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The Spread Rails
by [?]

“An accident now that any sort of human foresight could prevent would ruin him.”

“Oh, dear, it’s an awful strain on us . . . on him,” she corrected. “He simply can’t be everywhere to see that everything is right and everybody careful. And besides, there’s the finances of the road to keep in shape. He had to go to Montreal to-day to see about that.”

She leaned over toward me in her eager interest.

“I don’t see how he can sleep with the thing on him. The big trains must go through on time, and every workman and every piece of machinery must be right as a clock. I get in a panic. I asked him to-day if he thought he could run a railroad like that, like a machine, everything in place on the second, and he said, ‘Sure, Mike!'”

I laughed.

“‘Sure, Mike,”‘ I said, “is the spirit in which the world is conquered.”

And then the strange attraction of these two persons for one another arose before me; this big, crude, virile, direct son of the hustling West, and this delicate, refined, intellectual daughter of New England. The ancestors of the man had been the fighting and the building pioneer. And those of the girl, reflective people, ministers of the gospel and counselors at law. Marion’s grandfather had been a writer on the law. Warfield on Evidence, had been the leading authority in this country. And this ambitious girl had taken a special course in college to fit her to revise her grandfather’s great work. There was no grandson to undertake this labor, and she had gone about the task herself. She would not trust the great book to outside hands. A Warfield had written it, and a Warfield should keep the edition up. Her revision was now in the hands of a publisher in Boston, and it was sound and comprehensive, the critics said; the ablest textbook on circumstantial evidence in America. I looked in a sort of wonder at this girl, carried off her feet by a tawny barbarian!

Marion was absorbed in the thing; and I understood her anxiety. But the most pressing danger, she did not seem to realize.

It lay, I thought, in the revenge of a discharged workman. Clinton Howard had to drop any number of incompetent persons, and they wrote him all sorts of threatening letters, I had been told. With all the awful things that happen over the country some of these angry people might do anything. There are always some half-mad people.

She went on.

“But Clinton says the public is as just as Daniel. If he has an accident in the ordinary course of affairs the public will hold him for it. But if anything should happen that he could not help, the public will not hold him responsible.”

I realized the force of that. What reasonable human care could prevent he must answer for, but the outrage of a criminal would not be taken in the public mind against him. On the contrary, the sympathy of the public would flow in. When the people feel that a man is making every effort for their welfare, the criminal act of an outsider brings them over wholly to his support. Profound interest carried Marion off her feet.

“I was in a panic the other day, and Clinton said, ‘Don’t let rotten luck get your goat. I’m done if an engineer runs by a block, but nothing else can put it over on me’!”

She laughed with me at the direct, virile idiom of young America in action.

An event interrupted the discourse. The motor took a sharp curve and a young man running across the road suddenly flung himself face down in the grass beyond the curb.

“Is he hurt?” said Marion to the chauffeur.

“No, Miss, he’s hiding, Miss,” said the man, and we swept out of sight.

I thought it more likely that the creature was in liquor. In spite of the great country-houses, it was not good hunting-ground for the criminal class, during the season when everybody was about. The very number of servants, when a place is open, in a rather effective way, police it. Besides the young man looked like a sort of workman. One gets such impressions at a glance.