The Young Bridge-Tender - or, Ralph Nelson's Upward Struggle
by Arthur M. Winfield
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He took up his position behind the stone steps of a house nearby, so that looking from the windows of his own residence, Martin might not see him.

While he was waiting, Ralph looked up and down the street for the bootblack, but Mickety had disappeared.

"He won't leave me in the lurch, I feel certain of that," said Ralph to himself. "Yet I would feel easier if there was a policeman in sight."

Five minutes more went by, and then the front door of the house opened and Martin came out.

He was elegantly dressed and wore a silk hat. In one hand he carried a large leather valise.

He looked up and down anxiously, and then ran down the steps to the pavement.

He started to walk down the block, and Ralph allowed him to get a hundred feet or more from the house.

Then he stepped out and confronted the man.

"Well, Mr. Martin Thomas, we meet again," he said, coolly.

Martin Thomas, for that was really the man's name, was thunderstruck.

"What—er——" he stammered.

"I say we meet again," repeated Ralph. "I guess you did not expect to see me quite so soon."

"Confound the luck!" muttered the man, biting his lips nervously.

"You did not expect me to obtain my freedom as quickly as I did."

"How did you get out?" muttered the man, savagely.

"A friend came to my assistance."

"A friend!" repeated Martin Thomas, with a start.

"Yes, a friend."


"Perhaps you can guess," went on Ralph, who wished to prolong the conversation as much as possible.

"I cannot."

"Make a guess."

"Somebody from Glen Arbor?"


"A city friend, perhaps?"


"Well, what are you going to do now?"

"Rather, let me ask you what you are going to do?" returned Ralph, warmly.

He was much relieved just then to see Mickety across the way, with a policeman beside him.


"Exactly. You tried your best to get me out of the way," went on Ralph, in rather a loud voice. "And now you have failed, I want to know what your next move is going to be."

"Hush, not so loud!" cried Martin Thomas in alarm. "Never mind what I am going to do."

"Will you tell me why you tried to take my life?"

"Hang it, boy, don't talk so loud!"

"Then tell me your object."

"I won't."

"You will have to."

"What's that, boy?"

"I say you will have to."

"Nonsense. Get out of my way. I am in a hurry."

Martin Thomas tried to brush past Ralph, but the boy caught him by the arm.

"Let go of me, boy, unless you want me to do something desperate. You escaped me three times, but——"

Martin Thomas broke off short, and his face turned a sickly green. He had just caught sight of the policeman and Mickety, who were dodging behind him.

"Why—er——" he began.

"Dat's der feller, officer!" cried out Mickety. "Didn't yer hear wot he said?"

"I did," replied the policeman.

"Arrest this man, officer," put in Ralph. "And be careful, for he is a desperate criminal."

"This is an outrage!" cried Martin Thomas, but he was too overcome to put any courage in his words.

"I will make a complaint against the man," said Ralph, calmly. "This boy will be a witness for me, and I can get other witnesses against him if it be necessary."

"That's all I want," said the policeman. "You just come with me," he went on, to Martin Thomas.

The rascal begged, pleaded and threatened, but all to no purpose. The policeman held him on one side, while Ralph ranged up on the other, and Mickety marched behind. In this order they soon reached the station-house.

Here Ralph told his whole story, and Mickety related what he knew of the affair. Then the country boy sent a special messenger to Horace Kelsey.

The arrival of the rich insurance agent helped Ralph's case considerably. Martin Thomas was locked up in default of a thousand dollars' bail, pending trial for atrocious assault.



"It would be a great thing if you could get this Martin Thomas to confess his secret," remarked Horace Kelsey to Ralph, after the hearing was over.

"That is true," returned the boy. "But I don't see how I am going to do it. He is very stubborn."

"He won't be stubborn long. He knows the charge against him is too grave. You might intimate to him that it will go easier with him if he confesses."

"That is true, sir."

"If he is merely a tool it is nothing to you whether he is punished or not. You wish to bring the instigator of this plot against you to justice."

"Supposing I go in and have a talk with him, then?" suggested Ralph.

"We will both go in," returned Horace Kelsey.

Half an hour later they were closeted with Martin Thomas in a side room of the police station. They told the rascal of the object of their visit.

At first Martin Thomas would not listen to them but when Horace Kelsey pictured the possible future to him he grew more pliable. He began to pace up and down nervously.

"Well, supposing I own up to everything," he said, at last. "Will you drop this case against me?"

"That depends on what you have to say," said Ralph, cautiously.

"Well, I can say this much: I was only hired for this work—I and Toglet."

