A Story of Stories
by Theodore Dreiser
Take a smoky Western city. Call it Omaha or Kansas City or
Denver, only let the Mississippi flow past it. Put in it
two rival morning papers--two, and only two--the
Star and the News, the staffs of which are
rather keen to outwit each other. On the staff of the
News, slightly the better of the two newspapers, put
Mr. David Kolinsky, alias (yes, alias) David, or "Red"
Collins (a little shift of nomenclature due to the facts
that, first: he was a South Russian Jew who looked exactly
like a red-headed Irishman--that is a peculiarity of South
Russian Jews, I believe--and secondly: that it was more
distingué, as it were, to be Irish in Omaha or
Denver or Kansas City than it was to be a South Russian
Jew). Give him a slithery, self-confident, race-track or
tout manner. Put on him "loud" or showy clothes, a diamond
ring, a ruby pin in his tie, a yellowish-green Fedora hat,
yellow shoes, freckles, a sneering contemptuous "tough"
smile, and you have Mr. "Red" Collins as Mr.--
On the Star, slightly the lesser of these two great
dailies that matutinally thrashed the city to a foam of
interest, place Mr. Augustus Binns, no less, young (not
over twenty-two), tall, college-y, rather graceful as young
college men go, literary of course, highly ambitious, with
gold eye-glasses, a wrist watch, a cane--in short, one of
those ambitious young gentlemen of this rather un-happy go
un-lucky scribbling world who has distinct ideals, to say
nothing of dreams, as to what the newspaper and literary
professions combined should bring him, and who, in
addition, inherently despised all creatures of the "Red"
Collins, or racetrack, gambler, amateur detective, police
and political, type. Well may you ask, what was Mr.
Collins, with his peculiar characteristics, doing on a
paper of the importance and distinction of the News.
A long story, my dears. Newspapers are peculiar
For this same paper not long since had harbored the truly
elegant presence of Mr. Binns himself, and so excellent a
writer and news gatherer was he that on more than one
occasion he had been set to revise or rewrite the tales
which Mr. "Red" Collins, who was then but tentatively
connected with the paper as a "tipster," brought in. This
in itself was a crime against art and literature, as Mr.
Binns saw it, for, when you come right down to it, and in
the strict meaning of the word, Mr. Collins was not a
writer at all, could not write, in fact, could only "bring
in" his stories, and most interesting ones they were,
nearly all of them, whereas about the paper at all times
were men who could--Mr. Binns, for instance. It insulted if
not outraged Mr. Binns's sense of the fitness of things,
for the News to hire such a person and let him
flaunt the title of "reporter" or "representative," for he
admired the News very much and was glad to be of it.
But Collins! "Red" Collins!
The latter was one of those "hard life," but by no means
hard luck, Jews who by reason of indomitable ambition and
will had raised himself out of practically frightful
conditions. He had never even seen a bath-tub until he was
fifteen or sixteen. By turns he had been a bootblack,
newsboy, race-track tout, stable boy, helper around a
saloon, and what not. Of late years, and now, because he
was reaching a true wisdom (he was between twenty-five and
six), he had developed a sort of taste for gambling as well
as politics of a low order, and was in addition a police
hanger-on. He was really a sort of pariah in his way, only
the sporting and political editors found him useful. They
tolerated him, and paid him well for his tips because,
forsooth, his tips were always good.
Batsford, the capable city editor of the News, a
round, forceful, gross person who was more allied to
Collins than to Binns in spirit, although he was like
neither, was Binns's first superior in the newspaper world.
He did not like Binns because, for one thing, of his wrist
watch, secondly, his large gold glasses--much larger than
they need have been--and thirdly, because of his cane,
which he carried with considerable of an air. The truth is,
Binns was Eastern and the city editor was Western, and
besides, Binns had been more or less thrust upon him by his
managing editor as a favor to some one else. But Binns
could write, never doubt it, and proved it. He was a
vigorous reporter with a fine feeling for words and, above
all, a power to visualize and emotionalize whatever he saw,
a thing which was of the utmost importance in this rather
loose Western emotional atmosphere. He could handle any
story which came to him with ease and distinction, and
seemed usually to get all or nearly all the facts.
On the other hand, Collins, for all his garishness, and one
might almost say, brutality of spirit, was what Batsford
would have called a practical man. He knew life. He was by
no means as artistic as Binns, but still--Batsford liked to
know what was going on politically and criminally, and
Collins could always tell him, whereas Binns never could.
Also, by making Binns rewrite Collins's stories, he knew he
could offend him horribly. The two were like oil and water,
Mussulman and Christian.
When Batsford first told Collins to relate the facts of a
certain tale to Binns and let him work it out, the former
strolled over to the collegian, his lip curled up at one
corner, his eye cynically fixed on him, and said, "The
Chief says to give youse this dope and let youse work it
Oh, for a large, bright broad ax!
Binns, however, always your stickler for duty and order,
bent on him an equally cynical and yet enigmatic eye,
hitched up his trousers slightly, adjusted his wrist watch
and glasses, and began to take down the details of the
story, worming them out of his rival with a delicacy and
savoir faire worthy of a better cause.
Not long after, however, it was brought to the horrified
ears of Mr. Binns that Mr. Collins had said he was a
"stiff" and a "cheap ink-slinger," a la-de-da no less, that
writers, one and all, college and otherwise, didn't count
for much, anyhow, that they were all starving to death, and
that they "grew on trees"--a phrase which particularly
enraged Mr. Binns, for he interpreted it to mean that they
were as numerous as the sands of the sea, as plentiful as
By Allah! That such dogs should be allowed to take the
beards of great writers into their hands thus!
Nevertheless and in spite of all this, the fortunes of Mr.
Collins went forward apace, and that chiefly, as Mr. Binns
frequently groaned, at his expense. Collins would come in,
and after a long series of "I sez to him-s" and "He sez to
me-s," which Mr. Binns (per the orders of Mr. Batsford)
translated into the King's best Britannica, he having in
the meanwhile to neglect some excellent tale of his own,
would go forth again, free to point the next day to a
column or column-and-a-half or a half-column story, and
declare proudly, "My story."
Think of it! That swine!
