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Ralph in the Switch Tower/Chapter 31


Half a million dollars



"Ah, I have heard of you. Towerman at Stanley Junction—first name Ralph?"

"Yes, sir."

"Wasn't it you who made that terrifically heroic run through the fire at the Acton freight yards with engineer John Griscom?"

"I was there, yes," admitted Ralph modestly.

"Thought so. Shake. Proud to know you, Mr. Fairbanks, and glad to see you are keeping your name clean and bright on the railroad roll of honor."

"Thank you."

Ralph sat in the room of the assistant superintendent at Dover, an hour after taking the special into safety. He had made a brief explanation to the towerman. The freights were sidetracked, a dozen watchmen guarded the cars, as many specials were sent back to South Dover to attempt the capture of the robbers.

"Here," spoke the assistant superintendent, summoning a messenger, "take that wire for Stanley Junction. Fairbanks, do you happen to know that you have done an amazing thing?"

Ralph shook his head with an uncertain smile.

"Well, you have. I have wired the Junction that you can't go back to-night."

"But my leave of absence was only temporary."

"Don't let that disturb you at all," said the assistant superintendent. "The road needs you here at present. I fancy the road will be very likely to acknowledge your services of to-night. You have prevented the theft of half a million dollars."

Ralph started at this monstrous statement. It seemed incredible.

"That is right. The real owner of the sum will probably give you a bank calendar free, or sue the Great Northern for delay. All the same, the road feels its obligation to you, and I want you to know it. You will have to stay here till we get this matter straightened out. You see, you are the only person who can identify those robbers—if they are caught. You will stay at my home to-night."

The assistant superintendent then went over the entire matter in detail, and Ralph heard an interesting story.

A parsimonious country banker—who seemed to be a sort of second edition of Gasper Farrington—had decided to move his bank from its original location to a point two hundred miles distant.

Too niggardly to purchase the security of his money by sending it by express, he had put it and his securities in a small safe. This he had boxed up, and had shipped it by special freight as merchandise.

How Slump and Bemis had got wind of the proceeding, Ralph could only theorize. They had certainly planned well to make off with this magnificent booty.

How Van Sherwin had been able to send the intimation he had to Ralph, was yet to be explained.

The railroad official treated Ralph like a prince. Both of the tramps were captured and placed in jail. They claimed they had simply been hired by Slump and Bemis to work for them.

The next morning the banker who had so nearly lost his banking capital arrived in hot haste.

He proceeded to express his precious belongings the rest of the way—for which the express company proceeded to charge him as strong as the case would stand.

"Ha, hum," this individual observed, as he shook Ralph's hand—"a slight—ha, hum—testimonial. Don't mention it!"

Ralph exhibited a dollar bill to the curious and furious assistant superintendent as the banker withdrew. Then he handed it to the messenger, with the remark:

"You take your own risk in trying to pass it!"

Just before noon Ralph was given a telegram from Stanley Junction, signed by Slavin.

It read:

"Hear you are at Dover, so I will wire. Needed in S.J. V.S. and Mrs. D. here, G.F. in a panic. Quick action needed. Come."

Ralph told the assistant superintendent of the urgent message.

"Of course you must go," said the latter, "but you will have to come down and identify the two prisoners in court in a day or two. By the way, we have sent a full report of the case to headquarters. I would suggest, Fairbanks, if you are tired of tower service, you won't have to ask for promotion."

"Not tired of it, sir," explained Ralph, "only anxious to get higher up the ladder as fast as I can."

"Very good. You've earned a good boost this time," declared the assistant superintendent.

Ralph reached Stanley Junction just after dark. He left the train at the limits and took a short cut home.

The front of the little cottage was aglow with cheerful light, and he knew there was "company."

Ralph burst in upon his good friend, Van; with a boisterous welcome. More gently, but none the less sincerely, he greeted Mrs. Davis. She sat in a comfortable armchair, rather pale and feeble-looking, but smiling through her happy tears.

Young Slavin occupied a humble seat at one side of the room.

"Lawyer made me come," he whispered to Ralph,—"waiting for him now."

"What lawyer?" inquired Ralph in surprise.

"One Van got. Oh, he's been running all the switches this afternoon, I can tell you!"

Just there Van beckoned to Ralph, and led him into an adjoining room, closing the door on the others.