Ralph of the Roundhouse/Chapter 34
In about five minutes the arrangements were completed by Ralph and Van for the transportation of their prisoner to "headquarters."
Ike Slump, tied securely, was snugly propped up in the seat beside Van. Ralph waited until he saw them safely on their way, and then went straight back to the spot where he had discovered Ike.
A cursory view of the raft had already awakened a vivid train of thought. Now, as he looked it over more particularly, Ralph found that he had grounds for suspicions of the most promising kind.
"Ike must have been at work on this for several days," decided Ralph. "I didn't think he had so much patience and constructive ability. It's big enough to cary a house, and of course his making it, as he says, to float himself down stream to a safe distance, is sheer nonsense."
Some large logs formed the basis of the raft. Over these were nailed boards to give its bottom depth and solidity.
It was a sight of those boards that had set Ralph thinking. Such handy timber, he recognized, had no business this far from civilization. Where had they come from?
"Those two are box covers," concluded Ralph, after a close inspection, "and they are the exact size of the boxes I saw at Cohen's back room at Stanley Junction. I must find out what it does mean."
Then Ralph made a second discovery, and knew that he was distinctly on the hot trail of something of importance.
Two corners of the raft were bound with heavy brass pieces used as ornamental clamps on passenger coaches. They were stamped inside "G. N."
"Great Northern property, sure," reflected Ralph, "and of course part of the stolen plunder. That wagon load never went to or through Dover, so far as the police people have been able to find out, but I am sure it did come here, or near here, or what is Ike doing with those pieces?"
Ralph now set about tracing Ike's living quarters. They must be somewhere in the immediate vicinity.
He had little difficulty in following up a worn path across the grass. It led to a snug shake-down, under the lee of a slope roofed over with dry branches and grass.
Here Ralph found a case of canned goods, a box of crackers and a lot of tobacco and cigarette papers. On a heap of dry grass lay a wagon cushion.
Ralph circled this spot. He had to exert the ingenuity and diligence of an Indian trailer in an effort to follow the footsteps leading to and from the place in various directions. Finally he felt that his patience was about to be rewarded. For over two hundred feet the disturbed and beaten down grass showed where some object had been dragged over the ground, probably the boards used in the construction of the raft.
The trail led along the winding shore of the creek and up a continuous slope. Then abruptly it ceased, directly at the edge of a deep, verdure-choked ravine.
Ralph peered down. A gleam of red, like a wagon tongue, caught his eye. Then he made out a rounding metal rim like the tire of a wheel. He began to let himself down cautiously with the help of roots and vines. His feet finally rested on a solid box body.
An irrepressible cry of satisfaction arose from the lips of the lonely delver in the debris at the bottom of the ravine.
When Ralph clambered up again he was warm and perspiring but his eyes were bright with the influence of some stimulating discovery.
He stood still for five minutes, as if undecided just what to do, glanced at the fast-setting sun, and struck out briskly in the direction of the road leading to Dover.
It was midnight when he reached the town he had visited earlier in the same day. Ralph went straight to the police station of the place.
For about an hour he was closeted with one of the officers there whom he had met earlier on his visit in the gig. They had a spirited confidential talk.
Ralph was on railroad business now, pure and simple, for he was acting in accordance with Road Detective Matthewson's instructions and on the strength of his written authority.
"I can catch a Midland Central train west to Osego in about an hour," he planned, as he left the police station and walked towards the depot. "There's a ten-mile cut across country on foot to Springfield, and then I am headed for Stanley Junction by daylight."
Ralph boarded the train at Springfield at about six o'clock in the morning. His pass from Matthewson won him a comfortable seat in the chair car, and he had a sound, refreshing nap by the time the 10.15 rolled into Stanley Junction.
Griscom had this run, but Ralph did not make his presence known to his sturdy engineer friend. He left the train at a crossing near home, and was soon seated at the kitchen table doing ample justice to a meal hurriedly prepared for him by his delighted mother.
Almost her first solicitous inquiry was for Van.
"Van is well and happy, mother," Ralph answered. "Grateful, too. And, mother, he remembers 'the dear lady who sung the sweet songs.'"
