Bill Todd -- Klaus: A Railway Novel
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 Chapter 17

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Cincinnati, early September, 1936

Idyllic as the days were with Malice in her shambling overgrown garden, full of secret places for Charlotte and Klaus to enjoy their second honeymoon, probably the first real one, Marie-Claude was given to understand that the Cincinnati, Lebanon, and Northern, Klaus' first wholly owned railway, needed attention.

Having squeezed into a taxi on their arrival in Cincinnati, Charlotte began to explain to Marie-Claude,

"There's a strange man named Frank Scrutt living in our house."

Hans interrupted,

"He isn't strange. He's a good railroad man."

Klaus mediated,

"He's a good railroad man whom I hired away from the B&O to run the C, L, and N. I also moved him into the unused part of the house so we could stay in touch easily. But he's unusual in other ways."

Charlotte said to Marie-Claude,

"He's a former East Prussian aristocrat who's become, for all practical purposes, a grease monkey."

Marie-Claude found her curiosity aroused. She certainly didn't want to have anything to do with any grease monkeys, but she thought that Charlotte must have exaggerated. A man who had been put in charge of even a small railway wouldn't be crawling under locomotives with a wrench. And then, too, no aristocrat could ever totally expunge his origins, no matter what he did.

When they arrived, the house was open, but appeared to be deserted. Then, on looking out through the French windows to the cleared space behind the house, they saw two men surrounded by weight-lifting equipment. Both men were stripped to the waist and Marie-Claude recognized one of them as the Seydlitz chaffeur, Martin. The other, standing with his feet apart and making horrid noises, was just managing to raise a bar with enormous weights on its ends up in front of his face. Then, grimacing in a particularly unpleasant way, he got it up above his head with his arms extended.

Poised there for a moment, he broke into a smile that was hardly better than the grimace, dropped the bar with a great thunk on to the grass, and said something indistinct to the other. It was almost certainly obscene.

Martin was embarrassed when he realized that the family had returned, and immediately put on his shirt. The other, who could only be Scrutt, called to Klaus and Hans to come out and join him. To her astonishment, Klaus dropped his jacket on a chair and proceeded to do so. Hans had already picked up a pair of dumb-bells. Charlotte said to her,

"Wasn't I right?"

Marie-Claude had to admit that she was. She hardly knew what to think of a man who lifted weights. Her husband wouldn't have dreamed of doing such a thing, and she doubted that a Prussian militarist would be any more likely to do so. While Klaus was so much a gentleman that he could be pardoned for doing almost anything, it looked as if such things came naturally to Scrutt.

Marie-Claude did notice that Scrutt was fairly tall with a well-shaped head and face. But nothing else was right. What could be seen of his clothing was deplorable, and not even very clean. Even worse, a casual glance indicated that he was a standing affront to everything that was respectable, elegant, and civilized.

When, some time later, the men were finished with their weights, Scrutt slid on his grimy shirt, buttoned one button, and casually sauntered into the house where Lotte had drinks prepared. Klaus brought Scrutt over and introduced Marie- Claude as "a friend and associate" of Charlotte. Scrutt's English was good, if colloquial, and he managed to speak without obscenity. Apparently not realizing that Marie-Claude had been in America before, he said,

"This is the only really free country in the world. If someone gives you a bad look, you can hit him in the mouth."

That set Marie-Claude laughing. She held up her delicate right hand in a fist and said,

"I can hardly imagine hitting someone in the mouth."

Scrutt smiled in a somewhat disturbing manner and replied,

"But you have sharp heels. You could kick."

Just as they were beginning to explore this possibility, Marie-Claude caught sight of Hans and Annette outside the window. Annette, both hands on a bar from which the weights had been removed, was struggling to raise it above her head. Marie-Claude almost spilled her drink, exclaimed in French, and rushed outside. Scrutt followed her, and, when they arrived, Annette was standing triumphantly with the bar raised high. Before Marie-Claude could say anything, Scrutt suggested a narrower grip and held the bar while Annette moved her hands slightly. Then, as she lowered it slowly, Scrutt said to Marie-Claude,

"We don't let Hans lift heavy weights because his muscles aren't fully formed, but the young people won't hurt themselves with weights like these."

