A Railroad Feat


Rudyard Kipling - Captains Courageous - Chapter IX


Una hazaña ferroviaria - Mi traducción castellana (pendiente)


Whatever his private sorrows may be, a multi-millionaire, like any other working man, should keep abreast of his business. Harvey Cheyne, senior, had gone East late in June to meet a woman broken down, half mad, who dreamed day and night of her son drowning in the grey seas. He had surrounded her with doctors, trained nurses, massage women, and even faith-cure companions, but they were useless. Mrs. Cheyne lay still and moaned, or talked of her boy by the hour together to any one who would listen. Hope she had none, and who could offer it? All she needed was assurance that drowning did not hurt; and her husband watched to guard lest she should make the experiment. Of his own sorrow he spoke little - hardly realised the depth of it till he caught himself asking the calendar on his writing-desk, 'What's the use of going on?'

There had always lain a pleasant notion at the back of his head that, some day, when he had rounded off everything and the boy had left college, he would take his son to his heart and lead him into his possessions. Then that boy, he argued, as busy fathers do, would instantly become his companion, partner, and ally, and there would follow splendid years of great works carried out together - the old head backing the young fire. Now his boy was dead - lost at sea, as it might have been a Swede sailor from one of Cheyne's big tea-ships; the wife was dying, or worse; he himself was trodden down by platoons of women and doctors and maids and attendants; worried almost beyond endurance by the shift and change of her poor restless whims; hopeless, with no heart to meet his many enemies.

He had taken the wife to his raw new palace in San Diego, where she and her people occupied a wing of great price, and Cheyne, in a veranda-room, between a secretary and a typist, who was also a telegraphist, toiled along wearily from day to day. There was a war of rates among four Western railroads in which he was supposed to be interested; a devastating strike had developed in his lumber-camps in Oregon, and the legislature of the State of California, which has no love for its makers, was preparing open war against him.

Ordinarily he would have accepted battle ere it was offered, and have waged a pleasant and unscrupulous campaign. But now he sat limply, his soft black hat pushed forward on to his nose, his big body shrunk inside his loose clothes, staring at his boots or the Chinese junks in the bay, and assenting absently to the secretary's questions as he opened the Saturday mail.

Cheyne was wondering how much it would cost to drop everything and pull out. He carried huge insurances, could buy himself royal annuities, and between one of his places in Colorado and a little society (that would do the wife good), say in Washington and the South Carolina islands, a man might forget plans that had come to nothing. On the other hand...

The click of the typewriter stopped; the girl was looking at the secretary, who had turned white.

He passed Cheyne a telegram repeated from San Francisco: -

Picked up by fishing schooner We're Here having fallen off boat great times on Banks fishing all well waiting Gloucester Mass care Disko Troop for money or orders wire what shall do and how is mama Harvey N. Cheyne.

The father let it fall, laid his head down on the roller-top of the shut desk, and breathed heavily. The secretary ran for Mrs. Cheyne's doctor, who found Cheyne pacing to and fro.

'What - what d'you think of it? Is it possible? Is there any meaning to it? I can't quite make it out,' he cried.

'I can,' said the doctor. 'I lose seven thousand a year - that's all.' He thought of the struggling New York practice he had dropped at Cheyne's imperious bidding, and returned the telegram with a sigh.

'You mean you'd tell her? May be a fraud.'

'What's the motive?' said the doctor coolly. 'Detection's too certain. It's the boy sure enough.'

Enter a French maid, impudently, as an indispensable one who is kept on only by large wages.

'Mrs. Cheyne she say you must come at once. She think you are seek.'

The master of thirty millions bowed his head meekly and followed Suzanne; and a thin, high voice on the upper landing of the great white-wood square staircase cried: 'What is it? What has happened?'

No doors could keep out the shriek that rang through the echoing house a moment later, when her husband blurted out the news.

'And that's all right,' said the doctor, serenely, to the typist. 'About the only medical statement in novels with any truth to it is that joy don't kill, Miss Kinzey.'

