Title: Making His Mark
Author: Jr. Horatio Alger
Illustrator: Robert L. Mason
Release date: July 29, 2017 [eBook #55217]
Credits: Produced by David Edwards, Barry Abrahamsen and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net (This
file was produced from images generously made available
by The Internet Archive)
HE TOOK HIM IN HIS ARMS
|I||An Unpleasant Talk|
|II||Mr. Tubbs, the Grocer|
|III||Mrs. Lane's Disappointment|
|IV||The Lost Letter|
|V||Abel Arrives in Portville|
|VI||The Son and Heir|
|VII||A Plebeian Relative|
|VIII||A Cold Reception|
|IX||A Lucky Rescue|
|X||Gerald Finds a Sympathizing Friend|
|XI||The Burglar's Defeat|
|XII||A Grocer's Clerk|
|XIII||An Artful Trick|
|XV||A Strange Proposal|
|XVI||Mrs. Lane's Surprise|
|XVII||Gerald Leaves Portville|
|XVIII||A New Acquaintance|
|XIX||A Bold Robbery|
|XX||A Letter from Portville|
|XXI||A Mining Settlement in Montana|
|XXII||The Tables are Turned|
|XXIV||A New Home|
|XXV||A Perilous Ride|
|XXVI||Saul Gridley Seeks Revenge|
|XXVII||Saul Gridley's Unpleasant Surprise|
|XXVIII||A Trip on Horseback|
|XXXIV||A Deed of Gift|
|XXXV||John Graves Reappears|
|XXXVI||Mrs. Lane's Discomfiture|
Gerald Lane rose from the breakfast table and was about to leave the room, when his stepmother addressed him:
"Stop a minute, Gerald, I have something to say to you."
Mrs. Lane was a thin woman, rather above the usual height, with a prominent nose and thin lips. It was easy to see that she was not Gerald's mother. He was a strong, well-made boy, with red cheeks and a pleasant face, but his expression at this moment was grave and sad.
He paused and looked inquiringly at his stepmother.
"Sit down," she said, "I have considerable to say to you."
Gerald drew a chair from the table and seated himself.
"Your father's sad death," began Mrs. Lane, "will, of course, make a difference in the family arrangements."
"It makes a great difference to me," said Gerald, bitterly. "I am disinherited and I have no prospects."
"Ahem! I hope you don't reproach your father so soon after his death. It is unbecoming to say the least."
"I don't reproach him, but I can't understand why he should leave all his property to you, and nothing to me."
"That statement is misleading."
"Isn't it true?"
"Yes, he has shown his confidence in me sufficiently to leave the property in my hands, but he commends you to my care. Therefore, you cannot be said to be disinherited."
"I am left dependent upon you," said Gerald, with a tinge of bitterness in his voice.
"So you were dependent upon him."
"That was different. He was my father."
"And I am your mother."
"At any rate, I was your father's wife, and I am ready to do my duty by you. I have been carefully considering what was my duty, and I have asked you to stop after breakfast in order to talk over my plans for you."
"I am listening."
"I think I shall withdraw you from the academy, as under present circumstances it would be impossible to send you to college, and you already have a good education."
"It would be very expensive."
"My father intended to send me to college."
"That may be, but he was earning an income apart from his property, and I am not."
"What is your plan for me, then?"
"I think it will be well for you to go to work at once."
"Mrs. Lane, will you allow me to say a word?"
"Go on," she said coldly.
"I have reason to think that my father left a good deal of property. I have heard it estimated at fifty thousand dollars."
"Property is almost always very much over-estimated."
"Call it thirty thousand, then. If I go to Bowdoin, my father's college, I will get through for fifteen hundred dollars, probably."
"That's a good deal of money."
"Not when spread over four years. I shall be ready to enter next fall."
"In the four years you were at college you might work up to a good income."
"Perhaps so. If I were a poor boy, that would be a consideration."
"It is a consideration now."
"Then you have made up your mind to deny me the education my father intended me to enjoy. Will you tell me what plans you have formed for me?"
"I don't like your tone, Gerald; you are too independent and are scarcely respectful. However, I will answer your question. Mr. Tubbs, the grocer, needs a boy to tend in his store and to help keep his books. You have studied book-keeping, I believe?"
"Yes," answered Gerald, eying his stepmother, intently.
"He will take you and pay you three dollars a week. You can stay at home, and I will allow you half your salary, but I shall expect you to buy your own clothing."
"Out of a dollar and a half a week?"
"Yes; I look upon that as a very fair income. One dollar a week will suffice for your clothes, and you will have fifty cents for spending money."
Gerald's face flushed. At this rate he would derive very slight advantage from the handsome property his father left behind him.
"Do you think, Mrs. Lane," he said, "that in making this arrangement you are carrying out my father's wishes?"
"Probably I am as well qualified to judge on that point as you," said Mrs. Lane, stiffly.
"When do you wish me to leave school?" asked Gerald, after a pause.
"Mr. Tubbs wishes you to begin work a week from next Monday. You can go to school another week, if you wish."
"I shall not care to do so. I shall want a week to think over the change in my life."
"Just as you please."
"Have you anything more to say to me?" asked Gerald rising.
To Gerald's surprise his stepmother's manner changed, and she seemed nervous and no longer cool and self-possessed.
"I am about to tell you something that may surprise you, though it was, of course, known to your father."
Gerald's curiosity was excited. It must be something of importance, or Mrs. Lane's self-possession would not be disturbed.
"Probably you are aware that when I married your father I was a widow."
"I have heard so."
"But you did not know that I have a son about your own age?"
"No, I didn't know that," returned Gerald, his face showing his amazement. "Why have I never seen the boy? Why did you not bring him here?" he asked.
"Your father thought it was not best. He thought you and Abel might not agree."
"Am I so difficult to get along with, then?"
"Ahem! You are very independent and self-opinioned."
"He has quite a proper pride. You would probably have made him feel that he was in an inferior position, and then there would have been trouble."
"Still I don't see why his existence should have been concealed from me?"
"Your father thought it best."
Gerald eyed his stepmother thoughtfully. Was this true—this statement of hers? Not about the boy's existence—he had no doubt of that—but as to his father's being in the plot to keep it secret.
"Where, then, is Abel, since he has never been here?" he asked.
"He has been at a boarding-school, fifty miles away, in the town of Fulton. I am expecting him here to-night."
"So the secret is out!" thought Gerald. "But is there not the same objection as before?" he asked. "Perhaps we may not agree."
"The circumstances are changed. He will no longer be in an inferior position."
"I don't understand."
"As my son, he will take precedence of you," said Mrs. Lane, with a triumphant smile.
"But the money belonged to my father."
"It belongs to me, now," said his stepmother, sharply.
Gerald was thunderstruck. It was not enough that his stepmother should appropriate the property which he felt ought properly to be his, but this unknown boy whom he had not yet seen, and of whose existence he thought it not improbable that his father had been ignorant, was to be invested with a right superior to his own. He remained silent for a moment. Then he said:
"I hope Abel and I will be friends."
"It will be wise for you to treat him well," said his stepmother.
"When do you expect him here?"
"Some time this afternoon."
"Have you any more to say to me?"
"Not at present."
Gerald rose slowly and left the house. He felt crushed and humiliated. He felt that his stepmother had the upper hand. He remembered well the day, only two years before, when Mrs. Ruth Tyler entered their home as his father's wife. She had come to Portville and opened a milliner's shop on a very small scale. She attended the same church as his father, and in a short time managed to make his acquaintance. She consulted him on business matters, and exerted herself to please him. Finally, marriage followed. During his father's life Gerald had no fault to find with her treatment of him, but since the funeral she had thrown off the mask. Gerald could only think of her as one who had defrauded him of his rightful inheritance.
Gerald was so disturbed by the communication which his stepmother had made that he walked at random, hardly knowing in what direction he was going. Before he was well aware of it, he found himself passing the grocery store in which, according to Mrs. Lane's plans, he was to find employment. Raising his eyes he saw Mr. Tubbs standing in the doorway.
The grocer was a short, stout man, not over five feet four inches in height and weighing well on to two hundred pounds. His features relaxed into a smile as he recognized Gerald.
"Come here, Gerald," he said.
Gerald paused, and as he looked into the grocery store with its sanded floor, barrels of flour, and boxes of potatoes, with the dried codfish hanging against the wall, his heart sank within him. He was not afraid of work, but to work in such a place and with such surroundings seemed to him dismal indeed.
"Then you are coming to work for me?" said Mr. Tubbs smiling broadly. "Hasn't your mother told you?"
"My stepmother mentioned it this morning," said Gerald, gravely.
"We made the bargain last week. You'll get good pay, too. Three dollars a week. I never paid so much before, but I expect you will earn it. You look like a good, strong boy."
"Yes, I am strong," said Gerald, briefly.
"And you are willing to work, I suppose?"
"I don't know, Mr. Tubbs. Mrs. Lane had no right to make a bargain for me. My father always intended that I should go to college."
"That would cost a sight of money, Gerald. Here you would learn business. In a few years you may be earning ten dollars a week."
He spoke as if this were a very large sum.
"I am not afraid to work, Mr. Tubbs, but I don't think I shall like the grocery business."
"Pooh, pooh! a boy like you doesn't know what he would like. How old are you?"
"Sixteen? Why, at sixteen I could lift a barrel of flour. I worked well, if I do say it myself. I only got two dollars a week in this very store, and now it's my own."
He looked around him with an air of pride. His highest ambition was realized in the possession of a grocery store.
"What do you say to that?"
"You have done well, Mr. Tubbs."
"Haven't I? And you can do as well. Why, in five years if your mother will advance a little money, I may give you an interest in the business."
Gerald did not reply. His heart was sore, and he felt that life had few attractions for him if it was to be passed here.
"Are you going to school now?"
"I have been."
"Your mother told me you might come here a week from Monday, but I'd like to have you come a week earlier, if you can as well as not."
"No, I will wait," said Gerald, hastily.
"Well, just as you like, but if you'll come in evenings so as to get a little used to the work, I'll give you—say, seventy-five cents for a week."
"I think you will have to excuse me, Mr. Tubbs."
"Oh, well, I won't insist upon it," said the grocer, half dissatisfied.
It was Saturday, the weekly school holiday. To-day, at least, Gerald was free. He decided to walk to Crescent Pond and go out in his boat. He had a small dory there, which his father had given him on his last birthday. On the way he passed a small cottage belonging to his father's estate. It was tenanted by a widow named Holman. Her son, John, had been one of his schoolmates but was now employed in a shoe shop.
John was sitting on a wheelbarrow in the yard.
"Come and have a row, John," said Gerald, "that is, if you are not working to-day."
"No, the shop is shut down for a fortnight," said John, soberly. "It is likely to be a bad job for us."
"How is that?"
"Our rent was due yesterday, and we can't pay it."
"But this is one of father's houses."
"Yes; if your father was alive there would be no trouble."
"Have you had any notice to pay?" asked Gerald, quickly.
"Your stepmother says that if the rent is not paid on Monday we must turn out."
"Surely she would not be so inhuman."
"That is exactly what she said when mother went to the house yesterday afternoon. My being out of work made no difference to her. I wish the house was yours, Gerald."
"Nothing seems to be mine, John," said Gerald, gravely. "Mrs. Lane told me this morning that I must leave school and go to work."
"What a shame! How could your father leave you in the power of such a woman?"
"I can't tell, John. That is what puzzles me. But how much is the rent?"
"Have you got anything toward it?"
"No. What money we have must go toward food."
"Then I'll tell you what I'll do. I have some money in the savings bank. I'll go and draw out six dollars and lend it to you, but you mustn't let Mrs. Lane know where it came from."
"You are awfully kind, Gerald; but I don't think we ought to accept your offer."
"Why not? The money is mine."
"Your stepmother might object."
"I don't think she knows that I have any money in the bank; besides, it has always been mine to do what I pleased with. Father never interfered with it at any time."
"Still, as you have no money left to you, you may need it."
Gerald admitted to himself that this might very probably be true, but he felt that Mrs. Holman needed the money more than he did.
"We won't worry about the future," he said. "At present you need the money and I don't."
"I am afraid I shall have to accept the money for mother's sake."
"That is right, John; come with me and I'll get it out."
The savings bank was a small building on the main street. It was scarcely a quarter of a mile distant, and the two boys were soon inside. Gerald made out a check at a small table near the door and presented it to the paying teller. Gerald was a favorite with the bank officer, who said to him jocosely:
"What are you drawing this money for? Are you going to get married?"
"Not just yet, Mr. Barton, I am afraid my account isn't large enough for that."
"It wouldn't last long, I am afraid, if you wanted it for that purpose. How will you have it?"
"It doesn't matter. A five and a one will do."
"Here it is."
Gerald took the bills and went out into the street.
"Here, John, take the money," he said, "I am glad it will help you."
"It will relieve us very much. Mother has been worrying a good deal over our trouble. She didn't know where to go."
Now it happened that Mrs. Lane, who was walking on the opposite side of the street, saw the two boys coming out of the bank. Her curiosity was aroused, and unseen by Gerald, she crossed over and entered the savings bank.
"Mr. Barton," she said, "didn't I see Gerald come out of the bank just now with the Holman boy?"
"Yes, Mrs. Lane."
"What did he come in for?"
Mr. Barton had never liked Mrs. Lane, and he wasn't pleased with her somewhat peremptory tone.
"He came on business connected with the bank," he said briefly.
"Oh, he did, did he? What business can he have here?"
"You had better ask him."
Mrs. Lane was provoked, but she saw that she could not browbeat the bank officer.
"Mr. Barton," she said, "has Gerald any money in this bank?"
"Did he draw any this morning?"
"I don't answer such questions in regard to our depositors."
"Has he any left here?"
"Then don't let him draw any more out—do you hear?—without communicating with me."
"Mrs. Lane, this deposit is in Gerald's name and has always been under his control. His father never interfered with it, nor have you any right to do so."
"Gerald Lane is my stepson. It is my duty to see that he doesn't waste his money, do you hear?"
"Whenever Gerald presents a draft, I shall honor it, do you hear?" retorted the cashier.
Mrs. Lane's face became red with anger.
"You are very impolite," she said.
"So are you, Mrs. Lane. You did not even know that Gerald had an account here, and as his father did not interfere with it, I fail to see why you should. Good morning, madam!"
Mrs. Lane left the bank in a passion. She was not used to being thwarted and she would have had Mr. Barton discharged from his post if she could have had her way.
Half an hour later the two boys were passing the savings bank, when Mr. Barton espied them.
Leaving his place, he went to the door and called them.
"I have a word to say to you, Gerald," he said. "Does your stepmother know that you have a deposit in our bank?"
"Not that I know of. It is nothing to her, anyway, as my father put the money here under my name, and it was left to my control."
"Precisely; but I have to tell you that Mrs. Lane does know you have money here."
"How did she find out?" asked Gerald, amazed.
"She saw you go out of the bank and, suspecting something, came in and inquired."
"Of course I told her that you had an account here. Then she forbade me to let you draw any of it."
"And you agreed to it?"
"No, I told her the money was under your control."
"Thank you. What did she say then?"
"She asked how much money you had here; I declined to inform her."
"Mr. Barton, you are a true friend."
"I don't mind telling you, Gerald, that I don't like your stepmother, and that I do like you."
"I am afraid there will be trouble. What do you advise me to do?"
"To draw out all your money except one dollar. Our rules will admit of that."
"But what shall I do with it? If I keep it at home she may get hold of it."
"Put it in the hands of some friend you can trust."
"Will you take charge of it for me?"
"Yes, Gerald, if you think you can trust me," said Mr. Barton, with a smile.
"There is no one I would trust with more confidence."
"Then draw a check for forty-three dollars. That, together with the six dollars you have already drawn, will leave one dollar in the bank."
"Good! I will do it."
Gerald made out a check for forty-three dollars, and, when received, handed the money to Mr. Barton, who gave him a memorandum of it.
"Keep this from your stepmother," he suggested, "or she will ask me for it."
"Won't you keep the memorandum yourself, Mr. Barton?"
"But that would be hardly businesslike."
"Never mind that. I have perfect confidence in you."
"Very well, since you have confidence in me, I will put it in my tin box at home, and if anything should happen to me it will secure you."
"Well, I am glad that is off my mind," said Gerald; "I think I have checkmated Mrs. Lane."
"It must be disagreeable to find it necessary to take such extreme precautions."
"It is, but I must submit to it."
"You told me you were going to work, Gerald," said John, suddenly. "Have you engaged any place?"
"No, but Mrs. Lane has made an arrangement for me with Mr. Tubbs, the grocer."
"You don't mean it? You work in a grocery!"
"It is respectable, and I am not afraid of work, but it will be very disagreeable."
"I can tell you it will be. I once worked for old Tubbs myself."
"How did you like it?"
"Not at all. I had to work twelve hours a day, and received but two dollars and a half a week."
"I am to have the munificent sum of three dollars. Evidently Mr. Tubbs thinks that very liberal. He tells me that by the time I am twenty-one I may be getting ten dollars a week, and if my stepmother will advance a thousand dollars he may sell me an interest in the business."
"What a shame!"
"That I should have an interest in the business?" asked Gerald, with a smile.
"No, but that a boy of your scholarship should tend in a grocery, and for such a sum. Why, I earn six dollars a week as a pegger."
"I should rather work in your shop than in the grocery."
"But there is no vacancy. That, too, would be unfit for you. Why, you know Latin and French, don't you?"
"I have studied them. If Mr. Tubbs has any Latin or French customers I may be able to wait on them."
"I am glad you can joke about it, Gerald."
"I don't feel much like joking, I assure you."
About twelve o'clock Gerald turned his steps in the direction of home, though, since his father's death, it no longer seemed to him like home. Dinner would be on the table at half-past twelve, and he always aimed to be punctual.
Mrs. Lane took her place at the table, stiff and rigid as usual. She had not forgotten the savings bank deposit of Gerald, and had made up her mind to get it under her control.
Mrs. Lane did not immediately introduce the subject, but when the dessert came on she said: "I saw you coming out of the savings bank this morning."
"Now for it!" thought Gerald.
"Yes," he said, in brief assent.
"How long have you had an account there?"
"About two years."
"Did you withdraw any money this morning?"
"You must excuse me, Mrs. Lane, but that is my own private business."
