The Steam-Shovel Man/Chapter 10



Almost a week after the Juan Lopez had fled so hastily from the Bay of Panama, Walter Goodwin came back in the government tug with a body-guard of devoted marines. Although he had managed to make a good deal of noise in the world for a youth of his years, he had no false ideas of his own importance. As he looked at it, he had made a muddle of things and his friends had pulled him out. He must show them that he could stand on his own feet and they must be given no more trouble in his behalf. Before landing at Balboa, he said to Jack Devlin:

"Please forget about me. I can jump right in and look for a job."

"Not until I have taken you to the colonel. Those were his orders. We'll board the first train to Culebra on the chance of finding him in his office."

"Did he really want to see me?"

"Sure. You are the prize disturbance of the Isthmus."

Colonel Gunther was in consultation with two of his division engineers when the steam-shovel man led Walter in by the arm. Shoving aside a mass of blue-prints and typewritten data, the colonel stepped forward and heartily exclaimed:

"Why, here is the young man who was so handy with the broomstick! I am delighted to know that your latest voyage has turned out so well. I understand that you bagged General Quesada as an incident of the adventure."

Walter blushed and replied:

"I had a lucky chance to get square with him, sir."

"The lad used his head, colonel," put in Devlin, with a broad grin. "It's head-work that counts on the Isthmus, if you please. I have heard you say it yourself."

"I can't thank you enough. I wasn't worth all that trouble," said Walter.

"Oh, perhaps you were," smiled the colonel. "That remains to be seen. Devlin told me that you were looking for work when you got into this extraordinary scrape. You have done the Canal Commission a considerable service. Would you like to take a position on the wharf at Balboa?"

Walter was about to answer with great fervor when a tall, spare gentleman in khaki entered the office from another room and paused to survey the group. Then he raised his voice abruptly and protested:

"Pardon me, colonel, but Goodwin belongs to me. I saw him first. With your permission I will use him in the Cristobal commissary."

"Oh, how are you, Major Glendinning," and the colonel chuckled. "Has base-ball anything to do with your lively interest in this young man?"

"Officially? No. Between us, as man to man? Yes," frankly returned the major. "The force at Cristobal will be most unhappy if Goodwin is sent to Balboa. They will consider themselves wronged. Their morale will be impaired."

"Is it as bad as that?" The colonel tried to look serious. "If base-ball is really involved, I had better surrender. I would rather not add to my troubles."

The major bowed his thanks, and his stern features relaxed in a mischievous smile. Turning to Walter, he said in his curt way:

"Glad to see you again. How is the arm? I called at the hospital to see you, but you had flown off on that ridiculous voyage. Can you steer clear of landslides and revolutions for a while?"

"I'll try, sir. I should like to lead a very quiet life. I can pitch again before long."

The major glanced at the colonel and said impressively to Walter: "I shall give you a job in my department, not on account of your base-ball, mind you, but because you did a clever, plucky piece of work on Balboa wharf. Is that clearly understood?"

"Be careful, or you will protest too much," laughed Colonel Gunther, as he returned to his desk. "I think there is no question that Goodwin has earned the right to a job in the Zone."

Jack Devlin shook hands with Walter and whispered:

"I had it in mind to put in a word myself. I want to break you in at firing a steam-shovel when you are strong and husky again. But it would have started another row over the base-ball end of it. Major Glendinning is a stubborn man to lock horns with. So long, my boy. Your luck has turned. I'll look you up on my first day off."

"You are the best friend a fellow ever had," said Walter.

Two days later he was put on the gold roll as a commissary clerk and assigned to the great warehouse in Cristobal, which was filled with groceries, dry-goods, hardware, shoes, crockery, candy, and what-not. It was one depot of the unique system of store-keeping conducted on a vast scale by a paternal government. After his breathless adventures, Walter was glad to work with all his might at the humdrum task of tallying the merchandise as it came in from the railroad cars.

He was thus engaged when his father found him. Mr. Horatio Goodwin halted amid the boxes and barrels, and stood staring at his tall son as if to make sure that his vision had not tricked him. Walter dropped his tally-sheet, blinked in his turn and shouted:

"Goodness gracious, father! Is it you or somebody else?"

With this he made a violent assault on his parent, swung him clear of the floor in a bear-like hug, and set him down in a rumpled condition.