'I know it; but we've a heap to do first.' Miss Kinzey was from Milwaukee, somewhat direct of speech; and as her fancy leaned towards the secretary, she divined there was work in hand. He was looking earnestly at the vast roller-map of America on the wall.

'Milsom, we're going right across. Private car - straight through - Boston. Fix the connections,' shouted Cheyne down the staircase.

'I thought so.'

The secretary turned to the typist, and their eyes met (out of that was born a story - nothing to do with this story). She looked inquiringly, doubtful of his resources. He signed to her to move to the Morse, as a general brings brigades into action. Then he swept his hand musician-wise through his hair, regarded the ceiling, and set to work, while Miss Kinzey's white fingers called up the Continent of America.

'K. H. Wade, Los Angeles - The "Constance" is at Los Angeles, isn't she, Miss Kinzey?'

'Yep.' Miss Kinzey nodded between clicks as the secretary looked at his watch.

'Ready? Send "Constance," private car, here, and arrange for special to leave here Sunday in time to connect with New York Limited at Sixteenth Street, Chicago, Tuesday next.'

Click - click - click! 'Couldn't you better that?'

'Not on those grades. That gives 'em sixty hours from here to Chicago. They won't gain anything by taking a special east of that. Ready? Also arrange with Lake Shore and Michigan Southern to take "Constance" on New York Central and Hudson River Buffalo to Albany, and B. and A. the same Albany to Boston. Indispensable I should reach Boston Wednesday evening. Be sure nothing prevents. Have also wired Canniff, Toucey, and Barnes. - Sign, Cheyne.'

Miss Kinzey nodded, and the secretary went on.

'Now then. Canniff, Toucey, and Barnes, of course. Ready? Canniff, Chicago. Please take my private car "Constance" from Santa Fé at Sixteenth Street next Tuesday p.m. on N. Y. Limited through to Buffalo and deliver N. Y. C. for Albany. - Ever bin to N'York, Miss Kinzey? We'll go some day.- Ready? Take car Buffalo to Albany on Limited Tuesday p.m. That's for Toucey.'

'Haven't bin to Noo York, but I know that!' with a toss of the head.

'Beg pardon. Now, Boston and Albany, Barnes, same instructions from Albany through to Boston. Leave three-five p.m. (you needn't wire that); arrive nine-five p.m. Wednesday. That covers everything Wade will do, but it pays to shake up the managers.'

'It's great,' said Miss Kinzey, with a look of admiration. This was the kind of man she understood and appreciated.

' 'Tisn't bad,' said Milsom, modestly. 'Now, any one but me would have lost thirty hours and spent a week working out the run, instead of handing him over to the Santa Fé straight through to Chicago.'

'But see here, about that Noo York Limited. Chauncey Depew himself couldn't hitch his car to her,' Miss Kinzey suggested, recovering herself.

'Yes, but this isn't Chauncey. It's Cheyne - lightning. It goes.'

'Even so. 'Guess we'd better wire the boy. You've forgotten that, anyhow.'

'I'll ask.'

When he returned with the father's message bidding Harvey meet them in Boston at an appointed hour, he found Miss Kinzey laughing over the keys. Then Milsom laughed too, for the frantic clicks from Los Angeles ran: 'We want to know why - why - why? General uneasiness developed and spreading.'

Ten minutes later Chicago appealed to Miss Kinzey in these words: 'If crime of century maturing please warn friends in time. We are all getting to cover here.'

This was capped by a message from Topeka (and wherein Topeka was concerned even Milsom could not guess): 'Don't shoot, Colonel. We'll come down.'

Cheyne smiled grimly at the consternation of his enemies when the telegrams were laid before him. 'They think we're on the war-path. Tell 'em we don't feel like fighting just now, Milsom. Tell 'em what we're going for. I guess you and Miss Kinsey had better come along, though it isn't likely I shall do any business on the road. Tell 'em the truth - for once.'