There is an end to all things, however, even life and
crime. In due time, as per a series of accidents and the
groundless ill-will of Mr. Batsford, Mr. Binns was
perforce, in self-respect, compelled to transfer his
energies to the Star, a paper he had previously
contemned as being not so good, but where he was now made
very welcome because of his ability. Then, to his
astonishment and disgust, one day while covering a police
station known as the South Ninth, from which emanated many
amazing police tales, whom should he encounter but "Red"
Collins, no less, now a full-fledged reporter on the
News, if you please, and "doing police." He had a
grand and even contemptuous manner, barely deigning to
notice Binns. Binns raged.
But he noticed at once that Collins was far more en
rapport with the various sergeants and the captain, as
well as all that was going on in this station, than ever he
had dreamed of being. It was "Hello, Red," here and "Hi,
sport," there, while Collins replied with various "Caps"
and "Charlies." He gave himself all the airs of a newspaper
man proper, swaggering about and talking of this, that, and
the other story which he had written, some of them having
been done by Binns himself. And what was more, Collins was
soon closeted intimately with the captain in his room,
strolling in and out of that sanctum as if it were his
private demesne, and somehow giving Binns the impression of
being in touch with realms and deeds of which he had never
heard, and never would. It made Binns doubly apprehensive
lest in these secret intimacies tales and mysteries should
be unfolded which should have their first light in the
pages of the News, and so leave him to be laughed at
as one who could not get the news. In consequence, he
watched the News more closely than ever for any
evidence of such treachery on the part of the police, while
at the same time he redoubled his interest in any such
items as came to his attention. By reason of this, as well
as by his greater skill in writing and his undeniable
imagination, on more than one occasion he gave Mr. Collins
a good drubbing, chancing to make good stories out of
things which Mr. Collins had evidently dismissed as
worthless. Au contraire, now and then a case
appeared in the columns of the News with details
which he had not been able to obtain, and concerning which
the police had insisted that they knew nothing. It was thus
that Mr. Collins secured his revenge--and very good revenge
too, it was at times.
But Mr. Binns managed to hold his own, as, for instance,
late one August afternoon when a negro girl in one of those
crowded alleys which made up an interesting and even
amazing portion of O-- was cut almost to shreds by an
ex-lover who, following her from river-city to river-city
and town to town, had finally come up with her here and had
taken his revenge.
It was a glistering tale this. It appeared (but only after
the greatest industry on the part of Mr. Binns) that some
seven or eight months before [the O-- papers curiously were
always interested in a tale of this kind] this same girl
and the negro who had cut her had been living together as
man and wife in Cairo, Illinois, and that later the lover
(a coal passer or stevedore, working now on one boat and
now on another plying the Mississippi between New Orleans
and O--), who was plainly wildly fond of her, became
suspicious and finally satisfying himself that his
mistress, who was a real beauty after her kind, was
faithless to him, set a trap to catch her. Returning
suddenly one day when she imagined him to be away for a
week or two of labor, and bursting in upon her, he found
her with another man. Death would have been her portion as
well as that of her lover had it not been for the
interference of friends, which had permitted the pair to
Lacerated by the double offenses of betrayal and desertion,
he now set out to follow her, as the cutting on this
occasion proved. Returning to his task as stevedore and
working his way thus from one river-city to another, he
arrived by turns in Memphis, Vicksburg, Natchez and New
Orleans, in each case making it a point to disguise himself
as a peddler selling trinkets and charms, and in this
capacity walking the crowded negro sections of all these
cities calling his wares. Ambling up one of these stuffy,
stifling alleys, finally, in O-- which bordered on this
same police station and where so many negroes lived, he
encountered this late August afternoon his quondam but now
faithless love. In answer to his cry of "Rings! Pins!
Buckles! Trinkets!" his false love, apparently not
recognizing his voice, put her head out of a doorway. On
the instant the damage was done. Dropping his tray, he was
upon her in a flash with his razor, cris-crossing and
slashing her until she was marred beyond recognition. With
fiendish cruelty he cut her cheeks, lips, arms, legs, back,
and sides, so much so that when Binns arrived at the City
Hospital where she had been taken, he found her unconscious
and her life despaired of. On the other hand, the lover had
made good his escape, as had her paramour.
Curiously, this story captured the fancy of Mr. Binns as it
did that of his city editor later, completely. It was such
a thing as he could do, and do well. With almost deft
literary art he turned it into a rather striking black
tragedy. Into it, after convincing his rather fussy city
editor that it was worth the telling, he had crowded a bit
of the flavor of the hot waterfronts of Cairo, Memphis,
Natchez, and New Orleans, the sing-song sleepiness of the
stevedores at their lazy labors, the idle, dreamy character
of the slow-moving boats, this rickety alley, with its
semi-barbaric curtain-hung shacks and its swarming, idle,
crooning, shuffling negro life. Even an old negro refrain
appropriate to a trinket peddler, and the low, bold negro
life two such truants might enjoy, were pictured. An old
negro mammy with a yellow-dotted kerchief over her head who
kept talking of "disha Gawge" and "disha Sam" and "disha
Marquatta" (the girl), had moved him to a poetic frenzy.
Naturally it made a colorful tale, and his city editor felt
called upon to compliment him on it.
But in the News, owing possibly to Collins's
inability to grasp the full significance, the romance, of
such a story as this, it received but a scant stick--a low
dive cutting affray. His was not the type of mind that
could see the color here, but once seen he could realize
wherein he had been beaten, and it infuriated him.
"You think you're a helluva feller, dontcha?" he snarled
the next day on sight, his lip a-curl with scorn and rage.
"You think you've pulled off sompin swell. Say, I've been
up against you wordy boys before, and I can work all around
you. All you guys can do is get a few facts and then pad
'em up. You never get the real stuff, never," and he even
snapped his fingers under the nose of the surprised Mr.
Binns. "Wait'll we get a real case some time, you and me,
and then I'll show you sompin. Wait and see."
"My good fellow," Mr. Binns was about to begin, but the
cold, hard, revengeful glare in the eyes of Mr. Collins
quite took his breath away. Then and there Mr. Collins put
a strange haunting fear of himself into Mr. Binns's mind.
There was something so savage about him, so like that of an
angry hornet or snake that it left him all but speechless.
"Is that so?" he managed to say after a time. "You think
you will, do you? That's easy enough to say, now that
you're beaten, but I guess I'll be right there when the
"Aw, go to hell!" growled Collins savagely, and he walked
off, leaving Mr. Binns smiling pleasantly, albeit vacantly,
and at the same time wondering just what it was Mr. Collins
was going to do to him, and when.
