Ralph on the Overland Express/12

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Ralph could not repress a smile at a sight of the erratic youth. The young inventor, it seemed, was always coming to light in some original way. His last sensational appearance fitted in naturally to his usual eccentric methods.

"Hey, there! trying to beat the railroad, eh?" shouted the depot official officer, rushing forward to nab the culprit.

"Don't arrest him, Mr. Brooks," spoke Ralph quickly. "I know him; I'm interested in him. He is no professional ride-stealer, and I am perfectly satisfied that he never went to all that risk and discomfort because he didn't have the money to pay his fare."

The watchman was an old-time friend of Ralph. He looked puzzled, but he halted in his original intention of arresting the stowaway. Young Graham paid no attention to anything going on about him. He seemed occupied as usual with his own thoughts solely. First he dug cinders out of his blinking eyes. Then he rubbed the coating of grime and soot from his face, and began groping in his pockets. Very ruefully he turned out one particular inside coat pocket. He shook his head in a doleful way.

"Gone!" he remarked. "Lost my pocket book. Friend—a pencil, quick."

These words he spoke to Ralph, beckoning him earnestly to approach nearer.

"And a card, a piece of paper, anything I can write on. Don't delay—hurry, before I forget it."

Ralph found a stub of a pencil and some railroad blanks in his pocket, and gave them to the young inventor. Then the latter set at work, becoming utterly oblivious of his surroundings. For nearly two minutes he was occupied in making memoranda and drawing small sections of curves and lines.

"All right, got it, good!" he voiced exultantly, as he returned the pencil to Ralph and carefully stowed the slips of paper in his pocket. Then he arose to his feet. He smiled queerly as he gazed down at his tattered garments and grimed and blistered hands.

"Pretty looking sight, ain't I?" he propounded to the young engineer. "Had to do it, though. Glad I did it. Got the actual details, see?"

"What of, may I ask?" inquired Ralph.

"New idea. Save fuel, make the engine go faster. Been figuring on it for months," explained the strange boy. "I live at Bridgeport."

"Yes, I know," nodded Ralph. "I saw you there."

"Did? Glad of that, too. If you feel friendly enough, maybe you'll advise me what to do in my distressing plight. Stranger here, and lost my pocketbook. It fell out of my pocket while I was hanging on to the trucks. Not a cent."

"That can be fixed all right, I think," said Ralph.

"Clothes all riddled—need a bath."

"You had better come with me to the hotel, Mr. Graham," spoke Ralph. "I know enough about you to be interested in you. I will vouch for you to the hotel keeper, who will take care of you until you hear from home."

"Yes. Got money in the bank at Bridgeport," said Archie Graham. "As I was telling you, I've struck a new idea. You know I've been trying to invent something for a number of years."

"Yes, I've heard about that, and sincerely hope you will figure out a success."

"Stick at it, anyway," declared Archie. "Well, at Bridgeport they take me as a joke, see? That's all right; I'll show them, some day. They voted me a nuisance at the shops and shut me out. Wouldn't let me come near their engines. I had to find out some things necessary to my inventions, so I came on to Stanley Junction. Rode in a coach like any other civilized being until I got about ten miles from here—last stop."

"Yes," nodded Ralph.

"Well, there I stepped out of the coach and under it. Whew! but it was an experience I'll never try again. All the same, I got what I was after. I wanted to learn how many revolutions an axle made in so many minutes. I wanted to know, too, how a belt could be attached under a coach. I've got the outlines of the facts, how to work out my invention: 'Graham's Automatic Bellows Gearing.'"

Ralph did not ask for further details as to the device his companion had in mind. He led a pleasant conversation the way from the depot, and when they reached the hotel introduced Archie to its proprietor.

"This friend of mine will be all right for what he orders, Mr. Lane," said Ralph.

"Yes, I'm going to stay here some days, perhaps a week or two," explained the young inventor, "so, if you'll give me a blank check I'll fill it for what cash I may need. You put it through your bank and the funds will be here to-morrow."

Everything was arranged in a satisfactory way, even to Archie ordering a new suit of clothes. The youth came out temporarily from his usual profundity, and had a real, natural boyish talk with Ralph. The latter recited the incident of the adventure with Billy Bouncer's crowd at Bridgeport.

"Oh, that Jim Scroggins fellow," said Archie, with a smile. "Yes, I remember—'kick him Scroggins.' You see, he had broken into my workshop, destroyed some devices I was working on and stole a lot of my tools. So you're Mr. Fairbanks? I've heard of you."

"Ralph, you mean, Mr. Graham," observed the young railroader pleasantly.

"Then Archie, you mean," added his eccentric companion. "I'd like to be friends with you, for I can see you are the right sort. You've done a good deal for me."

"Oh, don't notice that."

"And you can do a good deal more."

"Indeed? How?"

"By getting me free range of your roundhouse here. Can you?"

"I will be glad to do it," answered Ralph.