So the truth was told. Miss Kinzey clicked in the sentiment while the secretary added the memorable quotation, 'Let us have peace,' and in board-rooms two thousand miles away the representatives of sixty-three million dollars' worth of variously manipulated railroad interests breathed more freely. Cheyne was flying to meet the only son, so miraculously restored to him. The bear was seeking his cub, not the bulls. Hard men who had their knives drawn to fight for their financial lives put away the weapons and wished him God-speed, while half-a-dozen panic-smitten tinpot roads perked up their heads and spoke of the wonderful things they would have done had not Cheyne buried the hatchet.

It was a busy week-end among the wires; for now that their anxiety was removed, men and cities hastened to accommodate. Los Angeles called to San Diego and Barstow that the Southern California engineers might know and be ready in their lonely round-houses; Barstow passed the word to the Atlantic and Pacific; and Albuquerque flung it the whole length of the Atchinson, Topeka, and Santa Fé management, even into Chicago. An engine, combination-car with crew, and the great and gilded "Constance" private car were to be 'expedited' over those two thousand three hundred and fifty miles. The train would take precedence of one hundred and seventy-seven others meeting and passing; despatchers and crews of every one of those said trains must be notified. Sixteen locomotives, sixteen engineers, and sixteen firemen would be needed - each and every one the best available. Two and one-half minutes would be allowed for changing engines, three for watering, and two for coaling. 'Warn the men, and arrange tanks and chutes accordingly; for Harvey Cheyne is in a hurry, a hurry - a hurry,' sang the wires. 'Forty miles an hour will be expected, and division superintendents will accompany this special over their respective divisions. From San Diego to Sixteenth Street, Chicago, let the magic carpet be laid down. Hurry! oh, hurry!'

'It will be hot,' said Cheyne, as they rolled out of San Diego in the dawn of Sunday. 'We're going to hurry, mama, just as fast as ever we can; but I really don't think there's any good of your putting on your bonnet and gloves yet. You'd much better lie down and take your medicine. I'd play you a game of dominoes, but it's Sunday.'

'I'll be good. Oh, I will be good. Only - taking off my bonnet makes me feel as if we'd never get there.'

'Try to sleep a little, mama, and we'll be in Chicago before you know.'

'But it's Boston, father. Tell them to hurry.'

The six-foot drivers were hammering their way to San Bernardino and the Mohave wastes, but this was no grade for speed. That would come later. The heat of the desert followed the heat of the hills as they turned east to the Needles and the Colorado River. The car cracked in the utter drouth and glare, and they put crushed ice to Mrs. Cheyne's neck, and toiled up the long, long grades, past Ash Fork, towards Flagstaff, where the forests and quarries are, under the dry, remote skies. The needle of the speed-indicator flicked and wagged to and fro; the cinders rattled on the roof, and whirls of dust sucked after the whirling wheels. The crew of the combination sat on their bunks, panting in their shirt-sleeves, and Cheyne found himself among them shouting old, old stories of the railroad that every trainman knows, above the roar of the car. He told them about his son, and how the sea had given up its dead, and they nodded and spat and rejoiced with him; asked after 'her, back there,' and whether she could stand it if the engineer 'let her out a piece,' and Cheyne thought she could. Accordingly, the great fire-horse was 'let out' from Flagstaff to Winslow till a division superintendent protested.

But Mrs. Cheyne, in the boudoir state-room, where the French maid, sallow-white with fear, clung to the silver door-handle, only moaned a little and begged her husband to bid them 'hurry.' And so they dropped the dry sands and moon-struck rocks of Arizona behind them, and grilled on till the crash of the couplings and the wheeze of the brake-hose told them they were at Coolidge by the Continental Divide.

Three bold and experienced men - cool, confident, and dry when they began; white, quivering, and wet when they finished their trick at those terrible wheels - swung her over the great lift from Albuquerque to Glorietta and beyond Springer, up and up to the Raton Tunnel on the State line, whence they dropped rocking into La Junta, had sight of the Arkansaw, and tore down the long slope to Dodge City, where Cheyne took comfort once again from setting his watch an hour ahead.

