Jim Wainwright's Kid by John A. Hill
As I put down my name and the number of the crack engine of America—as
well as the imprint of a greasy thumb—on the register of our roundhouse
last Saturday night, the foreman borrowed a chew of my fireman's
fine-cut, and said to me:
"John, that old feller that's putting on the new injectors wants to see you."
"What does he want, Jack?" said I. "I don't remember to have seen him,
and I'll tell you right now that the old squirts on the 411 are good
enough for me—I ain't got time to monkey with new-fangled injectors on that run."
"Why, he says he knowed you out West fifteen years ago."
"So! What kind o' looking chap is he?"
"Youngish face, John; but hair and whiskers as white as snow.
Sorry-looking rooster—seems like he's lost all his friends on earth,
and wa'n't jest sure where to find 'em in the next world."
"I can't imagine who it would be. Let's see—'Lige Clark, he's dead;
Dick Bellinger, Hank Baldwin, Jim Karr, Dave Keller, Bill Parr—can't be
none of them. What's his name?"
"Winthrop—no, Wetherson—no, lemme see—why, no—no, Wainright; that's
it, Wainright; J. E. Wainright."
"Jim Wainright!" says I, "Jim Wainright! I haven't heard a word of him
for years—thought he was dead; but he's a young fellow compared to me."
"Well, he don't look it," said Jack.
After supper I went up to the hotel and asked for J. E. Wainright.
Maybe you think Jim and I didn't go over the history of the "front."
"Out at the front" is the pioneer's ideal of railroad life. To a man who
has put in a few years there the memory of it is like the memory of
marches, skirmishes, and battles in the mind of the veteran soldier. I
guess we started at the lowest numbered engine on the road, and
gossiped about each and every crew. We had finished the list of
engineers and had fairly started on the firemen when a thought struck me, and I said:
"Oh, I forgot him, Jim—the 'Kid,' your cheery little cricket of a
firesy, who thought Jim Wainright the only man on the road that could
run an engine right. I remember he wouldn't take a job running
switcher—said a man that didn't know that firing for Jim Wainright was
a better job than running was crazy. What's become of him? Running, I suppose?"
Jim Wainright put his hand up to his eyes for a minute, and his voice
was a little husky as he said:
"No, John, the Kid went away—"
"Yes, across the Great Divide—dead."
"That's tough," said I, for I saw Jim felt bad. "The Kid and you were
like two brothers."
"John, I loved the—"
Then Jim broke down. He got his hat and coat, and said:
"John, let's get out into the air—I feel all choked up here; and I'll
tell you a strange, true story—the Kid's story."
As we got out of the crowd and into Boston Common, Jim told his story,
and here it is, just as I remember it—and I'm not bad at remembering.
"I'll commence at the beginning, John, so that you will understand. It's
a strange story, but when I get through you'll recall enough yourself to
prove its truth.
"Before I went beyond the Mississippi and under the shadows of the Rocky
Mountains, I fired, and was promoted, on a prairie road in the Great
Basin well known in the railway world. I was much like the rest of the
boys until I commenced to try to get up a substitute for the link
motion. I read an article in a scientific paper from the pen of a
jackass who showed a Corliss engine card, and then blackguarded the
railroad mechanics of America for being satisfied with the link because
it was handy. I started in to design a motion to make a card,
but—well, you know how good-for-nothing those things are to pull loads with.
"After my first attempt, I put in many nights making a wooden model for
the Patent Office. I was subsequently informed that the child of my
brain interfered with about ten other motions. Then I commenced to
think—which I ought to have done before. I went to studying what had
been done, and soon came to the conclusion that I just knew a
little—about enough to get along running. I gave up hope of being an
inventor and a benefactor of mankind, but study had awakened in me the
desire for improvement; and after considerable thought I came to the
conclusion that the best thing I could do was to try to be the best
runner on the road, just as a starter. In reality, in my inmost soul, my
highest ideal was the master mechanic's position.
