"Let's lock the door, and look at our guns," suggested Tom. The lock was broken, and so he barred the door with a chair. Then they sat on the bed, with the lamp beside them, and talked while they unloaded their revolvers, wiped away the rust and mud, and reloaded. Each told of his experiences and narrow escapes. Knight had been arrested as a deserter from the Confederate army. Wilson and Shadrack had stolen a ferryboat and crossed the Tennessee River at night, Brown and Dorsey had shared their food with two Confederate sentries who had stopped them as they crossed the railroad bridge at Stevenson. "Most sociable sentries I ever found," said Dorsey. "They believed our story, and told us all about Bull Run. It was mighty interesting to hear their side of it, because we were both in the fight." But it was Tom who had been most royally entertained. He told them about Mr. Beecham, and how Marjorie Landis had trapped him.
"But what did you do?" demanded Dorsey. "How did you get out of it?"
"She wished me luck when I left," said Tom. "She was a Northern girl."
The others whistled. "Whew!" said Brown. "That's about enough luck to last you for a year."
They talked until midnight; then divided the bedding between them and lay down to sleep. It seemed to Tom that sleep would never come. The plan of the raid went racing through his mind again and again; he could see every move as Andrews had described it. His thoughts carried him back to the other side of the lines. What was Bert doing? He supposed that Bert had been left behind when Mitchel advanced. His parents in Cleveland? What would they think if they were told that he was a hundred miles behind the Confederate picket lines? What a story to tell them when he returned! And Marjorie Landis? Would she realize, when the news of the raid swept over the country, that he had taken part in it? She was a plucky girl!
The next thing he knew was that there was a terrific pounding in some remote part of the world. He sat up in the darkness and tried to recall himself. Then someone said, "All right—wait a second." The chair which had been placed against the door was yanked away, and Andrews entered, holding a lamp.
"Wake up, men," he said. "It's just five. You have an hour."
Brown lighted the lamp on the table; the others climbed stiffly to their feet, stretching.
"You can get breakfast downstairs," said Andrews. "The proprietor always has some packages of food prepared for people who are traveling. Stuff your pockets." He vanished down the corridor.
"That's the hardest floor I've ever slept on," said Brown. The others muttered in response.
To Tom, the scene was strange and unreal. The yellow light of the lamp and the faint dawn which was stealing in through the windows made the men seem ghost-like as they moved about the room, dressing. Huge shadows loomed on the walls, swaying and disappearing.
"Shall we go together, Brown!" asked Knight.
"You'd better not," said Tom. "Engineers are too valuable. If you go together you might both be stopped before you could reach the engine."
"The boy's right," replied Brown. "You and I'll go together, eh, Tom?"
"Are you ready?"
"All ready. Come on."
Tom and Brown left the room, found the way along the corridor to the stairs. "Now for it!" exclaimed Tom, clutching the other's arm.
Breakfast finished, they left the hotel and went toward the station. Tom looked anxiously at the sky, and saw that the clouds were broken. They had a chance, at least, of good weather for the raid. At the station they bought tickets for Kingston. There were about thirty people moving restlessly about in the dark, waiting for the train. Tom recognized Andrews and five of their men. Then the remainder appeared suddenly. Andrews paced up and down, his head slightly bowed.
The whistle of the train came shrieking through the night. Tom's throat tightened and his heart thumped. Presently they could hear the engine, and see the sparks above the trees. Then the train came sweeping down the track towards them, the wheels rumbling and the brakes whining. The engine, with its name, General, painted upon the side of the cab, passed them.
Tom's eyes followed the engine. He saw the engineer in the light of the flames from the firebox; the fireman was in the act of sliding fresh logs upon the flames.
Several passengers stepped from the train. Andrews boarded the second coach, and the men followed him, distributing themselves through the car. Ahead of them were four freight cars and another coach. Brown and Tom found a seat not far from Andrews; Wilson and Knight settled themselves across the aisle. Tom glanced back and saw the others scattered through the car. His eyes met Shadrack's and, mindful of Andrews' warning, he turned away before he laughed outright. Shadrack's expression was comical: his eyes were wide and he was gazing about him apprehensively, yet still with that twinkle of amusement.
"'Board—'board," cried the conductor.
Tom could hear the rapid puffing of the engine as the wheels slipped on the wet rails; then the puffing became more laborious. There was a rattle of loose couplings, and the train jerked forward. It was lighter now. To the west, the Kennesaw Mountains made a splotch of black against the dark blue sky, and the houses and woods along the track were visible in the half light.
The train gathered speed, then settled down to a steady pace. The smoke from the engine drifted back to them. The forward door of the car opened and the conductor entered. He stood for a moment looking down the length of the car, then commenced to take tickets, scrutinizing each passenger closely. The conductor was a young man—about twenty-six—and the men of Andrews' party found his gaze disturbing. Tom met his eyes, and wondered if he knew anything of their purpose, suspected anything.
"I don't like the looks of that conductor," he whispered to Brown.
"Probably wondering why so many people got aboard at Marietta."
Andrews arose, as though to stretch, but Tom could see that he was watching the conductor. At last they heard the rear door of the car slam. The conductor had not stopped to ask questions, regardless of what he suspected.
"Big Shanty! Big Shanty! Twenty minutes for breakfast." It was like a bugle call to Andrews' men. Their eyes were turned toward him. He sat as though he were sleeping. The other passengers stirred in their seats, making ready to race to the restaurant.
The speed of the train slackened, and the train glided into the town. Bordering the tracks on the west was an encampment of Confederate soldiers. Rows of white tents stretched down the slope towards a thick woods. On the east were the houses of Big Shanty. The train stopped opposite a long shed, before which a man stood ringing a bell. There was no need to call the passengers to breakfast; they tumbled off the train and ran to get places at the counter. And at the head of the crowd was the conductor. The engineer and fireman brought up the rear, wiping their hands on pieces of waste. Except for three passengers who were sleeping, Andrews' men had the car to themselves.
It was several minutes before Andrews showed any signs of stirring. Then he arose and walked to the rear of the car.
"Not yet," he said, as he passed Tom. Presently they saw him strolling beside the train. Then he boarded the front platform, opened the door and nodded. They got up and went out.
"Ross, you come with me," said Andrews. "Brown, Knight, and Burns follow. The rest go up the other side of the engine."
Andrews and Boss walked slowly towards the engine.
"Uncouple here, Ross," ordered Andrews. "Then cross over and get aboard with the rest." His tone was calm and untroubled.
Tom saw Ross pull the coupling pin, and duck under the train. He glanced back to the shed where the train crew was at breakfast. There was no sign of alarm.
They approached the engine as indifferently as though they were walking for exercise.
"Wait here," said Andrews when they were beside the engine cab. He went forward, crossed in front of the train and looked back on the other side to see if the men were aboard. Then he came sauntering back.
"Get aboard!" he snapped. "Knight at the throttle."
Knight mounted first; then Brown, with Tom and Andrews following. Knight jumped to the engineer's seat, and grabbed the throttle. There came the hissing of steam: the engine trembled and puffed. Brown lunged for the sand lever, yanked it open. The wheels spun on the track, then grabbed it, and the engine sprang forward like a beast unchained.
The sudden jerk of the engine sent Tom spinning against the side of the cab. Andrews, who was mounting the wood-pile in the tender to see what was happening behind them, was thrown flat. He scrambled to his feet, his hands bleeding from the splinters, and climbed up the pile. Then he waved his arms and yelled in exultation. The yell sounded faintly through the noise of the engine.
Tom swung from the cab and looked back. The crowd was spilling from the shed. Several men raced after the train. Others stood watching, dumfounded.
Knight was bending over the throttle, urging the train forward as though he were putting his own strength into the flying pistons. His lips were drawn back from his set teeth, and his left hand upon the throttle was white from its grip. With his right hand he was pounding upon the sill of the cab.
Brown was studying the steam gauge. He had opened the forced draft and the smoke stack had become a fountain of sparks.
"More wood!" he yelled.
Tom stripped off his coat. The General was pounding upon the rails, swaying from side to side. It was almost impossible to stand without clinging to the side of the cab. Tom lurched cautiously toward the tender, grabbed a log and dragged it back after him. Brown swung the door of the fire-box open. Tom gasped as the heat struck him. The red flames seemed to leap out at him, enveloping him, smothering him. He slid the log into the fire. The door crashed shut again. "More! More!" yelled Brown.
Again and again Tom fed logs into the flames. Each time, Brown opened and closed the door as though an instant's heat were too precious to be lost. Brown's eyes were constantly upon the wavering needle of the steam gauge.
Andrews, sitting in the fireman's seat, was leaning from the window, glancing first ahead and then back. Except for that first shout of triumph, he had been calm and deliberate.
"Enough for now," shouted Brown. "Rest!"
