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HOME > Classical Novels > The Young Section-Hand > CHAPTER IV. ALLAN MEETS AN ENEMY
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 It was not until morning that Allan realized how unaccustomed he was to real labour. As he tried to spring from bed in answer to ’s call, he found every muscle in revolt. How they ached! It was all he could do to slip his arms into his shirt, and, when he over to put on his shoes, he almost cried out at the twinge it cost him. He hobbled painfully down-stairs, and Jack saw in a moment what was the matter.  
“Yer muscles ain’t used t’ tuggin’ at crowbars an’ shovellin’ ,” he said, laughing. “It’ll wear off in a day or two, but till then ye’ll have t’ grin an’ bear it, fer they ain’t no cure fer it. But y’ ain’t goin’ t’ work in them clothes!”
“They’re all I have here,” answered Allan, reddening. “I have a trunk at Cincinnati with a lot more in, and I thought I’d write for it to-day.”
“But I reckon ye ain’t got any clothes tough enough fer this work. I’ll fix y’ out,” said Welsh, good-naturedly.
So, after breakfast, he led Allan over to a railroad shop and secured him a canvas jumper, a pair of heavy , and a pair of rough, strong, cowhide shoes.
“There!” he said, viewing his purchases with satisfaction. “Y’ pay fer ’em when y’ git yer first month’s wages. Y’ kin put ’em on over in th’ section . You go along over there; I’ve got t’ stop an’ see th’ roadmaster a minute.”
Allan walked on quickly, his bundle under his arm, past the long passenger station and across the of tracks in the lower yards. Here lines of freight-cars were side-tracked, waiting their turn to be taken east or west; and, as he hurried past, a man came suddenly out from behind one of them and laid a strong hand on his arm.
“Here, wait a minute!” he said, roughly. “I’ve got somethin’ t’ say t’ you. Come in here!” And before Allan could think of resistance, he was pulled behind the row of cars.
Allan found himself looking up into a pair of small, glittering black eyes, deeply set in a face of which the most prominent features were a large nose, covered with , and a thick-lipped mouth, which the jagged teeth beneath but imperfectly. He saw, too, that his captor was not much older than himself, but that he was larger and no doubt stronger.
“Ye’re th’ new man on Twenty-one, ain’t you?” he asked, after a moment’s fierce examination of Allan’s face.
“Yes, I went to work yesterday,” said Allan.
“Well, y’ want t’ quit th’ job quick, d’ y’ see? I’m Dan Nolan, an’ it’s my job y’ve got. I’d ’a’ got took back if ye hadn’t come along. So ye’re got t’ git out, d’ y’ hear?”
“Yes, I hear,” answered Allan, quietly, reddening a little; and his heart began to beat faster at the of trouble ahead.
“If y’ know what’s good fer y’, y’ll git out!” said Nolan, , his fists. “When’ll y’ quit?”
“As soon as Mr. Welsh discharges me,” answered Allan, still more quietly.
Nolan glared at him for a moment, seemingly unable to speak.
“D’ y’ mean t’ say y’ won’t git out when I tells you to? I’ll show y’!” And he struck suddenly and viciously at the boy’s face.
But Allan had been expecting the onslaught, and sprang quickly to one side. Before Nolan could recover himself, he had ducked under one of the freight-cars and come up on the other side. Nolan ran around the end of the car, but the boy was well out of reach.
“I’ll ketch y’!” he cried after him, shaking his fists. “An’ when I do ketch y’—”
He stopped and dived back among the cars, for he had caught sight of Jack Welsh coming across the yards. Allan saw him, too, and waited for him.
“Wasn’t that Dan Nolan?” he asked, as he came up.
“Yes, it was Nolan,” answered Allan.
“Was he threatenin’ you?”
“Yes; he told me to get out or he’d lay for me.”
“He did, eh?” and Jack’s lips . “What did y’ tell him?”
“I told him I’d get out when you discharged me.”
“Y’ did?” and Jack clapped him on the shoulder. “Good fer you! Let me git my hands on him once, an’ he’ll lave ye alone! But y’ want t’ look out fer him, m’ boy. If he’d fight fair, y’ could lick him; but he’s a big, overgrown , an’ ’ll try t’ hit y’ from behind sometime, mebbe. That’s his style, fer he’s a coward.”
“I’ll look out for him,” said Allan; and walked on with beating heart to the section shanty. Here, while Jack told the story of the encounter with Nolan, Allan donned his new garments and laid his other ones aside. The new ones were not beautiful, but at least they were comfortable, and could defy even the wear and tear of work on section.
