Chapter XV. "It's a Bear!".
 

"What can we do?" It was Grace who asked the question. It was Betty, the Little Captain, who answered it.

"We must stop the train," she said. "We must wave something red at it. Red always means danger."

"Mollie's tie," exclaimed Amy. Mollie was wearing a bright vermilion scarf knotted about the collar of her blouse.

"It isn't big enough," decided Betty. "But we must do something. That man said the train would come along soon. It's an express. A slow train might not go off the track, as the break is only a small one. But the express--"

She paused suggestively--apprehensively.

"There's a man!" cried Grace.

"A track-walker!" cried Betty. "Oh, he'll know what to do," and she darted toward a man just appearing around the curve--a man with a sledge, and long-handled wrench over his shoulder.

"Hey! Hey!" Betty called. "Come here. There's a broken rail!"

The man broke into a run.

"What's that?" he called. "Got your foot caught in a rail? It's a frog--a switch that you mean. Take off your shoe!"

"No, we're not caught!" cried Betty, in shrill accent. "The rail is broken!"

The track-walker was near enough now to hear her correctly. And, fortunately, he understood, which might have been expected of him, considering his line of work.

"It's a bad break," he affirmed, as he looked at it, "Sometimes the heat of the sun will warp a rail, and pull out the very spikes by the roots, ladies. That's what happened here. Then a train--'twas the local from Dunkirk--came along and split the rail. 'Tis a wonder Jimmie Flannigan didn't see it. This is his bit of track, but his wife is sick and I said I'd come down to meet him with a bite to eat, seein' as how she can't put up his dinner. 'Tis lucky you saw it in time, ladies."

"But what about the train?" asked Betty.

"Oh, I'll stop that all right. I'll flag it, and Jimmie and me'll put in a new rail. You'll be noticin' that we have 'em here and there along the line," and he showed them where, a little distance down the track, there were a number placed in racks made of posts, so that they might not rust.

From his pocket the track-walker pulled a red flag. It seemed that he carried it there for just such emergencies. He tied it to his pick handle, and stuck the latter in the track some distance away from the broken rail.

"The engineer'll see that," he said, "and stop. Now I'll go get Jimmie and we'll put in a new rail. You young ladies--why, th' railroad company'll be very thankful to you. If you was to stop here now, and the passengers of the train were told of what you found--why, they might even make up a purse for you. They did that to Mike Malone once, when he flagged the Century Flier when it was goin' to slip over a broken bridge. I'll tell 'em how it was, and how you--"

"No--no--we can't stay!" exclaimed Betty. "If you will look after the broken rail we'll go on. We must get to Broxton."

"Oh, sure, it'll not take the likes of you long to be doin' that," complimented the man, with a trace of brogue in his voice. "You look equal to doin' twice as much."

"Well, we don't want to be caught in the rain," spoke Mollie.

"Ah, 'twill be nothin' more than a sun shower, it will make your complexions better--not that you need it though," he hastened to add. "Good luck to you, and many thanks for tellin' me about this broken rail. 'Tis poor Jimmie who'd be blamed for not seein' it, and him with a sick wife. Good-bye to you!"

The girls, satisfied that the train would be flagged in time, soon left the track, the last glimpse they had of the workman being as he hurried off to summon his partner to replace the broken rail.

That he did so was proved a little later, for when the girls were walking along the road that ran parallel to the railroad line some distance farther on, the express dashed by at a speed which seemed to indicate that the engineer was making up for lost time.

Several days later the girls read in a local paper of how the train had been stopped while two track-walkers fitted a perfect rail in place of the broken one. And something of themselves was told. For the track-walker they had met had talked of the young ladies he had met, and there was much printed speculation about them.

"I'm glad we didn't give our names," said Grace. "Our folks might have worried if they had read of it."

"But we might have gotten a reward," said Mollie.

"Never mind--we have the five hundred dollars," exclaimed Grace.

"It may already be claimed," spoke Betty.

When they had seen the express go safely by, thankful that they had had a small share in preventing a possible loss of life, the girls continued on their way. They stopped for lunch in a little grove of trees, brewing tea, and partaking of the cake, bread and meat Amy's cousin had provided. Amy had torn her skirt on a barbed wire fence and the rent was sewed up beside the road.

The clouds seemed to be gathering more thickly, and with rather anxious looks at the sky the members of the Camping and Tramping Club hastened on.

"Girls, we're going to get wet!" exclaimed Mollie, as they passed a cross-road, pausing to look at the sign-board.

"And it's five miles farther on to Broxton!" said Amy. "Can we ever make it?"

"I think so--if we hurry," said Betty. "A little rain won't hurt us. These suits are made to stand a drenching."

"Then let's walk fast," proposed Grace.

"She wouldn't have said that with those other shoes," remarked Amy, drily.

"Got any candy?" demanded Mollie. "I'm hungry!"

Without a word Grace produced a bag of chocolates. It was surprising how she seemed to keep supplied with them.

The girls were hurrying along, now and then looking apprehensively at the fast-gathering and black clouds, when, as they turned a bend in the road, Amy, who was walking beside Grace, cried out:

"Oh, it's a bear! It's a bear!"

"What's that--a new song?" demanded Mollie, laughing.

"No--look! look!" screamed Amy, and she pointed to a huge, hairy creature lumbering down the middle of the highway.