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11. "Down Brakes"
The greatest people have their weak points, and the best-behaved boys now and then
yield to temptation and get into trouble, as everybody knows. Frank was considered a
remarkably well-bred and proper lad, and rather prided himself on his good reputation,
for he never got into scrapes like the other fellows. Well, hardly ever, for we must
confess that at rare intervals his besetting sin overcame his prudence, and he proved
himself an erring, human boy. Steam-engines had been his idols for years, and they
alone could lure him from the path of virtue. Once, in trying to investigate the
mechanism of a toy specimen, which had its little boiler and ran about whistling and
puffing in the most delightful way, he nearly set the house afire by the sparks that
dropped on the straw carpet. Another time, in trying experiments with the kitchen tea-
kettle, he blew himself up, and the scars of that explosion he still carried on his hands.
He was long past such childish amusements now, but his favorite haunt was the engine-
house of the new railroad, where he observed the habits of his pets with never-failing
interest, and cultivated the good-will of stokers and brakemen till they allowed him many
liberties, and were rather flattered by the admiration expressed for their iron horses by a
young gentleman who liked them better even than his Greek and Latin.
There was not much business doing on this road as yet, and the two cars of the
passenger-trains were often nearly empty, though full freight-trains rolled from the
factory to the main road, of which this was only a branch. So things went on in a
leisurely manner, which gave Frank many opportunities of pursuing his favorite pastime.
He soon knew all about No. ii, his pet engine, and had several rides on it with Bill, the
engineer, so that he felt at home there, and privately resolved that when he was a rich
man he would have a road of his own, and run trains as often as he liked.
Gus took less interest than his friend in the study of steam, but usually accompanied
him when he went over after school to disport himself in the engine-house, interview the
stoker, or see if there was anything new in the way of brakes.
One afternoon they found No. 11 on the side-track, puffing away as if enjoying a quiet
smoke before starting. No cars were attached, and no driver was to be seen, for Bill was
off with the other men behind the station-house, helping the expressman, whose horse
had backed down a bank and upset the wagon.
"Good chance for a look at the old lady," said Frank, speaking of the engine as Bill did,
and jumping aboard with great satisfaction, followed by Gus.
"I'd give ten dollars if I could run her up to the bend and back," he added, fondly
touching the bright brass knobs and glancing at the fire with a critical eye.