JIM's father died at Gettysburg; up against the Stone Fence: went to
Heaven in a chariot of fire on that fateful day when the issue between the
two parts of the country was decided; when the slaughter on the
Confederate side was such that after the battle a lieutenant was in charge
of a regiment, and a major commanded a brigade.
This fact was much to Jim, though no
one knew it: it tempered his mind: ruled
his life. He never remembered the time
when he did not know the story his mother, in her worn black dress and with her
pale face, used to tell him of the bullet-dented sword and faded red sash which
hung on the chamber wall.
They were the poorest people in the
neighborhood. Everybody was poor, for
the country lay in the track of the armies,
and the war had swept the country as
clean as a floor. But the Uptons were
the poorest even in that community.
Others recuperated, pulled themselves
together, and began after a time to get
up. The Uptons got flatter than they
were before. The fences (the few that
were left) rotted; the fields grew up in
sassafras and pines; the barns blew
down; the houses decayed; the ditches
filled; the chills came.
"They're the shiftlesses' people in the
worl'," said Mrs. Wagoner with a shade
of asperity in her voice (or was it satisfaction?). Mrs. Wagoner's husband had
been in a bomb-proof during the war,
when Jim Upton, Jim's father, was with
his company. He had managed to keep
his teams from the quartermasters, and
had turned up after the war the richest
man in the neighborhood. He lived on
old Colonel Duval's place, which he
bought for Confederate money.
"They're the shiftlesses' people in the
worl'," said Mrs. Wagoner. "Mrs. Upton ain't got any spirit; she jus' sets still and cries her eyes out."
This was true, every word of it. And so was
something else that Mrs. Wagoner said in a tone of reprobation, about
"people who made their beds having to lay on them;" this process of
incubation being too well known to require further discussion. But what
could Mrs. Upton do? She could not change the course of Destiny. One -
especially if she is a widow with bad eyes, and in poor health, living on
the poorest place in the State - cannot stop the stars in their courses.
She could not blot out the past, nor undo what she had done. She would not
if she could. She could not undo what she had done when she ran away with
Jim and married him. She would not if she could. At least the memory of
those three years was her's, and nothing could take it from her - not
debts, nor courts, nor anything. She knew he was wild when she married
him. Certainly Mrs. Wagoner had been careful enough to tell her so, and to
tell every one else so too. She would never forget the things she had
said. Mrs. Wagoner never forgot the things the young girl said either -
though it was more the way she had looked than what she bad said. And when
Mrs. Wagoner descanted on the poverty of the Uptons she used to end with
the declaration: "Well, it ain't any fault of mine; she can't
blame me: for Heaven knows I warned her: I did my
was true. This was a duty Mrs. Wagoner seldom omitted. Mrs. Upton never
thought of blaming her, or anyone else.
Not all her poverty ever drew one complaint from her lips. She simply sat
down under it, that was all. She did not
expect anything else. She had given Jim
to the South as gladly as any woman ever
gave her heart to her love. She would
not undo it if she could - not even to have
him hack, and God knew how much she
wanted him. Was not his death glorious
- his name a heritage for his son? She
could not undo the debts which encumbered the land nor the interest which
swallowed it up nor the suit which took
it from her - that is, all but the old house
and the two poor worn old fields which
were her dower. She would have given
up those too if it had not been for her
children, Jim and Kitty, and for the little
old enclosure on the hill under the big
thorn-trees where they had laid him when
they brought him back. No, she could
not undo the past, nor alter the present,
nor change the future. So what could
In her heart Mrs. Wagoner was glad of the poverty
of the Uptons; not merely glad in the general negative way which warms the
bosoms of most of us as we consider how much better off we are than our
neighbors - the "Lord-I-thank-thee- that-I-am-not-as-other-men-are" way -
but Mrs. Wagoner was glad, positively. She was glad that any of the Uptons
and the Duvals were poor. One of her grandfathers had been what Mrs.
Wagoner (when she mentioned the matter at all) called "Manager" for one of
the Duvals. She was aware that most people did not accept that term. She
remembered old Colonel Duval - the old
Colonel - tall,
thin, white, grave, aquiline. She had
been dreadfully afraid of him. She had
had a feeling of satisfaction at his funeral.
It was like the feeling she had when she
learned that Colonel Duval had not forgiven Betty nor left her a cent. Mrs.
Wagoner used to go to see Mrs. Upton -
she went frequently. She carried her
things - especially advice. There are people whose visits are like spells of illness.
