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CHAPTER XVI. A CALL TO DUTY
 Allan sat down by the table and picked up a book on telegraphy which he had secured from the public library of Wadsworth, and which he was studying faithfully in such odd hours as he had to himself,—without much result, be it said, since he had no instrument to practise on,—while Mrs. Welsh put the excited Mamie to bed, warning her to go to sleep at once, lest she frighten Santa Claus away, and then went slowly about the task of clearing up the supper dishes and putting the house in order for the morrow.  
“An’ we’ll hev t’ set up th’ Christmas tree to-night,” she remarked. “It’ll hev t’ be ready when Mamie wakes up in th’ mornin’, an’ she’ll wake mighty1 early.”
 
“All right,” said Allan; “as soon as you’re ready, tell me.”
 
That morning, on his way in from his trip, he had stopped to cut a little evergreen2 in a grove3 near the track, and this had been safely deposited in the cellar, out of the reach of Mamie’s curious eyes. Long strings4 of snow-white pop-corn had been threaded, streamers of bright-coloured tissue-paper prepared, little red and blue candles bought; all of which, together with the presents and parti-coloured candies, would make the tree in Mamie’s eyes a veritable fairy picture. It was her first Christmas tree, and it was to be a splendid one!
 
“Now I’m ready, Allan,” said Mrs. Welsh, at last; and Allan laid aside his book and brought up the tree from the cellar, while Mrs. Welsh unlocked the closet where the ornaments5 and gifts had been carefully hidden. “We’ll set it up in that corner by th’ winder,” she continued; “then th’ people that goes by outside kin6 see it, too.”
 
“I’m glad I’m going to be here when Mamie first sees it,” said Allan, as he nailed some cross-pieces on the bottom of the tree to hold it upright. “I’d be out on my trick if it hadn’t been for that order.”
 
“Yes, an’ I’m glad, too,” agreed Mrs. Welsh. “That patrol work was hard on all o’ you. But this trip o’ Jack7’s t’-night’ll be th’ last that any o’ th’ gang on Twenty-one has t’ make. I only wish th’ patrollin’ had ended to-day instead o’ to-morrer, then Jack’d be here with us now instead of out in that howlin’ storm.”
 
They listened a moment to the wind whistling about the house, and to the rain lashing8 savagely9 against the windows.
 
“It is a bad night,” said Allan, “but Jack won’t mind it. He’ll be thinking of the good time he’s going to have to-morrow.”
 
“Well, I’m glad it’s th’ last time, anyway,—fer your sake, too, Allan. Jack an’ me used t’ worrit ourselves nearly sick when you’d start out alone that way. We never knowed what’d happen.”
 
“And nothing ever happened, after all!” laughed Allan. “I believe that Dan Nolan has forgotten all about me long before this.”
 
Mary shook her head doubtfully.
 
“I don’t know,” she said. “But anyway it won’t matter now, for you’ll allers be with th’ gang after this, an’ Nolan won’t dare show his nose around where they are. Jack’s just achin’ t’ lay hands on him.”
 
“There,” said Allan, as he drove the last nail, “that’s solid, I think,” and he set the tree up in the corner. “Now, what next?”
 
“All these things has got t’ have little ribbons tied to ’em,” said Mrs. Welsh, who had been getting out the candy, fruits, and presents. “But I kin do that. You set down an’ read your book.”
 
“Indeed I won’t!” protested the boy. “I want to feel that I’ve had something to do with this tree,” and he drew a chair up to the table.
 
“Somethin’ t’ do with it!” retorted Mary. “You’ve had everything t’ do with it, I’m a-thinkin’. It’s your Christmas tree, Allan, an’ mighty nice of you to think of it, my boy.”
 
“Oh, I wanted Mamie to have one,” he protested; “especially when it was so little trouble to get. Now it’s ready for the pop-corn.”
 
Mrs. Welsh began to drape the white festoons about the tree. Suddenly she paused and looked up with startled eyes.
 
“What was that?” she asked.
 
Allan listened with strained attention, but heard only the dashing of the rain and whistling of the wind.
 
“It sounded like the trampin’ of men,” she said, after a moment. “Perhaps it wasn’t anything. Yes! There it is ag’in!”
 
She sprang to the door and threw it open with frenzied10 haste. Up the path she saw dimly four men advancing, staggering under a burden. Her love told her what the burden was.
 
“It’s Jack!” she screamed. “It’s Jack! My God! They’ve killed him!” and, forgetting the storm, she spr............
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