Marie-Claude found herself nodding slightly as they turned to go back into the house. Scrutt said,

"You must be like me."

That was another shocker, but Marie-Claude only looked quietly at him for further explanation. He said,

"I've been friends with Klaus for years, but, when he needed help, he hired me. I guess it's the same with you and Charlotte."

Marie-Claude, with a feeling of abandoning caution, replied,

"I imagine the difference is that you could have gone on as before. My husband was disgraced and ruined in France, and I had no prospects. My job here isn't nearly so well defined as yours."

"Our main job is to get this little railroad ready to plug a serious gap when war comes. There'll be lots of things you can do to help."

Marie-Claude was about to protest that she knew nothing about railways, but she re-considered and replied,

"There are always problems in the management of people. I might be able to help a little there."

Scrutt seemed pleased, and it struck her that, in just the way that he expected Annette to lift weights, she was herself expected to help smooth the path of the railroad through any controversies that might arise.

Northern Kentucky, September 15, 1936

The road south wound its narrow twisting way through the deeply colored foliage. Klaus found it monotonous. After many turns, they would climb a hillside, emerge on a ridge, and then follow the ridge line for a while, generally passing a few farmhouses. There might be some horses or cows, none of exceptional interest, and it would then be time to descend into yet another valley with the inevitable creek and a rickety bridge at the bottom.

Klaus knew that it was all extremely picturesque, and that many people came a hundred miles or more from the flatlands of Ohio and Indiana to see this part of Kentucky. One of the things Klaus shared with his wife was their mutual dislike of Kentucky. Klaus, ever tactful, tended to silence when Kentucky was mentioned. Charlotte would occasionally claim to like rustic scenery. She would sometimes even accompany her friends on expeditions into the boondocks until she could sidetrack them to a restaurant. Klaus, however, could be drawn south only by dire necessity.

Some people thought it odd that a man from the Rhine valley would scorn the scenery of Kentucky, and some sensed some invidious comparison between the New World and the Old. Klaus always denied any such imputation. When pressed, he would point out that, from the road, one saw very little but leaves. While some did indeed have beautiful colors, he would suggest gently that one could, with as much profit, spend an afternoon in the contemplation of colored scraps of paper.

After many meaningless ridges had been crossed, the landscape finally took significant form in the shape of the main line of the Southern Railway. The country, now flattening slightly, allowed the road to follow the line on this, its first step from Cincinnati to the Gulf of Mexico.

There was, on this weekday afternoon, little sign of activity. The casual onlooker would scarcely have realized that this railway constituted the best route, potentially a lifeline, linking the industrial centers of the northeast with the oil wells of Texas and the Gulf. It wasn't just that, however, that Klaus had come to see. There lay ahead a single point whose significance was fully appreciated by only two others besides himself.

When Klaus had gone to Germany in the summer, a great deal had been hypothetical. When war with Germany came, the Germans, if they were rational, would do thus and so. However, among all those Seydlitz cousins, there had been one young man who had defied tradition sufficiently to join the navy.

It wasn't as if Commander Otto Keil, a member of Admiral Raeder's staff, had revealed any secrets, not even after a number of drinks. Nor would he necessarily have been more circumspect even if he had remembered that Klaus was no longer German, a fact very easily overlooked in the relaxed atmosphere that had prevailed. Indeed, even if Admiral Raeder himself had been present, the admiral probably would have felt no unease at the remarks of his subordinate.

