Ralph of the Roundhouse/Chapter 25
DIAMOND CUT DIAMOND
Ralph went back to the roundhouse a trifle perturbed in his mind as to the outcome of the episode of the hour.
Something instinctively told him that he was about to have trouble. He did not like that violent start of the inspector when he heard his name, and there was something sinister in the way Bardon had looked up some memoranda, and afterwards eyed him as a vulture might its prey.
Limpy nearly had a fit when he had managed to probe out of Ralph the details of his arraignment by the great and potent inspector.
"Lay you off for saving the company a small fortune?" raved the helper indignantly. "Say! you just tell that malicious scoundrel I told you to change the switch."
"I shall do nothing of the kind," answered Ralph calmly, "and you are a good deal more worried about the affair than I am. I acted as common sense and duty dictated, and I do not fear the final outcome."
Just before quitting-time Bardon came into the roundhouse. He was closeted with the foreman in his office until the whistle sounded, and as Ralph left the place both came out and began a tour of the place.
"I expect something will drop in the morning!" Ralph half-jocularly told Limpy, as he bade him good-night.
Ralph made it a rule to tell his mother everything of interest and importance that came up during the day. Mrs. Fairbanks was manifestly troubled when he had recited his encounter with Bardon.
After supper Ralph went out with Van to inspect the new chicken coop he had just built. He was surprised and pleased at the patience, ingenuity and actual hard work displayed in the same, and Van seemed to show a deeper appreciation and understanding of Ralph's commendation than he had heretofore displayed.
Ralph viewed him thoughtfully. He again began considering a plan to take Van down the road some day on the chance of locating his former home.
At nine o'clock that evening, just as Ralph was locking up for the night, there came a tremendous thump at the front door.
Ralph went thither, to confront Big Denny, the yard watchman.
Denny was in a feverish state of excitement, was perspiring, prancing- about with his cane, never still, and laboring under some severe mental agitation.
"Alone, Fairbanks?" he projected, in a startling, breathless kind of a way.
"They've all gone to bed but myself," answered Ralph.
"Can I come in?"
"Surely, and welcome."
Denny thumped into the little parlor. He mopped his brow prodigiously, loosened his collar, fidgeted and fumed, and after looking cautiously around put his finger mysteriously to his lips with the hoarsely-whispered injunction:
"Secret as the grave, Fairbanks!"
Ralph nodded, with a smile indulging the whim or mood of his good loyal friend, who he knew was given to heroics.
"What's the trouble?" he asked.
"I fancied so," said Ralph.
"Came right up here to see you," explained Denny. "Forgan sent me."
"The foreman?" murmured Ralph, in some surprise.
"Yes. You are not to report in the morning."
"Does Mr. Forgan say so?"
"Strictly. You are not to come near the roundhouse for a good many days. They've got it in for you, and Tim Forgan and I are going to rout 'em, horse and harness!"
"Bardon and Farrington."
Ralph started at this mention of his capitalist enemy.
"Mr. Farrington?" he repeated.
"Yes, old Farrington."
"What has he got to do with it?"
"Everything," declared Denny expansively—"everything! The company is going to lay you off."
"Very well," commented Ralph quietly.
"Pending an investigation of the smash up of this afternoon."
"I apprehended it."
"Do you know what that means?" cried Denny, growing excited—" red tape. Do you know what red tape means? Delay, bother, no satisfaction, tire you out, get you out, throw you out! They catch weasels asleep, though, ha! ha! when they try it on two old war-horses like Tim and me!"
Big Denny hugged himself in the enjoyment of some pleasing idea not yet fully expressed.
"Here's the program," he went on: "the inspector came to Forgan. He'd got hold of the smashed roundhouse wall incident, and he had hold of the freight smash-up to-day. Said an example must be made, system must be preserved, at least a report to headquarters, and an investigation."
"What did Mr. Forgan say?" inquired Ralph.
"Listened—solemnly, didn't say a word."
"Until Bardon asked him bluntly to lay you off."
"Refused—point-blank. Bardon left in a huff, with a threat; Tim gave me my point. I followed him. Well, soon as he gets back to Springfield he's going to get an order over Forgan's head to lay you off."
"Can he do it?"
"He won't do it."
"For a simple reason."
"We block his game. Have you got pen, ink and paper in the house?"
"Fetch it out."