"I hope you will," said Archie gratefully. "They don't know me here, and they won't poke fun at me or hinder me. I'm not going to steal any of their locomotives. I just want to study them."

"That's all right," said Ralph, "I'll see you tomorrow and fix things for you, so you will be welcome among my railroad friends."

"You're a royal good fellow, Mr. Ralph," declared the young inventor with enthusiasm, "and I don't know how to thank you enough."

"Well, I've tried to do something for humanity to-day," reflected the young engineer brightly, as he wended his way homewards. "It comes easy and natural, too, when a fellow's trying to do his level best."

Ralph found his mother bustling about at a great rate when he reached home. The excitement over the fire had died down. Fogg was up at the ruins getting his rescued household belongings to a neighborly shelter. The string of excited friends to condole with Mrs. Fogg had dwindled away, and the poor lady lay in comfort and peace in the best bedroom of the house.

"She seems so grateful to you for having saved her life," Mrs. Fairbanks told Ralph," and so glad, she told me, that her husband had signed the pledge, that she takes the fire quite reasonably."

"Yes," remarked Ralph, "I heard about the pledge, and it is a blessed thing. I have other grand news, too. There's a lot of good fellows in Stanley Junction, and the Foggs won't be long without a shelter over their heads," and Ralph told his mother all about the subscription list and the moving picture show benefit.

"You are a grand manager, Ralph," said the fond mother. "I am only too glad to do my share in making these people welcome and comfortable."

"You know how to do it, mother," declared Ralph, "that's sure."

"It seems as if things came about just right to take in the Foggs," spoke Mrs. Fairbanks. "Limpy Joe went back to his restaurant on the Short Line yesterday, and Zeph Dallas has left, looking for a new job, he says, so we have plenty of spare rooms for our guests."

Ralph started for the ruined Fogg homestead to see if he could be of any use there. He came upon Fogg moving some furniture to the barn of a neighbor on a hand-cart. The fireman dropped the handles as he saw Ralph. His face worked with vivid emotion as he grasped the hand of the young railroader.

"Fairbanks," he said, "what can I say to you except that you have been the best friend I have ever known!"

"Nothing, except to make up your mind that the friendship will last if you want to suit me."

"Honest—honest?" urged Fogg, the tears in his eyes, earnestly regarding Ralph's face. "You don't despise me?"

"Oh, yes, we all dislike you, Mr. Fogg!" railed Ralph, with a hearty laugh. "The master mechanic has such bitter animosity for you, that he's taking his revenge by circulating a subscription list to help build you a new home."

"Never!" gasped Fogg, overcome.

"What's more," proceeded Ralph, in the same ironical tone, "the men down at the roundhouse have such a deep grudge against you, that they are following his example."

"I don't deserve it—I don't deserve it!" murmured the fireman.

"Why, even the new moving picture showman is so anxious to throw you down, that he's going to give you a benefit Saturday evening."

"I guess I'm the wickedest and happiest man in the world," said Fogg, in a subdued tone.

"You ought to be the happiest, after that little memoranda you gave to the master mechanic," suggested Ralph.

"The pledge? Yes!" cried the fireman, "and I mean to keep it, too. He told you about it?"

"And everything else necessary to tell," replied Ralph. "It's all settled. He says you and I ought to make a strong team. Let's try, hard, Mr. Fogg."

"Lad, I'll show you!" declared Fogg solemnly.

"All right, then say no more about it, and let us get these traps under cover, and get home to enjoy a famous meal my mother is preparing for all hands."

Activity and excitement around the Fairbanks home did not die down until long after dark. All the afternoon and evening people came to the house to see Fogg, to offer sympathy and practical assistance. If the fireman needed encouragement, he got plenty of it. He seemed to have grown into a new man under the chastening, and yet hopeful influences of that eventful day in his life. Before his very eyes Ralph fancied he saw his fireman grow in new manliness, courage and earnestness of purpose.

All hands were tired enough to sleep soundly that night. When Ralph came down stairs in the morning, his mother told him that Fogg was up and about already. She believed he had gone up to the ruins to look over things in a general way. Ralph went out to hunt up the stroller for breakfast.

Scarcely started from the house, he halted abruptly, for the object of his quest was in view. Ralph saw the fireman about half a block away. He was facing two men whom Ralph recognized as Hall and Wilson, two blacklisted who had been prominent in the railroad strike.

One of them was gesticulating vigorously and telling something to Fogg, while his companion chipped in a word now and then. Suddenly something appeared to be said that roused up the fireman. His hand went up in the air with an angry, menacing motion. He shouted out some words that Ralph could not hear at the distance he was from the scene.

The two men seemed to remonstrate. One of them raised his own fist menacingly. The other crowded towards Fogg in a stealthy, suspicious way.

In a flash the climax came. Swinging out his giant hand, the fireman of No. 999 seized his nearest opponent and gave him a fling into the ditch. He then sprang at the other, and sent him whirling head over heels to join his companion.