Tom, panting and weak, climbed up beside Andrews and put his head out so that the cool wind would strike it. The violent effort of dragging those logs from the tender to the fire-box, together with the heat that played upon him each time, had made his legs seem like jelly beneath him. But the cool air revived him, and he watched Brown constantly for the signal that more wood was needed. Once he looked back and saw Shadrack leaning from the door of the boxcar. They waved excitedly to each other.
"Stop!" yelled Andrews to Knight.
Brown repeated the order. Knight, aroused from his intense purpose of forcing the last ounce of speed out of the General, shut the throttle. Brown gave the whistle a blast, and began twisting at the brake. Gradually the train lost its speed. The men in the box-car leaned from the door, asking why they were stopping.
"Come up here," yelled Andrews. "One of you men climb that telegraph pole and knock the insulating cap off. Then break the wire."
A little fellow named Scott scrambled up the pole. Telegraph communications were broken ahead of them.
"There's no telegraph station at Big Shanty," explained Andrews. "The best they can do is to go on horseback to Marietta and telegraph to Atlanta for an engine to pursue us. But they can't telegraph ahead of us! At Kingston we'll meet the regular freight train, which is traveling against us. While we're standing in the yards the door of the box-car must be closed. Do you understand?"
"Yes!" shouted the men.
"Hop aboard then!"
Once again the General started forward. Brown was at the throttle.
"More wood!" yelled Knight.
With Knight at the door of the fire-box, Tom yanked a half-dozen logs from the tender and slid them into the flames.
"Not too fast," Andrews called to Brown. "We're out of the worst of it now, and we don't want to get to Kingston too soon. Have to wait in the yards."
Brown nodded and slackened the speed. Now they could talk without yelling. Presently Andrews ordered another stop and they drew up beside Moon Station. He jumped out and came back with an iron bar. "Go ahead," he yelled, then, pointing to the bar: "Good for pulling up track."
Tom added more fuel, and then stood at the door of the cab to see Allatoona as they went through. Brown opened the throttle gradually. The outskirts of the town whizzed past them; then the station. The crowd upon the station platform, expecting that this was the passenger train, stared uncomprehendingly as the train thundered in and out of town.
They rounded a bend which cut Allatoona off from view; then Andrews motioned to Brown to stop. Tom grabbed the brake and tightened it. The train stopped abruptly. Andrews pointed to the telegraph line.
"Tear it down, Scott. Let's pull up some rails here."
They ran to the rear of the train and pried one rail from the track. After ten minutes of feverish work, Andrews called:
"Load the rails on the box-car. Come on!"
They climbed aboard again, and the General carried them onward.
Tom was standing at the door of the cab, resting and watching the country, when Andrews came up behind him suddenly and exclaimed: "Look at that!" He pointed over Tom's shoulder to a locomotive that was standing, steam up, on a spur. "That's serious business," said Andrews quickly. "I wonder where it came from. I didn't think there was another locomotive between Atlanta and Kingston."
As they passed the locomotive, Tom read its name, Yonah, painted upon the side of the cab.
"Hadn't we better destroy the track?" asked Tom.
"No," Andrews replied, "we're only thirteen miles to Kingston. We better get there and past the freight without losing any time."
"More wood!" yelled Brown. Knight was at the throttle again.
The supply of wood was running low. A dozen sticks remained and those would soon be gone.
"Water's low, too," said Brown.
"We'll stop at Cass Station," replied Andrews. "It's a wood and water station—seven miles this side of Kingston."
As they drew up at Cass Station Andrews jumped from the engine. The old man who had charge of the wood and water came out to meet him.
"I'm running a special ammunition train to Beauregard and I have to have fuel," he said. "Tom, call the boys from the box-car and get them to work."
Tom raced back to the car and opened the door. "Give a hand on this wood," he shouted. They streamed out after him, and attacked the wood pile. Knight and Brown filled the tanks with water. Before the old station agent knew what had struck his little place, the General was steaming off up the road.
"We're a little ahead of time for Kingston," said Andrews anxiously. He peered ahead toward the town, and announced presently, "The freight isn't in. We'll have to wait. Let me do all the talking, boys, when we're in there. I don't like the looks of this. Run a few hundred yards up beyond the station, Knight. I'll jump off and have the switch thrown, and then you can back in on the side-track."
They coasted slowly into Kingston, and passed the station. Andrews jumped off. Tom, hanging out from the cab, saw him talking with the switchman. The latter threw the switch and waved.
"All right," said Tom. "Let her go back." Knight reversed the engine, and they cleared the track for the freight. Andrews swung aboard.
The station agent came running toward them. "What's this?" he demanded. "What's this train? Who are you?"
"I'm running this train on government authority," answered Andrews calmly. "I'm rushing ammunition to Beauregard." He waved toward the box-cars. Then he demanded sternly: "Why isn't that local freight here?"
The agent was subdued. "It ought to be along any minute, sir," he answered. "Is there a passenger train behind you, sir?"
"I suppose so," answered Andrews indifferently. "This engine was supposed to haul the regular train, but we had to take it for this work. Powder is more important than passengers these days. They were fitting out another passenger train at Atlanta when we left."
He handled the situation in masterful style. Tom, pretending to be busy inside the cab, listened and chuckled. Knight and Brown were out oiling the engine.
"When did the freight leave Adairsville?" demanded Andrews.
"I don't know, sir," answered the agent, "but I'll find out."
"Yes, please do—and hurry up about it."
Before the agent returned, they heard the whistle of the freight far up the track. It approached slowly, and then crept into the station, stopping with the cars blocking the track for Andrews' train.
Brown, who was at the throttle, gave an exclamation of impatience. Andrews swung to the ground. At that moment the agent rushed out, and yelled to the freight engineer, "Draw farther up the track." The freight train started again, laboriously. Andrews jumped aboard.
"Run out of here just as soon as the switch is turned," he ordered.
The last car of the freight train rounded the trees and came into sight. On the rear of it was fastened a red flag! It was a warning that there was still another train behind!
"Good Lord!" exclaimed Andrews. He jumped to the ground again, and went toward the station. The conductor of the freight train met him. "What does this mean?" demanded Andrews. "I'm ordered to get powder up to Beauregard, and I find the track blocked ahead of me."
"It's not my fault," answered the conductor. "I haven't anything to do with it. But I don't think that you're going to get any powder to Beauregard on this road."
"What will you do about Mitchel at Huntsville?"
"What do you mean?" asked Andrews.
"I mean that Mitchel broke through and captured Huntsville yesterday," answered the conductor. "If you're working for the government, you ought to know it by this time, too."
"Don't believe everything you hear," answered Andrews. "Mitchel wouldn't be fool enough to risk an attack on Huntsville in this weather."
"Then why are they bringing this special train down from Chattanooga with all the supplies?"
"That's their business, not mine," answered Andrews. "If Mitchel has captured Huntsville, then some of Beauregard's troops are split, and that's probably the reason why I'm ordered to get this powder up as far as I can. When I get there I'll find soldiers to use it."
"Maybe," answered the conductor.
"How long will it be before the special is here?"
"Probably about thirty minutes."
Forty minutes passed before they heard the whistle of the second train; then five minutes of anxious waiting before it came into the station. The first freight, in the meantime, had pulled up on another side track, waiting patiently for the arrival of the passenger train which Andrews' men had stolen.
The special train stopped, blocking the path of the General, just as the first had done.
"Oh, Lord," said Andrews. He sprang from the cab. "Move up there! Get out of my way! I'm running a special powder train! Pull up ahead!"
"I'll pull up if it'll do you any good," answered the engineer. "There's another special train right behind me."
"How far behind you?"
"Oh, twenty minutes, maybe. What are you running a powder train for? Who are you going to give the powder to? The Yanks?"
"You've got some trouble ahead. The Yanks have captured the line between you and Beauregard—two hundred miles of it—from Tuscumbia to Bridgeport!"
The conductor and the engineer of the first train had joined them. "You'd better turn back and go the other way," said the conductor. "If you go up there, the Yanks will get your powder."
"I'll follow my orders," replied Andrews.
He walked back to the General, and called Tom. "Walk down there beside the box-car and let the men know what has happened. Don't let anybody see you talking with them. Tell them that we're likely to have a fight—to be ready to jump out and use their guns."
Tom sauntered to the box-car and leaned against the door. "Hey! you men! This is Tom Burns. Andrews says that we're likely to have a fight. Get your guns ready."
"What's the trouble?" one of them asked. Tom explained as best he could the difficulties they had encountered. "There may be some more trains behind this one," he told them. "They're moving out of Chattanooga. The rebs are on the run!"
The whistle of the second special train sounded as Tom walked back toward Andrews. He stood beside the engine, listening to the argument between Andrews and the three railroad men. The first special had pulled far down the track, leaving ample room for the second to come in and for Andrews to get out.
