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THE PERIL OF THE IAIL.

Newyddion
Dyfynnu
Rhannu

( Copyright.} THE PERIL OF THE IAIL. By ETHEL TURNER, Authorof "The Family at Misrule," "Seven Little Australians," The Wtiider-Cliild, &c. 4 Slowly, wearily, up from behind the serried ranks of a million gil.111 tries rose the dawn. A sickly, fainting dawn, that had hardly strength to creep across the low sky and turn its blackness grey. Yesterday the sun had been pitiless, and no breath of breeze had come to Cool the night. Now the ciay rose again IInre- freshed and seemed to filter ere it began its course. Across the face of the country sinuous sweeps of railway line shone palely in the struggling light. In one spot the big bulk of locomotives and trucks, coal tierips. and tanks loomed against, the grey and indicated the railway siding of Bundarnbee. A few sleeping cottages, small wooden things with iron roofs, clustered to the right of it and held the wives and families and some- times—for even they must ileep-thc men themselves the men whose work it was to ride forth on the huge, throbbing iron animals over there, and feed their insatiate hunger and minister to their eternal thirst. Far away the shriek of a solitary engine shocked the still air. In one of the cottages began the movements of life. A woman, with sleep-weary eyes, had lifted her infant off her arm and risen from her bed to prepare the four o'clock breakfast, for her husband. He at the movement had rolled over and sworn a little, with aweary man's irritation at broken sleep, sworn at his engine, at the Government, at the wife who insisted it was time to get up. Two odd little rooms of home manufacture etood side by side itt, the rear of the cottage, and the wave of the new day crept into one. A girl of ten rubbed the light sleep from her eyes and yawned. The JJ iht had been too hot for dre-imless slumber, and the grey light outside shewed her it was possible now to get up. She opened her door and stole out into the adjoin- ing room to remind its occupant of the fact. Burgo Robinsoi), the son of the engine-driver, was two years older perhaps than his sister. One liked his penetrating young eyes, his good forehead, the caution and capability expressed by his chin. Jan, the sister, had a forehead tqually good, but there was not one ounce of caution in her nature—a wild, impulsive, reck- less atom. Urn-go had once said that lie believed she had been tilled up with charges of gun- powder, and at intervals these exploded. Still she was his stimulating companion, and lie seldom had compunction in following her lead. Bundarabee was the dullest place in the world. But for the trains that like streaks of fire shot. past from time to time and the fascination that always hum: about, the station- yard, these two could hardly have borne the extreme monotony of their days. They lacked the power to content themselves with the sheep-like lives of the other children in the place. Burgo had drenms of building the most wonderful of engines and steaming gloriously into the world upon it. His mother, her poor soul stunted with saving sixpences all her life, tried to check the ambition. Where could money be foubd for him to learn to be an engineer ? lie must be content, of course, to be a foreman like his uncle Brown, or a driver as his father was, and as his grandfather had been before. But the lad dreamt on, Jan ever at his side to fire his thoughts. She came into his room in the early light, her black hair tumbling over the shoulders of her nightgown. She shook his shoulder. "How can you sleep?" she said. "There's no breath anywhere. Get, up and let's see the trucks start." Burgo upbraided her fiercely. "Why couldn't she let him have a bit of peace ?" he said. "Why didn't she go away ? "My nets were full of mosquitoes," she said "and, oh, it's been so hot. I've hardly been to wleep at all." The boy sat up, and the stifling morning emote his face. "Come out," said, the girl, persuasively. "It's almost cool outside." She stepped to the door and out into the vr.rd. Burgo found himself slipping reluctantly out of bed and following her. Over the grass of their little paddock they went, the parched grass that was unacquainted with rain and hardly had knowledge of dew. The little girl was still in her white nightgown the boy wore pink and blue-striped pyjamas. At tiie tanks the locomotive was hissing cheerfully away. Uncle Brown, his eyes still filled with sleep, was getting up the steam. "Why," lie said, "you kids is up early. Don't know w'en you're well off, you don't. W'ere's your father ? "Getting up," the children thought. Jan said she had heard her mother making up the fire for the breakfast. They hung about till the engine was ready, and still thCl father did not come. Uncle Brown fussed about and swore mildly, but ho was a good-natured fellow and even as he swore worked on cheerfully. "Cut and tell Iiiiii he'll get us the sack vot,, Burg," he said at last. "We're near ten minutes late already." Then, '"Old'ard," he