"Are you really all right, Walter?" gasped Mr. Goodwin.

"Of course I'm all right. Can't you see it for yourself? You can't lose me," Walter kept repeating as if he were firing minute-guns. "And what brought you way down here from Wolverton?"

Mr. Goodwin tried to explain, but both were too excited to weave a coherent narrative, and after waving his hands helplessly the father cried:

"We can tell all this later. I have come to take you home with me. A steamer sails for New York to-morrow."

"To take me home with you?" Walter's face was dismal beyond words. This was a worse catastrophe than the landslide. "Why, father, you don't understand. Everything is coming my way. I am on the gold roll at seventy-five per month, and I intend to send 'most half of it home. I had a few little upsets, but that's all past. Do you honestly mean it?"

"It is why I made the long journey," firmly answered Mr. Goodwin. "Your mother and I cannot stand it, Walter. After she hears of the dynamite and the landslide and the pirates she will never forgive me if I leave you here."

"But you will give me a chance to talk it over with you?" implored Walter. "A fellow can't afford to have his career smashed all to flinders. Please look around first and see what a fine country this is to live in. It is as quiet and safe as Wolverton, and a good deal healthier."

"Your adventures sound like it," was Mr. Goodwin's dry comment. "Can you quit work at once and come over to the hotel with me?"

"Not until noon and then I will knock off for dinner, father. It wouldn't be square to leave my job, even to talk things over with you. Excuse me, but I must keep this car-load of stuff moving."

Mr. Horatio Goodwin was repulsed, but by no means vanquished. For all his mild demeanor, he had an obstinate streak, and his purpose of taking Walter home was unshaken. As a dutiful son, Walter was sorely distressed. He had never defied his father, nor did he wish to do so now. But he could not bear to think of leaving the Isthmus with success in his grasp. Resorting to strategy, he said to his father when next they met:

"Now that you are here, why don't you spend a week in seeing the canal? It is the greatest show on earth. You ought not to miss it. You needn't worry about me. I am as safe as if I were clerking in a corner grocery in Wolverton."

The suggestion delighted Mr. Goodwin, although he had a struggle with his conscience on the score of expense. He ought to hasten back to his desk in the coal-dealer's office. But never again would he have such a vacation as this, and it would be easier to persuade Walter by pressing the argument gradually. Next morning Mr. Goodwin, eager and alert, went out to view the Gatun locks and dam.

Walter toiled in the commissary and meditated great thoughts. There must be some way to solve the problem. He bided his time until Major Glendinning, passing through the warehouse on a tour of inspection, halted to ask:

"How are you going to like the job?"

"Tremendously, sir, thank you. But I may have to resign this week. My father has come after me."

"What? Does he think you are incapable of taking care of yourself?" thundered the major. "What's the matter with him?"

"They want me with them at home. I am too far away from the family."

"Pshaw! Does your father need you in his own business?"

"No, sir. His business doesn't amount to much at present. He was with the Wolverton Mills for twenty years as accountant and book-keeper——'

"The mills closed down," interrupted the major. "I used to purchase from them."

"Yes, sir. My father is a first-class man in every way, but times are dull at home and and—" Walter mopped his face and floundered on, "you see, I happened to think that instead of my going home to the family, I might somehow manage to bring the family down here. It sounds foolish, but——"

Major Glendinning was both touched and amused. He had heard of Walter's ambition to "give his father a lift."

"You mean to insinuate that there might possibly be an opening for a first-class accountant and book-keeper hi the canal organization?" he queried. "Can you recommend him?"

"Very highly," was Walter's grave reply. "I have known him for seventeen years, and he can furnish the very best of references."

"Bless me, but you are a sort of continuous performance," exclaimed Major Glendinning. "A really first-class accountant and book-keeper! Um-m! If you are a chip of the old block, your father deserves careful consideration. Such men are not any too easy to find for the office work of the various departments, even though the pay-rolls are full."

"He is at the Washington Hotel in Colon," hopefully suggested Walter. "Of course, I am very anxious to stay on the job, and I don't want to disobey him——"

"Perhaps you can persuade him to file a formal application," said Major Glendinning.