It took Mrs. Upton a fortnight to get
over one of her visits - to convalesce.
Mrs. Wagoner was a mother to her: at
least she herself said so. In some respects it was rather akin to the substance
of that name which forms in vinegar. It
was hard to swallow: it galled. Even
Mrs. Upton's gentleness was overtaxed -
and rebelled. She had stood all the homilies - all the advice. But when Mrs.
Wagoner, with her lips drawn in, after
wringing her heart, recalled to her the
warning she had given her before she
married, she stopped standing it. She
did not say much; but it was enough to
make Mrs. Wagoner's stiff bonnet-bows
tremble. Mrs. Wagoner walked out feeling chills down her spine, as if Colonel
Duval were at her heels. She had meant
to talk about sending Jim to school; at
least she said so. She condoled with
every one in the neighborhood on the
"wretched ignorance" in which Jim was
growing up, "working like a common
negro." She called him "that ugly boy."
Jim was ugly - very ugly. He was slim,
red-headed, freckle-faced, weak-eyed; he
stooped and he stammered. Yet there
was something about him, with his thin
features, which made one look twice.
Mrs. Wagoner used to say she did not
know where that boy got all his ugliness
from, for she must admit his father was
rather good-looking before he became so
bloated, and Betty Duval would have
been "passable" if she had any "vivacity." She was careful in her limitations,
Mrs. Wagoner was. Some women will
not admit others are pretty, no matter
what the difference in their ages: they
feel as if they were making admissions
Once when he was a boy Mrs. Wagoner
had the good taste to refer in Jim's presence to his "homeliness," a term with
which she sugar-coated her insult. Jim
grinned and shuffled his' feet, and then
said, "Kitty's pretty." It was true: Kitty was pretty: she had eyes and hair.
You could not look at her without seeing
them - big brown eyes, and brown, tumbled hair. Kitty was fifteen - two years
younger than Jim in 187-.
Jim never went to school. They were too poor. All
he knew his mother taught him and he got out of the few old books in the
book-case left by the war - odd volumes of the Waverley novels, and the
, "Don Quixote," and a few
others, stained and battered. He could
not have gone to school if there had been
a school to go to: he had to work: work,
as Mrs. Wagoner had truthfully said,
"like a common nigger." He did not
mind it; a bird born in a cage cannot
mind it much. The pitiful part is, it does
not know anything else. Jim did not
know anything else. He did not mind
anything much - except chills. He even
got used to them; would just lie down
and shake for an hour and then go to
ploughing again as soon as the ague was
over, with the fever on him. He had to
plough; for corn was necessary. He had
this compensation: he was worshipped by
two people - his mother and Kitty. If
other people thought him ugly, they
thought him beautiful. If others thought
him dull, they thought him wonderfully
clever; if others thought him ignorant,
they knew how wise he was.
Mrs. Upton's eyes were bad; but she
saw enough to see Jim; the light came
into the house with him. Kitty sat and
gazed at him with speechless admiration;
hung on his words, which were few;
watched for his smile, which was rare.
He repaid it to her by being - Jim. He
slaved for her; waited for her (when a
boy waits for his little sister it is something); played with her when he had time
(this also was something) ; made traps for
her; caught her young squirrels; was at
once her slave and her idol. As he grew
up he did not have time to play. He had
to plough: "just like a common nigger,"
Mrs. Wagoner said. In this she spoke
It is a curious thing that farming paid
better shortly after the war than it did
later. Lands fell. Times grew harder.
They were always growing harder with
Jim. The land was worked out. Guano
was necessary to make anything grow.
Guano was bought on credit. The crops
would not pay. Several summers there
was drouth; crops failed. One of the two
old mules he had died; Jim ploughed
with one. Then he broke his leg. When
he got about again he was lame; the leg
"They're the shiftlesses' folks in the
worl'," said Mrs. Wagoner; "they can't
blame me. Heaven knows I told -" etc.
Which was true - more than true.
Jim ploughed on, only slower than ever,
thinner than ever, sleepier than ever.
One day something happened which
waked him up. It was a Sunday. They
went to church; they always went to
church - old St. Ann's - whenever there
was service. There was service there
since the war only every first and third
Sunday, and every other fifth Sunday.
The Uptons and the Duvals had been
vestrymen from the time they had brought
the bricks over from England, generations
ago. They had sat, one family in one of
the front semicircular pews on one side
the chancel, the other family in the other.