After all, the naval officers of all countries were fully aware of the impact of radio on submarine operations. Not only could submarines be directed to objectives, but they could be supplied almost indefinitely. As Keil had pointed out, supply ships loaded with torpedoes and diesel fuel could lose themselves in the ocean wastes. Then, when a submarine ran low, both it and the supply ship could be directed to a rendezvous without either of them breaking radio silence.

This was no news to anyone, and Hitler himself, in a speech threatening the democracies, had pointed out how much more effective submarines would now be in cutting the lifelines of Britain and France. Still, the fact that such possibilities dwelled so prominently on the mind of a key member of the admiral's staff was significant. He might instead have been concerned with battleships, the building of Germany's first aircraft carrier, or the use of mines. But he never mentioned those things.

Then, half an hour later, something else came to light. Again, it was common knowledge. If the procession of oil tankers from the Gulf of Mexico around Florida to the American northeast were seriously disrupted, much of American industry would quickly come to a halt. Klaus felt as if he had been shouting it from the rooftops for years. But the source of this statement, together with the tone with which it had been made, was significant.

And then, there had been one more thing, this time something that might have made Admiral Raeder frown. Keil had calculated how many freight trains it would take to replace a tanker over a journey of 3000 kilometers. Klaus knew that there was only one place in the world where such a replacement might become necessary.

The Kriegsmarine had made this calculation because they planned to maintain perpetually a powerful squadron of U- boats in a position to sink the American tankers as they came through the Florida keys or up the coast. Again, the calculation was hardly secret. But it should have been a secret that anyone had bothered to make it.

With these thoughts in Klaus' mind, they passed a one- legged boy on a bicycle. In order to push the pedal hard enough, he would stand and put all his weight on it. He would then bounce on to the seat and withdraw his leg quickly while the pedal rotated back up. Clever as he was, the motion required was extremely awkward and looked exhausting.

Klaus considered offering to help, perhaps taking the boy and his bicycle into the car. However, the boy looked as if he were doing something he did every day without any sense of hardship. Offers of help so often created more problems than they solved.

After another mile, Klaus had the chauffeur pull over. He then got out, crossed the road, and climbed the embankment to the main line. As he had expected, there was another line, just visible across the valley, also headed south. This belonged to the Louisville and Nashville Railroad.

In trying to solve the problem of getting empty tank cars from the north and east to the Gulf without disrupting the trains of loaded cars headed north, Klaus had made considerable progress. He had already made agreements with, or gained control of, a number of mostly minor railways which spanned almost a thousand miles.

The most critical part, the entry to Cincinnati, consisted in the Cincinnati, Lebanon, and Northern Railway. It would pick up empties from its northern terminus of Dayton, Ohio, where it connected with the Erie, and take them right into the heart of Cincinnati. From there they could, in theory, be sent all the way to the Gulf on the Southern.

As usual, the problem was in the yards in Cincinnati itself. In order to get from the C, L, and N terminus to the Southern yards it was necessary to cross the lines of the Pennsylvania, the C & O, and the B & O. Even in peacetime, these lines were crowded. In wartime it would be unthinkable to snarl them with long trains of empties being shunted back and forth.

Klaus' solution was to make use of the L & N, which came into the city very close to the C, L, and N terminus. Best of all, it crossed the Ohio River on a bridge with a lower traffic density than that of the other two railway bridges. The trains of empties could thus be gotten through the city, and across the river, without unduly disturbing traffic proceeding in the opposite direction.

While the L & N did have connections to the Gulf, the preferred route would still be that of the Southern. Since the two lines crossed some twenty miles south of the city, the object would be to take the trains of empties from Cincinnati via the L & N and hand them over to the Southern at that point. Klaus was now engaged in surveying the possibilities for the interchange of cars.

The next bend in the road brought them almost to Bellwether, Kentucky. More important, directly in front lay the only point where the main lines of the Southern and the L & N crossed. Again climbing the embankment for a better view, Klaus surveyed the scene.

