Ralph on the Overland Express/21
ARCHIE GRAHAM'S INVENTION
The cab was suddenly filled with smoke, ashes and steam. Something unusual had happened. Unable to determine it all in a minute, Ralph pulled the lever and set the air brakes.
Mingled with the jar and the hiss of steam there arose a great cry—it was a vast human roar, ringing, anguished, terrified. It proceeded from the lips of the self-dubbed Lord Montague, and glancing towards the tender Ralph witnessed a startling sight.
The monocled, languid-aired nobleman had struck a pose against the tender bar, and as Fogg opened the furnace door and the fire box suddenly belched out a sheet of flame and then a perfect cloud of ashes, the passenger of high degree was engulfed. Fogg, alert to his duty, after nimbly skipping aside, had kicked the furnace door shut. He was not quick enough, however, to prevent what seemed to be half the contents of the furnace from pouring out a great cascade of ashes as if shot from a cannon, taking the astounded and appalled Montague squarely down his front.
"Murder!" he yelled, and grasped his head in his hands to brush away the hot ashes that were searing his face.
As he did so he became a new personality. His mustache was brushed from his lip and fell to the bottom of the cab, while its former possessor made a mad dive to one side.
"Here, you chump!" cried Fogg; "do you want to kill yourself?" and grabbing the singed and frightened passenger, he pinned him against the coal and held him there. In doing this he brushed one whisker from the side of his captive's face, and the latter lay panting and groaning with nearly all his fictitious make-up gone and quite all of his nerve collapsed.
"What's happened?" asked Ralph, as they slowed down.
"It felt like a powder blast," declared Fogg. Archie Graham had uttered a cry of dismay—of discovery, too, it seemed to Ralph. The young engineer glanced at his friend perched on the top of the tender tank. The face of the young inventor was a study.
Archie acted less like a person startled than as one surprised. He appeared to be neither shocked nor particularly interested. His expression was that of one disappointed. It suddenly flashed across Ralph, he could scarcely have told why, that the young inventor had indeed been "inventing" something, that something had slipped a cog, and that he was responsible for the catastrophe of the moment. Now Archie looked about him in a stealthy, baffled way, as though he was anxious to sneak away from the scene.
Half-blinded, sputtering and a sight, "his ludship" struggled out of the grasp of the fireman. His monocle was gone. His face, divested of its hirsute appendages, Ralph observed, was a decidedly evil face. As the train came to a halt the dismantled passenger stepped from the cab, and wrathfully tearing the remaining false whiskers from place, sneaked down the tracks, seeking cover from his discomfiture.
"Hi! you've left that nobleman face of yours, behind you," shouted Fogg after him. "What's his game, Fairbanks?"
"It staggers me," confessed Ralph. "Hello, there, Graham!"
But the young inventor with due haste was disappearing over the rear of the tender, as though he was ashamed of a part in the puzzling occurrence at the moment.
"Something's wrong," muttered Fogg, and he opened the furnace door timidly. There was no further outburst of ashes. "Queer," he commented. "It couldn't have been powder. I noticed a draft soon as we started. What made it? Where is it now?"
"It was only when we were running fast," submitted Ralph.
The fireman leaped down to the tracks. He inspected the locomotive from end to end. Then he began ferretting under the engine. Ralph watched him climb between the drivers. Strange, muffled mutterings announced some discovery. In a moment or two Fogg crawled out again.
"I vum!" he shouted. "What is this contraption?"
He grasped a piece of wire-netted belting, and as he trailed out its other end, to it was attached a queer-looking device that resembled a bellows. Its frame was of iron, and it had a tube with a steel nozzle.
"I say," observed the young engineer, in a speculative tone, "where did that come from?"
"I found its nozzle end stuck in through one end of the draft holes in the fire box," answered Fogg. "This belt ran around two axles and worked it. Who put it there?"
"Graham," announced Ralph politely. "Well—well—I understand his queer actions now. Bring it up here," continued Ralph, as the fireman was about to throw it aside.
