McNally had been holding her in the back motion with steam in her cylinders; and now, when she leaped out into space, her throttle flew wide, a knot in the whistle-rope caught in the throttle, opening the whistle-valve as well. Down, down she plunged,—her wheels whirling in mid-air, a solid stream of fire escaping from her quivering stack, and from her throat a shriek that almost froze the blood in the veins of the onlookers. Fainter and farther came the cry, until at last the wild waters caught her, held her, hushed her, and smothered out her life.
Over the walnuts and wine, as they say in Fifth Avenue, the gray-haired gentleman and I lingered long after the last of the diners had left the cafe car. One by one the lights were lowered. Some of the table-stewards had removed their duck and donned their street clothes. The shades were closely drawn, so that people could not peep in when the train was standing. The chief steward was swinging his punch on his finger and yawning. My venerable friend, who was a veritable author’s angel, was a retired railway president with plenty of time to talk.
“We had, on the Vandalia,” he began after lighting a fresh cigar, “a dare-devil driver named Hubbard—’Yank’ Hubbard they called him. He was a first-class mechanic, sober and industrious, but notoriously reckless, though he had never had a wreck. The Superintendent of Motive Power had selected him for the post of master-mechanic at Effingham, but I had held him up on account of his bad reputation as a wild rider.
“We had been having a lot of trouble with California fruit trains,—delays, wrecks, cars looted while in the ditch,—and I had made the delay of a fruit train almost a capital offence. The bulletin was, I presume, rather severe, and the enginemen and conductors were not taking it very well.
“One night the White Mail was standing at the station at East St. Louis (that was before the first bridge was built) loading to leave. My car was on behind, and I was walking up and down having a good smoke. As I turned near the engine, I stopped to watch the driver of the White Mail pour oil in the shallow holes on the link-lifters without wasting a drop. He was on the opposite side of the engine, and I could see only his flitting, flickering torch and the dipping, bobbing spout of his oiler.
“A man, manifestly another engineer, came up. The Mail driver lifted his torch and said, ‘Hello, Yank,’ to which the new-comer made no direct response. He seemed to have something on his mind. ’What are you out on?’ asked the engineer, glancing at the other’s overalls. ’Fast freight—perishable—must make time—no excuse will be taken,’ he snapped, quoting and misquoting from my severe circular. ’Who’s in that Kaskaskia?’ he asked, stepping up close to the man with the torch.
“‘The ol’ man,’ said the engineer.