Ralph on the Engine/Chapter 4

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Ralph on the Engine by Allen Chapman
Chapter IV

CHAPTER IV


AN OLD-TIME ENEMY


"New engine, lad?"

"Not at all, Mr. Griscom, as you well know," answered Ralph.

The veteran engineer chuckled, but he continued looking over the locomotive with admiring eyes.

The young fireman had come to work early that afternoon. The roundhouse men were careless and he decided to show them what "elbow grease" and industry could do. In an hour he had the old freight locomotive looking indeed like a new engine.

They steamed out of the roundhouse and were soon at the head of their freight train.

"I wish I had a little time to spare," said Ralph.

"Half-an-hour before we have to leave, you know, lad," said Griscom. "What's troubling you?"

"I wanted to see Bob Adair, the road detective."

"About the silk robbery?" inquired the engineer with interest.

"Yes."

"Something new?"

"Considerable, I think."

"You might find him in the depot offices. Run down and see. I'll attend to things here."

"Thanks, Mr. Griscom."

Ralph hurried away from the freight train. He wished to report about the discovery of the silk, and hunt up Zeph Dallas at once.

"I hardly believe the farmer boy a thief," mused Ralph, "but he must explain his possession of that silk."

The young fireman did not find Adair at the depot, and came back to the engine to discover Jim Evans lounging in the cab.

"Been helping Griscom out," grinned the man.

"Well, get out, now," growled Griscom. "Time to start up. There's the signal from the conductor. That man has been hanging around the engine ever since you left," the old engineer continued to Ralph, "and he is too good-natured to suit me."

"Nothing out of order," reported the youth, looking about the cab.

"Now, lad, for a run on time," said Griscom. "This run has been late a good deal, and I don't want to get a bad name. When I ran the Daylight Express it was my pride and boast that we were always on time to the minute."

They made good time out of Stanley Junction to Afton. Ten miles beyond, however, there was a jolt, a slide and difficult progress on a bit of upgrade rails.

So serious was the difficulty that Griscom stopped the train and got out to investigate. He returned to the cab with a set, grim face.

"Grease," he reported; "some one has been tampering with the rails. Spite work, too."

There was fully an hour's delay, but a liberal application of sand to the rails helped them out. Five miles later on the locomotive began to puff and jerk. With full steam on, the engine did only half duty.

"Water gauge all right," said Ralph. "I don't understand it."

"I do," said Griscom, "and I can tell it in two words—Jim Evans."

"Why, what do you mean, Mr. Griscom?"

"He didn't come into the cab for nothing. Yes, we are victims of the old trick—soap in the water and the valves are clogged."

"What are we going to do about it?" inquired Ralph anxiously.

"Pump out the water at the next tank and take a new supply on."

There was a further delay of nearly two hours. Once more they started up. Ten miles from Dover, a few seconds after Ralph had thrown in coal, a terrible explosion threw the fire cover open and singed and burned both engineer and fireman.

Griscom looked angry, for the fire now needed mending.

"Lad," he said grimly, "these tricks are done to scare you and delay the train."

"I am not scared one particle," retorted Ralph, "only this strikes me as a dangerous piece of mischief—putting explosives in among the coal."

"Jim Evans did it," positively asserted Griscom. "That's what he sneaked into the cab for, and he has confederates along the line."

Ralph said nothing but he resolved to call Evans to account when he returned to Stanley Junction.

They were over an hour late on the run. Returning to Stanley Junction, they were delayed by a wreck and the time record was bad at both ends of the line.

"I don't like it," said Griscom.

"We'll mend it, Mr. Griscom," declared the young fireman, and he did not go home when they reached Stanley Junction, but proceeded at once to the home of Jim Evans.

Ralph knocked at the open door, but no one answered the summons and he stepped to the door of the sitting room.

"Any one here?" he called out through the house.

"Eh? oh—no," answered a muffled voice, and a man in the adjoining room got up quickly and fairly ran out through the rear door.

"That's queer," commented Ralph. "That man actually ran away from me."

"Ma has gone after pa," lisped a little urchin in the kitchen. "Man wants to see him. What for funny man run away?"

Ralph hurried past the infantile questioner and after the object of his curiosity.

"Yes, the man did look funny, for a fact," said Ralph. "He was disguised. There he is. Hey, there! whoever you are, a word with you."

He was now in close pursuit of a scurrying figure. The object of his curiosity turned to look at him, stumbled, and went headlong into a ditch.

Ralph came to the spot. The man lay groaning where he had fallen.

"Help me," he muttered—"I'm nearly stunned."

"Why!" exclaimed Ralph as he assisted the man to his feet, "it is Gasper Farrington."

It was the village magnate, disguised. He stood regarding Ralph with savage eyes.

"I thought you had gone to Europe, Mr. Farrington," said Ralph.

"Did you? Well, I haven't," growled Farrington, nursing a bruise on his face.

"Are you going to stay in Stanley Junction, then?"

"None of your business."

"Oh, yes, it is," retorted Ralph quickly. "You owe us thousands of dollars, and we want it."

"You'll collect by law, then. I'll never give you a cent willingly."

Ralph regarded the man thoughtfully for a minute or two.

"Mr. Farrington," he said, "I have come to the conclusion that you are trying to make me more trouble. This man Evans is up to mischief, and I believe that you have incited him to it."

The magnate was silent, regarding Ralph with menacing eyes.

"I warn you that it won't pay, and that you won't succeed," continued Ralph. "What do you hope to accomplish by persecuting me?"

The old man glanced all about him. Then he spoke out.

"Fairbanks," he said, "I give you one last chance—get out of Stanley Junction."

"Why should I?" demanded Ralph.

"Because you have humiliated me and we can't live in the same town together, that's why."

"You deserved humiliation," responded Ralph steadily.

"All right, take your own view of the case. I will settle your claim for five thousand dollars and pay you the money at once, if you will leave Stanley Junction."

"We will not take one cent less than the full twenty thousand dollars due us," announced Ralph staunchly, "and I shall not leave Stanley Junction as long as my mother wants to live here."

"Then," said Gasper Farrington, venomously, as he walked from the spot, "look out for yourself."

Ralph went back to the Evans home, but found only the little child there. He concluded he would not wait for Evans that evening. The discovery of his old-time enemy, Farrington, had been enlightening.

"I will have a talk with mother about this," he mused.

When Ralph reached home a surprise greeted him. The little parlor was lighted up, indicating a visitor. He glanced in through the open windows.

The visitor was Zeph Dallas, the farmer boy.