The station agent came running toward them. "I've just had Chattanooga on the wire," he said, "and they don't know anything about this powder train. I tried to get Atlanta, but the wire is down!"
"Of course Chattanooga doesn't know anything about my train," answered Andrews calmly. "If they did, they wouldn't be sending these trains down blocking me. My orders came from Beauregard at Corinth, through Montgomery to Atlanta."
"Chattanooga orders you to wait here until the order is confirmed," said the agent.
"I don't care a rap for Chattanooga's orders," Andrews responded. "I have my own orders."
"I won't turn that switch to let you out."
"Then I'll turn the switch myself, and if you try to stop me I'll have you up for treason!" Andrews said it so calmly, so quietly, that the agent's jaw drooped.
The second special came creaking into the station. Andrews ran forward and shouted: "Run down until you clear the switch." The engineer nodded. "Tom, get down there and throw that switch!"
Tom ran to the switch and waited. The station agent, with the other trainmen, had withdrawn to one side; they were holding an excited discussion as to what he should do.
The last car of the train rounded the bend. It carried no red flag! The road was clear ahead of them!
Tom threw the switch as the wheels of the last car passed. He waved to Andrews and the General rolled toward him. Then, just as he was aboard and their train was twisting into the main track, they heard a piercing whistle from the south.
"They're after us!" exclaimed Andrews. "Probably a train from Atlanta pursuing us! As fast as you can make her go, Knight."
The General went lunging down the track, gathering speed.
"THEY'RE AFTER US!"
At Big Shanty, the chatter of the train crew and passengers at breakfast died as though the world had been struck dumb. The hissing of escaping steam was followed by the whir of wheels slipping on the track. William Fuller, the conductor of the train, was the first to his feet. He ran to the door, with Anthony Murphy, a railroad man who had been a passenger on the train, following him. They were in time to see the General, with three freight cars, swing around the bend and disappear. On the tender, a man arose, waved his arms and yelled. The yell came drifting back to them above the noise of the stolen engine.
"Deserters!" exclaimed Fuller. He raced up the track, with the engineer and the fireman of the train following him. They were so hopelessly outdistanced that the crowd laughed.
Murphy found the station agent. "Get a horse and ride back to Marietta," he ordered. "Telegraph Atlanta—train stolen—start a train in pursuit." He, too, joined in the chase up the tracks.
It was Fuller's idea that his train had been taken by conscripts who were deserting from the Confederate encampment on the other side of the tracks. He believed that they would run the engine until they had put several miles between them and Big Shanty, and then take refuge in the woods. He had been warned in Atlanta, just before he left on this run, to keep a sharp watch for deserting conscripts; it was for that reason he had scrutinized the passengers in his train so closely.
With Fuller in the lead, they rounded curve after curve of the track, hoping each time to find the abandoned engine.
"I can't go any farther," panted the engineer.
"Come on!" yelled Fuller.
The men yanked off their coats, tossed them aside, and settled down into a trot. Murphy was still bringing up the rear.
Presently they came to Moon Station. Not far away there was a miniature flat-car of the type which is loaded with tools and supplies and pushed along the track. Ahead of them the road swept down in a gentle grade.
"Throw that on the track," ordered Fuller. The four men, puffing from their long run, took the corners of the little car and dragged it to the tracks. Fuller started them with a shove, then scrambled aboard.
"I sent the agent riding back to Marietta," panted Murphy.
"At Etowah," replied Fuller, "they have an engine—the Yonah. It belongs to the iron works. If it isn't up at the mills we'll take it."
"Has it steam up?" asked Murphy.
"I don't know. If it hasn't, we're done."
The hand-car was coasting easily down the grade; it rounded a sharp bend.
"Jump!" yelled the engineer.
His warning came too late. The car reached the spot where Andrews' men had torn up the rail; its wheels left the track and it spun about, scattering the men over the ground.
"Anybody hurt?" demanded Fuller, scrambling to his feet.
"No," they answered. All of them were bruised and the fireman's cheek was cut. "It's nothing," he said. They righted the car and dragged it to the track.
"Look at that!" called Fuller, pointing to the broken telegraph wires. "This isn't a conscript's job."
"What do you think?" asked Murphy. "The Yanks?"
"Probably. Get that car back on the tracks, anyway. Grab some of those fence rails. We've about reached the bottom of the grade, and we can pole the car faster than we can walk. I can't run another inch."
They found two light rails, boarded the car and coasted to the bottom of the grade. Then began the tedious work of poling. It was, as Fuller had said, faster than walking. On level track they could go five or six miles an hour; on the upgrades, two of them walked while the other two poled.
At the top of the last grade before they came to Etowah, they looked down and saw the Yonah a mile away, upon the turn-table. The locomotive was being turned for its trip up the branch to the iron works!
"Give a push!" yelled Fuller. "In another minute we're lost."
The four men ran beside the hand car and started down the grade, jumping aboard when they could run no faster. The car slipped to and fro on the tracks, yanked them about the curves.
"Keep a sharp lookout ahead on the tracks," ordered Fuller. But the way was clear. If Andrews had stopped at this point to obstruct the track, the pursuit which followed would have been impossible. The Yonah would have been on its way up the branch before the hand car arrived.
As it was, the engineer of the Yonah was climbing aboard when his attention was attracted by the yells of the men on the approaching car, flying down the track as fast as a hand car ever traveled. He waited, wondering what was wrong.
Fuller ran to the Yonah, while his men pushed the hand car from the track. "We'll have to take this engine," he said. "The Yanks have stolen my train!" The three men joined him, and before the engineer could protest, they were pushing at the bar of the turn-table, swinging the locomotive around.
"I haven't much fuel," said the engineer.
"You have enough to get us to Kingston," answered Fuller. "Get aboard there!"
The Yonah slipped from the turn-table, swung into the main track and started in pursuit. The throttle was open wide.
Fuller and Murphy exchanged glances; the same thought had crossed their minds. If the Yanks had torn up the track ahead of them, the Yonah would be wrecked, and, traveling at such speed, a wreck meant death for them all. The Yonah would hurl itself from the track, and end in a steaming, smoldering ruin. Yet the two men kept their thoughts to themselves and said nothing. Caution at that moment might mean that they would lose the race. It was better to lose in a wreck than to lose by delaying. The Yonah—it was a light engine—fairly danced upon the rails.
Passengers along the way who had been disappointed once by a train which did not stop for them, gazed in amazement as the engine flashed past.
Fuller, sitting behind the engineer, leaned out of the window and peered ahead, watching the track anxiously. Murphy, with the two men who had come with them, stood by the brakes, ready to apply them when Fuller gave the signal. They were two miles from Kingston when Fuller lurched across the cab and pulled the whistle cord. It was that long shrieking blast which Andrews' men had heard as the General swung around the bend of the side-track into the main line.
Andrews, as Kingston dropped behind them, stood leaning against the side of the cab, his chin in his hand, and his eyes closed. Tom, stripped to his waist, was struggling back and forth between the tender and the engine with logs of wood which he shoved into the fire-box. The General was belching great clouds of black smoke; red sparks flashed back over the train like a plume waving in the breeze.
"That's enough," yelled Knight. "We've got a full head of steam now. Push her, Brown, push her!"
And still Andrews stood there, with his eyes closed, thinking. Tom clambered to the fireman's seat.
"Stop here!" called Andrews suddenly.
Tom sprang for the brake.
"Rip down those wires," Andrews continued. "Two of you men—you and you—load those ties in the freight car." He pointed to a pile which lay near the track. "Put some of them on the rails." Then when they were under way again, he yelled to Knight, "Stop around that next bend—we'll tear up a rail."
The men streamed out again, when the train had come to a stop; they wrenched at the spikes with their inadequate tools, but the oak ties held them stubbornly. The task was little more than half completed when Andrews came running.
"Pry it up—don't bother about the rest of the spikes. Give a hand, here." They slid a bar under the rail and pulled upward, straining. Slowly it bent; then broke. The men tumbled over each other down the embankment, a mixture of bodies, legs, arms and tools, with the rail clattering after them. Miraculously, no one was hurt. Tom was at the bottom of the heap; he struggled loose and climbed up to the track.
Andrews snatched his hat off and ran, waving it, back to the engine. "'Board!" he shouted. The General rushed forward, under full power.
Andrews sat beside Tom in the fireman's seat. "The people who are chasing us will be held up by the freight trains at Kingston," he said. "It will probably be ten minutes before they can get clear of the station. It was a gamble, stopping to tear up that rail. I was afraid they'd come up on us. That will block them, though." He looked back along the track. "We'll be in Adairsville soon. We have to meet the through freight there."
"Wood!" yelled Knight. Tom slid down from his seat and struggled with the logs. Andrews moved over to Brown and yelled in his ear. Brown, without taking his eyes off the track ahead of him, nodded. He had the throttle open wide, and the General was swaying perilously on the curves. Long moments passed while the engine seemed to travel on the outer wheels; then, as the track straightened, to come crashing down.