Mrs. Upton, after the war, had her choice
of the pews; for all had gone but herself,
Jim, and Kitty. She had changed, the
Sunday after her marriage, to the Upton
side, and she clung loyally to it ever after.
Mrs. Wagoner had taken the other pew - a cold, she explained at first, had made
her deaf. She always spoke of it after
ward as "our pew." (The Billings, from
which Mrs. Wagoner came, had not been
Episcopalians until Mrs. Wagoner married.) Carrie Wagoner, who was a year
older than Kitty, used to sit by her
mother, with her big hat and brown hair.
Jim, in right of his sex, sat in the end of
On this Sunday in question Jim drove
his mother and Kitty to church in the
horse cart. The old carriage was a
wreck, slowly dropping to pieces. The
chickens roosted in it. The cart was the
only vehicle remaining which had two
sound wheels, and even one of these
"wabbled" a good deal, and the cart was
"shackling." But straw placed in the
bottom made it fairly comfortable. Jim
always had clean straw in it. His mother
and Kitty noticed it. Kitty looked so
well. They reached church. The day
was warm, Mr. Bickersteth was dry. Jim
went to sleep during the sermon. He
frequently did this. He had been up
since four. When service was over he
partially waked - about half-waked. He
was standing in the aisle moving toward
the door with the rest of the congregation.
A voice behind him caught his ear:
"What a lovely girl Kitty Upton is."
It was Mrs. Harrison, who lived at the
other end of the parish. Jim knew the
voice. Another voice replied:
"If she only were not always so shabby!" Jim knew this one also. It was
Mrs. Wagoner's. Jim waked.
"Yes, but even her old darned dress
cannot hide her. She reminds me of -"
Jim did not know what it was to which
Mrs. Harrison likened her. But he knew
it was something beautiful.
"Yes," said Mrs. Wagoner; then
added, "Poor thing, she's got no education and never will have. To think that
old Colonel Duval's fam'bly's come to
this! Well, they can't blame me.
They're clean run to seed."
Jim got out into the air. He felt sick. He had been hit vitally. This
was what people thought! and it was true. He went to get his cart. (He did
not speak to Kitty.) His home came before his eyes like a photograph:
fences down, gates gone, houses ruinous, fields barren. It came to him as
if stamped on the retina by a lightning-flash. He had worked - worked
hard. But it was no use. It was true: they were "clean run to seed." He
helped his mother and Kitty into the cart silently - doggedly. Kitty
smiled at him. It hurt him like a blow. He saw every worn place, every
darn in her old dress and little faded jacket. Mrs. Wagoner drove past
them in her carriage, leaning out of the window and calling that she took
the liberty of passing as she drove faster than they. Jim gave his old
mule a jerk which made him throw up his head and wince with pain. He was
sorry for it. But he had been jerked up short himself. He was quivering
ON the following Friday the President
of one of the great railway lines which
cross Virginia was in his office when the
door opened after a gentle knock and
some one entered. (The offices of presidents of railroads had not then become
the secret and mysterious sanctums which
they have since become.) The President
was busily engaged with two or three of
the Directors; wealthy capitalists from the
North, who had come down on important
business. He was very much engrossed,
and he did not look up directly. When
he did he saw standing inside the door
a queer figure - long, slim, angular -
a man who looked a boy, or a boy who
looked like a man - red-headed, freckle-faced, bashful - in a coat too tight even
for his thin figure, breeches too short for
his long legs; his hat was old and brown
his shirt was clean.
"Well, what do you want?" The
President was busy.
It was Jim. His face twitched several
times before any sound came:
"- - I- I- w- w- want t- t- t- to ge- get
"This is not the place to get it; I have
no place for you.
The President turned back to his
friends. At the end of ten minutes, seeing one of his visitors look toward the
door, he stopped in the middle of a sentence and glanced around.
The figure was still there - motionless.
The President thought he had been out.
He had not.
"Well?" His key was high.
"- - I- I- w- w- want to- to get a
"I told you I had no place for you.
Go to the Superintendent."
I - I've b- b- b- been to him."
"Well, what did he say?"
"Si- Si- Si- says he ain't got any
"Well, I haven't any. Go to Mr.
"- - I've b- been to him ."
"Well, go to - to -" The President
was looking for a paper. It occupied his
mind. He did not think any further of
Jim. But Jim was there.
"- - Go- go where?"
