Ralph of the Roundhouse/Chapter 18
A NAME TO CONJURE BY!
Big Denny came to where Ralph was putting the finishing touches to one of the fast runners of the road about ten o'clock one morning.
Nobody in the world enjoyed talk and gossip like the veteran watchman, as Ralph well knew, and it really pleased him to have his company, for among the driftwood of all his desultory confidences Denny usually produced some point interesting or enlightening.
On this especial occasion there was a zest to the old watchman's greeting of the young railroader that indicated he had something of more than ordinary interest to impart.
"By the way, Fairbanks," he observed, "I saw that rich old hunks, Farrington, this morning. He was down here."
"At the roundhouse, you mean?" inquired Ralph, with some interest.
"Well, not exactly. He was over by the switch towers, met Forgan, and had quite a talk with him. Thought I'd post you."
"Why, what about?" asked Ralph.
"He'll be after you, next."
"Not until the first of next month, when the interest is due, I fancy," said Ralph. "I do not think Mr. Farrington has any interest in us outside of his semi-annual interest."
"He'll be nosing around, see if he isn't!" predicted Denny oracularly. "I've got a tip to give you, Fairbanks. I got the point yesterday. There's some talk of running a switch over to Bloomdale. If they do, they'll have to condemn a right of way, along where you live. Word to the wise, eh? nuff said!" and Denny departed, with a significant wink.
Ralph wondered if there was any real basis to Denny's intimation. He fancied it was only one of the rumors constantly floating around about prospective railroad improvements.
That evening, however, Ralph received a suggestion that put him on his guard, if nothing more.
He had gone down town to get some nails for Van, who was building a new chicken coop, when he met Grif Farrington.
"Just looking for you," declared Grif. "I say, Fairbanks, the old man is anxious to see you."
"Your uncle wants to see me?" repeated Ralph incredulously."
"Right away. Asked me to find you and tell you. Business, he says, and important. You couldn't run up to the house now, could you?" he added.
Ralph hesitated—he was suspicious of old Gasper Farrington, and he had no business with him, for it was his mother's province to attend to anything concerning their money dealings, and he did not feel warranted in interfering.
On second thought, however, Ralph decided that they could not know too much of the plots and intentions of Farrington, and he told Grif he would go up to the house at once.
Gasper Farrington lived in a fine old mansion, from parsimony, however, allowed to go to decay, so that all that was really attractive about the place were the grounds.
Ralph found the magnate seated on the porch. He knew that something was up as Farrington arose with a great show of welcome, made him sit down in the easiest chair, and treated him as if he were the dearest friend the old man had in the world.
"You sent for me, Mr. Farrington?" Ralph observed, between some flattering but meaningless remarks of his wily host.
"Why, yes—yes," assented Farrington.
"On business, your nephew told me."
"H'm—hardly that. I'll tell you, Fairbanks, I have been greatly interested and pleased to notice the manly course you have taken."
"Thank you, Mr. Farrington."
"In fact, I have taken pains to inquire of your direct employers as to your capability and record, and am gratified to find them good—exceptionally good."
Ralph wondered what was coming next.
"Your father was my friend—I want to be yours. I am not without a certain interest and influence in the matter of the railroad, as you may know, and I have decided to exert myself in your behalf."
"You are very kind," said Ralph.
"Not at all. I recognize merit, and I—u'm! I feel a decided duty in the premises. The auditor of the road at Springfield holds his office through my recommendation. I was talking with him yesterday, and I have a proposition to make you. I will give you five hundred dollars more than the market price for your house and lot, rent you a place I own at Springfield for a mere nominal sum, and guarantee you a good office position in the auditor's department there at forty dollars a month to start in with."
Ralph opened his eyes wide. It was certainly a tempting bait. Had any person but crafty old Gasper Farrington made the tender, he might have jumped at it.
Instantly, however, he remembered what Denny had said about the new line, recalled the fact that Farrington had never been known to make a bad bargain, compared confining labor over a desk in a hot, stifling room with the free, glad dash of mail and express, the bracing air, the constant change of real railroad life, reflected that once away from Stanley Junction he and his mother would never be likely to learn more of Farrington's past doings with his dead father, and—Ralph decided.
"Mr. Farrington," he said, "in regard to the cottage, that is my mother's sole business, and I do not think she could be induced to sell you a place that has been a very dear home to her. As to myself—I thank you for your kind intentions, but at present I have no desire to change my work."
"Why not—why not?" cried Farrington. He had been unctuous, smirking and eager. Now his brow darkened, and his thin lips came together in a sour, vicious way.
"Well, I have marked out a certain thorough course after much thought and advice, and do not like to depart from it."
Gasper Farrington got up and paced the porch restlessly. The old rancor and dislike came back to his thin, shrewd face.
"You'll regret it!" he mumbled.
"I hope not," said Ralph, rising also.
"Young man," observed Farrington, stabbing at his guest with a quivering finger, "I warn you that you are taking an obstinate and fatal course."
"Warn?" echoed Ralph—"that is pretty strong language, isn't it, Mr. Farrington?"
"And I mean it to be so!" cried Farrington, casting aside all disguise. "I said I had influence. I have. You can't work for the Great Northern in Stanley Junction, if I say not."
Ralph stared at the speaker incredulously. He could not comprehend how Farrington could show the bad policy to put himself on record with such a remark, be his intentions what they might.
"In fact, sir," said Ralph, "you mean to intimate that you will get me discharged?"
"I mean just that," unblushingly admitted Farrington. "I will allow no pauper brood to stand in the way of my—of my——"
Ralph felt the blood surge hotly to his temples. With a strong effort he controlled himself.
"Mr. Farrington," he said quietly, though his voice trembled a trifle, "you have said quite enough. I want to tell you that you are a wicked, hypocritical old man. You have no interest in my welfare—you are after our little property, because you have learned that the railroad may soon pay a big price for it. You want us out of Stanley Junction, because you are afraid we may find out something about your dealings with my dead father. To carry your point, you threaten me—me, a poor boy, just starting in to win his way by hard work—you threaten to plot against and ruin me. Very well, Mr. Farrington, go ahead. I have too much reliance in the teachings of a good mother to believe that you will succeed."
"What! what!" shouted the magnate, almost choking with rage and mortification at this unvarnished arraignment, "you dare to tell me this? In my own house!"
"You invited me here," suggested Ralph.
"Get out—get out!" cried Farrington, running to the door for his cane.
"You will fail," spoke Ralph, going down the steps. "You won't gag me as you have others. As you did——"
Like an inspiration a suggestion came to Ralph Fairbanks' mind at that moment.
It seemed as if he had right before his eyes once more the mysterious, blurred letter that Van had brought. He recalled one of its last words. He had mistaken it for "Farewell." Now the light flashed in upon his soul. "Farwell" was the name Big Denny had spoken—"Farwell Gibson."
"As you did Farwell Gibson," concluded Ralph, at a venture.
"Who? Come back! Stay, Fairbanks, one word!"
The old man's face had grown white. His eyes seemed suddenly haunted with dread.
"That name!" he gasped, clutching at a chair for support. "What do you know of Farwell Gibson?"
"Only," answered Ralph, "that he wrote to my father last week."
"He—wrote—" choked out Farrington, "last week—to your father—Farwell Gibson!"
The information was the capping climax. The old man uttered a groan, fell over, carrying the chair he grasped with him, and lay on the porch floor in a fit.