Tom was becoming accustomed to the swaying, jerking floor of the cab. He hurried back and forth between the tender and the fire-box, crouching to keep his balance, struggling with the heavy logs. He was covered with soot, and the sweat made tiny rivulets in the black as it streamed down his body. His shirt had been caught by a puff of wind and carried out of the cab. He lifted the lid of the fireman's seat and threw his coat and cape into the box.
Andrews sat beside him again, glancing nervously at his watch. "If we are more than an hour late at Adairsville, the through freight may pull out and block the road. Then there's the southbound passenger train."
"At Adairsville?" asked Tom.
"No, at Calhoun," answered Andrews. "There is the same danger with that as with the freight. If we don't come within an hour of the time we're due, it has a right to go ahead and meet us at the next station." They were rounding a curve which gave them a clear view of the track behind for several miles. The pursuing engine was not in sight.
The speed of the General slackened. Tom glanced ahead and saw Adairsville.
"Are we going to stop?" he asked.
"Yes. I want to get that freight started south. They might wait, when they see that this is not the passenger train. Work up a full head of steam while we're here, Knight."
Tom put more fuel upon the fire. The train slid into the station at Adairsville and stopped. The freight train was standing on the side-track, ready to pull out. Andrews jumped to the platform:
"I'm running this special train to Chattanooga," he announced. "Some of Beauregard's troops have been cut off by Mitchel. Is the passenger train waiting for me at Calhoun?"
"I don't know," answered the amazed station agent. The conductor and the engineer of the freight train came running up.
"What's this—what's this?" asked the conductor.
"Special powder train," answered the station agent.
"Your way is clear to Kingston," said Andrews. "The passenger train is waiting there. I have to be going."
"But the southbound passenger train!" protested the conductor. "It has left Calhoun by this time. You'd better wait here."
"If I meet any train, I'll blow it off the face of the earth!" answered Andrews. "I have twenty tons of powder in those cars." He waved toward the empty box-cars—empty except for the sixteen men in the last. He swung aboard the General.
"Go ahead," he ordered.
Knight was at the throttle. After the one curve which took them out of sight of Adairsville, the tracks stretched straight ahead of them, and there was a slight down grade. Knight opened the throttle wide. The General plunged forward in huge leaps, swaying through space. There were moments when all the wheels seemed clear of the tracks, when the locomotive seemed to fly; at other times it settled on the tracks and shook as though it were about to drop in pieces. Behind them, the freight cars lashed back and forth, throwing the men on the floor when they tried to rise.
"Wood!" yelled Brown.
Tom took up his struggle with the logs. Now he picked them up and heaved them into the cab, then followed, holding to the tender, and stuffed them into the flames. He stopped once for breath, and looked at Knight. The engineer's face was screwed into a grimace; his jaw was set, his eyes half closed, and his head thrust forward into the wind which swept past them. Occasionally he closed the throttle a few notches, as though he were tempering the speed just enough to keep the General from leaping into the air. He seemed to be controlling a live monster, bent on carrying them to destruction.
Outside, the country flitted past them, a blur of trees and hills.
Andrews lurched across the cab and shouted to Knight: "Calhoun—around bend!" Knight nodded and slackened off on the throttle. The General drifted into a normal speed which, by comparison, was mere crawling; it hit the curve, swayed and settled down upon the tracks.
"Brake!" screamed Knight.
Brown and Tom lunged for the wheel and twisted. When it was set, Tom leaned from the cab and saw that they were bearing down upon the passenger train, its whistle screeching a warning. The two engines stopped within twenty yards of collision.
Andrews ducked out on the running board of the General. "Get back!" he yelled, waving frantically.
The engineer of the passenger train did not wait to ask questions; he reversed his locomotive and slid back into Calhoun, taking the main track. That left the side-track for Andrews. The engineer of the passenger train, in his anxiety to be far away from the train which had almost wrecked him, had backed so far that his rear car was blocking the other end of the side-track.
"Draw up and let me out," called Andrews.
But the engineer descended from his cab. "What do yon mean by running me down that way?" he demanded explosively. "You're over an hour late. I have the right of way." Then as he came closer: "Who are you?"
"I have the right of way here," answered Andrews. "This is a special powder train."
"Special or no special," answered the engineer, "no man can run a train like that on this road. Show me your orders."
"Get your train out of my way," answered Andrews. He was calm again now, and his tone showed nothing of the agony of suspense raging within him.
"I refuse to clear the track until you show me your orders for running like that."
Andrews glanced at Tom. And there was meaning in that glance. Tom swung from the engine and strolled back along the train, ready to call the men.
"Get your train out of my way," answered, Andrews evenly. He pulled out his watch. "I'll give you thirty seconds to start your train forward. At the end of that time I'll have my men do it for you, and I'll take you to Chattanooga with me—charged with aiding the enemy!"
The engineer began to splutter; then he paused, turned suddenly and strode off toward his engine. The passenger train pulled slowly ahead. Tom ran to the switch, threw the handle, and swung aboard the General as it passed him.
"Whew!" said Andrews. "I thought we were going to have trouble there."
"Do you think the passenger train will pull out?" asked Tom. "That would block 'em."
"No," answered Andrews. "He'll stay there. I wanted to tell him that the way was clear to Adairsville ... but I couldn't. It might mean a wreck, if they are still pursuing us. That would be terrible—it's a passenger train."
Tom nodded. Brown yelled for more wood. When the fire had been stoked, Tom took his seat beside Andrews.
"We've left them behind now, I think," continued the leader. "That tangle of freight at Kingston will stop them."
A deep rumble, rising above the noise of the General struck their ears. For a moment they did not know what it was; then Tom exclaimed, "Thunder! Look!" He pointed to the black sky. Already the rain was splashing down upon them, streaking the forward windows of the cab.
"We're near the Reseca bridge now," said Andrews. Then he added: "If only the rain doesn't come down hard enough to put out our fires! It may take us longer.... Hey, Knight! Stop here! We'll tear up the rails!"
The General glided around a sharp curve in the road and came to a stop. The men jumped out from the box-car.
"Pull up some rails here, men," ordered Andrews. "Break the wires, Scott." Scott was already halfway up a telegraph pole.
"We dumped some ties out on the road back there," said Ross. "They're lying across the rails."
"Good!" answered Andrews. "I think we've left them behind, but we can't take any chances. We may have to spend more time at the bridges starting the fires."
He ran back to where the men were working at the rail, grabbed the iron bar and rained blows down upon the spikes. When half of the spikes had been drawn, he yelled, "Pry this up!" They put the iron bar beneath the rail, and pulled. Slowly the remaining spikes gave way, and the inside rail of the curve rattled down the embankment.
"Now for the other side," ordered Andrews.
The men were beginning to attack the spikes when a prolonged blast of a locomotive whistle sounded to the south. There was an instant of quiet; then Andrews yelled:
"Come on! They're after us, but that rail will be enough to wreck them!"
They ran for the train.
The screeching whistle of the Yonah, which had sent the General speeding away from Kingston, was a warning to the engineer of the freight train blocking the way of the pursuers. It had pulled out of the station and was lumbering southward, intending to make the side-track at Cass Station and wait for Fuller's passenger train.
Brakes were twisted, and the two locomotives approached each other slowly.
"Our fuel's about gone," said Murphy.
Fuller was swinging from the Yonah's cab, ready to jump off. "Then we'll get aboard the freight," he replied. The others followed him.
"Back into the station," ordered Fuller, as he climbed into the cab of the freight locomotive. "The Yanks have stolen my train!"
"They've just pulled out!" answered the engineer. He threw the engine into reverse, while the fireman swung on the whistle cord.
Fuller sprang into the tender, climbed the wood pile and up on the box-car. The second freight was just pulling out, blocking the track. He waved and yelled to Murphy, who yanked at the whistle. The second freight stopped and waited. At that moment a combined passenger and freight train from the branch line to Rome swung around the bend and pulled into the station. The congestion was complete. With the fuel-less Yonah at one end, and the Rome train at the other, the three freights were hopelessly locked and tangled.
Fuller ran back to the engine. "Come on," he said. "We'll take the Rome engine."
"This engine is faster," answered Murphy. "We can shunt the cars on the side-track and run her backwards."
"It'll take a half-hour to get her clear," said Fuller. "Come on!"
He jumped from the train, and ran up the track. Murphy, still protesting, ran after him. It was their second foot race that day, and they arrived at the station winded.
"Cut that engine loose!" yelled Fuller. The station agent recognized him, and asked what had happened. "The Yanks!" answered Fuller. It was explanation enough. The Rome engine, supplied with fuel for its return trip, was uncoupled.
"Telegraph Chattanooga train stolen by Yanks. Am in pursuit."
The station agent ran to his office, but it was too late to get the message through; Andrews' men had already torn the line down.