There was very little talk in the car. The secretary and typist sat together on the stamped Spanish leather cushions by the plate-glass observation window at the rear end, watching the surge and ripple of the ties crowded back behind them, and, it is believed, making notes of the scenery. Cheyne moved nervously between his own extravagant gorgeousness and the naked necessity of the combination, an unlit cigar in his teeth, till the pitying crews forgot that he was their tribal enemy, and did their best to entertain him.

At night the bunched electrics lit up that distressful palace of all the luxuries, and they fared sumptuously, swinging on through the emptiness of abject desolation. Now they heard the swish of a water-tank, and the guttural voice of a Chinaman, the clink-clink of hammers that tested the Krupp-steel wheels, and the oath of a tramp chased off the rear platform; now the solid crash of coal shot into the tender; and now a beating back of noises as they flew past a waiting train. Now they looked out into great abysses, a trestle purring beneath their tread, or up to rocks that barred out half the stars. Now scaur and ravine changed and rolled back to jagged mountains on the horizon's edge, and now broke into hills lower and lower, till at last came the true plains.

At Dodge City an unknown hand threw in a copy of a Kansas paper containing some sort of an interview with Harvey, who had evidently fallen in with an enterprising reporter, telegraphed on from Boston. The joyful journalese revealed that it was beyond question their boy, and it soothed Mrs. Cheyne for a while. Her one word 'hurry' was conveyed by the crews to the engineers at Nickerson, Topeka, and Marceline, where the grades are easy, and they brushed the continent behind them. Towns and villages were close together now, and a man could feel here that he moved among people.

'I can't see the dial, and my eyes ache so. What are we doing?'

'The very best we can, mama. There's no sense in getting in before the Limited. We'd only have to wait.'

'I don't care. I want to feel we're moving. Sit down and tell me the miles.'

Cheyne sat down and read the dial for her (there were some miles which stand for records to this day), but the seventy-foot car never changed its long steamer-like roll, moving through the heat with the hum of a giant bee. Yet the speed was not enough for Mrs. Cheyne; and the heat, the remorseless August heat, was making her giddy; the clock hands would not move, and when, oh, when would they be in Chicago?

It is not true that, as they changed engines at Fort Madison, Cheyne passed over to the Amalgamated Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers an endowment sufficient to enable them to fight him and his fellows on equal terms for evermore. He paid his obligations to engineers and firemen as he believed they deserved, and only his bank knows what he gave the crews who had sympathized with him. It is on record that the last crew took entire charge of switching operations at Sixteenth Street, because 'she' was in a doze at last, and Heaven was to help any one who bumped her.

Now the highly-paid specialist who conveys the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Limited from Chicago to Elkhart is something of an autocrat, and he does not approve of being told how to back up to a car. None the less he handled the "Constance" as if she might have been a load of dynamite, and when the crew rebuked him, they did it in whispers and dumb show.

'Pshaw!' said the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fé men, discussing life later; 'we weren't runnin' for a record. Harvey Cheyne's wife, she were sick back, an' we didn't want to jounce her. Come to think of it, our runnin' time from San Diego to Chicago was 57.54. You can tell that to them Eastern way-trains. When we're tryin' for a record, we'll let you know.'

To the Western man (though this would not please either city), Chicago and Boston are cheek by jowl, and some railroads encourage the delusion. The Limited whirled the "Constance" into Buffalo and the arms of the New York Central and Hudson River (illustrious magnates with white whiskers and gold charms on their watch-chains boarded her here to talk a little business to Cheyne), who slid her gracefully into Albany, where the Boston and Albany completed the run from tide-water to tide-water - total time, eighty-seven hours and thirty-five minutes, or three days, fifteen hours and one-half. Harvey was waiting for them.


Juan Manuel Grijalvo - Captains Courageous - Capitanes intrépidos...



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