Oh, I don't know - go anywhere - go out of
Jim's face worked. He turned and
went slowly out. As he reached the door
go- good evening, g- gentlemen."
The President's heart relented: " Go to the Superintendent," he
Next day he was engaged with his Directors when the door opened and the
same apparition stepped within - tall,
slim, red-haired, with his little, tight coat,
short trousers, and clean shirt.
The President frowned.
"Well, what is it?"
"- - I- I- I w- w- w- went to- to the
s- s- Superintendent."
"Well, what about it?"
"Y- y- you told me t- to go- go to
him. H- e- e ain't got any place." The
Directors smiled. One of them leaned
back in his chair, took out a cigar and
prepared to cut the end.
"Well, I can't help it. I haven't anything for you. I told you that yesterday.
You must not come here bothering me;
Jim stood still - perfectly motionless.
He looked as if he had been there always
- would be there always. The Director
with the cigar, having cut it, took out a
gold match-box, and opened it slowly,
looking at Jim with an amused smile.
The President frowned and opened his
mouth to order him out. He changed
"What is your name?"
"J- J- James Upton."
Jim told him.
"Whose son are you?"
"C-c-c- Captain J- J- James Upton's."
"What! You don't look much like
Jim shuffled one foot. One corner of
his mouth twitched up curiously. It
might have been a smile. He looked
straight at the blank wall before him.
"You are not much like your mother
either - I used to know her as a girl.
Jim shuffled the other foot a little.
"R- r- run to seed, - I reckon."
The President was a farmer - prided
himself on it. The reply pleased him.
He touched a bell. A clerk entered.
"Ask Mr. Wake to come here."
"Can you carry a barrel of flour?" he
"I- I'll get it there," said Jim. He
leaned a little forward.
"Or a sack of salt? They are right
"I-I- I'll get it there," said Jim.
Mr. Wake appeared.
"Write Mr. Day to give this man a
place as brakeman."
"Yes, sir. Come this way." This to
Jim electrified them all by suddenly
bursting out crying.
The tension had given way. He walked
up to the wall and leaned his head against
it with his face on his arm, shaking from
head to foot, sobbing aloud.
"Thank you, I - I'm ever so much
obliged to you," he sobbed.
The President rose and walked rapidly
about the room.
Suddenly Jim turned and, with his arm
over his eyes, held out his hand to the
"Good-by." Then he went out.
There was a curious smile on the faces
of the Directors as the door closed.
"Well, I never saw anything like that
before," said one of them. The President
"Run to seed." quoted the oldest of
the Directors; "rather good expression
"Damned good seed, gentlemen," said
the President, a little shortly. "Duval
and Upton - that fellow's father was in
my command. Died at Gettysburg.
He'd fight hell."
Jim got a place - brakeman on a freight-train. That night Jim wrote a letter
home. You'd have thought he had been
It was a hard life: harder than most
The work was hard, the fare was hard;
the life was hard. Standing on top of
rattling cars as they rushed along in the
night around curves, over bridges,
with the rain and snow
pelting in your face, and the tops as slippery as ice. There was excitement about
it, too: a sense of risk and danger. Jim
did not mind it much. He thought of his
mother and Kitty.
There was a freemasonry among the
men. All knew each other; hated or liked
each other; nothing negative about it.
It was a bad road. Worse than the average. Twice
the amount of traffic was done on the single track that should have been
done. Result was men were ground up - more than on most roads. More men
were killed in proportion to the number employed than were killed in
service during the war. The esprit de corps
was strong. Men stood by their
trains and by each other. When a man
left his engine in sight of trouble, the authorities might not know about it, hut the
men did. Unless there was cause he had
to leave. Sam Wray left his engine in
sight of a broken bridge after he reversed.
The engine stopped on the track. The
officers never knew of it; but Wray and
his fireman both changed to another road.
When a man even got shaky and began
to run easy, the superintendent might not
mind it; but the men did; he had to go.
A man had to have not only courage but
Jim was not especially popular among
men. He was reserved, slow, awkward.
He was "pious" (that is, did not swear).
He was "stuck up" (did not tell "funny
things," by which was meant vulgar stories; nor laugh at them either). And according to Dick Rail, he was "stingy as h--l."
