Here he sat for some minutes, to be discovered by the telegraph operator when the latter came out to light the lamps in the waiting room.
“Mr. Reade is all in, I guess,” thought the operator. “I don’t wonder. I hope he goes to sleep where he sits.”
Ten minutes later the receiver of one of the up the terminal station. The operator broke in, sending back his response. Then a telegram came, which he penned on paper.
“Mr. Reade,” called the operator, “this is for you.”
Tom sat up, brushing his eyes, and read:
“If you can spare time wish you would ride down track to point about two miles west of Miller’s where brook crosses under roadbed. Have something to show you that will interest you. Nothing serious, but will fill you with wonder. My men all along line report all safe and going well. Come at once.” (signed) “Dave Fulsbee.”
Tom’s first instinct was to start and tremble. He felt sure that Fulsbee had bad news and was trying to conceal the fact until he could see the young chief engineer in person.
“But that’s really not Dave’s way,” Reade told himself in the next breath. “Fulsbee talks straight out from the shoulder. What has he to show me, I wonder! Gracious, how tired I am! If Fulsbee knew just how I feel at this moment he wouldn’t send for me. But of course he doesn’t know.”
Stepping outside, Tom looked about, espying his pony standing where it had been tied to one of the porch pillars of the station.
“I’ll get Harry to ride with me,” Reade thought, but he found his chum engaged in testing a stretch of rails near the station, a dozen of the college students with him.
“Pshaw! I’m strong enough to ride five miles alone,” muttered Tom. “Thank goodness my horse hasn’t been used up. Never mind, Tom Reade. To-morrow you can ride as far as you like on the railroad, with never a penny of fare to pay, either!”
Unnoticed, the young chief engineer untied his horse in the dark, mounted and rode away.
How dark and long the way seemed. Truth to tell, Tom Reade was very close to the collapse that seemed bound to follow the reaction once his big task was safely over. Only his strength of will sustained him. He gripped the pony’s sides with his knees.
“I wouldn’t want anyone to see me riding in this fashion!” muttered the lad. “I must look worse than a tenderfoot. Why, I’ll be really glad if Dave Fulsbee can ride back with me. I had no idea he was so near. I believed him to be at least fifty or sixty miles down the line.”
Tom was nearing the place appointed when a sudden whistle rang out from the brush beside the track.
Then half a dozen men leaped out into view in the darkness, two of them seizing the bridle of his horse.
“Good evening, Reade!” called the mocking voice of ’Gene Black. “Down this way to see your first train go through? Stay with us, and we’ll show you how it doesn’t get through—–not tonight!”