"You are quite mistaken. You are my stepson, and you are under my guardianship."
"I suppose, then, you have charge of my property. Let me know how much it is."
Mrs. Lane winced.
"You have no property," she said, coldly, "except what money you may have in the savings bank."
"Then I am to understand that none of the property belonging to my father comes to me."
"You will receive a certain advantage from it. Your home is in this house, and the dinner you are eating is provided with your father's money."
"Yet you want me to pay you half the money I am to receive for work!"
"Yes; but if you are guided by my wishes, I shall lay it aside for you, to be given to you hereafter."
"I am not prepared to say that I shall be guided by your wishes."
"Do you positively refuse to tell me how much money you have in the savings bank?"
"I require you to give me your bank-book. It is proper that I should keep it."
Gerald expected this.
"Mrs. Lane, ever since I had any money in the bank, the book has been in my possession. My father desired me to keep it."
"Your father was foolishly indulgent."
"I don't think you are likely to be. Perhaps you will tell me what you want of the book?"
"I want to prevent your withdrawing any more money."
"So I supposed, and that is the reason why I decline to give you the book."
"Very well; we will drop the subject for the present. I trust that with time for reflection you will take a different view of your duty."
Gerald was surprised at his stepmother's change of front.
"She wants to put me off my guard," he decided. "She will search my room for the book."
As there was but a dollar to his credit now, this didn't disturb him particularly, nor did it prevent his going to his chamber and putting the book into his trunk.
"I should like to be here when she finds it," he said to himself.
Gerald had promised to go out on the pond in his boat, and John had agreed to go with him. He stopped at his friend's house on the way, and John joined him.
Meanwhile Mrs. Lane waited till Gerald was safely distant, and then with a look of expectation, ascended the staircase to his room. She had noticed that her stepson went up-stairs, and thought it probable that he had put the book away.
Gerald's trunk was in one corner of the room. It was locked, but this did not interpose any obstacle. Mrs. Lane kneeled down in front of it and took from her pocket a bunch of keys. She did not immediately find one that fitted the lock, but presently the right key turned up.
"Ha!" she said, triumphantly, as the key turned in the lock and the lid was raised. "Now, Master Gerald, we will see how much money you have to your credit."
The bank-book was just below the tray, and no time was wasted in finding it.
She opened the book eagerly, and scanned the entries. But her first elation was succeeded by a look of anger and disappointment. Fifty dollars was entered to Gerald's credit, but his drafts amounted to forty-nine. There was only one dollar left.
"Two drafts this morning!" said Mrs. Lane, angrily. "What has he done with the money?"
She searched the trunk carefully, hoping to find somewhere a roll of bills, but as we know, she was doomed to disappointment.
"He is sly," she muttered; "but I will trap him yet."
She left the book in the tray, whereas it had been placed underneath. When Gerald opened his trunk, he discovered the change, and knew that his trunk had been opened and examined by his stepmother.
Mrs. Lane's early life had been embittered by poverty, both before and after her first marriage. It was for this reason she married Mr. Lane, and for this reason also that she rejoiced in the possession of his property. She meant to make up for past privations by living liberally. Already she contemplated a series of journeys with her own son. As for Gerald, she had always disliked him, having an instinctive feeling that he distrusted and disliked her.
Mr. Lane's property was, except the home property, invested in stocks, bonds and bank deposits, and the task of an executor was therefore easy. She had lost no time, after her husband's death, in making an estimate of the value of the estate. Almost daily she opened the tin box of securities and looked them over. It was a feast for her eyes.
After her failure with Gerald's trunk she gave a few minutes to this congenial task. When it was over a look of pleasure lighted up her face.
"Fifty thousand dollars!" she said to herself. "That is, indeed, a windfall for one who, till two years since, was compelled to subsist on an income of less than twelve dollars a week. The arrangements I have made for Gerald will prevent his being much expense to me, and my husband's fortune will be under my own control. Within a few hours my son—my dear Abel—will be here, and there will be no further need of concealing his existence. Had Mr. Lane known that I had a son as old as his own it is doubtful if he would have married me. Well, it is all over now! And I shall have Abel with me hereafter."
From the bottom of the tin box she drew out a folded paper. It was in Mr. Lane's handwriting, and was addressed "To the Executor." It ran thus: "There is a possible claim against my estate, of which it is imperatively necessary that I should speak. Five years since my old friend and school-fellow, John Graves, on the eve of his departure for Australia, placed in my hands, for safekeeping, his entire fortune amounting to thirty thousand dollars. His wife had died; he had no heirs, and he had made up his mind to take a long journey to occupy his mind, and if possible assuage his grief. 'I may never come back,' he said, 'and in that case, old friend, the money I leave with you becomes yours. I could not leave it better than to my old schoolmate and friend.' I was touched by this proof of his confidence in me and assumed the trust. From time to time I heard of him, but for two years no tidings have come of the wanderer. Whether he is still living I cannot tell. If dead, the property is mine. It will more than double any estate I may leave; but I cannot be certain. I sincerely hope that John is still alive. Though two years have passed, he is liable to return at any time and reclaim the sum he placed in my hands. Should this claim be made after my death, it will be the sacred duty of my executor to give him back his own. Even if he has lost the acknowledgment I gave him, this property must be given up on his proving his identity. There will still be left of my own property a sum sufficient to support those whom I leave behind me in modest style."
This was the paper, signed by Ernest Lane, which Mrs. Lane read with frowning brow. It was the one drop of bitterness in her cup.
"Thirty thousand dollars!" she reflected. "Why, that would leave me only twenty thousand. It would be insufficient to carry out my plans. Probably this man Graves is dead; but should he reappear it would be a terrible disappointment. The money must and shall remain in my possession! I will deny the claim if it is ever made. But should this paper be found—should it remain in evidence—this would be impossible. Better destroy it. It is the only safe way."
She locked the box of papers and put it in the safe. The important paper she was about to take and dispose of when there was a cry of terror in the kitchen. Laying the paper on the table temporarily, she ran down-stairs to find that a fierce dog had made his way into the kitchen to the great alarm of the cook. Mrs. Lane was no coward. She seized a broom, and with well-directed blows drove the animal out. Then she went up-stairs to destroy the message from Mr. Lane.
It was gone!
In much perturbation, Mrs. Lane looked for it. The window was open, and it might have been blown out. With this idea in mind she went out on the lawn and searched carefully, but in vain; the missing paper was nowhere to be found.
Mrs. Lane sank into a chair in dismay.
"What a fool I was not to take it with me!" she said to herself. "I would have destroyed it and no one would have been the wiser. Now, should it fall into the hands of some third person it may be used to my detriment."
Again she hunted about the room, and searched the lawn. It certainly was very mysterious. She had been gone less than five minutes, yet the paper had disappeared and there was no trace of it.
"If some child found it he would probably tear it up, and this would answer my purpose," she thought, "and all would be safe."
She looked about, hoping to see some child near at hand, but none was visible.
Toiling along the road at a little distance was a man, whose outward appearance and shabby habiliments proclaimed him a tramp. Mrs. Lane's glance fell upon him, but did not connect him with the lost document. Yet it could have been found in one of his inside pockets, where he had carefully placed it.
This is the way it happened:
When Mrs. Lane left the room two windows were open, making a draught through the room. In a line between the windows was the table on which she had placed the letter. Scarcely had Mrs. Lane gone down-stairs when the wind, in a frolicsome mood, lifted the paper and wafted it through the front window on the lawn outside. James Skerrett, the tramp, spied it from the road, and it occurred to him that it might be of some value. He entered the gate and a few steps brought him to the paper. He picked it up and put it in his pocket, not as yet knowing what it was. It might, however, be worth something, and it was on the chance of this that he took it. He did not stop to examine it lest he should be observed. Time enough for that later. Indeed, he did not venture upon this till he was a quarter of a mile away.
Though a tramp, James Skerrett had received a fair education, and was a man of some intelligence. He was qualified to earn a good living in some respectable position, but drink was his enemy and was likely to be through his life.
When he read the letter, he guessed correctly that it was of importance.
"Will the woman give me anything for it if I return it?" he asked himself.
It hardly seemed likely. It would be better for her, perhaps, if it were destroyed. Besides, he had seen her through the open window, and her face had impressed him as that of a very mean woman.
"She would be more likely to charge me with stealing and threaten me with arrest," he thought. "What shall I do? Shall I keep it? That would not pay me, as I may never come this way again. If I could get some one to take it and allow me even a dollar for it, it would be better to get it off my hands at once."
This thought was strengthened by the knowledge that his whole available stock of money amounted to but seven cents. Lifting his eyes casually, his glance rested on a sign over a small office building on the opposite side of the street.
This was the sign:
As a rule, the tramp avoided any person who had any connection with the law, but he was about to pose as a virtuous man returning lost property. Again, a lawyer would know the worth of the paper. At any rate he decided to call upon him and open negotiations.
Mr. Perkins was sitting at his desk making out a conveyance, when he heard a furtive step at the door of his office.
Lifting his eyes, he noticed James Skerrett opening the door, with an apologetic look upon his face. Now, a client was always welcome, for Mr. Perkins was a young man, and his business was as yet limited. But the visitor did not look like a client.
"What do you want, my man?" he asked, rather gruffly.
"Are you a lawyer?"
"Yes; do you want me to make your will?" asked Perkins, smiling.
"Well, no; not at present. I expect to live a little longer."
"Just so. Still, life is uncertain, and if you should die suddenly your property might go into the wrong hands."
"That's so, squire; but I guess there's no hurry about my will. I wanted to ask your advice."
"Exactly. I am ready to give it for a consideration."
"Oh, you're a sharp one!" said the tramp. "But I'll come to the point. I was walkin' along the street five minutes since, when I saw a folded paper on the sidewalk. I picked it up and I'll show it to you, for I think the party that lost it might be willin' to pay me somethin' for it."
Enoch Perkins took the paper from his strange client. As he unfolded and read it, he looked surprised.
"Where did you pick this up?" he asked, abruptly.
"A little way down the road."
"Near a house with two elm trees in front?"
"Yes," replied Skerrett, eagerly.
"I think I know the party that lost it. I will take charge of it and return it to her."
"All right, squire; but there may be a reward."
"Exactly. Well, you ought to have some thing for picking it up. Here's a dollar."
"Thank you, sir," said Skerrett, taking the bill with avidity.
"I suppose you are only passing through the town?"
"Don't mention finding the paper; it might annoy the lady who lost it."
"Yes, sir; I'll remember, sir."
He left the office, and the lawyer said to himself:
"I will keep this letter. It may be worth a good deal to me some time."
The train which reached Portville at four o'clock was full, and half a dozen persons were standing up. One seat, however, was not taken. At a window sat a boy of sixteen—a sallow-complexioned boy, with a face that was neither good-looking nor amiable. On the seat beside him was a valise.
"Is this seat taken?" asked a pale, tired-looking woman, who had made her way up from the other end of the car.
"Yes," answered Abel, gruffly, for this was the son of Mrs. Lane, now on his way to his mother's home.
The woman sighed, for she was in poor health and very tired.
A man sitting just behind said, indignantly:
"No, madam, it is not taken. Remove your valise, boy, and let the lady sit down."
"I am expecting a friend to get in at the next station," said Abel, crossly.
"That makes no difference. This lady is here, and is better entitled to a seat than a passenger in the next town."
"I don't see what business it is of yours," said Abel, irritably.
He made no offer to remove the valise.
"Then I will show you."
The gentleman took Abel's bag and set it down in the aisle.
"Now sit down, madam," he said.
"Thank you, sir, but I don't want to incommode the young gentleman."
"He has no right to feel incommoded. Take the seat. It is your right."
She sank into the seat with a sigh of relief.
Abel felt and looked very indignant. He was a boy who had always been accustomed to consult his own comfort and convenience, and he was vexed that he had been compelled to yield in the present instance.
The woman coughed. She evidently had a severe cold. Abel had opened the window, and a strong east wind entered. It would have been uncomfortable even to a person perfectly well, but to one having a cough it was very trying.
"Would you mind putting down the window?" she asked, timidly. "I have a terrible cold."
"I prefer it open," said Abel, rudely.
The passenger behind was cognizant of all that passed.
"Madam," he said, "will you exchange seats with me?"
She rose and took the rear seat while the gentleman seated himself beside Abel. He was a stout man, and filled more than half the seat. Abel looked disgusted.
"Now, young man, close that window!" said the stout man, in a tone of command.
Abel obeyed, but it was with great unwillingness. He did not dare to do otherwise.
"It is very close," he grumbled. "I like a little air."
"There is no other open window on this side the car. If the others can stand it, you can."
"I wish people would mind their own business," grumbled Abel, peevishly.
"Look here, young man, if you give me any more of your impudence I will give you a thrashing!" said the stout man, sternly.
He looked quite capable of carrying out his threat, and Abel, thoroughly cowed, relapsed into silence.
At length they reached Portville, and Abel, picking up his valise, stepped out of the car.
He looked about him on the platform, thinking he might see his mother, but she was not quite sure as to the train by which Abel would come, and had not come to meet him.
Abel looked about and espied a boy rather younger than himself. It was John Holman.
"Boy," he said, "can you tell me where Mrs. Lane lives?"
"The widow Lane?"
"Yes, she is a widow."
"About half a mile away. You go up this road and take two turns."
"Oh, bother, why didn't she come to meet me? How can I find the way?"
"Come along with me. I am going that way."
"All right! Won't you take my valise, too? That's a good fellow. I will pay you five cents."
"I will take it to oblige you. I won't charge you anything."
"You'd better take the nickel. You look like a poor boy."
"I am not in any special need of five cents," said John, not pleased with the patronizing tone of his new companion.
Abel was pleased, however, with the idea of not having to pay for the service.
"Do you know Mrs. Lane?" asked Abel.
"Yes. Gerald Lane is my intimate friend."
"Gerald? Oh, yes! that is Mr. Lane's son. What sort of a boy is he?"
"He is a tip-top boy. Everybody likes him."
"Humph! isn't he rather independent?"
"Why shouldn't he be? His family was one of the most prominent in the village."
"Ah, just so!" said Abel, complacently, for he felt that this made his mother's position the stronger.
"I suppose you wonder who I am," said Abel, after a pause.
"I suppose you are a friend of the family."
"I should say I was. I am Mrs. Lane's son."
This surprised John, for Gerald had neglected to tell him the information he had only just obtained himself.
"I never heard Gerald speak of you," he said, half incredulous.
"Gerald knew nothing about me."
"How is that?"
"Mother and Mr. Lane thought it best not to tell him."
"But, of course, he will know now."
"Certainly. I am going to live here."
John made no comments, but he thought it rather a strange state of things. However, they had by this time reached the Lane residence, and John, indicating it, gave the valise to Abel.
From the window Mrs. Lane saw the arrival of her son and opened the door for him. "Oh, my darling boy!" she exclaimed, throwing her arms about his neck. "So you have come home at last!"
"Don't choke me, mother," said Abel, impatiently. "It doesn't look well to hug a fellow in public."
"I can't help it, Abel. I am so delighted to see you. Come right in and sit down. Are you tired?"
"Rather. I say, mother, you are pretty well fixed here."
"Yes, Abel; you like the house, don't you?"
"Yes; it is ever so much better than that old, tumble-down house we lived in before you came to Portville."
"Hush! Don't let any one hear you refer to that."
"Who is there to hear?"
"The servant might overhear you some day. Besides, there is Gerald."
"Where is he?"
"Out somewhere. He will be home to supper."
"Did he get any of the property?"
"No, Abel; it is all mine."
"Good. You played your cards pretty well."
"Don't express yourself in that coarse way."
"It's true, though. Isn't it rather strange old Lane shut out his own son?"
"Don't call him old Lane. It doesn't sound well."
"I say, mother, how much does the property amount to?"
"About fifty thousand dollars, Abel."
"Well, mother, you have been smart. I suppose you'll settle half of it on me."
"There is no occasion to talk of that. Of course, when I die I shall leave all to you."
"And none to Gerald?"
"Well, perhaps a little, just for appearance' sake."
"You needn't leave him over a hundred dollars. But I say, mother, you'll give me a good allowance, won't you?"
"Yes, I will think of that."
"Have you got a nice room for me?"
"Come up, and I will show you."
On the second floor at the rear were two rooms—a large square room and a hall bedroom beside it.
"You will sleep in the small room to-night, Abel."
"But who has the large room?"
"It is occupied by Gerald."
"That's not fair. Why shouldn't I have it?"
"You shall have it after awhile. Gerald has always occupied it, and he may make a fuss."
"Suppose he does. You ain't afraid of him, are you?"
"What a question! As if I should be afraid of a boy who is wholly under my control."
"I hope you will give me the room to-morrow."
"I will see what can be done."
"I was thinking what Mr. Lane would say if he should see me here. He didn't know you had a son, did he?"
"No; I deemed it best to keep it from him."
"Perhaps if you had told him he might have left me some of his money."
"He left it to me, which amounts to the same thing."
"Not quite, unless you give me a large slice right off. Have you told Gerald about me?"
"I told him this morning."
"How did he take it?"
"He seemed surprised."
"Did he think it strange he had not heard of me?"
"Probably he did. I told him Mr. Lane knew about you."
"That's all right."
At this moment Mrs. Lane heard the front door open.
"That's Gerald," she said. "Come down-stairs, and I will introduce you."
Gerald looked up as his stepmother appeared, followed by Abel. He understood, of course, that this was the son of whom Mrs. Lane had spoken.
"Gerald," said his stepmother, "this is my son, Abel."
"I am glad to see you, Abel," said Gerald, politely, holding out his hand.
Abel seemed undecided whether to take it or not, but finally held out his own. He surveyed Gerald disapprovingly. He could not help noticing, with a feeling of envy, that Gerald was superior to him in refinement and personal appearance.
"Have you ever been in Portville before?" asked Gerald.
"No," was Abel's brief reply.
"I shall be glad to go about with you whenever you like, and show you the village."
"Abel is too tired to-day," said Mrs. Lane, in her usual cold tone of voice.
"No," said Abel, unexpectedly; "I'll go along with you."
"Be back in half an hour," said Mrs. Lane. "We shall have supper early this evening."
"All right," said Gerald.
"I believe you have been at boarding-school," said Gerald, as they left the house.
