Ralph on the Engine/Chapter 6
The young fireman reported at the roundhouse early in the morning, showing the telegram to Jim Forgan, but not until the foreman had got out of sight and hearing of the other men in the place.
"H'm!" commented Forgan laconically, "I don't like this."
"Indeed, Mr. Forgan?" smiled Ralph.
"I don't, and that's the truth of it—for two reasons.
"What are they, Mr. Forgan?"
"First, it interrupts a regular run for you."
"But I may not be away two days."
"Next, it gives that Jim Evans a chance to take your place, and I don't trust the man."
"Neither do I," said Ralph pointedly, "and I may have something important to tell you about him when I return."
Ralph found Zeph industriously chopping kindling wood when he got back home again. The young fireman went into the house, explained his new employment to his mother, and then called to Zeph.
"You wanted some work, Zeph," he said to the farmer boy.
"Sure, I do," cried Zeph with unction.
"Very well, I think I am authorized to offer you a dollar a day."
"Steady job?" inquired Zeph eagerly.
"No, it may not last, but it is in the railroad service, and may lead to your further employment."
"Good," commented Zeph. "What do they want me to do—engineer?"
"Scarcely, Zeph," said Ralph, smiling. "I simply want you to take me back to the Ames farm and direct me about the locality."
Zeph looked disappointed.
"Why, what's that kind of work got to do with railroading?" he said.
"You shall know later."
"All right. You're too smart to make any mistakes and too friendly to do anything but good for me, so I'm your man."
"Very well. First, then, tell me the location of the Ames farm."
Zeph did this, and Ralph ascertained that it was about five miles west of Brocton.
Ralph secured some money, and in an hour he and Zeph stepped aboard the cab of a locomotive attached to a load of empties due to run down the line in a few minutes.
They reached Brocton about noon. Ralph proceeded down the tracks towards the railroad cut which had been the scene of the landslide.
He turned off at the wagon road and soon, with his companion, was started westward in the direction of the Ames farm.
"Zeph," he said, "did you hear anything of a train robbery here the other night?"
No, Zeph had not heard of it. Then Ralph questioned him closely as to the night Ames had loaned his wagon to strangers and gained a few more particulars relating to the silk robbers.
"There is the Ames farm," reported Zeph at last.
Ralph had already planned out what he would do, and proceeded to instruct his assistant as to his share in the affair.
"Zeph," he said, "I do not wish to be seen by Ames, nor must he know that you came here with a stranger."
"Am I to see him?"
"Yes," answered Ralph, taking a package from under his coat.
"Why, that's the package I lost!" cried Zeph.
"And you had it all the time?"
"I did, Zeph, yes. No mystery about it—I simply don't care to explain to you anything about it till a little later on."
"I want you to take it and go up to the farmhouse. I will keep out of sight. You go to Ames and tell him it was returned to you, and you want to give it back to the person it belongs to with a message."
"Nobody's," answered Ralph, "but you need not say that."
"What shall I say, then?"
"Tell him you want to advise the person who sent the parcel that it isn't safe to send such goods to any one at the present time."
"Very well," said Zeph. "Suppose Ames tells me where to find the fellow who sent the package?"
"Come back and report to me."
Zeph started for the farmhouse. Ralph watched him enter it, the package in his hand. He came out in a very few minutes without the parcel.
He was rather glum-faced when he rejoined Ralph.
"Say," he observed, "I've found out nothing, and old Ames took the package away from me."
"What did he say?" asked the young fireman.
"He told me he would see that it was returned to the person who sent it."
"That delays matters," thought Ralph, "and I don't know whether Ames will take it back to the silk thieves, or wait for some of them to visit him."
Then the young fireman formed a sudden resolution. He regarded his companion thoughtfully, and said:
"Zeph, I am going to trust you with what is known as an official secret in the railroad line."
The farmer boy looked pleased and interested.
"I believe you are too square and friendly to betray that secret."
"Try me, and see!" cried Zeph with ardor.
"Well," said Ralph, "there was a silk robbery of the Dover night freight last week, the train I am fireman on. From what you have told me, I feel sure that the thieves hired their rig from Ames. That package you had was part of the stolen plunder. I am acting for the road detective of the Great Northern, and I must locate those robbers."
"Then," cried Zeph delightedly, "I am helping you do detective work."
"Yes, Zeph, genuine detective work."
"Oh! how I wish I had my disguises here!"
"You are of more use to me as you are, because the thieves know you worked for Ames, and they seem to trust him."
"That's so," said Zeph thoughtfully. "What you going to do?"
"I want to locate the thieves," responded Ralph. "You must know the district about here pretty well. Can't you think of any spot where they would be likely to hide?"
"None in particular. But I know every foot of the woods, swamps and creek. If the men you are looking for are anywhere in the neighborhood, I am sure we will find a trace of them."
"You pilot the way, then, Zeph. Go with caution if you find any traces of the men, for I am sure that at least two of the party know me."
For three hours they made a tour of the district, taking in nearly four miles to the south. The swamp lands they could not traverse. Finally they came out of the woods almost directly on a town.
"Why," said Ralph in some surprise, "here is Millville, the next station to Brocton."
"That's so," nodded Zeph. "I hardly think those fellows are in the woods. We have made a pretty thorough search."
"There's the swamp and the high cliffs we haven't visited," said Ralph. "I suppose you are hungry?"
"Moderately," answered Zeph.
"Then we will go and have something to eat. I have a friend just on the edge of Millville, who keeps a very unique restaurant."
Ralph smiled pleasantly, for the restaurant in question was quite a feature with railroad men.
Two lines of railroad crossed at Millville, a great deal of switching was done outside of the town, and there was a shanty there to shelter the men.
A little off from the junction was a very queer-looking house, if it could be called such. Its main structure was an old freight car, to which there had been additions made from time to time. Across its front was a sign reading, "Limpy Joe's Railroad Restaurant."
"Ever taken a meal here?" inquired Ralph, as they approached the place.
"Ever heard of Limpy Joe?"
"Don't think I have."
"Then," said Ralph, "I am going to introduce you to the most interesting boy you ever met."