CHAPTER XXIX THE YOUNG TRAIN DISPATCHER
But those were happy hearts he left behind him, and sweet were the dreams they dreamed that night. Mary, the summation and perfect example of Irish housewives, dreamed of a little home in the suburbs, with an orchard and garden, and a yard for chickens, and a house for the cow, and a pen for the pigs, where she could be busy and happy all day long, working for her loved ones. Jack dreamed of a new gown his wife should have, and of new dresses for Mamie, and some new books for Allan, and a new pipe for himself,for Jack had only a limited idea of what twenty-five hundred dollars would accomplish. And Allan dreamed of the day when he, too, could come in as Jed Hopkins had done, and leave behind him a princely gift.
“Jack,” said Mary, at the table next morning, the memory of her dream still strong upon her, “I've been wishin' we could move t' some little place where we could kape chickens an' a cow.”
“I wish so, too, Mary,” said Jack. “Mebbe some day we kin.”
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“It 'd be jest th' place fer Mamie,she don't git enough outdoors.”
“Why, what's th' matter with her?” asked Jack, with a quick glance at the child.
“Nothin' at all,” Mary hastened to assure him; “but she ought t' have a big yard t' play inan' th' tracks is mighty dangerous.”
“Yes, they is,” Jack agreed. “I wish we could git away from them.”
“Well, I'll look around,” said Mary, and wisely let the subject drop there.
She did look around, and to such good purpose that two days later, which was Sunday, she led Jack triumphantly to a little house standing back from the road in a grove of trees, just outside the city limits.
“I wanted ye to look at it,” she said. “I thought mebbe you'd like t' live here.”
From the triumphant way in which she showed him about the place, and pointed out its beauties and advantages, it was quite evident that her own mind was made up. And, indeed, it was a perfect love of a place. The house was well-built and contained eight roomsjust the right number; the yard in front was shaded by graceful maples, and flanked on the left by a hedge of lilac. Behind it was a milk-house, built of brick, and with a long stone trough at the bottom, through which cold, pure water from a near-by spring was always flowing. Then there was a garden of nearly half ? 328 ? an acre; an orchard containing more than a hundred trees, and outbuildingsjust such outbuildings as Mary had always longed for, roomy and dry and substantial. Nearly an hour was consumed in the inspection, and finally they sat down together on the steps leading up to the front porch.
“It's a mighty nice place,” said Jack. “There can't be no mistake about that.”
“An' it's fer sale,” said Mary. “Fer sale cheap.”
“Well, he'll be a lucky man what gits it.”
“Jack,” said Mary, with sudden intensity, “you kin be that manall you have t' do is to write your name acrost th' back of that little slip o' pink paper an' give it t' me. T'-morrer I'll bring you th' deed fer this place, an' we'll move in jest as soon as I kin git it cleaned up.”
Jack looked about him and hesitated.
“I wanted you t' have a new dress, Mary,” he said at last. “A silk one, what shines an' rustles when ye walklike Mrs. Maroney's.”
“What do I keer fer a silk dress?” demanded Mary, fiercely. “Not that!” and she snapped her fingers. “I got plenty o' duds. But a home like this, Jack,I want a home like this!”
There was an appeal in her voice there was no resisting, even had Jack felt inclined to resist, which he did not in the least. He took from his pocket the slip of pink paper, now a little soiled, and from the other the stump of a lead pencil. ? 329 ? Slowly and painfully he wrote his name, then handed the check to Mary.
“There you are,” he said. “An' I'm glad t' do it, darlint. Fer this place suits me, too.”
And a pair of red-birds in the lilac hedge were astonished and somewhat scandalized to see the woman, who had been sitting quietly enough, fling herself upon him and hug him until he begged for mercy.
Mamie had remained at home to entertain Allan, which she did by getting him to read to her. She had grown to like Jean Valjean, too, though she preferred the thrilling portions of the story to the quieter ones which told of Bishop Welcome. This time she chose to hear again of Jean Valjean's flight across Paris with Cosettehow she shivered when he allowed that piece of money to rattle on the floor, or when, looking backward, he saw the police following him through the night; how she shuddered when he found himself trapped in that blind alley, hemmed in by lofty walls, where all seemed lost; and then the horrors of the hours that followedBut once Cosette was stowed safely away in the hut of the old, lame gardener, the curly head began to nod, and Allan, looking up at last from his reading, saw that she had gone to sleep.
