train in there I says to the gang: —

‘ Boys, they’s a hot one crossing over above us in here. We got plenty of clearance to keep under it if we take it easy and work low. But remember: it’s right up there all the time even if the lights don’t show it. I don’t want no one to climb up on the messenger or even to pick a ladder up off the deck. And anyone waves a hanger rod or tie wire over his head might just as well be waving to the undertaker to come get him. We’re going in now: watch the move!

The engineer run us in under there nice and easy and we went to work. For a few minutes the gang done fine. We was putting on hangers and the men kept them copper rods down low till the tops of them was light to the messenger and could n’t get up to kiss the kilowatts above us. And they was good about handling the tie wire in rolls instead of cutting it off in lengths. We got the span tailored in good shape and I goes down to the end of the deck to sight it. The hangers mostly fit nice. In all but one place that riding wire was flat enough to of rode a pantograph a hundred miles an hour. One hanger was about a half inch short, though. The men was stationed along the length of the deck standing back from the wire so I could see it to sight it. They was out of the light and I could n’t see who was nearest the short hanger, so I says: —

‘Somebody take that fourth hanger off. Put a longer one on there and tie it till I can sight it and tell you where to cut it.’

Regan was nearest to it. Instead of taking the old hanger down first, he stoops over to the deck and grabs a long section of new hanger rod. As he come up with it he swings it way up over his head. I could n’t do nothing. I would of throwed my pliers at him, but I was fifty foot down the deck, and even if I hit him square on the head it probably would n’t stop the lifting motion of that hanger in time. So I hollers, ‘Flash!’ and throwed myself face down on the deck. It would n’t help Regan none if I got my eyes burnt out watching it. The other boys had all saw it and I heard them hitting the deck as I did. I closed my eyes and wondered if they was a scrap of tie wire or a drop cord touching me, but I knowed better than to look.

Then they was a hell of a crash up the deck, but no flash or stink, and no crack like a breaker switch makes when a hot one bites something. I looks up and there was Regan sprawled out on deck with the hanger still in his hand and Scarfe on top of him. The other men begun to look up and wipe the sweat off their faces, and Scarfe he gets up off Regan kind of slow, like he was tired, and wipes his face.

‘Scarfe, how far did you have to jump to get to Regan?‘

‘I don’t know. I did n’t stop to figure.’

‘He was standing right by me,’says Beckett. ‘I thought of jumping and figured they was n’t time.’

We figured it up, and Scarfe he’d jumped about seven foot. He’d started that jump just when the rest of us figured it was hopeless and ducked to save ourselves. And he had n’t knowed for the whole of them seven feet that them kilowatts was n’t coming to meet him, let alone be there waiting for him if he was late. I doubt if they was six inches between the end of that hanger and the hot crossover when he hit Regan and knocked him and the hanger down. Regan he’d cut his cheek a little when they hit the deck, and the way the blood stood out on the white of his face was a sight.

‘Scarfe,’ he says, ‘I’m much obliged to you.’

‘All right,’ says Scarfe.

I could n’t let it go that easy, though. It was too close.

‘Regan, go down to the shop car and iodine that cut. And then you can wait there till I come down.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Boys, I ain’t got much to say about what just happened. You all seen it and you know as well as I do how close it was. And you know where most of us’d be if it was n’t for Scarfe. Let’s not have no next time. Now, a couple of you get a hanger on there and let’s get this span done.’

Some of the guys put a hanger on, and Scarfe he followed me down the deck to where I was sighting it.

‘Let Beckett sight that, Jig. I want to talk to you a second.’

‘Sight this, Beckett, and then move the train down under the beam and start the outfit riveting.’

Beckett nods, and Scarfe and me slip off to a corner of the deck out of the way of the work.

‘Jig, I want you to give Regan another chancet.’

‘I figured you would. That’s how come me not to fire him right where he done it. But it’s a serious business, Scarfe. If it had n’t been for what you done, our shop-car boy and the grunts would still be clearing the burnt meat off the deck. I don’t want to can Regan, but you can’t have stuff like that going on.’

‘You ain’t going to have it going on. He’s got good sense. He seen what happened and he’ll be all the better for being that close to a burning. It takes something strong to make a impression on a guy with a woman like that on his mind. He’s had it, and he’ll do all right now.’

‘I ain’t thinking so much about him as about the rest of the gang. If he was the only one he could hurt, it would n’t matter. But he ain’t. They’s at least three good women I know of come within six inches of being widows tonight just over Regan having his mind on that broad of his. You know that ain’t right.‘

‘ I know it. And you got a right to can him if you want. But if you’ll give him one more chancet I’ll see he either snaps out of it — or quits before he does hurt someone.’

‘Well, I’ll have a talk with him. I’ve give him some time to be thinking this over and maybe he’ll be ready to talk sense.’

‘ I’m right obliged to you, Jig.’

I went down and had a talk with him. I did n’t cuss him, but I talked to him stiff. And he taken it good. He was sorry and he knowed I had a right to can him. I told him I did n’t want to can him, but I’d have to unless he come out of it and done better. I told him he was a good enough lineman to know this ain’t a job for a man that can’t keep his mind on it. He nods and then he looks at me kind of funny.

