My Lady of the Eyes by John A. Hill
One morning, some years ago, I struck the general master mechanic of a
Rocky Mountain road for a job as an engineer—I needed a job pretty badly.
As quick as the M. M. found that I could handle air on two hundred foot
grades, he was as tickled as I was; engineers were not plenty in the
country then, so many deserted to go to the mines.
"The 'III' will be out in a couple of days, and you can have her
regular, unless Hopkins comes back," said he.
I hustled around for a room and made my peace with the boarding-house
people before I reported to break in the big consolidation that was to
fall to my care.
She was big and black and ugly and new, and her fresh fire made the
asphalt paint on her fire-box and front-end stink in that peculiar and
familiar way given to recently rebuilt engines; but it smelled better to
me than all the perfumes of Arabia.
A good-natured engineer came out on the ash-pit track to welcome me to
the West and the road, and incidentally to remark that it was a great
relief to the gang that I had come as I did.
"Why," I asked, "are you so short-handed that you are doubling and
trebling?" "No, but they are afraid that some of 'em will have to take
out the 'III'—she is a holy terror."
Hadn't she been burned the first trip? Didn't she kill Jim O'Neil with
the reverse lever? Hadn't she lain down on the bed of the Arkansas river
and wallowed on "Scar Face" Hopkins, and he not up yet? Hadn't she run
away time and again without cause or provocation?
But a fellow that has needed a job for six months will tackle almost
anything, and I tackled the "holy terror."
In fixing up the cab, I noticed an extra bracket beside the steam gage
for a clock, and mentally noted that it would come in handy just as
soon as I had a twenty dollar bill to spare for one of those jeweled,
nickle-plated, side-winding clocks, that are the pride and comfort of
those particular engineers who want nice things, with their names
engraved on the case.
Before I had got everything ready to take the "three aces" over the
turn-table for her breaking-in trip, the foreman of the back-shop came
out with a package done up in a pair of old overalls, and said that here
was Hopkins's clock, which I might as well use until he got around
again—'fraid someone would steal it if left in his office.
Hopkins's clock was put on its old bracket.
Hopkins must have been one of those particular engineers; his clock was
a fine one; "S. H. Hopkins" was engraved on the case in German text. The
lower half of the dial was black with white figures, the upper half
white with black figures. But what struck me was part of a woman's face
burned into the enamel. Just half of this face showed, that on the
white part of the dial; the black half hid the rest.
It was the face, or part of the face, of a handsome young woman with
hair parted in the middle and waved back over the ears, a broad
forehead, and such glorious eyes—eyes that looked straight into yours
from every view point—honest eyes—reproving eyes—laughing
eyes—loving eyes. I mentally named the picture "Her Eyes."
Now, I was not and am not sentimental or superstitious. I'd been married
and helped wean a baby or two even then, but those eyes bothered me.
They hunted mine and looked at me and asked me questions and made me
forget things, and made me think and dream and speculate; all of which
are sheer suicide for a locomotive engineer.
I got a switchman and started out to limber up the "III." I asked him to
let me out on the main line, took a five-mile spin, and side-tracked for
a freight train. While the man was unlocking the switch, I looked into
the eyes and wondered what their owner was, or could be, or had been, to
"Scar Faced" Hopkins, and—ran off the switch. Then I wondered if
Hopkins was looking into those eyes when he and the "III" went into the
Arkansas river that dark night.
A few days after this the "III," Dennis Rafferty and I went into the
regular freight service of the road.
On the first trip, when half way up Greenhall grade, I glanced at the
clock and was startled. The "Eyes" were looking at me; there was a
scared, pained look, a you-must-do-something look in the eyes, or it
seemed to me there was.
"Damn that clock," said I to myself, "I'm getting superstitious or have
softening of the brain," and I reached over to open the front door, so
that the breeze could cool me off. In doing so my hand touched the water
pipe to the injector—it was hot. The closed overflow injector was new
to me; it had "broke," and was blowing steam back to the tank that I
thought was putting water into the boiler. I put it to work properly and
"felt of the water:" there was just a flutter in the lower gage cock; in
five minutes the crown sheet and my reputation would have been burned
beyond recognition. Those eyes were good for something after all.
I looked at them and they were calm. "It's all right now, but be
careful," they said.
Dennis Rafferty had troubles of his own. The liner came off the new fire
door letting the door get red hot, but it wasn't half as hot as Dennis.
He hammered it with the coal pick and burned his hands and swore, and
Dennis was an artist in profanity. He stepped up into the cab wiping his
face on his sleeve, and ripping the English and profane languages into
tatters; but he stopped short in the middle of an oath and looked
ashamed, glanced at me, crossed himself and went back to his work
quietly. When he came back into the cab, I asked him what choked him so sudden.
"Her," said he, nodding his head toward the clock. "Howly Mither, man,
she looked hurted and sorry-like, same's me owld mither uster, whin I
was noctious with the blasthfemry." So the "Eyes" were on Dennis, too.
That took some of the conceit out of me, I was getting foolish about the eyes.
We had a time order against a passenger train, it would be sharp work to
make the next station, the train was heavy, the road and the engine new
to me, and I hesitated. The conductor was dubious but said the "204" or
Frosty Keeler could do it any day of the week. I looked at my watch and
then at the clock. The eyes looked "Yes, go, you can do it easily; the
'III' will do all you ask; trust her." I went, and as we pulled our
caboose in to clear and before the express whistled for the junction,
the eyes looked "Didn't I tell you; wasn't that splendid." Those eyes
had been over the road more than I had, and knew the "III" better. I
would trust the eyes.
