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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPeter: A Novel Of Which He Is Not The Hero - Chapter 15
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Peter: A Novel Of Which He Is Not The Hero - Chapter 15 Post by :beetee Category :Long Stories Author :Francis Hopkinson Smith Date :May 2012 Read :2985

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Peter: A Novel Of Which He Is Not The Hero - Chapter 15

CHAPTER XV

The street lamps were already lighted on the following afternoon-- when Ruth, with Peter and Miss Felicia, alighted at the small station of Corklesville. All through the day she had gone over in her mind the words of the despatch:

Explosion in tunnel. MacFarlane hurt--serious--will recover. Break news gently to daughter.

Bolton Asst. Engineer

Other despatches had met the party on the way down; one saying, "No change," signed by the trained nurse, and a second one from Bolton in answer to one of Peter's: "Three men killed--others escaped. MacFarlane's operation successful. Explosion premature."

Their anxiety only increased: Why hadn't Jack telegraphed? Why leave it to Bolton? Why was there no word of him,--and yet how could Bolton have known that Peter was with Ruth, except from young Breen. In this mortal terror Peter had wired from Albany: "Is Breen hurt?" but no answer had been received at Poughkeepsie. There had not been time for it, perhaps, but still there was no answer, nor had his name been mentioned in any of the other telegrams. That in itself was ominous.

This same question Ruth had asked herself a dozen times. Jack was to have had charge of the battery--he had told her so. Was he one of the killed?--why didn't somebody tell her?--why hadn't Mr. Bolton said something?--why--why--Then the picture of her father's mangled body would rise before her and all thought of Jack pass out of her mind.

As the train rolled into the grimy station she was the first to spring from the car; she knew the way best, and the short cut from the station to where her father lay. Her face was drawn; her eyes bloodshot from restrained tears--all the color gone from her cheeks.

"You bring Aunt Felicia, Uncle Peter,--and the bags;--I will go ahead," she said, tying her veil so as to shield her face. "No, I won't wait for anything."

News of Ruth's expected arrival had reached the village, and the crowd at the station had increased. On its inner circle, close to a gate leading from the platform, stood a young man in a slouch hat, with his left wrist bandaged. The arm had hung in a sling until the train rolled in, then the silk support had been slipped and hidden in his pocket. Under the slouch hat, the white edge of a bandage was visible which the wearer vainly tried to conceal by pulling the hat further on his head,--this subterfuge also concealed a dark scar on his temple. Whenever the young man pressed closer to the gate, the crowd would fall back as if to give him room. Now and then one would come up, grab his well hand and pat his shoulder approvingly. He seemed to be as much an object of interest as the daughter of the injured boss.

When Ruth gained the gate the wounded man laid his fingers on her gloved wrist. The girl started back, peered into his face, and uttered a cry of relief.

"Mr. Breen!" For one wild moment a spirit of overwhelming joy welled up in her heart and shone out of her eyes. Thank God he was not dead!

"Yes, Miss Ruth,--what is left of me. I wanted to see you as soon as you reached here. You must not be alarmed about your father." The voice did not sound like Jack's.

"Is he worse? Tell me quick!" she exclaimed, the old fear confronting her.

"No. He is all right," he wheezed, "and is going to get well. His left arm is broken and his head badly cut, but he is out of danger. The doctor told me so an hour ago."

"And you?" she pleaded, clinging to his proffered hand.

"Oh! I am all right, too. The smoke got into my throat so I croak, but that is nothing. Why, Mr. Grayson,--and Miss Felicia! I am so glad, Miss Ruth, that you did not have to come alone! This way, everybody."

Without other words they hurried into the carriage, driving like mad for the cottage, a mile away; all the worn look gone from Ruth's face.

"And you're not hurt, my boy?" asked Peter in a trembling voice-- Jack's well hand in his own.

"No, only a few scratches, sir; that's all. Bolton's hand's in a bad way, though; lose two of his fingers, I'm afraid."

"And how did you escape?"

"I don't know. I got out the best way I could. First thing I knew I was lying on the grass and some one was pouring water over my head; then they got me home and put me to bed."

"And MacFarlane?"

"Oh, he came along with me. I had to help him some."

Peter heaved a sigh of relief, then he asked:

"How did it happen?"

"Nobody knows. One of the shanty men might have dropped a box of fulminates. Poor fellow,--he never knew; they could find nothing of him," Jack whispered behind his hand so Ruth would not hear.

"But when did you get out of bed?" continued Peter. He was less anxious now.

Jack looked at Ruth and again lowered his voice; the sound of the carriage preventing its hoarse notes from reaching her ears.

"About half an hour ago, sir; they don't know I have gone, but I didn't want anybody to frighten Miss Ruth. I don't look so bad, do I? I fixed myself up as well as I could. I have got on Bolton's hat; I couldn't get mine over the bandages. My wrist is the worst --sprained badly, the doctor says."

