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Bart Stirling's Road to Success; Or, The Young Express Agent By Allen Chapman Characters: 11849

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Bart Stirling stood ruefully regarding the ruins of the burned express shed. It was the Fourth of July, and early as it was, the air was resonant with the usual echoes of Independance Day.

Bart, however, was little in harmony with the jollity and excitement of the occasion. He had spent a sleepless night, tossing and rolling in bed until daybreak, when his mother returned from the hospital.

Mr. Stirling was resting easily, she reported, in very little pain or discomfort, but his career of usefulness and work was over-the doctors expressed an opinion that he would never regain his eyesight.

Mrs. Stirling was pale and sorrowed. She had grown older in a single night, but the calm resignation in her gentle face assured Bart that they would be of one mind in taking up their new burdens of life in a practical, philosophical way.

"Poor father!" he murmured brokenly. Then he added: "Mother, I want you to go in and get some rest, and try not to take this too hard. I will attend to everything there is to do about the express office."

"I don't see what there can be to do," she responded in surprise. "Everything is burned up, your father will never be able to resume his position. We are through with all that, I fancy."

"There is considerable to do," asserted Bart in a definite tone that instantly attracted his mother's attention because of its seriousness. "Father is a bonded employee of the express service. Their business doesn't stop because of an accidental fire, and they have a system to look after here that must not be neglected. I know the ropes pretty well, thanks to father, and I think it a matter of duty to act just as he would were he able to be about, and further and protect the company's interests. Outside of that, mother," continued the boy, earnestly, "you don't suppose I am going to sit down idly and let things drift at haphazard, with the family to take care of and everything to be done to make it easy and comfortable for father."

A look of pride came into the mother's face. She completely recognized the fidelity and sense of her loyal son, allowed Bart to lead her into the house, and tried to be calm and cheerful when he bade her good-bye, and, evading celebrating groups of his boy friends, made his way down to the ruined express shed.

A heap of still smouldering cinders and ashes marked the site. Bart stood silently ruminating for some minutes. He tried to think things out clearly, to decide how far he was warranted in acting for his father.

"I don't exactly know what action the express people usually take in a case of this kind," he reflected, "nor how soon they get about it. I can only wait for some official information. In the meantime, though, somebody has got to keep the ball rolling here. I seem to be the only one about, and I am going to put the system in some temporary order at least. If I'm called down later for being too officious, they can't say I didn't try to do my duty."

Bart set briskly at work to put into motion a plan his quick, sensible mind had suggested.

About one hundred feet away was a rough unpainted shed-like structure. He remembered the time, several years back, when the express office had been located there.

It was, however, forty feet from any tracks, and for convenience sake, when the railroad gave up the burned building which they had occupied for unclaimed freight storage, it had been turned over to the express people.

Bart went down to the old quarters. The door had lost its padlock and stood half open. Inside was a heap of old boards, and empty boxes and barrels thrown there from time to time to keep them from littering the yards.

A truck and the little delivery cart, being outside of the burned shed, Bart found intact. He ran them down to the building he had determined to utilize, temporarily at least, as express headquarters for Pleasantville.

The yards were fairly deserted except for a sleepy night watchman here and there. It was not yet seven o'clock, but when Bart reached the in-freight house he found it open and one or two clerks hurrying through their work so as to get off for the day at ten.

There was a good deal of questioning, for they knew of the fire, and knew Bart as well, and liked him, and when he made his wants known willing hands ministered to his needs.

Bart carried back with him a hammer and some nails, a broom, a marking pot and brush, pens, ink and a couple of tabs of paper.

As he neared the switch shanty where Lem Wacker had been on duty the day previous, he noticed that it had been opened up since he had passed it last. Some one was grumbling noisily inside. Bart was curious for more reasons than one.

He placed his load on the bench outside and stuck his head in through the open doorway.

"Oh, it's you, Mr. Evans," he hailed, as he recognized the regular flagman on duty for whom Wacker had been substituting for three days past. "Glad to see you back. Are you all well?"

"Eh? oh, young Stirling. Say, you've had a fire. I hear your father was burned."

"He is quite seriously hurt," answered Bart gravely.

"Too bad. I have troubles of my own, though."

"What is the matter, Mr. Evans?"

"Next time I give that lazy, good-for-nothing Lem Wacker work he'll know it, I'm thinking! Look there-and there!"

The irate old railroader kicked over the wooden cuspidor in disgust. It was loaded to the top with tobacco and cigarette ends. Then he cast out half a dozen empty bottles through the open window, and went on with his grumbling.

"What he's been up to is more than I can guess," he vociferated. "Look at my table there, all burned with matches and covered with burnt cork. What's he been doing with burnt cork? Running a minstrel show?"