"Yes; it's a beastly place."
"Indeed? I never was in such a school, and I don't understand what it is like. What were your objections to it?"
"The living was very poor."
"Did you learn much? Did you have good teachers?"
"Oh, I don't care much about studying. It's all very well for poor boys. But I sha'n't have to earn my living—mother'll take care of me."
Gerald winced. He understood very well that the money upon which Abel depended was, or should have been, his own.
"I suppose you had sports?"
"Yes; the boys played baseball and other things."
"Do you like baseball?"
"Not much. I wanted to be captain of the club, but the boys wouldn't let me."
"I hope you will like Portville. We have an academy here. Perhaps you will attend."
"Not just yet. I am tired of studying."
"Do you like boating?"
"Yes, have you got a pond?"
"Yes, and I have a dory. I will take you out on Monday, if you like."
"You have a dory? Did my mother give it to you?"
"No; it was given me by my father."
"I shall ask mother to give me a sail-boat."
"I would like one myself," said Gerald.
"I don't think she will give you one, but I will let you go out with me sometimes," said Abel, in a patronizing tone, which Gerald did not like.
"How did you find your way to the house? Of course you didn't know where it was, as you never were in town before."
"I got a poor boy to walk up with me and carry my valise. I wonder my mother didn't send you down to meet me."
"I would have gone with pleasure," said Gerald, politely.
"Are you going to school, or are you working?"
"I have been attending school."
"What did you study?"
"Latin and French, besides English studies."
Abel was surprised. He was a very ordinary scholar, and had never studied any language except his own.
"I shouldn't think such studies would do any good to a boy who has to work for a living."
"Then I suppose you have not studied them?"
"My father intended me to enter college."
"But you won't go now?"
"I suppose not," said Gerald, shortly.
Here they came upon two boys, who were jumping in competition with each other.
One was John Holman, the other Munroe Hill.
"Boys," said Gerald, "this is Abel Tyler, the son of Mrs. Lane."
"Glad to see you," said Munroe.
"I believe we have met before," said John, smiling.
"Yes; you took my valise to the house for me."
"Will you jump, Gerald?" asked Munroe.
"If you'll promise not to outdo me," said Gerald.
"I shall try to do it," said Munroe. "Will you join?"
This question was addressed to Abel.
"Yes," answered Abel.
He had legs unusually long for his size, and thought he could outdo the others. Arrangements were made, and John Holman started off. He jumped seven feet on a standing jump. Abel followed and beat his distance by three inches.
"How's that?" he asked, complacently.
"Very fair," said Gerald. "Now I will try."
His jump was seven feet four inches. Abel frowned and looked displeased, and was even more dissatisfied when Munroe jumped seven feet six inches.
"You boys are fresh," he said. "I am tired. I have jumped seven feet nine inches when I was in good condition."
None of the three boys believed him, but Munroe said, politely:
"We will try again some day when you can do yourself justice. None of us can jump as far as that."
"Are you going to stay in Portville some time?" he asked.
"Yes; I guess so. My mother says it will take her some time to settle the estate."
Gerald looked grave, remembering that it was his father's estate, and that his father's death appeared likely to make a great difference in his position and prospects.
"After the estate is settled mother and I may go to Europe," continued Abel, complacently.
None of the boys made any comments, and they soon separated.
"Who is this Munroe Hill?" asked Abel, when he was left alone with Gerald.
"His father is a lawyer."
"Is he well off?"
"I presume so. He lives in a nice house."
"And John Holman?"
"He works in a shoe shop. His father is dead, and he has to help support the family."
"I thought he was poor. Did you notice that his pants were patched?"
"Yes," said Gerald, gravely; "the poor fellow hasn't much money to spend on clothing."
"Is he a friend of yours?"
"Yes," replied Gerald, warmly; "he is a capital fellow."
"Humph! I sha'n't care to associate with him. Mother likes to have me particular."
"Do you think he is any the worse for his poor clothes?"
"Of course he isn't a gentleman."
"You and I have a different idea as to what constitutes a gentleman."
The time was when Abel had not been able to dress much better than John Holman; but, as this was unknown to Gerald, he posed as one who was "born in the purple."
"I shall try to get better acquainted with Munroe," proceeded Abel. "He seems like a gentleman."
"Everybody likes him; but he is also a friend of John Holman."
"It seems to me that society is rather mixed here."
"We don't judge each other by clothes or a good bank account," said Gerald, manfully.
"I do. I prefer to associate with those who are in my own social position."
"Abel appears to be a snob," thought Gerald. "I am sure I sha'n't like him."
On their way through the village they passed a drug-store.
"I suppose no soda water is to be had in a town like this," said Abel, with a quiet smile.
"Yes; we can get some in the drug-store. If you will come in I shall be glad to offer you some."
"I don't mind," replied Abel, who seldom declined a treat.
They entered the store and were speedily supplied. Gerald drew a dollar bill from his vest-pocket and paid the bill.
"I wonder how much money he carries round with him?" thought Abel. "I must ask mother."
"Now I guess we'll go home. I feel tired after my journey."
"Where did you go?" asked Mrs. Lane, when they re-entered the house.
"I took Abel round the village, Mrs. Lane."
"And what do you think of it, Abel?" asked his mother.
"Oh, it'll do; but I'd rather live in the city."
"The city would naturally be more attractive to a young person. You prefer it to Fulton, I hope?"
"Yes; I hope I shall never go back there. I hate boarding-school."
"I hope you don't hate study. At your age you can hardly have a sufficient education. There is a good academy here. I should like to have you attend next term."
"Perhaps I will," said Abel, vaguely; "but I want to rest a while."
When Gerald left the room he said:
"Gerald treated me to some soda water."
"Yes, and he took out a dollar bill to pay for it. Do you allow him much money?"
"No; he won't have as much as you."
"I should hope not. He's only your stepson."
"I am quite aware of that, and so is he."
"Does he attend the academy?"
"He has been doing so; but I have decided to withdraw him and put him to work."
"Where? In a shoe shop?"
"No. Mr. Tubbs, a grocer in the village, has agreed to take him."
"That's a good arrangement. He hasn't any money, and ought to work for a living like that Holman boy I met."
"Did you meet John Holman?"
"Yes. Who is he?"
"His mother is one of my tenants; but if she doesn't pay a month's rent on Monday I shall turn her out."
"That's right, mother. Business is business. I wish I were going to sleep in that large room to-night."
"You shall go into it to-morrow."
"I expect Gerald will make a fuss," chuckled Abel.
"No doubt he will."
"But you won't give in to him, will you, mother? You won't forget that I am to have the best of everything?"
"Yes, my darling; I will see that you are well provided for," said Mrs. Lane, fondly.
On Sunday the family attended church. Many curious glances were fixed on the Lane's pew, and there was a general wonder who the new boy was. Abel was not at all troubled by this scrutiny, but held up his head and assumed airs of importance.
"Who is that new boy, Gerald?" asked Harry Lovell.
"It is Abel Tyler—Mrs. Lane's son."
"I never knew she had a son."
"Nor did I till lately."
"Is he going to live here?"
"I suppose so."
"I don't think I shall like him."
"Why not?" Gerald asked.
"He looks disagreeable. Do you like him?"
"I haven't made up my mind. He only came yesterday. We must give him a chance."
Toward evening Mrs. Lane said:
"Gerald, I am going to transfer you to the small room, and give your present room to Abel."
Gerald had a good temper ordinarily, but his eyes flashed with indignation.
"Why is this, Mrs. Lane?" he demanded.
"I don't acknowledge your right to question or criticise my arrangements," said his stepmother, coldly.
"Mrs. Lane, that room has always been mine. My father gave it to me when I was eight years old, and I have occupied it ever since. Abel is a stranger in the house. Why should my room be given to him?"
"When your father was alive he made such arrangements as he chose for you. He is dead, and his authority has descended to me."
"There is no justice in this change," said Gerald, bitterly, for he was attached to his chamber, and it was endeared to him by many associations.
"I don't want to hear any more on the subject," said Mrs. Lane, decisively. "I have made the change for good and sufficient reasons and nothing that you can say will alter my plan."
"That's right, ma," put in Abel. "Of course it is for you to say. I wouldn't stand any impudence."
"Nor will I," retorted Gerald, and he looked so fierce and determined that Abel shrank back in momentary fear of an attack.
"Enough of this," said Mrs. Lane, coldly. "Gerald, you will find that your trunk and clothing have been carried into the small room. You will get used to it in time."
"If this injustice continues," Gerald said to himself, "I may decide to leave my old home and strike out for myself."
He resolved, however, not to act hastily, but for the present to accommodate himself to the new arrangements. It was hard to bear Abel's triumphant glance as he walked into the larger room, which had so long been his own.
During the week following Gerald did not attend school. If, as seemed likely, a long season of hard work lay before him, he would have a preliminary vacation. A good deal of his time he spent in his dory, as he was very fond of the water and was a skilful oarsman. Two or three times Abel accompanied him and showed an ambition to use the oars; but, not being accustomed to rowing, he one day upset the boat, and might have been drowned but for the timely assistance rendered by Gerald. This seemed to disgust him with the water, and he gave up the idea of asking his mother for a sail-boat. Gerald was not sorry to lose his company, especially as his place was frequently taken by John Holman, who was now back again in the shoe shop, but only working on half-time.
One afternoon, after leaving the boat, Gerald was on his way home when he was accosted by a stranger—a stout, muscular man, roughly dressed, who looked like a laboring man.
"Are you acquainted hereabout, young man?" he asked.
"I have a sister living here somewhere, but as I have never been in Portville before I don't know where to find her."
"Perhaps I can direct you," said Gerald, politely. "What is her name?"
"Her first husband was a Tyler, but I hear she married a rich man in this town—his name was Lane, I'm told."
Gerald was amazed. Was it possible that this rough-looking man was the brother of his stepmother and the uncle of Abel? It must be so, for Abel's last name, as he recalled, was Tyler.
"You have come to the right person for information," he said. "Your sister married my father."
"You don't say! Well, that beats all. Is it true that my sister is again a widder?"
"Yes; my father is dead," said Gerald, gravely.
"And did he leave Melindy well fixed?" asked the stranger, vaguely.
Gerald did not feel like going into particulars. He felt too bitterly the injustice of his father's will to speak of its provisions before a stranger.
"Well, I'm glad on't. Melindy's first husband was a no-account sort of a man, and it's my belief he didn't leave her a hundred dollars. He was shif'less; and, besides, he drank."
So that was the man upon whom Abel must look as a father. Gerald felt glad to think that his father was a man of whom he had no reason to be ashamed.
"Have you seen your sister since—since her last marriage?" he asked, with some curiosity.
"No; I've never had an invitation to call upon her. I guess she was too much set up by her marriage to a rich man to notice a workin'-man. You see, I ain't one of your 'ristocrats—I'm only a blacksmith, and have to work hard for a living."
"You are none the worse for that, Mr.——" here Gerald hesitated, for he had not yet learned the name of his new acquaintance.
"Crane—Alonzo Crane—that's my name, young man. I'm glad you don't put on no airs, even if your father was a rich man. Do you know anything of my sister's son, Abel?"
"Yes, sir; he is in Portville, living with his mother."
"How do you like him?" Then, seeing that Gerald hesitated, he added: "You needn't mind telling me, for I ain't much stuck on the boy myself, even if he is my nephew."
"I don't like him much, Mr. Crane."
"I don't know anybody that does, except his mother. He and Melindy—that's his mother—have seen some pretty hard times. More'n once his mother has sent him to me for a little help when they hadn't a penny in the house."
This was news to Gerald, of course, but did not necessarily prejudice him against his stepmother and her son, but it made their present pretensions and airs rather ridiculous.
"Why haven't you been to call on your sister before?" he asked.
"Because she never invited me and I thought she wouldn't like to have her new husband see me."
"My father would have received you kindly, Mr. Crane."
"I am sure he would if you are like him. You ain't no kin to me, but I like you better already than Abel."
"Thank you, Mr. Crane."
"You needn't do that. It ain't sayin' much, for Abel, to my mind, is a disagreeable cub."
Gerald began to think that Mr. Crane, despite his relationship to Mrs. Lane and Abel, was a man of excellent sense.
"I wonder what sort of a welcome he will get," he thought.
He had considerable doubt whether it would be very cordial.
By this time they had reached a point in the road from which the Lane mansion was visible.
"That is where your sister lives," he said, pointing to it.
"You don't say! Well, it is a nice place. Melindy has feathered her nest pretty well."
"That is true enough," said Gerald to himself.
"It's lucky I fell in with you, young man. You didn't tell me your name."
"Gerald—I am Gerald Lane."
"I wish you was my nephew instead of Abel. How long has Abel been here?"
"Only since my father died."
"Melindy was sly. Like as not she never told your father she had a son."
"She said he knew it; but I never heard of Abel till a few days ago."
"It's likely she didn't tell him. Of course she wouldn't own it up to you."
"Do you live far away, Mr. Crane?"
"I live in the town of Gladwin, most sixty miles from here. I'm fifty years old, but I was never so far away from home before. I shouldn't have come now, only I've been unlucky. My shop burned down last week, and there warn't no insurance on it. Thinks I, Melindy is rich, and now is just the time when I need help. Don't you think she ought to help me?"
"I'm her only brother, and there's only two of us anyway. I've got a wife and two children at home, and they'll be pinched if I don't get help somewhere. Many's the time I've helped Melindy and Abel."
"Then you certainly have a claim upon Mrs. Lane."
They turned into the yard, and Gerald was about ushering his new acquaintance into the house, when Abel appeared at the door.
"Who are you bringing into the house, Gerald?" demanded Abel, sharply.
"Don't you know me, Abe?" asked Alonzo Crane, with an ingratiating smile.
"How should I?" asked Abel; but his face changed, for he did recognize his plebeian relative.
"This is your uncle," said Gerald, gravely. "Is your mother at home?"
"I don't think she is," said Abel, reddening with mortification.
Just then Mrs. Lane's voice was heard from the head of the stairs.
"Who are you talking with, Abel?"
"It's me, Melindy—your brother Alonzo," said Mr. Crane.
Mrs. Lane descended the stairs slowly, looking very much annoyed. She was ashamed of her plebeian brother, and very much disturbed that Gerald should have seen him. It occurred to her to deny the relationship, but this seemed impracticable. So she said with an ill grace, not even offering her hand:
"What brought you here, Alonzo?"
"I reckon the cars brought me here, Melindy. It does me good to see you well fixed. You have feathered your nest well, I must say."
Mrs. Lane bit her lips.
"You can come in and sit down," she said. "I shall be glad if you will talk more like a gentleman."
"But I'm not a gentleman, Melindy. I am an honest, hard-working blacksmith. Carrie and the children send their love."
"I am obliged to them," said Mrs. Lane, stiffly. "I wonder you could get away from your work for a visit."
"Well, the truth is, Melindy, I'm in hard luck. My shop burned down day before yesterday, and I need money to build it up again."
"Wasn't it insured?" asked his sister, coldly.
"The insurance ran out a month ago. So I naturally thought of my only sister who is a rich woman, and I've come to ask a loan of two hundred dollars. That, I calculate, will set me on my feet again."
"The estate is not yet settled, and even if it were I should not feel at liberty to take Mr. Lane's money for such a purpose."
"I reckon you'll spend it on yourself and Abel, Melindy."
"My husband left a son."
"I know that, and he's a gentleman, too," said Mr. Crane, with a kindly glance at Gerald. "If he had money I am sure he would help me."
"Yes, Mr. Crane; I would," said Gerald.
"We won't discuss that matter now, Alonzo. As you are here, you can stay for the balance of the day."
"I shall have to stay till to-morrow, as there is no train from Portville till then. I hope you won't forget the help I gave you and Abel when you were first left a widder."
"It isn't very becoming to twit me with any little favors I may have accepted from you in the past," said Mrs. Lane. "If you want me to receive you in a friendly way, you must behave and talk differently."
As Mr. Crane went into the house, following his not over-cordial relative, Gerald walked away. He felt that he had no place in the family conclave, and was only sorry that it was not likely to prove very satisfactory to his new acquaintance.
He walked away, and, having nothing else to occupy his time, went to the lake and got into his rowboat. He rowed about lazily for half an hour when he heard a voice from the bank.
Looking up, he saw Alonzo Crane standing on the blink of the pond.
"Hello, Gerald!" he called out, "won't you give me a ride in your boat?"
"Certainly, Mr. Crane," and he rowed up to a little pier near where his new acquaintance was standing.
Alonzo Crane stepped into the boat and took a seat near the stern.
"This is a nice dory of yours," he said. "I always liked a rowboat, but I've been too busy in my business to use one. I don't think I've been in a boat for five years. Did my sister give it to you?"
"No," answered Gerald, hastily; "it was a gift from my father."
"I suppose, from what Melindy says, he left you most of his property?"
"She doesn't say that to me. She says it is all hers, and that I am entirely dependent upon her."
"Whew! Well, that beats all. Wasn't your father friendly to you?"
"I always found him the best of fathers, and that makes me wonder at his leaving me dependent upon Mrs. Lane."
Alonzo Crane looked thoughtful.
"You don't suspect nothing?" he said, interrogatively.
"What should I suspect?" asked Gerald.
"Well," said Alonzo, slowly, "Melindy always was tricky. She was always set on gettin' money, and I don't think she'd be over scrupulous. There might be such a thing as forgin' a will, though I don't know as I ought to say that considerin' that Melindy is my sister."
"Thank you for suggesting it, at any rate, Mr. Crane. The time may come when I shall look into the matter. At present I am only a boy——"
"And a boy ain't no match for a woman like Melindy. Oh, she's cunning! What do you think she said to get rid of lendin' me any money?"
"I can't guess."
"She said that she must provide for you."
Gerald smiled, bitterly.
"Because it would serve her purpose," he responded. "She has given Abel my place in the house. She has taken from me the large room I have for years occupied—given it to Abel—and put me in a small hall bedroom adjoining."
"That's too bad! Abel is a mean, conceited little upstart, who don't treat me half decent, though he would more than once have gone without a meal but for the help I gave his mother."
"Has Mrs. Lane refused to loan you money to rebuild your shop?"
