An early “Call”
The young express agent was conscious that he shouted outright in his nightmare, for the trunk he was dreaming about as it struck him seemed to explode into a thousand pieces.
The echoes of the explosion appeared to still ring in his ears, as he sat up and pulled himself together. Then he discovered that it was a real sound that had awakened him.
“Only five,” he murmured, with a quick glance at the alarm clock on the bureau—“and someone at the front door!”
Rat, tat, tat! it was a sharp, distinct summons.
“Why,” continued Bart briskly, jumping out of bed and hurrying on some clothes, “it’s Jeff!”
Jeff was “the caller” for the roundhouse. He was a feature in the B. & M. system, and for ten years had pursued his present occupation.
“Something’s up,” ruminated Bart a little excitedly, as he ran down the stairs and opened the front door. “What is it, Jeff?”
“Wanted,” announced the laconic caller.
“McCarthy, down at the freight house.”
“He didn’t tell—–just asked me to get you there quick as your feet could carry you.”
“Thank you, Jeff, I’ll lose no time.”
Bart hurried into his clothes. Clear of the house, he ran all the way to the railroad yards.
As he rounded into them from Depot Street, he came in sight of the express office.
McCarthy, the night watchman, was seated on the platform looking down in a rueful way.
He got up as Bart approached, and the latter noticed that he looked haggard, and swayed as though his head was dizzy.
“What is it?” cried out Bart irrepressibly.
“I’m sorry, Stirling,” said the watchman, “but—look there!”
Bart could not restrain a sharp cry of concern. The express office door stood open, and the padlock and staples, torn from place, lay on the platform. He rushed into the building. Then his dismay was complete.
“The trunk!” he cried—“it’s gone!”
“Yes, it is!” groaned McCarthy, pressing at his heels.
Bart cast a reproachful look at the watchman. The lantern, too, had disappeared. He sank to the bench, overcome. Finally he inquired faintly:
“How did it happen?”
“I only know what happened to me,” responded the watchman. “I was drugged.”
“It’s guesswork, that, but the fact stands—I was dosed. You asked me to watch, and I did watch. Up to midnight that lantern on top of the trunk wasn’t out of my sight fifteen minutes at a time.”
“And then?” questioned Bart.
“I always go over to the crossing switch shanty about twelve o’clock to eat my lunch. The old switchman lends me his night key. I put my lunch in on the bench when I come on duty, and he always leaves the stove full of splinters to warm up the coffee quick. When I let myself in at midnight, the lantern here was right as a beacon—I particularly noticed it.”