Ralph on the Engine/Chapter 22
THE LIMITED MAIL
The conductor of the Limited Mail gave the signal cheerily. Ralph swung in from his side of the cab on the crack locomotive of the road. Old John Griscom gave a chuckle of delight and the trip to the city began.
It was ten days after the adventure in the scow—ten days full of activity and progress in the railroad interests of the Great Northern. This was the morning when old-time schedules were resumed and every part of the machinery of the line went back to routine.
"I tell you, lad, it feels good to start out with clear tracks and the regular system again. I'm proud of you, Fairbanks. You did up those strikers in fine style, and it will be a long time before we shall have any more trouble in that line."
"I hope so, Mr. Griscom," said Ralph. "The company seems determined to teach the strikers a lesson."
This was true. Immediately after the visit of Ralph to the city, the railroad people had set at work to make the most of the evidence in their hands. A statement of the facts they had discovered was given to the public, a series of indictments found against Gasper Farrington, Bartlett, Jim Evans and others, and a vigorous prosecution for conspiracy was begun. Among the most important witnesses against them was Zeph Dallas. Farrington and Bartlett disappeared. Evans and the others were sent to jail.
A great revulsion in popular sentiment occurred when the true details of the strike movement were made known. The respectable element of the old union had scored a great victory, and work was resumed with many undesirable employes on the blacklist.
It seemed to Ralph now as though all unfavorable obstacles in the way of his success had been removed. He believed that Slump and Bemis were powerless to trouble him farther. As to Farrington, Ralph expected at some time to see that wily old schemer again, for the railroad was in possession of papers of value to the discredited railroad magnate.
Ralph had now become quite an expert at his work as a fireman. There was no grumbling at any time from the veteran engineer, for Ralph had a system in his work which showed always in even, favorable results. The locomotive was in splendid order and a finer train never left Stanley Junction. At many stations cheers greeted this practical announcement of the end of the strike.
There was no jar nor break on the route until they reached a station near Afton. The engine was going very fast, when, turning a curve, Griscom uttered a shout and turned the throttle swiftly.
"Too late!" he gasped hoarsely.
The young fireman had seen what Griscom saw. It was an alarming sight. At a street crossing a baby carriage was slowly moving down an incline. A careless nurse was at some distance conversing with a companion. The shrill shriek of the whistle caused her to discover the impending disaster, but she had become too terrified to move.
Ralph readily saw that speed would not be greatly diminished by the time the locomotive overtook the child in the baby carriage, and in a flash he acted. He was out on the running board and onto the cowcatcher so quickly that he seemed fairly to fly. Grasping a bracket, the young fireman poised for a move that meant life or death for the imperiled child.
The locomotive pounded the rails and shivered under the pressure of the powerful air brakes. Ralph swung far down, one hand extended. The baby carriage had rolled directly between the rails and stood there motionless.
It contained a beautiful child, who, with an innocent smile, greeted the approaching monster of destruction as if it were some great, pleasing toy. Ralph's heart was in his throat.
"Grab out!" yelled Griscom, fairly beside himself with fear and suspense.
The young fireman's eyes were dilated, his whole frame trembled. Quick as lightning his hand shot out. It met in a bunch of the clothing of the child. He lifted; the vehicle lifted, too, for a strap held in its occupant.
There was a terrific tension on the arm of the young railroader. The lower part of the vehicle was crunched under the cowcatcher and the child was almost borne away with it. Then the pressure lightened. With a great breath of relief and joy Ralph drew the child towards him, tangled up in the wreckage of the baby carriage.
The train stopped. Griscom did not say a word as they backed down. His face was white, his eyes startled, his breath came hard, but he gave his intrepid young assistant a look of approbation and devotion that thrilled Ralph to the heart.
A crowd had gathered around the distracted nurse at the street crossing. She was hysterical as the rescued child was placed in safety in her arms. Other women were crying. A big policeman arrived on the scene. Griscom gave the particulars of the occurrence.
"Name, please?" said the officer to Ralph.
"Oh, that isn't necessary at all," said Ralph.
"Isn't it? Do you know whose child that is?"
"No," said Ralph.
"The father is Judge Graham, the richest man in the town. Why, he'd hunt the world over to find you. A lucky fellow you are."
Ralph gave his name and the train proceeded on its way amid the cheers of the passengers, who had learned of the brave act of the young fireman. When terminus was reached, a fine-looking old lady approached the locomotive.
"Mr. Fairbanks," she said to Ralph, "the passengers desire you to accept a slight testimonial of their appreciation of your bravery in saving that young child."
Ralph flushed modestly.
"This looks like being paid for doing a simple duty," he said, as the lady extended an envelope.
"Not at all, Mr. Fairbanks. It was a noble act, and we all love you for it."
"I think more of that sentiment than this money," declared Ralph.
The envelope contained fifty dollars. Griscom told the story of the rescue all over Stanley Junction next day, and the local newspapers made quite an article of it.
The next morning Ralph had just completed his breakfast, when his mother went to the front door to answer the bell. She showed some one into the parlor and told Ralph that a gentleman wished to see him.
The young fireman was somewhat astonished, upon entering the parlor, to be grasped by the hand and almost embraced by a stranger.
"I am Judge Graham," spoke the latter, in a trembling, excited tone. "Young man, you saved the life of my only child."
"I was glad to," said Ralph modestly.
The judge went on with a description of the joy and gratitude of the mother of the child, of his sentiments towards Ralph, and concluded with the words:
"And now, Mr. Fairbanks, I wish to reward you."
"That has been done already," said Ralph, "in your gracious words to me."
"Not at all, not at all," declared the judge. "Come, don't be modest. I am a rich man."
"And I a rich mother in having so noble a son," spoke Mrs. Fairbanks, with deep emotion. "You must not think of a reward, sir. He will not take it."
After a while the judge left the house, but he did so with an insistent and significant declaration that "he would not forget" Ralph.
The young fireman was surprised to see him returning a few minutes later, in the company of two of his own friends, Mr. Trevor, the nephew of the president of the Great Northern, and Van Sherwin.
"Well, this is a queer meeting." cried Van with enthusiasm, as they entered the house. "Here we met Judge Graham, who is a great friend of Mr. Trevor, and the very man we wished to see."
This statement was soon explained. It appeared that Mr. Trevor had fully recovered his health, and had come to Stanley Junction with Van to make preparations to issue and sell the bonds of the Short Cut Railroad. The judge was one of the friends he had intended to interview about buying some bonds.
For an hour young Trevor recited to Judge Graham the prospects of the little railway line and their plans regarding the same. Ralph was fascinated at his glowing descriptions of its great future.
Ralph's visitors went away, but in a short time Van returned to the cottage.
"I say, Ralph," he remarked, "Judge Graham is going to invest in those bonds."
"That's good," said Ralph.
"And I heard him tell Mr. Trevor to put down an extra block of them in the name of Ralph Fairbanks."