The Southern was like a highway running straight to New Orleans. Elevated well above the road, its track was impeccably ballasted and manicured. Klaus, standing on it, could see directly through the cuts in the hills, as if they had been commanded to part by the directors of the railway. The L & N, on the other hand, followed the valleys anonymously, and almost invisibly. Its line came snaking out of a creek bed on the left, crossed under one of the Southern's confidence-inspiring steel trestles, and continued into the town. It there had a separate, and less impressive, station.

Klaus knew that this wasn't the heart of the L & N system, and that things were very different between Louisville and Nashville. But, still, it was impossible, viewing the scene, not to think that it would be a good thing to send most of the trains of empties over the Southern. It would certainly be a great advantage to have a choice of routes during the crisis.

As Klaus returned to the car, the one-legged cyclist caught up with them, still with that peculiar twisting motion, but with no sign of weariness. Klaus noticed that the boy was wearing a Boy Scout bandanna, and waved as he passed. The boy looked only straight ahead, his turned-up empty pants leg flapping slightly in the breeze.

They drove slowly into town, and then part-way back until Klaus found what he wanted. A little to the south of its passage under the Southern, there was a spur off the left side of the L & N which ran diagonally south and east. Klaus, again leaving the car, strode through some brush, clambered over the crushed cinders of the indifferently ballasted L & N track, and inspected the switch to the spur. As he had expected, it was long unused.

The light iron of the spur meandered along the undulating surface of a scruffy rather nondescript meadow. The grass wasn't lush, but tall and spiky. At its roots were lumps of coal, bits of iron from the railway, and oddments which suggested previous habitation. The rails were still well above ground level, even though the ties on which they rested were often split and sometimes buried. A few week's work would put that to rights. The main question was whether there was a connection with the Southern at the other end of the spur.

A little further south, still with no sign of the Southern, there was a suspiciously flat area off to the right. Klaus immediately moved into it. He first felt, and then saw, the remains of a number of old tracks buried in the grass. There had once been a yard where he stood, but it might have been only for the use of the L&N without any connection with the other railway.

Now in a state of high excitement and agitation, Klaus rushed, half running and stumbling, southward. There was a gully ahead which must have marked the end of the old yard, but, as nearly as he could make out, the tracks, instead of dead ending, were joining together. That was an extremely good sign. Now back on the single track of the spur, Klaus moved past the gully and, bursting out of a clump of trees, he found the Southern main line almost at his feet. He felt like throwing his hat up in the air and cheering. Then, more soberly, he inspected the switch. It, too, had accumulated a great deal of rust.

The facts were obvious. While the L & N and the Southern had once interchanged cars here, they now preferred to do so in Cincinnati. In peacetime, the congestion there could be lived with, and neither railway wanted to go to the expense of stationing yard crews and a switching engine in this isolated spot. But Klaus wasn't interested in actualities, only potentialities.

He then moved, much more slowly, back the way he had come. It wouldn't even be necessary to grade and lay out a yard. That had already been done. When the old tracks were replaced, they could also be extended. A shed and facilities for a couple of switchers would be erected, and, if they were lucky, they might even be able to find and re-connect the old water supply for the engines. The yard would eventually be capable of storing, at a guess, several hundred cars. The switchers would marshall the empty tank cars into appropriate cuts, and they would then be sent south over either of the main lines.

The whole complex, track and all, could obviously be bought for very little. It would be incorporated on its own, and the Bellwether Railway would then be in business. Klaus surveyed his future creation and found it good.

Bellwether, Kentucky, September 15, 1936.

Boy Scout Troop 3013 had originally been the product of fundamentalist religious tendencies, and, even now, the influence was clearly detectable. It had all started with the local Apostolic Zionist Church of God, led by the energetic Brother Bruce Bellows.