"Yes; she won't think of it. She says I must have been careless, or the fire wouldn't have happened. It hasn't done much good to come to Portville. The only pleasure I've got out of it is meeting you."
"Thank you, Mr. Crane. I wish your sister were more like you."
"I'm a rough man, Gerald. There ain't much polish about me, but nobody can charge me with being mean and ungrateful. Some time I hope you'll come and see me."
"Thank you, Mr. Crane. It may come about some day. Is there no one in your town who will lend you money to rebuild your shop?"
"No; there ain't much money in Hillsdale. It's just a common country town, and the people are mostly farmers. I don't know what to do." And a look of sadness overspread his rugged countenance.
"You are no worse off than I am, Mr. Crane. I have lost an indulgent father, and am left dependent upon a woman I cannot like or respect."
"It does seem hard."
"But I have faith that some time things will come out for the best."
Gerald spoke gravely and calmly. He had been brought up to trust in God, and to have faith in His goodness. His words, young as he was, seemed to have a cheering effect on Mr. Crane.
"You're right, Gerald," he said, "and I'll try to believe things are comin' out right, though I can't see how."
"Why did you leave the house so soon, Mr. Crane? I thought you would have a long conversation with your sister and Abel."
"I thought so, too, but Melindy didn't seem to hanker much after my company. About fifteen minutes after you went out, she said: 'I shall have to leave you, as I have an errand in the village. Perhaps Abel will stay with you?'"
"'No, I can't,' said Abel. 'I'm going to play ball with some of the boys.'"
"None of the boys have invited Abel to play ball. They don't like him."
"Well, it don't make no difference. He wouldn't have been any company to me. It's strange that you seem a good deal nearer to me than my own kin."
"I am very glad of that. I wish I were in a position to help you."
"Perhaps you will be some day. If there's anything crooked about that will of your pa's, it'll come out right some time. Well, when Melindy and Abel had left me I thought I'd go out and take a walk. I strayed down to the lake and saw you rowing. I made bold to call to you. Would you mind my trying the oars to see if I've forgot how to row?"
"Take them and welcome."
Mr. Crane took the oars, and, though he was at first awkward, he soon showed that he had not altogether forgotten his old skill.
"Well, I can row a little," he said, complacently.
"Yes, Mr. Crane, you can row better than Abel. He went out with me a day or two ago, and upset the boat."
"Did he tumble out?" asked Mr. Crane, laughing.
"Yes; and as he can't swim, he might have drowned if I hadn't got hold of him."
"Did he thank you for saving his life?"
"And he never will. It isn't in his nature."
"So far from that, he tried to make out that I upset the boat by moving about in it. That's what he told his mother to account for his wet clothes."
"Just like him. I'm ashamed to have such a nephew. It would have served him right if you had left him to his fate."
"You wouldn't have advised that, I am sure, Mr. Crane."
"No, I don't know as I would; though it makes me mad to see a boy so mean and ungrateful."
For half an hour they remained in the boat talking about various subjects. Alonzo Crane evidently enjoyed the trip.
"I'm glad I came to Portville after all," he said.
But there was a sudden and startling interruption. From a large house a hundred feet from the lake a sheet of flame became visible. Gerald saw it first.
"Mr. Nugent's house is on fire!" he exclaimed. "Let us land and see if we can give any assistance."
There was no time lost in reaching shore. Gerald and Mr. Crane jumped from the boat and ran to the house. It was a large, handsome house, and presumably the home of a rich man. Most of the houses in Portville were of two stories, but this consisted of three. Alonzo opened the front door, followed closely by Gerald.
In the hall was a maid-servant, who was wringing her hands.
"Where is the fire?" asked Gerald.
"On the third floor. Poor Mr. Nugent——"
"Well, where is he?"
"In the room where the fire broke out. He is in a faint. He will be suffocated!"
Alonzo Crane was captain of the fire company in Hillsdale, and had all his wits about him.
"Follow me, Gerald," he said, as he dashed up-stairs.
He attempted to open the door of the room from the windows of which he had seen the smoke pouring, but Mr. Nugent's body was lying on the floor in such a position as to prevent the door being opened. But the two, by pushing forcibly, succeeded in getting it open. The muslin curtains of the front windows were in a blaze, and the flames had spread to the neighboring woodwork.
"Tear down the curtains, Gerald," said Mr. Crane. "You will soon have help. I hear the engine outside. I will attend to the old gentleman."
With the strength which might naturally be expected from a blacksmith, he took up the old man in his arms, and carried him down-stairs. It was none too soon. Mr. Nugent was in a faint, and was half-suffocated by the smoke. On his way Alonzo met some of the Portville firemen, whom he directed to the room. Taking the old gentleman down-stairs he laid him on a couch in the sitting-room and summoned the servant.
"Bring me a sponge and some cold water," he said.
They were brought.
He bathed the face of the old man, who presently opened his eyes and said, feebly: "Where am I?"
"You're in the land of the living, squire," answered Crane; "but you wouldn't have been long if I hadn't taken you out of the burning room. Do you know how the fire started?"
"It was my fault," said Mr. Nugent, feebly. "I was lighting my pipe, when I began to feel sick. The match must have ignited the curtains. I staggered to the door, but could go no farther. I sank to the floor, and I remember no more. Is the fire still burning?" he asked, anxiously.
"The firemen are here, and it will soon be out. Here is some one who will tell us."
At this point Gerald entered the room.
"Is the fire out?" asked Alonzo.
"It soon will be. The firemen are busy in the room."
"I—I wish there were a doctor here. I feel overcome!"
"I will call one immediately," said Gerald.
He left the room quickly, and soon returned with Dr. Barlow, the village physician.
"Well, Nugent," he said, "have you been trying to burn yourself up?"
"Not trying, but I nearly succeeded."
The doctor by a few simple remedies soon relieved his patient. Then he asked: "Who discovered the fire?"
"Mr. Crane and I saw it from the lake?" answered Gerald. "We got here as quickly as possible, and found Mr. Nugent lying helpless on the floor of his room."
"He must have been nearly suffocated. In all probability had you been less prompt he would have died."
"To whom am I indebted for my rescue?" asked the old gentleman. "The boy I know—it is Gerald Lane—but this gentleman is a stranger to me."
"He is the brother of my stepmother," said Gerald.
"I am deeply indebted to you both. I am not able to make proper acknowledgment now, but will you both come over this evening, when I shall be better?"
"I shall be glad to come, squire," said the blacksmith; "Gerald will come too."
"Who is this Mr. Nugent?" asked Mr. Crane, when they reached the street.
"He has lived in Portville for some years, but not much is known of him, except that he has the reputation of being very rich."
"Did your father know him?"
"As well as any one in the village. I think he consulted father about his affairs occasionally."
"Well, the old gentleman came near passing in his checks this afternoon. He don't look very rugged. How old is he?"
"Sixty or more, I should think."
"How does he pass his time?"
"He has a large library and is very fond of reading. He takes many magazines and papers."
"That's easier than bein' a blacksmith, Gerald."
"Would you be willing to pass your time in the same way, Mr. Crane?"
"I reckon not. I ain't very fond of readin'. It makes me sleepy."
"Probably he would not care to be a blacksmith."
Alonzo Crane laughed at the idea.
"I wouldn't give him twenty-five cents a day for his work," he said.
When they reached the house they found that Abel and his mother had returned. In half an hour supper was served.
"How did you pass the time, Alonzo?" asked his sister.
"I went out rowing with Gerald. Then I took a hand at puttin' out a fire."
"Where was it?"
"It was John Nugent's house," said Gerald.
"How did it catch fire? Was much damage done?"
These questions were answered partly by Gerald, partly by the blacksmith.
"I don't know Mr. Nugent," said Mrs. Lane. "He doesn't go anywhere. Mr. Lane visited him occasionally. He has very few visitors."
"He will have two this evening."
Mrs. Lane looked an inquiry.
"He has invited Gerald and me to call upon him?" explained the blacksmith.
Mrs. Lane looked surprised.
"That is something unusual," she said.
"Mr. Crane probably saved his life," said Gerald.
"Oh, I don't know," said Alonzo, modestly. "You see I am used to bein' at fires. I am captain of the Hillsdale fire company," he added, with an intonation of pride.
"I wouldn't want to be a fireman," said Abel.
"Firemen are low."
"You won't think so if you are ever in a burning house, Abel."
"They are a very useful class of people," said Mrs. Lane.
"You wouldn't want me to be a fireman, ma, would you?"
"No, perhaps not."
"You might be something a great deal worse, nephew," said the blacksmith.
"Has Mr. Nugent no family?" asked Mr. Crane.
"He has a grandson about my age, but he is at a boarding-school somewhere," answered Gerald.
About half-past seven Gerald rang the bell at Mr. Nugent's residence.
The door was opened by the servant-maid whom they had seen in the afternoon.
"Come in," she said, without waiting for them to speak. "The master is up-stairs in the library."
"I haven't got any library in my house, Gerald," said the blacksmith, jocosely. "I hope he won't tackle me on books."
They found Mr. Nugent sitting in a large easy-chair beside the library table.
"I am glad to see you both," he said, cordially, offering his hand. "Our acquaintance has been formed under circumstances very favorable to myself. I am very much indebted to you, Mr. Crane."
"Oh, it ain't worth talkin' about, squire," said the blacksmith.
"You seem to set a small value on my life, Mr. Crane," said the old gentleman, smiling.
"Oh, I don't mean that."
"I understand. You are only showing your modesty. Now let me tell you why I have invited you here. You have placed me under a great obligation. Now can I do anything for you?"
Alonzo's face lighted up with a sudden idea. But he did not quite like to express it.
"I wouldn't like to trouble you, Mr. Nugent," he said.
"Then there is something. Let me know what it is?"
"Well, the fact is, squire, I came to Portville to ask my sister—that's Mrs. Lane—if she would lend me two hundred dollars to rebuild my shop that was badly injured by fire last week, but she says she can't do it."
"How much money do you require, Mr. Crane?"
"I think I could manage on two hundred dollars."
"What is your given name?" asked Mr. Nugent, drawing a check-book from a desk on the table.
"Alonzo Crane is what people call me in our village."
John Nugent took the pen and filled out a check, which he passed over to the blacksmith.
"Three hundred dollars!" ejaculated Alonzo in amazement.
"Yes; if that isn't enough, let me know."
"It'll set me on my feet," said Mr. Crane, his plain face shining with delight. "I'll pay it back as soon as I can, squire."
"Quite unnecessary, Mr. Crane," said the old gentleman, with a pleasant smile. "I consider your service quite worth three hundred dollars."
The blacksmith tried to thank Mr. Nugent, but the old gentleman prevented him by turning to Gerald.
"How soon are you going to college, Gerald?" he asked.
"There is very little chance of my going to college, Mr. Nugent," answered Gerald.
"Why not?" asked the old gentleman, in evident surprise. "Your father always intended that you should go. He has told me so more than once."
"Did he tell you so within a short time of his death?" asked Gerald, earnestly.
"Yes; he referred to it as a settled thing."
"He left all his property to Mrs. Lane, and I am dependent upon her."
"That is strange. But surely she, knowing your father's intentions—"
"She has decided that I am to enter the employment of Mr. Tubbs, the grocer," said Gerald, bitterly.
"But this is positively shameful!" said the old gentleman, warmly.
"I say so, too, squire," put in Alonzo. "Melindy's my sister, but that don't hinder me from sayin' that she is treatin' Gerald meanly. She has put her own boy in his place, though he's no kith nor kin of the man from whom her money comes."
"Is there another boy, then? I have never seen him."
"She didn't send for him till after Mr. Lane's death. Like as not he never knew that she had a son. Melindy's sly, and always was."
"I am not sure that I ever spoke to Mrs. Lane, though her husband was one of my few friends," said John Nugent. "As you yourself criticise her, I will not hesitate to condemn her conduct. What I cannot understand is the manner in which Gerald has been left out of the will."
"It does look cur'ous, squire."
"I suppose it will be very disagreeable for you to enter Mr. Tubbs's store, Gerald?"
"Yes, sir. I am not afraid of work, but that is about the last position which I should have selected for myself."
"No doubt. Mr. Tubbs is an ignorant and illiterate man, and your education will be thrown away in his store. I have a great mind to call on your stepmother and protest against her treatment of you."
"Thank you very much, Mr. Nugent; but I don't think it would do any good. I have sometimes thought I would leave Portville and try to make my own way in the world."
"Shall I offer you some advice, my young friend?"
"I wish you would, sir. I am too young to decide what I ought to do."
"Then enter Mr. Tubbs' store for a time, even if it is disagreeable to you. Try the experiment, and see how your stepmother treats you. I shall be glad if you will call on me after a time and report. I was your father's friend, and I have reason to be yours. You have done me a great service to-day which I am not likely to forget."
The old gentleman spoke warmly. Gerald was surprised, for until to-day he had scarcely spoken a word to Mr. Nugent, who had made himself a recluse, and was, perhaps, less known to his neighbors than any man in the village. Now it seemed that he had a good heart and warm sympathies for others.
"Thank you very much, Mr. Nugent," said Gerald. "It's a comfort to me to think I have one friend who was also a friend of my father."
"You can rely upon my friendship, Gerald," said the old man, kindly.
"I shall remember your kindness, Mr. Nugent, and I will call upon you soon. I am expected to go to work for Mr. Tubbs on Monday."
Soon afterward Mr. Crane and Gerald left the house and returned home. They found Abel and his mother sitting at the table in the sitting-room. They looked up with some curiosity as the two entered.
"How did you enjoy your call, Alonzo?" asked his sister.
"I had good reason to enjoy it," said the blacksmith.
"Did he give you anything for putting out the fire?"
"As much as five dollars?"
"The squire is a liberal man. He gave me enough to rebuild my shop."
"What!" exclaimed Mrs. Lane in incredulous amazement.
"I've got in my pocket a check for three hundred dollars, Melindy."
"And won't you have to pay it back?" asked Abel.
"No; it's a free gift. It was a lucky day when I decided to come to Portville, even if my own sister did go back on me."
"It was out of my power to help you, Alonzo, but I am glad you have been so fortunate."
"How much did he give you?" asked Abel, turning to Gerald.
"He did not offer me anything. It was your uncle who saved his life."
"He might have given you a dollar or two," said Abel; but in his heart he was glad that Gerald was not remembered.
"I would not have accepted it."
"I would. I wouldn't be such an idiot as to refuse money when it was offered to me."
"You spoke the truth that time, Abel," said Alonzo, with a meaning smile. "I never knew you to refuse anything."
When it was half-past nine Mrs. Lane said:
"We go to bed early here, Alonzo. I suppose you will want to take an early start in the morning?"
"Yes, Melindy; I didn't come here to make you a long visit."
Even if he had, it was clear that this would not have been agreeable to Mrs. Lane.
"Abel," she said, "will you show your uncle up to the small chamber in the attic, next to Ann's room?"
Ann was the servant.
Gerald was a little surprised, as there was a larger room on the second floor. Mrs. Lane clearly did not intend to treat her brother as company.
"I don't want to go, ma," grumbled Abel.
"I will show Mr. Crane the way to his room," said Gerald, quickly.
A small kerosene lamp was lighted and Gerald led the way up the two flights of stairs.
There were two rooms adjoining at one end of the attic. They were small and had dormer windows. In each was a cot bed about two feet wide.
"Is this the spare room, Gerald?" asked Mr. Crane, with a smile.
"Your sister doesn't treat you with much ceremony, Mr. Crane."
"No, that ain't Melindy's way. Howsomever I reckon I can sleep pretty sound in this little bed, if I don't tumble out."
"I hope you are not sorry for your visit"
"Sorry? I reckon not, when I carry back money enough to rebuild my shop—no thanks to Melindy, though."
"Well, I will bid you good night, and wish you a sound sleep."
"Thank you, Gerald. The same to you, my boy!"
Gerald went down-stairs and found Mrs. Lane and Abel preparing to go to bed. He took a lamp and went up-stairs. From the force of habit he was about to go into the room which had always been his, but remembered himself in time and turned into the little bedroom. He heard Abel moving about in his old room, and his thoughts were bitter.
"My place is taken by a stranger," he said. "How long shall I be able to stand it? Once I had a home, but now all is changed!"
Gerald may be pardoned for feeling melancholy. The death of his father had made a great change for him. But the most bitter thought was that all this had happened with the concurrence of his father. He might easily have been provided for and made independent of his stepmother, but this had not been done. Now, as he looked forward, his prospects seemed far from bright. Though his father had died rich, he was penniless and had his own way to make. However, Gerald had a healthy nature and he did not allow sad thoughts long to hold sway over him.
He was soon sound asleep.
How long he slept he did not know, but suddenly he became wide awake. His hearing was keen and he seemed to hear something moving in the next room.
"Is Abel up, I wonder?" he said to himself.
A DARK FIGURE WAS BENDING OVER THE BED
Just then he heard a scream, and, bounding out of bed, he dashed into the next room.
There in the faint light—for there was a moon—he saw a dark figure bending over the bed. The intruder looked like a tramp, and was grasping Abel by the throat.
"Shut up, you viper!" he exclaimed. "If you don't I'll choke you!"
Gerald comprehended the situation. The intruder was a burglar, who had been interrupted in his work by Abel's outcry, and was trying to stifle his screams.
Gerald did not pause to notice that the intruder was a man much larger than himself. He had plenty of courage, and lost sight of prudence. He sprang forward and seized the burglar.
The latter, turning at this unexpected attack, threw him off. He was alarmed at first, but when he saw that his assailant was only a boy he laughed harshly.
"Why, you little bantam!" he exclaimed, "how dare you interfere with me?"
"You had better leave the room at once," said Gerald, undaunted. "If you don't——"
"Well, if I don't!" repeated the intruder, mockingly. "You'll make me, perhaps? Clear out of my way! Have you got a watch or money about your clothes?"
This last was addressed to Abel.
"Don't kill me, Mr. Burglar!" wailed Abel, ready to cry. "I'll give you all I have."
"Then be quick about it! Where are your clothes?"
"In the closet."
"Then get them, and don't waste any time about it."
"Don't do anything of the sort, Abel!" said Gerald. "This man shall not rob you!"
"Why, you impudent young rascal!" exclaimed the intruder, fiercely. "I have a great mind to wring your neck!"
"I tell you once more to leave the house!"