On the return trip, a night run, I had a big train and a bad rail, but
the "III" did splendid work and made her time while "Her Eyes" approved
every move I made, smiled at me and admired my handling of the engine.
The conductor unbent enough to send over word that it was the best run
he'd ever had from a new man, but the "Eyes" looked, "That's nothing,
you can do it every time, I know you can."
Half over the division, we took a siding for the "Cannon Ball." We
cleared her ten minutes and I had time to oil around while Dennis
cleaned his fire. I climbed up into the cab, wiping the long oiler and
glanced at the clock. The "Eyes" were looking wild alarm—"do something
quick." The "Eyes" had the look, or seemed to me to have the look, you
might expect in those of a bound woman who sees a child at the stake
just before the fire is lighted—immeasurable pain, pity, appeal. I
tried the water, unconsciously; it was all right. I stepped into the
gangway and glanced back. Our tail-lights were "in" and the white light
of the switch flashed safely there, and we had backed in any way. I
glanced ahead. The switch light was white, the target showed main line
plainly, for my headlight shone on it full and clear. What could be the
matter with "Her Eyes."
As I turned to enter the cab the roar of the coming express came down
the wind on the frosty air and my eyes fell on the rail ahead. My God,
they were full to the siding! It was a stub-rail switch, and the stand
had moved the target and the light, but not the rails—the bridle-rod was broken.
I yelled like a mad man, but the brake-man had gone to the caboose for
his lunch pail. I ran to the switch. It was useless. I fought it an
instant and then turned to the rails. Putting my foot against the main
line rail, I grasped the switch rail and throwing all my strength into
the effort, jerked it over to the main line, but would it stay until the
train passed over? I felt sure it would not. I looked about for
something to hold it. Part of a broken pin was the only thing in sight.
The headlight of the express shone in my face, and something seemed to
say, "This is your trial, do something quick." I threw myself prone on
the ground, my head near the rails, and held the broken pin between the
end of the siding rail and the main line. The switch rails could not be
forced over without shearing off the pin. The corner of the pilot of
the flying demon caught my right sleeve and tore it off, and the cloth
threw the cylinder cocks open with a hiss, the wind and dust blinded and
shook me, and the rails hammered and bruised and pinched my hand, but I
held on. Twenty seconds later I sat watching the red lights of the tenth
sleeper whip themselves out of sight. Then I went back to the cab, and
"Her Eyes" glorified me. "God bless your dear eyes," said I, "where
would we have all been now but for you?"
But the "Eyes" deprecated my remarks, and looked me upon a pedestal, but
the company doctor dressed my hand the next day, and the superintendent
gave the whole crew ten days for backing into that siding.
Another round trip, and I fear I watched "Her Eyes" more than the
signals and the track ahead. "Her Eyes" decided for me, chose for me,
approved and disapproved. I was running by "Her Eyes."
In a telegraph office they asked me if I could do something in a certain
time and I was dazed. I didn't give my usual quick decision, my
judgment was wobbly and uncertain. I must look at my clock—and "Her
Eyes." I went out to the "III" to consult them, lost my chance and was
"put in the hole" all over the division by the disgusted dispatcher.
Then I got to thinking and moralizing and sitting in judgment on my
thraldom. Was I running the "III" or was "Her Eyes?" Did the company pay
me for my knowledge, judgment, experience and skill in handling a
locomotive, or for obeying orders from "Her Eyes." Any fool could obey orders.
Then I declared for liberty, but I kept away from "Her Eyes." I declared
for liberty in the roundhouse.
I am a man of decision, and no sooner had I taken this oath than I got a
screw driver, climbed into the cab of the "III," without looking at "Her
Eyes," held my hand over the face of the clock and took it down. I
wrapped it up and took it back to the foreman.
"Why, yes," said he, "'Scar Face' was here for it this morning. He's
round somewhere yet. Ain't goin' to railroad no more, goin' into the
real estate business. He's got money, so's his wife—daffool he didn't
quit long ago."
"If 'Scar Face' Hopkins puts that clock over his desk and trusts 'Her
Eyes,' he'll get rich," thought I. Perhaps, though, those eyes don't
reach the soul of "Scar Face" Hopkins; perhaps he don't see them change
as I did; men are conceited that way.
During the next month I got acquainted with "Scar Face" Hopkins, who was
a first-class fellow, with a hand-clasp like a polar bear, a heart like
a steam pulsometer, and a face that looked as if it might have been used
for the butting post at the end of the world.
"Scar Face" Hopkins got all his scars in the battle of life. Men who
command locomotives on the firing line often get hurt, but Hopkins had
votes of thanks from officials and testimonials from men, and
life-saver's medals from two governments to show that his scars were the
brands of honorable degrees conferred by the Almighty on the field for
brave and heroic deeds well done.
"Scar Face" Hopkins was a fellow you'd like to get up close to of a
night and talk with, and smoke with, and think with, until unlawful hours.