"I was about twenty-five years old, and had been running between two or
three years, with pretty good success, when one day the general master
mechanic sent for me. In the office I was introduced to a gentleman,
and the G. M. M. said to him in my presence:
"'This is the engineer I spoke to you of. We have none better. I think
he would suit you exactly, and, when you are through with him, send him
back; we are only lending him, mind,' and he went out into the shop.
"The meaning of it all was that the stranger represented a firm that had
put up the money to build a locomotive with a patent boiler for burning
a patent fuel—she had an improved valve motion, too—and they had asked
our G. M. M. for a good engineer, to send East and break in and run the
new machine and go with her around the country on ten-day trials on the
different roads. He offered good pay, it was work I liked, and I went. I
came right here to Boston and reported to the firm. They were a big
concern in another line, and the head of the house was a relative of our
G. M. M.—that's why he had a chance to send me.
"After the usual introductions, the president said to me:
"'Now, Mr. Wainright, this new engine of ours is hardly started yet.
The drawings are done, and the builders' contract is ready to sign; but
we want you to look over the drawings, to see if there are any practical
suggestions you can make. Then stay in the shops, and see that the work
is done right. The inventor is not a practical man; help him if you can,
for experience tells us that ten things fail because of bad design
where one does because of bad manipulation. Come up into the
drawing-room, and I will introduce you to the inventor.'
"Up under the skylight I met the designer of the new engine, a mild
little fellow—but he don't figure in this story. In five minutes I was
deep in the study of the drawings. Everything seemed to be worked out
all right, except that they had the fire-door opening the wrong way and
the brake-valve couldn't be reached—but many a good builder did that
twenty years ago. I was impressed with the beauty of the drawings—they
were like lithographs, and one, a perspective, was shaded and colored
handsomely. I complimented him on them.
"'They are beautiful, sir,' he said; 'they were made by a lady. I'll
introduce you to her.'
"A bright, plain-faced little woman with a shingled head looked up from
her drawing-board as we approached, shook hands cordially when
introduced, and at once entered into an intelligent discussion of the
plans of the new record-beater.
"Well, it was some months before the engine was ready for the road, and
in that time I got pretty well acquainted with Miss Reynolds. She was
mighty plain, but sharp as a buzz-saw. I don't think she was really
homely, but she'd never have been arrested for her beauty. There was
something 'fetching' about her appearance—you couldn't help liking her.
She was intelligent, and it was such a novelty to find a woman who knew
the smoke stack from the steam chest. I didn't fall in love with her at
all, but I liked to talk to her over the work. She told me her story;
not all at once, but here and there a piece, until I knew her history pretty well.
"It seems that her father had been chief draughtsman of those works for
years, but had lately died. She had a strong taste for mechanics, and
her father, who believed in women learning trades, had taught her
mechanical drawing, first at home and then in the shop. She had helped
in busy times as an extra, but never went to work for regular wages
until the death of her father made it necessary.
"She seemed to like to hear stories of the road, and often asked me to
tell her some thrilling experience the second time. Her eyes sparkled
and her face kindled when I touched on a snow-bucking experience. She
often said that if she was a man she'd go on the railroad, and after
such a remark she would usually sigh and smile at the same time. One
day, when the engine was pretty nearly ready, she said to me:
"'Mr. Wainright, who is going to fire the Experiment?'
"'I don't know. I had forgot about that; I'll have to see about it.'
"'It wouldn't be of much use to get an experienced man, would it—the
engine will burn a new fuel in a new way?'
"'No,' said I, 'not much.'
"'Now,' said she, coloring a little, 'let me ask a favor of you. I have
a brother who is just crazy to go out firing. I don't want him to go
unless it's with a man I can trust; he is young and inexperienced, you
know. Won't you take him? Please do.'
"'Why, I'll be glad to,' said I. 'I'll speak to the old man about it.'
"'Don't tell him it's my brother.'
"'Well, all right.'
"The old man told me to hire whoever I liked, and I told Miss Reynolds
to bring the boy in the morning.
