Ralph in the Switch Tower/Chapter 28
WHAT THE "EXTRA" TOLD
"They won't move!" cried Young Slavin disgustedly. "They don't budge. Oh, rot on you! guying a fellow," and he slunk back to the armchair in chagrin.
Old Jack laughed till the tears ran down his cheeks. He had tricked his new apprentice into a "grand-stand" display at two levers that had been wedged tight shut and out of use for a month.
He rallied the would-be railroader for a few minutes. Then in his kind-spirited way he took up the matter seriously.
He told Slavin just what his initial duties would be: sweeping out the tower, keeping the fuel supply handy, oiling the lever and rod sockets, cleaning the widows.
Slavin was somewhat disappointed at this dreary routine. When, however, Knight recited his own early experience and what it led to in proficiency and promotion, Slavin became more resigned.
"It looks good," he said longingly. "The day I draw more than board and lodging wages and pull a lever, I'll give you two a banquet. Say, I can hardly wait to begin!"
"When do you begin, Slavin?" asked old Jack.
Slavin hung around the switch tower till Knight went away in answer to a 'phone call from the limits tower. Then he sidled up to Ralph.
"Been waiting to tell you," he said in a low tone.
"Something about Van?"
"Did you get any word from him?"
"This morning. Came to the rear jail window, where I wait for him. Said just one word."
"What was it?"
"That was all?"
"Someone inside interrupted him, I think, so that was all."
"'To-night,'" repeated Ralph musingly. "I wonder what he means?"
"Action to-night, of course. Something is going to happen. Last night—you remember what he told me?"
"Yes, Van said he felt sure that Slump and Bemis had the documents stolen from Mrs. Davis."
"That's it," nodded Slavin. "You know Slump wrote a sassy letter to old Farrington."
"So you told me."
"Farrington paid no attention to it. Then Van overheard these two precious schemers concocting a new note. It told old Farrington that they had something better than merely knowing where a certain woman was."
"They meant Mrs. Davis."
"Of course. In this last note they said that they had some very valuable papers belonging to Mrs. Davis. They threatened that if Farrington didn't get them out of that jail inside of forty-eight hours, they would send for Ralph Fairbanks and turn the papers over to him."
"This is getting interesting," remarked Ralph.
"And exciting. Oh, something is sure to drop, soon. That old miser will never go any twenty thousand dollars' bonds on those two scape-graces."
"It is not likely," said Ralph. "Do you think Farrington paid any attention to the second note?"
"I think he did."
"As I left the jail, I saw his coachman come out of the building. He had an empty basket on his arm. I think he had been taking some food and such fixings to Ike Slump & Co."
"And the latest is Van's 'To-night'," mused Ralph. "Slavin, you will keep a close watch on things, won't you? I believe affairs are very near a crisis."
"I'll not miss anything," Slavin assured Ralph stanchly—"least of all you, when there's any important word to report."
Ralph was restless and expectant all that evening at home. He sat up till ten o'clock, hoping that Slavin might bring him some word.
None came, however. He went to bed, and as usual left the house for the switch tower at 7.30 in the morning.
Just as Ralph neared the depot yards, a small boy with a bundle of papers under his arm darted down the street.
Ralph remembered that this was "paper day." He paused and listened as the lad shouted out his wares.
"Extry! extry!" he called.
"Here, boy—what have you got extra?" asked a passer-by.
"Full account of the great Stanley Junction jail escape!"
"What's that?" cried Ralph irrepressibly.
"Hey, never mind—I'll tell you," pronounced Slavin's voice suddenly at his elbow. "I'm out of breath. Just missed you at your house, and ran all the way here after you."
"Slavin, what is this I hear—a jail escape?"
"Yes—Slump and Bemis. It seems someone smuggled some tools in to them yesterday."
"That's how I figure it out," assented Slavin. "Anyhow, they discovered that the prisoners were gone about midnight. I didn't hear of it until about an hour ago. I hurried to the road detective. He got a 'phone from Van Sherwin at the jail about two o'clock this morning. It was to wire to the jailer to give him his liberty."
"What—Van gone, too!" exclaimed Ralph.
"That's the way it looks. I just came from the jail. They had let Sherwin go. The jailer said he had left a note. For Ralph Fairbanks. I took it to deliver. Here it is."
Ralph eagerly tore open the letter Slavin handed him.
It contained Van's signature in initials, and one line only. This read:
"Got track of Mrs. Davis—I have the stolen papers."