added, and climbed down from the cab. "I'll go myself, and get a bit)e of sorne'ut, too. Yer aunt don't get up to see after my breakfast." The children smiled, for this was Uncle Brown s pet joke. He dwelt alone in a canvas lint and had no wife or children at all, but the references to "yer aunt. and "yer cousins," and the story of their likes and dislikes were so perpetual that had they stepped suddenly into being the children would have recognised them instantly. "Go and get your bits o' close on, Sissie," he said as he turned away. "Yer little cousin wouldn't be seed down here with only 'er nightshirt on." Bur, "Sissie" merely flapped her one delight- ful garment and said that when she was grown up and could do just as she liked she would never wear anything else on summer days. Brown went up the sloping paddock intent on a "bite," and the thin, pleasant line of smoke from the cottage chimney made him discon- tented as ever that there was no "Mrs. Drown." Jan had climbed up to the place her uncle had just vacated. She trod as one quite used to tile ground, with due care not to stumble at the foot-plate. Burgo had come up too. He was peering at. the gauges, touching the handbrakes with affectionate fingers, reaching up to pat the throttle-valve. V,1-' !n1d.n)e' said Jan, "just fancy 1 lt he l«vely, flying—living along on this by ourselves no father or uncle here, only us. o old trucks behind, iust this dear old thing arid us. No trains "in the way, thousands of miles of line. jam nn the steam as hard as we could, tear down hills, up huts Burg turned disturbed eyes for a second from the machinery to his sister, for the excitement in her voice had increased and increased until the inst words were almost a challenge. "Oh, yes," he said, "it would be very well, but, don't, you be foolin' there, Jan." He stepped nearer to her for by her dark, excited face and brilliant eyes he could s:;e a crisis was imminent with lier-tlitt one of the "gunpowder charges was ready to explode any minute. Her fingers were fluttering now over the re- versing ^ear, now about one of the hand brakes. "Steady, now," lie said. "We'll be getting off, 1 think. D.id'll be here in a minute." She shot him one swift glance, then lowered her eyes and brought a calmer note into her voice. "Of course," she added, diffidently, "it's talkin\ ()!I couldn't drive her." J.he soul of the embryo-engineer rose up in arms in a second. "Conida't drive her!" he paid, hotly. Ihllt's all yon ],now. I knew its much about her as father does. I—believe I know more I could driye her anywhere anywhere. J could make her likealnmbwith Me 1 could mriKe her obey me like Rover does. lv Iiy, )"101 heard father fav only ],Is t_, night I s'oiild. On Wednesday he just stood bv and I (/ought her right, from Bound: home. She—alio — I know every bit about her. Shp-l- He broke down, stuttering from want k words to adequately defend himself. "Oh," aid Jan, that's easy enough when father's by. He's let even me drive her a title way. But yon wouldn't dare take her "Vf yards without him being here." uu Idii't dare snorted Burgo. "There's nothing i wouldn't dare with her. She's as tame to me as our kitten is." She looked nt him under her eyelashes. "Why don t. you try ? she whispered. The boy trembled, looked away from her. "c'd better be getting down." lie *Dad s late. He'll get. in a row for this." Let s see if you can." she whispered airnin. She caught at his loosely-hanging hand and lifted it insinuatingly towards the brake. But tie sterling nature struggled to the front, his toung acquiescence in the responsibility attached to these great, iron animals. "Come, on down out of this at once," lie fommanded, and his voice was thick with anger and temptation. He dropped to the trround nul began to move away. --But. Titii, 1;(,i- eyes Absolutely glittering with excitement and adven- ture, threw off one brake, then the other, j list r,s she had seen her father do a thousand times; Burgo turned back to look for her to follow I him, and fhe was strefcliing up and pushing fiver the lever of 1 ue throttle-valve. The next ercond the slow throb of the machinery made itself felt through the great inert mass, and— ) it moved. With a catching of breath, Burgo eprang after it, and just managed to clamber up in time. Two stupefied men reached the station-yard just, in time to see the tail of tlieii- eiicine disappear into the cutting two hundred yards away. Not for one moment did Brown put the enormity down to his grave, responsible little nephew. "It's the gal," he said, gloomily. "She wants ter live with her Aunt Brown a bit to get tamed." But the engine-driver was purple with anger Rgainst. his son, and passed over his daughter as an irresponsible creature. "I'll take the skin o' him ofT fer he said, and stood with helpl ess, hanging hands gazing, almost. witWSi at that cutting. What could be done ? This siding was far too unimportant for a telephone -the. ne:ii-c,-t one thirty miles away. There was absolutely no wav by which