The spin on the hand-car out into the open country was full of exhilaration, and, after an hour’s work, Allan almost forgot his sore muscles. He found that to-day there was a different class of work to do. The fences along the right of way were to be repaired, and the right of way itself placed in order—the grass cut back from the road-bed, the gravel piled along it, weeds trimmed out, rubbish gathered up, cattle-guards, posts, and fences at crossings . All this, too, was a revelation to the new hand. He had never thought that a railroad required so much attention. Rod after rod was gone over in this way, until it seemed that not a stone was out of place. It was not until the noon-hour, when he was eating his portion of the lunch Mrs. Welsh had prepared for them, that he learned the reason for all this.
“Y’ see we’re puttin’ on a few extry touches,” remarked Jack. “Th’ Irish Brigade goes over th’ road next week.”
“The Irish Brigade?” questioned Allan; and he had a vision of some crack military organization.
“Yes, th’ Irish Brigade. Twict a year, all th’ section foremen on th’ road ’r’ taken over it t’ look at th’ other sections, an’ see which man keeps his in th’ best shape. Each man’s section’s graded, an’ th’ one that gits th’ highest grade gits a prize o’ fifty dollars. We’re goin’ t’ try fer that prize. So’s every other section-gang on th’ line.”
“But what is the Irish Brigade?” questioned the boy.
“The foremen of the section-men. There’s about a hundred, and the officers give us that name. There’s many a good Irishman like myself among the foremen;” and a gleam of humour was in Jack’s eyes. “They say I’m puttin’ my Irish back of me in my talk, but the others stick to it, more or less. It’s a great time when the Irish Brigade takes its tour.”
Allan worked with a new interest after that, for he, too, was anxious that Jack’s section should win the fifty dollars. He could guess how much such a sum would mean to him. He his hopes to Reddy, while they were working together cutting out some weeds that had sprung up along the track, but the latter was not enthusiastic.
“Oi don’t know,” he said. “They’s some mighty good section-men on this road. Why, last year, when Flaherty, o’ Section Tin, got th’ prize, his grass looked like it ’ud been gone over with a lawnmower, an’ he’d aven scrubbed th’ black gr’ase from th’ ingines off th’ toies. Oh, it looked foine; but thin, so did all th’ rist.”
But Allan was full of hope. As he looked back over the mile they had covered since morning, he told himself that no stretch of track could possibly be in better order. But, to the foreman’s more critical and experienced eye, there were still many things wanting, and he promised himself to go over it again before inspection-day came around.
Every train that passed left some mark behind. From the freights came great pieces of waste, which littered up the ties, or piles of ashes down from the fire-box; while with the passengers it was even worse. The people threw from the coach windows papers, banana peelings, boxes and bags containing remnants of lunch, bottles, and every kind of trash. They did not realize that all this must be patiently gathered up again, in order that the road-bed might be quite free from litter. Not many of them would have greatly cared.
“It’s amazin’,” remarked Reddy, in the course of the afternoon, “how little people r’ally know about railroadin’, an’ thin think they know ’t all. They think that whin th’ road’s built, that’s all they is to it, an’ all th’ expinse th’ company’s got’s fer runnin’ th’ trains. Why, on this one division, from Cincinnati t’ Parkersburg, they’s more’n two hunderd men a-workin’ ivery day jest kapin’ up th’ track. Back there in th’ shops, they’s foive hundred more, repairin’ an’ rebuildin’ ingines an’ cars. At ivery little crossroads they’s an operator, an’ at ivery little station they’s six or eight people busy at work. Out east, they tell me, they’s a flagman at ivery crossin’. Think o’ what all that costs!”
“But what’s the use of keeping the road-bed so clean?” asked Allan. “Nobody ever sees it.”
“What’s th’ use o’ doin’ anything roight?” retorted Reddy. “I tell you ivery little thing counts in favour of a road, or agin it. This here road’s spendin’ thousands o’ dollars straightenin’ out curves over there in th’ mountings, so’s th’ passengers won’t git shook up so much, an’ th’ trains kin make a little better toime. Why, I’ve heerd thet some roads even sprinkle th’ road-bed with ile t’ lay th’ dust!
“Human natur’ ’s a funny thing,” he added, shaking his head , “’specially when it comes t’ railroads. Many’s th’ man Oi’ve seen nearly break his neck t’ git acrost th’ track in front of a train, an’ thin stop t’ watch th’ train go by; an’ many another loafer, who never does anything but kill toime, ’ll worrit hisself sick if th’ train he’s on happens t’ be tin minutes late. It’s th’ man who ain’t got no business that’s always lettin’ on t’ have th’ most. Here comes th’ flier,” he added, as a whistle sounded from afar up the road.