Brother Bellows, an engaging and rather ambitious young preacher, had objected to the scout troop attached to the Methodist church. There were in it, he said, certain wayward boys. Worse, those potentially sinful influences weren't being properly counteracted by the minister and his scoutmaster, men whose attitudes were far too easy-going. The only solution was for their small congregation to have its own scout troop, one in which religious observances and strictures would take precedence over the tying of knots. Brother Bellows had appointed himself as the first scoutmaster.

In the circumstances, one might have expected the scout troop to operate as little more than a Sunday School. In fact, things turned out in quite a different way. For a start, Brother Bellows discovered in himself a liking for military drill. When the Methodist troop went camping or fishing, he could be seen marching, at the head of his troop, up and down the church parking lot.

One of the Methodist mothers, on observing this rag-tag little company, remarked to a friend that it was a pity that Brother Bellows didn't give the boys more fun. The preacher was nevertheless delighted with his troop, and he had only one regret. His parishioners were, on the whole, much too poor to buy the official uniforms for the boys. They thus had only the remnants of uniforms that had been used in the Methodist troop. One boy would have mended khaki shorts, another the bandanna, another the headgear, and so on. There were also some brave attempts to dye or modify other clothing to give it the proper Boy Scout look.

Brother Bellows, contemptuous of these half measures, launched a fund drive to buy uniforms, giving it precedence over other things that many thought more important. The fund drive would undoubtedly have succeeded if Brother Bellows hadn't suddenly been called to lead a larger and more affluent flock in Cincinnati.

The next couple of preachers were older and less energetic. Neither found it at all exciting to be around boys. Still, with Troop 3013 still in existence, they found men who more or less agreed to be scoutmaster for a while. These gentlemen were appointed with some haste and little ceremony. There was no more marching, and meetings were irregular. There was some talk of the troop being absorbed back into the Methodist troop. That, however, didn't come to pass. The impression at the time was that the Methodist scoutmaster thought the boys of Troop 3013 to be scruffy, troublesome, and lower class.

During these few years, the most remarkable thing about the troop was its continuing existence. The troop met, even without a scoutmaster. When they were locked out of the church basement, they met in the town drugstore at the soda fountain. When the druggist discouraged that practice, they met on a street corner, and, finally, in a deserted shack by the railroad. They kept their bits and pieces of uniform there, as well as a few dog-eared old Boy Scout manuals.

Against every probability, Troop 3013 occupied itself in acquiring the approved skills and working for rank and merit badges. Since there was, most of the time, no one to award these certificates, they made their own and duly presented them to each other. Once a month the troop paraded in the church parking lot, using the same military drill Brother Bellows had taught it. He could hardly have imagined the tenacity with which it would be pursued.

As time went on, and the troop got farther from adult supervision, some of the procedures were changed. Merit badges were altered and fire-lighting procedures were modified. There were also some ideological changes which were rather in the spirit of Brother Bellows' militarism. When a member of the Methodist troop spoke slightingly of their efforts, Troop 3013 gave him a bloody nose and ripped off his uniform, thus increasing their stock of Scout clothing.

There was some muttering in the community about this initiative, but the members of Troop 3013 were elusive. Moreover, most didn't have the sorts of parents who would be likely to respond in a satisfactory way to complaints about their sons.

As far as anyone in Troop 3013 knew, it was the first time that Scout's honor had been defended in quite this way. Special merit badges were therefore struck off to commemorate the defeat and despoilation of the member of the Methodist troop.

Despite these diversions from standard Scout practice, the monthly drills in the church parking lot continued absolutely unchanged. Since the main point of these drills was to inform the world at large of the troop's continued existence, there was concern that the bits and pieces of Scout regalia had become so tattered as to be virtually unrecognizable. To put this matter right, a tire liberated from an old car was sold to buy an official troop banner. This, held aloft as they marched, proclaimed the identity of the troop for all to see.

