Dave Porter in the Far North/Chapter 3
OFF THE TRACK
"Well, If he isn't the worst yet," was the comment of the senator's son.
"I hope he isn't waiting for that train," said Shadow. "I don't want to see any more of him."
"Pooh! who's afraid?" asked Phil. "I guess we can make him keep his distance."
"I thought I knew him when he came In, but I wasn't sure," said the restaurant keeper. "The man who runs the hotel, Mr. Brown, had a lot of trouble with him because he wouldn't pay his bill—said it was too high. Then he came here once and said the meat wasn't fresh and the bread was stale and sour. I came close to pitching him out. Don't let him walk over you—if he does take your train."
"No danger," answered Dave. He had not yet forgotten the rude manner in which Isaac Pludding had shoved him.
It was soon time for the Oakdale train to arrive, and the students walked back to the depot. The snow was over a foot deep and still coming down steadily. The depot was crowded with folks, and among them they discovered Isaac Pludding, with his valise and a big bundle done up in brown paper.
"He certainly must be waiting for the train," said Dave; and he was right. When the cars came to a stop the stout man was the first person aboard. The students entered another car and secured seats in a bunch as before.
"By the way, where is Nat Poole?" asked Roger, suddenly. "I didn't see him get off the other train."
"He got off and walked towards the hotel," answered Phil. "I suppose he feels rather lonesome."
"That can't be helped," said Sam. "He makes himself so disagreeable that nobody wants him around."
Just as the train was about to start a boy leaped on the platform of the car our friends occupied, opened the door, and came in. It was Nat Poole, and he was all out of breath. He looked for a seat, but could find none.
"They ought to run more cars on this train," he muttered, to Roger. "It's a beastly shame to make a fellow stand up."
"Better write to the president of the railroad company about it, Nat," answered the senator's son, dryly.
"Maybe there is a seat in the next car," suggested Phil.
Nat Poole shuffled off, looking anything but pleased. Hardly had he gone when several came in from the car ahead, also looking for seats. Among them was Isaac Pludding. He had had a seat near a door, but had given it up to look for something better, and now he had nothing. He glanced bitterly at the students as he passed, then came back and leaned heavily against the seat Dave and Roger were occupying. In doing this he almost knocked Dave's hat from his head.
"I'll thank you to be a little more careful," said Dave, as he put his hat into place. He felt certain that Isaac Pludding had shoved against him on purpose.
"Talking to me?" growled the stout man.
"I am. I want you to stop shoving me."
"I've got to stand somewhere."
"Well, you quit shoving me, or you'll get the worst of it," answered Dave, decidedly.
At that moment the car lurched around a curve and Isaac Pludding bumped against Dave harder than ever. Thoroughly angry, the youth arose and faced the stout man.
"If you do that again, I'll have you put off the train," he said.
"That's right, Dave, don't let him walk over you," added Roger.
"If he doesn't know his place, teach it to him," was Phil's comment.
"Have me put off the train?" cried Isaac Pludding. "I'd like to see you do it! I want you to know I am a stockholder of this line."
"Then it's a shame you don't provide seats for all your passengers."
"That's true, too," remarked a gentleman who was standing close by.
"I don't believe he owns more than one share of stock," observed Sam. "And that he most likely inherited from his great-granduncle."
"I own five shares!" howled Isaac Pludding. "And I want you to know——"
What he wanted the boys to know they never found out, for at that moment the train gave another lurch. It came so suddenly that the stout man was taken completely from his feet and sent sprawling in the aisle on his back. A valise from a rack over a seat came tumbling down, and, not to get it on his head, Roger shoved it aside and it struck Isaac Pludding full on the stomach, causing him to gasp.
The boys uttered a shout of laughter, and many other passengers joined in. The floor of the car was wet from snow, and when Isaac Pludding scrambled up he was covered with dirt. Dave caught up the valise and turned it over to Sam, to whom it belonged.
"Who threw that valise on me?" demanded the stout man, eyeing the boys in rage.
To this there was no answer.
"I guess you threw it," went on Isaac Pludding, and caught Dave by the arm.
"Let go of me," said Dave, eyeing the man steadily. "I did not throw it. Let go."
Isaac Pludding wanted to argue the matter, but there was something in Dave's manner that he did not like. He dropped his hold and drew back a little.
"Don't you dare to shove me again—not once," continued the youth. "If you do you'll regret it. I have stood all from you that I am going to stand."
"Oh, you're no good," muttered the stout man, lamely, and passed on to the end of the car.
The train was coming to a halt at a place called Raytown. They were now but eight miles from Oakdale, and the students began to wonder if anybody would be at that station to meet them.
"If Horsehair comes down with the carryall, he'll have all he can do to get through the snow," said Dave.
