Ralph on the Overland Express/11
THE MASTER MECHANIC
"Want to resign, do you?"
"That is what I came here for, sir," said the young engineer of No. 999.
"Well, you're too late," and the master mechanic of the Great Northern seemed to turn his back on Ralph, busying himself with some papers on his desk. He was a great, gruff fellow with the heart of a child, but he showed it rarely. A diamond in the rough, most of the employees of the road were afraid of him. Not so Ralph. The young railroader had won the respect and admiration of the official by his loyalty and close attention to duty. In fact, Ralph felt that the influence of the master mechanic had been considerable of an element in his promotion to No. 999. He stepped nearer to the desk, managing to face the would-be tyro.
"Too late, sir?" he repeated vaguely.
"Didn't I say so? Get out!"
The master mechanic waved his hand, and Ralph was a trifle surprised at what seemed a peremptory dismissal. The moving arm of the old railroader described a swoop, grasped the hand of Ralph in a fervent grip, and pulling the young engineer to almost an embrace, he said:
"Fairbanks, we had in our family a little boy who died. It's a pretty tender memory with us, but every time I look at you I think of the dear little fellow. He'd have been a railroader, too, if he had lived, and the fondest wish of my heart is that he might have been like you."
"Why——" murmured the astonished Ralph.
The master mechanic cleared his throat and his great hand swept the moisture from his eyes. Then in a more practical tone he resumed:
"I said you was too late."
"Too late for what?"
"Resigning. You are too late," observed the official, "because Lemuel Fogg has already been here."
"To tender his resignation, to tell the whole truthful story of the collision on the siding at Plympton. Fairbanks," continued the master mechanic very seriously, "you are a noble young fellow. I know your design to bear the whole brunt of the smash-up, in order that you might save your fireman and the station man down at Plympton. As I said, Fogg was here. I never saw a man so broken. He told me everything. He told me of your patience, of your kindness, your manliness. Lad, your treatment of Fogg under those circumstances shows the mettle in you that will make you a great man, and, what is better still, a good man."
"Thank you, sir," said Ralph in a subdued tone, deeply affected despite himself.
"For the first time in twenty years' service," continued the official, "I am going to take a serious responsibility on myself which should be rightly shouldered by the company. The Plympton incident is dead and buried. The three of us must hold always the secret close. The black mark is rubbed off the slate."
"You have done right—oh, believe me, sir!" declared Ralph earnestly. "I feel sure that Mr. Fogg has learned a lesson that he will never forget, and the blessings of his sick wife, of his ambitious young daughter, will be yours."
"In my desk yonder," continued the master mechanic, "I have his written pledge that drink is a thing of the past with him. I told Fogg that if ever he disappointed me in my belief that he was a changed man, a reformed man, I would leave the service feeling that my mistaken judgment did not do justice to my position with the Great Northern. As to you, ready to sacrifice yourself for the sake of others—you are a young man among thousands. Drop it now—get out!" ordered the master mechanic, with a vast show of authority. "It's all under seal of silence, and I expect to see you and Fogg make a great team."
"Mr. Fogg's house has just burned down," said Ralph. "It would have broken him down completely, if his discharge had been added to that misfortune."
"Burned down?" repeated the master mechanic, in surprise and with interest. "How was that?" and Ralph had to recite the story of the fire. He added that he had heard Fogg had but little insurance.
"Wait a minute," directed the official, and he went into the next office. Ralph heard him dictating something to his stenographer. Then the typewriter clicked, and shortly afterwards the master mechanic came into the office with a sheet of foolscap, which he handed to Ralph. A pleased flush came into the face of the young railroader as he read the typewritten heading of the sheet—it was a subscription list in behalf of Lemuel Fogg, and headed by the signature of the master mechanic, with "$20" after it.
"You are a noble man!" cried Ralph irresistibly. "No wonder it's a joy to work for you."
"Down brakes there!" laughed the big-hearted fellow. "Don't draw it too strong, Fairbanks. Don't be more liberal than you can afford now," he directed, as Ralph placed the paper on the desk, and added to it his subscription for $10. "You can tell Fogg we're rising a few pennies for him. I'll circulate the subscription among the officials, and if any plan to have the roundhouse crowd chip in a trifle comes to your mind, why, start it down the rails. Get out."
"All right," cried Ralph. "You've said that twice, so I guess it's time to go now."