"The young fellow who thinks he is going to overturn the system with his inventions? Well, he must have done a lot of work, and it must have taken a heap of time to fix the thing so it worked. The belt was adjusted to a T. Say, you'd better keep him out of the roundhouse, or he'll experiment on us some day in a way that may lead to something serious."
Ralph put the contrivance under his seat for more leisurely inspection later on. He had to smile to think of the patience, the ingenuity and the eccentric operation of the well-meant project of his young inventor friend. The bellows principle of increasing the furnace draft might have been harmless in a stationary engine. Even on the locomotive it had shown some added suction power while the locomotive was going ahead, but the moment the furnace door was opened the current of air from below sought the nearest vent. That was why "his ludship" had retired under a decided cloud in more ways than one.
When they arrived at Riverton the young engineer made a search for both Archie and the disguised impostor. He located neither. From what he gathered from the conductor, Archie had left the train at the first station after the stop. The pretended English lord had been noticed footing it back towards Stanley Junction.
The return trip was uneventful. Archie did not put in an appearance, and Ralph fancied he might have gone back to Bridgeport. The next morning when Ralph reported for duty, little Torchy, the call boy, sidled up to him in a confidential way.
"Say, Mr. Fairbanks—I noticed a fellow was on your cab on your run yesterday that I have seen before—"
"Indeed," answered Ralph curiously; "what about him?"
"Nothing much, only he was around here a couple of days ago. He pretended that he wanted to see the inside of a roundhouse, and Mr. Forgan sent me with him to show him about. When he got me alone he began asking me all about you. Then he tried to pump me about all your boy friends. I didn't like his looks or his actions, so I thought I would tell you what I have."
"Thank you," said Ralph. "If you ever run against him again, tell me."
"I will, sure," responded the staunch little fellow, who had a genuine friendship for Ralph, who had encouraged him greatly, by initiating him into roundhouse duties when he first came to work for the Great Northern.
Ralph could not fathom the possible motive of the stranger, who apparently was somehow interested in his doings. When they started out on their regular run, he told Fogg what Torchy had imparted to him. The fireman reflected speculatively over the disclosure.
"I can't understand what the fellow is up to," he admitted, "unless one of the gangs is up to a new trick and has hired a stranger to work it on us."
There was a long wait at Riverton after arrival that day. Then they were sided, and Fogg strolled off to a restaurant. Ralph sat down on a pile of ties at the side of the track and enjoyed the lunch that he had brought with him from home. He had just finished it and was about to go to the cab and get a book on railroading to read, when a tall, farmer-appearing fellow came upon the scene.
"Say," he drawled, "is this 999—yes, I see it is."
"All right," nodded Ralph; "what about it?"
"I want to see the engineer."
"I am the engineer."
"Well, I'm sent to you."
"Don't know—never saw the boy before. He's a stranger in Riverton. Came up to me and gave me a half-a-dollar to come here and deliver a message to you."
"Let me know it," directed Ralph.
"Come out here on the tracks, and I'll show you where he said you was to come to see him. See that old shed over beyond those freights? Well, the boy said you was to come there."
"Oh, he did?" commented Ralph musingly.
"Yes, he said to come alone, as it was particular. He said you'd know when I said Martin—Martin, oh, yes, Clark, that's it."
"Marvin Clark," decided the young railroader at once, and as the messenger went his way Ralph ran to the engine cab, threw off his jacket and then walked down the tracks. He of course thought of Fred Porter at once. It looked as though that individual had turned up again and had sent for him, and Ralph was glad to hear from him at last.
The building that had been pointed out to him by the boy messenger was a storage shed for repair tools and supplies. Ralph passed a line of damaged freights, and reaching the shed, found its door open. He stepped across the threshold and peered around among the heaps of iron and steel.
"Is anybody here?" he inquired.
"Yes, two of us," promptly responded a harsK, familiar voice, that gave Ralph a start, for the next instant his arms were seized, drawn behind him, and the young engineer of No. 999 found himself a prisoner.