’Jig, was you ever married?’

‘Hell, no. And I never fell off no real high pole, neither. But if I did I’d try not to hit the guys under me as I come down.’

He caught right on. He did n’t say nothing for a minute or two, and then he nods.

‘I see what you mean. I’ll try to do better.’

‘You’ll have to do better if you’re going to stay here. I got no kick on your work when you keep your mind on it; it’s good. But you either got to get shut of whatever’s worrying you or get shut of the job.’

‘ I been worrying about private affairs, Jig. If it come to what you say, I’d have to get shut of the job. But if you ’ll give me another chancet I think I can run ’em both all right.’

‘One more, then. And I want to see you make out with it.’

He thanked me so hard I hated to hear it. And for a while after that he done fine. He’d caught on a lot to railroad work now, and him and Scarfe was as good a pair as I ever worked. They was n’t no crap game in the train the night after the next pay, neither. I don’t never mind a gang shooting craps if they ain’t no work to be done. But I seen what come of that last game and I told the boys they’d have to do their crap shooting off the job. And so that week Regan taken his money home. At least I judge he taken it home, because the next night he had a good dinner with him and no black eye. And he kept his mind on his work.

VI

The week after that we had a hell of a funny accident. It was the only one I ever knowed that was funny, but it was, though it like to scared us to death.

It must of been about four-ten in the morning. We had the train laying right under a beam and was changing some messenger suspensions. Everything was dead and grounded in the section where we was. The nearest hot wire to us was the hot side of a air break down under the signal bridge about a hundred yards away.

Well, about four-ten we heard a ruckus down near the signal bridge and some of them stray dogs that hang out by the slaughterhouse acrost the yard begun to bark like hell. I could n’t figure it for a minute and then I caught on all of a sudden.

‘Get away from that wire, boys! Them dogs have chased a hobo up that signal bridge. If he fouls that break, it might throw something back this way!’

The boys throwed theirselves down on the deck, and one or two that was up the ladder dumb up onto the beam and laid out. on that where they’d be out of the way if a wire burnt through.

I throwed the spotlight on the signal bridge, but it was so far I could n’t see the hobo at all. If it had n’t been the signal bridge I would n’t of knowed what it was, cause a hobo don’t go around carrying steel skates so he can get up a pole when dogs chase him. But on the signal bridge they was ladder steps all the way up from the ground, and a kid could of clumb it. They was hot wire all over that bridge, too — jumper loops offen the signal circuit, and feeder taps and short air breaks and any amount of other junk. It would of been a bum place for a lineman that knowed his stuff to be fooling around in the dark.

‘They’s fourteen thousand volts of juice all over that signal bridge, hobo! Stand still till I come down there with a light and run them dogs off, and I’ll show you how to get down alive!’

He did n’t answer, but them dogs barked worse than ever. Beckett he speaks up: —

’He thinks you ’re a railroad dick and if he answers he’s jail bait.‘

‘He’s hearse bait if he fools around that bridge. And this train’s got to move out of here in three minutes. Renford, get that ladder down and then move the train back to the siding. And keep the men away from that wire. Beckett, you and Scarfe come with me and we’ll see if we can get this tramp down before he kills hisself!’

We run most of the way. I got no special use for hoboes, but they ain’t no sense in letting a guy burn hisself up just because he thinks you’re the law and is scared to come down out of a death trap like that. But we was too late. We was still about thirty yards from the bridge when a breaker switch lets go like a load of dynamite. We could n’t see the hobo in the flash and we did n’t hear his body hit the ground, though we knowed the surge must of knocked it loose of the contact or the breaker would of blowed again. But the wind was blowing our way, and the first whiff that got to us after that breaker blowed settled it. You don’t forget that smell.

Well, we got to the bridge and looked all around under it, but we could n’t find no body. The dogs had run off when the breaker blowed. I put my light on the bridge, but I could n’t see nothing up there, so I dumb up and looked at every lead on it. I found where the flash had been, all right. They was a broke bell in a set of flashscarred insulators. But they was n’t no sign of a body nowhere and we could n’t figure that out. Fourteen thousand’ll tear a man up something awful if it hits him right, or again you got to look his body over close to find where the contact was. It’s freakish stuff, but at that I never heard of it carrying no one off. And it was n’t no kite blowed into that wire, neither. A kite don’t smell like that.

I clumb down again and stood there talking to Scarfe about it when Beckett give out a laugh.

‘There’s your hobo!’

I looks where he’s holding his light, and there was the head and shoulders of a cat. That was all they was left of it. The rest of it, I guess, was blowed all over the yard. All the fur was burnt off the part we seen. It was ugly, but it was better to look at than a dead hobo.

We all stood there and laughed at it. We’d been tensioned up tight, thinking it was a man.

‘Them dogs run him up there,’ says Scarfe, ‘and somehow he slipped acrost them insulators. We’ll never know how.’

