Ralph of the Roundhouse/Chapter 23
BARDON, THE INSPECTOR
Matters dropped into a pleasant routine for Ralph, the two weeks succeeding his rather stormy introduction into active railroad life at the roundhouse of the Great Northern at Stanley Junction.
It was like a lull after the tempest. The youthful hoodlum gang that had been a menace to Ralph and the railroad company had been entirely broken up.
Tim Forgan was a changed man. He and the senior Slump had drifted apart, and the foreman's previous irascibility and suspicious gloom had departed. He was more brisk, natural and cheery, and Ralph believed and fervently hoped had given up the tippling habit which had at times made him a capricious slave to men and moods.
The lame helper had become a useful, pleasant chum to Ralph. There was not a day that he did not teach the novice some new and practical point in railroad experience.
Gasper Farrington Ralph had not met again.
At the cottage Van led an even, happy existence, making no trouble, being extremely useful and industrious, and daily more and more endearing himself to both Ralph and Mrs. Fairbanks.
With the dog house crowd Ralph had become a general favorite. He had won the regard of those rough and ready fellows, and his loyal adhesion to Griscom in the fire at the shops, his rescue of little Nora Forgan, and his manly, accommodating ways generally, had enforced their respect, and more than one dropped his oaths and coarseness when Ralph approached, and they tipped over the liquor bottle of one of the "extras" who had the temerity to ask Ralph to test its contents.
Altogether, Ralph was going through a happy experience, and every day life and railroading seemed to develop some new charm of novelty and progress.
It was with a proud spirit that he took home his first month's salary, twenty-seven dollars and some odd cents.
Those odd cents, with some added, Ralph stopped near the depot to hand over to little Teddy.
The county farm orphan had been turned loose from custody after a week's imprisonment, with orders to report to the police at nine o'clock every Monday morning.
He was practically on parole, the authorities hoping, that on the trial of Cohen he might give some evidence that would implicate the stolen-goods receiver, and Ralph had run across the little fellow drifting aimlessly about the town.
Ralph had a long talk with him, then he decided to "stake" him as a newsboy. The depot watchman agreed to let him sell papers at the train exit, and Teddy had done fairly well, earning enough to pay for his lodging, Ralph making up the deficiency as to meals.
It was a bright hour in Mrs. Fairbanks' life when, after putting together what money she had with Ralph's earnings, and deducting the interest due Gasper Farrington, they were able to count a surplus of nearly twelve dollars.
Mrs. Fairbanks took the interest money to a bank where she had been notified the note was deposited, paid the amount, received the note, and with a lightened heart contemplated the future.
Two mornings later, when Ralph entered the roundhouse, he was accosted by Limpy in a keen, quick way.
"Primping day, Fairbanks," said the lame helper. "You want to hustle."
"What are you getting at?" inquired Ralph.
"That's new to me."
"So I'll explain. The inspector is om his tour, we got the tip to-day. Came up on the daylight mail."
"What does he inspect?"
"Everything-from a loose drop of oil to a boiler dent. He is so beloved that the dog house crowd kick loose all the litter cans soon as he's gone, and so particular that he inspects the locomotives with a magnifying glass."
"Who is he?" inquired Ralph curiously.
"Bardon is his name—it ought to be Badone! He's a relative of and trains with the division superintendent. He acted as a spy at the switch-men's strike, got nearly killed for hiss sneaking tactics, and the company rewarded him by giving him a gentlemanly position."
Ralph readily saw that this Mr. Bardon was not a favorite with the rank and file of the railroad crowd.
"Well, we'll have to show him what a lot of active elbow grease will do towards making this a model roundhouse," said Ralph cheerfully.
Limpy was not at all in harmony with this idea, and showed it plainly by action and words. He and the others considered the roundhouse and its privileges essentially their personal property, and resented advice or censure, especially from a man whom they intensely disliked.
During the afternoon various little things were done about the dog house that indicated the spirit of the crowd there. A pasteboard box nailed to the wall bore written directions to engineers and firemen to keep their kid gloves there. Another stated that brakemen must not wear turned collars. Various receptacles were labeled "For cinders," "Clean your nails here," and the general layout was a palpable satire on the strained relations with an expected visitor who was considered a martinet.
Ralph went carefully and conscientiously to work to brighten up things a bit and make them look their best, while Limpy growled and grumbled at him all the afternoon.
About four o'clock the lame helper was enjoying a brief respite from work at his usual lounging place, standing on a bench and looking out of a window. He called Ralph so suddenly and sharply that the latter hurried towards him.
"Quick!" uttered Limpy, face and hands working spasmodically, as they always did when he was excited.
"What's up?" inquired Ralph, leaping to the bench beside him.
"Look there!" directed the helper.
He pointed to a long freight train backing down the tracks. It had just passed a switch.
"Pivot loose, and the signal flanges exactly reversed!" pronounced Limpy quickly. "They think they are on track A. Say, it's sure to be a smash!"
In a twinkling Ralph's eye took in the situation. The train was on a curve, and had run back all right in response to switch A, set open, according to the white indicator on top. But red should have shown, it appeared. The pivot holding, the signal in unison with the operating bar must have become loosened, and the wind had blown the signal plate awry
The freight, therefore, had struck track B, which a hundred feet further on split off onto two sets of rails. Both had short ends, terminating at bumpers, and each held a single car.
Track C held a gaudy, expensive car belonging to some traveling show, all gold and glitter, and must have cost eighteen thousand dollars. Track D held an old disabled box car. And into one or the other of these the backing freight was destined to run unless checked inside of the next half minute.
"Give me a show!" spoke Ralph, in a hurry.
He brushed Limpy aside, leaped through the window, struck the ground eight feet below the high sill, and made a run towards the backing freight.
The curve prevented his seeing the engine or any one to whom he might signal. He doubled his pace, reached the split switch, unlocked the bar, half-lifted it, and stood undecided
It was not his province to interfere, he well knew, if half the cars on the road were reduced to kindling wood through the mistake or carelessness of some one else, but action was irresistible with his impetuous nature when the same meant timely service.
If he left the switch as it now was, the freight would back down into the show car with terrific destructive force.
It seemed a pity to spoil that new pretty model of the car builder's art. Ralph discerned that the box car was ready for the scrap heap, and decided.
He pulled the switch over, not a moment too soon, jumped back, and the next minute the freight train struck the solitary box car, and it collapsed like a folding accordion.