If Ruth heard she made no answer, nor did she speak during the ride. Now and then she would gaze out of the window and once her fingers tightened on Miss Felicia's arm as she passed in full view of the "fill" with the gaping mouth of the tunnel beyond. Miss Felicia was occupied in watching Jack. In fact, she had not taken her eyes from him since they entered the carriage. She saw what neither Peter nor Ruth had seen;--that the boy was suffering intensely from hidden wounds and that the strain was so great he was verging on a collapse. No telling what these foolish Southerners will do, she said to herself, when a woman is to be looked after,--but she said nothing of all this to Ruth.

When the carriage stopped and Ruth with a spring leaped from her seat and bounded upstairs to her father's bedside, Miss Felicia holding Jack's hand, her eyes reading the boy's face, turned and said to Peter:

"Now you take him home where he belongs and put him to bed; and don't you let him get up until I see him. No--" she continued in a more decided tone, in answer to Jack's protest--"I won't have it. You go to bed just as I tell you--you can hardly stand now."

"Perhaps I had better, Miss Felicia. I am a little shaky," replied Jack, in a faint voice, and the carriage kept on its way to Mrs. Hicks's leaving the good lady on MacFarlane's porch.

MacFarlane was asleep when Ruth, trembling with excitement, reached the house. Outside the sick room, lighted by a single taper, she met the nurse whose few hurried words, spoken with authority, calmed her, as Jack had been unable to do, and reassured her mind. "Compound fracture of the right arm, Miss," she whispered, "and badly bruised about the head, as they all were. Poor Mr. Breen was the worst."

Ruth looked at her in astonishment. That was why he had not lifted his hat, she thought to herself, as she tiptoed into the sick room and sank to her knees beside her father's bed.

The injured man opened his eyes, and his free hand moved slowly till it rested on his daughter's head.

"I got an awful crack, Ruth, but I am all right now. Too bad to bring you home. Who came with you?"

"Aunt Felicia and Uncle Peter," she whispered as she stroked his uninjured hand.

"Mighty good of them--just like old Peter. Send the old boy up--I want to see him."

Ruth made no answer; her heart was too full. That her father was alive was enough.

"I'm not pretty to look at, am I, child, but I'll pull out; I have been hurt before--had a leg broken once in the Virginia mountains when you were a baby. The smoke was the worst; I swallowed a lot of it; and I am sore now all over my chest. Poor Bolton's badly crippled, I hear--and Breen--they've told you about Breen, haven't they, daughter?" His voice rose as he mentioned the boy's name.

Ruth shook her head.

"Well, I wouldn't be here but for him! He's a plucky boy. I will never forget him for it; you mustn't either," he continued in a more positive tone.

The nurse now moved to the bed.

"I would not talk any more, Mr. MacFarlane. Miss Ruth is going to be at home now right along and she will hear the story."

"Well, I won't, nurse, if you don't want me to--but they won't be able to tell her what a fix we were in--I remember everything up to the time Breen dragged me from under the dirt car. I knew right away what had happened and what we had to do; I've been there before, but--"

"There,--that will do, Mr. MacFarlane," interrupted the nurse. "Come, Miss Ruth, suppose you go to your room for a while."

The girl rose to her feet.

"You can come back as soon as I fix your father for the night." She pointed significantly to the patient's head, whispering, "He must not get excited."

"Yes, dear daddy--I will come back just as soon as I can get the dust out of my hair and get brushed up a little," cried Ruth bravely, in the effort to hide her anxiety, "and then Aunt Felicia is downstairs."

Once outside she drew the nurse, who had followed her, to the window so as to be out of hearing of the patient and then asked breathlessly:

"What did Mr. Breen do?"

"I don't know exactly, but everybody is talking about him."

At this moment Miss Felicia arrived at the top of the stairs: she had heard Ruth's question and had caught the dazed expression on the girl's face.

"I will tell you, my dear, what he did, for I have heard every word of it from the servants. The blast went off before he and your father had reached the opening of the tunnel. They left your father for dead, then John Breen crawled back on his hands and knees through the dreadful smoke until he reached him, lifted him up on his shoulders and carried him out alive. That's what he did; and he is a big, fine, strong, noble fellow, and I am going to tell him so the moment I get my eyes on him. And that is not all. He got out of bed this afternoon, though he could hardly stand, and covered up all his bruises and his broken wrist so you couldn't see them, and then he limped down to the station so you would get the truth about your father and not be frightened. And now he is in a dead faint."

Ruth's eyes flamed and the color left her cheeks. She stretched out both hands as if to keep from falling.

"Saved daddy!" she gasped--"Carried him out on--Oh! Aunt Felicia!--and I have been so mean! To think he got up out of bed and--and--" Everything swam before her eyes.