The sequel to this was somewhat more interesting.
As Mr. Binns came in one morning fresh from his bath and
breakfast, his new city editor called him into his office.
Mr. Waxby, in contrast with Mr. Batsford, was a small,
waspish, and yet affable and capable man whom Binns could
not say he admired as a man or a gentleman, but who, he was
sure, was a much better city editor than Batsford, and who
appreciated him, Binns, as Batsford never had, i.e., at his
true worth. Batsford had annoyed him with such a dog as
Collins, whereas Waxby had almost coddled him. And what a
nose for news!
Mr. Waxby eyed him rather solemnly and enigmatically on
this occasion, and then observed: "Do you remember, Binns,
that big M.P. train robbery that took place out here near
Dolesville about six months ago?"
"And do you remember that the Governor of this state and
his military staff, all in uniform, as well as a half dozen
other big-wigs, were on board, and that they all reported
that there had been seven lusty bandits, all heavily armed,
some of whom went through the train and robbed the
passengers while others compelled the engineer and fireman
to get down, uncouple the engine, and then blow open the
express car door and safe for them and carry out the money,
about twenty or thirty thousand dollars all told?"
Binns remembered it well. He had been on the News at
the time, and the full-page spread had attracted his
keenest attention. It was illustrative, as he thought, of
the character of this region--raw and still daring. It
smacked so much of the lawlessness of the forties, when
pack-train and stage-coach robberies were the rule and not
the exception. It had caused his hair to tingle at the
roots at times so real was it. Never had he been so close,
as it were, to anything so dramatic.
"Yes, sir, I remember it very well," he replied.
"And do you remember how the newspapers laughed over the
fact that the Governor and his military staff had crawled
into their berths and didn't come out again until the train
"Well now, Binns, just read this," and here Mr. Waxby
handed him a telegram, the while his eyes gleamed with a
keen humorous light, and Mr. Binns read:
"Medicine Flats, M. K.
"Lem Rollins arrested here to-day confesses to
single-handed robbery of M. P. express west of Dolesville
February 2d last. Money recovered. Rollins being brought to
O-- via C. T. & A. this p. m. Should arrive
"Apparently," cackled Mr. Waxby, "there was nothing to that
seven-bandit story at all, Binns. There weren't any seven
robbers, but just one, and they've caught him, and he's
confessed," and here he burst into more laughter.
"No, Binns," went on Waxby, "if this is really true, it is
a wonderful story. You don't often find one man holding up
a whole train anywhere and getting away with twenty or
thirty thousand dollars. It's amazing. I've decided that we
won't wait for him to arrive, but that you're to go out and
meet him. According to this time-table you can take a local
that leaves here at two-fifteen and get to Pacific fifteen
minutes ahead of the express on which he is coming in, and
you've just about time to make it. That will give you all
of an hour and a half in which to interview him. It's just
possible that the News and the other papers won't
get wind of this in time to send a man. Think of the
opportunity it gives you to study him! No seven robbers,
remember, but just one! And the Governor and his whole
staff on board! Make him tell what he thinks of the
Governor and his staff. Make him talk. Ha! ha! You'll have
him all to yourself. Think of that! And they crawled into
their berths! Ha! Ha! Gee whiz, you've got the chance of a
Mr. Binns stared at the telegram. He recalled the detailed
descriptions of the actions of the seven robbers, how some
of them had prowled up and down outside the train, while
others went through it rifling the passengers, and still
others, forward, overawed the engineer and fireman, broke
open and robbed the express car safe in the face of an
armed messenger as well as mailman and trainmen, and how
they had then decamped into the dark. How could one man
have done it? It couldn't be true!
Nevertheless he arose, duly impressed. It would be no easy
task to get just the right touch, but he felt that he
might. If only the train weren't over-run with other
reporters! He stuffed some notepaper into his pocket and
bustled down to the Union Station--if Mr. Binns could be
said to bustle. Here he encountered his first hitch.
On inquiring for a ticket to Pacific, the slightly
disturbing response of "Which road?" was made.
"Are there two?" asked Mr. Binns.
"Yes--M.P. and C.T. & A."
"They both go to Pacific, do they?"
"Which train leaves first?"
"C.T. & A. It's waiting now."
Mr. Binns hesitated, but there was no time to lose. It
didn't make any difference, so long as he connected with
the incoming express, as the time-table showed that this
did. He paid for his ticket and got aboard, but now an
irritating thought came to him. Supposing other reporters
from either the News or one of the three afternoon
papers were aboard, especially the News! If there
were not he would have this fine task all to himself, and
what a beat! But if there were others? He walked forward to
the smoker, which was the next car in front, and there, to
his intense disgust and nervous dissatisfaction, he spied,
of all people, the one man he would least have expected to
find on an assignment of this kind, the one man he least
wanted to see--Mr. Collins, no less, red-headed, serene,
determined, a cigar between his teeth, crouched low in his
seat smoking and reading a paper as calmly as though he
were not bent upon the most important task of the year.
"Pshaw!" exclaimed Mr. Binns irritably and even bitterly.
He returned to his seat nervous and ill composed, all the
more so because he now recalled Collins's venomous threat,
"Wait'll we get a real case some time, you and me." The low
creature! Why, he couldn't even write a decent sentence.
Why should he fear him so? But just the same he did fear
him--why, he could scarcely say. Collins was so raw,
savage, brutal, in his mood and plans.
But why, in heaven's name, he now asked himself as he
meditated in his seat as to ways and means, should a man
like Batsford send a man like Collins, who couldn't even
write, to interpret a story and a character of this kind?
How could he hope to dig out the odd psychology of this
very queer case? Plainly he was too crude, too
unintellectual to get it straight. Nevertheless, here he
was, and now, plainly, he would have this awful creature to
contend with. And Collins was so bitter toward him. He
would leave no trick unturned to beat him! These country
detectives and sheriff and railroad men, whoever they were
or wherever they came from, would be sure, on the instant,
to make friends with Collins, as they always did, and do
their best to serve him. They seemed to like that sort of
man, worse luck. They might even, at Collins's instigation,
refuse to let him interview the bandit at all! If so, then
what? But Collins would get something somehow, you might be
sure, secret details which they might not relate to him. It
made him nervous. Even if he got a chance he would have to
interview this wonderful bandit in front of this awful
creature, this one man whom he most despised, and who would
deprive him of most of the benefit of all his questions by
writing as though he had thought of and asked all of them
himself. Think of it!