Six weeks later a holiday crowd assembled in the base-ball park at Cristobal to see an important game of the Isthmian League series. These hundreds of cheerful, hearty Americans stood for something more than a keen interest in the most popular sport of their nation. They showed that the pestilential tropics had been conquered, that the northern races could live and work and play in health and comfort where once the fever-laden Chagres River had slain its thousands.

When the bow-legged captain of the Cristobal nine, "Bucky" Harrison, led his men across the diamond for preliminary practice, the grandstand greeted the pitcher with particular applause. He was tall and rugged and of a pleasant countenance, and one might have heard the on-lookers remarking:

"That is young Goodwin. Cristobal expects to win the championship with him."

"He is in the commissary and doing very well, I understand."

"His father has a position in the same department, and the family lives at Cristobal. The mother and sister are sitting over yonder. Do you see the pretty young girl with the fair hair and the pink cheeks? She is in the Zone high-school."

As Walter Goodwin swung his good right arm in "warming-up" practice with the catcher, he glanced at the grandstand with an air of pride and satisfaction wholly unselfish. His venturesome voyage to the Isthmus had been tremendously worth while. One more achievement, and his cup would be full to overflowing. He must prove that he could pitch winning base-ball. But a fellow who had earned a place for himself on the gold roll, and then found a fine position for his father, and moved the whole family from Wolverton, ought to face the heaviest hitters of the Culebra nine with a good deal of confidence in himself.

Shortly before the game began, Walter spied a black-haired young man, who came running across the field, wildly waving his Panama hat. With a joyous shout, Walter scampered to meet Señor Fernandez Garcia Alfaro, who explained in his dramatic fashion:

"I have just now arrived from Colombia in the nick of time to behold you play the grand sport of base-ball, my dear friend. My steamer lands me at Balboa this morning. I jump for the train. I rush. I am in the break-neck hurry, and here I am."

"This is a glad reunion. And General Quesada and his parrot will bother you no more for some time," cried Walter.

"So I have heard. He is locked up in Uncle Sam's hotel with the iron bars, which is a very good place for him. I am going back to Washington to be a diplomat some more. And how is that dear family of yours? What do you hear from them?"

"They are all here," exclaimed Walter, as he dragged the surprised Colombian toward the grandstand. You may be sure that Mrs. Goodwin and her daughter found this young man entertaining company, for he promptly delivered himself of a eulogy of Walter as a noble, splendid young man who had saved his life. In his own country girls of fourteen were young ladies and to be treated as such, wherefore he instantly lost his heart to Eleanor and was so flatteringly attentive that she felt very grown-up indeed.

Their animated conversation ceased when the Cristobal players took their positions in the field, and the first of the Culebra batsmen marched to the plate. Mr. Horatio Goodwin actually shut his eyes when Walter was ready to deliver the ball. There was one other spectator quite as fidgety as he. It was that devoted patron of Isthmian base-ball, Major Glendinning.

The opponents from Culebra were brawny men, and they were not at all interested in the emotions of the Goodwin family. They proposed to hammer the young Cristobal pitcher out of the box, and during the first and second innings it looked as if they might be successful. That temperamental dynamite expert, Naughton, slumped in a disconsolate heap when he beheld Walter's pitching pounded for one hard, clean hit after another. The game was still young, however, and the Cristobal fielding was sharp and steady.

Walter gritted his teeth and took his punishment manfully. Jack Devlin was catching for Culebra, and as Walter came to the bat, the steam-shovel man muttered behind his mask:

"See here, my boy. I'll turn traitor for once. I want to see you make good. I am responsible for you. Don't try to win on your speed. Ease up. Save yourself. Use your head. You go at things too hard."

Here was friendship indeed. Devlin was as loyal to the Culebra nine as he was to the devouring monster of a steam-shovel, old Twenty-six, but he felt that as "Walter's godfather by brevet" he was in honor bound to stick to him through thick and thin. The advice was sound. Already Walter had felt warning twinges in his arm. He became more deliberate and wary, and Culebra's batting streak was checked. The Cristobal partisans cheered him lustily, and that elderly gentleman of large affairs, Major Glendinning, was guilty of pounding a perfect stranger on the back. Then "Bucky" Harrison and his comrades rallied and dismayed the Culebra pitcher by driving in three runs, which tied the score.