Miss Felicia sprang forward and caught her in her arms.

"Come!--none of this, Child. Pull yourself together right away. Get her some water, nurse,--she has stood all she can. There now, dearie--" Ruth's head was on her breast now. "There--there--Such a poor darling, and so many things coming all at once. There, darling, put your head on my shoulder and cry it all out."

The girl sobbed on, the wrinkled hand patting her cheek.

"Oh, but you don't know, aunty--" she crooned.

"Yes, but I do--you blessed child. I know it all."

"And won't somebody go and help him? He is all alone, he told me so."

"Uncle Peter is with him, dearie.'"

"Yes,--but some one who can--" she straightened up--"I will go, aunty--I will go now."

"You will do nothing of the kind, you little goose; you will stay just where you are."

"Well, won't you go, then? Oh, please--please--aunty." Peter's bald head now rose above the edge of the banisters. Miss Felicia motioned him to go back, but Ruth heard his step and raised her tear-drenched face half hidden in her dishevelled hair.

"Oh, Uncle Peter, is Jack--is Mr. Breen--"

Miss Felicia's warning face behind Ruth's own, for once reached Peter in time.

"In his bed and covered up, and his landlady, Mrs. Hicks, sitting beside him," responded Peter in his cheeriest tones.

"But he fainted from pain--and--"

"Yes, but that's all over now, my dear," broke in Miss Felicia.

"But you will go, anyhow--won't you, aunty?" pleaded Ruth.

"Certainly--just as soon as I put you to bed, and that is just where you have got to go this very minute," and she led the overwrought trembling girl into her room and shut the door.

Peter stood for an instant looking about him, his mind taking in the situation. Ruth was being cared for now, and so was MacFarlane--the white cap and apron of the noiseless nurse passing in and out of the room in which he lay, assured him of that. Bolton, too, in the room next to Jack's, was being looked after by his sister who had just arrived. He, too, was fairly comfortable, though a couple of his fingers had been shortened. But there was nobody to look after Jack--no father, mother, sister--nobody. To send for the boy's uncle, or Corinne, or his aunt, was out of the question, none of them having had more than a word with him since his departure. Yet Jack needed attention. The doctor had just pulled him out of one fainting spell only to have him collapse again when his coat was taken off, and the bandages were loosened. He was suffering greatly and was by no means out of danger.

If for the next hour or two there was anything to be done at MacFarlane's, Peter was ready to do it, but this accomplished, he would shoulder his bag and camp out for the night beside the boy's bed. He had come, indeed, to tell Felicia so, and he meant to sleep there whatever her protests. He was preparing himself for her objections, when she reentered the room.

"How is young Breen?" Miss Felicia asked in a whisper, closing the door behind her. She had put Ruth to bed, where she had again given way to an uncontrollable fit of weeping.

"Pretty weak. The doctor is with him now."

"What did the fool get up for?" She did not mean to surrender too quickly about Jack despite his heroism--not to Peter, at any rate. Then, again, she half suspected that Ruth's tears were equally divided between the rescuer and the rescued.

"He couldn't help it, I suppose," answered Peter, with a gleam in his eyes--"he was born that way."

"Born! What stuff, Peter--no man of any common-sense would have--"

"I quite agree with you, my dear--no man except a gentleman. There is no telling what one of that kind might do under such circumstances." And with a wave of his hand and a twinkle in his merry scotch-terrier eyes, the old fellow disappeared below the handrail.

Miss Felicia leaned over the banisters:

"Peter, PETER," she called after him, "where are you going?"

"To stay all night with Jack."

"Well, that's the most sensible thing I have heard of yet. Will you take him a message from me?"

Peter looked up: "Yes, Felicia, what is it?"

"Give him my love."

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CHAPTER XVIMiss Felicia kept her promise to Ruth. Before that young woman, indeed, tired out with anxiety, had opened her beautiful eyes the next morning and pushed back her beautiful hair from her beautiful face--and it was still beautiful, despite all the storms it had met and weathered, the energetic, old lady had presented herself at the front door of Mrs. Hicks's Boarding Hotel (it was but a step from MacFarlane's) and had sent her name to the young man in the third floor back. A stout person, with a head of adjustable hair held in place by a band of
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CHAPTER XIVThe Scribe would willingly omit this chapter. Dying men, hurrying doctors, improvised stretchers made of wrenched fence rails; silent, slow-moving throngs following limp, bruised bodies,--are not pleasant objects to write about and should be disposed of as quickly as possible. Exactly whose fault it was nobody knew; if any one did, no one ever told. Every precaution had been taken each charge had been properly placed and tamped; all the fulminates inspected and the connections made with the greatest care. As to the battery--that was known to be half a mile away in the pay shanty, lying on Jack Breen's
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