One day I went into his office and the clock was there, and his old
torch and a nickle-plated oiler, mementoes of the field. I looked at the
clock, and "Her Eyes" smiled at me, or I thought they did, and said,
just as plain as words, "Glad to see you, dear friend; sit down." But I
turned my back to that clock; I can resist temptation when I know where
it is coming from.
One day, a few weeks later, I stopped before a store window in a crowd
to examine some pictures, satisfied my curiosity, and in stepping back
to go away, put the heel of my number ten on a lady's foot with that
peculiar "craunch" that you know hurts. I turned to make an apology, and
faced the original of the picture on the clock. A beautiful pair of
eyes, the rest of the face was hidden by a peculiar arrangement of veil
that crossed the bridge of the nose and went around the ears and neck.
Those eyes, full of pain at first, changed instantly to frank
forgiveness, and, bowing low, I repeated my plea for pardon for my
clumsy carelessness, but was absolved so absolutely and completely, and
dismissed so naturally, that I felt relieved.
I sauntered up to Hopkins' office. "Hopkins," said I, "I just met your wife."
"Yes, and I stepped on her foot and hurt her badly, I know." Then I told
him about it.
"What did she say?" asked Hopkins, and I noticed a queer look. I thought
it might be jealousy.
"Why, well, why I don't know as I remember, but it was very kindly and ladylike."
There was a queer expression on Hopkins' face.
"Sure she spoke?" asked Hopkins. "How did you know it was my wife anyway?"
"Because it was the same face that is pictured on your clock, and some
one in the crowd said it was Mrs. Hopkins. You know Hop., I ran by that
clock for a few weeks, and I noticed the eyes."
"Anything queer about 'em?" This was a challenge.
"Yes, I think there is. In the first place, I know you will understand
me when I say they are handsome eyes, and I'm free to confess that they
had a queer influence on me, I imagined they changed and expressed things and—"
"Well, yes." Then I told Hopkins the influence the "Eyes" had on me.
He listened intently, watching me; when I had finished, he came over,
reached out his hand and said:
"Shake, friend, you're a damned good fellow."
I thought Hopkins had been drinking—or looking at "Her Eyes." He pulled
up a chair and lit a cigar.
"John," said he, "it isn't every man that can understand what my wife
says. Only kindred spirits can read the language of the eyes. She
hasn't spoken an audible word in ten years, but she talks with her
eyes, even her picture talks. We, rather she, is a mystery here; people
believe all kinds of things about her and us; but we don't care. I want
you to come up to the house some evening and know her better. We'll be
three chums, I know it, but don't ask questions; you will know things later on."
Before I ever went to Hopkins' house, he had told her all about me, and
when he introduced us, he said:
"Madeline, this is the friend who says your picture talked to him."
I bowed low to the lady and tried to put myself and her at ease.
"Mrs. Hopkins, I'm afraid your husband is poking fun at me, and thinks
my liver is out of order, but, really, I did imagine I saw changing
expression in your eyes in that picture—in fact, I named you 'My Lady
of the Eyes.'"
She laughed—with her eyes—held out her hands and made me welcome.
"That name is something like mine," said Hopkins, "I call her 'Talking
Then Hopkins brought in his little three-year-old daughter, who
immediately climbed on my knee, captured my watch, and asked:
"What oo name?"
"John," said I.
"Don, Don," she repeated; "my name Maddie."
"That's Daddy's chum," put in Hopkins.
"Tum," repeated Maddie.
"Uncle Chummy," said Hopkins.
And I was "Untle Tummie" to little Madeline and "Chummy" to Hopkins and
his wife from then on.
Mrs. Hopkins wore her veil at home as well as abroad, but it was so
neatly arranged and worn so naturally that I soon became entirely used
to it, in fact, didn't notice it. Otherwise, she was a well-dressed,
handsomely set up woman, a splendid musician and a capital companion.
She sat at her work listening, while Hopkins and I "railroaded" and
argued about politics, and religion and everything else under the sun.
Mrs. Hopkins took sides freely; a glance at her eyes told where she
stood on any question.
Between "Scar Face" Hopkins and his handsome wife there appeared to be
perfect sympathy and confidence. Sitting in silence, they glanced from
one to the other now and again, smiled, nodded—and understood.
I was barred from the house for a month during the winter because little
Madeline had the scarlet fever, then epidemic, but it was reported a
light case and I contented myself with sending her toys and candy.
One day I dropped into Hopkins' office to make inquiry, when a clerk
told me Hopkins had not been to the office for several days. Mrs.
Hopkins was sick. I made another round trip and inquired again, and got
the same answer; then I went up to the house.
The officious quarantine guard was still walking up and down in front of
the Hopkins residence. To a single inquiry, this voluble functionary
volunteered the information that the baby was all right now, but the
lady herself was very sick with scarlet fever. Hopkins was most crazy,
no trained nurses could be had for love nor money, the doctor was coming
three times a day, and did I know that Mrs. Hopkins was some kind of a
foreign Dago, and the whole outfit "queer?"
Hopkins was in trouble; I pushed open the gate and started up the walk.
"Hey, young feller, where yer goin'," demanded the guard.
"Into the house, of course."
"D'ye know if you go in ye got to stay for the next two weeks?"
"Then go on, you darned fool."
And I went on.
Hopkins met me, hollow-eyed and haggard.
"Chum," said he, "you've come to prison, but I'm glad. Help is out of
reach. If you can take care of Maddie, the girl will do the cooking and
I will—I will do my duty."
