Marco Paul on the Erie Canal

Chapter VII - The Pass of the Mohawk

WHILE Marco and Forester were sitting thus upon the stairs engaged in conversation, they suddenly heard the sound of a locomotive coming up the road. "There come the cars," said Marco.

"It sounds like a locomotive," said Forester; "but it can not be time yet for the train from Schenectady."

"It is coming at any rate, if it isn't time," said Marco; "I can see it through the trees."

"It is a freight train," said Forester.

There are two kinds of trains of cars drawn by locomotives upon railroads, one to carry passengers and the other for merchandise, which is called in such cases freight. Forester thought, from the appearance of this train, that it was a freight train.

"No," said Marco, "I know what it is now; it is that train which went down a few minutes ago, with workmen in each car. See, they have got the cars all filled with stones".

It was as Marco said. The train had gone down the road a little way after a load of stones, and now they were returning. They were going to take them up to a place where they were wanted for building an embarkment. The cars advanced swiftly along the road, and soon passed under the bridge and disappeared. Each car was filled with stones, and had also a workman sitting on the edge of it.

Marco and Forester waited here about half an hour longer, and then, as the time for the arrival of the great passenger train drew nigh, various persons began to collect about the station. Some came to see the cars arrive and depart; some came to go in them, and others were persons belonging to the road, who came to render any assistance which might be needed.

At length the train appeared in sight at a distance down the river. The smoke of the locomotive was first seen through the trees. Then the long line of windows in the sides of the cars came gliding into the view. As the train approached, it seemed to advance more and more rapidly, with a thundering noise; but it slackened its speed when it had got pretty near the station, and at length came to a stand with the passenger cars exactly opposite to the building.

One of the cars was marked over the door with the words WAY PASSENGERS. Forester and Marco perceived at once that this was the car for them. So they got into it, and some of the other persons who had been waiting for the cars at the station with them, got in too.

In a very few moments the conductor, standing upon the platform, by the side of the train, called out in a loud voice, "All ABOARD!" and immediately afterward he gave a signal to the engineer; and then the engineer moved the iron lever which admitted the steam into the cylinder, and thus set the locomotive and the whole train in motion. The car which Forester and Marco were in, started with a jerk, and then trundled on, going gradually more and more swiftly, until it attained a great speed.

Forester and Marco sat near a window on the side of the car nearest to the river; and as they were whirled swiftly along upon the bank of it, they had beautiful views of the water and of the green fields, and sometimes of villages beyond.

The Car window

At one time Marco's attention was suddenly arrested at the sight of what seemed to be a long low building, with a row of windows in the side of it, which seemed to be moving. It was gliding smoothly along through a green field, among some trees, on the other side of the river.

"Why, Forester what is that ?" said Marco.

But before Forester had time to answer the question, and in fact almost before Marco had spoken the words, he perceived that what he saw was a canal-boat, and that, instead of being in a field, as he had at first supposed, it must in reality be in the canal. He could not see the canal, however. The bank of the canal, on the side toward him, was of course a little higher than the water, and it consequently concealed the water from his view.

"Perhaps I can find the horses," said Marco to himself.

So he looked along in the direction towards which the boat was going, and there he saw, at some distance before it, two horses walking slowly along. There was a boy mounted upon one of them. These horses were walking upon the tow-path, which was on the top of the bank of the canal. The tow-path was on the side of the canal toward Marco, so that he could see the horses very plainly. Marco watched them until they disappeared behind some trees, and a moment afterward the boat disappeared too.

After this, Marco found that he could trace the course of the canal on the other side of the river, as he sat at his window in the car, very well, by means of the tow-path, which continued in view for a long time. He saw several boats, too, going and coming, with the horses belonging to each one at a short distance before it. Once a packet-boat came along. There were a great many men standing upon the deck. Marco thought it was a very singular spectacle to see a company of men gliding so smoothly along through a field, without moving their feet.

Marco saw the turnpike road too, which passes up the valley of the Mohawk, together with the railroad, the river, and the canal. At one place the railroad came very near the turnpike, and at that place there was a man coming by with a wagon drawn by two horses. The horses were afraid of the locomotive and the train. The man stopped them, jumped off the wagon, and went to hold their heads. They looked very much frightened, but the man succeeded in holding them still until the train had gone by.

