Yes sir, as you say, an engine driver needs to have his wits about him. With a train-load of passengers under his care and at his mercy, he hasn’t much time for wool-gathering.
I often think what a terrible thing it would be if by some mysterious means a driver and his stoker were to suddenly die on duty when the train was rushing along at full speed, leaving the engine to go on its own sweet way. No living power would be able to stop it, and it would have to go on and on, either until it met with some obstacle, when its living freight would be hurled to destruction, or until the fires got too low to supply the steam pressure.
A queer thought? Well, yes, you’re right: and I admit there is little likelihood of such things happening; but it is a possibility all the same, and you can’t stop a man’s imagination from running on strange fancies.
As a matter of fact, I was once on the verge of sudden madness myself, when I thought there was only a minute between me and eternity. And I have had one or two other unpleasant, blood-curdling experiences during my twenty odd years on the line.
As you say, it is very seldom you hear of a railway man going off his head, and those who are entrusted with the position of driver—even on slow trains— are all tried hands. In fact, on our line it is a standing rule that every man who wishes to become a driver must first serve for some time as stoker, then he is put on as a sort of probationer, and allowed to drive a goods train. If he proves himself steady and efficient, painstaking, and reliable, he is next promoted; and, finally, he has a remote chance of driving one of the great expresses.
Yes, I’ve had one or two accidents in my time, not through any carelessness of mine, though. Indeed, I don’t know of any driver on our system who has had fewer than I have, and I can honestly say that I have never once been reprimanded for negligence of my duties or failure to realise my responsibilities. Still, as I say, there have been a few accidents, and a few deaths, for which my engine was indirectly responsible.
No. I am glad to say I have never been in a collision —not a real one that is, though I once thought I was in for it. The incident happened two Christmases ago, and if ever a man was near losing his reason I certainly was that night. It was a most uncanny experience, but, as them novelist chaps say thereby hangs a tale: and a weird, ghostly tale it is.
Supernatural? Yes, I reckon that’s about what you would call it; but to me it was a very natural and serious happening at the time.
You would like to hear the story? Well, so far as I am concerned, you are welcome; but, seeing that you are going up tonight, I would not advise you to hear it unless you have a strong nerve. It’s a strange, unearthly tale, more so because it’s true.
Very good. Just as you like; only I didn’t want to frighten you. Continue reading