Sorry for the delay, but here we go: the final part of the story!
Chapter Thirteen: The Family Gathering
Due to both the cold and the fact they had been stuck in the snow for several hours, all the men on hand began to work quickly. They instantly split up: a less amount of people going to clear away snow from the back of the train, moving quickly and effortlessly with the strength and speed that came from loading slate into trucks all day long, while more people moved forwards to help get Skarloey back onto the track. Using the metal bards and the sleepers to create a lever, the men were able to start moving Skarloey onto the tracks. It was made difficult due to things being in the snow, but they spread hot coals on the tracks and around them to lessen the amount of snow and make things easier.
"I remember when that happened to me once," Duncan said, watching as Skarloey was lifted up by the weight of the men on the bars. Skarloey and Rheneas simply nodded, not saying anything: whilst they were glad Duncan had come to their rescue, they were still annoyed with his behaviour over the past few days and weren't ready to fully forgive him. Duncan could understand this, even though he felt bad, and figured it was best to explain himself on the way back.
As the men lifted Skarloey onto the tracks, the snow diggers decided to move away from the back of the train to the front, clearing the snow that had fallen across as well as moving it away from the wheels of the coaches and Rheneas to not cause any delays. It didn't take long to clear the lines up ahead of snow, and Duncan reversed to a set of point and began to move onto the track. He watched with delight as the men, with extra help from the snow clearers, manoeuvred Skarloey back onto the tracks.
"YEEEESSSS!" They all shouted, and the three engines joined in by blowing their whistles loudly, the combined noise managing to sound above the wind: after all this time spent trapped in the snow, the Christmas Kids train was finally going to reach the station!
"Duncan is going to be coupled to the front and will help pull the train so we can get there faster," Skarloey's driver said, the guard going back to Beatrice and the workers climbing back into the slate truck. Skarloey nodded, though he didn't look happy about the arrangement as Duncan moved forwards and was coupled up to him.
"Let's see if we can beat Rusty and Ivo Hugh back to the station," Duncan said, giving a stab at humour, though Skarloey simply looked confused.
"What do you mean?" He asked, just as the guard's whistle sounded almost triumphantly behind them. The children all cheered inside the coaches, while the coaches all cheered as well, glad to finally be moving. As the triple header train started to move, Duncan decided to explain everything that had happened.
Duncan explained about how he hadn't taken the Flail Mower and went to the Incline, where he upset Elizabeth and didn't deliver the fuel. He explained how by not delivering the fuel, Fred wasn't able to come up and help them and the other engines had all had their fires put out. He explained about how he had refused to move, meaning Ivo Hugh went and got stuck in the snow, and than Rusty couldn't go because of low fuel. He told them how Madge saved the day by convincing Elizabeth to come and convince him, and that Duncan finally realised what a fool he was being and came to the rescue, while Rusty went to save Ivo Hugh.
By the time Duncan had finished explaining, the train was far on its way and they were nearly at the station. Skarloey looked rather stunned by Duncan's explanation of things, and Duncan could only imagine that Rheneas looked the same. The coaches and children were still cheering behind them, along with the men behind Duncan, but the three remained silent as the wind blew through them and the two old engines digested Duncan's words.
"I am very sorry for not coming earlier," Duncan explained. "It was really stupid of me, and I know I shouldn't have done it and I am really sorry. You two do deserve to take trains, especially special ones, but I do enjoy taking my trains and was just rather stunned by things." Skarloey simply nodded, and as they approached the station, he broke out into a smile.
"Duncan, it was foolish what you did, but I think that the important thing is that in the end you did the right thing," the old engine said wisely, taking Duncan by surprise: he was ready for them to tell him off about things.
"I can see where you're coming from – even if you went about things the wrong way," Rheneas called out. "I think we can forgive you, can't we Skarloey?"
"I think we can," Skarloey laughed. "We would be stuck in the snow without you saving us, after all, so we can't stay too mad." The two engines laughed, but Duncan only managed a smile.
"You should be thanking Elizabeth and Madge: they're the ones who really saved the day," he said and Skarloey nodded.