‘Who cares how?’ asks Beckett. ‘I don’t, and I bet the cat don’t, neither. He ain’t never going to be hungry again, nor have to scratch around on rainy nights to get food, nor let them tabby cats worry him, neither. His troubles is over, quick and painless.’

Scarfe he give a start. He don’t say nothing for a second, and then he says kind of low, like he was talking to hisself : —

‘Yeah. That’s one cure for any trouble.’

It struck me odd, Scarfe being so serious about a stray old cat, but I did n’t have time to think about it before the gang come up bringing a stretcher. They was n’t serious. They laughed like hell when they seen how we was fooled. Beckett he says we ought to fill out a real accident report and send it to the head office — fill it out like it was a lineman named ‘A. Cat.‘

‘How would you fill in that part where it says “Remarks”?’ asks Scarfe. He was n’t so serious now the other guys had come up and was standing there laughing.

Beckett thought a minute. ‘That would n’t have nothing to do with it. Just fill that part in like you generally do it: “Remarks: None.”’

So we throwed what was left of the cat back in the bushes and went on back to the train.

VII

Pay day come again, and the night after it Regan come in without no dinner. He had a long scratch on the side of his face, too. When we got our first shot he put his belt on upside down and all the tools fell out around his feet. He would n’t even of knowed it if Beckett had n’t arced at him to pick ’em up and get conscious. Up on deck I watched him like a hawk, and I did n’t have to watch long. We was tensioning, and the first thing Regan does is put a little set of four-inch blocks acrost a splice where he knowed damned well he was going to have a pulling load of about five thousand pounds. Scarfe seen him do it and tried to get them blocks off before I seen it. But when he seen I seen it, he just turns away and shakes his head.

‘Regan, you go down to the shop car and help the shop-car boy make up them pull-off straps to-night’.

‘Yes, sir.’

Scarfe taken me aside after Regan had gone.

‘I’m right obliged to you for not just firing him right up here where everyone could hear it.’

‘I hate it, Scarfe. I like that boy and I’d like to keep him. But you seen that last stunt yourself; I’ll just have to give him his time in the morning. It ain’t fair to him nor to the others to keep him. It couldd only end one way.’

‘Yeah.’ says Scarfe. ‘Only one way.’

He stood there for a while after that, keeping out of the way of the rest of the gang, and I did n’t bother him. He thought a lot of Regan and he felt bad about it. I did, too. I guess I felt worse for Scarfe than I did for Regan hisself. But by and by Scarfe come out of it, and, if he was kind of quiet, he did put out a good night’s work. Then about four o’clock he comes up to me.

‘Jig, you going to make that change at the signal bridge?’

‘I was going to, but I ain’t sure now, Scarfe. I can’t get power clearance under there for twenty minutes, and I’ll only get a fifteen-minute shot then. If I could spare a couple of men to get everything rigged and ready in advance, I could make it. But I’m afraid I’ll have to let it go till to-morrow night.’

’I ’ll rig it for you, Jig.’

‘One man ain’t enough, and that’s all I can spare.’

‘Let me take Regan. He’s still on the pay roll.’

‘It’s too risky. Everything down there’s still red hot.’

‘He’ll do all right with me, Jig. I know him, and I can take care of him and rig it right, too.’

‘Well, I’d like to get that done tonight, Scarfe, but . . .’

‘Jig, let me do it. Regan and me are buddies. I know he’s done, but he and I seen each other through a lot of tough places and I’d like to see him through one more. This is likely his last job and I d like to work with him one more time.‘

‘All right. Want a helper to carry your stuff?’

‘No. I’d rather it was just him and me. We ain’t got so much stuff to carry.’

I walks down to the signal bridge with ’em and showed ’em what I wanted done. Regan he still seemed kind of dopey, though he looks at me and paid close attention when I was warning him about the hot wire. And he clumb all right.

I watched ’em till they’d got up onto the bridge and pulled their ladder up. And then I hollered to ’em to watch the hot stuff all the time, and I starts back over to the train to sec if Beckett had the tensioning done. I was just wondering if I done right to trust Regan at all when I heard the breaker switch blow. . . .

As I run, all I could think of was if I’d fired Regan right off the deck in the first place Scarfe would be still alive. But when I got there Scarfe was still alive. He’d dumb down off the bridge and picked up Regan from where he fell and carried him over to the side of the track. When I come up he was just standing there looking at him.

I put my flashlight on Regan, and then I shut it off and taken off my overall jumper and throwed it over his face. I put my light on Scarfe, and then I taken it off him, too. He was all right. His overalls was singed and his eyebrows and lashes was burned off, but it was more than that made me take my light off him. It was something in his face. He did n’t say nothing and neither did I. We could hear the other guys coming and see their lights bobbing as they run. And then Scarfe give a kind of a cry.

‘I got to tell you, Jig. I got to tell you the truth . . .’

I cracks him hard acrost the face with my open hand.

‘Buck up, Scarfe. They ain’t nothing to tell. We both seen this poor guy trip and fall acrost that wire. Lots of accidents happen that way. “Remarks: None.” ’

He taken a long breath and kind of shook hisself. And then just before the other guys come up he says: —

‘I guess you’re right. Thanks, Jig.‘