The dreary local sped on, and as it drew nearer and nearer
to Pacific, Binns became more and more nervous. For him the
whole charm of this beautiful September landscape through
which he was speeding now was all spoiled. When the train
finally drew up at Pacific he jumped down, all alive with
the determination not to be outdone in any way, and yet
nervous and worried to a degree. Let Collins do his worst,
he thought. He would show him. Still--just then he saw the
latter jumping down. At the same time, Collins spied him,
and on the instant his face clouded over. He seemed fairly
to bristle with an angry animal rage, and he glared as
though he would like to kill Binns, at the same time
looking around to see who else might get off. "My enemy!"
was written all over him. Seeing no one, he ran up to the
station-agent and apparently asked when the train from the
West was due. Binns decided at once not to trail, but
instead sought information from his own conductor, who
assured him that the East-bound express would probably be
on time five minutes later, and would certainly stop here.
"We take the siding here," he said. "You'll hear the
whistle in a few minutes."
"It always stops here, does it?" asked Binns anxiously.
As they talked, Collins came back to the platform's edge
and stood looking up the track. At the same time this train
pulled out, and a few minutes later the whistle of the
express was heard. Now for a real contest, thought Binns.
Somewhere in one of those cars would be this astounding
bandit surrounded by detectives, and his duty, in spite of
the indignity of it, would be to clamber aboard and get
there first, explain who he was, ingratiate himself into
the good graces of the captors and the prisoner, and begin
his questioning, vanquishing Collins as best he
might--perhaps by the ease with which he should take
charge. In a few moments the express was rolling into the
station, and then Binns saw his enemy leap aboard and, with
that iron effrontery and savageness which always irritated
Binns so much, race through the forward cars to find the
prisoner. Binns was about to essay the rear cars, but just
then the conductor, a portly, genial-looking soul, stepped
down beside him.
"Is Lem Rollins, the train robber they are bringing in from
Bald Knob, on here?" he inquired. "I'm from the
Star, and I've been sent out to interview him."
"You're on the wrong road, brother," smiled the conductor.
"He's not on this train. Those detective fellows have
fooled you newspaper men, I'm afraid. They're bringing him
in over the M.P., as I understand it. They took him across
from Bald Knob to Wahaba and caught the train there--but
I'll tell you," and here he took out a large open-face
silver watch and consulted it, "you might be able to catch
him yet if you run for it. It's only across the field
there. You see that little yellow station over there? Well,
that's the depot. It's due now, but sometimes it's a little
late. You'll have to run for it, though. You haven't a
minute to spare."
Binns was all aquiver on the instant. Suppose, in spite of
Collins's zeal and savagery, he should outwit him yet by
catching this other train while he was searching this one!
All the gameness of his youth and profession rose up in
him. Without stopping to thank his informer, he leaped like
a hare along the little path which cut diagonally across
this lone field and which was evidently well worn by human
feet. As he ran he wondered whether the genial conductor
could possibly have lied to him to throw him off the track,
and also if his enemy, seeing him running, had discovered
his error by now and was following, granting that the
conductor had told him the truth. He looked back
occasionally, taking off his coat and glasses as he ran,
and even throwing away his cane. Apparently Collins was
still searching the other train. And now Binns at the same
time, looking eagerly forward toward the other station, saw
a semaphore arm which stood at right angles to the station
lower itself for a clear track for some train. At the same
time he also spied a mail-bag hanging out on a take-post
arm, indicating that whatever this train was and whichever
way it might be going, it was not going to stop here. He
turned, still uncertain as to whether he had made a mistake
in not searching the other train. Supposing the conductor
had deliberately fooled him! Suppose Collins had made some
preliminary arrangements of which he knew nothing? Suppose
he had! Supposing the burglar were really on there, and
even now Collins was busy with the opening questions of his
interview, while he was here, behind! Oh Lord, what a beat!
And he would have no reasonable explanation to offer except
that he had been outwitted. What would happen to him? He
slowed up in his running, chill beads of sweat bursting out
on his face as he did so, but then, looking backward, he
saw the train begin to move and from it, as if shot out of
a gun, the significant form of Collins leap down and begin
to run along this same path. Then, by George, the robber
was not on it, after all! The conductor had told him the
truth! Ha! Collins would now attempt to make this other
train. He had been told that the bandit was coming in on
this. Binns could see him speeding along the path at top
speed, his hat off, his hands waving nervously about. But
by now Binns had reached the station a good three minutes
ahead of his rival.
Desperately he ran into it, a tiny thing, sticking his
eager perspiring face in at the open office window, and
calling to the stout, truculent little occupant of it:
"When is the East-bound M.P. express due here?"
"Now," replied the agent surlily.
"Does it stop?"
"No, it don't stop."
"Can it be stopped?"
"No, it cannot!"
"You mean to say you have no right to stop it?"
"I mean I won't stop it."
As they spoke there came the ominous shriek of the
express's whistle tearing on toward them. For the moment he
was almost willing that Collins should join him if only he
could make the train and gain this interview. He must have
it. Waxby expected him to get it. Think of what a beat he
would have if he won--what Waxby would think if he failed!
"Would five dollars stop it?" he asked desperately, diving
into his pocket.
"It might," the agent replied crustily, and rose to his
"Stop it," urged Binns feverishly, handing over the bill.
The agent took it, and grabbing a tablet of yellow order
blanks which lay before him, scribbled something on the
face of one and ran outside, holding it up at arm's length
as he did so. At the same time he called to Binns:
"Run on down the track! Run after it. She won't stop
here--she can't. She'll go a thousand feet before she can
slow up. Get on down there, and after you're on I'll let
He waved the yellow paper desperately, while Binns, all
tense with excitement and desire, began running as fast as
he could in the direction indicated. Now, if he were lucky,
he would make it, and Collins would be left behind--think
of it! He could get them to go ahead, maybe, before Collins
could get aboard. Oh, my! As he ran and thought, he heard
the grinding wheels of the express rushing up behind him.