"Perhaps he'll come down with four horses," suggested Roger.
"One thing is certain. Doctor Clay will see to it that we get to Oak Hall somehow," said Ben.
"What a rickety old railroad this side line is!" declared Phil, as the car gave several lurches. "It's a wonder they don't fix the track."
"Not enough traffic to make it pay, I fancy," answered Dave. "They carry more milk and cattle than they do passengers."
It was growing dark and still snowing briskly. The car was cold, and more than one passenger had to stamp his feet to keep them warm. On they plunged, through the snow, until of a sudden there came a lurch and a jerk and then a series of bumps that caused everybody to jump up in alarm. Then the train came to a stop.
"What's the matter now?"
"I think we must be off the track."
"It's a wonder the train didn't go over."
"It couldn't go over, for we are down in a cut."
As one end of the car was up and the other down, the boys knew something serious was the matter. Taking up their hand baggage, they followed some of the passengers outside and jumped down in the snow.
It did not take long to learn the truth of the situation. A turnout on the track had become clogged with ice, and the locomotive and two cars had jumped the track and bumped along the ties for a distance of two hundred feet. Nobody had been hurt, and even the train was not seriously damaged, although one pair of car-trucks would have to be repaired.
"I don't believe they can get the cars and the locomotive back on the track right away," said Dave. "They'll have to have the wrecking train and crew down here."
When appealed to, the conductor said he did not know how soon they would be able to move again. Probably not in three or four hours, and maybe not until the next morning.
"I'll have to walk back to Raytown and telegraph to headquarters," he explained.
"We are in a pickle, and no mistake," was Roger's comment. "I must say I don't feel like staying on the train all night—it's too cold and uncomfortable."
In the group of passengers was Isaac Pludding, storming angrily at everything and everybody.
"It's an outrage!" he declared, to a bystander. "I must get to Oakdale by seven o'clock. I've got a business deal for some cattle I must close. If I don't get there, somebody else may buy the cattle."
"I hope he gets left," said Phil, softly.
"So do I," returned Dave.
"If we could only hire a big sleigh and some horses, we might drive to Oakdale," suggested Ben.
"Hurrah, that's the talk!" cried Dave. "There must be some farmhouse near here."
"Say, if you can get a sleigh, I'll pay my share, if you'll take me along," put in Nat Poole, eagerly. He hated to think of being left behind.
"All right, Nat, I'm willing," said Dave, generously.
"We've got to find the sleigh first," added the senator's son.
"And see if we can get horses enough to pull it," said Ben. "Some farmers won't let their horses out in such a storm as this—and you can't blame 'em much, either."
"If we can't get a sleigh, perhaps we can stay at some farmhouse all night," suggested Sam.
All of the party climbed through the snow to the top of the railroad cut and then looked around for some buildings.
"I see a light!" cried Phil, and pointed it out, between some bare trees.
"It's a house; come on," replied Dave, and set off without delay, the others following. "Who knows but that somebody else may want to ride, and if so, we want to be first to get a sleigh."
It was rather a toilsome journey to the farmhouse. Between them and the place were a barn and a cowshed, and just as they passed the former there arose a fierce barking, and three big black dogs came bounding toward the students.
"Look out! The dogs will chew us up!" yelled Nat Poole, in terror, and started to retreat.
"Down!" called out Dave, who was still in advance. "Down, I say! Charge!" But instead of obeying, the big dogs continued to approach until they were within a dozen feet of the students. Then they lined up, growled fiercely, and showed their teeth.
"Let us get into the barn," suggested Roger, and flung open a door that was handy. Into the building they went pell-mell, Dave being the last to enter. One dog made a dart at the youth's leg, but Dave gave him a kick that sent him back. Then the door was slammed shut and latched, and the students found themselves in utter darkness.
"Wonder if they can get in any other way?" asked Phil, after a second of silence, during which they heard the dogs barking outside.
"I doubt if any of the doors are open in this storm," answered Shadow.
"Let us get up in—in the loft!" suggested Nat Poole. He was as white as the snow outside and his teeth were chattering from something else besides the cold.
"That's a good idea," said Dave. "But we must have a light to learn where the loft is. Anybody got a match?"
Nobody had such an article, and a groan went up. Nat Poole was appealed to, for the others knew he had been smoking on the train.
"My matchbox is empty," said he. "I am going to hunt for the loft ladder in the dark."
"Be careful, or you may run into some troublesome horse," cautioned Dave.
The boys moved slowly around in the dark. They could hear the sounds of several horses feeding and the barking of the dogs. Then, quite unexpectedly, came the cracking of a board, a yell of alarm from Nat Poole, and a loud splash.
"Help! I am drowning! Save me!"