Bart gave a start. He thought instantly of the black streaked face he had tried to survey at the express shed window the night previous.

"My flag's gone, t

oo," muttered old Evans, turning over things in a vain search for it. "I'll have a word or two for Lem Wacker when it comes to settling day, I'm thinking. He comes up to the house late last night and tells me he don't care to work for me any longer."

"Did he?" murmured Bart thoughtfully. "Why not, I wonder?"

"Oh, he flared up big and lofty, and said he had a better job in view."

Bart went on his way surmising a good deal and suspecting more.

He made it a point to pass by the ruins of the old express shed, and he found there what he expected to find-the missing flag from the switch shanty; only the rod was bare, the little piece of red bunting having been burned away.

Bart dismissed this matter from his mind and all other disturbing extraneous affairs, massing all his faculties for the time being on getting properly equipped for business.

He selected a clean, plain board, and with the marking outfit painted across it in six-inch letters that could be plainly read at a distance the words:


This Bart nailed to the door jamb in such a way that it was visible from three directions.

Next he started to carry outside and pile neatly at the blind end of the building all the boards, boxes and other debris littering up the room, swept it, and selected two packing cases and nailed them up into a convenient impromptu desk, manufactured a bench seat out of some loose boards, set his pen, ink and paper in order, and felt quite ready for business.

He had gained a pretty clear idea the day previous from his father as to the Fourth of July express service routine.

The fireworks deliveries had been the main thing, but as these had been destroyed that part of the programme was off the sheet.

At eight o'clock the morning express would bring in its usual quota, but this would be held over until the following day except what was marked special or perishable. There would be no out express matter owing to the fact that it was a holiday.

"I can manage nicely, I think," Bart told himself, as, an hour later, he ran the truck down to the site of the burned express shed and stood by the tracks waiting.

A freight engine soon came to the spot, backing down the express car. Its engineer halted with a jerk and a vivid:


He had not heard of the fire, and he stared with interest at the ruins as Bart explained that, until some new arrangement was made, express shipments would be accepted and loaded by truck.

There were four big freezers of ice cream, one for delivery at the town confectioner's, one at the drug store soda fountain, and two for the picnic grounds, where an afternoon celebration was on the programme. Besides these, there were three packages containing flags and fireworks, marked "Delayed-Rush."

He closed the office door, tacked to it a card announcing he would return inside of half an hour, and loaded into the wagon the entire morning's freight except the two freezers intended for the picnic grounds.

These could not be delivered until two o'clock that afternoon, and he stowed them in the new express shed, covering them carefully with their canvas wrappings.

Bart made a record run in his deliveries. He had formed a rough receipt book out of some loose sheets, and when he came back to the office filled out his entries in regular form.

Several persons visited the place up to nine o'clock-storekeepers and others who had lost their goods in the fire. Bart explained the situation, saying that they would probably hear from the express company in a day or two regarding their claims.

He found in work something to change his thoughts from a gloomy channel, and, while very anxious about his father, was thankful his parent had escaped with his life, while he indulged some hopeful and daring plans for his own ambitions in the near future.

"I'll stick to my post," he decided. "Some of the express people may happen down here any time."

He was making up a list from memory of those in the village whose packages had been destroyed by the fire, when two boys crossed the threshold of the open doorway, one carrying a thin flat package.

Bart greeted them pleasantly. The elder was Darry Haven, his companion a younger brother, Bob, both warm friends of the young express agent.

Darry inquired for Mr. Stirling solicitously, and said his mother was then on her way to see Mrs. Stirling, anxious to do anything she could to share the lady's troubles. Mr. Haven had been an editor, but his health had failed, and Mrs. Haven, having some artistic ability and experience, was the main present support of the family, doing considerable work for a publishing house in the city in the way of illustrations for fashion pages.

Darry had a "rush" package of illustrations under his arm now.

"I suppose we can't get anything through to-day, or until you get things in running order again?" he intimated.

"We were sending nothing through on account of the Fourth," explained Bart, "but you leave the package here and I will see that it goes on the eleven o'clock train."

Bart had just completed the fire-loss list when a heavy step caused him to turn around.

A portly, well-dressed man, important-appearing and evidently on business, stood in the doorway looking sharply about the place.

"Well!" he uttered, "What's this?"

"The express office," said Bart, arising.

"Oh, it is?" slowly commented the man, "You in charge?"

"Yes, sir," politely answered Bart.

"Set up shop; doing business, eh?"

"Fast as I can," announced Bart.

"Who told you to?" demanded the visitor bending a pair of stern eyes on Bart.

"Why do you ask that, may I inquire?" interrogated Bart, pleasantly, but standing his ground.

"Ha-hum!" retorted the stranger, "why do ask. Because I am the superintendent of the express company, young man, and somewhat interested in knowing, I fancy!"

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