In a thought, as it were, it was alongside and past, its
wheels shrieking and emitting sparks. True enough, it was
stopping! He would be able to get on! Oh, glory! And maybe
Collins wouldn't be able to! Wouldn't that be wonderful? It
was far ahead of him now, but almost stock-still, and he
was running like mad. As he ran he could hear the final
gritty screech of the wheels against the brakes as the
train came to a full stop farther on, and then coming up
and climbing aboard, breathless and gasping painfully, he
looked back, only to see that his rival had taken a
diagonal course across the common, and was now not more
than a hundred feet behind. He would make the train if he
kept this up. It could scarcely be started quickly enough
to leave him behind, even if Binns paid for it. Instead of
setting himself to the stern task of keeping Mr. Collins
off the train, however, as assuredly Mr. Collins would have
done--with his fists or his feet, if necessary, or his
money--Mr. Binns now hesitated, uncertain what to do. On
the rear platform with him was a brakeman newly stepped
forth and, coming out of the door, the conductor.
"Let her go!" he cried to the conductor. "Let her go! It's
all right! Go on!"
"Don't that other fellow want to get on?" asked the latter
"No, no, no!" Binns exclaimed irritably and yet pleading.
"Don't let him on! He hasn't any right on here. I arranged
to stop this train. I'm from the Star. I'll pay you
if you don't let him on. It's the train robber I want. Go
ahead," but even as he spoke Mr. Collins came up, panting
and wet, but with a leer of triumph and joy over his
rival's discomfiture written all over his face as he pulled
himself up the steps.
"You thought you'd leave me behind, didn't you?" he sneered
as he pushed his way upward. "Well, I fooled you this time,
Now was the crucial moment of Mr. Binns's career had his
courage been equal to it, but it was not. He had the
opportunity to do the one thing which might have wrested
victory from defeat--that is, push Mr. Collins off and keep
him off. The train was beginning to move. But instead of
employing this raw force which Mr. Collins would assuredly
have employed, he hesitated and debated, unable in his
super-refinement to make up his mind, while Mr. Collins,
not to be daunted or parleyed with, dashed into the car in
search of the robber. In the sudden immensity of his
discomfiture, Binns now followed him with scarcely a
thought for the moment, only to see Collins bustling up to
the bandit in the third car ahead who, handcuffed to a
country sheriff and surrounded by several detectives, was
staring idly at the passengers.
"Gee, sport," the latter was saying as Mr. Binns sat down,
patting the burglar familiarly on the knee and fixing him
with that basilisk gaze of his which was intended to soothe
and flatter the victim, "that was a great trick you pulled
off. The paper'll be crazy to find out how you did it. My
paper, the News, wants a whole page of it. It wants
your picture, too. Say, you didn't really do it all alone,
did you? Well, that's what I call swell work, eh, Cap?" and
now he turned his ingratiating leer on the country sheriff
and the detectives. In a moment or two more he was telling
them all what an intimate friend he was of "Billy" Desmond,
the chief of detectives of O-- and Mr. So-and-So, the chief
of police, as well as various other dignitaries of that
Plainly, admitted Binns to himself, he was beaten now, as
much so as this burglar, he thought. His great opportunity
was gone. What a victory this might have been, and now look
at it! Disgruntled, he sat down beside his enemy, beginning
to think what to ask, the while the latter, preening
himself in his raw way on his success, began congratulating
the prisoner on his great feat.
"The dull stuff!" thought Mr. Binns. "To think that I
should have to contend with a creature like this! And these
are the people he considers something! And he wants a whole
page for the News! My word! He'd do well if he wrote
a half-column alone."
Still, to his intense chagrin, he could not fail to see
that Mr. Collins was making excellent headway, not only
with the country sheriff, who was a big bland creature, but
the detectives and even the burglar himself. The latter was
a most unpromising specimen for so unique a deed--short,
broad-shouldered, heavy- limbed, with a squarish,
inexpressive, even dull-looking face, blue-gray eyes, dark
brown hair, big, lumpy, rough hands, and a tanned and
seamed skin. He wore the cheap, nondescript clothes of a
laborer, a blue "hickory" shirt, blackish-gray trousers,
brownish-maroon coat, and a red bandana handkerchief in
lieu of a collar. On his head was a small round brown hat
pulled down over his eyes after the manner of a cap. He had
the still, indifferent expression of a captive bird, and
when Binns finally faced him and sat down, he seemed
scarcely to notice either him or Collins, or if so with
eyes that told nothing. Binns often wondered afterward what
he really did think. At the same time he was so incensed at
the mere presence of Collins that he could scarcely speak.
The latter had the average detective-politician-gambler's
habit of simulating an intense interest and an enthusiasm
which he did not feel, his face wreathing itself in a
cheery smile, the while his eyes followed one like those of
a hawk, attempting all the while to discover whether his
assumed enthusiasm or friendship was being accepted at its
face value or not. The only time Binns seemed to obtain the
least grip on this situation, or to impress himself on the
minds of the detectives and prisoner, was when it came to
those finer shades of questioning which concerned just why,
for what ulterior reasons, the burglar had attempted this
deed alone. But even here, Binns noticed that his confrère
was all ears, and making copious notes.
But always, to Binns's astonishment and chagrin, the
prisoner as well as his captors paid more attention to
Collins than they did to himself. They turned to him as to
a lamp, and seemed to be really immensely more impressed
with him than with himself, although the principal lines of
questioning fell to him. After a time he became so dour and
enraged that he could think of but one thing that would
really have satisfied him, and that was to attack Collins
physically and give him a good beating.
However, by degrees and between them, the story was finally
extracted, and a fine tale it made. It appeared that up to
seven or eight months preceding the robbery, possibly a
year, Rollins had never thought of being a train robber but
had been only a freight brakeman or yard-hand on this same
road at one of its division points. Latterly he had even
been promoted to be a sort of superior switchman and
assistant freight handler at some station where there was
considerable work of this kind. Previous to his railroad
work he had been a livery stable helper in the town where
he was eventually apprehended, and before that a farmhand
somewhere near the same place. About a year before the
crime, owing to hard times, this road had laid off a large
number of men, including Rollins, and reduced the wages of
all others by as much as ten per cent. Naturally a great
deal of labor discontent ensued, and strikes, riots, and
the like were the order of the day. Again, a certain number
of train robberies which were charged and traced to
discharged and dissatisfied employees now followed. The
methods of successful train robbing were then and there so
cleverly set forth by the average newspaper that nearly any
burglar so inclined could follow them. Among other things,
while working as a freight handler, Rollins had heard of
the many money shipments made by express companies in their
express cars, their large amounts, the manner in which they
were guarded, and so on.