This was too much for the irascible burglar. He seized Gerald, and, throwing him down, pressed his knee on his breast. Gerald struggled as well as he could, but he was only a boy, and his assailant was a strong man. What harm would have been done to him cannot be known. Abel, so far from helping him, stood by, trembling. Finally, in a paroxysm of fear, he ran from the room and locked himself in the small room which had been occupied by Gerald.
"Now what shall I do to you?" demanded the burglar between his closed teeth, glaring at his prostrate victim.
Gerald was not called upon to reply, for there was help at hand.
A tall, muscular figure, arrayed in night-costume, suddenly dashed into the room, seized the triumphant burglar, and, pulling him back with irresistible strength, threw him upon the floor with such force that he thought his back was broken.
"What——!" ejaculated the ruffian, in mingled surprise and dismay.
Looking up he saw the blacksmith bending over him.
"What are you doing, you scoundrel?" he cried, apparently preparing for a second attack.
"Who are you?" growled the intruder.
"I'm not a boy, and I'm more than a match for you!"
"Let me go!" said the other, beginning to find a retreat advisable.
"Not till I see who you are. Gerald, light the lamp; I want to take a look at this man's face."
The burglar struggled to rise, but he was as helpless in the grasp of the stalwart blacksmith as Gerald had been in his.
Gerald lighted the lamp and held it near the ill-favored countenance of the visitor.
"Aha, I know you!" said Alonzo Crane. "You are the man who broke into a store in Hillsdale last week. You got away from us then, but now I mean to have a settlement with you."
"Let me go this time and I won't take anything."
"I don't think you will. As long as I am round you'd find it a hard job to rob this house. You thought you had only boys to deal with, but I'm too large a boy for you to handle."
"If you don't let me go I'll fix you some day."
"That'll be day after to-morrow, I reckon. Gerald, do you know where there is a clothes-line?"
"Yes, Mr. Crane."
"Then get it, and I'll bind this man so that he can't do any more harm."
Gerald took the lamp, went down-stairs, and soon returned with the clothes-line.
"Now, if you'll help me, I'll tie this fellow so he can't do any mischief."
Despite his desperate struggles the intruder was bound hand and foot. He almost foamed at the mouth in his ungovernable anger, but it did no good.
"Now," said the blacksmith, "I am going to put him in the closet and lock the door. If you don't mind, Gerald, I'll exchange rooms with you. I will sleep here, and you can go up to my room in the attic. I think, my friend, you'll be safe till morning."
"This is Abel's room, Mr. Crane."
"And where is Abel?"
"I don't know. I think he went into the next room."
"Let him stay there! He is about as brave as a mouse. And hark you, Gerald, bring down my clothes. I have a revolver in my pocket that I may have occasion to use."
The ruffian was thoroughly cowed, and made no outcry when he was thrust into the closet.
It was remarkable that Mrs. Lane should have slept through all this disturbance without awaking, but she was a sound sleeper. In the morning Gerald went out to summon assistance, and the burglar was conveyed to the lock-up, from which he was in the afternoon transferred to the county jail.
It appears that he had gained admittance to the house by climbing the lightning-rod to a balcony just outside the window of the large room occupied by Abel. The latter was so thoroughly frightened by the events of the night that he voluntarily proposed to return to the small bedroom, and Gerald was able again to occupy his own room. Mrs. Lane protested against the change, but Abel declared with emphasis that he would not again sleep in the large room.
"I wouldn't do it for a dollar a night!" he declared.
Gerald acquiesced in the new arrangement, and felt grateful to the burglar for having been the means of restoring to him his own room.
A little later than he anticipated Mr. Crane left Portville.
"Good-by, Melindy," he said. "I've enjoyed my visit, and the burglar made it more lively than I anticipated. When are you coming to Hillsdale to see us?"
"It is hard for me to get away, Alonzo. I have two boys to look after and I cannot well be spared."
"Come whenever it is convenient, then. I can't promise to make your visit as lively as mine has been, unless my friend the burglar manages to escape from jail."
"I will go with you to the cars, Mr. Crane," said Gerald.
"I wish you would," said the blacksmith, warmly. "If you ever find it in your way to come to Hillsdale, I will give you the best room in the house."
"Shall I bring Abel with me?" asked Gerald, smiling.
"I'm not at all particular about seein' him. You seem a good deal nearer to me than he does, even if he is a blood relation. When do you go to work?"
"You won't stay in the grocery long—I'll predict that. If you ever have a notion of becomin' a blacksmith, I'll take you into my employ, and be glad to do it."
"I'll bear it in mind, Mr. Crane."
When the train had started and his new friend was fairly on his way home, Gerald could not help thinking soberly of his own unpromising future. If Mrs. Lane had been more like her brother, rough and uneducated as he was, he felt that he could like her better. He at least had a good heart.
On his way home he met Mr. Nugent.
"Good morning, Gerald," said the old gentleman, in a friendly tone. "Have you had any more exciting experiences?"
"Yes, sir. Last night our house was entered by a burglar."
"Indeed! That is something new for Portville. Did he take anything?"
"No; he was taken himself."
"Surely you were not a match for him?"
"No, sir; but Mr. Crane captured him, and he is now in the lock-up."
"Ah, yes; our good friend the blacksmith. He is a muscular man."
"He is going home happy with the check that you gave him."
"I was glad to be of service to him, as he in all probability saved my life. But I have not done anything for you. You must apply to me whenever you need assistance. Do you go into Mr. Tubbs's store on Monday?"
"Come round next Saturday evening and tell me how you like it. I was your father's friend; I shall be glad if you will consider me yours."
"I shall be very glad to do so, Mr. Nugent," said Gerald, earnestly.
"Who was that you were talking with?" asked Abel, whom he met a minute later.
"The rich man? Why didn't you introduce me?"
"I will some time if I have the opportunity."
"You are going to work Monday, ma tells me."
"She says a grocery store will be a good place for you."
"Would you like it?"
"No. I'm going to be a lawyer or a civil engineer—I haven't decided which."
Gerald smiled. He had very little faith in Abel's ever being either.
Early Monday morning Gerald went over to Mr. Tubbs's grocery store and reported for duty. The grocer gave him some instructions as to the prices of leading commodities, and he took his place behind the counter. There was a young man of twenty-one in the grocer's employ—a cousin of Mrs. Tubbs's, named Charles Brandon. He was rather an unattractive-looking young man, with a pimply face, and small eyes with a shifting expression. Gerald already knew him slightly, but did not like him. Twice he had seen him under the influence of liquor and knew that he frequented a billiard-room in the village patronized by a low class of young men.
"So we are going to be fellow-clerks, eh?" said Brandon, with a disagreeable smile.
"I suppose so."
"I always looked upon you as one of the tip-tops! I never thought you would be willing to become a boy in a grocery!"
"I am not willing."
"Then why did you come?"
"I am not my own master. Mrs. Lane, my stepmother, made the arrangement with Mr. Tubbs."
"I expect you feel above it?"
"I don't say that, but it's not to my taste."
"How much will you get?"
Gerald had no objection to tell, and answered, quietly: "Three dollars a week."
"That ain't much. I get six and my board. You know, I board with Mr. Tubbs. I'm a cousin of Mrs. Tubbs."
"Do you like it?"
"No; I have too much looking after. When a man is my age, he doesn't want to be interfered with."
"No one likes to be interfered with."
"Just so. I see you and I will get along first-rate."
As the morning advanced Gerald found himself quite busy. It was awkward at first to weigh butter and sugar and other articles that were called for, but he was quick, and soon "got the hang" of his new duties.
Early in the afternoon he was introduced to the books of the concern, and found them in a mixed-up state, as neither Mr. Tubbs nor his chief salesman knew anything about book-keeping. He suggested to the grocer to buy a new set of books, which he agreed to do.
About supper time his friend John Holman came into the store, and Gerald weighed out for him two pounds of sugar.
"It seems odd to see you behind the counter, Gerald," he said.
"It seems so to me."
"How do you like it?"
"I don't like it very well, but I have hardly been here long enough to judge."
"It's a shame that you should fill such a position with all your book learning."
"I shan't have much use for my French and Latin here," he said. "Suppose I make them over to you!"
"They wouldn't help me in pegging shoes, Gerald. But never mind; the time will come when you will find them useful. You won't stay here all your life."
"I certainly hope not."
Just then Abel entered the store.
He looked about him till he saw Gerald and a smile lighted up his face.
"Ma wants you to bring home four pounds of butter when you come to supper," he said. "Here's a tin pail to put it in."
"Why don't you take it yourself?" asked John.
"Because I don't choose to," answered Abel, superciliously.
"I will take it," said Gerald, quietly.
At this moment the grocer came round to where he was standing.
"You can go to supper, Gerald," he said.
Gerald put up the butter, and went out with John Holman.
"How can you stand Abel's insolence?" asked John, hotly.
"Because I despise him. He is only acting according to his nature. He is what the English call a cad."
"He thinks himself superior to you."
"He is probably alone in that opinion, and I don't mind what he thinks."
In the evening, when the store closed, Brandon said to him:
"Come round to the billiard-room and play a game with me, Gerald."
"Thank you, but I don't play billiards."
"I will teach you. You will learn easily."
"How much does it cost?"
"Twenty-five cents a game."
"My salary is so small that I can't afford it."
"Well, come in at any rate and see the playing."
To this Gerald assented. He had never entered the room and had some curiosity to see it. Accordingly he went in and found a collection of village roughs. Brandon entered a game then being played, and Gerald sat down and looked on.
At one end of the room was a bar, to which the players adjourned at intervals.
"Won't you have something, Gerald?" asked Brandon, whose turn came to treat at the end of the first game.
"No, thank you."
"I won't tell your ma," said his fellow-clerk, with a smile.
"I am not sure that she would care, but I would rather not drink."
"I see you haven't graduated from Sunday school," said Brandon, with a little sneer.
Gerald did not answer, nor did he heed the sneer.
He observed that when Brandon paid for the drinks and the game in which he was a loser, he handed the bartender a five-dollar bill and thrust the change carelessly into his vest-pocket with the air of a millionaire. Considering the moderate pay he received, Gerald was surprised at the freedom with which he spent his money.
At the end of half an hour he left the billiard-room and went home.
Mrs. Lane and Abel were still up.
"Here comes the young grocer!" said Abel, with a malicious smile.
"Are you just out of the store?" asked Mrs. Lane.
"No. I walked awhile with Mr. Brandon, the head clerk."
"How do you like it as far as you've got?" asked Abel.
"I don't like it."
"I suppose you would rather be at school."
"I certainly should."
"Yes; it would be easier."
"That is not my reason."
"What is your reason?"
"I think I am wasting my time in a grocery store."
"You get paid for it, don't you?"
"Yes; I shall be paid a small sum."
"Abel," said his mother, "I don't care to have you talk with Gerald on this subject. As he goes on he will get contented and will see that I have planned for the best. Now, as it is near ten o'clock, we may as well go to bed."
The next morning Gerald rose earlier than the rest of the family and breakfasted by himself. It was a comfort to him to occupy his own bedchamber. Abel had been so thoroughly frightened by the visit of the burglar that he absolutely refused to occupy the large room, though urged to do so by his mother, who did not like to think that he was less luxuriously provided for than Gerald.
"Well, how did you make out, Mr. Brandon?" asked Gerald, of his fellow-clerk.
"I had bad luck. I spent over two dollars last evening."
"It wouldn't do for me to spend so much. I only receive three dollars a week."
"I couldn't get along without the billiard-room. After standing all day in this dull store I need a little recreation."
Gerald could not understand how Brandon could afford to spend so much money in the evening, or how he could have anything left for clothing and necessary expenses.
During the day he overheard a conversation between Mr. Tubbs and a neighbor.
"How is business, Tubbs?" asked the latter.
"I seem to do a good business," answered the grocer, "yet, I don't know how it is, I find it very hard to meet my bills as they come due."
"You are looked upon as a driving man."
"I ought to be, but it is as I told you. I can't understand it. There have been times when I did less business and made more money."
"Perhaps you don't make as large profits?"
"Yes, I do. I sell at the same prices, and I don't pay any more for goods."
Gerald thought over this problem, and it puzzled him too. It set him to examining the books which were under his charge. The result was very favorable to the business. From the books, it should have paid well.
But the next day a startling light was thrown upon the mystery.
Gerald saw Brandon go to the money-drawer to deposit fifty cents, which he had received in payment for some groceries. He did deposit it, but at the same time he slyly drew out a bill which he carried away with him.
"That explains it!" thought Gerald, drawing a deep breath. "What ought I to do?"
It was a difficult matter to decide. Gerald had a natural dislike to become an informer or expose his fellow-clerk, though he felt that Mr. Tubbs ought to know how he was being robbed. So he let the day pass without speaking of what he had seen. He was no longer surprised that Brandon could spend so much money on billiards, since it did not come out of his salary, but out of his employer's till.
In the evening he called upon Mr. Nugent and asked his advice.
"Have you told Mr. Tubbs what you discovered?" asked the old gentleman.
"You should do so."
"I don't like to expose Brandon."
"I can understand your objection, but nevertheless it is your duty to do so."
"I wish he would discover it in some other way."
"He is not likely to do so."
"He may not believe me."
"At any rate you will have done your duty."
"I will think it over, Mr. Nugent. In the meantime I am obliged to you for your advice."
"I shall always be glad to advise you," said Mr. Nugent, kindly. "You are a straightforward and honorable boy, and I have all confidence in you."
"Thank you, sir. I am glad to have you say that. Suppose Brandon denies it?"
"You can suggest to Mr. Tubbs to put a marked bill in the drawer, and then try to trace it in case it is taken."
"I will do so."
But Gerald did not have an opportunity to make use of Mr. Nugent's advice. During the day he had shown a degree of perturbation occasioned by his discovery of Brandon's treachery that had excited the notice of his fellow-clerk. Guilt is always suspicious, and Brandon, knowing his own dishonesty, was constantly on the watch for the detection which he dreaded.
"The kid suspects me," he said to himself. "I must forestall him."
Accordingly, when the store closed, he did not offer to go out with Gerald, but said: "I am not quite ready to go yet."
This suited Gerald, who had intended to call on Mr. Nugent to ask his advice. He therefore said "Good night!" and walked away.
Brandon watched him go up the road, and then reentering the store just as his employer was ready to leave, said:
"Can you stop a minute, Mr. Tubbs?"
"Certainly. What is it?"
"I have something to say to you—something important."
"Indeed!" said the grocer, surprised.
"Have you—missed any money within a few days?"
"I can't say. Why do you ask?"
"Because I saw something to-day that startled me. Do you think Gerald is honest?"
"Bless my soul, of course! He comes of a good family. His father was highly respected."
"That may be; but there are plenty of boys and men belonging to respectable families who cannot be relied upon."
"What did you see? What makes you suspect the boy?"
"I saw him take a bill from the drawer this afternoon. Suppose you examine it, and see if you miss anything."
The grocer opened the drawer hastily.
"I can't tell," he said, slowly. "I didn't keep track of the bills in the drawer."
"I did. There was a five-dollar bill paid by Mr. Bacon for a barrel of flour."
"So there was, Brandon—so there was."
"See if you can find the five-dollar bill in the drawer."
"No, I can't," returned Mr. Tubbs, after a brief examination.
"Then that was the bill the boy took."
"I can't believe it; so young, too, and so honest-looking!"
"He is evidently very artful," said Brandon. "I am sorry, Mr. Tubbs, I am really sorry to be obliged to inform against him, but I felt it to be my duty."
"You are a good fellow, Brandon," said the grocer, grasping his hand. "You have done what you ought to do. I feel that you are a true friend."
"I try to be, sir; but I will own that I had a selfish motive."
"What is it?"
"I thought if you missed the bill you might suspect me."
"No, Brandon; I could hardly do that, after the long time you have been with me."
"Yes, sir, I have been in your employ five years, and I humbly hope that you have found me faithful, sir."
"Yes, Brandon," said the deceived grocer, "I have always found you faithful."
Brandon laughed in his sleeve. He found his task easier than he had supposed it would be. Mr. Tubbs was a ready dupe.
"It seems terrible," said the grocer. "What would his poor father have said if he had lived to know of the boy's dishonesty?"
"Perhaps if his father had lived he would not have stolen."
"What do you think I ought to do, Brandon? Would you advise me to have him arrested?"
"No, sir. Ask him to return the bill he took from the drawer. If he denies having taken it, you will know what to think."
"True; your advice is good. I will speak to him to-morrow morning. Thank you, for telling me what you saw."
The store was closed, and the two went in different directions—Mr. Tubbs towards his home, Brandon to the billiard-room.
The latter smiled as he pushed on his way.
"What would the old man have thought," he said to himself, "if he knew that I had the parson's bill in my own pocket? My friend Gerald, I have spiked your guns, as you will find if you undertake to make trouble for me. You are altogether too innocent. You are too good to play billiards, but you will find yourself in something worse.
The next morning Gerald came to the store earlier than usual, for he wanted an opportunity of speaking to Mr. Tubbs. The grocer, unlike most men in business for themselves, generally was first on the ground and opened the store himself. It was a habit he had formed when a subordinate. He always rose early and had an early breakfast, so that this involved no self-denial on his part.
Brandon, to give Mr. Tubbs an opportunity of speaking to Gerald, didn't come round till twenty minutes after his usual time.
Gerald noticed that the grocer looked unusually grave, but was quite unprepared for what was to come.
"Good morning, Mr. Tubbs," he said, in a pleasant tone.
The grocer did not return his greeting, but said:
"Gerald, there is something I wish to speak to you about."
"Yes, sir. I wished also to speak to you."
"I wonder whether he is going to confess," thought Mr. Tubbs.
"What have you to say to me?"
"I think a bank bill was taken from your money-drawer yesterday."
Mr. Tubbs was amazed. What did it mean? Was it possible that the boy was going to make a clean breast of his dishonesty?
"A bank bill was taken from the drawer yesterday," he said—"a five-dollar note."
"I didn't know that it was a five," said Gerald. "I didn't suppose you had discovered it."
"I am glad, however, that you have confessed the theft to me. Return the bill, and I will overlook your fault."
"What on earth do you mean, Mr. Tubbs?" ejaculated Gerald. "You surely do not think that I took the money?"
"Certainly I do."
