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engine, under a full head of steam, was driving up the road. The locomotive had been stolen! Out from the refreshment-room poured passengers and trainmen, filled with surprise and chagrin. What did it mean? What was to be done? There was no other engine within miles. How should these daring thieves ever be overtaken? Their capture seemed a forlorn hope.
The conductor, wild with alarm and dreading reprimand, started up the track on foot, running as fast as his legs could carry him. A railroad mechanic named Murphy kept him company. To one with a love of humor it would have been an amusing sight to see two men on foot chasing a locomotive, but just then Conductor Fuller was not troubled about tbe opinion of men of humor; his one thought was to overtake his runaway locomotive, and he would have crawled after it if no better way appeared.
Fortune comes to him who pursues her, not to him who waits her coming. The brace of locomotive chasers had not run down their strength before they were lucky enough to spy a hand-car, standing beside the track. Here was a gleam of hope. In a minute or two they had lifted it upon the rails. Springing within it, they applied themselves to the levers, and away they went at a more promising rate of speed.
For a mile or two all went on swimmingly. Then sudden disaster came. The car struck a broken rail and was hurled headlong from the track, sending its occupants flying into the muddy roadside ditch. This was enough to discourage anybody with less go in him than Conductor Fuller. But in a moment he was on his feet, trying his limbs. No bones were broken. A mud-bath was the full measure of his misfortune. Murphy was equally sound. The car was none the worse. With scarce a minute's delay they sprang to it, righted it, and with some strong tugging lifted it upon the track. With very few minutes' delay they were away again, somewhat more cautiously than before, and sharply on the lookout for further gifts of broken rails from the runaways ahead.
Leaving the pair of pursuers to their seemingly hopeless task, we must return to the score of locomotive pirates. These men who had done such strange work at Big Shanty were by no means what they seemed. They were clad in the butternut gray and the slouch hats of the Confederacy, but their ordinary attire was the blue uniform of the Union army. They were, in truth, a party of daring scouts, wbo had stealthily made their way south in disguise, their purpose being to steal a train, burn the bridges behind them as they fled, and thus make useless for a time the only railroad by which the Confederate authorities could send troops to Chattanooga, then threatened by the Union forces under General Mitchel.
They had been remarkably successful, as we have seen, at the beginning of their enterprise. Making their way, by devious routes, to Marietta, they had gathered at that place, boarded a train, and started north. The rush of passengers and trainmen into the refreshment-room at Big Shanty had been calculated upon. The presence of a Confederate camp at that out-of-the-way station had not been. It might have proved fatal to their enterprise but for the stolid stupidity of the sentinel. But that peril had been met and passed. They were safely away Exhilaration filled their souls. All was safe behind; all seemed safe ahead.
True, there was one peril close at hand. Beside the track ran that slender wire, a resting-place, it seemed, for passing birds. In that outstretching wire their most imminent danger lurked. Fast as they might go, it could flash the news of their exploit a thousand-fold faster. The flight of the lightning news-bearer must be stopped. The train was halted a mile or two from the town, the pole climbed, the wire cut. Danger from this source was at an end. Halting long enough to tear up the rail to whose absence Conductor Fuller owed his somersault, they sprang to their places again and the runaway train sped blithely on.
Several times they stopped for wood and water. When any questions were asked they were answered by the companion of the engineer, James J. Andrews by name, a Union spy by profession, the originator of and leader in this daring enterprise.
“I am taking a train-load of powder to General Beauregard," was his stereotyped answer, as he pointed to the closed box-cars behind him, within one of which lay concealed the bulk of his confed. erates.
For some time they went swimmingly on, without delay or difficulty. Yet trouble was in the air, ill. fortune awaiting them in front, pursuing them from behind. They had, by the fatality of unlucky chance, chosen the wrong day for their work. Yesterday they would have found a clear track; to-day the road ahead was blocked with trains, hurrying swiftly southward.
At Kingston, thirty miles from Big Shanty, this trouble came upon them in a rush. . A local train was to pass at that point. Andrews was well aware of this, and drew his train upon the siding to let it pass, expecting when it had gone to find the road clear to Chattanooga. The train came in on time, halted, and on its last car was seen waving the red danger-flag, the railroad signal that another train was following close bebind. Andrews looked at this with no friendly eyes.
“How comes it,” he asked the conductor, somewhat sharply, “ that the road is blocked in this manner, when I have orders to take this powder to Beauregard without delay?"
“Mitchel has taken Huntsville," answered the conductor. “They say he is coming to Chattanooga. We are getting everything out of there as quickly as we can.”
This looked serious. How many trains might there be in the rear? A badly-blocked road meant ruin to their enterprise and possibly death to them. selves. They waited with intense anxiety, each minute of delay seeming to stretch almost into an hour. The next train came. They watched it pass with hopeful eyes. Ahl upon its rear floated that fatal red flag, the crimson emblem of death, as it seemed to them.
The next train came. Still the red flag! Still hope deferred, danger coming near! An hour of frightful anxiety passed. It was torture to those upon the engine. It was agony to those in the boxcar, who knew nothing of the cause of this frightful delay, and to whom life itself must have seemed to have stopped.
Andrews had to cast off every appearance of anxiety and to feign easy indifference, for the station people were showing somewhat too much curiosity about this train, whose crew were strangers, and concerning which the telegraph had sent them no advices. The practised spy was full of resources, but their searching questions taxed him for satisfying answers.
At length, after more than an hour's delay, the blockade was broken. A train passed destitute of the red flag. The relief was great. They had waited at that station like men with the hangman's rope upon their necks. Now the track to Chattanooga was clear and success seemed assured. The train began to move. It slowly gathered speed. Up went hope in the hearts of those upon the engine. New life flowed in the veins of those within the car as they heard the grinding sound on the rails beneath them, and felt the motion of their prison• upon wheels.
Yet perilous possibilities were in their rear. Their delay at Kingston had been threateningly long. They must guard against pursuit. Stopping the train, and seizing their tools, they sprang out to tear up a rail. Suddenly, as they worked at this, a sound met their ears that almost caused them to drop their tools