MoboReader > Literature > Bart Stirling's Road to Success; Or, The Young Express Agent

   Chapter 6 GETTING SATISFACTION

Bart Stirling's Road to Success; Or, The Young Express Agent By Allen Chapman Characters: 8725

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Bart did not lose his presence of mind, but he fully realized that he faced a critical moment in his career.

Very courteously he drew forward the rude impromptu bench he had knocked together two hours before.

"Will you have a seat, sir?" he asked.

The express superintendent did not lose his dignity, but there was a slightly humorous twitching at the corners of his mouth.

"Thanks," he said, wearily seating himself on the rude structure. "Rather primitive furniture for a big express company, it seems to me."

"It was the best I could provide under the circumstances," explained Bart modestly.

"You made this bench, did you?"

Bart acknowledged the imputation with a nod.

"And that-desk, is it?"

"Yes, sir."

"And the sign outside, and opened for business?"

"There was no one else on hand. I felt that I must represent my father, Mr. Stirling, who is the authorized agent here, until the seriousness of his condition was known. You see, there was business likely to come in, and I have been here to attend to it."

"Just so," vouchsafed his visitor. "No out shipments to-day, I believe?"

"No, it's a holiday, but there was some rush in stuff on the morning express."

"Where is it?"

"I have delivered most of it-the balance, two freezers of ice cream, I will attend to this afternoon. I am keeping a record and taking receipts, but giving none-I didn't feel warranted in that until I heard from the company."

"You have done very well, young man," said the stranger. "I am Robert Leslie, the superintendent, as I told you. Do you mean to say you rigged things up in this shape and got your deliveries out alone?"

"There was no one to help me," remarked Bart.

He felt pleased and encouraged, for the superintendent's cast-iron visage had softened considerably, and he manifested unmistakable interest as he reached out and took up and inspected the neatly formulated memoranda on the packing-box desk.

"What's this?" he inquired, running over the pages Bart had last been working on.

"That is a list of losers by the fire," explained Bart.

"This is from memory?"

"Yes, Mr. Leslie-but I have a good one, and I think the list is tolerably correct."

"I am very much pleased," admitted the superintendent-"those claims are our main anxiety in a case like this. I understand the contents of the safe were destroyed."

"I fear so," assented Bart gravely. "The explosion was so sudden, and my father was blinded, so there was no opportunity to close it. I tried to reach it after rescuing him, but the flames drove me back."

Mr. Leslie was silent for a few moments. He seemed to be thinking. His glance roamed speculatively about the place, taking in the layout critically, then finally Bart was conscious that his shrewd, burrowing eyes were scanning him closely.

"How old are you, Stirling?" asked the superintendent abruptly.

"Nearly nineteen."

"I suppose you know something about the routine here?"

"I have helped my father a little for the past month or two-yes, sir."

"And have improved your opportunities, judging from the common-sense way you have got things into temporary running order," commented Leslie.

The speaker took out his watch. Then, glancing through the doorway, he arose suddenly, with the words:

"Ah! there he is, now. I suppose you couldn't be here about four o'clock this afternoon?"

"Why, certainly," answered Bart promptly. "People are likely to be around making inquiries, and I have a delivery to make this afternoon, as I told you, sir."

"I intend to see your father," said Mr. Leslie, "and I want to get back to the city to-night. I may have some orders for you, so we'll call it four, sharp."

"I will be here, sir."

The superintendent stepped outside. Evidently he had made an appointment, for he was met by the freight agent of the B. & M., who knew Bart and nodded to him.

As the two men strolled slowly over to the ruins of the express shed, Bart heard Mr. Leslie remark:

"That's a smart boy in there."

"And a good one," supplemented the freight agent.

Bart experienced a thrill of pleasure at the homely compliment. He tried to get back to business, but he found himself considerably flustered.

All the morning his hopes and plans had drifted in one definite direction-to get some assurance of permanent employment

for the future.

The only work he had ever done was here at the express office for his father. It was a daring prospect to imagine that he, a mere boy, would be allowed to succeed to a grown man's position and salary-and yet Bart had placed himself in line for it with every prompting of diligence and duty.

Mr. Leslie and the freight agent spent half an hour at the ruins. Bart could see by their gestures that they were animatedly discussing the situation, and they seemed to be closely looking over the ground with a view to locating a site for a new express shed.

Finally they shook hands in parting. The express superintendent consulted his watch, and turned his face in the direction of Bart.

As he neared the "new" express shed, however, he passed around to its rear, and glancing out of a window there Bart saw that he had come to a halt, and was drawing a diagram of the tracks on a blank page in his memorandum book.

Just as Mr. Leslie had returned this to his pocket and was about to start from the spot, a man hailed him. It was Lem Wacker. He was dressed in his best, but the effort was spoiled by an uncertainty of gait, and his face was suspiciously flushed.

"Did you address me?" inquired the superintendent in a chilling tone.

Lem was not daunted by the imposing presence or the dignified demeanor of the speaker.

"Sure," he answered, unabashed. "You're Leslie, ain't you?"

"I am Mr. Leslie, yes," corrected the superintendent, his stern brow contracted in a frown.

"They told me I'd find you here. My name's Wacker. Knew your cousin down at Rochelle; we worked on the same desk in the freight house. Had many a drink with Ted Leslie."

"What do you want?" challenged the superintendent, turning on his heel.

"Why, it's this way," explained the dauntless Lem: "I'm an old railroader and a handy man of experience, I am, and I wanted to make a proposition to you. You see-"

Bart lost the remainder of Mr. Lem Wacker's proposition, for Mr. Leslie had started forward impatiently, with Lem persistently following in his wake. He was still keeping up the pursuit and importuning the affronted official as both were lost to view behind a track of freights.

Bart of course surmised that Lem Wacker was on the trail of the "better job" he had announced he was after to the old switchman, Evans.

"I don't think he has made a very promising impression," decided Bart, as he got back to his writing.

"Say, you!"

Bart looked up a trifle startled at the sharp hail, ten minutes later. He had been engrossed in his work and had not noticed an intruder.

Lem Wacker stood just in the doorway. He looked flushed, excited and vicious.

"What can I do for you, Mr. Wacker?" inquired Bart calmly, though scenting trouble in the air.

"You can undo!" flared out Wacker, "and you'll get quick action on it, or I'll clean you out, bag and baggage."

"There isn't much baggage here to clean out," suggested Bart humorously, "and as for the rest of it I'll try to take care of it myself."

"Oh! you will, will you?" sneered Lem, lurching to and fro. "You're a sneak. Bart Stirling-a low, contemptible sneak, that's what you are!"

"I would like to have you explain," remarked Bart.

"You've queered me!" roared Wacker, "and I'm going to have satisfaction-yes, sir. Sat-is-fac-tion!"

He pounded out the syllables under Bart's very nose with resounding thumps, bringing down his fist on the impromptu office desk so forcibly that the concussion disturbed the papers on it, and several sheets fell fluttering to the floor.

Bart's patience was tried. His eyes flashed, but he stooped and picked up the pages and replaced them on the dry goods box.

"Don't you do that again," he warned in a strained tone.

"Why!" yelled Wacker, rolling up his cuffs.

"I'll trim you next! 'Don't-do-it-again!' eh? Boo! bah!"

Lem raised his foot and kicked over the desk, papers and all.

"That's express company property," observed Bart quietly, but his blood was up, the limit reached. "Get out!"

One arm shot forward, and the clenched muscular fist rested directly under the chin of the astounded Lem Wacker.

"And stay out."

Lem Wacker felt a smart whack, went whirling back over the threshold, and the next instant measured his length, sprawling on the ground outside of the express shed.

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