"Ralph, do you mean," exclaimed Mrs. Fairbanks tremulously—"do you mean his mind has come back to him?"
"Oh, God be praised!" murmured the widow, the tears of joy streaming down her beaming face, lifted in humble thankfulness to heaven.
Then Ralph hurriedly went over the details and results of his trip with Van Sherwin.
Later he spent half an hour at a careful toilet, and just as the town clock announced the noon hour Ralph walked into the law office of Jerome Black.
Mr. Black was a well-known attorney of Stanley Junction. He was an austere, highly efficient man in his line, had a good general record, and all Ralph had against him was that he was Gasper Farrington's lawyer.
It was upon this account that Ralph had decided to call upon him. All the way to the atorney's office Ralph had reflected seriously over what he would say and do.
The lawyer nodded curtly to Ralph as he came into his presence. He knew the youth by sight, knew nothing against him, and because of this had granted him an audience, supposing Ralph wanted his help in securing him work, or something of that kind.
But the leading lawyer of Stanley Junction was never so astonished in his life as now, when Ralph promptly, clearly and in a business-like manner outlined the object of his visit.
"Mr. Black," Ralph said, "I know you are the lawyer of Mr. Gasper Farrington. I also know you to have the reputation of being an exact and honorable business man. I do not know the ethics of your profession, I do not know how you will treat some information I am about to impart to you, but I feel that you will in any case treat an honest working boy, looking only for his rights, fairly and squarely."
"Why, thank you, Fairbanks," acknowledged Black, looking very much mystified at this strange preface—"but what are you driving at?"
Then Ralph told him. He did not tell him all—there was no occasion to do so. He simply said that he could produce evidence that Gasper Farrington had treated his dead father in a most dishonorable manner, and that, further, he could produce a sworn affidavit showing that the mortgage on his mother's homestead was in reality only a deed of trust.
The lawyer's brows knitted as Ralph told his story. He could not fail to be impressed at Ralph's straightforwardness. When Ralph had concluded he said briefly:
"Fairbanks, you are an earnest, truthful boy, and I respect you for it. What you tell me is my client's personal business, not mine. But I see plainly that he must adopt some action to avoid a scandal. Your grounds seem well taken, and I am pleased that you came to me instead of making public what can do you no good, and might do Mr. Farrington considerable harm. What do you want?"
"Simply two things—they are my right. After that let Mr. Farrington leave us alone, and we will not disturb him."
"What are those two things?" inquired the lawyer.
"The cancellation of the mortgage on my mother's home, and the alleged forged note upon which Mr. Farrington bases a criminal charge against one Farwell Gibson."
"Why!" exclaimed the lawyer, very much amazed. "What has Farwell Gibson got to do with this matter?"
"Mr. Black," replied Ralph, "I can not tell you that. You have my terms. Mr. Farrington is a bad man. He can make some restitution by giving me those two documents. That ends it, so far as we are concerned."
"And if he does not agree to your terms?" insinuated the lawyer.
"I shall go to some other lawyer at once, and expose him publicly," said Ralph.
Mr. Black reflected for some moments. Then he arose, took up his hat, and said:
"Remain here till I return, Fairbanks. Mr. Farrington has been sick for some days—"
"I should think he would be!" murmured Ralph, to himself.
"But this is an important matter, and can not brook delay. I will see him at once."
Ralph had to wait nearly an hour. When the lawyer returned he closed the office door and faced his visitor seriously.
"Fairbanks," he said, "I have faith in your honor, or I would never advise my client to do as he has done. You are sure you control this matter sufficiently to prevent any further trouble being made for Mr. Farrington, or any unnecessary publicity of this affair?"
"Yes," assented Ralph pointedly—"unless I ever find out that we have any just claim to the twenty thousand dollars in railroad bonds which once belonged to my father."
"I fancy that is a dead issue," said the lawyer with a dry smile. "Very well, there are your papers."
He handed Ralph an unsealed envelope. Ralph glanced inside.
Gasper Farrington had been forced to swallow a bitter dose of humiliation and defeat.
The inclosures were the Farwell Gibson forged note, and a deed of release which gave to Ralph's mother her homestead, free and clear.