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HOME > Classical Novels > The Young Section-Hand > CHAPTER XVIII. THE SIGNAL IN THE NIGHT
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 That blow had all the weight of Allan’s muscular young body behind it, for he had realized that this was no moment to hold his hand, however he might wish to do so, and Reddy tumbled in a limp heap upon the track.  
The tears were gushing1 from the boy’s eyes as he bent2 over the body and drew it to one side to the shelter of the rock. That he should have struck Reddy—perhaps even killed him! But he could not linger; with a last glance at the prostrate3 figure, he turned back to the task before him.
Plainly he could not hope to cross the trestle with half a dozen men working on it—to try to do so would mean certain failure. Yet he must cross the ravine,—there was only one other way, and that not an easy one.
He threw off Jack’s waterproof4, which would only impede5 him now that he needed the utmost freedom of movement, and, holding his lantern tight, he jumped from the track and half-scrambled7, half-fell down the steep descent below him, disregarding mud and brambles, torn clothes, and bruises8, thinking only of one thing—that he must reach the other side and save the train. In a moment he was at the bottom, bruised9 and breathless, but luckily with no bones broken. Then for an instant he paused. Through the bottom of the ravine ran a stream, usually a gentle, shallow brook10, but now swollen11 to an angry torrent12 by the pouring rain. There was no time for hesitation—no time to seek a better place—indeed, that was impossible in the darkness—and, holding his lantern high above his head, the boy dashed into the water.
For a moment it seemed that he must be swept away, so fierce was the rush of the torrent; but he got his feet, braced13 himself against it, and inch by inch fought his way across. The water tore at him and raged around him, hissing14 and sputtering15, determined16 that he should not escape. Well for him that he had had those months of work on section, which had strengthened muscle and steadied nerve—which had taught him how to fight!
So, at last, he won through to the farther bank, breathless, exhausted17, triumphant18. And here a new difficulty met him. He had shut himself into a trap from which there seemed no escaping. Again and again he tried to climb the steep side of the ravine, but as many times slipped down to the bottom, bringing with him an avalanche19 of earth and loose stones.
Dry sobs20 rose in his throat and choked him as he lay for a moment against the bank, weak and trembling. Was he to be defeated here, with the end almost in sight? Was he to fail, after all? Must he stay here to witness the train take that awful plunge21 from the trestle down into the torrent beneath? He looked up with a shudder22. High above him, he could see the trestle dimly outlined against the sky, and he knew that the work of tearing up the rail must be almost done.
He shook the weakness from him—he must be a man!—and he shut his eyes as he tried to picture to himself how the place looked by daylight. He had crossed the trestle a hundred times and gazed down into the ravine, admiring its rugged23 beauty. For centuries that little stream, which started in a spring high up on the hillside, had been labouring patiently digging this channel for itself, eating its way through earth and rock and slate24, fashioning for itself a little narrow valley, just as the great streams make for themselves broad and fertile ones. It had eaten its way down and down, leaving on either side, extending to a height of nearly a hundred feet, rocky and precipitous banks. Allan remembered how in summer those banks were clothed in green; how he had looked down at them from the trestle. One day he had descried25 a brilliant patch of wild flowers near the bottom, where they had grown and spread, safe from man’s intrusion. He had never thought how much would one day depend upon his knowledge of the place, or he would have examined the banks more closely.
Something swished through the air above him, and fell with a mighty26 splash into the torrent—it was the rail—it had been torn loose—th............
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