Ralph in the Switch Tower/Chapter 32
"You had best know just how things stand," remarked Van Sherwin, as he proceeded to tell an interesting story.
Van had learned from Ralph's note sent to him to the town jail that Ike Slump or Mort Bemis had the documents stolen from Mrs. Davis' little tin box.
He had watched his fellow prisoners closely, finally discovering that the papers were carried by Slump in a secret inner coat pocket.
The very night that Slump and Bemis escaped, Van with a window pole reached into the cell, got the garment in question, and left his own coat in its place.
He secured the stolen documents. Folded in with them was a receipt for somebody's board at a place called Millville. Van decided that this was the place where Mrs. Davis was imprisoned, or detained.
He intended to gain his freedom in the morning early. In the meantime, as the reader is aware, Slump and Bemis escaped. The former was probably unaware in the darkness that he was wearing Van's coat instead of his own.
Van started forthwith to locate Mrs. Davis. He found there were two Millvilles, and it was several days before he settled down on the right one. It took several more to locate Mrs. Davis' present guardians.
They proved to be a wretched couple in an isolated farmhouse. They kept their prisoner in a barred attic room.
Mrs. Davis had missed a paper which told where the tin box was secreted. This her jailers had probably given to Slump, who thus obtained a clew as to the whereabouts of the documents.
Van managed to rescue Mrs. Davis without being discovered by her guardians. That very day he came upon Slump and Bemis near the old farmhouse.
He secreted himself and overheard some of their conversation. They had squandered all of their ready money, and dared not return to Stanley Junction. They had come to the farmhouse to remove Mrs. Davis, and with her in their hands blackmail Farrington afresh.
They had discovered her escape, and then they talked of a last desperate scheme. It was to "hold up" something or somebody at South Dover.
Van could not leave Mrs. Davis, to follow or pursue them. He wrote the hurried postal to Ralph that had got wet and blurred in transmission, but, despite which fact, Ralph had managed to utilize with such grand results.
Mrs. Davis' secret was a simple one. As has been said, her husband was none other than Van's adopted father, Farwell Gibson, who had been fleeced by Gasper Farrington along with Ralph's own father.
The magnate had maligned Gibson so that Mrs. Gibson left him. They became strangers, and later Farrington claimed he was dead.
Mrs. Gibson, or Mrs. Davis as she now called herself, became quite poor. She discovered among some old papers an agreement between herself, Mr. Fairbanks, and Gasper Farrington about the twenty thousand dollars' worth of railroad bonds.
This document showed plainly that in equity she had a quarter interest, and Mrs. Fairbanks the balance in these bonds really held in trust by Farrington.
She had come to Stanley Junction to sell this paper to Farrington. Embittered by her sad past, she had no thoughts of the rights of others, until Ralph did her a kindly act and changed all the motives of her life.
Now, after learning from Van how her husband had been wronged and misrepresented by Farrington, she longed to secure her five thousand dollars to assist him in beginning his shortline railroad.
"There will be a happy reunion," Van told Ralph. "As to the money, the twenty thousand dollars, I have had a lawyer working on her claim and yours all day long. They say that Slump wrote a letter to some friend here, telling all about Farrington's dealings with him. The local paper threatens an exposé, and this, with the factory fire and our claim, has driven the miserable old schemer nearly to his wits' end. Ah, there is the lawyer now."
Ralph knew the legal gentleman in question. They rejoined the others in the front parlor.
"Have you seen Farrington?" asked Van promptly.
"No," responded the lawyer. "He has secluded himself, and refuses to be seen. I have had to deal with him through his attorney. It has been quibble and evasion all day long. Just now, however, they arrived at an ultimatum."
"What is it?" inquired Ralph.
"Farrington is near to nervous collapse. His losses and his fears of disgrace have driven him to leave Stanley Junction until the storm has blown over. His lawyer admits the justice of our claim. He asks that they be given a little time to settle it."
"Not an hour, if the claim is just and right!" declared Ralph sternly. "We have been kept out of our rights all these years."