"Then, sir, you are very much mistaken," said Gerald, indignantly. "I was never dishonest in all my life."
"Some one must have taken the money."
"Some one did."
"Who, may I ask?"
"Brandon! I saw him take it from the drawer when he was putting in a smaller sum, which he had been paid for groceries."
"This is shameful, Gerald Lane," said Mr. Tubbs, angrily. "It is not enough that you take my money, but you seek to place the crime upon an innocent man."
"You are very much mistaken, Mr. Tubbs," said Gerald, pale but resolute. "I saw Brandon take the money with my own eyes, but I did not know that it was a five-dollar bill. How did you discover your loss?"
"It was called to my attention last evening by Brandon himself."
"He told you the drawer had been robbed!" exclaimed Gerald, in amazement.
"Then he must have done it to divert suspicion from himself. Probably he had the note in his pocket when he was speaking to you."
At this moment Brandon entered the store. He took in at a glance what was going on. He noticed Gerald's flushed face and he smiled inwardly.
"I reckon the kid finds himself in hot water," he said to himself.
"Come here, Mr. Brandon," said the grocer.
"Yes, sir," returned Brandon, innocently.
"Do you remember telling me that you saw Gerald take money from the drawer?"
"Yes, sir; I thought it my duty to tell you. At the same time, as it is probably a first offence, I hope you will forgive him."
"You see how considerate Brandon is," said Mr. Tubbs, turning to Gerald. "What do you think the boy says?"
This was, of course, addressed to Brandon.
"I don't know, sir. Does he deny taking the money?"
"Yes. He says he saw you take it!"
"Is it possible?" exclaimed Brandon. "I hope you don't believe the charge, Mr. Tubbs."
"You may search me if you like."
"Perhaps it will be well to search you both, though, of course, the note may have been spent."
"I am at your command, Mr. Tubbs. Stay, I will turn my pockets inside out!"
He proceeded to do so, but only a few silver coins were found. The fact was that the note had been paid away in the billiard-room the previous evening.
"Now, Gerald, it is your turn."
Gerald looked embarrassed. Though he was perfectly innocent, he knew that there was a five-dollar bill in his pocketbook—part of the money drawn from the savings bank. Mr. Barton had handed it to him only two days previous.
Brandon had no knowledge of this. His only idea was to subject Gerald to humiliation. But when he saw the boy's confusion, he began to think that things were turning out unexpectedly in his favor.
"I don't think he wants to be searched, Mr. Tubbs," he said, pointedly.
"I am willing to follow the example of Mr. Brandon," said Gerald.
He took out his pocketbook and handed it to the grocer.
The latter opened it, and drew out a five-dollar bill.
"Ha!" he exclaimed, in excitement, as he held it up to view. "This tells the story, Gerald Lane! You are a thief!"
"That's false, Mr. Tubbs!" said Gerald, hotly. "That bill is mine."
"That's a likely story. Of course a boy that will steal will lie."
"It is true," said Gerald, firmly.
"Then where did you get this money?" demanded the grocer, sternly.
"From Mr. Barton, in the savings bank."
"Gerald Lane, you may think I am an idiot, but you are mistaken. I will keep this bill."
"Then it is you who are the thief. You can ask Mr. Barton if I do not tell the truth."
Brandon smiled gleefully. He was very much surprised to learn that Gerald had a five-dollar bill in his possession. He knew, of course, that it was not the bill taken from the drawer; but the grocer did not know, and he saw that it would clear him from suspicion.
"What do you think of this boy, Brandon?" asked Mr. Tubbs.
"I think he yielded to temptation, and that he won't do it again. Will you do me a favor, Mr. Tubbs, and overlook his offense?"
"You are very kind to him, Brandon, especially when he has charged you with robbing the money-drawer; but I cannot retain a thief in my employ."
"I don't wish you to keep me at Mr. Brandon's request," said Gerald, with spirit. "I do not take back my charge against him."
"Then, Mr. Tubbs," said Brandon, "I have no more to say," and he moved to another part of the store.
Things certainly looked dark for Gerald. The circumstantial evidence against him was of a serious and convincing character. But there was an unexpected witness in his favor just entering the store.
It was Mr. Barton.
Gerald's face lighted up when he saw the entrance of his friend. So did that of Mr. Tubbs.
"Now I shall be able to show that you were lying," said the grocer, triumphantly.
"What is the matter?" asked the bank teller, turning from one to the other.
"Mr. Barton," said the grocer, "you come just in good time; This boy has robbed me of a five-dollar bill."
"Impossible!" exclaimed the bank teller. "Gerald Lane is an honest boy."
"So I thought myself; but you are liable to be deceived in boys. Mr. Brandon saw him take the bill from the drawer, and told me. I have searched him and found the bill in his possession. Now he has the assurance to say that he got the bill from you."
"Probably he did."
"What!" ejaculated the grocer, starting back in amazement.
"It is true. I gave Gerald a five-dollar bill."
"That is just what I told you, Mr. Tubbs," said Gerald, triumphantly.
"But," said the grocer, "Brandon says he saw him take a bill from the drawer, and I miss a five-dollar note."
"Then all I can say is that Mr. Brandon has probably told you what is not true."
"Sir!" exclaimed Brandon, nervously.
"I mean what I say," said Mr. Barton, sternly.
"I know Gerald Lane, and I would trust him implicitly."
"But a bill has been taken from my drawer," said the grocer.
"I am sure Gerald did not take it."
"Mr. Tubbs, I will thank you to give me back my money," said Gerald.
"I don't know that I ought to do it, after what I have heard about you," said Mr. Tubbs, hesitating. "The bill could not have gone away by itself."
"That is true enough, but I am not the only one employed in the store."
The grocer was badly confused. He had decided beyond a doubt that Gerald was a thief; but then Mr. Barton vouched for him, and Mr. Barton was a man of consideration.
He gave back the bill to Gerald, but with reluctance.
"It seems, then," he said, "that I am to bear the loss."
"Yes," said Mr. Barton, "unless you discover who took your money."
"I shall feel uncomfortable to think I have a thief in the store."
"So far as I am concerned," Gerald said, proudly, "you will have no trouble. I resign my position."
"I guess you'd better stay till the end of the week," said Mr. Tubbs. "I can't fill your place right off."
"I will do so to oblige you. If another such charge is brought against me I shall leave you at once."
Here Mr. Barton made his purchase. As he left the store he said:
"Call and see me, Gerald; we can talk this matter over."
When the bank officer had left the store Mr. Tubbs said:
"There seems to be a great mystery about this robbery."
"Yes, sir," answered Brandon.
"Mr. Barton seems to vouch for Gerald."
"He is a good man, but not very sharp. He is surely taken in."
That evening when Gerald went home he said to his stepmother:
"Mrs. Lane, I have something to tell you."
"Well?" she responded, coldly.
"I am going to leave the grocery store," Gerald announced quietly.
"What? without my permission?" she demanded, in displeasure.
"Yes, Mrs. Lane."
"What's your reason? Are you getting lazy? Are you tired of work?"
"Then let me know the cause of your determination. Not that I shall consent to it."
"Mr. Tubbs charged me with taking money from the drawer."
"Oh-o!" said Abel. "So that's what you have been up to. I suppose he has bounced you!"
"Of course no one will believe it that knows me," returned Gerald, contemptuously.
"I'm not so sure of that."
"If your mother were not here I would give you a thrashing!" said Gerald, hotly.
"Ma wouldn't let you."
"All this is very discreditable, Gerald," said his stepmother. "I certainly did not think that you would descend to theft. Mr. Tubbs might have had you arrested."
"I found a friend to speak up for me—Mr. Barton."
"Has Mr. Tubbs discharged you, or is he willing to keep you?"
"I presume he is."
"Then you will go back," said Mrs. Lane, decisively.
"I shall remain till the end of the week to oblige Mr. Tubbs, but I will stay no longer."
"We will see about that. Now it is time to go to bed."
Gerald had learned to look upon Mr. Nugent as a friend upon whose advice and assistance he could rely. On Friday evening he called at the house of his old friend and was cordially received.
"Let me know how you are getting on," said the old gentleman.
Gerald briefly recounted what had passed.
"So your stepmother wishes you to remain with Mr. Tubbs?" said Mr. Nugent.
"And you object?"
"I don't care to remain with a man who doubts my honesty."
John Nugent smiled.
"Would you prefer me as an employer to Mr. Tubbs?" he asked, after a pause.
"Very much," answered Gerald, brightening up.
He wondered, however, what Mr. Nugent could have for him to do. There seemed no chance in his establishment for a boy like himself unless Mr. Nugent needed some one to work for him. Gerald was willing to do this, though he would have preferred some out-of-door employment.
"Perhaps you wish me to do some writing?" he suggested, in a tone of inquiry.
"No, I may wish to send you on a journey. Would you object to that?"
"No, sir; I should be delighted to have the chance to travel."
"So I supposed," said Mr. Nugent, with a benevolent smile. "Most young people enjoy that."
"Am I to go with you, sir?"
"No. I am not a good traveler. A cold, which I should be very apt to contract, would be likely to bring on my old enemy, rheumatism. At my age a man prefers to linger by his own fireside. You are not afraid of rheumatism?" he added, in a jocular tone.
After a pause Mr. Nugent resumed:
"Two days ago I received a letter from Montana, from a man I supposed to be dead.
"The contents took me very much by surprise. I will read you the letter, and this will prepare the way for the proposal I will make you."
The old gentleman drew from his desk a letter written on coarse paper, and addressed in a hand made tremulous by age or infirmity.
It was post-marked at Campville, Montana.
The letter was passed to Gerald, who read as follows:
"Mr. John Nugent—If you turn to the signature of this letter you will recognize the name of a man who once did you a great wrong. Twenty years ago I was in the employ of the firm of which you were a senior member. I had access to the safe, and one day I appropriated twenty thousand dollars in negotiable securities and fled. You notified the police but I succeeded in getting away with my ill-gotten gains. I visited different parts of the great West, but finally settled down in an out-of-the-way place in Montana. I have been here ever since. Part of the money I deposited in a Chicago bank, part I brought with me. At that time, as now, mining was the chief business in Montana. I engaged in it with varying success.Upon the whole I have greatly prospered. Probably I have in my possession at least twenty-five thousand dollars.
"But I have not been happy. I have lived the life of a recluse, cut off by my own act from friends and society, and my wealth has done me no good. My business has occupied my mind, and afforded me in that way my only relief from remorse. Latterly my health has been poor, and I have felt myself breaking down. I am probably about your own age, but I feel sure that I shall not live long. I have some distant relatives at the East, but I feel that what property I have should be left, in the way of atonement, to the man I have wronged.
"I am not able to go East. Would it be possible for you to come here and receive the money and property I possess, merely leaving me enough to see me through the short time I have yet to live? If not—if you, too, are unable to travel—will you send me some trusted friend who will act in your behalf? If possible, send me some one who will remain with me to the end. There are rough people hereabouts who might rob me. Fortunately, partly from my poor way of living, I am not supposed to have much money. Probably no one supposes me to be worth over three to four thousand dollars. I dread the time when I shall be quite helpless, as then I should be at the mercy of designing and unscrupulous parties.
"You may be surprised that I have learned your address. Lately I fell in with a stranger from the East, who spoke of you and gave me the information I desired. I trust this letter will be received and that you will feel like acting upon it. I shall die easy if I am able, even at this late day, to make some atonement for my wrong-doing.
Gerald read this letter with interest, but could not understand how it could bear any relation to him.
"What do you think of it, Gerald?" asked Mr. Nugent.
"The man seems truly penitent," answered Gerald.
"You think, then, that it seems sincere and truthful? You would be likely to put confidence in it?"
"I remember this man Nixon; he was a trusted clerk in our bank when I was a merchant in New York. We all felt amazed when he turned out a thief; he had no bad habits or extravagant tastes so far as any of us knew."
"Did you put the police on his track?"
"The matter was reported, of course; but we found that a considerable expenditure was required to excite interest and spur on the police detectives to active efforts. Finally the search was given up and the matter was well-nigh forgotten."
"Then the sum taken did not embarrass the firm?"
"Only slightly and temporarily. Twenty years have passed, as the letter says, and I had well-nigh forgotten Nixon and his crime till this letter reached me."
The old gentleman paused, and Gerald felt like asking, "What are you going to do about it?" but Mr. Nugent anticipated him.
"I have been thinking over this letter, and the writer's request, and it embarrasses me. Of course it is out of the question for me to go out to Montana, in my state of health."
"So I suppose, sir. You might send some one."
"True, but whom shall I send? Ten years ago, when I was more in touch with the world, I might have thought of some one. But, partly on account of my health, I have withdrawn from society and from business, and actually I cannot think of any one whom I should wish to trust with such a weighty responsibility."
Gerald quite entered into his feelings and views, but was unable to offer a suggestion. Of what Mr. Nugent had in his mind he had not the remotest conception.
"You will want to do something?" he said. "Such a sum of money is worth securing."
"So most people would say. In my case, having abundant means, I am less likely to be influenced by this consideration. My chief object, if I comply with the writer's request, is to bring relief to his mind by enabling him to make atonement for his offence. It was only this afternoon that I thought of one whom I could send out to Montana as my agent."
"Is it any one I know?" asked Gerald.
Mr. Nugent smiled.
"Probably you know him better than any one else in the world. I mean yourself!"
Gerald started in amazement.
"You really mean it?" he asked.
"But I am only a boy."
"True, but you are a good, sensible, reliable boy. How old are you?"
"So I supposed. The qualities I mentioned are not a matter of age. Sometimes a boy is more reliable than a man."
"I thank you very much for your good opinion of me," said Gerald; "I am afraid you think too well of me."
"It may be so, but I have a good deal of confidence in you."
"I am very young for such a responsible commission."
"That's true. I wish you were older, but that is a matter that cannot be hastened. The sum of it all is, that failing you I know of no one whom I would care to trust. It must be either you or none. Are you willing to undertake the task?"
"Yes, sir, if you think me competent. I am not only willing, but shall be very glad to."
"You are quite sure that you will like it as well as staying with Mr. Tubbs?"
Mr. Nugent said this with a smile.
"I should not be willing to stay with Mr. Tubbs at any rate."
"When do you leave him?"
"Very well. I will get you ready to start for Montana on Monday."
When Gerald reached home it was five minutes past ten o'clock. Abel met him at the door.
"Ma says she won't have you comin' home so late," he said. "She'll give it to you!"
Considering his new and brilliant prospects, Gerald was not particularly disturbed by Abel's words. He didn't take the trouble to reply, but went at once into the sitting-room, where, with a frowning face, Mrs. Lane awaited him.
"This is a fine time to come home," she said, abruptly.
"It is rather late, Mrs. Lane," said Gerald, calmly, "but I could not very well reach home earlier."
"Did you come from the store as soon as it closed?"
"I suppose you went to the billiard-room; I understand that you frequent that disreputable place."
"Then you are misinformed. I went there one evening with Mr. Brandon, Mr. Tubbs' clerk."
"Where, then, did you go?"
"To Mr. Nugent's."
"You seem to have struck up quite an intimacy with Mr. Nugent," said his stepmother, with a sneer.
"I hope you don't consider him a disreputable person, Mrs. Lane."
"You are impertinent. You have no right to annoy him by late visits."
"I don't. He is always glad to see me; to-night, particularly, he had some business which he wished to talk over with me."
"Hear him talk, ma!" he said. "Just as if Mr. Nugent would talk over business with Gerald!"
Gerald did not think it necessary to answer this malicious remark.
"I have been over to see Mr. Tubbs to-day," said Mrs. Lane.
Gerald looked at her inquiringly.
"And he has agreed to keep you. He still thinks that you robbed the money-drawer, but is inclined to think you will not repeat the theft."
"I am very much obliged to him, I am sure."
"You have reason to be. It is not many employers who would overlook such an offence. You could not, of course, get another position without his recommendation."
Gerald did not reply. He waited to see what more Mrs. Lane had to say.
"Therefore you will continue to work in the grocery store."
"You must excuse me for saying, Mrs. Lane, that I shall not do so."
"You dare to say that?" exclaimed his stepmother, flushing with indignation.
"Do you expect me to support you without work? If so, you will find yourself disappointed. I shall not provide you with a home if you dare to oppose my will."
"It will not be necessary, Mrs. Lane. I have obtained another situation."
"What?" exclaimed his stepmother, in genuine surprise.
"Who are you going to work for?" asked Abel, his curiosity aroused.
"For Mr. Nugent."
"How much is he goin' to pay you?"
"I don't know."
"Nor any one else, I reckon. What can he have for you to do?"
"I am not at liberty to tell just yet."
"It strikes me, Gerald Lane, that I have some voice in the matter. I shall not allow you to give up a place unless you are to get one equally good."
"While I don't know how much I am to get, I have no doubt it will be considerably more than Mr. Tubbs pays me."
Gerald could not have said anything better calculated to remove his stepmother's objections to his new plan.
"Very well," she said, calming down, "if that's the case I don't know that I shall object. Have you no idea what you are to do?"
"Yes, I have some idea."
"Tell me, then, all about it."
"I am not at liberty to do so. You might call on Mr. Nugent and ask him."
"I will do so."
Gerald smiled to himself. He knew that Mrs. Lane would get very little information out of the old gentleman.
Having no more to say Mrs. Lane suggested that it was high time they all went to bed. Gerald was quite ready to avail himself of the opportunity, for he was tired. Besides, he wanted a chance to think over the new and brilliant prospect before him.
The next day Mr. Nugent was surprised by a call from Mrs. Lane.
He lifted his eyes a little as she was shown into his presence. He knew her by sight, but had never spoken to her, beyond exchanging formal greetings.
"I must apologize for intruding upon you, Mr. Nugent," she said, "but I am led to do so by some information which Gerald, my stepson, has given me."
Mr. Nugent bowed, and waited to hear more.
"Gerald informed me last evening that you had offered him employment. I did not know whether to put confidence in his statement."
"Why not?" asked the old gentleman, curtly.
"Because I thought it might be only an excuse for leaving Mr. Tubbs."
"Gerald is incapable of falsehood."
"I am glad you have so good an opinion of him. Then do I understand that you have offered him employment?"
"Of what nature?"
"Pardon me, but the business is of a confidential nature."