The road for which he worked at this time, the M.P., was,
as he now learned, a very popular route for money shipments
both East and West. And although express messengers (as
those in charge of the car and its safe were called) were
well and invariably armed owing to the many train robberies
which had been occurring in the West recently, still these
assaults had not been without success. Indeed, the deaths
of various firemen, engineers, messengers, conductors, and
even passengers, and the fact that much money had recently
been stolen and never recovered, had not only encouraged
the growth of banditry everywhere, but had put such an
unreasoning fear into most employees connected with the
roads that but few even of those especially picked guards
ventured to give these marauders battle.
But just the same, the psychology which eventually resulted
in this amazing single-handed attempt and its success was
not so much that Rollins was a poor and discharged railroad
hand unable to find any other form of employment, although
that was a part of it, or that he was an amazingly cold,
cruel and subtle soul, which he was not by any means, but
that he was really largely unconscious of the tremendous
risks he was taking. He was just mentally "thick"--well
insulated, as it were. This was a fact which Binns had to
bring out and which Collins noted. He had never, as it now
developed, figured it out from the point of danger, being
more or less lobster-like in his nervous organism, but
solely from the point of view of success. In sum, in his
idleness, having wandered back to his native region where
he had first started out as a livery hand, he had now
fallen in love with a young girl there, and then realizing,
for the first time perhaps, that he was rather hard pressed
for cash and unable to make her such presents as he
desired, he had begun to think seriously of some method of
raising money. Even this had not resulted in anything until
latterly, another ex-railroad hand who had been laid off by
this same company arrived and proposed, in connection with
a third man whom he knew, to rob a train. At this time
Rollins had rejected this scheme as not feasible, not
wishing to connect himself with others in any such crime.
Later, however, his own condition becoming more pressing,
he had begun to think of train robbing as a means of
setting himself up in life, only, as he reasoned, it must
Why alone? queried Binns.
That was the point all were so anxious to discover--why
alone, with all the odds against him?
Well, he couldn't say exactly. He had just "kind o' sort o'
thort," as he expressed it, that he might frighten them
into letting him alone! Other bandits (so few as three in
one case of which he had read) had held up large trains.
Why not one? Revolver shots fired about a train easily
frightened all passengers as well as all trainmen, so the
other robbers had told him, and anyhow it was a life to
death job either way, and it would be better for him, he
thought, if he worked it out alone instead of with others.
Often, he said, other men "squealed," or they had girls who
told on them. He knew that Binns looked at him, intensely
interested and all but moved by the sheer courage, or
"gall," or "grit," imbedded somewhere in this stocky frame
But how could he hope to overcome the engineer, fireman,
baggage man, express messenger, mailmen, conductor,
brakeman and passengers, to say nothing of the Governor and
his staff? How? By the way, did he know at the time that
the Governor and his staff were on board? No, he hadn't
known that until afterward, and as for the others, well, he
just thought he could overawe them. Collins's eyes were
luminous as Rollins said this, his face radiant. Far more
than Binns, he seemed to understand and even approve of the
raw force of all this.
The manner in which Rollins came to fix on this particular
train to rob was also told. Every Thursday and Friday, or
so he had been told while he was assistant freight handler,
a limited which ran West at midnight past Dolesville
carried larger shipments of money than on other nights.
This was due to week-end exchanges between Eastern and
Western banks, although he did not know that. Having
decided on the train, although not on the day, he had
proceeded by degrees to secure from one distant small town
and another, and at different times so as to avoid all
chance of detection, first, a small handbag from which he
had scraped all evidence of the maker's name: six or seven
fused sticks of giant powder such as farmers use to blow up
stumps; two revolvers holding six cartridges each, and some
cartridges; and cord and cloth, out of which he proposed to
make bundles of the money if necessary. Placing all of
these in his bag, which he kept always beside him, he next
visited Dolesville, a small town nearest the spot which he
had fixed on in his mind as the place for his crime, and
reconnoitering it and its possibilities, finally arranged
all his plans to a nicety.
Just at the outskirts of this hamlet, as he now told Binns
and Collins, which had been selected because of its
proximity to a lone wood and marsh, stood a large
water-tank at which this express as well as nearly all
other trains stopped for water. Beyond it, about five
miles, was the wood with its marsh, where he planned to
have the train stopped. The express, as he learned, was
regularly due at about one in the morning. The nearest town
beyond the wood was all of five miles away, a mere hamlet
like this one.
On the night in question, between eight and nine, he
carried the bag, minus its revolvers and sticks of giant
powder, which were now on his person, to that exact spot
opposite the wood where he wished the train to stop, and
left it there beside the railroad track. He then walked
back the five miles to the water-tank, where he concealed
himself and waited for the train. When it stopped, and just
before it started again, he slipped in between the engine
tender and the front baggage car, which was "blind" at both
ends. The train resumed its journey, but on reaching the
spot where he felt sure the bag should be, he could not
make it out. The engine headlight did not seem to reveal
it. Fearing to lose his chance and realizing that he was at
about the place where he had left it, he rose up, and
climbing over the coal-box, covered the two men in the cab,
and compelled them to stop the train, dismount and uncouple
the engine. Then, revolver in hand, he drove them before
him to the express car door where, presenting one with a
fused stick of giant powder, he forced him to blow open the
door; the messenger within, still refusing to open it
although he would not fire, for fear of killing either the
engineer or fireman. Both engineer and fireman, at his
command, then entered the car and blew open the money safe,
throwing out the packages of bills and coin at his word,
the while Rollins, realizing the danger of either trainmen
or passengers coming forward, had been firing a few shots
backward toward the rear coaches so as to overawe the
passengers, and at the same time kept calling to purely
imaginary companions to keep watch there. It was these
shots and calls that had presumably sent the Governor and
his staff scurrying to their berths. They also put the fear
of death into the minds of the engineer and fireman and
messenger, who imagined that he had many confrères on the
other side of the express car but for some reason, because
he was the leader, no doubt, preferred to act alone.
"Don't kill anybody, boys, unless you have to," is what
Rollins said he called, or "That's all right, Frank. Stay
over there. Watch that side. I'll take care of these." Then
he would fire a few more shots, and so all were deluded.
