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CHAPTER XIII. A NEW DANGER
 There is a superstition1 among railroad men which, strangely enough, is seemingly warranted by experience, that when one wreck2 occurs, two more are certain to follow. And, sure enough, two more did follow, though neither was so serious as the one at Vinton; which, indeed, still lives in the memories of those who helped clear it away as the worst that ever happened on the division.  
Not so serious, that is, in delaying the traffic of the road, but more serious in another way, since both entailed3 loss of life. The first one occurred just three days after the wreck at Vinton. A freight-train had taken a siding about five miles east of Wadsworth to allow the through east-bound express to pass, but the brakeman on the freight, who was a green hand, forgot to throw the switch back again after the freight-train had backed in upon the siding. He climbed up into the cab, and he and the engineer and fireman sat there chatting away, all unconscious of the impending4 disaster. In a moment, they heard the roar of the approaching train, and then it flashed into view far down the track. They turned to watch it, to admire the clean lines of the engine as it whirled toward them; then, as it reached the switch, they were horrified5 to see it turn in upon the siding. There was no time to move, to cry out, to attempt to save themselves. An instant of horrified suspense6, and the crash came, and the two engines, together with the cars immediately behind them, were piled together into a torn and twisted mass of wreckage7,—wreckage through which blistering8 steam hissed9 and about which in a moment hungry flames began to lap,—wreckage from which no man came forth11 alive. But, as the accident occurred upon a siding, the main track was not even blocked, and the wreckage was cleared away without the feverish12 haste which marked the wreck at Vinton.
 
The third wreck occurred at Torch, a little station on the east end of the road, when both engineer and fireman of an east-bound freight-train forgot their orders to take the siding there, to make way for the west-bound flier, and continued on full speed past the station. The conductor recognized the error at once, but he was away back in the caboose at the other end of the train. He sent a brakeman flying forward over the cars to warn the engineer of his danger, but, before he had got forward half the length of the train, the express hurtled down upon them, and both engineer and fireman paid for their forgetfulness with their lives. This wreck was so far east that it was handled from Parkersburg, and the gang from Section Twenty-one was not called out.
 
This series of accidents impressed deeply upon Allan’s mind the terrible peculiarity13 which belongs to railroading. In most of life’s ordinary occupations, a mistake may be retrieved14; on the railroad, almost never. To make a mistake there is, almost inevitably15, to sacrifice life and property. The railroad man who makes a mistake never has the chance to make a second one. If he survives the first one, his dismissal from the road’s employ will follow. Mistakes on a railroad are too expensive to risk them by employing careless men.
 
The employés of the road breathed easier after the accident at Torch. Until the fatal three had occurred, every man feared that his turn would come next; now they knew that they were safe until another series was started. Whether it was from the increased self-confidence and self-control which this belief engendered16, or whether there really was some basis for this railroad superstition, at any rate, no more accidents occurred, and the road’s operation proceeded smoothly17 and uneventfully.
 
One exciting battle there was in late September. The fall rains had been unusually heavy and persistent18; every little brook19 became a roaring torrent20, loosening bridges and culverts, seeping21 under the road-bed, and demanding constant vigilance on the part of the section-gangs. As the rain continued without abating22, the broad river, which usually flowed peacefully along far below the railroad embankment, rose foot by foot until the whole stretch of embankment along the river’s edge was threatened. Long trains of flat cars were hurried to the place, loaded with rock and bags of sand. These were dumped along the embankment, which was washing badly in places, and for a time it looked as though the encroachments of the water had been stopped. But the rain continued, and the river kept on rising, until it was seeping along the top of the embankment. If it once began to flow over it, nothing could save the track, for the water would slice away the earth beneath it in great sections.
 
All the men that could be spared from the other portions of the road had been hurried to the scene. At the gravel23-pit just below the city, a gang of fifty men was working, filling heavy sacks and loading them on flat cars. A great steam-shovel was heaping the loose gravel upon other cars, and, as soon as enough were loaded to make a train, they were hurried away to the danger point. During that culminating day, no effort was made to preserve the train schedule. The work-trains were given the right of way, and even the lordly east-bound passengers had to flag through from the embankment to the gravel-pit. Train-master and superintendent25 were on the spot, directing where the gravel should be dumped, and watching anxiously the gauge26 which marked the rise of the water. Another inch and it would be over the embankment.
 
But from the last inspection27 of the gauge Mr. Schofield arose with a shout of triumph.
 
“It’s no higher than it was half an hour ago,” he said. “It hasn’t risen a hair’s breadth. It’ll begin to fall before long. We’re all right if we can only make the embankment hold.”
 
Hope put new life into the men, and they worked like beavers28; but whether the embankment could withstand much longer the tremendous pressure of the water against it seemed exceedingly doubtful. The whole length of the river seemed to be concentrating its strength to push against this one spot. Allan, as he paused to look up the muddy current, almost imagined that the water was rushing toward the embankment with the deliberate purpose of overwhelming it. The débris which the broad current hurried along told of the damage it was doing in other places. Lordly trees had been uprooted29, outbuildings carried away, stock drowned, fertile bottom land covered with gravel and rendered worthless,—but all this seemed trivial to the boy beside the danger which threatened the road. He could guess how long it would take to rebuild this great stretch of embankment, should it be swept away. For weeks and months, the system must lay powerless, lifeless, disrupted.
 
Mr. Schofield bent30 over the gauge again and looked at it.
 
“She’s going down, boys!” he cried, rising with beaming face. “She’s gone down half an inch. We’re going to win this fight!”
 
But how slowly the water receded31! It seemed to Allan, at times, that it was rising again; but the crest32 of the flood had passed, and by the next day the danger was quite over. The embankment had to be rebuilt where it had been badly washed; and it was rebuilt more strongly than ever, and guarded by a wall of riprap, but never for an hour was the traffic of the road interrupted.
 
So October passed and November came. Always there was the track demanding attention,—an endless round of work which would never be completed. Always there were the trains rushing over it in endless procession,—the luxurious33 Limited, sending every other train headlong into a siding out of the way; the slower “accommodation,” which stops at every station along the road and is very popular with the farmers and dwellers34 at crossroads; the big through freight, drawn35 by a mighty36 giant of an engine, hauling two thousand tons of grain or beef or coal to the great Eastern market.
 
And the through freight is the greatest of them all, for it is the money-maker. The Limited, glittering with polished brass37 and rare woods and plate-glass, is for show,—for style. It makes the road a reputation. It figures always in the advertisements in big type and on the back of folder38 and time-table in gorgeous lithograph39. Its passengers look out with aversion at the dingy40, ugly freight, standing41 on the siding, waiting for it to pass. But it is the freight that is meat and drink to the road; it enables it to keep out of the receiver’s hands, and sometimes even to pay dividends42.
 
For Allan, the days passed happily, for one serious cloud was lifted from his life. Dan Nolan had disappeared. He had not been seen for weeks, and every one hoped that he would never be seen in that neighbourhood again. Jack43 had taken good care to spread the story of the fallen rock, and Nolan was wise to keep out of the trainmen’s way.
 
“He thinks I saw him that day,” remarked the foreman, “an’ he’s afeard of a term in th’ penitentiary44. Well, he’ll git it; if not here, somewheres else.”
 
One trouble still remained, for Reddy showed no............
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