He laid his book aside, and sat for a long time looking down over the yards, busy even on Sunday; ? 330 ? for the work of a great railroad never ceases, day or night, from year end to year end. He thought of the evening, nearly three years agone, when he had first crossed the yards by Jack Welsh's side, a homeless boy, who was soon to find a home indeed. How many times he had crossed them since! How many times
A man was crossing them now, a well-dressed, well-set-up man, whom, even at that distance, the boy knew perfectly. It was Mr. Schofield, who had proved himself so true a friend. Allan, as he came nearer, waved at him from the window, pleased at the chance for even a distant greeting; but instead of passing by, the trainmaster entered the gate and mounted toward the house. Allan had the door open in a moment.
“Why, hello,” said the trainmaster, shaking his outstretched hand warmly. “Are you as spry as all this? You'll soon be able to report for duty.”
“I can report to-morrow, if you need me, sir,” Allan answered. “I can't indulge in any athletics, yet, but I can work a key all right. Besides, I'm tired of sitting around doing nothing.”
“Well, we'll say Thursday,” said Mr. Schofield. “I can manage to worry along without you till then.”
“I'll be on hand Thursday morning,” Allan promised.
“Oh, I don't want you in the morningyou'll ? 331 ? report at eleven at night for the third trick, east end.”
“Why,” stammered Allan, his lips trembling, “why, do you mean”
“I mean you're a regular dispatcher,” explained the trainmaster, briefly. “Nothing extraordinary about it at all. Mr. Heywood has been made general manager, with headquarters at Cincinnati, so we all take a step up.”
“Yes, I'm superintendent. Look about the same, don't I?”
Allan held out his hands.
“I'm glad,” he said. “And I know one thingthere's not a road on earth that's got a better one!”
The doctor looked rather grave when Allan told him he was going to work Thursday night, but really there was little danger so long as the boy was careful to avoid strain on the injured side. The plaster cast had been removed, and in its place had been substituted by a broad leather bandage, drawn so tightly about the chest as to prevent all movement of the ribs. That was to stay there until the injury was quite healed. But, aside from the discomfort of this bandage, the boy was in no pain, he had had no fever after the second day; and, despite the fiery protests of Jack and Mary, ? 332 ? the doctor finally consented that Allan should go to work as he had promised.
“T' think of a boy with two broke ribs in his body a-goin' t' workan' at sech a time o' night!” fumed Mary, as she packed his lunch-basket for him. “But a railroad ain't got no feelin's. All it wants is t' work a man till he's played out an' done fer, an' then throw him away like an old glove.”
“Maybe I can get a job as crossing watchman when that time comes,” laughed Allan. “I ought to be good for a few years yet, anyway.”
“It wouldn't surprise me a bit t' be follerin' yer coffin a week from now,” declared Mary, darkly; but, just the same, it would have surprised her very much.
Allan laughed again, as he took up his lunch-basket and started across the yards. He was a little early, but he wanted to spend an extra five or ten minutes going over the train-orders, to make sure that he understood them thoroughly. As he approached the station, he saw two carriages drive up. A number of young men and women got out of themthey had evidently been packed in pretty tightand gathered in a voluble group on the platform, evidently waiting for the east-bound flyer, which was almost due.
Allan, passing quite near, suddenly found himself looking into the blue eyes of Betty Heywood. Instinctively he raised his hat.
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“Why, how do you do,” she said, and held out her hand in the old, friendly manner. “I hear you've been distinguishing yourself again.”
“Just blundering into trouble,” he answered, smiling. “Some people are always doing that, you know.”
“Well, that's better than running away from itsome people do that, too.”
“Oh, yes,” he agreed, and then stopped. He found it strangely difficult to talk to her with all these friends about her. If they were only alone together
“I'm going away to school,” she went on, seemingly not noticing his shyness.
“Then you'll be gone a long time?”
“Oh, I'm never coming back to Wadsworththat is to live. You see, we're moving to Cincinnati, where papa will have his headquarters. But, of course,” she added, “I shall often come back to see my friends. Oh, there's my train! Good-bye!” and she held out her hand again.
“Good-bye,” said Allan; then, not trusting himself to speak, he turned hastily away and mounted the stairs to the office.
But he carried a sweet thought warm against his heart. Part of the duty of his first trick would be to guard Betty Heywood from harm, as the train which bore her sped eastward through the night.
And here this tale must end. Perhaps, some day, the story will be told of how Allan West fulfilled the duties of his new position; of the trials he underwent and the triumphs he achieved; of how he made new friends, yes, and new enemies, as every man must who plays a man's part in the world; and of how, finally, he won great happiness in the days when the boys in cab, and caboose, and section-shanty loved to refer to him, with shining eyes and smiling lips, as “The young trainmaster; the best in the countryand a true friend to us!”