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   Chapter 4 BLIND FOR LIFE

Bart Stirling's Road to Success; Or, The Young Express Agent By Allen Chapman Characters: 6654

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Bart's first thought was of his father. He instantly leaped from the platform.

As he did so there was a violent explosion in the storage room, the sashes were blown from place outright, and Bart dodged to escape a shower of glass.

He was fairly appalled at the suddenness with which the flames enveloped the interior, for they shot up in every direction, and the partition dividing the shed appeared blown from place.

Rockets were fizzing, giant crackers exploding by the pack, and colored chemicals sending out a varied glow.

Bart dashed for the front-a muffled cry caused him to hurry his speed. His father had uttered the cry.

Dazed by the light, his eyes filled with smarting particles of burned powder, Bart suddenly came in violent contact with a human form just as he turned the corner of the shed.

Both nearly upset in the collision. At first Bart fancied it might be one of the burglars, but peering closer he recognized the friendly roustabout.

"Told you so!" gasped the latter in a desperate fluster. "Fire-I'll help you."

"Yes, quick! run," breathed Bart, rushing ahead, "My father's in that burning building!"

Bart was thrilled. The main room of the express shed was one bright blur of brilliancy and colored smoke.

It rolled and whirled, obliterating all outlines within the room.

"Father! father!" shouted Bart, dashing recklessly in at the open doorway.

He could not make out a single object in that chaos, but he knew the location of every familiar article in the place, and made for the chair in which his father usually sat.

"Father!" he screamed, as his hands touched the arms of the chair and found it empty.

The sulphurous flames nearly choked him, the heat from the crackling wooden partition singed his hair, but he could only grope about blindly.

"Here he is," sounded a suffocating voice.

"Where, oh! where?" panted Bart.

He threw out his arms wildly, groping to locate the speaker, whom he knew to be the roustabout. "Where is he-where is he?"

He had come in contact with the roustabout now, who with all his timidity was proving himself a hero in the present instance.

"Lying on the floor-stumbled over him-I'm on fire, too!"

Bart's feet touched a prostrate form. It was moved along as Bart stooped and got hold of the shoulders.

The roustabout was helping him. They dragged together, stumbling to the doorway on the very verge of fatal danger, and reeled across the platform.

The roustabout jumped to the ground. Once there he gently but in a masterly way drew the inanimate form of Mr. Stirling from the platform, and carried him over to a pile of ties outside of the glow and scorch of the burning express shed.

Bart anxiously scanned his father's face. It was black and blistered but he was breathing naturally.

"Overcome with the smoke-or tumbled and was stunned," declared the roustabout.

Excited approaching shouts caused the speaker to glare down the tracks. Half a dozen people were hurrying to the scene of the fire. The roustabout with a nervous gasp vanished in the darkness.

Bart was hovering over his father in a solicitous way as a night watchman and a freight crew appeared on the scene. There was a volley of excited questions and quick responses.

No means of extinguishing the flames were at hand. Th

e newcomers suggested getting the insensible Mr. Stirling over to the street beyond the tracks a few hundred yards distant, where there was a drug store.

Bart ran for the hand truck on the platform, saw two of the men start off with his father on it, and hurried back to the burning express shed.

He had hoped to save something, but one effort drove him back, realizing the foolhardiness of repeating the experiment. The building and its contents were doomed.

The crowd began to gather and grew with the moments. A road official appeared on the scene. Bart made a brief, hurried explanation and ran over to the drug store.

To his surprise his father was not there. Bart approached the druggist to ask an anxious question when the companion of the latter, a professional-looking man, spoke up.

"You are young Stirling, are you not?" he interrogated.

"Yes, sir," nodded Bart.

"Don't get frightened or worried, but I am Doctor Davis. We thought it best to send your father to the hospital."

"To the hospital!" echoed Bart turning pale. "Then he is badly injured-"

"Not at all," dissented the physician reassuringly. "He was probably overcome by the smoke or fell and was stunned, but that injury was trifling. It is his eyes we are troubled about."

"Tell me the worst!" pleaded Bart in a choked tone, but trying to prepare himself for the shock.

"Why, one eye is pretty bad," said the doctor, "and the other got the full force of some powder explosion. They have good people up at the hospital, though, and they will soon get him to rights."

"I must tell my mother at once," murmured Bart.

He left the place with a heart as heavy as lead. It seemed as if one furious Fourth of July powder blast had disrupted the very foundations of all the family hopes and happiness, leaving a blackened wreck where there had been unity, comfort and peace.

If his father was disabled seriously, their prospects became a very grave problem. Bart, too, was worried about the loss to the express company. The books were probably out on the desk when the fire commenced, the safe was open, and the loss in money and records meant considerable.

Bart felt that he was undertaking the hardest task of his life when he reached home and broke the news to his mother-it was like disturbing the peace of some earthly Eden.

Mrs. Stirling went at once to the hospital with her eldest daughter, Bertha. Bart, very anxious and miserable, got the younger boys to bed and tried to cheer up his little sister Alice, who was in a transport of grief and suspense.

The strain was relieved when Bertha Stirling came home about eleven o'clock.

She was in tears, but subdued any active exhibition of emotion until Alice, on the assurance that her father was resting comfortably at the hospital, was induced to retire.

Then she broke down utterly, and Bart had a hard time keeping her from being hysterical.

She said that her mother intended staying all night at the side of her suffering husband and had tried to send some reassuring word to her son.

"You must tell me the worst, you know, Bertha," said Bart. "What do they say at the hospital? Is father in serious danger? Will he die?"

"No," answered the sobbing girl, "he will not die, but oh! Bart-the doctor says he may be blind for life!"

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