And night and day he did do his duty, being alone with his wife except
for the few moments of the doctor's calls.
One evening, after my little charge had been put to sleep downstairs by
complying with her invariable order to "tell me a 'tory 'bout when oo
was a 'ittle teenty weenty boy," the doctor came down with a grave face.
"Our patient has reached the worst stage—delirium. The turn will come
to-night. Poor Hopkins is about worn out, and I'm afraid may need you.
Please don't go to bed; be 'on call.'"
One hour, two hours, I sat there without hearing a sound from upstairs.
I was drowsy and remembering that I had missed my evening smoke I
lighted my pipe, silently opened the front door and stepped out upon the
porch to get a whiff of fresh air. It was a still dark night, and I
tiptoed down to the end that overlooked the city and stood looking at
the lights and listening to the music of the switch engines in the yards
below the hill. The porch was in darkness except the broad beam of
light from the hall gas jet through the open door.
The lights below made me think of home and my wife and little ones
sleeping safely, I hoped, close to the coastwise lights of the Old Colony.
I thought I heard a stealthy footfall behind me, and turned around to
face an apparition that made the cold chill creep up my back. If ever
there was a ghost, this must be one, an object in white not six feet from me.
I'm not at all afraid of ghosts when I reach my second wind, and I
grabbed at this one. It moved backward silently and as I made a quick
step toward it that specter let out the most blood-curdling yell I ever
heard—the shriek of a maniac.
I stepped quicker now, but it moved away until it stood in the flood of
light from the doorway, and then I saw a sight that took all the
strength out of me. The most awful and frightful face I ever beheld,
and,—it was the face of Madeline Hopkins.
The neck and jaw and mouth were drawn and seamed and scarred in a
frightful and hideous manner, the teeth protruded and the mouth was
drawn to one side in a frightful leer; above that was all the beauty of
"My Lady of the Eyes."
For a moment I was dumb and powerless, and in that moment Hopkins
appeared with a bound, and between us we captured my poor friend's wife
and struggled and fought with her up the long stairs and back to her bed.
Sitting one on either side, we had all we could do to hold her hands.
She would lift us both to our feet, she was struggling desperately, and
the eyes were the eyes of a tigress.
When this strain was at its worst and every nerve on edge, another
scream from behind us cut our ears like a needle, the eyes of the
tigress as well as ours sought the door, and there in her golden curls
and white "nightie" stood little Madeline. The eyes of the tigress
softened to tenderest love, and with a bound, the baby was on her
mother's breast, her arms around her neck, and she was saying, "Poor
Mama, what they doin' to poor Mama?"
"My darling, my darling," said the mother in the sweetest of tones.
I unconsciously released my hold upon the arm I held, and she drew the
sheet up and covered her face as I was wont to see it, and held it
there. With the other, she gently stroked the baby curls.
I watched this transformation as if under a spell.
Suddenly she turned her head toward Hopkins, her eyes full of tenderness
and pity and love, reached out her hand and said:
"Oh, Steadman, my voice has come back, God has taken off the curse."
But poor Hopkins was on his knees beside the bed, his face buried in his
arms, his strong shoulders heaving and pitiful sobs breaking from his very heart.
A couple of months afterward I resigned to go back to God's country, the
home of the east wind, and where I could know my own children and speak
to my own wife without an introduction, and the Hopkins invited me to a
"My Lady of the Eyes" presided, looking handsomer and stronger than
usual, but she didn't eat with us. But with eyes and voice she
entertained us so royally and pleasantly that Hopkins and I did eating enough for all.
After supper, Hop. and I lighted our cigars and "railroaded" for awhile,
then "Her Eyes" went to the piano and sang a dozen songs as only a
trained singer can. Her voice was wonderfully sweet and low. They were
old songs, but they seemed the better for that, and while she sang
Hopkins's cigar went out and he just gazed at her with pride and joy in
every lineament of his scarred and furrowed face.
Little Maddie was allowed to sit up in honor of "Untle Tummy," but after
awhile the little head bobbed quietly and the little chin fell between
the verses of her mother's song, and "My Lady of the Eyes" took her by
the hand and brought her over to us.
"Tell papa good-night and Uncle Chum my good-bye, dear, and we'll go to
Hopkins kissed the baby, and I got my hug, and another to take to my
"ittle dirl," and Mrs. Hopkins held out both her hands to me.
"Good-bye, dear Chum," said she, "my love to you and yours, now and always."
Hopkins put his arm around his wife, kissed her forehead and said:
"Sweetheart, I'm going to tell Chum a story."
"And don't forget the hero," said she, and turning to me, "Don't believe
all he says, and don't blame those that he blames, and remember that
what is, is best, and seeming calamities are often blessings in disguise."
Hopkins and I looked into each other's faces and smoked in silence for
ten minutes, then he turned to his secretary and, opening a drawer, took
out a couple of cases and opened them. They contained medals. Then he
opened a package of letters and selected one or two. We lighted fresh
cigars and Hopkins began his story.
"My father was a pretty well-to-do business man and I his only child.
My mother died when I was young. I managed to get through a grammar
school and went to college. I wanted to go on the road from the time I
could remember and had no ambition higher than to run a locomotive. That
was my ideal of life.