Ralph wondered a little, but realized that he was in the hands of loyal friends.
"Now then, you write," directed Denny. "Mind yon, Forgan is in this with me. You write."
"Your resignation from railroad service."
"Whew!" exclaimed Ralph, putting down the pen forcibly.
"Looks hard, does it?" chuckled Denny.
"You'll do it, just the same," predicted the big watchman. "That resignation goes to headquarters. That ends Ralph Fairbanks, wiper, doesn't it?"
"I suppose it does—it looks very much like it!" added Ralph vaguely.
"It baffles Mr. Inspector Bardon, who drops the matter, beaten."
"But I've got to work for a living," suggested Ralph, in a half-troubled way.
"All right, we've fixed that—that's another section of the same game. Write out your resignation, and I'll tell you something interesting. Good!"
With complacency and satisfaction the watchman folded up and pocketed the resignation that Ralph wrote and handed him with evident reluctance.
"That settles the fact that Ralph Fairbanks is not a discharged employee!" chuckled Denny. "Now then, sign that."
The watchman had produced two papers. In astonishment Ralph recognized one as a check drawn in his favor by the railroad company for twenty dollars.
The other was a receipt witnessing that he had been reimbursed for time, damage to wearing apparel and railroad expenses the night he had discovered the stolen brass fittings. In brackets was the notation: "Special Service work."
"But I only spent thirty-five cents for car fare, and the suit of clothes I soaked is as good as ever," declared Ralph.
"You do as you're told, Fairbanks," directed Denny, with a magnanimous wave of his hand. "Now then, we, Tim and I and Matthewson, the road detective, estimate you had better keep active hands off railroading for about two weeks. In the meantime, Matthewson says you can take a run between here and Dover."
"That's where the stolen stuff, and horse and wagon, and Ike Slump and the tramp were started for," said Ralph.
"Exactly. They did not arrive. Matthewson's men have failed to discover the least trace of the layout after leaving Stanley Junction."
"Does he expect me to?"
"Who can tell—he wants you to try. Has considerable faith in your abilities—as we have. He gives you two weeks at ten dollars a week. Here's your credentials—pass on any hand car, freight train, box or gondola, passenger coach, smoker or parlor car, locomotive, freight, switch or passenger, on the Great Northern and all its branches."
Ralph caught his breath short and quick. This remarkable dovetailing of events and prospects was rather exciting.
Having got rid of his budget of intelligence, Big Denny subsided somewhat. He had something more on his mind, however, and he began in a more serious way:
"And now, Fairbanks, for the real milk in the cocoanut."
"You don't mean to say this isn't all?"
"Scarcely. We might have taken care of you in a less complicated way, only that we made a certain discovery."
Ralph looked interested and expectant.
"It was this: Bardon, the inspector, Bardon, the ex-spy, is connected with Mr. Gasper Farrington."
Ralph said nothing. He recalled, however, the threat of the crafty old capitalist. His enemy had started in to use his influence.
"Yes," declared Denny, "Bardon went straight to Farrington's house. When he left there he went to find some old-time cronies at the Junction Hotel. I had a friend listening to some of his boastful talk. We know at this moment that Gasper Farrington offers him five hundred dollars to get you discharged and away from Stanley Junction."
"Which he won't do!" said Ralph very positively.
"Not while Tim and I are on deck," declared Denny as positively. "Listen, Fairbanks: before Saturday night Forgan will see the master mechanic, before the following Wednesday the master mechanic will see the division superintendent, before the following Saturday the president of the road will have in his possession your full and complete record, beginning with your heroic conduct at the fire at the yards, the rescue of little Nora Forgan, the discovery of the stolen fittings, the saving of the show car to-day, and your general good conduct and efficiency in the service."
Ralph flushed at the hearty encomiums of this loyal old friend.
"In another week," continued Denny, rolling the words over in his mouth and sprawling out with a sense of the keenest enjoyment, "we guarantee, Tim and I, a letter, something like this: 'Mr. Ralph Fairbanks: Dear Sir: Please come back to work.'"
"I'll thank you," said Ralph, with bright, glad, shining eyes. "My old place again—as wiper."
"Not much!" negatived Big Denny, looking bigger than ever as he rose to the full magnitude of his final declaration—"as switch towerman for the Great Northern Railway at sixty dollars a month!"