Ralph on the Engine/Chapter 9
A SUSPICIOUS PROCEEDING
"Mr. Griscom, this is life!"
Ralph Fairbanks spoke with all the ardor of a lively, ambitious boy in love with the work in hand. He sat in the cab of the locomotive that drew the Limited Mail, and he almost felt as if he owned the splendid engine, the finest in the service of the Great Northern.
Two weeks had passed by since the young fireman had baffled the railroad thieves. Ralph had made brief work of his special duty for Adair, the road detective, and there had come to him a reward for doing his duty that was beyond his fondest expectations. This was a promotion that most beginners in his line would not have earned in any such brief space of time. The recovery of the stolen silk, however, had made Bob Adair a better friend than ever. The road detective had influence, and Ralph was promoted to the proud position of fireman of the Limited Mail.
This was his first trip in the passenger service, and naturally Ralph was anxious and excited. Griscom had been made engineer, his eyes having mended, and Ralph was very glad that the veteran railroader would continue as his partner.
Regarding the silk robbery, that was now ancient history, but for several days the occurrence had been one of interest all along the line. Adair had made public the circumstances of the case, and Ralph became quite a hero.
The night he had managed to get the plunder into the gravel car he had instantly secured assistance at Brocton. The valuable goods were guarded all night, and a party of men made a search for the thieves, but they had taken the alarm and had escaped.
Zeph Dallas had gone back to Millville with Limpy Joe, and went to work there. A further search was made for Ike Slump, Mort Bemis and their accomplices, but they could not be found. Jim Evans had been discharged from the railroad service. Nothing more was heard of Gasper Farrington, and it seemed to Ralph as if at last his enemies had been fully routed and there was nothing but a clear track ahead.
"It feels as if I was beginning life all over again," Ralph had told his mother that morning. "Fireman of the Limited Mail—just think of it, mother! one of the best positions on the road."
Ralph decided that the position demanded very honorable treatment, and he looked neat and quite dressed up, even in his working clothes, as he now sat in the engine cab.
Griscom proceeded to give him lots of suggestions and information regarding his new duties.
There had been a change in the old time schedule of the Limited Mail. Originally it had started from the city terminus in the early morning. Now the run was reversed, and the train left Stanley Junction at 10:15 A. M.
Ralph proceeded to get everything in order for the prospective run, but everything was so handy, it was a pleasure to contemplate his duties.
Just before train time a boy came running up to the engine. He was an old schoolmate and a neighbor.
"Ralph! Ralph!" he called breathlessly to the young fireman. "Your mother sent me with a letter that she got at the post-office."
"For me? Thank you, Ned," said Ralph.
He glanced at the address. The handwriting was unfamiliar. There was no time left to inspect the enclosure, so Ralph slipped the letter in his pocket and proceeded to attend to the fire.
He quite forgot the letter after that, finding the duties of a first-class fireman to be extremely arduous. There was plenty of coal to shovel, and he was pretty well tired out when they reached the city terminus.
"There, lad," said Griscom proudly, as they steamed into the depot on time to a second. "This makes me feel like old times once more."
There was a wait of four hours in the city, during which period the train hands were at liberty to spend their time as they chose. Griscom took Ralph to a neat little hotel, where they had a meal and the privileges of a reading room. It was there that Ralph suddenly remembered the letter sent to him that morning by his mother.
As he opened it he was somewhat puzzled, for the signature was strange to him. The missive stated that the writer "was acting for a former resident of Stanley Junction who wished to settle up certain obligations, if a satisfactory arrangement could me made." Further the writer, as agent of the party in question, would meet Ralph at a certain hotel at a certain time and impart to him his instructions.
The young fireman was about to consult Griscom as to this mysterious missive, but found the old engineer engaged in conversation with some fellow railroaders, and, leaving the place, he proceeded to the hotel named in the letter.
He was an hour ahead of the time appointed in the communication and waited patiently for developments, thinking a good deal and wondering what would come of the affair.
Finally a man came into the place, acting as if he was looking for somebody. He was an under-sized person with a mean and crafty face. He glanced at Ralph, hesitated somewhat, and then advanced towards him.
"Is your name Fairbanks?" he questioned.
"Yes," answered Ralph promptly.
"Wrote you a letter."
"I received one, yes," said Ralph. "May I ask its meaning?"
"Well, there is nothing gained by beating about the bush. I represent, as an attorney, Mr. Gasper Farrington."
"I thought that when I read your letter," said Ralph.
"Then we understand each other," pursued the attorney. "Now then, see here, Farrington wants to do the square thing by you."
"He ought to," answered Ralph. "He owes us twenty thousand dollars and he has got to pay it."
"Oh, yes, you can undoubtedly collect it in time," admitted the man.
"But why all this mystery?" asked Ralph abruptly. "In an important matter like this, it appears to me some regular attorney might consult our attorneys at Stanley Junction."
"Farrington won't do that. He don't feel the kindest in the world towards your people. Here is his simple proposition: This affair is to be settled up quietly between the parties directly interested. I am to give you certain papers for your mother to sign. You get them attended to. You will be later advised where and when to deliver them and get your money."
"Twenty thousand dollars?" said Ralph.
Ralph did not like the looks of things, but he kept his own counsel, and simply said:
"Very well, give me the documents you speak of and I will act upon them as my mother decides."
"And keep the business strictly to yourselves."
This looked reasonable to Ralph. He knew that Farrington felt deeply the disgrace already attached to his name for past misdeeds of which he had been guilty.
"We have no desire to humiliate Mr. Farrington any further," he said. "We simply insist upon our rights. This strikes me as a mysterious and uncalled-for method of settling up a claim purely business-like in its character."
"That is the way of old Farrington, you know," suggested the man, with a coarse laugh.
"Yes, he seems to be given to dark ways," said Ralph.
"Then it is all arranged?" questioned the "lawyer" eagerly.
"So far as it can be arranged for the time being."
"Very well, you shall hear from us in a few days."
Ralph left the hotel with one fixed conviction in his mind—that old Gasper Farrington was up to some new scheme and that it would be wise to look out for him.