Ralph of the Roundhouse/Chapter 16



Ralph Fairbanks' second day of service at the roundhouse passed pleasantly, and without any incident out of the common.

With the disappearance of Ike Slump a new system of order and harmony seemed to prevail about the place. The foreman's rugged brow was less frequently furrowed with care or anger over little mishaps, and Ralph could not help but notice a more subdued tone in his dealings with the men.

When Ralph came home that evening, his mother told him of a visit from the foreman's daughter-in-law and little Nora. They had brought Mrs. Fairbanks a beautiful bouquet of flowers, and their praises of Ralph had made the widow prouder of her son than ever.

That morning, Van, as they now called their guest, had insisted on going with Ralph to his work as far as the next corner, and it was with difficulty that the young railroader had induced him to return to the cottage.

That evening, Van met him nearly two squares away, and when he reached the house Ralph expressed some anxiety to his mother over their guest's wandering proclivities.

"I don't think he would go far away of his own will," said Mrs. Fairbanks. "You see, Ralph, he counts on your going and coming. This morning, after you sent him home, I found him on the roof of the house. He had got up there from the ladder, and was watching you till you were finally lost to view among the car tracks."

Ike Slump did not show up the third day. A fireman told Ralph that he had run away from home, and that his father had been looking for him. Ike had been seen in the town by several persons, but always at a distance, and evidently keeping in hiding with some chosen cronies most of the time.

"He's no good, and you'll hear from him in a bad way yet," was the railroader's prediction.

When No. 6 came into the roundhouse next morning, the extra who had taken engineer Griscom's place for two days told Ralph that the old veteran would be on hand to take out the afternoon west train himself.

Ralph got Limpy to help him put some fancy touches on the heaviest runner of the road. At noon he hurried home and back, and brought with him a bright little bouquet of flowers.

No. 6, standing facing the turntable at two o'clock that afternoon, was about as handsome a piece of metal as ever crossed the rails.

Old Griscom came into the roundhouse a few minutes later, his running traps slung over his arm, reported, and was surrounded by the dog house crowd.

This was his first public appearance since the fire at the yards. He still looked singed and shaken from his rough experience, but as he saw Ralph he extended his hand, and gave his young favorite a twist that almost made Ralph wince.

"On deck, eh?" he called cheerily. "Well, I call first choice when you get ready to fire coal."

"That's a long ways ahead, Mr. Griscom!" laughed Ralph.

"Forgan don't say so. Hi! what you giving me? A brand-new runner?"

The veteran engineer gave a start of prodigious animation and real pleased surprise as his glance fell on No. 6.

The headlight shone like a great dazzling brilliant, the brass work looked like gold. In the engineer's window stood the little bouquet, and the cab was as neat and clean as a housewife's kitchen.

Griscom swung onto his cushion with a kind of jolly cheer, and the foreman, catching the echo, waved his welcome and approbation in an unusually pleasant way from the door of his little office.

Big Denny had been a periodical visitor to the roundhouse since the rescue of little Nora Forgan.

He had taken a strong fancy to Ralph, it seemed, and whenever he had a few minutes to spare would seek out the young wiper, and seemed to take a rare pleasure in posting him on many a bit of technical experience in the railroading line.

He chatted with Ralph on this last occasion while the latter sat filling the firemen's cans with oil, and drew him out as to his home life, his mother and his reason for going to work.

"So Farrington holds a mortgage on your home?" said Denny. "I didn't know that. He's pretty rich, I hear. I remember the time, though, when people thought your father was his partner in some of his bond deals."

"Yes, mother supposed so, too," said Ralph.

"Your father put him onto the good thing the railroad was, first of all. I know that much," declared Denny.

"It looks as if my father lost all his holdings just before he died," said Ralph.

"Then Farrington got them, I'll wager that— the sly old fox!" commented Denny, who was generally strong in his personal convictions.

"Well, some day, when I am in a position to do so, I'm going to have Mr. Gasper Farrington hauled into court about the matter," observed Ralph. "If he has anything belonging to my mother and me, we want it."

"It seems to me you ought to find something among your father's papers shedding light on the subject?" suggested Denny.

"It looks as if my father had had blind confidence in Mr. Farrington," said Ralph.

"Yes, the old fox has a way of winding himself around his victims," declared the outspoken watchman. "I remember a fellow he wound up good and proper, about three years ago."

"Who was that?" asked Ralph.

"His name was Farwell Gibson. He got the railroad fever, sold his farm, came to the Junction, and he and Farrington had some deals. They had a big row one night, too, and Farrington threw Gibson out of his house, and some windows were broken. The neighbors heard Gibson accuse Farrington of robbing him. Next day, though, Farrington swore out a warrant against Gibson for forgery, and Gibson has never been seen since. Maybe," concluded Big Denny, "he killed him."

"Oh, he wouldn't do that!"

"Gasper Farrington has a heart as hard as flint," said Denny, "and would do anything for money."

"Farwell Gibson," murmured Ralph, memorizing the name.

When quitting-time came that evening, Ralph left the roundhouse alone, Limpy having been sent with a message to the depot.

As usual, he saved distance by following the tracks where they curved, then at a certain point cut through the unfenced back yards of some small stores fronting the depot street.

Beyond this was a prairie. Turning a heap of ties to take a last straight shoot for home, Ralph found his progress abruptly blocked.

"Thought we'd get you!" announced a familiar voice, and Ike Slump stepped into view.