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HOME > Classical Novels > The Young Section-Hand > CHAPTER VIII. GOOD NEWS AND BAD
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 His men were waiting for him, as he knew they would be, and the story was soon told. They had started out in the morning, according to his instructions, for a last run over the section, and soon discovered the work of the enemy. Ties which had been piled at the side of the right of way had been thrown down, around the mile-posts had been torn up, in many places holes had been dug in the road-bed,—in short, the section was in a condition which not only would have lost them the prize, but would have brought disgrace upon their foreman.  
They set to work like Trojans righting the damage, for they knew they had only a few hours, beginning at the western end and working slowly back toward the city. More than once it seemed that they could not get through in time; but at last the work was done, just as the whistle of the train sounded in the distance.
“An’ well done,” said , approvingly, when the story was ended. “You’ve done noble, m’ boys, an’ I won’t fergit it! Th’ section’s in as good shape as it was last night.”
“But what dirty criminal tore it up?” asked one of the men.
“I know who it was,” and Jack reddened with anger. “It was that loafer of a Dan Nolan. He threatened he’d git even with me fer firin’ him, but I didn’t pay no attention. I didn’t think he’d got that low! Wait till I ketch him!”
And his men echoed the threat in a tone that ill for Daniel.
“Come on, Allan, we’ve got t’ be gittin’ back,” said Jack. “An’ thank y’ ag’in, boys,” and together he and Allan turned back toward the waiting train.
Section Twenty-one was the last inspected before dinner, which was awaiting them in the big dining-room at Wadsworth. The officers came down from division headquarters to shake hands with the men as they sat grouped about the long tables, and good-natured flew back and . But at last the engine-bell announced that the green-decked train was ready to be off again , over the last hundred miles of the division, which ended at Parkersburg.
The men into their places again, and silence fell instantly as the train started, over the switches until it was clear of the yards, then settling into a regular click, click, as it swung out upon the main line. It must be confessed that this portion of the trip had little interest for Allan. The monotony of it—mile after mile of track away—began to wear upon him. He was no expert in track-construction, and one stretch of road-bed looked to him much like every other. So, before long, he found himself nodding, and, when he straightened up with a jerk and opened his eyes, he found Jack looking at him with a little smile.
They ran in upon a siding at Moonville to make way for a passenger-train, and Jack, to Allan, climbed out upon the track.
“I see you’re gittin’ tired,” said Jack, as they walked up and down, stretching their legs. “I ought to let you stop back there at Wadsworth. But mebbe I kin give y’ somethin’ more interestin’ fer th’ rest o’ th’ trip. How’d y’ like t’ ride in th’ engine?”
Allan’s eyes sparkled.
“Do you think I might?” he asked, eagerly.
Jack laughed.
“I thought that’d wake y’ up! Yes,—we’ve got Bill Higgins with us on this end, an’ I rather think he’ll let you ride in th’ cab. Let’s find out.”
So they walked over to where the engineer was “oiling round,” in railroad parlance—going slowly about his engine with a long-spouted oil-can in one hand and a piece of waste in the other, filling the oil-cups, wiping off the bearings, feeling them to see if they were too hot, crawling under the to inspect the link motion—in short, petting his engine much as one might pet a horse.
“Bill,” began Jack, “this is Allan West, th’ boy thet I took on section with me.”
Bill nodded, and looked at Allan with friendly eyes.
“Yes,” he said, “I’ve heerd o’ him.”
“Well,” continued Jack, “he’s gittin’ purty tired ridin’ back there with nothin’ t’ do but watch th’ track, an’ I thought mebbe you’d let him ride in th’ cab th’ rest o’ th’ trip.”
“Why, sure!” agreed Bill, instantly. “Climb right up, sonny.”
Allan needed no second invitation, but clambered up and took his place on one of the long seats which ran along either side of the cab. Right in front of him was a narrow window through which he could see the track stretching far ahead to meet the horizon. Below him was the door to the fire-box, into which the fireman was at that moment coal. At his side, mounted on the end of the boiler, was a of , cocks, wheels, and levers, whose uses he could not even guess.
The engineer clambered up into the cab a moment later, glanced at the steam and water gauges, to see that all was right, and then took his place on his seat. He got out his “flimsy”—the thin, manifolded telegraphic train order from headquarters, a copy of which had also been given to the conductor—and read it carefully, noting the points at which he was to meet certain trains and the time he was expected to make to each. Then he passed it over to his fireman, who also read it, according to the rules of the road. One man might forget some point in the orders, but it was not probable that two would.
There came a long whistle far down the line, and Allan saw the through passenger train leap into view and came speeding toward them. It passed with a rush and a roar, and a minute later the conductor raised his hand. The engineer settled himself on his seat, pushed his lever forward, and opened the gently, pulling it wider and wider as the engine gathered speed. Never for an instant did his glance waver from the track before him—a moment’s inattention might mean death for him and for the men to his care.
There was something fascinating in watching the mighty engine eat up mile after mile of track. There were other things to watch, too. At every crossing there was the danger of an accident, and Allan was astonished at the chances people took in driving across the track, without stopping to look up and down to see if there was any danger. Deep in talk they were sometimes, until roused by a fierce blast from the whistle; or sometimes the curtains of the buggy hid them from view. And although the right of way was private ground and carefully fenced in on either side, there were many stragglers along it,—a group of tramps boiling coffee in a fence corner, a horse or cow that had managed to get across a cattle-guard, children playing carelessly about or walking the rails in imitation of a tight-rope performer. All these had to be watched and warned of their danger. Never once did the engineer lift his hand from the throttle, for that gave him the “feel” of the engine, almost as the give the driver the “feel” of a spirited horse. Now and then he glanced at the steam-gauge, but turned back instantly to watch the track ahead.
Nor was the fireman idle. His first duty was to keep up steam, and he every variation of the needle which showed the pressure, shaking down his fire, and coaling up, as occasion demanded; raking the coal down from the tender, so as to have it within easy reach; off the “deck,” as the narrow passage from engine to tender is called; and occasionally mounting the seat-box to ring the bell, as they passed through a little village.
Allan began to understand the whistle signals—especially the two long and two short toots which are the signal for a crossing, the signal most familiar to travellers and to those who live along the line of a railroad. And he grew accustomed to the rocking of the engine, the roaring of the fire, the sudden, vicious of steam when the engineer tested a cock, the rush of the wind and patter of against the windows of the cab. He began to take a certain joy in it—in the noise, the , the motion. There was an excitement in it that made his pulses leap.
So they hummed along, between broad field............
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