When he was eight years old he was given his first official job on the train. To his superiors, he had three responsibilities. One: he was to travel up and down the passenger cars, collecting tickets and fees. Two: he was to tell any and all riders when their station was the next to be reached. And three: he was to bother nobody and to get in zero trouble. In Jed’s own eyes, however, he had one, sole intention: to ride.
Duties one and two he did with relative ease. Since he had hitched a ride on so many trains before being allowed to, he knew the routes well. To inform passengers of their upcoming stops was no problem. Collecting tickets and fees was sometimes more difficult. The majority of people were peaceable and forthright, producing their tickets or coins at first request. On occasion, though, the boy would encounter a brute that would refuse to pay, either claiming he had already done so or else that he had lost his ticket. On such occasions Jed would simply summon the conductor, a man of great stature, both in size and in reputation. Little folk put up a fight with Madigan Malone, and those who did found themselves tossed from a rumbling locomotive.
In regard to Jed’s third expectation, he sometimes failed. It wasn’t borne of any sort of defiance but genuine boyhood curiosity. He generally completed his tasks with methodical swiftness, proceeding up and down the aisles to collect from and alert passengers. His goal was to finish as quickly as possible so he could return to visit the most intriguing riders, and either observe or chat with them. He rarely bothered any passengers with his conversation but rather quite delighted them with his maturity and manners. Most of them loved to spin a good yarn, and Jedediah hung on their every word with wide-eyed rapture. As a result, he sometimes fell down on the job.
Though not literally, of course. In fact, he had an uncanny ability to maintain his balance on the train. The rails were often a rough ride, jerking and jolting in almost all directions. Passengers were sometimes sent sprawling, or at least grabbing for the nearest stable object. But, it was as if Jed had his feet somehow fastened to the floor. To the amazement of everyone else, he was impervious to the turbulence that the railcars constantly experienced. It truly seemed as if Jed was himself part of the train. Probably, because he was.