Once the express car door and safe had been blown open and
the money handed out, he had now compelled the engineer and
fireman to come down, recouple the engine, and pull away.
Only after the train had safely disappeared in the distance
did he venture to gather up the various packages, only
since he had lost his bag and had no light, he had to
fumble about and make a bag of his coat for them. With this
over his shoulder, he eventually staggered off into the
wood and marsh, concealing it under muck and stones, and
then making for safety himself.
But, as it turned out, two slight errors, one of
forgetfulness and one of eyesight, caused him to finally
lose the fruit of his victory. The loss of the bag, in
which he had first placed and then forgotten an initialed
handkerchief belonging to his love, eventually brought
about his capture. It is true that he had gone back to look
for the bag, without, however, remembering that the
handkerchief was in it, but fearing capture if he lingered
too long, had made off after a time without it. Later a
posse of detectives and citizens arriving and finding the
bag with the initialed handkerchief inside, they were
eventually able to trace him. For, experts meditating on
the crime, decided that owing to the hard times and the
laying-off of employees, some of the latter might have had
a hand in it, and so, in due time, the whereabouts and
movements of each and every one of them was gone into,
resulting in the discovery finally that this particular
ex-helper had returned rather recently to his semi-native
town and had there been going with a certain girl, and that
even now he was about to marry her. Also, it was said that
he was possessed of unusual means, for him. Next, it was
discovered that her initials corresponded to those on the
handkerchief. Presto, Mr. Rollins was arrested, a search
made of his room, and nearly all of the money recovered.
Then, being "caught with the goods," he confessed, and here
on this day was he being hurried to O-- to be jailed and
sentenced, while Mr. Binns and Mr. Collins, like harpies,
hovered over him, anxious to make literary capital of his
error. The only thing that consoled Mr. Binns, now that
this story was finally told, was that although he had
failed to make it impossible for Collins to get it, when it
came to the writing of it he would be able to outdo him,
making a better and more connected narrative. Still, even
here he was a little dubious. During this interview Collins
had been making endless notes, putting down each least
shade of Binns's questioning, and with the aid of one or
several of the best men of the News would probably
be able to work it out. Then what would be left?
But as they were nearing O-- a new situation intruded
itself which soon threatened on the face of it to rob Binns
of nearly, if not quite, all his advantage. And this
related, primarily, to the matter of a picture. It was most
essential that one should be made, either here or in the
city, only neither Waxby nor himself, nor the city editor
of the News apparently, had thought to include an
artist on this expedition. Now the importance of this
became more and more apparent, and Collins, with that keen
sense he had for making tremendous capital of seeming
by-products, suggested, after first remarking that he
"guessed" they would have to send to police headquarters
afterward and have one made:
"How would it do, old man, if we took him up to the
News office after we get in, and let your friends
Hill and Weaver make a picture of him?" (These two were
intimates of Binns in the art department, as Collins
happened to know.) "Then both of us could get one right
away. I'd say take him to the Star, only the
News is so much nearer" (which was true), "and we
have that new flash-light machine, you know" (which was
also true, the Star being but poorly equipped in
this respect). He added a friendly aside to the effect that
of course this depended on whether the prisoner and
officers in charge were willing.
"No, no, no!" replied Binns irritably and suspiciously.
"No, I won't do that. You mean you want to get him into the
News office first. Not at all. I'll never stand for
that. Hill and Weaver are my friends, but I won't do it. If
you want to bring him down to the Star, that's
different. I'll agree to that. Our art department can make
pictures just as good as yours, and you can have one."
For a moment Collins's face fell, but he soon returned to
the attack. From his manner one would have judged that he
was actually desirous of doing Binns a favor.
"But why not the News?" he insisted pleasantly.
"Those two boys are your friends. They wouldn't do anything
to hurt you. Think of the difference in the distance, the
time we'll save. We want to save time, don't we? Here it is
nearly six-thirty, and by the time we get back to the
office it'll be half-past seven or eight. It's all right
for you, because you can write faster, but look at me. I'd
just as lief go down there as not, but what's the
difference? Besides the News has got a better plant,
and you know it. Either Hill or Weaver'll make a fine
picture, and they'll give you one. Ain't that all right?"
At once he sensed what it was that Collins wanted. What he
really understood was that if Collins could get this great
train robber into the office of the News first, it
would take away so much of the sheer necessity he would be
put to of repeating all he had heard and seen en route. For
once there, other staff members would be able to take the
criminal in hand and with the aid of what Collins had to
report, extract such a tale as even Binns himself could not
better. In addition, it would be such a triumph of
reporting--to go out and bring your subject in!
"No, it's not," replied Binns truculently, "and I won't do
it. It's all right about Hill and Weaver. I know they'll
give me a picture if the paper will let them, but I know
the paper won't let them, and besides, you're not doing it
for that reason. I know what you want. You want to be able
to claim in the morning that you brought this man to the
News first. I know you."
For a moment Collins appeared to be quieted by this, and
half seemed to abandon the project. He took it up again
after a few moments, however, seemingly in the most
conciliatory spirit in the world, only now he kept boring
Binns with his eyes, a thing which he had never attempted
"Aw, come on," he repeated genially, looking Binns squarely
in the eyes. "What's the use being small about this? You
know you've got the best of the story anyhow. And you're
goin' to get a picture too, the same as us. If you don't,
then we'll have to go clear to your office or send a man
down to the jail. Think of the time it'll take. What's the
use of that? One picture's as good as another. And you
can't take any good pictures down there to-night, anyhow,
and you know it."
As he talked he held Binns's eyes with his own, and all at
once the latter began to feel a curious wave of warmth,
ease and uncertainty or confusion creep over him in
connection with all this. What was so wrong with this
proposition, anyhow, he began to ask himself, even while
inwardly something was telling him that it was all wrong
and that he was making a great mistake. For the first time
in his life, and especially in connection with so trying a
situation, he began to feel an odd sense of ease and
comfort, or as if surrounded by a cloud of something that
was comfortable and soothing. This scheme of Collins's was
not so bad after all, he thought. What was wrong with it?
Hill and Weaver were his friends. They would make a good
picture and give him one. Everything Collins was saying
seemed true enough, only, only-- For the first time since
knowing him, and in spite of all his opposition of this
afternoon and before, Binns found himself not hating his
rival as violently as he had in the past, but feeling as
though he weren't such an utterly bad sort after all.
