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The Spread Rails
by [?]

Marion took the workman’s torch and went over the short piece of track on which the thing had happened. All the evidences of the accident were within a short distance. The track was not torn up when the thing began. There was only the displaced rail pushed away, and the plow marks of the wheels on the ties. The spread rails had merely switched the train off the track onto the level of the highway roadbed into the flat field.

Marion and the workman had gone a little way down the track. I was quite alone at the point of accident, when suddenly some one caught my hand.

I was so startled that I very nearly screamed. The thing happened so swiftly, with no word.

There behind me was a woman, an old foreign woman, a peasant from some land of southern Europe. She had my hand huddled up to her mouth.

And she began to speak, bending her aged body, and with every expression of respect.

“Ah, Contessa, he is not do it, my Umberto. He is run away in fear to hide in the Barrington quarry. It is accident. It is the doing of the good God. Ah, Contessa,” and her old lips dabbed against my hand. “I beg him to not go, but he is discharge; an’ he make the threat like the great fool. Ah, Contessa, Contessa,” and she went over the words with absurd repetition, “believe it is by chance, believe it is the doing of the good God, I pray you.” And so she ran on in her quaint old-world words.

Instantly I remembered the man lying by the roadside, and the threats of discharged workmen.

I told her the thing was a clean accident, and tried to show her how it came about. She was effusive in gratitude for my belief. But she seemed concerned about Marion and the others. She did not go away; she went over and sat down beside the track.

Presently the others returned. They were so engrossed that they did not notice my adventure or the aged woman seated on the ground.

Marion was putting questions to the workman.

“There was no obstruction on the track?”

“No, Miss.”

“The engineer was watching?”

“Yes, Miss Warfield, he had to slow up and be careful about the crossing. There is no curve on this grade, he could see every foot of the way. The track was clear and in place, and he was watching it. There was nothing on it. – The rails simply spread under the weight of the engine.”

And he began to comment on the excessive size and weight of the huge modern passenger engine.

“The brute drove the rails apart,” he said, “that’s all there is to it.”

“Was the track in repair?” said Marion.

“It was patrolled to-day, Miss, and it was all in shape.”

Then he repeated:

“The big engine just pushed the rails out.”

“But the road is built for this type of engine,” said Marion.

“Yes, Miss Warfield,” replied the man, “it’s supposed to be, but every roadbed gets a spread rail sometimes.”

Then he added:

“It has to be mighty solid to hold these hundred ton engines on the rails at sixty miles an hour.”

“It does hold them,” said Marion.

“Yes, Miss Warfield, usually,” said the man.

“Then why should it fail here?”

The man’s big grimy face wrinkled into a sort of smile.

“Now, Miss Warfield,” he said, “if we knew why an accident was likely to happen at one place more than another we wouldn’t have any wrecks.”

“Precisely,” replied Marion, “but isn’t it peculiar that the track should spread at the synclinal of this grade with the train running at a reduced speed, when it holds on the synclinal of other grades with the train running at full speed?”

The man’s big face continued to smile.

“All accidents are peculiar, Miss Warfield; that’s what makes them accidents.”

“But,” said Marion, “is not the aspect of these peculiarities indicatory of either a natural event or one designed by a human intelligence?”