For a while, there was a good deal of ambiguity as to the leadership of the troop. On those increasingly rare occasions when an appointed scoutmaster turned up, his authority was unquestioned. Even after the troop was locked out of the church, it would schedule its activities in the parking lot at the regular time of meeting, apparently in the hope that a scoutmaster would appear. However, by the time that they had shifted most of their operations to the shack by the railway, it was quite clear that the troop had been orphaned.

The boys then ranged from fourteen to seventeen. A couple of the older ones, who held the highest rank, seemed poised to fill the leadership vacuum. In the event, they weren't called upon. It was Mordecai Hawkins, a fifteen year old, who became the acknowledged leader.

In contrast to the others, Mordecai was a striking figure, one whom strangers found rather alarming and disturbing. Some two years previously, he had lost his right leg in a grisly accident with farm machinery. Before that, Mordecai had been really rather beautiful. With a perfectly proportioned athletic body, he had straw blond hair, Nordic features, and oddly contrasting deep-set eyes, one blue and one brown. After the accident, his features were often twisted a little in pain, and a wild look had come into his eyes. People either looked at him twice or looked away immediately. Whatever they did, it make little difference to Mordecai. He never spoke to strangers at all, and seldom spoke to any adult. All his fire was reserved for the members of Troop 3013.

One might have thought that a one-legged boy would have too little mobility to be dangerous. On the contrary, Mordecai's handicap seemed, in an odd way, to increase his range

Instead of crutches, he constantly had with him an old bicycle, seemingly rather small for his large body. He used the left pedal only when riding some distance. For the most part, he hopped and pushed with his amazingly strong left leg. He once shot up the short flight of cement steps at the cemetery in a bound or two, and accelerated alarmingly to catch another boy. He then fetched him a clip on the head with one of the chains he carried on his bicycle. The scouts regarded Mordecai with an awe something like that of the old pirates of Hispaniola for Long John Silver.

The area of weeds and rusted track between the two main lines naturally attracted Troop 3013. It was land that no one wanted, and they were the boys that no one wanted. But they also had the sophistication to realize that, if they made themselves at all conspicuous, someone would turn out to want the land after all. A fairly commodious but inconspicuous tree house was constructed to serve as headquarters, and there were also a couple of smaller ones which served as observation posts. There was, fortunately enough, an area of bare ground screened by several stands of trees on which the scouts could play games and conduct other activities.

Whenever a stranger, generally a hobo or tramp, appeared, he would quickly be spotted from the top of one of the trees. The boys, following the principles of Baden- Powell, would then form a scouting line, hidden in the brush. As the stranger came closer, they would communicate with bird and animal calls. They had terrorized one or two tramps who came too close to the camp, but, for the most part, the intruder would pass through in ignorance of the eyes watching him.

Klaus, of course, was spotted the minute he entered the area. The boys had never seen anyone at all like him. But they picked up something foreign in his manner. Moreover, Mordecai, who had just arrived, reported having seen him on the road. The stranger had come in a big black car driven by a chauffeur. Then, when he poked around at the tracks, the suspicions of the boys were further aroused. The consensus was that he was a foreign spy intent on wrecking a train.

When Klaus first saw the dozen or so boys, he recognized the one-legged cyclist immediately. It was remarkable how he could ride and hop his vehicle over the rough ground and maneuver it between obstacles. It wasn't long before Klaus realized that he was in danger. He had seen too many infantry attacks not to recognize one now. If anything else had been needed, the boys were yelling, one of them waving some sort of banner.

The ground Klaus occupied was fairly open without any natural defenses. There was nothing for it but to gradually fight his way to the car and the aid of his chaffeur. After all, these were only boys. Klaus anticipated being able to fling them away as he retreated.

The cyclist was now well in front of the others, coming on in leaps and bounds. He was, in fact, coming too fast for maximum tactical advantage. Klaus decided to wait until the last moment, duck to the side, and let the cyclist go on past. It even occurred to Klaus that he might be able to get the bicycle away from the boy and make his escape on it before the others caught up.

