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HOME > Classical Novels > The Young Section-Hand > CHAPTER XVII. A NIGHT OF DANGER
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 But the storm was not to be dismissed so lightly as Allan had dismissed it. Among the houses of the town he was sheltered somewhat, but, as he strode on westward1, out into the open country, it seemed to rage with redoubled violence. The wind swept across the embankment along the river with a fury which threatened to blow him away. He bent2 low before it, and, swinging his lantern from right to left in unison3 with his steps, fought his way slowly onward4, his eyes on the track. Away down at his right he could hear the river raging, and from instant to instant the lightning disclosed to him glimpses of the storm-tossed water. Once he saw a ball of fire roll down the track far ahead and finally leap off, shattering into a thousand fragments.  
The thunder crashed incessantly5, and overhead he could see great black clouds rolling across the sky. The rain fell in torrents6, and, driven before the wind, dashed into his face with a violence which stung and blinded him whenever he raised his head. From time to time, he was forced to face about, his back to the wind, and gasp7 for breath. Once a gust8 of extra violence drove him to his knees, but he struggled up again and on. He knew that he was not the only one who was facing the tempest; he knew that up and down two hundred miles of track others were fighting the same fight. They had left warm homes, just as he had done, where preparations for Christmas were going on; they had not held back from the call of duty, nor would he.
He shut his teeth tight together and staggered on. A vision flashed before him of the bright room he had just left; he could see Jack9 sitting in his chair, and Mary putting the last touches to the Christmas tree. He knew that they were talking of him, planning for him, and a sudden wave of tenderness swept over him at the thought of how these people had taken him into their hearts and given him another home in place of the one he had lost. The new one, of course, could never quite take the place of the old one; and yet he was no longer the friendless, hungry, lonely boy who had approached Jack Welsh so timidly that morning and asked for work. He had friends to whom he could look for sympathy and encouragement; there were hearts which loved him; he had a place in the world and was doing useful work; and he hoped in time to prove himself worthy11 of a higher place and competent to fill it. To-morrow would be a happy Christmas!
So, as he fought his way on, it was with no despondent12 heart, but with a bright and hopeful one, that cared nothing for the discomfort13 of the storm. He was happy and at peace within, and no mere14 external tempest could disturb him!
A little grove15 on either side the track, its trees roaring in the tempest, gave him a moment’s shelter. Then he pushed on to the two iron bridges which spanned the canal and the highroad just beyond it. These he looked over carefully by the light of his lantern, and assured himself that they were all right. Beyond the bridges was the long grade which led to the deep cut through the spur of hill which stretched across the track, and here the wind was howling with a fury that threatened to sweep him off his feet. But he fought his way on doggedly16, step by step, head lowered, eyes on the track, lantern swinging from side to side.
Then suddenly the wind ceased, though he could still hear it roaring far overhead, and he looked up to see that he had gained the cover of the cut. He stopped for breath, rejoicing that the hardest part of his task was over. Beyond the cut was a sharp curve, the road was carried on a high trestle over a deep ravine, and then onward along the top of an embankment,—a “fill,” in railroad parlance,—and this embankment marked the western limit of his trick. On his journey home, he would have the wind at his back and could get along easily and rapidly.
Cheered by this thought, he walked on through the cut, but, as he turned the corner at the farther side, the wind struck him again with terrific force. He staggered back for an instant against the rock, when there came a great flash of lightning that silhouetted17 before him every feature of the landscape. Yet, as the lightning died, there remained photographed on his brain only one detail of the picture,—before him stretched the trestle, and in the middle of it four men were working with feverish18 energy tearing up a rail!
He leaned back against the rock, dazed at the sight, not understanding for a moment what it meant. Then in a flash its meaning dawned upon him—they were preparing to wreck19 a train. But what train? It must be nearly eleven o’clock—no train was due for an hour or more—yes, there was—the pay-car, hurrying from Cincinnati with the Christmas money for the men. It was the pay-car they were after. But the pay-car was always crowded with armed men—men armed not merely with revolvers, but with Winchester repeaters. Yet, let the car crash over that trestle fifty feet upon the rocks below, and how many of its occupants would be living to defend themselves?
Allan sank back among the rocks trembling, realizing that in some way he must save the train. His first act was to open his lantern and extinguish it, lest it betray him. Then h............
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