These things were not calculated to
make him popular, and he was not. He
was a sort of butt for the free and easy
men who lived in their cabs and cabooses,
obeyed their "orders," and owned nothing but their overalls and their shiny
Sunday clothes, He was good-tempered,
though. Took all their gibes and "dev'ling" quietly, and for the most part silently. So, few actually disliked him. Dick
Rail, the engineer of his crew, was one of
those few. Dick "despised" him. Dick
was big, brawny, coarse: coarse in looks,
coarse in talk, coarse in feeling, and when
he had liquor in him he was mean. Jim
"bothered" him, he said. He made
Jim's life a burden to him. He laid himself out to do it. It became his occupation. He thought about it when Jim was
not present; laid plans for it. There was
something about Jim that was different
from most others. 'When Jim did not
laugh at a "hard story," but just sat still,
some men would stop; Dick always told
another harder yet, and called attention
to Jim's looks. His stock was inexhaustible. His mind was like a spring which
ran muddy water; its flow was perpetual.
The men thought Jim did not mind. He
lost three pounds; which for a man who
was six feet (and would have been six
feet two if he had been straight) and who
weighed 122, was considerable.
It is astonishing how one man can create a pubic sentiment. One woman can
ruin a reputation as effectually as a
churchful. One bullet can kill a man as
dead as a bushel, if it hits him right. So
Dick Rail injured Jim, for Dick was an
authority. He swore the biggest oaths.
wore the largest watch-chain, knew his
engine better and sat it steadier than any
man on the road. He had had a passenger train again and again, but he was
too fond of whiskey. It was too risky.
Dick affected Jim's standing; told stories
about him; made his life a burden to
him. "He shan't stay on the road," he
used to say. "He's stingier'n -.
Carries his victuals about with him - I
b'lieve he sleeps with one o' them I-tal-ians in a goods box." This was true - at
least about carrying his food with him.
(The rest was Dick's humor.) Messing
cost too much. The first two months'
pay went to settle an old guano-bill; but
the third month's was Jim's. The day he
drew that he fattened a good deal. At
least, he looked so. It was eighty-two
dollars (for Jim ran extra runs - made
double time whenever he could). Jim
had never had so much money in his life;
had hardly ever seen it. He walked
about the streets that night till nearly
midnight, feeling the wad of notes in his
breast-pocket. Next day a box went
down the country, and a letter with it,
and that night Jim could not have bought
a chew of tobacco. The next letter he
got from home was heavy. Jim smiled
over it a good deal, and cried a little too.
He wondered how Kitty looked in her
new dress, and if the barrel of flour made
good bread; and if his mother's shawl
One day he was changed to the passenger service, the express. It was a promotion, paid more, and relieved him from
Dick Rail. He had some queer experiences being ordered around, but he swallowed them all. He had not been there
three weeks when Mrs. Wagoner was a
passenger on the train. Carry was with
her. They had moved to town. (Mr.
Wagoner was interested in railroad development.) Mrs. Wagoner called him
to her seat, and talked to him - in a
loud voice. Mrs. Wagoner had a loud
voice. It had the "carrying" quality.
She did not shake hands; Carry did, and
said she was so glad to see him: she had
been down home the week before - had
seen his mother and Kitty. Mrs. Wagoner said they still kept their plantation
as a country place. Carry said Kitty
looked so well. Her new dress was lovely.
Mrs. Wagoner said his mother's eyes were
worse. She and Kitty had walked over
to see them to show Kitty's dress. She
had promised that Mr. Wagoner would
do what he could for him on the road.
Next month Jim went back to the
freight service. He preferred Dick Rail.
He got him. Dick was worse' than ever,
his appetite was whetted by abstinence;
he returned to his attack with renewed
zest. He never tired - never flagged.
He was perpetual: he was remorseless.
He made Jim's life a wilderness. Jim
said nothing, just slouched along silenter
than ever, quieter than ever, closer than
ever. He took to going to another
church on Sunday than the one he had
attended, a more fashionable one than
that. The Wagoners went there. Jim
sat far back in the gallery, very far back,
where he could just see the top of Carry's
head, her big hat and her face, and could
not see Mrs. Wagoner, who sat nearer
the gallery. It had a curious effect on
him; he never went to sleep there. He
took to going up-town, walking by the
stores - looking in at the windows of tailors and clothiers. Once he actually went
into a shop and asked the price of a new
suit of clothes. (He needed them badly.)
The tailor unfolded many rolls of cloth
and talked volubly: talked him dizzy.