"My father opposed this very strenuously, and offered to let me go to
work if I'd select something decent—that's the way he put it. He used
to say, 'Try a brick-yard, you might own one some day, you'll never own
a railroad.' I had my choice, college or 'something decent,' and I took
the college, although I didn't like it.
"The summer before I came of age my father died suddenly and my college life ended."
Here Hopkins fumbled around in his papers and selected one.
"Just to show you how odd my father was, here is the text of his will,
leaving out the legal slush that lawyers always pack their papers in:
"'To my son, Steadman Hudson Hopkins, I leave one thousand dollars to
be paid immediately on my demise. All the residue of my estate
consisting of etc., etc'—six figures, Chum, a snug little wad—'shall
be placed in the hands of three trustees'—naming the presidents of
three banks—'to be invested by them in state, municipal or government
bonds, principal and interest accruing to be paid by said trustees to my
son hereinbefore mentioned when he has pursued one calling, with average
success, for ten consecutive years, and not until then. All in the best
judgment of the trustees aforenamed.
"'To my son I also bequeath this fatherly advice, knowing the waste of
money by heirs who have done nothing to produce it, and knowing that had
I been given a fortune at the beginning of my career, it would have been
lost for lack of business experience, and knowing too, the waste of time
usually made by young men who drift from one employment or occupation to
another—having wasted fifteen years of my own life in this way—I make
these provisions in this my last will and testament, believing that in
the end, if not now, my son will see the wisdom of this provision, etc., etc.'
"The governor had a long, clear head and he knew me and young men in
general, but bless you, I thought he was a little mean at the time.
"I turned to the trustees and asked what they would consider as
fulfilling the requirements of the will.
"'Any honorable employment,' answered the oldest man of the trio.
"The next day, I went to see Andy Bridges, general superintendent of the
old home road, who had been a friend of father's, and told him I wanted
to go railroading. He offered to put me in his office, but I insisted on
the foot-board, and to make a long story short, was firing inside of
three weeks and running inside of three years.
"I was the proudest young prig that ever pulled a throttle. I always
loved the work and—well, you know how the first five years of it
absorbs you if you are cut out for it and like it and intend to stay at it.
"I had been running about two years, and had paid about as much
attention to young women as I had to the subject of astronomy, until
Madelene Bridges came out of a Southern convent to make her home with
her uncle, our 'old man.'
"The first time I saw her I went clean, stark, raving, blind, drunken
daft over her. I tried to argue and reason myself out of it, but it was
no go. I didn't even know who she was then.
"But I was in love and, being so, wasn't hardly safe on the road.
"Then I spruced up and started in to see if I couldn't interest her in
me half as much as I was interested in her.
"I didn't have much trouble to get a start, for Andy Bridges had come up
from the ranks and hadn't forgotten it—most of 'em do—and welcomed any
decent young man in his house, even if he was a car hand. Madelene had a
couple of marriageable cousins then and that may account for old Andy.
"I got on pretty well at first, for I was first in the field. I got in
a theatre or two before the other young fellows caught on. About this
time there was a dance, and I lost my grip. I took Madelene but couldn't
dance, and all the others could, especially Dandy Tamplin, one of the train despatchers.
"I took private dancing lessons, however, and squared myself that way.
"Singing was a favorite mode of passing the evenings with the young
folks at the Bridges's home, and I cursed myself for being tuneless.
"It finally settled down to a race between Tamplin and myself, and each
of us was doing his level best. I was so dead in earnest and so truly in
love that I was no fit company for man or beast, and I'm afraid I was
twice as awkward and dull in Madelene's presence as in any other place.
"Dandy Tamplin was a handsome young fellow, and a formidable rival, for
he was always well-dressed, a good talker and more or less of a lady's
man. Besides that, he was on the ground all the time and I had to be
away two-thirds of the time on my runs.
"I came in one trip determined to know my fate that very evening—had my
little piece all committed to memory.
"As I registered I heard one of the other despatchers, behind a
partition, telling some one that he was going to work Dandy's trick
until eleven o'clock, and then the two entered into a discussion of
Dandy's quest of the 'old man's' niece, one of them remarking that all
the opposition he had was Hopkins and that wasn't worth considering. I
resolved to get to Bridges's ahead of Tamplin.
"But man—railroad man, anyway—proposes and the superintendent
disposes. I met Bridges at the door.
"'Hopkins,' said he, 'I want you to do me a personal favor.'
"'I want you to double out in half an hour on some perishable freight
that's coming in from the West; there isn't one available engine in.
Will you do it?'
"'Yes,' I answered, slowly, showing my disappointment. 'But, Mr.
Bridges, I was particularly anxious to go up to your house to-night; I
intend to ask—'
"'I know, I know,' said he kindly, taking my hand; 'It'll be all right I
hope; there ain't another young chap I'd like to see go up and stay
better than you, but my son, she will keep, and this freight wont. You
go out, and I'll promise that no one shall get a chance to ask ahead of
you.' This was a friend at court and a strong one.
"'It means a lot to me,' said I.
"'I know it my boy, and I'm proud to have you say so right out in
meeting, but—well, you get those fruit cars in by moonlight, and I'll
have you back light, and you can have the front parlor for a week.'
"On my return trip, I found a big Howe truss bridge on fire and didn't
get in for two days. The road was blocked, everything out of gear and I
had to double back again, whether or no.
