THE LAST SPIKE
“Then there is nothing against him but his poverty?”
“And general appearance.”
“He’s the handsomest man in America.”
“Yes, that is against him, and the fact that he is always in America. He appears to be afraid to get out.”
“He’s the bravest boy in the world,” she replied, her face still to the window. “He risked his life to drag me from under the ice,” she added, with a girl’s loyalty to her hero and a woman’s pride in the man she loves.
“Well, I must own he has nerve,” her father added, “or he never would have accepted my conditions.”
“And what where these conditions, pray?” the young woman asked, turning and facing her father, who sat watching her every move and gesture.
“First of all, he must do something; and do it off his own bat. His old father spent his last dollar to educate this young rascal, to equip him for the battle of life, and his sole achievement is a curve that nobody can find. Now I insist he shall do something, and I have given him five years for the work.”
“Five years!” she gasped, as she lost herself in a big chair.
“He is to have time to forget you, and you are to have ample opportunity to forget him, which you will doubtless do, for you are not to meet or communicate with each other during this period of probation.”
“Did he promise this?”
“Upon his honor.”
“And if he break that promise?”
“Ah, then he would be without honor, and you would not marry him.” A moment’s silence followed, broken by a long, deep sigh that ended in little quivering waves, like the faint ripples that reach the shore,—the whispered echoes of the sobbing sea.
“O father, it is cruel! cruel! cruel!” she cried, raising a tearful face to him.
“It is justice, stern justice; to you, my dear, to myself, and this fine young fellow who has stolen your heart. Let him show himself worthy of you, and you have my blessing and my fortune.”
“Is he going soon?”
“He is gone.”
The young woman knelt by her father’s chair and bowed her head upon his knee, quivering with grief.
This stern man, who had humped himself and made a million, put a hand on her head and said:
“Ma-Mary”—and then choked up.
The tent boy put a small white card down on General Dodge’s desk one morning, upon which was printed:
J. Bradford, C.E.
The General, who was at that time chief engineer in charge of the construction of the first Pacific Railroad, turned the bit of pasteboard over. It seemed so short and simple. He ran his eyes over a printed list, alphabetically arranged, of directors, promoters, statesmen, capitalists, and others who were in the habit of signing “letters of recommendation” for young men who wanted to do something and begin well up the ladder.