they might let it be known at Woonaand Bendooh-y that there was a runaway engine on the line. IV ell I you've done it now." Burgo said, and in a strangely dispassionate voice. He had In ;elv (I pushed his sister aside and gone instantly to take control of things. Twice he put his hand up to shut off steara, and bring the engine to a standstill. Twice his hand hesitated to obey him. The thing was done now, he argued to himself, and nothing would avert the wrathful descent of his father's strong right, arm, ftick equipped, upon his helpless shoulders. Why not, as .Tan urged and urged, have a little fun for all the pains in store ? He considered carefully. The first big station was forty miles away—it was across the great bare plains of the interior this silver streak of railway raii-tlie intervening places had only primitive sidings for the landing of passengers and freight and sheep. And the line for all those forty miles would be quite clear. It was a little past four now there would be a cattle train at Woona, j shunted to the side ready for his father's train.! to pass, nothing else all the way to the big station, Bendooley, where his father always had to shunt and wait for tho mail train to pass. She-this Empress of trains—always left Bendooley at half-past six, so two good hours stretched in front. "Quicker," said Jan. "Shove her along for all she's worth. We'll never get another chance like this as long as we live." Burgo's breath came quickly, his eves burnt, his heart throbbed Nvildly all his caution dropped away, he was not far from the pitch of recklessness at which Janet had arrived. On, on they flashed. The very sun burst up to see the wonder—the grey fell away, and the vast blue of the heavens stood amazed. They shot past sidings, men lumping down the great milk-cans gazed after them with terrified eyes. They whirled past fettlers boiling their billies outside their tent,, when a man started up with arm upraised in fear at the sight of the gaily rushing engine and its strange crew, then Jan flapped her nightgown and waved encourag- ingly with a dirty engine rag. At Woona the cattle train was waiting and the bustle of men and animals filled the early morning with life. Burgo had no intention of stopping and giving himself quietly up here he had made up his mind to pull up at tho Bendon viaduct and go home well in front of the mail train. The Woon selectors gaped when the locomotive sailed by. The view that flashed for one second upon their eyes—of a boy in a pink and blue suit shovelling coal into the furnace and standing in the cab, a gii 1 with wild black hair falling over her one white flowing garment—was one none of them ever foriroL The little Bendon viaduct shewed in the distance when the engine had left Woona ten miles behind. Burgo, with extreme reluctance in his eves, slowed up and stopped his high-mettled steed twenty yards on the hither side of it. Jan hopped to tho ground. "Look, look!" she said. "Christmas bells! Let's make a wreath and hang it on to the darling thing's neck; she deser-res some decorations, doesn't she ? Burgo's eyes went to the blaze of orange that had caught his sister's fancy; they were the first, bells of the year, and even Burgo thought it meet his beauty should wear them. "Come on," he said, and dropped to the ground beside her. The sunset bells nodded on a bush that. clung to a patch of earth half-way up the viaduct. Perhaps the shade of the little wooden arches had made it possible for the green buds to turn to flame so much in advance of other bushes for no gleam of gold shone anywhere else in the sun-scorched country around. "John Peters got the first last year we'll get, the laugh of him this year, Burg," said Jan. "I'll go down; don't you climb it," Burg said, and went clambering down over the viaduct's side. Perhaps lie was five minutes gone, perhaps eight. Jan began to call' impatiently a.nd to remind him of the mail train. Then he came to the top again. "What on earth's up ? Janet, said, started. His face was quite white, his eyes held horror, his very knees shook as lie walked. They were nearly back at the engine before he could find words to tell her. And she too paled, trembled, caught her breath. The viaduct was unsafe someone had sawn one of the beams half-way through. When the mail train came thundering over, at forty miles an hour, she would go crashing to her death. The children gazed at each other speechless. It was not more than six months since tho country had rung with the horror of an unspeak- able railway calamity caused in such a way. The perpetrators, supposed to have been actuated by a senseless hatred of certain politicians travelling in the train, had never been caught. This was probably more of their work. 0 Burgo s young face wore a new look as he climbed up into the cab again, his eyes were very steadfast, his lips firm. ve fought what to do, Jun." he said. It would be no use to run on and try to stop her we'd never be able to run that far before she started, and if we stop here