"I was 'chewing the rag' with a roundhouse foreman about it when Old
Andy came along.
"'Go on, Hopkins,' said he, 'and you can lay off when you get back. I'm
going South with my car and will take the girls with me!'
"That was hint enough, and I said yes.
"It was in the evening, and while the fireman and I got our supper, the
hostler turned my engine, coaled her up, took water and stood her on the
north branch track, next the head end of her train, that had not yet
been entirely made up.
"This north branch came into the south and west divisions off a very
heavy grade and on a curve, the view being cut off at this point by
buildings close to the track. The engine herself stood close to the
office building, and after oiling around, I backed on to the train,
bringing my cab right opposite a window in the despatcher's office. Just
before this open window and facing me sat Dandy Tamplin at his key. I
hated Dandy Tamplin.
"It was dark outside and in the cab, the conductor had given me my
orders and said we'd go just as quick as the pony found a couple of
cars more and put them on the hind end. Dennis had put in a big fire for
the hill, and then gone skylarking around the station, and I was in the
dark glaring at Dandy Tamplin in the light.
"The blow-off cock on this engine was on the right side and opened from
the cab. Ordinarily, you pulled the handle up, but the last time the
boiler was washed out they had turned the plug cock half over and the
handle stuck up through the deck among the oil cans ahead of the reverse
lever, and opened by pushing it down. I remember thinking it was
dangerous, as a man might accidentally open it. On the cock was a piece
of pipe to carry the hot water away from the paint work, and this stuck
straight out under the footboard, the cock leaked a little and the end
of the pipe dripped hot water and steam.
"While I glared at Tamplin, old man Bridges and the girls came into the
room. Bridges went up to the narrow, shelf-like counter, looked at the
register and asked Tamplin a question.
"Tamplin went up to the group, his back to me, and spoke to one after
the other. Madelene was the last in the row and, while the others were
talking, laid her gloves, veil and some flowers on the counter. Tamplin
spoke to her and I could see the color change in her face. Oh! if I only
had hold of Dandy Tamplin.
"Bridges hurried out into the hall behind the passage way, the girls
following. Tamplin turned around and espied Madelene's belongings. He
went up to them, smelled the flowers, then hurriedly took a note out of
his pocket and slipped it into one of the gloves. The other glove he put
in his breast pocket. It was well for Dandy Tamplin I didn't have a gun.
"Remember, all this happened quickly. Before Tamplin was fairly in his
seat and at work, Madelene came tripping back alone and made for her
bundle, but Tamplin left his key open and went over to her. I couldn't
hear what was said for by this time the safety valves of my engine were
blowing and drowned all sound. She evidently asked him what time it was
and leaned partly over the counter to hear his reply. He put his hand
under her chin and turned her face toward the clock, this with such an
air of assurance that my heart sank—but murder was in my soul. Then
quickly putting his hand behind her neck, he pulled her toward him and
kissed her. I was a demon in an instant.
"She sprang away from him and ran into the hall and he came back to his
chair with a smile of triumph on his thin lips.
"Somehow or other, just at this moment, I noticed the steam at the end
of that blow-off pipe, and all the devils in hell whispered at once 'One
move of your hand and your revenge is complete.' I wasn't Steadman
Hopkins then, I was a madman bent on murder, and I reached down for that
handle, holding on by the throttle with my left hand. The cock had some
mud in it and I opened it wide before it blew out and then with a roar
and a shriek it burst—and the crime was done.
"All the devils flew away at once and left me alone, naked with my
conscience. 'Murderer, murderer!' resounded in my ears; hisses, roars
and screams seemed to come to fill my brain and dance around my
condemned soul; voices seemed shrieking and crash upon crash seemed to
smite my ears. I thought I was dying, and I remember distinctly how glad
I was. I didn't let go of that valve, I couldn't—I'd go to hell with it
in my hand and let them do their worst.
"Then remorse took possession of me. Wasn't it enough to maim and
disfigure poor Tamplin, why cook him to death—I'd shut off that cock. I
fought with it, but it wouldn't close, and I called Dennis to help me.
"Some one stood behind me and put a cool hand on my brow, and a woman's
voice said, 'Poor brave fellow, he's still thinking of his duty; all the
heroes don't live in books.'
"I opened my eyes, and looked around. I was in St. Mary's Hospital, and
a nun was talking to herself.
"Well, John, I'd been there for more than six weeks, and it took six
more before I understood just what had happened and could hobble
around, for I had legs and ribs and an arm broken.
"It must have been at the moment I opened that blow-off cock that part
of a runaway train came down the north grade, backward, like a whirlwind
and buried my engine and myself, piling up an awful wreck that took
fire. I was rescued at the last moment by the crowd of railroad men that
collected and bodily tore the wreck apart to get at me. Every one
thought I tried to close that blow-off cock and hold the throttle shut.
I was a hero in the papers and to the men, and I couldn't get a chance
to tell the truth if I dared, and I was afraid to ask about Dandy Tamplin.
"No word came from Madelene. One day Bridges came to see me, and brought
me this watch I wear now, a present from the company. I determined to
tell Bridges—but he wouldn't believe me. Looked, too, as if he thought
I was off in my head yet and I must have looked crazy, for most of these
brands I got that night. To be sure I've added to the collection here
and there, but I never was pretty after that roundup.
