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The cars swept on at the rate of twenty miles an hour, the engineer wholly unconscious of the peril in front. Robert saw the fated train with its freight of human lives, and his heart grew sick within him as he thought of the terrible tragedy which was about to be enacted. Was there any possibility of his averting it? He threw himself against the rock and pushed with all the strength he could command. But, nerved as he was by desperation, he found the task greater than he could compass.
And still the train came thundering on. He must withdraw to a place of safety, or he would himself be involved in the destruction which threatened the train.
There was one thing more he could do, and he did it.
He took his station on the rock which was just in the path of the advancing train, and waved his handkerchief frantically. It was a position to test the courage of the bravest.
Robert was fully aware that he was exposing himself to a horrible death. Should he not be seen by the engineer it would be doubtful whether he could get out of the way in time to escape death--and that of the most frightful nature. But unless he did something a hundred lives perhaps might be lost. So he resolutely took his stand, waving, as we have said, his handkerchief and shouting, though the last was not likely to be of any avail.
At first he was not seen. When the engineer at last caught sight of him it was with a feeling of anger at what he regarded as the foolhardiness of the boy. He slackened his speed, thinking he would leave his place, but Robert still maintained his position, his nerves strung to their highest tension, not alone at his own danger, but at the peril which he began to fear he could not avert.
Reluctantly the engineer gave the signal to stop the train. He was only just in time. When it came to a stop there was an interval of only thirty-five feet between it and Robert Rushton, who, now that he had accomplished his object, withdrew to one side, a little paler than usual, but resolute and manly in his bearing.
"What is the meaning of this foolery?" the engineer demanded, angrily.
Robert pointed in silence to the huge rock which lay on the track.
"How came that rock there?" asked the engineer, in a startled tone, as he took in the extent of the peril from which they had been saved.
"I don't know," said Robert. "I tried to move it, but I couldn't."
"You are a brave boy," said the engineer. "You have in all probability saved the train from destruction. But you ran a narrow risk yourself."
"I know it," was the reply; "but it was the only thing I could do to catch your attention."
"I will speak to you about it again. The first to be done is to move the rock."
He left the engine and advanced toward the rock. By this time many of the passengers had got out, and were inquiring why the train was stopped at this point. The sight of the rock made a sensation. Though the peril was over, the thought that the train might have been precipitated down the embankment, and the majority of the passengers killed or seriously injured, impressed them not a little. They pressed forward, and several lending a hand, the rock was ousted from its its position, and rolled crashing over the bank.
Among the passengers was a stout, good-looking man, a New York merchant. He had a large family at home waiting his return from a Western journey. He shuddered as he thought how near he had been to never meeting them again on earth.
"It was providential, your seeing the rock," he said to the engineer. "We owe our lives to you."
"You do me more than justice," replied the engineer. "It was not I who saved the train, but that boy."
All eyes were turned upon Robert, who, unused to being the center of so many glances, blushed and seemed disposed to withdraw.
"How is that?" inquired the merchant.
"He saw the obstruction, and tried to remove it, but, not being able to do so, took his station on the rock, and, at the risk of his own life, drew my attention, and saved the train."
"It was a noble act, my boy; what is your name?"
"It is a name that we shall all have cause to remember. Gentlemen," continued the merchant, turning to the group around him, "you see before you the preserver of your lives. Shall his act go unrewarded?"
"No, no!" was the general exclamation.
"I don't want any reward," said Robert, modestly. "Any boy would have done as much."
"I don't know about that, my young friend. There are not many boys, or men, I think, that would have had the courage to act as you did. You may not ask or want any reward, but we should be forever disgraced if we failed to acknowledge our great indebtedness to you. I contribute one hundred dollars as my share of the testimonial to our young friend."
"I follow with fifty!" said his next neighbor, "and shall ask for the privilege of taking him by the hand."
Robert had won honors at school, but he had never before been in a position so trying to his modesty. The passengers, following the example of the last speaker, crowded around him, and took him by the hand, expressing their individual acknowledgments for the service he had rendered them. Our hero, whom we now designate thus appropriately, bore the ordeal with a self-possession which won the favor of all.
While this was going on, the collection was rapidly being made by the merchant who had proposed it. The amounts contributed varied widely, but no one refused to give. In ten minutes the fund had reached over six hundred dollars.
"Master Robert Rushton," said the merchant, "I have great pleasure in handing you this money, freely contributed by the passengers on this train, as a slight acknowledgment of the great service which you have rendered them at the risk of your own life. It does not often fall to the lot of a boy to perform a deed so heroic. We are all your debtors, and if the time ever conies that you need a friend, I for one shall be glad to show my sense of indebtedness."
"All aboard!" shouted the conductor.
The passengers hurried into the cars, leaving our hero standing by the track, with one hand full of bank notes and in the other the card of the New York merchant. It was only about fifteen minutes since Robert had first signaled the train, yet how in this brief time had his fortunes changed! From the cars now rapidly receding he looked to the roll of bills, and he could hardly realize that all this money was his own. He sat down and counted it over.
"Six hundred and thirty-five dollars!" he exclaimed. "I must have made a mistake."
But a second count turned out precisely the same.
"How happy mother will be!" he thought, joyfully. "I must go and tell her the good news."
He was so occupied with the thoughts of his wonderful good fortune that he nearly forgot to take the berries which he had picked.
"I shan't need to sell them now," he said. "We'll use a part of them ourselves, and what we can't use I will give away."
He carefully stored away the money in his coat pocket, and for the sake of security buttoned it tight. It was a new thing for him to be the custodian of so much treasure. As Halbert Davis usually spent the latter part of the afternoon in promenading the streets, sporting his kids and swinging his jaunty cane, it was not surprising that Robert encountered him again.
"So, you've been berrying again?" he said, stopping short.
"Yes," said Robert, briefly.
"You haven't got the boat repaired, I suppose."
"It's lucky for you this is berrying season."
"Because you'd probably have to go to the poorhouse," said Halbert, insolently.
"I don't know about that," said Robert, coolly. "I rather think I could buy you out, Halbert Davis, watch, gloves, cane and all."
"What do you mean?" demanded Halbert, haughtily. "You seem to forget that you are a beggar, or next to it."
Robert set down his pails, and, opening his coat, drew out a handful of bills.
"Does that look like going to the almshouse?" he said.
"They're not yours," returned Halbert, considerably astonished, for, though he did not know the denomination of the bills, it was evident that there was a considerable amount of money.
"It belongs to me, every dollar of it," returned Robert.
"I don't believe it. Where did you get it? Picking berries, I suppose," he added, with a sneer.
"It makes no difference to you where I got it," said our hero, returning the money to his pocket. "I shan't go to the almshouse till this I is all gone."
"He must have stolen it," muttered Halbert, looking after Robert with disappointment and chagrin. It was certainly very vexatious that, in spite of all his attempts to humble and ruin our hero, he seemed more prosperous than ever.
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