"Surely, as the boy's stepmother, I have a right to information on that point."
"You have no right to pry into my private affairs, Mrs. Lane."
His visitor bit her lips from irritation.
"Gerald didn't even know how much pay he was to receive."
"No, he does not know."
"He is receiving three dollars a week from Mr. Tubbs."
"And you don't care to have him work for less?" said Mr. Nugent, with a smile.
"You may set your mind at rest, then. While I don't myself know how much I shall pay him, it will be more than that."
"That is satisfactory, of course. I presume you know what charge Mr. Tubbs has made against Gerald?"
"I do; but no one who knows the boy will for a moment think of crediting it."
"I supposed you thought so, or you would not offer him employment. Do you intend to employ him about your house?"
"Then I can't see what you can have for him to do."
"I may tell you as much as this, Mrs. Lane: I shall send Gerald to a point at some distance to transact some business for me, being unable, from age and infirmity to make the journey myself."
Mrs. Lane was greatly surprised. She could see that the commission was a desirable one, and would like to have secured it for her own son.
"I don't know whether you have made a wise selection of a messenger, Mr. Nugent. My son Abel is as old as Gerald."
"That may be, but I haven't the pleasure of knowing your son. Gerald and his father have been for some time friends of mine."
"When did you wish Gerald to start?"
"That is short notice. I don't know that I can have his clothes ready."
"Never mind about that. I don't want to put you to any trouble in the matter. He can take what is ready, and buy others if he has need."
"Will he be likely to be gone long?"
"For some time," answered Mr. Nugent, indefinitely.
"Well, I trust he will satisfy you," said Mrs. Lane, as she rose to go.
"I have great confidence that he will."
Meanwhile Mr. Tubbs took occasion to speak to Gerald about staying.
"Your mother was in here yesterday to see me, Gerald," he commenced.
"My stepmother," corrected Gerald.
"Oh, well, it's all the same."
"I don't think so."
"She's a very sensible woman. I agreed with her to keep you. There are some that wouldn't after what happened this week; but I don't want to be too hard upon you, considerin' you are so young, and I said I would keep you, trustin' that all will be satisfactory here after."
"Mr. Tubbs, I have something to say to that. I shall leave you to-night."
"But your mother won't allow it. You are only a boy, and——"
"I am going to work for Mr. Nugent on Monday, Mr. Tubbs."
"What can he have for you to do?" asked the grocer in surprise.
"I am to go on a journey for him, and attend to some business."
"That's cu'rus. What can a boy like you do?"
"You must ask him."
"Can't you put him off for a week? I haven't got nobody to fill your place."
"You might get Richard Childs, but you would have to pay him more. He is a good, strong boy."
"Yes, he might do; but I should like to keep you a week longer."
"It will be impossible, Mr. Tubbs."
When Gerald left the grocery in the evening with three dollars in his pocket, he felt glad to bid farewell to a place that he had found so disagreeable.
On his way to church the next day Gerald fell in with Richard Childs, a stout, manly boy of sixteen.
"I want to speak to you, Gerald," said Richard. "Mr. Tubbs has offered me a place in his store. I don't want to accept it till I learn whether I am depriving you of employment."
"No, Dick. I have given Mr. Tubbs notice that I must leave him."
"Are you going back to school?"
"No; I am offered employment by Mr. Nugent."
Richard looked puzzled.
"What does he want with a boy?"
"I am going to travel for him on business. You mustn't ask particulars, for the business is private."
"All right. Then I will accept; but I have told Mr. Tubbs he must pay me four dollars."
"What did he say?"
"He talked for an hour, but my father backed me up, and he will have to pay it."
Mrs. Lane and Abel made various attempts to draw from Gerald the name of the place to which he was going, but he steadfastly refused to tell.
"I don't know but I shall refuse my consent to your going," said his stepmother.
"In that case you will have me at home doing nothing."
"I might send you back to Mr. Tubbs."
"He has already engaged Richard Childs in my place."
"I wish I were going with you," said Abel. "It is awfully stupid in Portville."
"I will bring you home a present, Abel," said Gerald.
Abel brightened up. He was naturally an avaricious boy, and was ready to accept whatever came his way.
"Then I hope you'll come back soon," he said.
The train on which Gerald was to be a passenger was to leave Portville at ten o'clock. Gerald had an invitation to breakfast at Mr. Nugent's in order to receive final instructions and to be provided with money.
"I have but fifty dollars here, Gerald," said the old gentleman, "but I will give you a check on the Park National Bank of New York for a hundred and fifty. Probably that will be sufficient for you till you reach your destination."
"It seems to me a good deal of money, Mr. Nugent."
"Traveling is expensive, and it is not necessary for you to be economical. I want you to be comfortable. It will be best for you to carry your money in different places, not all in your pocketbook. Have you an inside pocket in your vest?"
"Yes, sir, but I never made any use of it."
"I will get my housekeeper to attach a button and make a button-hole, for better security. You can wear one of my vests while she is doing it."
"Shall I have any difficulty in drawing the money from the bank?"
"No; I will indorse the check and make it payable to you."
He drew a check for one hundred and fifty dollars, and indorsed it in this way. On the back he wrote: "Correct. John Nugent."
"You will have no trouble now," he said. "You will reach New York before twelve o'clock, and may as well cash the check and buy your ticket to Chicago. For the balance of the day you can go about wherever you please. I advise you to be careful and prudent, as you will have a considerable amount of money in your possession."
When Gerald reached the railroad station he found Abel on the platform. Abel followed him to the ticket office and listened while he called for a ticket to New York.
"So you're going to New York?" he said.
"Yes," answered Gerald.
"I wish ma would let me go with you. I s'pose you'll be back before the end of the week?"
"I don't know how long it will take to attend to Mr. Nugent's business."
"When you get through that you'll be out of work," said Abel, with pleased anticipation.
"I won't count so far ahead as that. Well, there is the train. Good-by!"
"So long! Write to me, if you get a chance."
"I can't promise."
The train started, and Abel watched it till it was out of sight.
"I wish I knew where Gerald is going, and what he is going to do. I wonder if there is work enough for two? I've a great mind to call on old Nugent, and ask him."
Mr. Nugent was considerably surprised when the servant came up and told him a boy was below who wished to see him.
"It can't be Gerald Lane come back!" he said to himself.
When Abel entered the room Mr. Nugent was glad to find that this suspicion was unfounded.
"Good morning, young man," he said. "Do you wish to see me?"
"I don't think I know you."
"I am Abel Tyler, stepbrother of Gerald Lane."
"Oh, yes! I think I saw you yesterday in Mrs. Lane's pew."
"I just saw Gerald off for New York."
"And came to tell me of it? You are very kind."
"Yes, sir. I suppose Gerald is goin' to attend to some business for you in New York?"
"Yes," replied the old gentleman, quietly.
"I thought perhaps there might be business enough for two persons. In that case I should be very glad to join him, and help."
"You are very considerate. Should that be the case I can send for you."
"Yes, sir," answered Abel, eagerly.
"I suppose your mother would not object to your undertaking it?"
"No, sir. I know New York better than Gerald. He has never been there more than two or three times."
"I will bear that in mind."
John Nugent resumed reading the morning paper, and Abel felt that he was dismissed. He rose, and, bidding Mr. Nugent good-by in an airy manner, left the house.
"That may lead to something," he said to himself, complacently. "The old man seemed rather struck by my appearance."
It is just as well that Abel did not know how Mr. Nugent had really been impressed. On the way home he stepped into the grocery.
"Well, Mr. Tubbs, I've just seen Gerald off," he said.
"Where has he gone?" asked the grocer, not without curiosity.
"He has gone to New York to attend to some business for Mr. Nugent."
"Business! A boy like that! The old man must be crazy."
"I think so myself. However, it's a good thing for Gerald."
"I don't know about that. It won't take more'n a week likely."
"Well, that's something."
"And then he'll be out of work. He'd better have remained with me."
"That's what ma thought, but Gerald is very obstinate."
"He'll be comin' and ask me to take him back," said Mr. Tubbs, "but I don't know as I can. I've got a boy. Richard, you may take a bushel of potatoes over to Mrs. Scott's. There may be some other articles to take out. You can ask Mr. Brandon."
"Are you going to ride?" asked Abel.
"Yes; I shall go in the wagon."
"May I go with you?"
"If you want to," answered Richard, with no great alacrity.
Meanwhile Gerald kept on his way to the great city. He enjoyed the trip, and his spirits rose as he sped rapidly on. At length he reached the Grand Central depot, and left the train along with the rest of the passengers.
Just outside he fell in with a bootblack, a lively specimen of the New York gamin.
"Have a shine, country?" he asked.
"I blacked my boots before I came away."
"Do you call that a shine?" said the boy, disdainfully. "You don't understand the business."
"Can you do better?"
"I'll shine 'em up so you can see your face in 'em."
"Go ahead, then."
The boy started in, and was as good as his word.
"How's that?" he asked.
"It's the best shine I ever had. What do you charge?"
"Generally I get five cents, but I've got a note to meet at the bank, and I'd like ten."
"All right; you shall have it. Now, can you tell me where to find the Park National Bank?"
"That's the bank my note's in. Take them cars, and they'll carry you there."
He pointed to a car which was just then passing, and Gerald boarded it.
In less than half an hour he entered the Park Bank and made his way to the paying teller.
"How will you have it?" asked the teller.
"In fives and tens."
In a short time a thick roll of bills was handed to Gerald which he put in his inside vest-pocket.
A man just behind him was waiting his turn, and Gerald turned away and left the bank. He would have felt less tranquil had he known that he was being watched by a tall, thin man who was hovering near the door. When Gerald left the bank this man followed him at a distance. Gerald paused at a street stand, where there was a display of knives at low prices. He bought one with three blades for fifty cents, and turning into Ann Street, then as now occupied by pedlers displaying their stock in trade in wagons, he walked along slowly, curiously interested in the goods on exhibition.
He was looking at some wallets when the tall man, who had arranged his campaign, tapped him on the shoulder.
Gerald turned in surprise.
"How are you, Jack? When did you come to the city?" asked the man, heartily.
"You have made a mistake," said Gerald. "My name is not Jack."
"Are'n't you Jack Mortimer of New Rochelle?" said the other in apparent surprise.
"No; my name is Gerald Lane."
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Lane, but you are the exact picture of Jack. Jack is a fine looking boy of sixteen and my very good friend."
Gerald was human, and this adroit flattery impressed him favorably.
"Then I am sorry I am not Jack," he said, smiling.
"You don't need to wish yourself any one else," said the man, significantly. "Then you don't come from New Rochelle?"
"No; I am from Portville."
"Portville?" repeated the other, musing. "I don't think I know any one in Portville. I suppose you are in the city for the day?"
"I may stay longer."
"I wish you could spare time to call at my house. I should like to have my wife see you. She knows Jack Mortimer well, and I am curious to see whether she would be deceived by the resemblance as I was. By the way, let me introduce myself. My name is Brand—William Brand."
"I am glad to have met you, Mr. Brand."
"Don't you think you could go up to my house and take lunch?"
"Where do you live?" asked Gerald.
It occurred to him that he really had nothing to occupy his time, and might find it agreeable to accept Mr. Brand's invitation.
"On West Twelfth Street, near Sixth Avenue. We could go up on the Sixth Avenue cars. If you are not familiar with New York, I might, perhaps, point out some landmarks on the way. But it is rather early. Isn't there anything I could show you down here?"
"I have always wanted to cross the Brooklyn Bridge."
"It is close at hand. Come with me and we will cross it."
"I shouldn't like to take up your time, Mr. Brand."
"Don't mention it. I am having a vacation this week, at any rate, so that it will be no inconvenience to me."
"Then I will accept your kind invitation."
The man turned and led the way up Nassau Street, and then by the World building till he reached the entrance to the bridge. Gerald surveyed it with great interest.
"There is one thing I remember in connection with the bridge," said Brand. "I was the first man to cross it on the day it was thrown open to the public."
"Is that really so?"
"Fact, I assure you. I was nearly crushed in the crowd, but I was determined that I would do it and I succeeded."
They went up the stairs and Brand bought two train-tickets, insisting on paying for both.
"If we had time we should find it agreeable to walk," he said, "but it would take a good while, and I want to take you up-town."
Gerald felt that he was in luck to have met so pleasant and obliging a companion. He did not examine Brand critically, or he might not have formed so favorable an opinion of him. He had a long, thin face, very dark, and with his eyes very near together. But Gerald was not skilled in physiognomy, and it never occurred to him to doubt the sincerity and good faith of Mr. William Brand.
As they rode over the bridge Brand pointed out different objects and buildings, and called Gerald's attention with a laugh to the enormous chair which, in those days, was near the Brooklyn terminus of the bridge.
"That is the mayor's chair," he said.
"He must be an unusually large man," said Gerald, "if he requires so large a chair."
When they reached Brooklyn they walked a short distance on Fulton Street, and then Brand proposed to return.
"Brooklyn is a large city," he said, "and we can't undertake to see it in a few minutes. We will take the cars back, and then go to my house up-town."
"Very well, Mr. Brand," replied Gerald.
They boarded a return car, Brand paying the fare again.
"I don't want you to pay for me, Mr. Brand," said Gerald.
"Oh, that's all right," said Brand, carelessly. "You may pay on the Sixth Avenue cars on the other side."
"You are certainly very kind to me."
"Don't mention it. You don't seem like a stranger; you seem so much like Bill Mortimer."
"I thought you said his name was Jack Mortimer."
"So it is. I am very shaky on names. Perhaps it is because I am getting old."
This seemed a plausible explanation of his slip of the tongue, and Gerald accepted it.
They left the bridge and crossed the City Hall Park. While crossing it Brand was accosted by an ill-looking man with a cast in his eye.
"Friend of yours?" he asked, staring at Gerald.
"Introduce me, won't you?"
"Some other time," muttered Brand, not seeming very well pleased.
"I see. You want him all to yourself," and he winked in a disagreeable way.
Brand hastily bade him good-day, and hurried Gerald across the park.
"Is that a friend of yours?" asked Gerald, curiously.
"No, or, rather, he was once. He was an old school-fellow of mine, and though he has not turned out very well, I can't give him the cold shake."
This was a new expression to Gerald, but he had no difficulty in understanding it.
"I am sorry to say he is a victim of intemperance," proceeded Brand. "I hope you don't drink?"
"No, certainly not," answered Gerald.
"Nor I. I drank some as a young man, but I soon saw the folly of it, and broke it off."
Mr. Brand's appearance hardly bore him out in this statement. His nose was decidedly red, and his complexion mottled. Still Gerald never doubted his assurance. He began to think Brand a man of exemplary habits.
They took the Sixth Avenue cars near the Astor House, and started up-town. Brand signaled the conductor to stop at Twelfth Street, and then turned toward Seventh Avenue. He stopped at a brick house half way down the block, and opened the door with a pass-key. The hall into which he led the way was rather dingy, and the interior suggested a tenement-house.
"I am not very well satisfied with this house," said Brand, "and I shall probably soon make a change. I came here to oblige the landlady, who is an old friend of mine, and was finding it difficult to pay the rent. I wish I could live in the country. Everything is so much neater there. I was born in the country, but my business requires me to live in New York."
"I don't think I should like to live in the city," said Gerald.
"Of course it is a better place for a business man. You may come to live here in time."
By this time they had reached a room on the third floor. Brand opened the door and led the way in. It was a long, narrow room, with one window at the end, and was very plainly furnished. The bed did not appear to have been made, and there was a dirty towel hanging over the back of a chair. Gerald was certainly surprised. He supposed that Brand had a comfortable home. In fact, he thought he occupied a whole house, as was the case with those whom he knew in Portville.
"Isn't your wife at home?" he asked, for he saw no signs of a woman's occupation.
"My wife?" asked Brand, looking surprised.
"Yes; you said you wanted your wife to see me, on account of my resemblance to Jack Mortimer."
"Oh, yes; of course. It didn't occur to me that my wife had gone over to Brooklyn to spend the day."
There was something in his tone and in the surroundings that excited Gerald's suspicion for the first time.
"I think if that is the case, Mr. Brand, I will not stay," he said.
Brand did not reply, but deliberately locked the door and put the key in his pocket.
"What does this mean, Mr. Brand?" demanded Gerald, with quick suspicion.
Brand sat down on the bed, and answered, with a smile:
"It means that I want your money, young man."
"How do you know that I have any?"
"I was in the Park National Bank when you drew money this morning. I want it."
"So you are a thief?" returned Gerald, hotly, "You would rob a boy?"
"I would rob any one that had money. The fact is, I am hard up and must get money somewhere."
"And this was your object in making my acquaintance and taking me about the city."
"Yes; you have guessed it."
"The money that I have does not belong to me. If I had any money of my own I would give it to you."
"I don't care whether the money is yours or the mayor's. A dollar is a dollar, no matter to whom it belongs. So fork over, young man, and don't keep me waiting."
"Is it possible such crimes are committed in a great city with hundreds near at hand?"
"That's a conundrum. However, I can answer in the affirmative. Now, how much money have you got?"
The money Gerald had drawn from the bank he had put in his inside vest-pocket. That amounted, as the reader is aware, to one hundred and fifty dollars. The money he had brought from Portville he had in his wallet, and this amounted to only fifty. The loss of this would not inconvenience him. He decided to give this up if necessary. The question in Gerald's mind was whether Brand had seen him put away the Park Bank money.
"I have fifty dollars," he answered. "I will give you ten dollars if you will let me go."
"Ten dollars!" repeated Brand, scornfully. "You must think me an idiot."
"But I can't get along without money."
"WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?"
"Neither can I. So hand over your money." It looked as if Brand were deceived, and that Gerald might save the more considerable sum in his vest-pocket. But to part with it too easily might excite suspicion.
"Mr. Brand," said Gerald, "I appeal to you once more. Let me go free; or, at any rate, don't take all my money."
"All your money is very little. I thought you had more. Fifty dollars will hardly pay me for the trouble I have taken."
"I didn't ask you to take any trouble. You would have done better to select some other victim."
"I thought you would be the easiest to deal with," returned Brand, coolly. "But we are wasting time. Produce your money."
Gerald drew out his wallet. Fortunately for him the contents were in bills of small denominations, so that, though only representing a small sum, they made quite a goodly show.