"At last I mustered up courage and asked: 'How is Tamplin?' 'All right,
working right along, but takes it hard,' said Bridges.
"'Was he laid up long? Is he as badly disfigured as I am?'
"'Why, man, he wasn't touched. He had gone to the other end of the room
for a drink of water. I'm afraid, my boy, its Madelene he's worried about.'
"'She has refused him then?'
"'Well, I don't know that. She is still in bed, badly hurt. She has not
seen a soul but her nurse, the doctor and my wife, and denies herself to
all callers, even her best friends, even to me.'
"Chum, I won't tell you what I said or suffered. Madelene had come into
the room again for her belongings, and had faced the dagger of steam
sent by the hand of a man who would give his immortal soul to make her
"I couldn't get around much, but I wrote her a brief note asking if I
might call and sent it by a messenger.
"She replied that she could not see me then. I waited. I hadn't the
heart to write a confession I wanted to make in person, so after a week
or two I went to the house.
"Madelene sent down word that she couldn't see me then and could not
tell when she would see me.
"I thought the nurse, who acted as messenger, did not interpret either
my message or hers as they were intended—I would write a note.
"I stepped into the library on one side of the hall, made myself at home
and wrote Madelene a note, a love letter, begging for just one
interview. Taking blame for all that had happened and confessing my love
and devotion to her.
"It was a long letter and just as I finished it, I heard some one in the
hall. I thought it was a servant and started for the doorway to ask her
to carry my message. It was the nurse.
"I was partly concealed by the portieres. She was facing the door, her
finger on her lips, and before her stood Dandy Tamplin.
"'It's all right' she whispered, 'be still,' and both of them tip-toed up-stairs.
"This, then was why I could not see Madelene. Dandy Tamplin was her accepted lover.
"That night I left the old home for good to seek my fortunes and
forgetfulness far away. I didn't care where, so long as it was a great way off.
"At New York I found some engineers going out to run on the Meig's road
in Peru. I signed a contract and in two days was on the Atlantic, bound
for the Isthmus of Panama.
"I ran an engine in Peru until the war broke out with Chili. I was sent
to the front with a train of soldiers one day and got on the battle
field. Our side was getting badly worsted, and I got excited and jumping
off the engine, armed myself and lit into the fight. A little crowd
gathered around me and I found myself the leader, no officer in sight.
There was a charge and we didn't run—surprised the Chilians. I got
some of these blue brands on my left cheek there and made a new
reputation. Before I knew it, I had on a uniform and dangled a sword.
They nicknamed me the 'Fighting Yankee.'
"Peru had lots of trouble and I saw a good deal of it. When it was all
over, I found myself in command of a gun boat, just a tug, but she was
alive and had accounted for herself several times.
"The president sent me on a special mission to Chili just after the
close of the war, and, all togged out in a new uniform, I went on board
of an American ship at Callao bound for Valparaiso. I thought I was some
pumpkins then. I'd lived a rough and tumble life for about three years
and was beginning to like it—and to forget.
"I used to do the statuesque before the passengers, my scars attested my
fighting propensities, and there were several Peruvian liars aboard that
knew me by reputation, and enlarged on it.
"We touched at Coquimbo and an American civil engineer and family came
aboard, homeward bound.
"That afternoon I was lolling in the smoking-room on deck, when I was
attracted by the sound of ladies talking on the promenade just outside
the open port where I sat. It was the engineer's wife and daughter.
"'Mamma,' said the young lady. 'I must read you Madelene's letter. Poor,
dear Madelene, it's just too sorrowful and romantic for anything.'
"Madelene! I hadn't heard that name pronounced for three years. It was
wrong, I knew it, but I listened.
"'Poor dear, she was awfully hurt and disfigured in a railroad wreck.'
"It was my Madelene they were talking about. Wild horses could not
have dragged me from the spot.
"The girl read something like this. I know for I've read that letter a
hundred times. It's in this pile here.
"'Dear Lottie: Your ever welcome'—'no, not that.'
"'Uncle Andrew is going'—'let me see, Oh! yes, here it is, now listen
Mamma,' said the girl.
"'Dear Schoolmate. I have never told a soul about my troubles or my
trials, for long I could not bear to think of them myself. But lately I
have seen it in its true light, and have come to the conclusion that I
have no right to moan my life away. I'm past all that, there is nothing
for me to live for in myself, but my life is spared for some purpose,
and I propose to devote it to doing good to others'—'isn't she a sweet soul, mamma?'
"'After I came to live with Uncle Andrew, I was very happy, it seemed
like a release from prison. I saw much company, and in six months had
two lovers—more than I deserved. One of these was a plain, honest manly
man; he was one of Uncle Andrew's engineers. He wasn't handsome, but he
was the kind of man that sensible women love. The other was a handsome,
showy, witty man, also an employee of the railroad, considered 'the
catch' among the girls. Really, Lottie, both of them tried to propose
and I wouldn't let them, I didn't know which one of them I liked best.
But if things had taken the usual course, I should have married the
handsome one—and been sorry forever after.'
"My heart stood still—she hadn't married Dandy Tamplin after all."
"'The night of the wreck, I was going out on Uncle Andrew's private car.
The handsome man was on duty in the office. The plain man on an engine
that stood before the open window, I didn't know that then.
"'A runaway train crashed into the engine and something exploded and a
stream of boiling water came into the room and scalded me beyond
recognition. You would not know me, Lottie, I am so disfigured.
