Ralph of the Roundhouse/Chapter 7

CHAPTER VII


AT THE ROUNDHOUSE


Ralph Fairbanks came out of the little cottage next morning after breakfast feeling bright as a dollar and happy as a lark.

He realized that a new epoch had begun in his young existence, and he stood fairly on the threshold of a fascinating experience.

Yesterday seemed like a variegated dream, and To-Day full of expectation, novelty and promise.

His mother's anxiety the evening previous had given way to pride and subdued affection, when he had appeared about ten o'clock after seeing the engineer home, and had told her in detail the story of the most eventful day of his life.

If Mrs. Fairbanks felt a natural disappointment in seeing Ralph forego the advantages of a finished education, she did not express it, for she knew that the best ambitions of his soul had been aroused, and that his loyal boyish nature had chosen a noble course.

Ralph went down to the depot and bought a Springfield morning paper. It contained a full account of the fire at the yards. It detailed the destruction of the powder car, and Griscom came in for full meed of praise. Ralph was not referred to, except as "the veteran engineer's heroic helper."

It did not take long, however, for Ralph to discover that word of mouth had run ahead of telegraphic haste.

He was hailed by a dozen acquaintances, including the depot master, the watchman, express messenger and others, who made him flush and thrill with pleasure as he guessed that old Griscom had managed to spread the real news wholesale.

"You're booked, sure!" declared More, giving his young favorite a hearty slap on the shoulder.

"Why, I imagine so myself," answered Ralph brightly, but thinking only of the master mechanic's card in his pocket.

"You're due for an interview with the president, you are," declared the enthusiastic More. "Why, you two saved the company half a million. And the pluck of it! Don't you be modest, kid. Hint for a good round reward and a soft-snap life position."

"All right," nodded Ralph gayly. "Only, I'll start at it where you told me yesterday."

"Eh?"

"Yes—at the roundhouse."

"Hold on, Fairbanks—circumstances alter cases——"

"Not in this instance. Good-bye. I expect to be in working togs before night, Mr. More."

Ralph went down the tracks, leaving the agent staring studiously after him.

He had often been inside the roundhouse, but with genuine interest stood looking about him for some minutes after stepping beyond the broad entrance of that dome-like structure.

Not much was doing at that especial hour of the morning. Three "dead" locomotives stood in their stalls, all furbished up for later employment.

A lame helper was going over one, just arrived, with an oiled rag.

In the little apartment known as the "dog house," a dozen men chatted, snoozed, or were playing checkers—firemen, engineers and brakemen, waiting for their run, or off duty and killing time.

Ralph finally made for a box-like compartment built in one section of the place. A man was sweeping it out.

"Can you tell me where I will find the foreman?" he asked.

"Oh, the boss?"

"Yes, sir—Mr. Forgan."

"You mean Tim. He's in the dog house, I guess. Was, last I saw of him."

Ralph went to the dog house. At a rough board nailed to the wall, and answering for a desk, a big-shouldered, gruff-looking man of about fifty was scanning the daily running sheet.

Two of the loungers, firemen, knew Ralph slightly, and nodded to him. He went up to one of them.

"Is that Mr. Forgan?" he inquired in a low tone.

"That's him," nodded the fireman—"and in his precious best temper this morning, too!"

Ralph approached the fierce-visaged master of his fate.

"Mr. Forgan," he said.

The foreman looked around at him, and scowled.

"Well?" he growled out.

"Could I see you for a moment," suggested Ralph, a trifle flustered at the rude reception.

"Take a good look. I'm here, ain't I?"

Some of the idle listeners chuckled at this, and Ralph felt a trifle embarassed, and flushed up.

"Yes, sir, and so am I," he said quietly—"on business. I wish to apply for a position."

"Oh, you do?" retorted the big foreman, running his eye contemptuously over Ralph's neat dress. "Sort of floor-walker for visitors, or brushing up the engineers' plug hats?"

"I could do that, too," asserted Ralph, good-naturedly.

"Well, you won't do much of anything here," retorted the foreman, "for there's no job open, at present. If there was, we've had quite enough of kids."

Ralph wondered if this included Ike Slump. He had been surprised at not finding that individual on duty.

The foreman now unceremoniously turned his back on him. Ralph hesitated, then touched Forgan on the arm.

"Excuse me, sir," he said courteously, "but I was told to give you this."

Ralph extended the card given to him the evening previous by the master mechanic.

The foreman took it with a jerk, and read it with a frown. Ralph was somewhat astonished as he traced the effect upon him of the simple note, requesting, as he knew, that a place be made for him in the roundhouse.

The innocent little screed put the foreman in a violent ferment. His face grew angry and red, his throat throbbed, and his heavy jaw knotted up in a pugnacious way. He turned and glared with positive dislike and suspicion at Ralph, and the latter, quick to read faces, wondered why.

Then the foreman re-read the card, as if to gain time to get control of himself, and was so long silent that Ralph finally asked:

"Is it all right, sir?"

"Yes, it is!" snapped the foreman, turning on him like a mad bull. "I suppose Blake knows his business; I've been sent all the pikers on the line. Probably know what kind of material I want myself, though. Come again to-morrow."

"Ready for work?" asked Ralph, pressing his point.

"Yes," came the surly reply.

"What time, if you please, sir?"

"Seven."

"Thank you."

The foreman turned from him with an angry grunt, and Ralph started to leave.

One of the firemen he knew winked at him, another made an animated grimace at the surly boss. Ralph heard a third remark, in a low tone.

"What a liking he's taken to him! He'll have a fierce run for his money."

"Yes, it'll be a full course of sprouts. You won't have a path of flowers, kid."

"I shan't come here to raise flowers," answered Ralph quietly.

He trod the air as he left the roundhouse. The gruff, uncivil manner of the foreman had not daunted him a whit. He had met all kinds of men in his brief business experience, and he believed that honest, conscientious endeavor could not fail to win both success and good will in time.

Ralph went back to his friend More, at the express shed, and told his story.

"You're booked, sure enough," admitted the agent, though a little glumly. "I'd have struck higher."

"It suits me, Mr. More," declared Ralph. "And now, I want your good services of advice as to what I am expected to do, and what clothes I need."

Ralph left his friend, thoroughly posted as to his probable duties at the roundhouse. The agent advised him to purchase a cheap pair of jumpers, and wear old rough shoes and a thin pair of gloves the first day or two.

Ralph visited a dry-goods store, fitted himself out, and started for home.

He was absorbed in thinking and planning, and turning a corner thus engrossed almost ran into a pedestrian.

As he drew back and aside, a hand was suddenly thrust out and seized his arm in a vise-like grip.

"No, you don't!" sounded a strident voice. "I've got you at last, have I?"

In astonishment Ralph looked up, to recognize his self-announced captor. It was Gasper Farrington.