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   Chapter 1 THE THIRD OF JULY

Bart Stirling's Road to Success; Or, The Young Express Agent By Allen Chapman Characters: 8078

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

"You can't go in that room."

"Why can't I?"

"Because that's the orders; and you can't smoke in this room."

Bart Stirling spoke in a definite, manly fashion.

Lemuel Wacker dropped his hand from the door knob on which it rested, and put his pipe in his pocket, but his shoulders hunched up and his unpleasant face began to scowl.

"Ho!" he snorted derisively, "official of the company, eh? Running things, eh?"

"I am-for the time being," retorted Bart, cheerfully.

"Well," said Wacker, with an ugly sidelong look, "I don't take insolence from anyone with the big head. I reckon ten year's service with the B. & M. entitles a man to know his rights."

"Very active service just now, Mr. Wacker?" insinuated Bart pleasantly.

Lem Wacker flushed and winced, for the pointed question struck home.

"I don't want no mistering!" he growled. "Lem's good enough for me. And I don't take no call-down from any stuck-up kid, I want you to understand that."

"You'd better get to the crossing if you're making any pretense of real work," suggested Bart just then.

As he spoke Bart pointed through the open window across the tracks to the switch shanty at the side of the street crossing.

A train was coming. Mr. Lemuel Wacker was "subbing" as extra for the superannuated old cripple whose sole duty was to wave a flag as trains went by. To this duty Wacker sprang with alacrity.

Bart dismissed the man from his mind, and, whistling a cheery tune, bent over the book in which he had been writing for the past twenty minutes.

This was the register of the local express office of the B. & M., and at present, as Bart had said, he was "running it."

The express shed was a one-story, substantial frame building having two rooms. It stood in the center of a network of tracks close to the freight depot and switch tower, and a platform ran its length front and rear.

Framed by the window an active railroad panorama spread out, and beyond that view the quaint town of Pleasantville.

Bart had spent all his young life here. He knew every nook and corner of the place, and nearly every man, woman and child in the village.

Pleasantville did not belie its name to Bart's way of thinking. He voted its people, its surroundings, and life in general there, as pleasant as could well be.

Here he was born, and he had found nothing to complain of, although he was what might be called a poor boy.

There were his mother, his two sisters and two small brothers at home, and sometimes it took a good deal to go around, but Bart's father had a steady job, and Bart himself was an agreeable, willing boy, just at the threshold of doing something to earn a living and wide-awake for the earliest opportunity.

Mr. Stirling had been express agent for the B. & M. for eight years, and was counted a reliable, efficient employee of the company.

For some months, however, his health had not been of the best, and Bart had been glad when he was impressed into service to relieve his father when laid up with his occasional foe, the rheumatism, or to watch the office at mealtimes.

Bart was on duty in this regard at the present time. It was about five in the afternoon, but it was also the third of July, and that date, like the twenty-fourth of December, was the busiest in the calendar for the little express office.

All the afternoon Bart had worked at the desk or helped in getting out packages and boxes for delivery.

A little handcart was among the office equipment, and very often Bart did light delivering. On this especial day, however, in addition to the regular freight, Fourth of July and general picnic and celebration goods more than trebled the usual volume, and they had hired a local teamster to assist them.

With the 4:20 train came a new consignment. The back room was now nearly full of cases of fruit, a grand boxed-up display of fireworks for Colonel Harrington, the village magnate, another for a local club, some minor boxes for private family use, and extra orders from the cit

y for the village storekeepers.

It was an unusual and highly inflammable heap, and when tired Mr. Sterling went home to snatch a bite of something to eat, and lazy Lem Wacker came strolling into the place, pipe in full blast, Bart had not hesitated to exercise his brief authority. A spark among that tinder pile would mean sure and swift destruction. Besides, light-fingered Lem Wacker was not to be trusted where things lay around loose.

So Bart had squelched him promptly and properly. The man for whom "Lem" was good enough, was in his opinion pretty nearly good for nothing.

Bart made the last entry in the register with a satisfied smile and strolled to the door stretching himself.

"Everything in apple-pie order so far as the books go," he observed. "I expect it will be big hustle and bustle for an hour or two in the morning, though."

Lem Wacker came slouching along. It was six o'clock, the quitting hour. Lem was always on time on such occasions. The whistle from the shops had ceased echoing, and, his dinner pail on his arm and filling his inevitable pipe, he paused for a moment.

"Going to shut up shop?" he inquired with affected carelessness.

"I am going home, if that's what you mean," replied Bart-"as soon as my father comes."

"Not feeling very well lately, eh?" continued Lem, his eyes roving in a covetous way over the cozy office and the comfortable railroad armchair Mr. Stirling used. "No wonder, he takes it too hard."

"Does he?" retorted Bart.

"You bet he does. Wish I had his job. I'd make people wait to suit my ideas. How's the company to know or care if you break your neck to accommodate people? Too honest, too."

"A man can't be too honest," asserted Bart.

"Can't he? Say, I'm an old railroader, I am, and I know the ropes. Why, when I was running the express office at Corydon, we sampled everything that came in. Crate of bananas-we had many a lunch, apples, cigars, once in a while a live chicken, and always a couple of turkeys at holiday time."

"And who paid for them?" inquired Bart bluntly.

"We didn't, and no questions asked."

"I am afraid your ideas will not make much impression on my father, if that is what you are getting at," observed Bart, turning unceremoniously from Wacker.

"Humph! you fellows ought to run a backwoods post office," disgustedly grunted the latter, as he made off.

Bart had only to wait ten minutes when his father appeared. Except for a slight limp and some pallor in his face, Mr. Stirling seemed in his prime. He had kindly eyes and was always pleasant and smiling, even when in pain.

"Well! well!" he cried briskly, with a gratified glance at his son after looking over the register, "all the real hard work is done, the work that always worries me, with my poor eyesight. Come up to the paymaster, young man! There's an advance till salary day, and well you've earned it."

Mr. Stirling took some money from his pocket. There was a silver dollar and some loose change. Bart looked pleased, then quite grave, and he put his hand resolutely behind him.

"I can't take it, father," he said. "You have a hard enough time, and I ought to pay you for the experience I'm getting here instead of being paid."

"Young man," spoke Mr. Stirling with affected sternness, but a twinkling in his eye, "you take your half-pay, make tracks, enjoy yourself, and don't worry about a trifle of a dollar or two. If you happen to drop around this way about nine o'clock, I'll be glad of your company home."

He slipped the money into Bart's pocket and playfully pushed him through the doorway. Bart's heart was pretty full. He was alive with tenderness and love for this loyal, patient parent who had not been over kindly handled by the world in a money way.

Then a dozen loud explosions over on the hill, followed by boyish shouts of enthusiasm, made Bart remember that he was a boy, with all a boy's lively interest in the Fourth of July foremost in his thoughts, and he bounded down the tracks like a whirlwind.

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