The engine which Fuller now had was smaller and slower than the Yonah. The engineer, upon entering Kingston, had allowed the steam pressure to sink, and they crawled slowly from the station. Five minutes later they came to the break in the telegraph lines, and Fuller knew that his message to Chattanooga had not gone through. They worked feverishly at the engine, but the steam pressure rose slowly. It was that fact which saved them from a wreck when they came to the spot where Andrews' men had torn up the rail. There was ample time to reverse the engine and bring it to a stop.
Without spikes and tools it was hopeless to think of bridging the gap. They stood gazing ruefully at the break.
"We're done!" muttered Murphy.
"No, we're not," answered Fuller. "Come on!" And he started running up the track. The others, nearly exhausted by the pace he had led them, followed on their third foot race after the stolen train.
This broken rail, which so nearly blocked the course of his pursuers, was Andrews' greatest mistake. If he had left the way clear for Fuller, sending the southbound freight against him from Adairsville, a collision would have been inevitable. As it was, Fuller and his men, running towards Adairsville, heard the approaching train in plenty of time to stop it. Once again, scarcely fifteen minutes after deserting one locomotive, they were aboard another, the Texas.
It took but a minute to explain to the engineer what had happened. The engine, thrown into reverse, pushed back to Adairsville, with Fuller, mounted on the end box-car, controlling the train by signals. South of the station they stopped, while Fuller jumped from the train and pulled open the switch to the side-track. Murphy uncoupled the train at the engine. Again they started back, this time shunting the train to the siding and allowing it to run on its own momentum. When the wheels of the last car passed, with a gap of a few yards between the car and the engine, Fuller threw the switch and leaped for the cab. Murphy caught his arms and pulled him aboard. The Texas plunged backward down the track, racing the cast-off train as it rolled upon the siding. For a moment it seemed that they would collide at the north switch where the side-track re-entered the main line. Fuller, leaning from the cab, glanced apprehensively at the engineer. He had the throttle opened wide and the Texas was gaining speed at every turn of her wheels. The station agent was on the platform, waving his arms and yelling. Ahead of them, the leading freight car lurched as it struck the bend of the side-track; then the Texas rattled over the switch and out of danger—with two yards to spare.
Behind them, the freight car struck the closed switch, jumped it, ran off the track and turned over. The force of the cars shoved it over the ground: the second car crashed on its side.
Fuller glanced back indifferently at the wreck they had left behind them. "Keep her open wide!" he yelled, and the engineer nodded.
Ahead lay the clear straight road down which the General had swept just a few minutes before. There were no obstructions, and no breaks as far as Fuller and Murphy could see. They had climbed to the edge of the tender and were sitting, clutching the sides, studying the tracks ahead of them.
"Stop at Calhoun!" called Fuller, and the order was passed back to the engineer. As the station swung into view, the Texas came to a halt, with her brakes screaming.
Fuller jumped off. "That train—stolen!" he said to the station agent.
"Out of here five minutes ago."
Fuller dragged the protesting station agent to the engine. When the Texas had started again, he explained: "The lines are down. I want you to jump off at Dalton, if we haven't caught them before then, and send through this message. If we press them fast enough they won't have time to cut the lines."
Fuller took a pencil and paper and wrote the message:
"To Gen. Leadbetter,
"Commander at Chattanooga:
"My train captured this A.M. at Big Shanty, evidently by Federal soldiers in disguise. They are making for Chattanooga, possibly with the idea of burning the railroad bridges in their rear. If I do not capture them in the meantime, see that they do not pass Chattanooga.
"WILLIAM A. FULLER."
He handed the message to the station agent.
Murphy, on the tender, suddenly raised his arms and yelled. The engineer of the Texas closed the throttle, and reversed the engine. Fuller jumped to the brake; and the fireman, thinking that he had a train crew to man the brakes, swung on the whistle cord to give warning. It was this blast which fell on the ears of Andrews' men as they were tearing up the rail, a mile and a half farther north.
The Texas, trembling under the power of the reversed pressure against her piston, seemed to buck upon the tracks. She stopped as though she had come to the end of an anchor chain.
"Ties on the track," shouted Murphy, jumping from the tender. The others followed him and they tossed the ties to the side. Then they scrambled back aboard the locomotive.
"You men stand by the brake," ordered Fuller. "Murphy and I will be on the tender. When we raise our arms—stop!"
Two minutes later, Fuller and Murphy, straining to see obstructions on the track, caught a glimpse of the gap where a rail had been torn loose. It was only a glimpse, for the engine was almost upon it, swinging around the curve. They yelled and raised their arms, but it was too late.
Even before the engineer could close the throttle the Texas was on the verge of the break. Fuller and Murphy sat paralyzed, their arms outstretched, expecting the locomotive to plunge from the rails. Then, an instant later, they knew that the Texas had miraculously sailed over the gap!
Fuller was the first to regain his senses. He waved to the engineer to go ahead, and the Texas swept down the road. Murphy and Fuller looked at one another in dumb amazement.
"The inside rail of the curve," Murphy said at last. Fuller nodded in comprehension.
The Texas, lunging around the curve, had been thrown against the outside rail; the inside wheels were lifted clear of the break. Had Andrews' men attacked the outside rail first, the race would have ended there, with the Texas a battered wreck, strewn over the trackside. On the other hand, if Fuller and Murphy had seen the break sooner, a wreck would have been inevitable, for the locomotive, in checking its speed, would have rested evenly upon both rails. Luck was with the pursuers.
Now the rain was falling in torrents. It stung the faces of the two Confederates as they sat on the tender, peering ahead, but they were oblivious to it. Oblivious, that is, except that they knew the rain would help them. The bridges would be the harder to burn.
Time after time, they raised their arms and the Texas came to a stop, while they jumped to the ground and threw ties from the track. The General was gaining a greater lead each time the Texas was checked. And seconds were counting.
Fuller grabbed Murphy's arm, and said: "Look!"
Far ahead they saw a black cloud of smoke. It was the General approaching the Reseca bridge.
Tom slammed the door of the fire-box and climbed up on the seat beside Andrews, who was leaning half out of the window, absorbed in his own thoughts. He glanced back, and turned to Tom.
"They're still after us," he said grimly. "I want to drop the last box-car. Can you get back there and tell the men?"
"Yes," answered Tom. "Why not break 'through the ends of all the cars—so we can get back and forth without having to climb over the roofs!"
"All right—but hurry. Uncouple just as soon as you can."
Tom climbed over the logs in the tender; then, balancing carefully, he stood up and clutched the top of the swaying freight car. In an instant he had swung himself over and was running down the roofs of the cars, silhouetted against the cloudy sky. When he reached the end of the train he lay on his stomach and looked down. The men were feeding the ties they had collected out upon the road through an opening they had broken in the rear of the car. The hole was large enough so that he could climb down the ladder, swing around the corner, and enter.
"Andrews wants to drop this car," he told the men when he was safe inside. "Break the other end open." They took one of the rails they had removed from the track north of Big Shanty, and with it as a battering-ram knocked a hole in the forward end; then in the end of the second car. They passed the remaining ties and the rails forward.
"I'll pull the pin," said Tom. He lay down on the floor and reached for the coupling; then he drew back. "No—here, shove a tie off. Well see if we can wreck her."
As he drew the pin out, the others threw a tie down. It struck one wheel of the detached car, bounded, struck again and then bounded out of the way. The men silently watched the car rolling along behind them.
Tom shook his head in disgust. "Let's knock the ends of these cars out," he said. Once again they took the rail up and battered their way through. Tom climbed up over the end of the tender and reported to Andrews.
"We tried to wreck it," he said, "but the tie bounced out of the way."
Andrews nodded and leaned from the cab. "We're within a mile of Reseca bridge," he said slowly. "I don't dare to stop and build a fire. They're too close upon us."
Now, for the first time, Tom realized that the raid might fail in its purpose. The excitement of the race, of reaching this point where the road to Chattanooga lay clear before them, had been upon him; it had never entered his head that their long struggle against so many obstacles could end in anything but glorious success. Surely they could do something to block the way of the pursuing engine.
"Can't we stop and fight?" he asked. "Put up an obstacle at one of these curves, and attack them from ambush? We're all armed."
"No," answered Andrews; "they'll be better armed." He still believed that the engine in their rear had come from Atlanta—probably with a detachment of soldiers aboard, prepared for a battle. "There are bridges ahead—the Chickamauga bridges. We'll drop another car on the Reseca bridge. Go back and tell them. I'll slow down. Try to wreck it in the shed."
Tom hurried back again over the wood pile.
The Reseca bridge which ran over the Oostenaula River was covered by a long shed. And, as it was built upon a curve in the road, a box-car—either wrecked or merely left standing—could not be seen until the pursuing engine was almost upon it.
