Ralph of the Roundhouse/Chapter 32
It did not take Ralph long to figure out the merits and prospects of the proposition that Farwell Gibson had made to him.
As the latter went more into details concerning his own and Mr. Fairbanks' dealings with Gasper Farrington, Ralph felt a certain pity for the hermit. He had been the weak, half-crazed tool of a wicked, cool headed plotter, had repented his share of the evil doings, and was bent on making what restitution he might.
The peculiar situation of affairs, Ralph's quick-witted comprehension of things, above all his kindness to Van Sherwin, had completely won Gibson's confidence.
They had many little talks together after that. They compared notes, suggested mutually plans for carrying out their campaign against the Stanley Junction magnate, legally and above board, but guarding, their own interests warily, for they knew they had a wily, unscrupulous foe with whom to contend.
Gibson insisted that they could do nothing but rest that day and the next, and when the third day drifted along he took Ralph for an inspection of his enterprise.
There was not the least doubt but that Gibson had a valuable proposition and that he had legally maintained his rights in the premises.
"Every day except Sunday within the prescribed period of the charter, I have done work on the road as required by law," he announced to Ralph. "Van's affidavit will sustain me in that. Everything is in shape to present the scheme to those likely to become interested. It will be no crooked stock deal this time, though," he declared, with vehemence. "It's a dead-open-and-shut arrangement, with me as sole owner—it's a lump sum of money, or the permanent control of the road."
Van's eyes sparkled at this, and Ralph looked as if he would consider it a pretty fine thing to come in with the new line under friendly advantages, and work up, as he certainly could work up with Gibson so completely disposed to do all he could to forward his interests.
Next morning Ralph said he had other business to attend to. It was to go to Dover in pursuance with his instructions from Matthewson, the road detective of the Great Northern.
It was arranged that Van should drive him over in the gig. If Ralph made any important discoveries that required active attention, he was to remain on the scene. If not, he promised to return to "headquarters" on his way back to Stanley Junction.
Ralph reached Dover about noon, and put in four hours' time. He located Jacobs, the man to whom the stolen fittings were to have gone, he saw the local police, and he gathered up quite a few facts of possible interest to Matthewson, but none indicating the present whereabouts of Ike Slump, his tramp friend, or the load of plunder.
"Did you find out much?" Van inquired, as they started homewards about five o'clock.
"Nothing to waste time over here," replied Ralph. "I imagine the Great Northern has seen the last of its two thousand dollars' worth of brass fittings, and Stanley Junction of Ike Slump, for a time at least."
The Gibson habitation was more accessible from this end of The Barrens than from the point at which Ralph and Van had four days previously entered it.
There was a road for some ten miles, and then one along, a winding creek for half that distance. Beyond that lay the jungle.
The sun was just going down when they forded the creek. The spot was indescribably wild and lonely. Its picturesque beauty, too, interested the boys, and they were not averse to a halt in mid-stream, the horse luxuriating in a partial bath and enjoying a cool, refreshing drink.
Suddenly Ralph, who had been taking in all the lovely view about them, put a quick hand on Van's arm.
"Right away!" he said, with strange incision—"get ashore and in the shelter of the brush."
"Eh! what's wrong?" interrogated Van, but obediently urged up the horse, got to the opposite bank, and halted where the shrubbery interposed a dense screen.
"Now—what?" he demanded.
Ralph made a silencing gesture with his hand. He dropped from his seat, went back to the edge of the greenery, and peered keenly down stream.
He seemed to be watching somebody or something, and was so long at it that Van got impatient, and leaping from the wagon approached his side.
"What's up?" he asked.
Ralph did not reply. Van peered past him. Down stream about five hundred feet a human figure stood, faced away from the ford, bent at work over some kind of a frame structure partly in the water.
"You seem mightily interested!" observed Van.
"I am," answered Ralph, and his tone was quite intense. "I expect to be still more so when that fellow faces about."
"If he ever does. There—he has!" spoke Van.
Ralph drew back from his point of observation, took a quick breath, and was palpably excited.
"I was right," he said, half to himself. "There's work here."
"Say," spoke Van, impatiently and curiously, "you're keeping me on nettles. What are you talking about, anyway?"
"That fellow yonder. Do you know who he is?"
"Of course I don't."
"I do—it's Ike Slump."