"Who by?"

"Squire Paget, of Westville."

Had a bombshell exploded at Ralph's feet he would have been no more astonished than at this declaration.

"Do you mean to say Squire Paget hired you for this work?" he demanded.

"Yes, I do. The whole scheme was his."

"But what was his object?"

"He wanted to get you out of the way."

"But why?"

"He didn't tell me why, but I reckon it was on account of some valuable Westville property."

"It must be the property down by the lake front!" cried Ralph.

"Had he the papers for that land?" asked Horace Kelsey.

"I never thought so," returned the boy, slowly. "But he might have. He used to transact most of father's business for him years ago."

"Then you can depend upon it that he has the papers."

"But the land belongs to my mother."

"He's going to force her into selling out to him," put in Martin Thomas. "With you out of the way he felt sure, I suppose, that he could do as he pleased with your mother."

"The scamp!" ejaculated Ralph, his honest eyes flashing fire. "If you have told the truth, he shall suffer for this, mark my words!"

"And, hoping you will drop this matter against me," went on the prisoner, "let me give you another pointer. You wrote to your mother the other day, didn't you?"


"Well, he got that letter. Your mother never saw it."

"No wonder I haven't received any reply then!" burst out Ralph. "Did you ever hear of anything so mean?" he added, turning to his rich friend.

"Your duty at present is plain, Ralph," replied the insurance agent, pointedly. "The best you can do is to take the first train home."

"You are right."

"There is no telling, if this Squire Paget is so villainous, what he may not try to do."

"You think he will not wait?"

"It is not likely. He has shown a great haste in the whole matter."

"No. Don't wait. Go home and have him locked up," put in Martin Thomas. "I will appear against him, if you wish it."

He was willing now to do anything to save himself from a long term in prison.

"I will go home," said Ralph. "I will not lose another minute."

"Shall I go along?" asked Horace Kelsey. "You may need some one to help you in your fight against so influential a man as Squire Paget."

"I shall consider it a great favor," said Ralph, and he gave the insurance agent a grateful look.

They consulted a time-table, and found that they could get a train for Chambersburgh in an hour. This train would connect with the regular lake steamer that stopped at Westville.

The two questioned Martin Thomas for a few minutes longer, and got what additional information they could from him. Then they called in the jail keeper and hurried off.

"I guess Squire Paget will be surprised when we walk in on him," said Ralph, with a grim smile.

"He will be still more surprised when he learns that Martin Thomas has been arrested and that his whole plot is known," replied Horace Kelsey.

The insurance agent had several small matters to attend to. But these did not take long, and then they took an elevated train for the depot.

Fifteen minutes later, Ralph's homeward journey had begun. It was none too soon, as the sequel will show.



"I believe that one reason why Squire Paget wished to get me out of the situation on the bridge was because he hoped thereby to force me to leave Westville altogether," remarked Ralph, as the train sped on its way.

"Perhaps you are right," returned Horace Kelsey. "One thing is certain, he was decidedly anxious to get you out of the way; otherwise, he would not have hired this Martin Thomas a second time."

"I never thought it of Squire Paget," murmured Ralph, thoughtfully. "Why, it is simply horrible!"

"There is no telling to what depths a man will sink for the sake of money," returned the insurance agent. "Here in the city we see it more than in the country."

"I thought Percy Paget bad enough, but he can't be a patch to his father."

"You must be careful how you go ahead, Ralph. Squire Paget may deny the whole statement made by Martin Thomas, and then you will have some trouble to prove anything against him."

"I know that."

"The best thing you can do is to call on your mother first——"

"I intend to do that. I am much worried since I know she has not received my letter."

"She may have news to tell. Who knows but what the squire has approached her about this property question already."

"I shall look to you for advice before I make an important movement," said Ralph.

It was growing dark, and soon it became time to go to bed on the train. Horace Kelsey had procured berths, and both retired. But to tell the truth, Ralph did not sleep a wink all night.

He could not help but think of all that had happened, and speculate as to what the future held in store. Never once did he dream of the many surprises so close at hand.

Ralph was up before any one else among the passengers. It was a good hour before Horace Kelsey followed.

"Anxious, I suppose," smiled the insurance agent. "Well, I don't blame you."

"There is so much at stake," rejoined Ralph. "I feel as if a fuse had been lighted, and I was just waiting for something to explode."

"And something will explode ere long, I imagine," laughed Horace Kelsey.

It was a little after eight o'clock when the train rolled into Chambersburgh and they alighted. Both knew the place fairly well, and started at once for the steamboat landing.