"'Won't you wait until Monday? It will be an accommodation to me.'
"Of course I waited.
"The next day Miss Reynolds did not come to the office, and I was busy
at the shop. Monday came, but no Miss Reynolds. About nine o'clock,
however, the foreman came down to the Experiment with a boy, apparently
about eighteen years old, and said there was a lad with a note for me.
"Before reading the note I shook hands with the boy, and told him I knew
who he was, for he looked like his sister. He was small, but wiry, and
had evidently come prepared for business, as he had some overclothes
under his arm and a pair of buckskin gloves. He was bashful and quiet,
as boys usually are during their first experience away from home. The note read:
"'Dear Mr. Wainright.—This will be handed you by brother George. I
hope you will be satisfied with him. I know he will try to please
you and do his duty; don't forget how green he is. I am obliged to
go into the country to settle up some of my father's affairs and
may not see you again before you go. I sincerely hope the
"Experiment," George, and his engineer will be successful. I shall watch you all.
"'G. E. Reynolds.'
"I felt kind of cut up, somehow, about going away without bidding Old
Business—as the other draughtsman called Miss Reynolds—good-by; but I
was busy with the engine.
"The foreman came along half an hour after the arrival of young
Reynolds, and seeing him at work cleaning the window glass, asked who he was.
"'The fireman,' said I.
"'What! that kid?'
"And from that day I don't think I ever called young Reynolds by any
other name half a dozen times. That was the 'Kid' you knew. When it came
quitting time that night, I asked the Kid where they lived, and he said,
Charlestown. I remarked that his voice was like his sister's; but he
laughed, and said I'd see difference enough if they were together; and
bidding me good-night, caught a passing car.
"We broke the Experiment in for a few days, and then tackled half a
train for Providence. She would keep her water just about hot enough to
wash in with the pump on. It was a tough day; I was in the front end
half the time at every stop. The Kid did exactly what I told him, and
was in good spirits all the time. I was cross. Nothing will make a man
crosser than a poor steamer.
"We got to Providence in the evening tired; but after supper the Kid
said he had an aunt and her family living there, and if I didn't mind,
he'd try to find them. I left the door unlocked, and slept on one side
of the bed, but the Kid didn't come back; he was at the engine when I
got there the next morning.
"The Kid was such a nice little fellow I liked to have him with me, and,
somehow or other (I hardly noticed it at the time), he had a good
influence on me. In them days I took a drink if I felt like it; but the
Kid got me into the habit of taking lemonade, and wouldn't go into
drinking places, and I soon quit it. He gave me many examples of
controlling my temper, and soon got me into the habit of thinking before I spoke.
"We played horse with that engine for four or five weeks, mostly around
town, but I could see it was no go. The patent fuel was no good, and the
patent fire-box little better, and I advised the firm to put a standard
boiler on her and a pair of links, and sell her while the paint was
fresh. They took my advice.
"The Kid and I took the engine to Hinkley's, and left her there; we
packed up our overclothes, and as we walked away, the Kid asked: 'What
will you do now, Jim?'
"'Oh, I've had a nice play, and I'll go back to the road. I wish you'd go along.'
"'I wouldn't like anything better; will you take me?'
"'Yes, but I ain't sure that I can get you a job right away.'
"'Well, I could fire for you, couldn't I?'
"'I'd like to have you, Kid; but you know I have a regular engine and a
regular fireman. I'll ask for you, though.'
"'I won't fire for anybody else!'
"'You won't! What would you do if I should die?'
"'Honest; if I can't fire for you, I won't fire at all.'
"I put in a few days around the 'Hub,' and as I had nothing to do, my
mind kept turning to Miss Reynolds. I met the Kid daily, and on one of
our rambles I asked him where his sister was.
"'Out in the country.'
"'Send word to her that I am going away and want to see her, will you, Kid?'
"'Well, yes; but Sis is funny; she's too odd for any use. I don't think she'll come.'
"'Well, I'll go and see her.'
"'No, Sis would think you were crazy.'
