We called him 'Smoked Beef' because that's what he looked like, and the name stuck. What he had been labeled in the days when he was too young to enter a protest, I don't know.
When he struck camp at Long Gully Divide he ran against Dave Allen, a notorious joker, and Dave announced that smoked beef had walked into camp, and all by its little self.
Of all the human mules the field had ever known, "Smoked Beef" was the mulest. Men were wanted at the divide, wanted badly, and it meant double shift to get through on time, and to make water flow nicely and evenly on a mild grade around sheer precipices of rock and round gorges that were like enormous cracks in the world going to pieces, is a job requiring live wire workmen.
Smoked Beef wasn't a live wire; he was a mountain of flabby humanity that heaved itself along rather than walked and Dave Allen swore that if the giant powder magizine was busted off beneath Smoked Beef, th cuss would simply go up a few feet and plop down again and go on chewing as if nothing had happened. Still we liked him; his patience, bovine, good humour was irresistable and if he couldn't get two ideas into his head we didn't expect him to, but he patiently fetched and carried, and picked and shovelled with the advance gang on the earthwork section, and the drill and hammer and blast crowd only saw him after nightfall
We hadn't got down to working on Sundays then and the crowd generally head for the saloon down the Devil's Elbow at about 10 am. Smoked Beef went once, absorbed three fingers of Black Bill's rum, got violently sick, grinned happily and drank water after that. He couldn't do anything in the sports line and just sat and grinned as the others threw quiots, rode outlaws, and so on, and he was such a hopeless duffer at poker that no one, for shame's sake would play with him. Wrestling matches were a great draw then, and Sam Grant was, by way of being, the champion of the crowd. Someone bet Sam an ounce of dust he couldn't heave Smoked Beef over his shoulder three times in ten minutes. Sam took it up in a flash. Smoked Beef had no objection and he lumbered out to the ring centre and grinned amiably. Dave was the time keeper and when he called "GO", Sam gripped and heaved. Did Smoked Beef shift ? not a bit of it.
Sam saw he was up against a new kind of proposition and tried a new hold and a heave that should have shifted a house, but Smoked Beef only stood and grinned. Bets were now being called and taken at the rate of two a second, and Sam went at it with a strangle hold, and what happened then Sam never rightly knew. Smokd Beef gave a kind of floppy shudder all over himself and Sam found himself on the ground with a dazed feeling in the back of his head. But he was game, and every art and trick he'd learned in the ring he bought into play, but it was no more good trying to bash a tree with a cow's tail. Three times Smoked Beef shuddered and three times Sam hit Mother Earth with a thud. Sam gave it up as a bad job and offered to wrestle any mug standing around, any style the mug liked to nominate, but he'd be eternally blithered if he'd tackle a cross between a blooming ox and a greasy pole.
It was getting well on in the fall, and already little splinters of ice appeared where the seepage showedon rocks on the shaded side. There was feverish activity all along the line. That race had to be through before the long frost came, and the whole outfit knew it. Drill, hammer and blast, blast and hammer and drill, the rock gangs were at it from daylight to dark and the earthwork crowd, with treble shifts, worked the whole round, the line for five miles being lighted with flares. Smoked Beef was put on the late shift, the "Owl Watch" we called it, and his duty was to attend to the flares on a two mile beat. Fortunately the weather was calm and clear, and Smoked Beef's was a comfortable one but occasionally a worral cam along. Now a woral is a sort of sawed of tail of a wirlwind, a puff of air would start up in one of the gorges and grow in area and pace with extraordinary rapidity. From a mere breath, it develops into a rushing tearing wind, taking a trach half-a-mile wide and sweeping across the slopes like a tornado, and then suddenly passing away. When a worral crosses the line of flares, the flares in its tracks were snuffed out. Black out !! and the lighter had to hustle on his beat like a streak of greased lightning. Smoked Beef wasn't greased lightning, and the amount of cursinghe had to stand would have shrivelled any ordinary human's soul, but he only grinned and ambled along amiably.
Then one night a misguided worral came down the whole blessed line. Pandemonium was let loose in the big trench. A volley of cursing echoed and re-echoed through the gorges and that night poor Smoked Beef sweated rivulets. At dawn he crawled back to camp as the rock gangs were lowering themselves over the edge of the precipice. The camp was on a bit of a shelf and there was a sheer drop of a thousand feet from the edge. The job wouldn't stand anything elaborate and the rock gangs went over the edge on rope swings and lowered themselves hand over hand. The ropes played over a wooden truss at the edge and led back to a heavy iron bar slotted into the rock on the other side of the shelf. Spread out fan-wise at the edge, the lines came together in a bunch at the centre of the bar, thus allowing a good length at each end for anchoring in the slots. Now, if that worral i've told you about hadn't happened along, Smoked Beef would havehit the home trail sooner and been asleepwhen the rock gang turned out. A score of things might have happened, but they didn't. Anyhow, Smoked Beef's left eye casually looked along a lantern beam, and that little shaft of light rested on the rock shoulder forming the facing of one of the slots, and at the particular exact moment a little crumble of dust shifted down. Then unaccountable as it seemed afterwards to all who knew him, Smoked Beefhad an inspiration, and more unaccountable still, acted on it. He jumped at the rock shoulder and put all his weight against it, and held, like grim death. The rock was giving, inch by inch, breaking out under the weight of the pull of the bar, and if that end had flung loose the rock gang would have had a quick passage to the golden gates. The shift boss came on the scene just as the gang reached the race cut and the ropes slackened. Then Smoked Beef crumpled into a heap his big heart had burst