Just as they turned a corner of the street they came face to face with three police officers who were escorting two men and a boy to the station-house. The men were Dock Brady and another. The boy was Percy Paget.

"Look!" cried Ralph. "What can this mean?"

"I don't know them," returned Horace Kelsey.

"Why, that is Percy Paget!"

"Is it possible?"

"And one of those men is Dock Brady, the man who is supposed to have robbed the Westville post office."

"Really! That is interesting!"

"I'll bet a fortune they are the three that did that job!" burst out Ralph, excitedly. "There were two men and a boy, and this crowd is the same."

"Ask one of the officers," suggested Horace Kelsey. "Or, stop, I will do so."

He stepped up to the little crowd, which had come to a halt at a corner, and tapped one of the policemen on the arm.

"I wish to ask you a few private questions about your prisoners," he said, in a low tone.

"Ask him," returned the officer; and he pointed to a quiet-looking man in black a few steps away.

Horace Kelsey at once stepped up to the person indicated, Ralph beside him.

"We are interested in these prisoners," he said. "Will you tell me why they have been arrested?"

"I am not at liberty to say much just now——" began the man in black.

"Are they not the Westville post office robbers?" questioned Horace, eagerly.

"Ah! What do you know of that case?" and the quiet-looking man became interested at once.

Ralph told him what he knew in a few brief, well-chosen words. The man smiled.

"You have hit it on the head," he said. "They are the guilty parties. I am a post office detective, and have just run them down."

"And is Percy Paget as guilty as the rest?"

"He was drawn into the scheme by this Brady, who is a very smart fellow. Brady also drew in the other man, who was formerly a horse dealer in this city."

"And did you obtain the money and packages that were stolen?" asked Horace Kelsey.

"We recovered nearly everything. By the way," went on the detective, "did you say your name was Ralph Nelson?"

"Yes, sir."

"I overheard this Percy Paget say how he had put a valise in your yard in order to throw suspicion on you. I knew of that valise being found. You are now cleared on that point."

"I am glad of it," replied Ralph, heartily.

"There is something else which may interest you. I do not quite understand it, because this Paget boy is one of the robbers. Among the registered letters which Dock Brady held was one sent by Squire Paget to some friend in New York. This contained several important papers relating to some property in Westville belonging to a Mrs. Martha Nelson, widow of the late Randolph Nelson——"

"My mother!" shouted Ralph. "Hurrah! the missing papers have been found!"

"Dock Brady was evidently holding them to obtain money from the squire on them," went on the man in black. "What shall we do with them? Under the law they ought to be forwarded to the party in New York."

"Keep them until matters can be straightened out," said Horace Kelsey, coming to Ralph's rescue. "Listen, and I will tell you where we are going, and what my young friend intends to do."



Let us again shift the scene to Westville, and for the last time.

Mrs. Nelson had recovered from the first effects of her severe shock attending the announcement that her son was dead, but she was still very weak and sick.

"Poor Ralph! poor Ralph!" she murmured, over and over again, as she sat by, the kitchen window, while kind-hearted Mrs. Corcoran moved about doing the simple household duties. "Oh, Mrs. Corcoran, it cannot be possible, can it?"

"There, there, try to think of something else, that's a good dear!" returned the neighbor, sympathetically. "It won't do any good to brood over the matter."

"But Ralph was my only child! And his father gone, too!" and Mrs. Nelson heaved a deep sigh, while the tears streamed down her cheeks anew.

The widow's sorrow was deep, and up to now she had not allowed herself to think of aught else. She was alone in the world, so she thought, and did not care how the future shaped itself.

Presently there was a knock on the door, and Mrs. Corcoran opened it to admit Squire Paget. The head man of the village wore a look of hypocritical sympathy upon his sharp features.

"I was just going over the bridge to Eastport," he explained, "and thought I would drop in for a neighborly chat."

Even in this simple statement he could not put a grain of truth. He had made a special trip to the cottage, and had come solely for his own selfish ends.

Mrs. Corcoran bid him welcome, and offered him a chair.

"I trust you do not let your sorrow rest too deeply upon you, widow," he went on, to Mrs. Nelson. "We all have our trials in this world," and he gave a grunt that was meant for a deep sigh.

"How can I help it, squire?" she replied. "Ralph was all the world to me."

"So was my late wife, widow, and yet I had to give her up;" and again he gave a grunt-like sigh.

This statement did not affect Mrs. Nelson greatly. She knew that it was a fact that the squire and his late wife had quarreled continually, and that many had said he had not cared at all when death had relieved him of her companionship.