Jim looked wistfully at them, rubbed his
hand over them softly, felt the money in
his pocket; and came out. He said he
thought he might come in again. Next
day he did not have the money. Kitty
wrote him she could not leave home to go
to school on their mother's account, but
she would buy books, and she was learning; she would learn fast, her mother
was teaching her; and he was the best
brother in the world, the whole world;
and they had a secret, but he must wait.
One day Jim got a bundle. It was a
new suit of clothes. On top was a letter
from Kitty. This was the secret. She
and her mother had sent for the cloth
and made them; hoped they would fit.
They had cried over them. Jim cried a
little too. He put them on. They did
not fit, were much too large. Under
Dick Rail's fire Jim had grown even thinner than before. But he' wore them to
church. He felt that it would have been
untrue to his mother and Kitty not to
wear them. He was sorry to meet Dick
Rail on the street. Dick had on a black
broadcloth coat, a velvet vest, and large-checked trousers. Dick looked Jim over.
Jim winced, flushed a little : he was not
so sunburned now. Dick saw it. Next
week Dick caught Jim in a crowd in the
"yard" waiting for their train. He told
about the meeting. He made a double
shot. He said, "Jim's in love, he's got
new clothes! You ought to see 'em
Dick was graphic; he wound up: "They
hung on him like breechin' on his old
mule. By -! I believe he was too -
stingy to buy 'em, and made 'em
'mself." There was a shout from the
crowd. Jim's face worked. There was
a handspike lying near and he seized it.
Someone grabbed him, but he shook
him off as if he had been a child. Why
he did not kill Dick no one ever knew.
He meant to do it. For some time they
thought he was dead. He laid off for a
month. After that Jim wore what clothes
he chose: no one ever troubled him.
So he went on in the same way: slow,
sleepy, stuttering, thin, stingy, ill-dressed,
lame, the butt of his tormentors.
He was made a fireman; preferred it
to being a conductor, it led to being an
engineer, which paid more. He ran extra
trips whenever he could, up and double
straight back. He could stand an immense amount of work. If he got sleepy
he put tobacco in his eyes to keep them
open. It was bad for the eyes, hut
waked him up. Kitty was going to take
music next year, and that cost money.
He had not been home for several months,
but was going at Christmas.
They did not have any sight tests then.
But the new Directory meant to be thorough. Mr. Wagoner had become a Director, had his eye on the presidency.
Jim was one day sent for, asked about
his eyes; they were bad. There was not
a doubt about it. They were inflamed;
he could not see a hundred yards. He
did not tell them about the extra trips
and putting the tobacco in them. Dick
Rail must have told about him. They
said he must go. Jim turned white. He
went to his little room, close up under the
roof of a little house in a back street, and
sat down in the dark; thought about his
mother and Kitty, and dimly about someone else ; wrote his mother and Kitty a
letter, said be was coming home - called
it "a visit;" cried over the letter, but
was careful not to cry On it. He was a
real cry-baby - Jim was.
"Just run to seed," he said to himself,
bitterly, over and over; "just run to
seed." Then he went to sleep.
The following day he went down to the
railroad. That was the last day. Next
day he would be "off." The trainmaster
saw him and called him. A special was
just going out. The Directors were going over the road in the Officers' car.
Dick Rail was the engineer, and his fireman had been taken sick. Jim must take
the place. Jim had a mind not to do it.
He hated Dick. He thought of how he
had pursued him. But he heard a voice
behind him and turned. Carry was standing down the platform, talking with some
elderly gentlemen. She had on a travelling cap and ulster. She saw him and
came forward - a step:
"How do you do?" she held out her
little gloved hand. She was going out
over the road with her father. Jim took
off his hat and shook hands with her.
Dick Rail saw him, walked round the
other side of the engine, and tried to take
off his hat like that. It was not a success
Dick knew it. Jim went.
"Who was that?" one of the elderly
gentlemen asked Carry.
"An old friend of mine - a gentleman,"
"Rather run to seed - hey?" the old
fellow quoted, without knowing exactly
why; for he only half recognized Jim, if
he recognized him at all.
They started. It was a bad trip. The
weather was bad, the road was bad, the
engine bad; Dick bad - worse than all.
Jim had a bad time: he was to be off
when he got home. What would his
mother and Kitty do?
Once Carry came (brought by the President), and rode in the engine for
a little while. Jim helped
her up and spread his
coat for her to sit on,
put his overcoat under her feet ; his
heart was in it. Dick
was sullen, and Jim
had to show her about the engine. When
she got down to go back to the car she
thanked him - she "had enjoyed it greatly" - she "would like to try it again."
