Ralph of the Roundhouse/Chapter 8
THE OLD FACTORY
Ralph pulled loose from the grasp of the crabbed old capitalist, fairly indignant at the sudden onslaught.
"Don't you run! don't you run!" cried Farrington, swinging his cane threateningly.
"And don't you dare to strike!" warned Ralph, with a glitter in his eye. "I'd like to know, sir, what right you have stopping me on the public street in this manner?"
"It will be a warrant matter, if you aint careful!" retorted Farrington.
"I can't imagine how."
"Oh, can't you?" gibed Farrington, his plain animosity for Ralph showing in his malicious old face. "Well, I'll show you."
"I shall be glad to have you do so."
"Do you see that building?"
Farrington pointed across the baseball grounds at the edge of which they stood, indicating the old unused factory.
A light broke on Ralph's mind.
"I own that building," announced Farrington, swelling up with importance—" it's my property."
"So I've heard."
"A window was broken there and you broke it!"
"I did," admitted Ralph.
"Oho! you shamefacedly acknowledge it, do you? Malicious mischief, young man—that's the phase of the law you're up against!"
"It was an accident," said Ralph—"pure and simple."
"Well, you'll stand for it."
"I intend to. I made a note of it in my mind at the time, Mr. Farrington, and if you had not said a word to me about it I should have done the right thing."
"What do you call the right thing?"
"Replacing the light of glass, of course," was Ralph's reply.
"Glad to see you've got some sense of decency about you. All right. It '11 cost you just a dollar and twenty-five cents. Hand over the money, and I'll have my man fix it."
Ralph laughed outright.
"Hardly, Mr. Farrington," he said. "I can buy a pane of glass for thirty-five cents, and put it in for nothing. I will take this bundle home and attend to it at once."
Farrington looked mad and disappointed at being outwitted in his attempt to make three hundred per cent. However, if Ralph made good he could find no fault with the proposition. He mumbled darkly and Ralph passed on. Then a temptation he could not resist came to the boy, and turning he remarked:
"You'll be glad to know, perhaps, Mr. Farrington, that I have obtained steady work."
"Why should I be glad?"
"Because you advised it, and because it will enable us to pay you your interest promptly."
"Humph!" Then with an eager expression of face Farrington asked: "What are you going to work at?"
"Very good—of course at the general offices at Springfield?"
"Of course not. I start in at the roundhouse here, to-morrow."
It was amazing how sour the magnate's face suddenly grew. Once more Ralph wondered why this man was so anxious to get them out of Stanley Junction.
Ralph proceeded homewards. It warmed his heart to see how thoroughly his mother entered into all his hopes and projects. She was soon busy in her quick, sure way, sewing on more strongly the buttons of jumper and overalls, and promised to have a neat light cap and working gloves ready for him by nightfall.
Ralph explained to her about the broken window, got a rule from his father's old tool chest, and went over to the vacant factory.
It was surrounded by a high fence, but at one place in seeking lost balls members of the Criterion Club had partially removed a gate. Ralph passed among the debris littering the yard, and went around the place until he found a door with a broken lock.
He gained the inside and went up a rickety stairs. Swinging open a door at their top, Ralph found himself in the compartment with the broken window.
The air was close and unwholesome, despite the orifice the baseball had made. A broken sky-light topped the center of the room, and a rain of the previous night had dripped down unimpeded and soaked the flooring.
"The ball must be here somewhere," mused Ralph. "There it is, but—"
As he spied the ball about the center of the room, Ralph discerned something else that sent a quick wave of concern across his nerves.
He stood silent and spellbound.
Upon the floor was a human being, so grimly stark and white, that death was instantly suggested to Ralph's mind.
His eyes, becoming accustomed to the half-veiled light filtered through the dirt-crusted panes of the skylight, made out that the figure on the floor was that of a boy.
As he riveted his glance, Ralph further discovered that it was the same boy he had met at the depot the morning previous—the mysterious "dead-head" under the trucks of the 10.15 train.
He lay upon the rough boards face upwards, his limbs stretched out naturally, but stiff and useless-looking.
The rain had soaked his garments, and he must have lain there at least since last midnight. Ralph was shocked and uncertain. Then an abrupt thought made him tremble and fear.
The ball lay by the boy's side. Right above one temple was the dark circular outline of a depression.
It flashed like lightning through Ralph's mind that the stranger had been struck by the ball.
The theory forced itself upon him that in hiding from the pursuing depot watchman, the stranger had sought refuge in the factory.
He might have quite naturally needed a rest after his long and torturing ride on truck and crossbar—he must have been in this room when Ralph had swung the bat that had sent the baseball hurtling through the window with the force of a cannon shot.
"It is true—it is true!" breathed Ralph in a ghastly whisper, as the full consequence of his innocent act burst upon his mind.
He had to hold to a post to support himself, swaying there and looking down at the cold, mute face, sick at heart, and his brain clouded with dread.
It must have been a full five minutes before he pulled himself together, and tried to divest himself of the unnatural horror that palsied his energies.
He finally braced his nerves, and, advancing, knelt beside the prostrate boy.
Ralph placed his trembling hand inside the open coat, and let it rest over the heart. His own throbbed loud and strong with hope and relief, as under his finger tips there was a faint, faint fluttering.
"He is alive—thank heaven for that!" cried Ralph fervently.
He ran to the window. Through the broken pane he could view the baseball grounds and the clubhouse beyond.
Will Cheever was sitting outside of the house, and at a little distance another member of the Criterions was exercising with a pair of Indian clubs.
Ralph tried to lift the lower sash, but it would not budge.
He ripped out of place the loose side piece, and removed the sash complete.
"Will—boys!" he shouted loudly, "come—come quick!"