and wave, they'll only think we are kids waving. Now, you've just got to ell) what I SILV. Cut. along across the viaduct. and wait the other side till I pick you up." Jan's lips gre-w white. "You're not going to drive her across that awful place ? she said. Burgo nodded. "I can't think of anything else," he said, "and it may hold all right —an engine isn't, like 1L heavy train, and if I take her very slowly she'll be all right." Jan shivered, and tric-d to pull her brother down by the arm. "Why should you get killed?" sho said. "Come home let's come home—let's go back to Woona and tell them why should you get killed? ° The lad looked at. her with grave eves. "It s better than lor three hundred people, Jan," he said. Jan gulped and acquiesced. But she climbed I up to him again. "Very well," she said. "Come on." He grow angry. "Get down," he said. "I'll push you )ff if you dor.:t. Get down at once, you silly idint! Cut along to the other side, or I 11 go without you. If we waste any more time ti)e 'Y'll li;-tvo started, and there'll be a collision instead of this smash uo. Now, aro Y(jil going l(i c,ot do%ri ? Jan's quick mother-wit. saved the, situation. "Why," she said, "nobody need get killed at all. Let the old thing run over by herself— not. so fast, you know—just, set her going, and then jump oti the other side." JBiirgo flashed a glance of admiration at her. He had no more than tb» average boy's I y desire to lose his young lifer uud this thought r of Jan's was genius. "That'll do 11s grand," he mid. "See, I get cm things better than you; I'll cut over to the other side and be ready to get on her. Yon can easily drop off here when you've started her, can't you ? "Am I a baby ? was Jan's contemptuous reply. But the situation was too serious to be dependent on the chance of a girl "mulling it." Burgo had no trust in the sex's knowle dge of I machinery. "Here, shew's what, do," he said. The girl demonstrated rapidly. "Just whisk this round a few times," she said. her fingers on the handbrake, "and then give that a shove," pointing to the throttle-valve, "and then jump off like mad. He shewed her it must be a very little shove, or he would not, be able to climb on when the engine had crossed the viaduct. She nodded, and stood up to her part as capable as himself. Cut along, she said. Burgo dropped to the ground and sped across the viaduct on winded feet. lie ran on when the other side was reached for twenty or thirty yards, then stood at the side jaid shouted for her to start. Suppose she could not get off suppose she should grow too nervous to drop, little Jan, and five seconds from now should go crashing down—down to a horrible death,, little Jan in her nightgown ? The suspense of the frightful moment made Burgo never quite so young ogavn. Hot beads burst upon his forehead, his thnoat swelled, a strange trembling assailed his knees. Slowly, slowly the black thing moved. Steam hissed, a puff of smoke rose up; again the wheels turned, aain, again a couple of yards and they would be on the viaduct. Then his eyes blurred. The little white figure dropped off, stumbled a step or two, then waved triumphantly. Now it was his turn. On she came. his great black beauty, quietly, steadily,, gravely as if she quite recognised her immense responsibility. The erection shook under her, sotssowhere timbers creaked, then she was alongside Burgo and seemed to pause, like a docile, expectant mare, for her master to mount. He swung himself up and something like a laugh welled up in his throat. "Come on, Jan," he shouted; "hurry up, old girl Jan was five minutes reaching him, for she h..r: to scramble down the ravine and up the other side. She hopped up beside him gay as a bird. "Shove her along," she said. "Give her her head, Burg." On they new, across the awakened plain, and no! a word between them all t.lte way. In a week, perhaps, they would be ready to talk it over. They were going more slowiy now lest any curve should shew the great train. They saw the signal was up at a siding. As they came slowly, fearfully through the last cutting they heard the starting bell clanging on the Bendooley platform. But all danger was past. Bendooley saw them in time and thrilled with horror at the sight of the great, grave engine coming calmly along the line consecrated to tha-outgoing mail, Burgo pulled up and began to feel very sick indeed. Guards and porters, sweat on their brows and pallor on their faces, came along to meet them, and the passengers put their heads out of the windows at the shouts. Somebody stepped up into the adventuring locomotive and brought it up to the platform. The mail train stared at it with all its eyes. Then it saw the conductors of it-a trembling boy in a parti- I coloured sleeping suit, patched at the elbows and most abbreviated about the legs, and a wild-haired little girl in a nightgown, whose pristine whiteness was marred with coal-dust and oil. It fell out of its comfortable cars and gathered, staring-eyed, round the pair, when gathered, staring-eyed, round