Jim smiled. He was almost good-looking
when he smiled.
Dick was meaner than ever after that,
sneered at Jim - swore ; but Jim didn't
mind it. He was thinking of someone else,
and of the rain which would prevent her
They were on the return trip, and
were half-way home when the accident
happened. It was just "good dusk," and
it had been raining all night and all day,
and the road was as rotten as mud. The
special was behind and was making up.
She had the right of way, and she was flying. She rounded a curve just above a
small "fill," under which was a little
stream, nothing but a mere "branch."
In good weather it would never be noticed. The gay party behind were at dinner. The first thing they knew, was the
sudden jerk which came from reversing
the engine at full speed, and the grind as
the wheels slid along under the brakes.
Then they stopped with a bump which
spilled them out of their seats, set the
lamps to swinging, and sent the things on
the table crashing on the floor. No one
was hurt, only shaken, and they crowded
out of the car to learn the cause. They
found it. The engine was half buried in
wet earth on the other side of the little
washout, with the tender jammed up into
the cab. The whole was wrapped in a
dense cloud of escaping steam. The noise
was terrific. The big engineer, bare-headed and covered with mud, and with his
face deadly white, was trying to get down
to the engine. Someone was in there.
They got him out after a while (but it
took some time) and laid him on the
ground, while a mattress was got. It was
Carry had been weeping. She sat down
and took his head in her lap, and wiped
his blackened and bleeding face with her
lace handkerchief; and smoothed his wet
The newspaper accounts, which are always reflections of what public sentiment
is, or should be, spoke of it - some, as "a
providential;" - others, as "a miraculous;" - and yet others as "a fortunate"
escape on the part of the President and
the Directors of the road, according to the
tendencies, religious or otherwise, of their
They mentioned casually that "only
one person was hurt - an employee, name
not ascertained." And one or two had
some gush about the devotion of the beautiful young lady, the daughter of one of
the directors of the road, who happened to
be on the train, and who, "like a ministering angel, held the head of the wounded man in her lap after he was taken from
the wreck." A good deal was made of
this picture, which was extensively copied.
Dick Rail's account, after he had come
back from carrying the broken body down
to the old place in the country, and helping to lay it away in the old enclosure under the big trees on the hill, was this: he said, when be stood in
the yard, with a solemn-faced group
around him, "we were late, and I was
just shaking 'em up. I had been meaner'n hell to Jim all the trip (I didn't know
him, and you all didn't neither), and I
was workin' him for all be was worth, I
didn't give him a minute. The sweat was
rolling off him, and I was damnin' him
with every shovelful. We was runnin'
under orders to make up, and we were
just rounding the curve this side of Ridge
Hill, when Jim hollered. He saw it as he
raised up with the shovel in his hand to
wipe the sweat off his face, and hollered
to me, 'My God! Look, Dick! Jump!
"I looked and Hell was right there. He
caught the lever and reversed, and put on
the air before I saw it, and then grabbed
me and flung me clean out of the cab:
'Jump!' he says, as he give me a swing.
I jumped, expectin' of course he was
comin' too; and as I lit, I saw him turn
and catch the lever and put on the sand.
The old engine was jumpin' nigh off the
track But she was too near. In she
went and the tender right on her. You
may talk about his eyes bein' bad; but
when he gave me that
swing, they looked
to me like coals of
fire. When we
got him out
He warn't nothin' but
mud and ashes. He warn't
opened his eyes, and breathed onct or
twict; but I don't think he knew anything, he was so smashed up. We laid
him out on the grass, and that young lady
took his head in her lap and cried over
him (she had come and seed him in the
engine), and said she knew his mother and
sister down in the country (she used to live
down there); they was gentlefolks; that
Jim was all they had. And when one of
them old director-fellows who had been
swilling himself behind there come aroun',
with his kid gloves on and his hands in his
great-coat pockets, lookin' down, and
sayin' something' about, 'Poor fellow,
couldn't he 'a jumped? Why didn't he
jump?' I let him have it; I said, 'Yes,
and if it hadn't been for him, you and I'd
both been frizzin' this minute.' And the
President standin' there said to some of
them, 'That was the same young fellow
who came into my office to get a place
last year when you were down, and said he
had "run to seed." But,' he says, 'Gentlemen, it was d----d good seed!'"
How good it was no one knew but two
weeping women in a lonely house.
© RailroadStories, 2002.