Ralph on the Engine/Chapter 12
THE RAILROAD PRESIDENT
The young fireman had a good deal to think of as he lay in the locomotive cab, unable to help himself in any way. All the smooth sailing of the past week was remembered in strong contrast to the anxieties of the present moment.
Ralph had not recognized any of the crowd who had appeared about the engine during the evening. The leader, however, seemed to know his name. This inclined Ralph to the belief that some one of the party did know him, and naturally he thought of Ike Slump and his associates.
"They are desperate men, whoever they are," he decided, "and they must have planned out this scheme to perfection to keep track of Mr. Trevor and follow us up along the line. That man in the water tank is a daring fellow. He must have had a pleasant time in there. It was an original move, anyhow."
It was in vain that Ralph endeavored to release himself. He was stoutly tied. All he could do was to wriggle about and wonder how soon he would be set free by his captors or discovered by others.
It must have been fully three hours before there was any break in the monotony of his situation. Ralph heard some one whistling a tune and approaching rapidly. Soon a man appeared on the cab step, looked Ralph over coolly, and observed:
"Tired of waiting for me, kid?"
"Naturally," responded Ralph. "Are you going to set me free?"
"That's the orders, seeing that our party is safe at a distance. Got enough steam on to run the engine?"
"Yes," replied Ralph. "There was full pressure when you people stopped us, and the steam lasts about six hours."
"All right. You will have a great story to tell the railroad folks, eh? Don't forget the letter we put in your pocket. There you are. Now then, go about your business and don't say we did not treat you like a gentleman. Oh—ooh! What's this?"
The man had cut the ropes that held Ralph captive, and carelessly swung to the step. In a flash the young fireman was on his mettle. Springing to his feet, Ralph snatched at a hooked rod. Reaching out, he caught the man by the coat collar and pulled him back flat across the cab floor where he had just lain.
"You lie still, or I shall use harsh measures," declared Ralph, springing upon his captive and menacing him with the rod. "Hold up your hands, folded, and let me tie you."
"Well, I guess not!"
"Yes, you shall!" cried Ralph.
In a second the situation changed. The man was much stronger than his opponent. He managed to throw Ralph off, and got to his knees. The young fireman decided, as the fellow reached for a weapon, to strike out with the iron rod. It landed heavily on the man's temple, and he fell back senseless on the coal of the tender with a groan.
Ralph securely tied his captive. Then he reversed the lever and opened the throttle. In a minute he was speeding back over the spur the way the locomotive had come four hours previous.
"We have one of the kidnappers, at least," he said with satisfaction. "Ah, there is some one at the bridge," he added, as he ran down the main tracks.
Signals of danger were set on both sides of the creek, and Ralph could make out men in the distance moving about. He was soon on the scene.
A track-walker had discovered the burning bridge and had summoned assistance.
There was only one thing to do with the locomotive, to run on to Dover, and this Ralph did at once. He reported the occurrences of the evening to the assistant superintendent, whom he found getting a wrecking crew together.
"Well, this is a serious and amazing piece of business," commented that official. "Here, men," he called to his assistants on the wrecking car, "fetch this fellow into the shanty yonder."
The man Ralph had knocked down in the locomotive cab had recovered consciousness. He was brought into the shanty and questioned, but was sullen and silent.
"Won't tell anything, eh?" said the assistant superintendent.
"The letter says all there is to say," remarked the captive coolly, "but that twenty thousand dollars will never find young Trevor if you keep me a prisoner."
"A prisoner safe and tight you shall be," declared the railroad official with determination. "Take him to the town jail, men," he added. "I must wire for the president of the road at once, and to Adair at Stanley Junction. What's your plan, Fairbanks?" he asked of Ralph.
"I hardly know," responded the young fireman. "I don't see that I can be of any assistance here."
The letter the kidnappers had left with Ralph was terse and clear as to its directions. The writer demanded twenty thousand dollars for the return of young Trevor, and indicated how his friends might get in correspondence with his captors through an advertisement in the city newspapers.
"The wrecking car is going to the bridge, Fairbanks," said the official. "You can cross the creek some way and use a handcar, if they have one. Tell the men there I say so. As to your prisoner, I will see that he is taken care of."
It was just daylight when Ralph reached the switch tower where Griscom had disappeared. The towerman had just been relieved from duty, and met Ralph with eager welcome as he was approaching the place.
"Glad to see you," he said. "We just found Griscom."
"Where is he?" inquired Ralph quickly.
"In the tower, all safe and comfortable now, but he had a hard time of it lying all night in a freight car, gagged and tied. He is fighting mad, don't understand the affair, and worried to death about you."
"Oh, I am all right," said Ralph.
"I see you are. But what has happened, anyhow? You'll want to tell Griscom, won't you? Well, I'll go back with you to hear your story, too."
It was an interesting scene, the meeting of the engineer and the young fireman. Griscom fretted and fumed over the mishaps to his pet locomotive. He was furious at the gang who had worked out such mischief.
"I'll wire my resignation when we reach Stanley Junction," he declared. "I'll do no more railroad work until I find those scoundrels and rescue young Trevor."
"Don't be rash, Mr. Griscom," advised Ralph. "The railroad detective force will soon be on the trail. The nephew of a railroad president doesn't disappear in this fashion every day in the year."
When they got back to Stanley Junction they were interviewed at once by Bob Adair. Both were worn out with double duty and got to bed as quickly as possible.
Ralph reported at the roundhouse late in the afternoon, but learned that there would be no through trains out until a temporary bridge was erected over the creek near Dover.
He returned to the house, and was pleased with the thought of having a social evening at home and a good night's rest.
It was shortly after dark, and Ralph was reading a book in the cozy sitting room of the home cottage, when the door bell rang.
The young fireman answered the summons. A stranger stood at the threshold. He was a dignified, well-dressed gentleman, but seemed to be laboring under some severe mental strain, for he acted nervous and agitated.
"Mr. Fairbanks—Ralph Fairbanks?" he inquired in a tone of voice that quivered slightly.
"Yes," replied the young fireman.
"I am very anxious to have a talk with you," said the stranger hurriedly. "I have been down the line, and have just arrived at Stanley Junction. My name is Grant, Robert Grant, and I am the president of the Great Northern Railroad."
"Come in, sir," said Ralph cordially, deeply impressed with welcoming so important a visitor, but maintaining his usual manly pose. He showed the official into the house and introduced him to his mother.
Mr. Grant was soon in the midst of his story. He had been for many hours at Dover trying to discover a trace of his missing nephew, and had signally failed.
"Mr. Adair, the road detective, advised me to see you," said Mr. Grant, "for you saw the men who captured my nephew. Would you know them again?"
"Some of them," responded Ralph.
"Very well, then. I ask you as a special favor to return with me to Dover and assist me in my task."
"I will do so gladly," said Ralph.
One hour later a special conveyed the president of the Great Northern and Ralph Fairbanks down the line to Dover.