"Then I have a suggestion to make," said the lawyer. "I have no doubt whatever of your forcing payments in time. The only thing is, that crafty old fox, Farrington, will scheme for delay. He intends to get it by taking a trip to Europe."
"Out of the country?" exclaimed Ralph.
"So I learn. In fact, he has left, or is leaving now. That will be unfortunate for your case. Now, if you could get service on him before he leaves, you head off his dilatory arrangements."
"What kind of service?" asked Van.
"A legal demand of your claim, to be proven in court if he does not settle. That would bring his lawyer to time. I have prepared the demand—in fact, I have a man waiting outside to serve it—if you can suggest any way to reach Farrington."
"Why, if he is leaving for Europe to-night," said Ralph, arising to his feet and consulting his watch, "he will have to take the southern train."
"Not from the Stanley Junction depot, I fancy," observed the lawyer.
"No, he will probably get on at the limits, or down at Acton, and take the train there."
"See here," spoke up Slavin suddenly—"leave this to me, will you?"
"How do you mean?" inquired Ralph.
"Send your man with me," said Slavin to the lawyer. "The railroad people will give me every chance to nab my man, if I tell them it's for Ralph Fairbanks."
"Very good," nodded the lawyer with satisfaction, "try it with my man, if you will."
There was so much to discuss, that Ralph, Van, and the two ladies sat up until long past midnight.
Just as they were retiring, the lawyer's messenger appeared at the front door of the cottage.
"O.K.," he said, with a chuckle.
"Got your man?" asked Van.
"Sure thing. Farrington sneaked on to the train at Acton, disguised, and hid in a sleeper. The conductor knew Fairbanks here, and Slavin did the rest. Snaked him out of his berth, and made him acknowledge our legal demand. He's off for Europe, but I'll warrant won't tangle up his affairs here by letting you sue. But he has already wired his lawyer to settle with you people."
"Good!" shouted Ralph, and his face showed his pleasure.
Everything seemed working out happily. Ralph came up into the switch tower with a bright, cheery face, next morning.
"Hello, Slavin, he said, noticing his muscular young friend at the levers—"practicing?"
"No, sir—on duty," answered Slavin with great dignity.
"What's that?" demanded Ralph sharply.
"Sure," coolly nodded Slavin, giving the levers a truly professional swing. "Don't talk to the leverman when he's busy—rule of the office, you know, for outsiders."
"Ho! ho!" chuckled old Jack Knight.
"Outsiders?" repeated Ralph. "Call me one?"
"Ask Mr. Knight."
Ralph looked inquiringly at the veteran towerman.
"That's right," assented Knight. "Superintendent was just here. Put Slavin on the levers, and wants you up at headquarters."
"What for?" asked Ralph.
"Says you're due for promotion. Asked me what I thought about your choice. I told him fireman."
Ralph's eyes sparkled with pleasure.
"Thank you, Mr. Knight," he said. "If it's to be another step up the ladder, I would like it to be in just that line."
"You take another rung sure, that's settled," declared old Jack proudly. "And—you'll get to the top!"
One hour later Ralph Fairbanks was officially instructed by the superintendent of the Great Northern, that he had been promoted to a new branch of service.
How did he succeed? How well, and how his influence and example helped the success of his loyal railroad friends, will be told in a succeeding volume to be called "Ralph on the Engine; or, The Young Fireman of the Limited Mail."
For the time being he was very happy and so was his mother. Mrs. Fairbanks felt certain that they would soon be in possession of the property Gasper Farrington had so long kept from them.
"I think so myself, mother," said Ralph, and then he added with enthusiasm: "Isn't it wonderful how we have prospered!"
"And to think that I am to be a regularly appointed fireman," he continued.
"I can see that you are bound to be a railroad man, Ralph," answered the fond parent with a faint smile. "Well, you take after your father. I surely wish you the best of luck in your chosen calling."
And so do we; is that not so, gentle reader?