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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 342 pages of information about The Ne'er-Do-Well.

XXII

A CHALLENGE AND A CONFESSION

Although Runnels had spoken with confidence of the coming shake-up in the railroad organization, it was not without a certain surprise that he awoke one morning to find himself actively in charge of the entire system.  He lost no time in sending for Kirk, who took the news of their joint advancement with characteristic equanimity.

“Now, there is nothing cinched yet, understand,” the Acting Superintendent cautioned him.  “We’re all on probation, but if we make good, I think we’ll stick.”

“I’ll do my best to fill your shoes.”

“And I have the inside track on Blakeley, in spite of Colonel Jolson, so I’m not alarmed.  The break came sooner than I expected, and now that we chaps are in control it’s the chance of our lifetimes.”

Kirk nodded.  “You’re entitled to all you get, but I’ve never quite understood how I managed to forge ahead so fast.  Why, there are dozens of fellows here who know more than I, and who could do better.  I’ve been mighty lucky.”

“You don’t really call it luck, do you?” Runnels looked at him curiously.

“I’m not conceited enough to think I’m a downright genius.”

“Why, the Cortlandts engineered everything.  It was they who arranged your promotion to the office in the first place, and they’re behind this last affair.  They have stood back of you at every step, and, incidentally; back of me and the other boys.”

“When you say ‘they’ you of course mean ’she’.”

“Of course.  One has to recognize him, though—­as the head of the family.  And he really did have a part in it, too; at least, if he had been against us we never would have won.”

“I can’t pretend that I didn’t suspect,” said Kirk slowly, “but I did hope I’d made good on my own merits.”

Runnels laughed.  “You have made good all right, or you couldn’t go forward; but this is a government job, and fellows like us aren’t big enough to get through on our own merits.  One has to be a real world-beater to do that.  If the Cortlandts hadn’t backed us, some other chaps with influence would have stepped in above us.  Take Blakeley, for instance.  He is nothing extra, and he doesn’t know half as much about this business as I do; but he’s the brother-in-law of Colonel Jolson, and he’d have landed the job sure if it hadn’t been for our friends.  You’d better let your conscience take a nap.”

“I’d like to show the Cortlandts that we appreciate what they’ve done, but we can’t openly thank her without humiliating him.  I’d like to give him something.”

“Suppose we give him a quiet little supper, some night, and tell him frankly how grateful we are.  He’s the sort to appreciate a thing like that, and it would be a delicate way of thanking his wife, too.”

“Good!  I’ll speak to the other fellows, and now the Acting Master of Transportation is going to shake with the new Acting Superintendent, and wish him every success.”

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