The game seesawed for some time, while Walter Goodwin became more effective and cool-headed. The fateful seventh inning arrived, and the score still stood at 6-6. Then Cristobal gained a run on a timely hit. A little later, Culebra filled the bases with two men out. Walter hitched up his belt and stole a glance at the grandstand. Eleanor was leaning forward, lips parted, hands clasped, "wishing hard enough to win," as he had so often beheld her on the high-school field at Wolverton. He turned to face the Culebra batter, a bronzed six-footer of the steam-shovel brigade. Just then there came booming across the field the voice of Naughton:

"Oh, you Goodwin! Remember how you handled the stuff on the dynamite ship. This is easy."

This was the right word in due season. Walter realized that he had stood the test of a bigger game than this, that he had proved himself in the day's work. As methodically as if he were carrying cases of dynamite across the deck, he turned and sent the ball breaking across the corner of the plate. The Culebra giant swung at it as if he expected to drive a home-run into the Caribbean Sea. "One strike," called the umpire. The next ball floated lazily and so deceived the batter that he made no attempt to hit it. A third ball was batted high in air to fall into the waiting paws of "Bucky" Harrison.

Walter had pitched himself out of the tightest corner of the game against the most formidable team of the Isthmian League. The game was won, for during the last two innings neither side was able to score.

Walter's friends gathered around him as he pressed through the crowd to join his family in the grandstand. Naughton marched at one elbow, Jack Devlin at the other. Mr. Horatio Goodwin was earnestly shaking hands with his wife, nor did he foresee that henceforth he was to be known on the Isthmus, not by his own very respectable name and station, but as "the father of the kid pitcher." Eleanor was confiding to Fernandez Garcia Alfaro:

"He is the most wonderful brother that ever was. I wish I could show you the bust that I made of modelling-clay. The firmly moulded chin was prophetic. I can't understand how they managed to dig so much of the Panama Canal without him."

Alfaro was as delighted over all the good fortune which had come to the Goodwin family as if it had happened to himself.

"I shall go to Washington and be a diplomat with a heart full of the greatest gladness," he shouted to Walter. "Viva everybody!"

Jack Devlin approached rather sheepishly and eyed Mr. Goodwin uneasily as he confessed:

"About that money-order I sneaked to you with the best of intentions. It made you so much worry and false alarm about the boy that I ought to be kicked. Here is where I apologize."

"It was the most brilliant inspiration you ever had," cheerfully replied the father of Walter.

"Your generous impulse was one of the causes that brought us to the Isthmus to live," added Mrs. Goodwin. "You had something to do with reuniting the family. We feel under great obligations to you."

"Everything has ended so happily!" came from the radiant Eleanor. "Life is uninteresting unless there are a few complications to look back on as one grows older."

In the evening Jack Devlin called at the cottage under the palms at Cristobal, beside the white beach and the flashing sea. He wished to pay his formal respects to the Goodwin family, believing himself largely responsible for their migration.

"There have been times when that lad of yours wished he had never set eyes on me," he said to Mr. Goodwin, "but I reckon I'm forgiven. He had a good berth in the commissary, but I am hoping he will want to tackle a grown man's job after a while. If you want to finish his schooling I will say no more, but there is no all-round education in the world like holding down a job on the Panama Canal."

"Walter informs me that he wishes to become a mechanical engineer," replied Mr. Goodwin. "My parental authority has been rather shaky ever since my son recommended me to Major Glendinning. It will be some time before I dare to assert my rights as the head of the family."

"Father is joking," exclaimed Walter. "My family responsibilities did give me some worry, but they are off my hands."

"Then with your father's permission, you will begin your real education with a fireman's shovel, feeding coal into old Twenty-six," said Devlin. "It is not an easy school, but I think you can stand up to it by next summer."

"It sounds like a great place for a husky young fellow," blithely quoted Walter, and Devlin indulged in a reminiscent grin.

"I think I told you something like that once upon a time," said he.

"You spoke words of wisdom," was Walter's emphatic verdict. "I am sure that father and mother will agree that your advice was gilt-edged. I am not looking for easy work. I want to help dig the Panama Canal. It will be something to feel proud of all my life. And before the Culebra Cut is finished and the big ships go sailing through, I intend to be a full-fledged steam-shovel man."