Ross stood at the side door of the first freight car, while Tom clutched the coupling pin, ready to draw it. Others waited with ties. The train's speed decreased.
"Get ready," yelled Ross; then, as they entered the shed, "Go!"
Tom drew the pin. The car seemed to cling to the train for several seconds; then the General leaped ahead. Ties streamed out upon the track. The wheels of the abandoned car knocked several out of the way; then, as the train swung about the curve, leaving the car hidden in the shed, Tom saw one tie resting at an angle across the track. The wheels struck it, and the car lurched heavily.... They could see no more.
"I think we put it off the track," cried Tom exultantly when he was back in the engine. Andrews slapped him on the back.
"We'll have to break the wires above here," he said as the little station in Reseca flashed past them. "Stop about a mile up here, Knight. On a curve."
"Wood!" yelled Brown.
Tom took up the work of dragging logs from the tender and stuffing them in the fire-box. He stopped once, and pointed to the wood pile. Fuel was running low.
"At Green's Station," said Andrews.
"Water there, too?" asked Brown.
"At Tilton—just a few miles farther on." Andrews waved to Knight to shut off the power.
"If that car at Reseca bridge doesn't stop them, we're cornered," panted Andrews as he ran back. "Put an obstruction here! That bent rail!"
The men ran back to the car and pulled out the rail. It was the one they had ripped from the ties north of Calhoun. They forced the straight end of it under the track, leaving the bent end projecting toward the pursuers—a scarcely visible snag which would rip into the engine.
"Keep dropping ties, men," ordered Andrews. "We have to stop at the wood yard."
Brown took the throttle and pushed the General onward toward Green's Station. Tom put the last of the fuel in the fire, and leaned wearily against the cab. Drops of rain, carried by the wind, splashed upon him and ran down his body, streaking the soot which covered his chest and stomach. His eyes met Knight's and they looked at each other dumbly, asking each other how the the race would end. Instinctively they turned toward Andrews. He was in the fireman's seat, hands clenched and face set, staring ahead. He did not move until they were within sight of Green's Station.
The General stopped at the wood pile and the men jumped out. The keeper of the yard came running toward them. Andrews waved him aside.
"Throw that wood aboard, men," he said. But they had already attacked the pile.
Then they heard repeated short blasts of a whistle to the southward. The men paused and looked at Andrews.
"Pile it in! Hurry!" he yelled.
"Who are you?" demanded the keeper. "What's this train!"
Andrews seemed not to hear him. Four Confederate soldiers who were standing several hundred yards away yelled and pointed in the direction of the whistling.
"'Board," called Andrews. As he climbed into the cab of the General, Tom saw that his face had become suddenly drawn. There was no talking now. The race had reached the final test of strength. While Tom, in the tender, yanked logs loose from the pile, Andrews stood ready to pass them to Knight, who shoved them into the fire-box.
"The wood's wet," said Knight. The others heard him and made no reply. He worked with the drafts, coaxing the fire. Occasionally, Brown glanced at the steam gauge; then the two engineers would exchange glances. Slowly the needle of the gauge crept up.
In the box-car the men silently dropped ties upon the tracks. Sometimes there was a mumble of satisfaction as a tie fell squarely across the rails; or a grunt of disgust when one tumbled end for end and landed out of position.
Running a mile or so behind them, they caught occasional glimpses of the smoke of the Texas. There were moments when the smoke paused and mounted straight into the sky; then a few seconds later it flattened out and rose in a long black stream. The Texas was running from obstruction to obstruction, clearing the way and pressing forward. How had they done it? How had they passed the broken rail, the ties along the track, the box-cars and the snag? Those questions were pounding in the brains of Andrews' men.
If ever a man combined determination with luck it was Fuller. He had started on foot from Big Shanty in complete ignorance of what was happening to his stolen train. Undoubtedly, if he had known that a party of Northern raiders had taken it, he would have waited until a locomotive came from Atlanta. The idea of running after a locomotive would have seemed too ridiculous. But, expecting to find it abandoned around each curve, he raced on and on until they came to the hand car; then the Yonah. When the Yonah had run out of fuel, the New York was there to carry him to the Rome engine. When the Rome engine had been stopped by the break in the track, they had come to the Texas. They had shunted and outraced the train, jumped the broken track, and avoided wrecking on obstructions so many times that they had lost count. And still they pressed on. The force of Fuller's determination seemed greater than the force of the steam which flashed against the pistons of the Texas.
Fuller and Murphy, still sitting on the edge of the tender, saw the abandoned box-car as they swerved around the bend. Fuller waved his arms up and down slowly to the engineer as a signal to come to a gradual stop. They coasted down upon the box-car, picked it up and carried it on with them. Fuller and Murphy climbed to the top of it; Murphy, staying at the rear end to repeat the signals of Fuller, who was perched on the front.
At the sight of ties lying across the track, Fuller's arms shot up. An instant later, the Texas was laboring to a stop under reversed power, her brakes grabbing at the wheels. Then, when the decreasing speed of the train gave his legs the advantage, Fuller was ahead, heaving ties from the road.
Far to the northward, across the bend which hid the Reseca bridge from view, Fuller caught a glimpse of the General speeding on its way. He saw that the train had been shortened once more, that the engine was hauling only one box-car. He dreaded that first sight of the Reseca bridge, for, if Andrews had left it in flames, the race was over for the Texas. Then they swept around the curve and the bridge lay before them, indistinct in the drizzle of rain. It appeared intact, but Fuller knew that long curving shed too well through his years of travel over the road not to be suspicious of what lurked inside.
He waved a signal to approach gradually; then, as they came to the entrance, his arms shot up. The Texas came to a stop.
"Wait here," he yelled, sliding down the ladder. He ran into the shed.
The left forward wheel of the box-car had mounted upon one of the ties thrown before it. The tie was wedged diagonally across the track, and the flange had cut a deep groove in it. The right wheel was nearly a foot off the track. Apparently the car had struck the tie just at the moment of losing momentum.
Fuller made a hasty examination, then ran back to the Texas. Murphy was coming forward to meet him.
"They've dropped the second box-car in there," explained Fuller. "The front wheels are off the track. We can drag it back, I think. We'll have to find a coupling pin."
The fireman was racing through his chest, looking for something which would serve to couple the cars together. "Will this be all right?" he asked, holding up a short crow-bar.
"Yes," answered Fuller. "And bring a heavy hammer."
While Murphy signaled the Texas into the shed, Fuller and the fireman ran forward with the crow-bar and hammer.
"Careful now," yelled Fuller, as the two box-cars came closer together. "Easy—easy!" The cars met gently. He slid the crow-bar into the hole and held it while the fireman hammered the top over.
"Now run back slowly—an inch at a time," ordered Fuller.
The engineer opened the throttle, and the Texas crept away, taking up the slack in the couplings. The left wheel followed back along the groove its flange had cut in the tie. Fuller watched it breathlessly. There came a clash of metal as the wheel slipped down from the tie and struck the track. For a second the flange rode on the rail, then settled into position, forcing the right wheel up.
Fuller yelled in triumph, kicked the tie off the track, and jumped for the ladder. The steam hissed as the Texas was thrown into reverse again. They swept out of the shed, pushing the two cars.
The bent rail which Andrews had left as a snag in the track would have wrecked Fuller if the Texas had been traveling forward instead of backward. As it was, the cars cleared it. The snag caught on the low cow-catcher of the engine and gave the train a mighty jerk. They were past it before they knew what had happened. In fact, Fuller did not know until later, for he had not seen the snag ahead of them, and he could see nothing as he looked back.
He motioned Murphy ahead. "What was that?" he asked.
"Don't know. Something on the track. Thought the engine was going off for a second."
"They'll probably stop at Green's for wood," said Fuller. "Keep the whistle going."
Murphy hurried back over the swaying cars. An instant later the whistle was screaming out its warning to the keeper of the wood yard at Green's Station.
Fuller's arms went up again, and he was on the ground removing ties.
"We'll have to stop for fuel," yelled Murphy.
When the Texas swung around into view of Green's Station the track ahead was still clear. The General was speeding northward.
FIGHTING WITH FIRE
Tom discovered that the weariness which was creeping over him, stealing his strength, was hunger. The sight of Knight gnawing at a hunk of bread sent him to his coat for the package of food he had bought at Big Shanty. Andrews, too, became suddenly aware that he must eat. Brown, hovering over the throttle, was too intent upon pushing the General forward to be conscious of his body. He sat there as though hypnotized by the gleaming rails which stretched before him.
Tilton came into view. Andrews crossed over to Brown and told him where to stop for water; then he stood ready to swing off the engine to confront anyone who might interfere. The station was one hundred yards north of the water pipe, so the agent could not get a good view of the freight car. It was obviously no car to support the special powder train story: its end was broken open wide, and the sixteen men within were waiting in readiness to swing off and fight.
