Skeevers' fireman, Billy, has been "sot up" a fortnight
now, and the Old Man put Mike Kelly on with Skeevers.
It's Mike's next turn to do the
"touch the button, the fireman does the rest" act, and the Old Man thinks
Skeevers a good runner to graduate the boys.
Skeevers is no hog; he knows that Billy is the best fireman on the road, and did lots
of his work, and that the next fellow will make it harder for him, but he's been thinking
of Bill some, and rejoices in his promotion - he has an interest in his success.
Mike was born with a constitution that could stand worlds of rest, and probably he also
inherited some of his propensity for never going to bed until the last cat is hung, and
then hating to keep awake the next day.
Mike, in common with other mortals, must suffer the ills of his inheritance; but Mike,
and all the rest of us, suffer more from the desires, habits and practices that
environment has established than from inheritance-or anything else.
Mike didn't get the right kind of an engineer to start with, so now, after firing four
years, Mike knows a lot of things about locomotives that are not so and has learned a lot
of things that he must unlearn, and formed a lot of habits that must be broken.
Perhaps the Old Man knew this, and put the job onto Skeevers, and blames Mike and his
first engineer; but why didn't the Old Man tumble to all this three years ago, before
Mike's crooked habits got "set," so to speak. These Old Men make lots of curious
engineers out of firemen of their own selection, and then go off and kick about them - but
that's nothing to do with Skeevers and Mike.
Mike's worst habit, as it struck Skeevers, was sleeping on the engine. Skeevers is down
on that; he knows that it is dead wrong, to begin with, and Skeevers carries a big scar
that he got one night, a long while ago, when he was firing for a man who slept on duty;
the man has slept ever since - in a graveyard. That was an object lesson to Skeevers, and
Skeevers maintains that one good object lesson is worth more than two books, or four or
five hundred "tellings." So Skeevers concluded to give Mike a few object lessons
on sleep, and how not to do it on an engine.
Skeevers pulls fast freight, generally having enough refrigerator cars or fruiters
ahead to handle the train with air. The division is long and hilly; some places the train
will run for eighteen or twenty miles.
The first trip out Mike attended to his duties pretty well, but got dozy on the long
stretches between fires; but the second trip be went fast asleep, and Skeevers had to wake
him up to get over Waxem hill.
The next night they had to double out, and as soon as they pitched over for a ten-mile
run, Mike fixed up his fire a little, and sat down.
"Mike," said Skeevers, "don't let me forget; I have orders not to pass
Ford's without orders-don't let me go to sleep."
"All right, Skeevers," said Mike, "where do you meet 'Three'?"
"At Ford's," said Skeevers.
Mike closed his eyes directly, just to rest 'em a little; then he looked around, owl
fashion, kind of thought he saw his best girl ahead of the engine, nodded to her, made a
profound bow, and - was off. The engine? No, no; off to sleep - "pounding his
ear," Mike calls it.
Skeevers sailed by Ford's, and took the siding at Sand Creek, all
"unbeknownst" to Mike.
When "Three" thundered by Mike jumped up, put in a fire, and asked Skeevers
if he had his orders yet.
"What orders?" asked Skeevers.
"That 'do not' at Ford's."
"We're by Ford's, and I didn't get the orders," said Skeevers, in an awed
tone of voice; it's a wonder we didn't hit 'Three.'
"You're in for it, Skeevers, I guess."
"So are you.
"Not much; I'm no bold engineer.
"I told you to look out, and not let me go to sleep; I believe you were asleep
"No, sir; I was drowsy, but not asleep."
"Not asleep? well, you had your eyes shut."
"Yes, but it wa'n't sleep."
"What was you thinking about when we passed Ford's?"
"Well, Mike, if you shut your eyes and stop thinking, it comes nearer being sleep
than anything I know of. We'll probably get fired, or get ninety days for this."
Mike was wide awake the rest of the way in, but Skeevers appeared glum and downhearted.
The head gafter came over near town, and Mike told him about it, and the gafter said they
had orders to meet "Three" at Sand Creek, and no "do not" at Ford's.
Mike accused Skeevers of "playing smart," and Skeevers asked Mike how different
it would have been had the case been genuine.
A few trips later Mike started a snooze in good shape, and Skeevers quietly let the
"48" drift against a slight grade and stop, steam low. In twenty minutes the
conductor came over, swung up into the gangway, and asked Skeevers what was the matter
with the "48."
"Nothin' at all," said Skeevers, "nothin' at all, but the fireman is
worn out for sleep, and has laid off; I have no fireman."
Mike was awake then, and heard the talk.
"I ain't paid for firing or keeping the fireman on duty," continued Skeevers;
"if Mike wants to lay off it's his business and the Old Man's - not mine. I won't run
without a fireman, though - not a mile."
The conductor consulted his watch.
"Can't get to Sand Creek for 'Three' now; what'll I say was the cause of
"No fireman," said Skeevers.
The conductor went back over the train, and Mike nursed his wrath a while, and then
"Skinny Skeevers, how long you goin' to work this racket, and make such a darned
fuss about a man's dozin' a little, and reportin' every little thing?"
"Just as long as you sleep on duty, Mike," said Skeevers; "I won't run a
rod with you when you are asleep; I will stop just as quick as you shut your eyes, let the
circumstances be what they may. I shall not let the conductors lay any such delay to bad
coal or leaky flues. It must all be charged up to 'No fireman.' If you stay on the road
you will soon be running an engine here, and if you sleep on duty now you will then, and
it will all end in your killing yourself, and perhaps someone else - very likely me. If
you stay on the road, and on this engine, I will break you of sleeping - you are liable to
be fired any day for good cause, however."
Mike kicked some, all to himself; but he is keeping awake pretty well, and if Skeevers
just lets a little air out of the brake valve now, Mike will straighten up and say:
"Oh, I ain't asleep, Skinny; bet your neck I'm all right."
Skeevers says it will take six months to make a permanent cure, and remove the tendency
of fatal symptoms to return; but Skeevers says he'll fetch him, and still has an abiding
faith in object lessons.