"'Why? Now look here Kid, I like that sister of yours, and I want to see her.'
"But the Kid just stopped, leaned against the nearest building, and
laughed—laughed until the tears ran down his cheeks. The next day he
brought me word that his sister had gone to Chicago to make some
sketches for the firm and hoped to come to see us after she was through.
I started for Chicago the day following, the Kid with me.
"I had little trouble in getting the Kid on with me, as my old fireman
had been promoted. I had a nice room with another plug-puller, and in a
few days I was in the old jog—except for the Kid. He refused to room
with my partner's fireman; and when I talked to him about saving money
that way, he said he wouldn't room with any one—not even me. Then he
laughed, and said he kicked so that no one could room with him. The Kid
was the butt of all the firemen on account of his size, but he kept the
cleanest engine, and was never left nor late, and seemed more and more
attached to me—and I to him.
"Things were going along slick enough when Daddy Daniels had a row with
his fireman, and our general master mechanic took the matter up.
Daniels' fireman claimed the run with me, as he was the oldest man, and,
as they had an 'oldest man' agreement, the master mechanic ordered
Smutty Kelly and the Kid changed.
"I was not in the roundhouse when the Kid was ordered to change, but he
went direct to the office and kicked, but to no purpose. Then he came to me.
"'Jim,' said he, with tears in his eyes, 'are you satisfied with me on the 12?'
"'Why, yes, Kid. Who says I'm not?'
"'They've ordered me to change to the 17 with that horrible old ruffian
Daniels, and Smutty Kelly to go with you.'
"'They have!' says I. 'That slouch can't go out with me the first time;
I'll see the old man.'
"But the old man was mad by the time I got to him.
"'That baby-faced boy says he won't fire for anybody but you; what have
you been putting into his head?'
"'Nothing; I've treated him kindly, and he likes me and the 12—that's
the cleanest engine on the—'
"'Tut, tut, I don't care about that; I've ordered the firemen on the 12
and 17 changed—and they are going to be changed.'
"The Kid had followed me into the office, and at this point said, very respectfully:
"'Excuse me, sir, but Mr. Wainright and I get along so nicely together.
Daniels is a bad man; so is Kelly; and neither will get along with
decent men. Why can't you—'
"'There! stop right there, young man. Now, will you go on the 17 as
"'Yes, if Jim Wainright runs her.'
"'No ifs about it; will you go?'
"'No, sir, I won't!'
"'You are discharged, then.'
"'That fires me, too,' said I.
"'Not at all, not at all; this is a fireman row, Jim.'
"I don't know what struck me then, but I said:
"'No one but this boy shall put a scoop of coal in the 12 or any other
engine for me; I'll take the poorest run you have, but the Kid goes with me.'
"Talk was useless, and in the end the Kid and I quit and got our time.
"That evening the Kid came to my room and begged me to take my job back
and he would go home; but I wouldn't do it, and asked him if he was sick of me.
"'No, Jim,' said he. 'I live in fear that something will happen to
separate us, but I don't want to be a drag on you—I think more of you than anybody.'
"They were buying engines by the hundred on the Rio Grande and Santa Fé
and the A. & P. in those days, and the Kid and I struck out for the
West, and inside of thirty days we were at work again.
"We had been there three months, I guess, when I got orders to take a
new engine out to the front and leave her, bringing back an old one. The
last station on the road was in a box-car, thrown out beside the track
on a couple of rails. There was one large, rough-board house, where they
served rough-and-ready grub and let rooms. The latter were stalls, the
partitions being only about seven feet high. It was cold and bleak, but
right glad we were to get there and get a warm supper. Everything was
rough, but the Kid seemed to enjoy the novelty. After supper I asked the
landlord if he could fix us for the night.
"'I can jest fix ye, and no more,' said he; 'I have just one room left.
Ye's'll have to double up; but this is the kind o' weather for that; it'll be warmer.'
"The Kid objected, but the landlord bluffed him—didn't have any other
room—and he added: 'If I was your pardner there, I'd kick ye down to
the foot, such a cold strip of bacon as ye must be.'
