At Sand Creek Siding
As a general proposition, I don't believe much in the things called
"hunches." They are bad for the digestion, and as often as not are
those patent barometers that are always pointing to "Set Fair" when it
is raining like Noah's flood. But there are exceptions to all rules,
we certainly uncovered the biggest one of the lot--the boss and I--the
night we left Portland and the good old Pacific Coast.
It was this way. We had finished the construction work on the Oregon
Midland; had quit, cleaned up the offices, drawn our last pay-checks,
told everybody good-by, and were on our way to the train, when I had
of those queer little premonitory chills you hear so much about and
just as well as could be that we were never going to pull through to
Chicago without getting a jolt of some sort. The reason--if you'll
it a reason--was that, just before we came to the railroad station,
boss walked calmly under a ladder standing in front of a new building;
and besides that, it was the thirteenth day of the month, a Friday,
raining like the very mischief.
Just to sort of toll us along, maybe, the fates didn't begin on us
night. They waited until the next day, and then proceeded to shove us
behind a freight-train wreck at Widner, Idaho, where we lost twelve
hours. It looked as if that didn't amount to much, because we weren't
due anywhere at any particular time. The boss was on his way home for
little visit with his folks in Illinois, and beyond that he was going
meet a bunch of Englishmen in Montreal, and maybe let them make him
General Manager of one of the Canadian railroads.
So Mr. Norcross was in no special hurry, and neither was I. I wasn't
under pay, but I expected to be when we reached Canada. I had been
confidential clerk and shorthand man for the boss on the Midland
construction, and he was taking me along partly because he knows a
cracking good stenographer when he sees one, but mostly because I was
dead anxious to go anywhere he was going.
But to come back to the Widner delay: if it hadn't been for that
twelve-hour lay-out we would have caught the Saturday night train on
Pioneer Short Line, instead of the day train Sunday morning, and there
would have been no meeting with Mrs. Sheila and Maisie Ann; no
from Mr. Chadwick, because it wouldn't have found us; no hold-up at
Creek Siding; in short, nothing would have happened that did happen.
I mustn't get ahead of my story.
It was on Sunday that the jolt began to get ready to land on us. Mr.
Norcross had been a railroad man for so long that he had forgotten how
to knock off on Sundays, and right soon after breakfast, with the help
of a little Pullman berth table and me and my typewriter, he turned
section into a business office, saying that now we had a good quiet
we'd clean up the million or so odds and ends of correspondence he'd
been letting go while we were tussling for the Midland right-of-way
through the Oregon mountains.
By this time, you will understand, we were rocketing along over the
Pioneer Short Line, and were supposed to be due at Portal City at
half-past seven that evening. From where he sat dictating to me the
was facing forward and now and then an absent sort of look came into
eyes while he was talking off his letters, and it puzzled me because
wasn't like him. I may as well say here as anywhere that one of his
strong points is to be always "at himself" under all sorts of
So, as I say, I was sort of puzzled; and one of the times after he had
given me a full grist of letters and had gone off to smoke while I
typed a few thousand lines from my notes to catch up, I made a
discovery. There were two people in Section Five just ahead of us, a
young woman and a girl of maybe fifteen or so, and the Pullman was the
old-fashioned kind, with low seat-backs. I put it up that in those
absent-eyed intervals Mr. Norcross had been studying the back of the
young woman's neck. I was measurably sure it wasn't the little girl's.
Along in the forenoon I made an excuse to go and get a drink of water
out of the forward cooler, and on the way back I took a good square
at our neighbors in Number Five. At that I didn't wonder at the boss's
temporary lapses any more whatever. The young woman was pretty enough
start a stopped clock--only "pretty" isn't just the word, either;
wasn't any word, when you come right down to it. And the little girl
simply a peach--a nice, downy, rosy peach; chunky, round-faced,