Presently after this, Marco's attention was arrested by a peculiar sort of sound, halfway between a hiss and a whistle, which seemed to come from the engine. At the same moment he could perceive that the train was slackening its speed. "What's the matter now ?" said Marco.

"Perhaps we have come to a stopping place," replied Forester.

But the train did not stop, though it continued to go slowly, and every now and then Marco could hear the strange whistling sound from the engine. "I'll look out and see what's the matter," said Marco.

"Be very careful," said Forester, "and do not put your head out very far."

The cars of this train were not constructed like those in use at the present day, but were divided into separate parts like coaches, with two seats in each part, extending from side to side. Marco was sitting on the back seat of the car, near the window, and Forester on the front seat, opposite to him. So that if Marco looked out he could see on before the train, while Forester's face was turned the other way, so that he could only see the road behind them. "I see what the difficulty is," said Marco.

"What is it ?" rejoined Forester.

"A cow," said Marco.

"A cow ?" repeated Forester.

"Yes," said Marco; "there is a cow running along by the side of the road. I wonder he does not whip up, and drive right by her."

"That would be dangerous," said Forester; "for the cow might just at that moment run across the road, and then the locomotive would run over her."

" Well," said Marco, "that would be just good enough for her. She has no business to be here, in the way."

"I don't think that she is to blame," said Forester. 4' Probably her owner turned her out here, to graze along the sides of the railroad."

"Then it is her owner that ought to be run over," said Marco.

"No," said Forester; I don't think he deserves so severe a punishment. Perhaps he is a poor man, and has no other pasture for his cow."

Just at this moment both Forester and Marco perceived that the train had started on, and was beginning to go at full speed again. At the same instant they saw the poor cow standing by the side of the road, crowding herself up close to the wall, as the train swept swiftly by. She held her head over the wall, and looked this way and that, apparently very much frightened.

"He had to manage very carefully to get by," said Forester. "A great many persons would have got out of patience, after trying a few minutes to get by the cow, and then would have gone on recklessly."

"Yes," said Marco; "I should."

"I think it very likely; and therefore you would not be a suitable person to have charge of a train of cars. You would do perhaps to collect the fares, but it would not be safe to trust you with the guidance of the locomotive."

"Well," said Marco, "if I were obliged to go in a railroad train for a living, I would as lief collect the fares as guide the locomotive."

"Only you would get better pay, perhaps, for taking charge of the locomotive," replied Forester.

"Why ?" asked Marco.

"Because," said Forester, "it requires patience, and skill, and steadiness of mind. Those employments which require high mental qualifications are always better paid than others. There is great responsibility attached to them usually. For instance, the running over of a cow might cost the owners of a railroad thousands of dollars."

"O, cousin Forester !" said Marco.

"Certainly," said Forester "for it is very probable that it would run the train off the track."

"Well, and what then ?" asked Marco.

"Why, it is very likely it would break the engine, and it might cost a thousand dollars to repair it. Besides, some of the passengers might get their limbs broken, and so the company would have to pay damages."

"Do the company have to pay when any body gets hurt ?" asked Marco.

"Yes," replied Forester, "if the damage is occasioned by their fault."

"But it would not be by their fault," said Marco; "it would only be the fault of the engine man."

" Yes, but the engine man is their agent. They choose him and employ him, and commit the engine and the lives of all the passengers to his care; and so they take the responsibility of investing him with power, and if he is unfaithful or careless, they must pay the damage."

"I should think that the engine man ought to pay the damage himself," said Marco.

"He ought," replied Forester, "that is, he is bound to the company to pay back to them all that they pay on account of his carelessness. When any damage is done, the company must first make it good to the person who suffers. Then they may make the agent that did the mischief pay them, if he has got money enough. But generally he has not got any money, and so they are very careful to employ only discreet and faithful men."

While Marco and Forester had been engaged in this and in similar conversation, the engine had been rapidly conveying them up the valley. They stopped once at a station to let some way passengers get out, and to take in others At length they perceived that the valley through which they had been traveling for so many miles was beginning to grow very narrow. The mountains on each side grew more lofty, and they approached nearer to the bed of the river, leaving only a contracted passage of a quarter of a mile in width between rocky precipices. They were beginning to enter the Pass of the Mohawk.