"About nine o'clock the Kid slipped out, and not coming in for an hour,
I went to look for him. As I went toward the engine, I met the watchman:
"'Phy don't that fireman o' yourn sleep in the house or on the caboose
floor such a night as this? He'll freeze up there in that cab wid no
blankets at all; but when I tould him that, he politely informed meself
that he'd knowed men to git rich mindin' their own biz. He's a sassy slip of a Yankee.'
"I climbed up on the big consolidation, and, lighting my torch, looked
over the boiler-head at the Kid. He was lying on a board on the seat,
with his overcoat for a covering and an arm-rest for a pillow.
"'What's the matter with you, Kid?' I asked. 'What are you doing
freezing here when we can both be comfortable and warm in the house? Are
you ashamed or afraid to sleep with me? I don't like this for a cent.'
"'Hope you won't be mad with me, Jim, but I won't sleep with any one;
"'You're either a fool or crazy,' said I. 'Why, you will half freeze
here. I want some explanation of such a trick as this.'
"The Kid sat up, looked at me soberly for a few seconds, reached up and
unhooked his door, and said:
"'Come over and sit down, Jim, and I'll tell you something.'
"I blew out the torch and went over, half mad. As I hooked the door to
keep out the sharp wind I thought I heard a sob, and I took the Kid's
head in my hands and turned his face to the moonlight. There were big
tears in the corner of each tightly closed eye.
"'Don't feel bad, Kid,' said I. 'I'm sure there's some reason keeps you
at such tricks as this; but tell me all your trouble—it's imaginary, I know.'
"There was a tremor in the Kid's voice as he took my hand and said, 'We
are friends, Jim; ain't we?'
"'Why, of course,' said I.
"'I have depended on your friendship and kindness and manhood, Jim. It
has never failed me yet, and it won't now, I know. I have a secret, Jim,
and it gnaws to be out one day, and hides itself the next. Many and many
a time I have been on the point of confessing to you, but something held
me back. I was afraid you would not let me stay with you, if you knew—'
"'Why, you ain't killed any one, Kid?' I asked, for I thought he was
exaggerating his trouble.
"'No—yes, I did, too—I killed my sister.'
"I recoiled, hurt, shocked. 'You——'
"'Yes, Jim, there is no such person to be found as my sister,
Georgiana—for I am she!'
"'You! Why, Kid, you're crazy!'
"'No, I'm not. Listen, Jim, and I will explain.'
"'My father was always sorry I was not a boy. Taught me boyish tricks,
and made me learn drawing. I longed for the life on a locomotive—I
loved it, read about it, thought of it, and prayed to be transformed
into something that could go out on the road. My heart went out to
you early in our acquaintance, and one day the thought to get started as
a fireman with you shot into my brain and was acted upon at once. After
the first move there was no going back, and I have acted my part well; I
have even been a good fireman. I am strong, healthy, and happy when on
the road with you. I love the life, hard as it is, and can't think of
giving it up, and—and you, Jim.'
"And then she broke down, and cried as only a woman can.
"I took both her hands in mine and kissed her—think of kissing your
fireman on the engine—and told her that we could be happy yet. Then I
told her how I had tried to get a letter to the lost sister, and how
they never came back, and were never answered—that I loved the sister
and loved her. She reminded me that she herself got all the letters I
had sent, and was pretty sure of her ground when she threw herself on my protection.
"It was a strange courting ... there on that engine."
"It was a strange courting, John, there on that engine at the front, the
boundless plains on one side, the mountains on the other, the winds of
the desert whirling sand and snow against our little house, and the moon
looking coldly down at the spectacle of an engineer making love to his fireman.
"That night the Kid slept in the bed in the house, and I stayed on the engine.
"When we got back to headquarters the Kid laid off to go home, and I
made a trip or two with another fireman, and then I had to go to
Illinois to fix up some family business—Kid and I arranged that.