Brown and Knight adjusted the water pipe. Andrews hurried forward to meet the keeper. Tom was a few yards behind him, prepared to run back and call the men out.
"Special train," said Andrews. "Running through to Corinth."
"Through to Corinth?" demanded the man incredulously.
"All right!" yelled Knight.
Andrews and Tom turned and ran back to the engine without waiting to answer questions. The General with Knight at the throttle now, went roaring past the amazed agent. He stood rooted to the ground while the men in the freight car waved derisively.
Brown had collapsed in the fireman's seat, his head thrown back against the cab wall and his eyes closed. The strain of driving a locomotive at full speed over a strange track was beginning to tell upon him.
"There is nothing for us to do until we get past Dalton," said Andrews. "On the other side of the tunnel is a bridge. We'll set fire to it." He glanced at his watch. "We're ahead of the passenger train's schedule, and we may find the tracks blocked at the switches in Dalton."
"What then?" asked Knight.
"We'll have to fight our way through," answered Andrews. "Tom, tell the men to stand ready to jump out and fight at Dalton. You stay up on the tender and don't let any man show a head until I give the signal." Then, to Knight: "Stop a couple of hundred yards below the station while I run ahead and see if the switches are clear. If the way is open, we'll rush it."
"Right," answered the engineer. "More wood, Tom."
Tom climbed up on the tender and passed the orders back to the men; then he turned to stoking the fire.
"Here we are," said Andrews. Once again he was calm and deliberate. He seemed to be gathering himself together for the conflict with the station authorities at Dalton.
Tom glanced ahead and saw the town looming up before them—the big station, with its high roof sweeping out over the tracks, the passenger coaches and freight cars standing upon the side-tracks, and the maze of switches. It seemed like a network, spread out to catch them. He climbed up on the wood pile in the tender where he could see Andrews and repeat a signal for help to the men.
As the General stopped, Andrews sprang off and walked ahead. He paused to talk with several men who were coming down the track, then walked on toward the station. Suddenly he turned and motioned sharply.
Knight pulled the throttle open and the General fairly jumped. Andrews swung aboard. "Push her, Knight!" he yelled.
Tom, perched on the tender, saw a man rush from the station and wave. He shouted something but it was lost in the noise of the locomotive. Then they plunged into the darkness of the roof, and out again on the other side.
Ahead of them the track swerved sharply to the left. Knight saw it too late to moderate his speed. The General hit the curve and reared on its right wheels, hanging there for a breathless moment. Tom clutched the edge of the tender to keep from being thrown off. He saw Knight's hand slip from the throttle as he slammed it shut, saw Andrews' expression of horror. It seemed as though whole minutes passed while the General balanced on the curve, swaying and trembling. Then slowly it tilted back to the left and struck the tracks with a clash that made the locomotive shudder. It wavered from side to side, gradually settling itself upon the rails.
Knight glanced at Andrews; his hand went to the throttle again and drew it open. Tom entered the cab. There was not a word said about their narrow escape from a wreck.
Ten minutes later Andrews called to Knight to stop. "Tell them to tear up the tracks and break the telegraph line, Tom," he ordered.
Tom climbed over the tender and into the freight car. He repeated Andrews' orders. Shadrack grabbed him and asked: "What was that we struck back there?"
"Curve in the road," answered Tom. "Almost threw me from the tender."
"It bounced me five times between the walls of this car," answered Shadrack.
The train came to a stop and the men streamed out through the back end of the car. Scott fairly shot up the telegraph pole.
Once again the whistle of the pursuers sounded.
"'Board," shouted Andrews. "Never mind about the track." When Tom joined him in the engine, he said: "Have the men start a fire in the freight car. We'll leave it in the first bridge shed. It's our last chance."
"How about the tunnel?" asked Tom. "An ambush—anything. Stop and fight them!"
"No—not now. Hurry! Get that fire started! Use the engine fuel!"
Tom went to the box-car. "Andrews wants you to start a fire here. We'll drop the car under the bridge shed. When you get the fire going, climb aboard the tender." He left the men gathering the splintered boards into a heap, and returned to the engine.
Shadrack's head appeared above the edge of the tender presently. He motioned to Tom. "This wood is so wet we can't light it. We haven't any paper."
"Wait," ordered Tom. He grabbed a log from the tender and went to the fire-box, thrusting one end into the blaze. "I'll have to pass the fire back to them," he explained to Andrews. "The wood is too wet."
When the end of the log was blazing, he pulled it out and raced back to Shadrack. The wind and the rain extinguished the flames, but he hurried forward again determinedly. This time he lighted several of the smallest logs, which burned more freely. He made three trips to the freight car, each time carrying a blazing torch, and he had just stepped into the tender with the last log when the blackness of night fell upon them. Tom paused for an instant bewildered. They had plunged into the tunnel.
The scene around him was illuminated by the flickering tongues of flame which lapped up the end of the log. He stumbled over the wood in the tender, and handed the log to Shadrack. Through the hole in the box-car he saw the men working at the fire. Several were bending over it, fanning, while others hurried back and forth in the dull glow bringing fuel. One man was breaking the walls of the car with the iron bar, throwing the boards back as he pounded and wrenched them loose. Then, suddenly, the blaze increased and the car was filled with smoke. Flames leaped several feet in the air, mounting high and higher until they spread out against the roof of the car.
"More logs, Tom."
Tom recognized Shadrack's voice. He passed log after log back.
The train emerged from the tunnel. The car was leaving a trail of smoke behind it; flames were darting from the side doors and flowing back against the walls. Several of the men climbed into the tender, wiping their eyes and coughing. More followed them until the tender seemed overflowing.
"All out, I guess," said Ross. "Whew! that's a hot fire."
"Where's Shadrack?" demanded Tom. They glanced about from one to another. Shadrack was not among them.
Tom jumped up to the edge of the tender and let himself down into the freight car.
"Shadrack!" he called; then louder, "Shadrack! Shadrack!"
There was no answer. The dense smoke choked and blinded him. "Shadrack!" He ran down the car, holding his breath and dodging the flames. "Shadrack!"
Tom swung out around the end of the car and found Shadrack on the ladder, climbing and fighting the waves of smoke which drifted back upon him, enveloping him, from the side door. He was dragging himself wearily from one rung to another.
"Can you get up?" Tom asked. Shadrack gasped and shook his head. "Hold on tight! Just hold there!"
Tom started back for the center of the car, found the side door and put his head out for a breath of clean air. Then he drew the door shut and made his way to the rear end again. That would keep the smoke from Shadrack as he climbed to the top of the car. Tom clung there, holding to the brake bar and the ladder, looking up. He saw Shadrack's legs disappear over the edge. Dizziness overcame him for a moment. He held on with all his strength, closed his eyes, letting the cool rain splatter in his face. Then he climbed the ladder, Shadrack was sitting on the top of the car, swaying weakly.
"Are you all right, Shadrack?" asked Tom.
"Yes—in a second. Thanks for coming. The smoke almost finished me. I was scattering the flames around. Is the fire going all right?"
"Yes. We'd better get back to the tender."
"I would have fallen off, if you hadn't closed that door. I'm still dizzy."
Tom looked ahead and saw the bridge. "Come on, Shadrack," he said. "We have to get forward. On your hands and knees." He, too, was so dizzy that he could not trust himself to walk upright. Together they crawled forward over the hot roof. Beneath them the flames crackled.
As they came to the end of the car and looked down into the tender, they found the men yelling, "Shadrack! Burns!" One of the men was gesticulating wildly to Andrews.
"Here we are!" yelled Tom. He waved to Andrews.
"We thought you were caught in there," said Wilson, helping them into the tender. "Dorsey started after you, but the fire forced him back."
"We were almost caught," gasped Tom, still choking from the smoke. The forward part of the car was a solid mass of flames, which roared and crackled above the noise of the engine. "Pass some of those logs into the engine!"
Tom entered the cab and stuffed fuel into the fire-box. Andrews, leaning from the fireman's window, was gazing back. He called to Tom and pointed. Behind them, perhaps a mile and a half, came the pursuing engine.
"Tell the men to pull the coupling when we stop," said Andrews. Tom obeyed, and Ross crawled over the end of the tender, his coat wrapped about his head to protect him from the flames, which spurted out in the eddies of wind.
"How much fuel have you left?" asked Andrews.
"This is our last chance, then," Andrews replied. "We'll have to abandon the locomotive if they get through."
Andrews jumped up and crossed to the other side of the engine. He stood beside Knight, shouting into his ear. Knight nodded; then he closed the throttle, and the General's speed slackened. The bridge shed was looming ahead of them.
The General darted into the shed and came to a stop. Tom stood at the door of the tender, waiting for the signal that the car had been uncoupled. Already the flames were licking the shed walls and mounting to the roof; the scene was illuminated in a wavering, red glow.
Boss jumped up from behind the tender, and yelled, "Go!"