Curiously, though, he still didn't believe a word that
Collins said, but--
"To the News, sure," he found himself saying in a
dumb, half-numb or sensuously warm way. "That wouldn't be
so bad. It's nearer. What's wrong with that? Hill or Weaver
will make a good picture seven or eight inches long, and
then I can take it along," only at the same time he was
thinking to himself, "I shouldn't really do this. I
shouldn't think it. He'll claim the credit of having
brought this man to the News office. He's a big
bluff, and I hate him. I'll be making a big mistake. The
Star or nothing--that's what I should say. Let him
come down to the Star."
In the meantime they were entering O--, the station of
which now appeared. By now, somehow, Collins had not only
convinced the officers, but the prisoner himself. Binns
could even see the rural love of show and parade a-gleam in
their eyes, their respect for the News, the larger
paper, as opposed to the Star. The Star might
be all right, but plainly the News was the great
place in the sight of these rurals for such an exhibition
as this. What a pity, he thought, that he had ever left the
As he arose with the others to leave the train he said
dully, "No, I won't come in on this. It's all right if you
want to bring him down to the Star, or you can take
him to police headquarters. But I'm not going to let you do
this. You hear now, don't you?"
But outside, Collins laying hold of his arm in an amazingly
genial fashion, seemed to come nearer to him humanly than
he had ever dreamed was possible before.
"You come up with me to the News now," Collins kept
saying, "and then I'll go down with you to the Star,
see? We'll just let Hill or Weaver take one picture, and
then we'll go down to your place--you see?"
Although Mr. Binns did not see, he went. For the time,
nothing seemed important. If Collins had stayed by him he
could possibly have prevented his writing any story at all.
Even as Binns dreamed, Collins hailed a carriage, and the
six of them crowded into it and were forthwith whirled away
to the door of the News where, once they had reached
it and Collins, the detectives, and the bandit began
hurrying across the sidewalk to that familiar door which
once had meant so much to him, Binns suddenly awoke. What
was it--the door? Or the temporary distraction of Collins?
At any rate, he awoke now and made a frantic effort to
"Wait!" he called. "Say, hold on! Stop! I won't do this at
all. I don't agree to this!" but now it was too late. In a
trice the prisoner, officers, Collins and even himself were
up the two or three low steps of the main entrance and into
the hall, and then seeing the hopelessness of it he paused
as they entered the elevator and was left to meditate on
the inexplicability of the thing that had been done to him.
What was it? How had this low brute succeeded in doing this
to him? By the Lord, he had succeeded in hypnotizing him,
or something very much like it. What had become, then, of
his superior brain, his intellectual force, in the face of
this gross savage desire on the part of Collins to win? It
was unbelievable. Collins had beaten him, and that in a
field and at a task at which he deemed himself unusually
"Great heavens!" he suddenly exclaimed to himself. "That's
what he's done, he's beaten me at my own game! He's taken
the prisoner, whom I really had in my own hands at one
time, into the office of our great rival, and now in the
morning it will all be in the paper! And I allowed him to
do it! And I had him beaten, too! Why didn't I kick him off
the train? Why didn't I bribe the conductor to help me? I
could have. I was afraid of him, that's what it is. And
to-morrow there'll be a long editorial in the News telling
how this fellow was brought first to the News and
photographed, and they'll have his picture to prove it. Oh,
Lord, what shall I do? How am I to get out of this?"
Disconsolate and weary, he groaned and swore for blocks as
he made his way toward the office of the Star. How
to break it to Waxby! How to explain! The exact truth meant
disgrace, possibly dismissal. He couldn't tell really, as
he had hoped he might, how he had all but prevented Collins
from obtaining any interview. Waxby would have sniffed at
his weakness in a crisis, put him down as a failure.
Reaching the office, he told another kind of story which
was but a half truth. What he could and did say was that
the police, being temperamentally en rapport with
Collins, had worked with him and against the Star;
that in spite of anything he could do, these rural officers
and detectives had preferred to follow Collins rather than
himself, that the superior position of the News had
lured them, and that against his final and fierce protest
they had eventually gone in there, since the News
was on the natural route to the jail, and the Star
Now it was Waxby's turn to rage, and he did--not at Binns,
but at the low dogs of police who were always favoring the
News at the expense of the Star. They had
done it in the past, as he well knew, when he was city
editor of the News. Then it had pleased him--but
"I'll fix them!" he squeaked shrilly. "I'll make them
sweat. No more favors from me, by--," and rushing a
photographer to the jail he had various pictures made,
excellent ones, for that matter--only, what was the good?
The fact that the News had the honor of making the
first picture of this celebrity under its own roof, its own
vine and fig-tree, was galling. As a matter of fact, Waxby
by now was blaming himself for not having sent an artist
But to Binns the sad part was that Collins had him beaten,
and that in the face of his self-boasted superiority. In
spite of the fact that he might slave over the text, as he
did, giving it, because of his despair and chagrin, all his
best touches, still, the next morning, there on the front
page of the News, was a large picture of the bandit
seated in the sanctum sanctorum of the News,
entirely surrounded by reporters and editors, and with a
portion of the figure, although not the head, of the
publisher himself in the background. And over it all in
extra large type was the caption:
"LOAN TRAIN ROBBER VISITS OFFICE OF NEWS TO PAY HIS
RESPECTS" while underneath, in italics, was a full account
of how willingly he had visited the News
because of its immense commercial, moral and other forms of
Was Binns beaten?
And did he feel it?
He suffered tortures, not only for days, but for weeks and
months, absolute tortures. The very thought of Collins made
him want to rise and slay him.
"To think," he said over and over to himself, "that a low
dog like Collins on whom I wouldn't wipe my feet
intellectually, as it were, could do this to me! He
hypnotized me, by George! He did! He can! Maybe he could do
it again! I wonder if he knows? Am I really the lesser and
this scum the greater? Do writers grow on trees?"!
And some weeks later, meeting his old enemy one day on the
street, he had the immense dissatisfaction of seeing the
light of triumph and contempt in his eyes. The latter was
so bold now, and getting along so well as a
reporter, or "newspaper man," that he had the
hardihood to leer, sniff and exclaim:
"These swell reporters! These high-priced ink-slingers!
Say, who got the best of the train robber story, huh?"
And Binns replied--
But never mind what Binns replied. It wouldn't be fit to
read, and no publisher would print it anyhow.