Klaus timed his move perfectly. The cyclist went past, but made a skidding turn faster than anyone could have imagined. Klaus expected the boy to fall off the cycle in attempting to follow him, and turned back to pick it up. What he saw instead was an upraised slashing arm with a chain almost on top of him.

The impact of the chain on top of Klaus' head sent him staggering back, blood quickly covering his face. The next blow sent him down. Klaus, groggy, realized that the other boys had arrived, and were kicking him. Rolling on to his stomach, he covered his head as best he could with his arms. The kicks weren't hurting him very much, but the chain, still aimed at his head, was much more dangerous. Finally, Klaus managed to grab it. Getting up on one knee, he flailed with it, and heard a couple of yips as the boys retreated. The cyclist tried to rally them, and then snarled something as he rode away. Klaus stood, still with the chain in one hand, and watched the cyclist with something like admiration as he disappeared.

The incident of the foreign spy was one of the most talked about events in the history of the Troop. It was also one in which the boys took some pride, as evidenced by the small purple patches they wore on their tunics. The spy hadn't been entirely vanquished, but they had kept him from wrecking a train. That was the main thing.

As the days passed, there was increasing speculation as to how the spy had meant to wreck the train. It was Mordecai Hawkins who ruled between competing theories, and thus set down what would come to be the approved version. It hinged on the fact that, every evening, one of the Southern's fast northbound passenger trains passed the area at almost the same time as a heavy L & N southbound freight.

The spy had been surveying the ground, and had intended to come back at night. He would first cut the lock on the L & N switch joining the spur to the main line and throw it. That would send the freight rumbling on down the spur toward the troop headquarters. The spy, or a helper, would then do the same thing at the Southern switch at the other end of the spur. The passenger train would shoot up it, and there would be a terrific collision.

Since the spy might come back at any time to perpetrate his monstrous design, Troop 3013 mounted patrol at both switches every evening. The longer they stood guard at the switches, watching the trains pass, the more fascinated they became with the spy's plan. The collision would truly be almost beyond imagination, perhaps the worst one there had ever been.

One day, one of the scouts pointed out that the padlocks on the switch levers were old and rusty, and that the spy could easily saw through them. Since there was still some money in the Troop treasury, the possibility was raised of buying new padlocks for the switches. After all, they didn't know when the spy would return, and they couldn't guard every train.

The next night, Mordecai Hawkins brought an old hacksaw to test the locks. Sure enough, he was able to cut half-way through each padlock with little difficulty.

In the next week, the conversations about the feared train wreck shifted slowly and subtly. As before, there was always talk about the crash. It was the only event the boys had ever discussed that excited them to that degree. They wondered at it as the adults in the Apostolic Zion Church of God congregation wondered at miracles, damnation, and the agonies of those in Hell. These boys, partly because of the treatment of their troop, had wandered away from the church. But they still had all the primeval religious passions that their church had kept alive. These passions soon came to be connected irrevocably with the Great Train Wreck.

At the same time, their discussions became ever more detailed and specific. How had the spy intended to throw the switches without altering the signals, and thus warning the trainmen? Probably by waiting until each engine had passed its signal to throw the switch. But, then, he would need an accomplice at the other switch to do the same thing there at almost the same time. Thereafter, the troop looked out for two men, perhaps approaching from different directions. In the event, two tramps were badly beaten when they were unlucky enough to approach the north and south switches at almost the same time one night.

When the boys got the tramps tied to trees and questioned them with knives held at their throats, it was clear even to a scout troop with a mystical vision that these pitiful specimens weren't up to wrecking a train. They then chased them away, and settled down to renewed vigilance. But vigilance goes with a thirst for action, and there was no action.

It could have been predicted that the troop would eventually create its own action. Without quite realizing it, the boys were no longer discussing ways of preventing a train wreck. They were discussing the best and most certain way of producing one.

Bill Todd -- Klaus: A Railway Novel
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