the pair, when the first word of the story got about. It had a tight feeling about its throat; it found it necesaary to brush the moisture front its eves continually it trembled and thanked Heaven voicelessly that it stood here unharmed when it might have soon been lying in horrible chaos and contortion down that ravine. It was not the boy at all who told the neWG. He stood by, now the strain was past, sick, trembling, useless. It was Jan, with shining eyes and heaving breast, who gave the story. Not one point did her artistic little soul miss. She made the tale graphic, startlingly picturesque, and the train, its salvation so abruptly recent, laughed and | cried with her. There was only one man who kept his head sufficiently to be able to want to know what had happened before the heroic stage had been reached. To everyone it seemed clear and simple. These little ones had seen the danger of the viaduct, had sprung upon an I engine, there being no one else there, and had come to save the mail train. But this one man—a porter, who knew the line well-was singularly without the capacity for admiring heroes. "How'd it come round that you kids, who live in Bundarabee, was on an engine down at j Bendon vi'duct ? he said. For one second Jan blanched. She saw, in a j flash, how they would fall from the pedestal the train had built up for them at the confession that in the first instance they had run away with the engine. And, after a'll, they certainly had, with much exertion and risk, saved throe hundred lives. She stepped quietly into a lie that speedily became so integral a part of the story that she shortly came to regard it as the truth. I "I dreamt about it," she said. "It was hot last night, and I couldn't sleep, and I dreamt men were cutting the spans." "But why didn' you tell your father and let him come? 'Twaa his ingin," persisted the unadmiring man. Jan looked him full in the face. "I knew he wouldn't believe me," she said, and added "Would you have believed your little girl if ehe had wakened up and told you that ? The porter stepped back vanquished, and the train added a feeling of slightly supernatural I awe to tho enthusiasm they felt for this dark- eyed heroine. There were more things in heaven and earth they told each other, than were dreamt of in their philosophy. They had j been saved by one miracle, it was a small step to go a step further and believe in another one. i Burgo gazed at his sister faintly, wonder- ingly. He passed his hand over his eyes to try j to recollect. He remembered how she had woke him up two hours ago, murmuring of bad | dreams how she had started off the train. But, then, surely she had been amazed, horrified J when he found out about the sawn beams He looked at her doubtfully. How strange, Bt-rr.nge it all was! But the girl persisted in it, and almost believed herself. She quite clearly remembered dreaming about a collision, so surely this was but a small leap of imagination. Bendooley had to feed three hundred souls that day, for it was nightfall before a train could be sent down to pick up such a multitude at the spot where communication ceased. A passenger started a subscription list, for the plucky children and it swelled beyond all ¡ precedent. Later a grateful Government added a substantial sum. There was no longer any ¡ fear of Burgo not realising his dream of engineering, or any chance that Bundarabee would for ever bound Jan's restless spirit. But the second evening, when the excitement had subsided a trifle, and hoy and girl were quietly beneath their own roof-tree, the engine- driver spoke. "li'minds me," he said, suddenly, "haven't give my contribution to you younkers yet, hev 1 ? Burgo looked nervous, for he knew the tone and had been surprised at the unquestioning way in which hia father had received the story. The driver took down a stout, strap. "You're a brave chap. Burgo boy," he said, I "an' as your old man I'm proud o' you. But it's as driver of my ingin I'm givin' you my little contribution." The boy stood through it, and not over ruefully. In fact, it rather eased his conscience. Jan's turn followed, the same strap but less severe. "A gran' thing for keepin' bad dreams away," he told her. Then he hung the leather up in its place again. "We'll keep the matter to ourselves," he paid; "no need for my contribution to be printed. The 'Oiy Bible tells us let not our lef' 'arido know what our right mis 'ave been doin' But half-an-liour later, when the tiny bed- rooms sheltered the sore shoulders, a grimy hand poked its way into each window and dropped packets of peculiarly soothing sweets. "From yer Aunt Brown," said the voice. [The E«o. ]

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SOMETHING ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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WHAT THE STORY IS ABOUT

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|TREASURES OF ANCIENT EGYPT.

ORDINATION.

CROPS IN SEPTEMBER.

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