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CHAPTER XX. THE ROAD’S GRATITUDE
 It was only a memory now, that gray, wet Christmas morning when Allan had been brought home pale and limp, on a stretcher. They had started from bed at the first tap on the door, for his prolonged absence had begun to worry them, and Jack1, unheeding his sprained2 ankle, had hobbled to it and flung it open. He stood silent as they brought the boy in and set the stretcher on the floor. He watched the doctor strip back his clothing, remove the rude bandage that had been hastily placed over the wound, wipe away the blood, and begin to probe for the bullet. Mary, too, had thrown on her gown and stood watching the operation with white face.  
“Doctor,” burst out Jack, at last, almost fiercely, “don’t tell me he’s dead! Don’t tell me he’s goin’ t’ die! He saved my little girl. Don’t tell me I let him go t’ his death!”
 
“He’ll not die,” said the doctor, reassuringly3. “The bullet seems to have been deflected4 from its course and to have made only a bad flesh wound.”
 
But it turned the watchers sick to see the probe sink in deeper and deeper. Suddenly the surgeon gave a little exclamation5 and ran his hand under the boy’s shoulder.
 
“Here,” he said to his assistant, “turn him over.”
 
He made a quick cut with a knife under the shoulder-blade, and a little flattened6 piece of lead fell into his hand.
 
“There’s the bullet,” and he handed it to Welsh. “Maybe he’ll want it for a keepsake.” And he proceeded skilfully7 to bandage up the wound.
 
But it was not until Allan opened his eyes and smiled faintly up at them that Jack and Mary believed that he could live. They fell on their knees beside his bed, but the doctor hurried them away.
 
“What he needs now is sleep,” he said. “Let him sleep as long as he can.”
 
“But look at his poor face, doctor,” whispered Mary, “an’ at his hands, all tore and scratched. Do ye suppose them devils did that to him, too?”
 
“I don’t know,” said the doctor. “Those scratches won’t hurt him; it’s that wound in the breast that’s dangerous. Now, let him sleep.”
 
And sleep he did, all through that Christmas Day. The story of his exploit had got about, and a constant stream of railroad men came softly up the path to ask how he was doing, and to stand around afterward8 and discuss the story. All night he slept, with Mary watching by his bedside, and, when he opened his eyes next morning, she was still sitting there.
 
The doctor came an hour later, looked at the wound, felt his pulse, and nodded encouragingly.
 
“He’ll pull through all right,” he said. “He’s got a little fever, but that was to be expected. But he’s in first-class shape and will soon rally from that wound. Keep him quiet for a day or two.”
 
Before that time, the fever had subsided9, the wound was healing nicely, and the doctor pronounced his patient out of danger.
 
“He’s pretty weak,” he said, “and must take things easy. Don’t let him strain himself any way, or he may open the wound. Keep him quiet and cheerful—his youth will do the rest.”
 
How they vied with one another to nurse Allan back to strength again. Reddy, his old self, was the first caller, with his heart going out to the boy with a love that was well-nigh worship.
 
“I don’t know nothin’ ’bout how it happened, Allan,” he said, wringing10 the hand of the white-faced boy, “but I think I can count on y’ not to be layin’ it up ag’in me.”
 
Allan leaned back and laughed.
 
“I think if you can cry quits, I can,” he said. How the great load rolled from off his heart as he saw Reddy, whom he had last beheld11 lying prone12 at his feet, now his genial13 old self again!
 
“But, oh, Reddy, I did hate to hit you!”
 
“Ho, ho!” cried Reddy; “if it had kilt me intirely, Oi’d ’a’ been th’ last to complain! Is it true, Allan, that I was runnin’ around with tramps?”
 
“Yes, that’s true, Reddy.”
 
“An’ hobnobbin’ with Dan Nolan?”
 
“Yes.”
 
“An’ abusin’ my missus?”
 
“You didn’t abuse her, Reddy.”
 
“An’ fightin’ my best friends, an’ wreckin’ railroad property, an’ actin’ generally loike a low-down haythen?” went on Reddy, rapidly. “Why, th’ only thing I can’t forgive y’ fer, Allan, is thet y’ didn’t knock me over th’ head long afore!”
 
“I would, Reddy,” laughed Allan, “if I’d thought it would cure you.”
 
“If it hadn’t cured me,” said Reddy, “it might ’a’ kilt me-an’ thet was what I deserved!”
 
Joy is the best of all medicines, and Allan’s improvement was rapid. At the end of a week he could spend hours lying back in a padded chair, and Jack was finally prevailed upon to go regularly to work and leave the care of the invalid14 to his wife.
 
It was on the platform before the station that the superintendent15 stopped him one evening, as he was hurrying home from work.
 
“How are things out on the line?” he asked.
 
“All right, sir.”
 
“Going to win the track prize again this spring?”
 
“No, sir,” and Jack grew suddenly grave. “One of my best men is laid up, y’ know.”
 
“Ah, yes,” and the superintendent nodded. “How is the boy getting along, Jack?”
 
“He’ll pull through,” said the other, slowly, “but he had a mighty16 close call. If th’ bullet hadn’t struck a rib17 an’ glanced off, he’d ’a’ been done fer. I went down t’ look at th’ place he got acrost th’ ravine, an’ I don’t see how he done it.”
 
“Neither do I,” agreed the superintendent. “I took a look at it, too.”
 
“Well,” continued Jack, “th’ fever’s over now, an’ he’s gittin’ his strength back.”
 
“And his appetite, too, I dare say.”
 
“Yes,&rdqu............
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