"We met in St. Louis, the Kid hired a ball dress, and we were married as
quiet as possible. I had promised the Kid that, for the present at
least, she could stay on the road with me, and you know that the year
you were there I done most of the heavy firing while the Kid did the
running. We remained in the service for something like two years—a
strange couple, but happy in each other's company and our work.
"I often talked to my wife about leaving the road and starting in new,
where we were not known, as man and wife, she to remain at home; but she
wouldn't hear of it, asking if I wanted an Irishman for a side-partner.
This came to be a joke with us—'When I get my Irishman I will do so-and-so.'
"One day, as our 'hog' was drifting down the long hill, the Kid said to
me, 'Jim, you can get your Irishman; I'm going to quit this trip.'
"'Kind o' sudden, hey, Kid?'
"'No, been hating to give up, but—' and then the Kid came over and
whispered something to me.
"John, we both quit and went South. I got a job in Texas, and the Kid
was lost sight of, and Mrs. J. E. Wainright appeared on the scene in
tea-gown, train, and flounces. We furnished a neat little den, and I was
happy. I missed my kid fireman, and did indeed have an Irishman. Kid had
a struggle to wear petticoats again, and did not take kindly to
dish-washing, but we were happy just the same.
"Our little fellow arrived one spring day, and then our skies were all
sunshiny for three long, happy years, until one day Kid and I followed a
little white hearse out beyond the cypress grove and saw the earth
covered over our darling, over our hopes, over our sunshine, and over our hearts.
"After that the house was like a tomb, so still, so solemn, and at every
turn were reminders of the little one who had faded away like the
morning mist, gone from everything but our memories—there his sweet
little image was graven by the hand of love and seared by the
branding-iron of sorrow.
"Men and women of intelligence do not parade their sorrows in the
market-place; they bear them as best they can, and try to appear as
others, but once the specter of the grim destroyer has crossed the
threshold, his shadow forever remains, a dark reminder, like a
prison-bar across the daylight of a cell. This shadow is seen and
recognized in the heart of a father, but it is larger and darker and
more dreadful in the mother heart.
"At every turn poor Kid was mutely reminded of her loss, and her heart
was at the breaking point day by day, and she begged for her old life,
to seek forgetfulness in toil and get away from herself. So we went
back to the old road, as we went away—Jim Wainright and Kid
Reynolds—and glad enough they were to get us again for the winter work.
"Three years of indoor life had softened the wiry muscles of the Kid,
and our engine was a hard steamer, so I did most of the work on the
road. But the work, excitement, and outdoor life brought back the color
to pale cheeks, and now and then a smile to sad lips—and I was glad.
"One day the Kid was running while I broke up some big lumps of coal,
and while busy in the tank I felt the air go on full and the reverse
lever come back, while the wheels ground sand. I stepped quickly toward
the cab to see what was the matter, when the Kid sprang into the gangway and cried 'Jump!'
"I was in the left gangway in a second, but quick as a flash the Kid had my arm.
"'The other side! Quick! The river!'
"We were almost side by side as she swung me toward the other side of
the engine, and jumped as we crashed into a landslide. I felt Kid's
hand on my shoulder as I left the deck—just in time to save my life,
but not the Kid's.
"She was crushed between the tank and boiler in the very act of keeping
me from jumping to certain death on the rocks in the river below.
"When the crew came over they found me with the crushed clay of my poor,
loved Kid in my arms, kissing her. They never knew who she was. I took
her back to our Texas home and laid her beside the little one that had
gone before. The Firemen's Brotherhood paid Kid's insurance to me and
passed resolutions saying: 'It has pleased Almighty God to remove from
our midst our beloved brother, George Reynolds,' etc., etc.
"George Reynolds's grave cannot be found; but over a mound of
forget-me-nots away in a Southern land, there stands a stone on which is
cut: 'Georgiana, wife of J. E. Wainright, aged thirty-two years.'
"But in my heart there is a golden pyramid of love to the memory of a
fireman and a sweetheart known to you and all the world but me, as 'Jim Wainright's Kid.'"