They stood aside to watch the train shoot past with a rush and roar, to draw into the station at Wadsworth on time to the minute.
“That was Jem Spurling on th’ ingine,” observed Reddy, as they went back to work. “Th’ oldest ingineer on th’ road—an’ th’ nerviest. Thet’s th’ reason he’s got th’ flier. Most fellers loses their nerve after they’ve been runnin’ an ingine a long time, an’ a year ’r two back, Jem got sort o’ shaky fer awhile—slowed down when they wasn’t no need of it, y’ know; imagined he saw things on th’ track ahead, an’ lost time. Well, th’ company wouldn’t stand fer thet, ’specially with th’ flier, an’ finally th’ train-master told him thet if he couldn’t bring his train in on time, he’d have t’ go back t’ freight. Well, sir, it purty nigh broke Jem’s heart.
“‘Oi tell y’, Mister Schofield,’ he says t’ th’ train-master, ‘Oi’ll bring th’ train in on toime if they’s a brick house on th’ track.’
“‘All right,’ says Mr. Schofield; ‘thet’s all we ask,’ an’ Jem went down to his ingine.
“Th’ next day Jem come into th’ office t’ report, an’ looked aroun’ kind o’ inquirin’ like.
“‘Any of it got here yet?’ he asks.
“‘Any o’ what?’ asks Mr. Schofield.
“‘Any o’ thet coal,’ says Jem.
“‘What coal?’ asks Mr. Schofield.
“‘Somebody left a loaded coal-car on th’ track down here by th’ chute,’ says Jem.
“‘They did?’
“‘Yes,’ says Jem; ‘thought they’d throw me late, most likely; but they didn’t. Oi’m not loike a man what’s lost his nerve—not by a good deal.’
“‘But th’ car—how’d y’ git around it?’ asks Mr. Schofield.
“‘Oh, Oi didn’t try t’ git around it,’ says Jem. ‘Oi jest pulled her wide open an’ come through. They’s about a ton o’ coal on top o’ th’ rear coach, an’ Oi thought maybe I’d find th’ rest of it up here. I guess it ain’t come down yit.’
“‘But, great Scott, man!’ says Mr. Schofield, ‘that was an awful risk.’
“‘Oi guess Oi’d better run my ingine down t’ th’ repair shop,’ went on Jem, cool as a cucumber. ‘Her stack’s gone, an’ the pilot, an’ th’ winders o’ th’ cab are . But Oi got in on toime.’
“Well, they laid Jem off fer a month,” concluded Reddy, “but they’ve niver said anything since about his losin’ his nerve.”
So, through the afternoon, Reddy of the life of the rail, and told stories grave and gay, related tragedies and comedies, described hair-breadth escapes, and with it all managed to impart to his hearer many valuable hints concerning section work.
“Though,” he added, echoing Jack, “it’s not on section you’ll be workin’ all your life! You’ve got too good a head fer that.”
“I don’t know,” said Allan, modestly. “This takes a pretty good head, too, doesn’t it?”
“It takes a good head in a way; but it’s soon learnt, an’ after thet, all a man has t’ do is t’ keep sober. But this is a, b, c, compared t’ th’ work of runnin’ th’ road. Ever been up in th’ despatcher’s office?”
“No,” said Allan. “I never have.”
“Well, y’ want t’ git Jack t’ take y’ up there some day; then y’ll see where head-work comes in. I know thet all the trainmen swear at th’ despatchers; but jest th’ same, it takes a mighty good man t’ hold down th’ job.”
“I’ll ask Jack to take me,” said Allan; and he resolved to get all the insight possible into the workings of this great engine of industry, of which he had become a part.
Quitting-time came at last, and they loaded their tools wearily upon the car and started on the five-mile run home. This time there was no disturbing incident. The regular click, click of the wheels over the rails told of a track in perfect condition. At last they over the switches in the yards and pushed the car into its place in the section-house.
“You run along,” said Jack to Allan. “I’ve got t’ make out a report to-night. It’ll take me maybe five minutes. Tell Mary I’ll be home by then.”
“All right!” and Allan picked up his bundle of clothes and started across the yards. He could see the little house that he called home perched high on its bank of clay. they were watching for him, for he saw a tiny figure running down the path, and knew that Mamie was coming to meet him. She did not stop at the gate, but ran across the narrow street and into the yards toward him. He quickened his steps at the thought that some harm might befall her among this maze of tracks. He could see her mother on the porch, looking down at them, shading her eyes with her hand.
And then, in an instant, a yard-engine whirled out from behind the roundhouse. Mamie looked around as she heard it coming, and stopped short in the middle of the track, confused and terrified in presence of this unexpected danger.

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