"'The handsome man did nothing but wring his hands; the plain one staid
on the engine and tried to stop the steam from coming out, and was
himself terribly injured.
"'I was for weeks in bed and suffered mental agony much beyond the
merely physical pain. I was so wicked I cursed my life and my Maker and
prayed for death—yet I lived. I was so resentful, so heartbroken, so
wicked, that I refused to speak for weeks, then, when I tried, I
couldn't, God had put the curse of silence on my wickedness.'
"Think of Madelene being wicked, Chum.
"'When I was getting well enough and reconciled to my own fate, enough
to think of others, I thought of my two lovers. Then I asked my nurse
for a glass. One look, and I made up my mind never to see either of them again.
"'Both of them were clamoring to see me, and I refused to see either.
The plain man wrote me the only love letter I ever received. I have worn
it out reading it. It was so manly, so unselfish! He blamed himself for
the accident, and offered me his devotion and love, no matter in what
condition the letter found me. This letter he wrote in Uncle Andrew's
library, left it open on the desk and—disappeared.
"'I have never heard from him from that day to this. I never could
understand it. A man that could write that letter, couldn't run away.
The last sentence in his letter proved that. It said: "Remember, dear
Madelene, that somewhere, somehow, I am thinking of you always; that
whether you see me or not, you will some day come to know that I love
your soul, not your face; that your life is dear to me, and no calamity
can make any difference."
"'Those were brave words, and after I read them, I knew for the first
time that this was the man I loved. They told me he was frightfully
disfigured, too, but that made no difference to me, I loved him. But he
was gone, no one knew where. Why did he go?
"'The handsome man disappeared the same day, and he never came back, but
he left no letter.
"'Dear Lottie, I have only now solved the mystery. My sometime nurse has
just confessed that the night the letter was written the other man came
to the house, like a thief, he had bribed her to give me drugs to make
me sleep and then she led him into my room and showed him my scars. If
he ever loved me at all, he was in love with my face; the other man
loved me. One went away because he saw me, the other one because he saw
his rival apparently granted the interview refused to him. My true lover
must have seen that man sneaking up to my room.'
"John, every fibre of my being danced for joy. I didn't hear the rest,
and she read several pages. I had heard enough.
"I went right out on the deck, begged pardon to begin with, introduced
myself, confessed to eavesdropping, told who I was, where I had been and
asked for that letter.
"I got it and Madelene's picture; the one you have seen on my clock.
"I finished my task at Valparaiso while the vessel lay there, reported
by mail, and came home on the same ship.
"I took that letter and photograph to Andy Bridges's house and wrote
across the envelope 'Madelene Bridges, I demand your immediate and
unconditional surrender, signed, Steadman H. Hopkins.'
"And I got it in five minutes. Chum, that is the only case on record
where something worth having was ever surrendered to an officer of the
"In six months I was back on an engine in a new country, with my silent,
loved and loving wife, in a new home. Three times before now someone has
seen Madelene's face, twice I told this story, and then we moved away;
once I told it and trusted, and it was not repeated. Madelene can stand
being a mystery and wondered at, but she cannot stand pity and
curiosity. As for you, old Chum, I haven't even asked you not to repeat
what I have told you—I know you won't."
After a long while, I turned to Hopkins and said: "And yet, Hopkins,
fools say there is no romance in railroad life. This is a story worth
reading, and some day I'd like to write it."
"Not in Madelene's time, or in mine, Chum, but if ever a time comes,
I'll send you a token."
"Send me your picture, Hop."
"No, I'll send you Madelene's. No, I'll send you the clock with the
And standing at Hopkins's gate, the scar-faced man with the romance and
I parted, like ships that meet, hail and pass on, never to meet again.
Hopkins and I moved away from one another, each on his own course,
across the seven seas of life.
And all this happened almost twenty years ago.
The other day, my office boy brought me a card that read, "Mrs. Henry
Adams, Washington, D. C." "Is she a book agent?" I asked.
"Nope, don't look like one."
"Show her in."
A young woman came in, looked at me hard for a moment, laid a package on
my desk and asked,
"Is this the Mr. Alexander who used to be an engineer?"
"I don't suppose you remember me," she asked.
I put on my glasses and looked at her. No, I never—then she put her
handkerchief up to her lips covering the lower part of her face; it was
the face of Madelene Hopkins.
"Yes," said I, "I remember you perfectly, seventeen or eighteen years
ago you used to sit on my knee and call me 'Untle Tummy.' and I called you Maddie."
Then we laughed and shook hands.
"Mr. Alexander," said she, "In looking over some of father's papers, we
came across a request that under certain conditions you were to be sent
an old keepsake of his, a clock with mother's picture on it. I have
brought it to you."
"And your father and mother, what of them, my friend?" I asked, for the
promise of that clock "under certain conditions" was coming back to me.
"Haven't you heard, sir, poor papa and mama were lost in that awful
wreck at Castleton, two years ago."
And as I write, from the dial of "Scar Faced" Hopkins's clock "My Lady
of the Eyes" looks down at me from across the mystery of eternity. The
eyes do not change as once they did, or has age dimmed my sight and
imagination? Long I look into their peaceful depths thinking of their
story, and ask, "Dear Eyes, is it well with thee?"—and they seem to
answer, "It is well."