For two days before the Amorians were on the wing home there had been heavy falls of snow, culminating, on the going-away day, in a heavy snow-storm. All the way from St. Amory’s the express had been held up by doubtful signals, and in the deeper cuttings the snow had piled up in huge drifts. The express had toiled on its northern journey, steadily losing time at every point. At Preston Acton had telegraphed home that probably they would arrive quite three hours late. Thus it was that, tired but jolly, the party of five Amorians got out of the main line express at Lowbay, and, each laden with rugs and magazines, stumbled light-heartedly across the snow-sodden platform into the local train, which had waited for the express nearly three hours. They found themselves sixteen miles from home, and with no prospect of reaching it before midnight.
“Raven Crag,” the name of Acton’s home, was situated just within the borders of Yorkshire. A single line of rails takes you from Lowbay Junction up the Westmoreland hills to the top of the heaviest gradient in the kingdom, and then hurtles you down into the little wayside station of Lansdale, the station for “Raven Crag.”
The sturdy tank engine coupled to the short local train was steaming steadily and noisily, and when the express had rolled heavily out for Carlisle, the station-master hastily beat up intending passengers for the branch line. Besides Acton’s party, there were only two passengers, a lady and a little girl.
“I’ll give the old tank a good half-hour to crawl the eight miles to the top of the fells,” said Acton, “and then we’ll rattle into Lansdale in ten minutes. But she will cough as she crawls up. Look here, Dick, I’ll have a whole rug, please. This carriage is as cold as a refrigerator.”
The fellows made themselves as comfortable as an unlimited supply of rugs and a couple of foot-warmers would admit of. Dick Worcester, without a blush, propped his head against a window and said: “Grim, there’s a lingering death for you if you fail to wake me five minutes from Lansdale.” The others exchanged magazines and yawned hopefully, whilst Acton took out his Kipling, and straightway forgot snow, home, and friends.
The station master, and the driver, and the guard held an animated conversation round the engine. “Strikes me, Bill, the old engine’ll never get t’ top of t’ bank to-night!” said the guard. “The snow must be terrible thick in Hudson’s cutting.”
“She’ll do it,” said the driver,—“wi’ luck.”
“Got another engine with steam up,” inquired the guard, “to give us a lift behind?”
“No, they’re all shut down, and we couldn’t wait now. You’ll have to run her through yourselves,” said the station-master. “Nearly four hours late already! Off with you!”
“I’m doubting we can’t do it,” said the guard, thoughtfully. “To-night is the worst night I can remember for years. The expresses could just manage it.”