"I must remember too next time we see them," he said. "However, I have a feeling that we've arrived at the party." Though Duncan couldn't see, he could hear the children's screams getting louder and saw their heads sticking out of the coaches. He could also hear people cheering on the platform along with a two horns and a loud whistle.
"Looks like you lost your bet Duncan," his driver laughed, as the three engines whistled in delight. The massive train came to stop, and though the engines sailed past the platform, Duncan quickly caught sight of the Foreman and the men that had gone with Rusty standing alongside the stationmaster, his assistant, the porters, Rusty and Ivo Hugh's crews and, the main guest, Santa Claus himself.
"HO HO HO, MERRY CHRISTMAS!" He bellowed once the train had stopped and the children poured out of the coaches, ignoring the rules and organization set up by the charity and simply bombarding the large man in the red suit. As the coaches chattered with excitement over being free of their passengers, who had made quite a mess over the hours spent trapped, Duncan and Skarloey merely exchanged grins as they watched the children running happily around the platform.
Finally, the special had finished its journey.
The party seemed to be a great success: Christmas music thumped against the icy, snow covered windows, and the engines could see the children dancing around in side and the flash of the camera as the children got their photos with Santa. The coaches remained at the platform, but Duncan, Skarloey and Rheneas joined Rusty and Ivo Hugh at the sidings, watching and listening to the party happening behind them. It was definitely cold and uncomfortable getting blasted with wind, but Skarloey and Rheneas didn't want to m make the journey back to the sheds to only have to pick them up in the morning, and the other three were happy to stay.
"It sounds as if they are having a great time!" Rheneas said with a beam.
"I am glad they didn't cancel it," Skarloey added, and the others all agreed.
"I am gladder that everyone actually made it here!" Rusty exclaimed. "It was tough getting Ivo Hugh out. I was certain you were going to be stuck there overnight." The engines all began to laugh, even Ivo Hugh, though he did look a bit embarrassed.
"I don't think snow is ever going to be my friend after this," he added as his cheeks went red, and everyone laughed. There was a toot as they did so, and everyone watched as Madge pulled up, followed shortly by Elizabeth.
"I hear you're the two we should be thanking," Skarloey called, and the two lorries smiled.
"Think nothing of it!" Elizabeth boomed, but Madge was overcome with emotion and simply smiled, unable to put anything to words, though it made everyone chuckle once more. "But what about Duncan?" Elizabeth said. "Have you all forgiven him for being a prat?" Everyone looked at Duncan, who had remained silent for that very fact, uncertain if the other engines had forgiven him for his actions.
"I guess we probably have to, don't we?" Rusty sighed jokingly, and everyone laughed, causing Duncan to smile lightly.
"I am sorry everyone, I didn't mean –," Duncan began, but Elizabeth honked loudly and cut him off.
"Quit the apologises, we've forgiven you!" She boomed over the wind and the party noise. "It's Christmas – move on and celebrate the party season!" Duncan's smile widened as the others all murmured in agreement.
"I guess I can move on," he said. "That is… until the next time I get a special taken off me again. I don't think I could handle it twice in a row!" Duncan was joking, and everyone groaned and rolled their eyes, unaware that as soon as he finished speaking, a branch from a tree stretching across the sidings began to snap. No one heard it as Duncan laughed at their reactions, but everyone else watched as the branch fell, bringing snow along with it. Laughter ripped through the night as the branch bounced off Duncan's boiler, though the snow splattered against him and trickled down his face.
"Now that was worth the hours in the snow!" Rheneas called as everyone continued to laugh. Duncan was rather shocked at first, but he couldn't help but see the funny side and began to laugh with the rest of them. Their laughter sounded above the wind and the noise of the party, and Duncan was glad that joy was in the air and everyone was enjoying themselves, and he was very glad that everyone was finally getting in the holiday spirit, including himself.
But most of all, Duncan was glad he had at least he had finally done the right thing.
Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you all enjoyed this year's Christmas special - look forward to next year's, most likely set on Duck's branch line, as well as a Easter special involving Trevor. Hope you all had fun reading over this year and enjoy reading next year, and hope you all enjoyed Christmas and have a great New Year's!