"Go!" repeated Tom. The steam hissed and enveloped them in a cloud. The walls echoed the screeching of the wheels as they slid upon the tracks. Brown yanked at the sand lever. The wheels gained traction and the General jumped ahead and sped from the bridge.
Smoke was pouring from the ends of the shed as they looked back. And across the bend, a mile behind them, came the Texas!
THE END OF THE RACE
Fuller had stopped at Green's Station and at Tilton for wood and water; at Dalton he paused for a moment to shunt the two freight cars which Andrews had dropped. The telegraph operator who had been dragged into the chase at Calhoun ran to the station and pounced upon a telegraph key. Chattanooga answered him and he hammered out half of the message; then the wire "went dead." Andrews had broken the lines. But half of the message was enough to warn Chattanooga. The Commander of the Confederate troops rushed his men out to block the tracks against the raiders.
Fuller, relieved of the two box-cars, ordered the Texas ahead, and they swung out from the Dalton station.
"How about the tunnel?" Murphy asked.
Fuller thought for a moment. "We'll go straight through," he answered.
"You don't think that they'll drop that last box-car there?" asked Murphy.
"We'll have to take the risk. A minute's delay will be enough for them to destroy the bridge."
Murphy nodded and climbed up beside Fuller on the edge of the tender. Both of them realized that they would be in the very center of the wreck if Andrews had abandoned his last freight car in the tunnel. Yet they sat there, coolly and indifferently, awaiting whatever might come of the risk they were taking.
"If I were leading those men," said Fuller, "I would rush for the bridge, and not bother about the tunnel. And I think that is what they'll do." That was all he said as the black entrance grew larger before them.
The engineer glanced at Fuller and Murphy, wondering if they would give the signal to slow down. Neither of them moved. Then the Texas plunged into the smoke-laden darkness. Presently there appeared a faint luminous splotch ahead of them, growing brighter as the seconds passed. They flashed out into the daylight again.
"Whew!" said Murphy. They exchanged glances and Fuller laughed nervously.
The General was just disappearing around the bend.
"Look!" exclaimed Fuller. They caught a glimpse of the smoking freight car. He climbed down from the tender and went to the engineer. "Put every ounce into her! They're making for the bridge—freight car on fire!"
The Texas, unburdened by cars, had the advantage in speed now. For seconds she seemed to hover above the tracks as the engineer forced her around the curve under full throttle. They came to the point where they had caught the last glimpse of the General; then the bridge swung into view. Black smoke, with wisps of red flames breaking through it, poured from the ends of the shed.
"They've left the freight car in there," shouted Fuller to the engineer. "Just the shed is burning now. Slow down and pick the car up, then rush on through."
"Through that fire?" demanded the engineer.
"Yes! If we stop we're lost." Fuller went to Murphy. "Better come in the cab—we're going through." Murphy followed him. They stood looking out over the tender.
The engineer reversed the Texas and brought it to a crawling pace as they reached the mouth of the shed. Smoke and flames enveloped them, blinding them, and they felt the wheels of the locomotive crunching over charred board which had fallen across the track. Then came the shock as the tender bumped the freight car. Flames showered down over the locomotive, streaking through the blackness. The heat was scorching, sickening. The speed of the Texas increased. And then they found themselves in the clear air again, pushing the smoking remains of the freight car before them.
"Go on! Go on!" yelled Fuller. "Never mind about the bridge." He glanced back and saw the shed collapse, shooting sparks into the pillar of smoke that was rising. "We'll get them between here and Chattanooga."
* * * * *
That smoke, rising into the sky, came like a signal of triumph to Andrews' men. They watched it silently; then they yelled. It was recompense for all those long hours of tension and violent effort. The men danced, shouted, and hammered each other upon the back. Andrews' face, drawn by hours of anxiety, relaxed into a smile.
"There's one bridge down!" he shouted. "How much fuel have we?"
"This is the last of it," answered Tom. He kicked the two logs which lay on the tender floor, ready to be shoved into the fire-box.
Andrews went to the tender and gathered the men about him. "What we'll do from here on," he said, "depends upon whether the Rebs come through that bridge. If they don't get through, we'll have time enough to gather fuel and burn the bridges ahead of us. If they do get through, the only thing that we can do is to abandon the engine and take to our legs."
"Stop and fight 'em," protested Boss.
"No," answered Andrews. "We're not here to fight. It won't do us or the North any good. We're here to burn bridges and we've done it. If we can't reach the next bridge our work is done. Scatter—each man for himself!"
The General came into a long straight track, which had the small town of Ringgold at its northern end. "If we don't see them by the time we reach the next curve it means they're stopped," said Andrews.
Tom put the last of the fuel into the fire. Brown closed the dampers and glanced at the steam gauge. He shook his head savagely. "If we only had some of that fuel we used on the freight car!" he exclaimed.
"More important to burn the bridge," answered Tom. "I wish Andrews would stop around this bend and fight 'em."
The General was thundering down upon the station at Ringgold. The men stood in the tender gazing silently back, watching for the Texas to come around the curve.
Tom looked down the track. The Texas, pushing the smoldering freight car before her, was still after them! The Ringgold station flashed past, with the bewildered agent looking first at one locomotive and then at the other. The General whipped around the curve.
"Slow down, Knight!" ordered Andrews. "Jump off, men. Scatter and make your way back to the lines!"
Knight shut the throttle and allowed the General to lose speed. Tom, Andrews, and Brown stood aside while the men filed from the tender into the cab. The first stood on the step for a moment, then jumped. Tom saw him strike the trackside and go sprawling. The second jumped ... the third ... the fourth....
"Get ready to reverse the engine, Knight," said Andrews. "We'll send it back on them." Knight threw the lever over. "They'll stop in Ringgold for a minute to shunt that car."
All the men, except the engine crew, were off.
"You next, Tom," ordered Andrews. "Then Brown and Knight. I'll stay by the engine and send her back. Here, Tom, take your coat." In that last moment, Andrews was as calm as if he had reached the end of some commonplace, humdrum journey.
Tom took his coat and put it on. He paused for a second on the step of the General, then leaped. His feet struck the ground and he pitched forward. He arose, dazed and shaken, and stepped into the woods which lined the track.
The General disappeared up the track; a minute later the Texas passed him, and he caught a glimpse of the two men who had pursued them from Big Shanty. They were sitting on the edge of the tender, leaning forward eagerly.
"If we'd only stopped to fight them!" thought Tom. But it was too late for that now. The great railroad race was over, and ahead of him lay miles of enemy country. He wondered where the other men were, if he would meet them. He was aroused from his thoughts by the noise of a locomotive coming from the north. The Texas came rolling back, with the two men on the tender waving to the engineer; the General followed, steaming down the track with its cab deserted. But the Southerners had seen it in time to avoid collision.
The gap between the two locomotives narrowed; then they came together gently. One of the men jumped to the General's tender, rushed into the cab and shut the throttle. The locomotive which had carried the raiders on that wild trip from Big Shanty was again in the hands of the Confederates.
Tom stood behind a tree watching them. Presently the Texas started north, pushing the General before her. The last of its fuel and steam had been used in that final charge down the track.
Tom walked into the woods, away from the railroad, and sank to the ground exhausted. Minutes passed while he lay there resting. Every muscle in his body was sore, and it was enough just to stretch out with his head against the cool moist ground. The problem of getting out of the enemy's country and back to his own lines seemed too remote to be considered now. But presently he sat up and began to wonder what would happen next. He was about twenty miles from Chattanooga—he knew that from studying the map at Marietta. Mitchel's lines lay to the west, probably fifty miles away. To the north lay the flooded Tennessee River, which he would have to cross. And as for himself, he was shirtless and grimy with soot; he was almost without food, and dead tired. To make matters worse, just as though they were not bad enough, the drizzle of rain, which had been an implacable enemy since that night on the road to Wartrace, gave no signs of ending. Evening was approaching.
Tom got to his feet. First, he decided, he would put a greater distance between himself and the railroad. He walked through the forest and came to a road. It was deserted. Regardless of the danger of being seen so near to the spot where they had burned the bridge, he followed the road to the north. His ears were straining for the least sound of people approaching, and he dived into the bushes several times when he thought he heard someone. Then, since no one came, he took to the road again. He had his cape fastened around his neck to hide his shirtlessness, and he dabbed at his face with his handkerchief, wiping away the soot. But the idea of getting clean without soap and warm water was hopeless.
He heard the unmistakable creak of wheels behind him, and sprang into the bushes. Presently a heavy wagon, drawn by two tired-looking, emaciated horses, appeared on the road. In the wagon were two men and a woman. The man who was driving was carrying on a grumbling monologue. You worked like a dog, he said, to grow crops and then the government seized them to feed to good-for-nothing soldiers. The only crops he'd grow this year would be just enough for his own family. If the government wanted anything from him the government would have to pay him in advance.