Rhubarb and Columbus are ready to return home, but perhaps it won't be so easy.
It was near noon as Rhubarb T. Porterhut and Columbus approached the station. The biscuits they had purchased from the general store were enough to tide them over for the moment, but they still looked forward to the feast Florentine would have prepared for them once they returned home.
“I believe we should be able to manage the rest of the way,” remarked Rhubarb, addressing Columbus who silently kept pace beside him. Columbus appreciated the extended amount of walking he was allowed knowing that he would most likely be occupying the back sack again once they were back on board the train.
A large bubble of smoke bursting in the near distant sky caught Rhubarb’s attention, and as they neared the station he could make out the time traveling locomotive pulling alongside the station platform. Black smoke was pouring out from the smokestack obscuring most of the rather large machine, and on the platform stood the stationmaster he had talked to earlier, waving his cap at whoever was operating it.
“Hello again,” yelled Rhubarb as soon as he was within earshot. “I see that our transportation is prepared as per our agreement.”
For the first time the stationmaster got a good look at Columbus, who had been in Rhubarb’s back sack they whole time of their conversation. With widened eyes, he absorbed the image of the patchy dog that seemed like such a contradiction to him.
“I thought you two would’ve been back sooner. Robby here’s got yer train all set up. I trust you found something to eat while you were touring our fair town?”
“Yes, we managed some biscuits, but we are quite prepared to return home now.”
Columbus hesitated for a second as he listened to Rhubarb speak. While he looked forward to getting home to his warm, plush bed which negated his lack of fur, he wished he could have a few minutes more before he was forced back into his sack.
“Well then, I guess that would just ‘bout settle things.” The stationmaster’s voice went up at the end, and he just stood there looking at Rhubarb, but not looking, as he tapped his foot to the rhythm of a jig he couldn’t dance to. When Rhubarb just stood and stared in return, the station master coughed.
“Bless you. Was that a cough? Or a sneeze?”
“Uh, neither. You know it was quite a bit of work moving that locomotive. Quite a bit of work.”
Rhubarb finally took the hint, and following a brief shudder he took out his wallet.
“Ah. Right, we agreed upon compensation. How much did we agree upon? Never mind, let me see what I have.”
But when Rhubarb looked in his wallet, he was stunned―for where once was ten one dollar bills, there were none. His mind scrambled for an answer, for some reasoning as to what had happened to the money.
“Now if yer ready to leave, we need to get you on out of here. We’ve got more trains coming in from Springfield pretty soon.”
Columbus, picking up on the gravity of the situation, began to shed with concern.
Rhubarb was frozen and could barely muster up a word, before finally exhaling. “The store owner... I must have… forgotten my change.”
“Now no excuses, son, but do you have the money or not? ‘Cause I will have Robby pull the engine back if you don’t.”
In a flash, Columbus thought about his bed, the warm fireplace, and Florentine serving him beef for dinner. With all the resolve he could stir up, he dropped one last clump of fur and darted off the platform for the train. He yelped at Rhubarb who understood the plan.
“Wait for me, Columbus,” Rhubarb yelled, as he dashed off the platform leaving the stunned stationmaster standing there like a rare hibiscus pine log in a bog.
Columbus leapt onto the engine first, startling the young man operating the controls. It took Rhubarb slightly longer to climb aboard, but once on, he turned to the young man and bowed.
“I detest violence, so would you be so kind as to extricate yourself?”
The man, with no fight and only a little more interest, bowed politely in return, then stiffly turned and hopped off.
“Quickly, Columbus. Unfortunately we must hasten our departure, so prepare yourself.”
Columbus understood what that meant, and reluctantly crawled inside the sack that Rhubarb had tossed onto the cab floor. Meanwhile Rhubarb threw some levers, turned the time knob to “FUTURE,” and released the break. The train slowly lurched forward and began to depart the station.
“That was a close call, was it not? Good work, Columbus. Tonight I shall reward you with the bigger steak.”
He picked up the sack overflowing with the smiling Columbus, and slung it over his shoulder. After shoveling in some more coal, Rhubarb leaned against the cab wall and started to relax. He could see the stationmaster very gradually getting smaller as he stared back at them, unmoved, from the platform. Rhubarb hated leaving things the way he did, but time waited for no man except him, except when they weren’t actually in the time traversing device. As such it was imperative to get into the machine where time was once more subject to their will. At least that was what Rhubarb thought to himself, as he looked forward to getting home and telling Florentine of their narrow escape over dinner.