For there is a place here called the Pass of the Mohawk. It is where the river flows through a narrow passage in the mountains, with extensive ledges of rock and lofty cliffs on either hand. As the train of cars advanced up this defile, Forester and Marco perceived that the mountainous ranges approached nearer and nearer, until the river, the turnpike, the railroad and the canal were crowded close together and Marco could look down upon them from the window of the car, running side by side, and hemmed in on either hand by precipices of ragged rocks.

The track for the rails was, in fact, for a long distance cut out of the rocks, there being no room for it on the level land near the river. Next to the railroad at this place was the turnpike, and close beyond the turnpike was the river, with only a narrow gravelly bank between. Then, very near to the bank of the river, on the other side, was the canal, with barely room for the tow-path between them; and beyond the canal a perpendicular wall of ragged rocks arose, with high mountains covered with evergreen forests beyond.

The water in the river did not look calm and deep, as it had done among the meadows below. It was noisy and shallow, and it came tumbling along over a rocky bed. Marco asked Forester if he thought it would be a good place to catch trout, on some rocks which he pointed out. But Forester did not know.

In the mean time, the railroad turned and twisted up a winding ascent, cut out in the rock, crowding harder and harder upon the turnpike which was between it and the river. At length the turnpike had to turn short to the right and run under the railroad, to get out of the way. After this the railroad kept along close to the edge of the water, until a large village came suddenly into view. It lay upon both sides of the water, directly before them.

"This must be Little Falls," said Forester.

"How do you know ?" asked Marco.

"Why, it is about time for us to get to Little Falls," said Forester in reply; "and, besides, I know that Little Falls is in just such a situation."

The train rolled slowly into the village, and came to a stand at a depot opposite to a large hotel. The building was called the Railroad Hotel. As soon as the cars ceased to move, a young man came out from the hotel and passed along to all the cars, opening the doors and saying at each car, -- "They stop here ten minutes." This was to let the company within the cars know that there would be time, if they wished, to get out and take some refreshment.

Accordingly, the gentlemen began to corm out in great numbers from all the cars, and to hasten across a broad graveled space by the road-side, to the hotel. Forester and Marco followed them.

There was a piazza extending along the whole front of the house, with several doors leading from it into a large hall. Forester and Marco entered with the rest. They found a long table spread in the hall. It extended through almost the whole length of the room. It was nearly covered with refreshments for the travelers. There was a row of cups and plates along on the outer edge of it, and behind these there were pitchers of coffee and milk, sugarbowls, plates of pie, cake, ham, chicken, apples, and oranges, -- every variety of food, in short, suitable for a luncheon for travelers. Behind the table were several waiters, in attendance, to help the company to what they wanted, and to take the pay.

"Come, cousin Forester," said Marco, "let us have some luncheon too."

"No," said Forester, "not now. This will be only a hurried luncheon. We will wait until the train has gone, and then have a regular and quiet dinner."

The hall was full of bustle and confusion. Some were taking refreshments themselves; others were hurrying to and fro, to carry cups of coffee and little plates of cake to the cars, to ladies who were under their charge, and who had preferred not to leave their seats; others were laying down bank bills or pieces of money, in payment for what they had taken, and receiving small coin in exchange.

Forester and Marco having nothing to do with this scene, went out through a door at one end of the hall, which led into a small parlor adjoining. Here there was a table, with newspapers and prints upon it, and also some chairs and a sofa. Forester put his carpet-bag and umbrella down at the end of the sofa, in a corner of the room, and then took his seat, with Marco by his side.

In a few minutes the locomotive bell began to toll, which was a signal for all the passengers to get into the cars again. The sound of this bell greatly increased the hubbub and confusion; men were running to and fro, in a greater hurry than before, and crowding into the doors of the cars. At length the doors were shut by the conductor, and the signal given. The whole train then started and began slowly to move away, leaving Marco and Forester in their little parlor alone. They were surprised to observe what a sudden change was made in the scene by the departure of the cars. A moment before all had been noise, tumult, and confusion. But when the sound of the engine died away in the distance, they found themselves left in a scene of almost entire silence and solitude.

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