"One minute, though," added the master mechanic. "You and Fogg will run No. 999 on the Tipton accommodation to-morrow. It's a shift berth, though. I don't want you to go dreaming quite yet, Fairbanks, that you're president of the Great Northern, and all that, but, under the hat, I will say that you can expect a boost. We are figuring on some big things, and I shouldn't wonder if a new train is soon to be announced that will wake up some of our rivals. Get out now for good, for I'm swamped with work here."
The young engineer left the office of the master mechanic with a very happy heart. Affairs had turned out to his entire satisfaction, and, too, for the benefit of those whose welfare he had considered beyond his own. Ralph was full of the good news he had to impart to Lemuel Fogg. As he left the vicinity of the depot, he began to formulate a plan in his mind for securing a subscription from his fellow workers to aid Fogg.
"I say," suddenly remarked Ralph to himself with a queer smile, and halting in his progress, "talk about coincidences, here is one for certain. 'The Overland Limited,' why, I've got an idea!"
The "Overland Limited" had been in Ralph's mind ever since leaving the office of the master mechanic. There could be only one solution to the hint that official had given of "new trains that would wake up some of the rivals of the Great Northern." That road had recently bought up two connecting lines of railroad. The China & Japan Mail experiment—could it be a test as to the possibility of establishing an "Overland Special?" At all events, there was a pertinent suggestion in the words that met the gaze of the young engineer and caused him to halt calculatingly.
A newly-painted store front with clouded windows had a placard outside bearing the announcement: "Olympia Theatre, 10-cent show. Will open next Saturday evening with the following special scenes: 1—The Poor Artist. 2—London by Gaslight. 3—A Day on the Overland Limited." As the door of the store just being renovated for a picture show stood a man, tying some printed bills to an awning rod for passers by to take. Ralph approached this individual.
"Going to open a moving picture show?" he inquired in a friendly way.
"I am," responded the show man. "Interested?"
"Yes," answered Ralph.
"I hope the public will be. It's a sort of experiment, with two other shows in town. There's none in this locality, and they tell me I'll do well."
"I should think so," answered Ralph. "Bright, clean pictures will draw a good crowd."
"I'd like to get the railroad men in touch with me. They and their families could give me lots of business. There's that prime 'Overland' scene. It's a new and fine film."
"And it has suggested something to me that you may be glad to follow out," spoke Ralph.
"And what's that, neighbor?" inquired the showman curiously.
"I'll tell you," responded Ralph. "There was a fire in town to-day—one of the best-known firemen on the road was burned out. It's a big blow to him, for he's lost about all he had. There isn't a railroad man in Stanley Junction who would not be glad to help him get on his feet again. The big fellows of the road will subscribe in a good way, but the workers can't spare a great deal."
"I see," nodded the man. "What are you getting at, though?"
"Just this," explained Ralph. "You get out some special dodgers and announce your opening night as a benefit for Lemuel Fogg, fireman. Offer to donate fifty per cent. of the proceeds to Fogg, and I'll guarantee to crowd your house to the doors."
"Say!" enthused the man, slapping Ralph boisterously on the shoulder, "you're a natural showman. Write me the dodger, will you, and I'll have it over the streets inside of twenty-four hours."
"I'm better at filling in time schedules than composing show bills," said Ralph, "but I'll have a try at this one for my friend's sake."
Ralph went inside and was soon busy with blank paper and pencil, which the showman provided. His composition was a very creditable piece of literary work, and the showman chuckled immensely, and told Ralph that he could consider himself on the free list—"with all his family."
Ralph made a start for home again, but his fixed plans were scheduled for frequent changes, it seemed. An engineer friend, on his way to the roundhouse, met him, and Ralph turned and walked that way with him. He broached the subject nearest to his heart, and soon had his companion interested in the subscription for Lemuel Fogg. When he parted with the man at the end of the depot platform the latter had promised to be responsible for great results among his fellow-workmen.
The young engineer now proceeded in the direction of home. The whistle of the western accommodation, however, just arriving, held him stationary for a few moments, and he stood watching the train roll into the depot with the interest ever present with a railroader.
The last coach was a chair car. As the coaches jolted to a halt, there crawled or rather rolled from under the chair car a forlorn figure, weakened, tattered, a stowaway delivered from a perilous stolen ride on the trucks.
It was a boy; Ralph saw that at a glance. As the depot watchman ran forward to nab this juvenile offender against the law, the boy sat up on the board plankway where he had landed, and Ralph caught a sight of his face.
In an instant the young railroader recognized this new arrival. It was "Wheels," otherwise Archie Graham, the boy inventor.