"I was wondering what you intended to do," went on the squire, after an awkward pause. "Do you intend to stay here?"

"I do not know yet, squire."

"I should think you would want to change your surroundings. Does not everything in this cottage remind you of your late husband and late son?"

"Indeed it does!" cried Mrs. Nelson. "Sometimes I cannot bear it!"

"If I were you I would sell out and go elsewhere," suggested the squire, coming around to the subject that was on his mind. "Perhaps a little trip somewhere would do you a world of good."

"It would do her good," put in simple-minded Mrs. Corcoran, who believed the squire sincere.

"I cannot afford a trip," sighed Mrs. Nelson. "Besides—I—I—sometimes think that Ralph may come back," she faltered.

"Never, in this life, widow," returned the squire, solemnly. "Alas! the dead never return, no matter how much we love them."

"Sometimes they do, Squire Paget!" cried a young voice from the open doorway, and Ralph sprang into the room. "Mother!"

"Ralph, my son!" screamed Mrs. Nelson. "Thank Heaven for its many mercies!"

And she thew herself into Ralph's arms, while the tears of sorrow were quickly turned to tears of joy.

Squire Paget was dumbfounded. He stared at Ralph as if the boy was an apparition.

"Is it really you, Ralph?" he stammered at last.

"Sure, an' it is, Heaven bless him!" put in Mrs. Corcoran.

"And where have you been, Ralph?" cried Mrs. Nelson, when she could again speak.

"I have been in New York. You would have heard from me before had not that villain stolen the letter I sent."

"Villain, Ralph——"

"Yes, villain, mother. Squire Paget is the blackest-hearted wretch in Westville."

"What's this, and to me!" ejaculated the squire.

"Yes, to you, Squire Paget, you mean, contemptible coward!" returned the boy, boldly. "Look at him, mother, and see him quail while I tell you of all he has done."

"I have done nothing," faltered the squire, but he looked as if he wished to sink through the floor.

"He hired two men to throw me over the cliff on Tree Top Island, and when they failed, he got one of the men to follow me to New York and try to put me out of existence there."

"Oh, Ralph, I cannot believe it!"

"It is all true, mother. Here is Mr. Kelsey, and he will tell you the same."

"This is preposterous——" began the squire, faintly, but Ralph cut him short.

"It is all true. The man who followed me to New York was Martin Thomas. He is now in jail and has confessed all."

The squire tottered as if struck a blow. He tried to speak, but the words would not come.

"And do you know why he did it?" went on Ralph. "He had the missing papers, and wished to get hold of our property here. But the missing papers we have found——"


The squire managed to gasp out the single word.

"Yes, found. They were in a registered letter sent by Squire Paget to some friend in New York. They were stolen by the post office thieves, who are now in custody. And, by the way, squire, shall I tell you who the thieves were? Dock Brady, a man named Cassidy, and a boy named Percy Paget."

It was a final and telling blow. The squire fell back, pale and trembling. Ralph faced him dauntlessly, while the others stood around, holding their breath.

Squire Paget could not answer. He wanted to speak, but not a word would his tongue utter. He looked about for his silk hat, and, finding it, dashed out of the house as if a legion of demons were after him.

We will pass over the immediate scenes that followed. Mrs. Nelson could not let Ralph leave her side for the rest of the day, and Horace Kelsey undertook to follow the squire and bring him to terms.

But the exposure had been too much for Squire Paget. He disappeared that night, leaving his business affairs just as they were. It was not until a year afterward that he was heard from as living in an obscure state in a little town in Canada.

On the strength of his confession, Ralph did not appear against Martin Thomas, and the man got off with a very light sentence. Toglet took time by the forelock, and fled to the Southwest.

The post office robbers were all heavily punished, although Percy Paget, on account of his years, received a lighter sentence than his older companions.

It was not long before the papers which had been missing were turned over to Mrs. Nelson. Under Ralph's advice, the entire question of property was placed in Horace Kelsey's charge.

The insurance agent was not long in finding out what Squire Paget had intended to do with the land along the lake front. Part of it was to be turned over to a syndicate for a factory site, and the balance was to be cut up and sold as town lots. The plan was carried out later on for Mrs. Nelson's benefit, and the sum of seventy thousand dollars was eventually realized out of the transaction.

Of course this made the widow and her son the richest people in the village. Ralph at once left off work, and took up his studies, and passed through Yale College with high honors. To-day he is the mayor of Westville, honored and loved by all who know him, and here we will leave him.


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