"Ah!" said Brand, in a tone of satisfaction, as he held out his hand, "that is something like. It is like the sight of water to a thirsty traveler."
As he spoke he deliberately put the wallet in his pocket.
"But," said Gerald, in apparent alarm, "if you take all my money how am I to get home?"
Brand shrugged his shoulders.
"You are young and strong; it won't hurt you to walk," he replied.
"Then I shall have to stay in the city."
"It will be safer for me to get him out of the city," thought Brand.
"How much will it cost you to get home?" he asked.
Brand drew a dollar bill from the wallet and threw it out on the bed.
"There," he said, "you can't say I have treated you meanly. Have you any change?"
"Here is half a dollar besides. It was all the money I had before I struck luck in meeting you."
"It is not very good luck for me," said Gerald, with a long face.
"Oh, you'll get over it. And now, Mr. Lane, I will bid you a good morning."
He rose to his feet, and walking to the door, unlocked it. Gerald followed him.
Brand waved him back.
"You are not going out," he said. "You will have to wait here a little longer."
"Why won't you release me, Mr. Brand? You have got my money; what more do you want?"
"Because, my young friend, we might meet a policeman outside, and you might introduce me to him. Do you see?"
"Yes," answered Gerald, smiling.
"I must therefore bid you good-by in haste. I suppose we are not likely to meet again?"
"I hope not."
"I quite agree with you."
He opened the door and went out into the entry. Gerald heard the key turned in the lock, and sat down to consider the situation. He had no idea how long he should be compelled to remain in the room, but as might be expected, he was impatient to have his captivity ended. Reflecting over the events of the morning, he felt mortified to think that he had fallen such an easy victim to an unscrupulous adventurer.
The door was locked, but there was a window. Could he escape that way? He walked to the window and looked out. There was a small yard below, but, as the room was on the third floor, the distance was too great for him to jump or let himself down. Besides, should he do so, he might be taken for a burglar or unauthorized intruder, and stand in danger of being arrested.
Possibly there might be some person in the adjoining room—some one whose attention he might attract. He judged that the partition was thin, and that any noise he made would be heard. He began to pound on the wall, gradually increasing the vigor of his efforts.
"If there is anybody there he can't help hearing," he reflected.
He was soon assured that he was right.
In a minute he heard a voice outside his door. It was the sharp, shrill voice of a woman.
"What are you doin' there, you spalpeen?" were the words he heard. "Do you want to batter down the wall?"
"No," answered Gerald, "I want to get out."
"Why don't you get out, then? What's to hinder?"
"I am locked in!"
"Shure, that's quare! Who locked you in?"
"I don't know any such man."
It had not occurred to Gerald that his acquaintance of the morning might have given him a false name.
"It's the man that lives here, then. He said his name was Brand."
"Mr. Turner occupies the room."
"Is he a tall, dark man?"
"Then he's the one that lured me here, robbed me of my money, and then left after locking me in."
"Oh, my gracious! I didn't think he was such a man!"
"Can you open the door? Have you a key?"
"Yes, but it is the key of my own room. I don't think it will fit."
"Try it, won't you?" asked Gerald, anxiously.
The key was thrust into the lock, but it would not open it.
"No, it won't fit," said the woman.
This was discouraging.
"Won't you ask the landlady to open the door?" asked the young prisoner. "Probably she has a key that will open it."
There was a step heard on the stairs.
"Oh, Mr. Brown," said the woman, "will your key open the door of this room?"
"I will try it. What's up?" asked the new arrival, who seemed to be a young man.
Gerald waited in anxious suspense while the key was thrust into the lock. It fitted, and the door was opened.
"How were you locked in?" asked the young man looking puzzled. "You don't lodge here, do you?"
"No; I was lured here by the man who occupies the room. He robbed me of my wallet, and then went away, locking me in."
"Whew!" exclaimed the young man. "That will make an item for my paper."
"Are you an editor?" asked Gerald.
"I am a reporter on an evening paper," he replied. "Miss Sloan, this is Mr. Turner's room, isn't it?"
"Yes, Mr. Brown. Do you think he is a burglar? If so, I sha'n't dare to live in the house."
"He won't try to rob you, and I feel safe. Editors and reporters are not attractive game for gentlemen of his profession." Then turning to Gerald, he asked: "Did he relieve you of much money?"
"Oh, my gracious!" exclaimed Miss Sloan, throwing up her hands. "Poor boy, did he take all you had?"
"No, ma'am, I have a little left. What ought I to do?"
"Report the matter to the police. I'll go with you. The fellow ought to be arrested."
Gerald followed the reporter to the nearest station-house, and gave an account of the robbery. Notes were taken and he was asked, "If we arrest this man will you appear against him?"
"I want to leave town to-morrow, if possible."
"You will have to stay longer than that. However, we will hurry up the trial."
By this time Gerald was hungry.
"Is there a restaurant near by?" he said.
"Yes. I am going out to lunch myself; you can accompany me."
The reporter led the way to Fourteenth Street, where Gerald found a neat and satisfactory restaurant. The robbery had not spoiled his appetite, and he did justice to a generous meal.
When they left the restaurant the reporter asked: "Where are you going now?"
"I don't know. I have no particular plans."
"Then come with me. There has been a fire on Third Avenue, and I am commissioned to inquire particulars of the losses and insurance. It will give you an insight into city life."
"I shall be glad to go with you."
They visited the scene of the fire, and half an hour was consumed by the reporter in gathering the needed information. Then they walked down the avenue toward Fourteenth Street.
All at once Gerald clutched his companion's arm.
"Look, Mr. Brown," he said; "there is the man that robbed me!"
A few rods in advance, walking with his usual sauntering gait, was Turner, known to Gerald as William Brand.
"You are right. That's the man."
"What shall I do?"
"Keep him in sight till you see a policeman. Then ask to have him arrested."
Usually it is said that a policeman is never in sight when he is wanted; but in this case there was an exception. One of the bluecoats turned into Third Avenue from a side street. Gerald darted forward and touched him on the arm.
"What's wanted, sonny?" asked the officer.
"I have been robbed of fifty dollars, and there's the man that robbed me."
"Are you sure about this? I don't want to make a mistake."
By this time the reporter came up.
"It's all right, officer," he said. "I know the man."
"And who are you, sir?"
"A reporter on the Evening——"
The policeman regarded him with respect. He felt that it was well for him to keep in with reporters on the daily papers.
"All right, sir," he answered. "You will accompany me to the station-house?"
"Then I'll make the arrest. Keep close at hand."
Increasing his pace, the officer caught up with Brand and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned quickly, and when he recognized who it was that had touched him, his face underwent a quick change. But he put on a bold front.
"How are you, captain?" he said, with assumed nonchalance. "You are Officer Benson, are you not?"
"I thought you were. Benson is a fine fellow, and an old-time friend of mine."
"That's all very well, but I have business with you. You are charged with the robbery of a wallet containing fifty dollars."
"This must be a joke!" said Brand, in assumed surprise. "Who makes the charge?"
The officer pointed out Gerald.
"Never saw him before in my life!" he exclaimed.
"Perhaps you never saw me, Mr. Turner?" struck in the reporter.
"Yes; you live in the same house with me."
"Exactly. You lured this boy to your room, and, after robbing him, locked him in. I released him."
"Was this the story he told you?"
"All I can say is, that if he got into my room it was for the purpose of robbery."
Gerald was about to make an indignant denial, when the officer said: "You'll have to go with me, Mr. Brandon Turner, or whatever your name is. I am not running a police court. You can defend yourself in the court-room."
"But this is an outrage!" blustered Brand. "To be arrested on a false charge made by a young rascal!"
"Come along! I didn't recognize you at first, but I believe you are Jim Hayden, whose picture is in the Rogues' Gallery, in Mulberry Street."
In spite of further remonstrance, Brand was taken to the police station, and, at Gerald's request, was searched. The missing wallet was found in his pocket, and proved to contain the lost money with the exception of five dollars, which had probably been spent.
He was tried the next day, and sentenced to three years in State's prison. Altogether Gerald was delayed three days. Then, with his restored money in his pocket, he started for Chicago. His new friend the reporter accompanied him to the depot of the Pennsylvania Railroad at Jersey City.
"I wish you good luck, Gerald," he said. "If you triumph over obstacles as you have done here, there is little doubt that you will come out successful in the end. I shall be glad if you will write me a line occasionally."
"I will do so, Mr. Brown. You have done me a great service, which I shall not readily forget."
Gerald remained two days in Chicago. By Mr. Nugent's advice he put up at the Palmer House, and devoted a part of his time to looking about the city. He was very much impressed by the bustling activity and energy of the Chicago people. He felt that life there and in New York was very different from the hum-drum existence of Portville. Yet there was no lack of attachment for his native village; and when, on the second day, the clerk handed him a letter with the familiar postmark, he opened it eagerly. The letter, as he surmised, was from Richard Childs, to whom alone he had said anything of his destination.
This was the letter:
"Dear Gerald—It seems odd for me to sit down to write you a letter in Chicago. I cannot realize that you are so far away. What a lot you must have seen already! I only wish I were with you, instead of standing behind the counter in Mr. Tubbs' grocery store.
"You will ask how I like it. Well, I don't like it. It is hard work and long hours, and I don't find much interest in selling butter, sugar and other groceries over the counter. Still, we have had a share of excitement. You will be surprised to hear that your old friend Brandon has been discharged, and a new clerk hired from Dana. You remember the trouble you had, and the charge of stealing which was brought against you. I believe that up to the time of your going away Mr. Tubbs still believed you to be a thief. You can't wonder at it so much, for Brandon was constantly talking against you. But you were not without friends. Mr. Barton, from the savings bank, had an interview with Mr. Tubbs, and persuaded him to lay a trap for Brandon. Two marked bills—fives—were placed in the drawer, and presently one disappeared. I don't know whether Tubbs thought that I had taken it or not, but a day or two later Mr. Sullivan, who keeps the livery-stable, handed one in payment of his grocery bill.
"'Where did you get this five-dollar note?' asked Tubbs.
"'Why, isn't it good?' asked Sullivan.
"'Yes; but I have a reason for asking. I hope you haven't forgotten who gave it to you?'
"'No; I don't have so many fives handed in that I can't remember. That bill was given me by your clerk Brandon. He hired a team to go to Sherborn last Sunday and paid me with this bill.'
"'You could swear to that?'
"Of course this was convincing, and Brandon was summoned. When confronted with the charge he turned pale, and tried to brazen it out, saying that Sullivan was mistaken. But the livery man persisted in his assertion, saying that he noticed a cross in red ink on the bill when he took it. Upon that Brandon was discharged, and I understand his father has agreed to pay Mr. Tubbs fifty dollars to save him from arrest and prosecution. His successor, Mr. Toner, is a great improvement on him, and is much more satisfactory to me.
"I see your dear stepbrother Abel now and then. He asked me if I had heard from you, knowing our intimacy; but I answered 'No.' He was wondering whether you were still in New York. I could have told him, but I didn't. He isn't very popular in the village. He tries to boss the other boys, but doesn't succeed very well. The boys are getting up a baseball club. He wanted to be captain, but only received one vote—his own. The captain chosen is my honorable self. What do you think of Captain Childs? Sounds great, doesn't it? Write as soon as you can, and let me know what has happened to you.
"Your true friend,
Campville was a small mining settlement in Montana.
All the buildings were of a temporary character—generally of one story. There was a long street, after the fashion of most western-pioneer settlements, but the houses on it were not many. The largest was a general store for the sale of such articles as miners need. It was kept by one Joe Loche. He came from Maine to Montana, mined for a while with indifferent success, and then opened a store. This was a business he knew something about, and he succeeded almost immediately. His store was a general rendezvous of miners in the intervals of work.
One morning, when four or five persons were in Loche's store, sitting around on kegs, a young man of about thirty entered. He had a long, thin face and roving eyes, and looked like one whom a prudent man would not care to meet on a dark night.
He entered the store and looked about him curiously. He was a stranger in the settlement, and his glances were returned with interest.
"Mornin' stranger!" said Loche, who always had an eye for a possible customer. "What can I do for you? What did you say your name was?"
"I didn't say."
This curt answer produced an unfavorable impression.
"I reckon you've got a name, ain't yer?" said Joe, coldly.
"Yes. My name is Ralph Nixon."
The statement was received with surprise.
"Any relation to old Tom Nixon, who lives on the hill?"
This question, asked by Joe Loche, voiced the question which all wished to ask.
"He is my uncle. Can you tell me about him?"
"The old man is pretty sick," said Joe.
"Like to die?" asked Ralph, eagerly.
"Oh, well, I don't know. Men that are always dying live for years sometimes. Haven't you seen him lately?"
"No; I never saw him."
"How is that?"
"He came West when I was a baby."
"Have you come out to see him?"
"Yes. I thought the old man might need some one to look after him. Has he got any money—enough to live on?"
"I reckon so. He's interested in some mines at Eldorado, but he stays in an old tumble-down cabin, and it doesn't cost him anything to live."
"Where does he live?"
"Come out and I'll show you. About a quarter of a mile back of the settlement."
Ralph followed Joe Loche out of the store, and received directions.
"So he owns some mines, does he?" asked the young man, with a covetous gleam in his small, bead-like eyes.
"They ought to be worth something," he said, meditatively.
"Yes, the old man may be worth near five thousand dollars."
"Does he live alone?"
"Yes, quite alone."
"I suppose he was never married?"
"Don't you know?"
"No; he has never written East since he left us. It was only lately that we learned where he was. Then father thought I'd better come out here and look him up."
"I reckon he will be glad to see you."
"He ought to be; but I am a stranger to him."
"I haven't seen him round town lately. I guess he's under the weather."
Joe went back into the store, and Ralph Nixon made his way over the rough ground to the old cabin which had been pointed out to him.
"I shouldn't wonder if he were a miser," he reflected. "He's been out here twenty-five years, more or less, and has lived on next to nothing. Even if he hasn't made much he's got it all, according to accounts. I'm the only one of his kith and kin that he is likely to see, and he can't do any better than to leave me what he's got. If he doesn't, I'll stay out here and try my own luck at mining. There's no chance for me in the East, even if I hadn't got into trouble."
He reached the cabin, and paused for a short time on the outside. It was a tumble-down affair, and looked by no means like the residence of a rich man. This might have dampened Ralph's courage, but that he had made up his mind that his uncle was a miser.
Finally he edged round to the side of the cabin and looked in at the window.
What he saw was this: in a wooden chair, evidently of home manufacture, sat a decrepit old man. His face was thin, his cheeks hollow, and his hair, perfectly white, scarcely covered his head. His limbs were attenuated, his chest was hollow, and he looked like a very old and infirm man, though he numbered but sixty-five years.
"What a skeleton he is!" thought Ralph. "He is just on the verge of the grave, ready to tumble in. It's a lucky thing I came here, for if he had died those roughs at the store would have taken his money and his relations would never have been the wiser. Well, I'll go in and scrape acquaintance with the old effigy."
He walked round to the door, and without the ceremony of knocking, opened it and made his way into the cabin.
Thomas Nixon looked up, and seemed alarmed when he saw the intruder.
"Who are you?" he asked, in a thin, quavering voice.
It was natural that he should be alarmed, for a western mining settlement has generally its share of rough and unscrupulous men, social outlaws, who have made their way thither in search of gain or booty.
"Don't be alarmed, Uncle Thomas," said Ralph, in a reassuring tone. "I am your nephew Ralph, come from the East to look after you."
"I know of no Ralph. Whose son are you?"
"My father is Gideon Nixon."
"My oldest brother?"
"How did you know where I lived?"
"A man came to Stamford who had been here. Learning my name, he told us he knew a man named Nixon out here. He said you were old and feeble, and father thought I had better come out and look you up."
"It wasn't worth while. I am a poor old man, and I can do you no good."
"Are you poor?" asked Ralph, his tone betraying his disappointment.
"Look around you and judge for yourself," returned the old man, eying his nephew with a glance of mingled curiosity and shrewdness.
"I was told in the village that you were interested in some mines."
"My affairs are known only to myself. If you have come out to help me and supply my old age with comfort, it is a kind and charitable object."
Ralph was much disturbed by these words. He was very much afraid that his uncle was nearly as poor as he claimed. In that case his errand would be bootless. But, looking about him with a feeling of discontent, his eye fell on a tin box such as may be found in grocery stores filled with crackers.
"I'll find out what there is in that box," he decided.
Without answering the old man, he rose, and moving toward the box, lifted the lid.
"What are you doing?" asked Mr. Nixon, in alarm.
Ralph did not answer. He had something else to think of. The box was a third full of glittering gold pieces, upon which he gazed as if fascinated.
Ralph Nixon burst into a laugh.
"I see you are very poor, uncle," he said. "It is a feast for sore eyes to see these piles of yellow darlings." And he took out a handful and eyed them lovingly.
"Let them alone! Shut the box!" cried the old man, in agitation and alarm.
"How many may I take, uncle?" asked Ralph.
"None, you thief!"
"Don't call me hard names, dear Uncle Thomas," said the young man, mockingly. "Don't forget that I am your nephew."
"I don't know whether you are or not. Shut up the box, I say."
"You are an old man. You can't live long. This money won't do you any good. You won't live to enjoy it. Give me half." And as he spoke he deposited in his pocket the handful of coins he had already taken.
This was too much for the old man. With an effort he rose to his feet and staggered to where the intruder was kneeling.
"Go away; go away at once!" he cried out, in agitation. "You are a thief. I don't believe you are a Nixon at all."
He tried to seize Ralph by the shoulder, but only fell over him.
The young man laughed, and put another handful of coins into his pocket.
"You—you scoundrel! Old as I am, I'll live to see you hanged!"
By this time the visitor had become angry. He gave the old man a push which laid him on his back, for he had little or no strength.
Thomas Nixon began to cry out, "Help! Murder! Thieves!" so that his nephew became alarmed.
"If you don't stop your yelping I'll choke you!" he exclaimed.
But the old man continued crying out.
Finally Ralph lost patience, and grasped the old man by the throat, nearly choking him.
"Will no one help me?" he cried, feebly, as soon as the grasp was somewhat relaxed.
"No; there is no one within hearing!" said Ralph. "Give me half of these gold pieces and I will go away and never trouble you again."
"No, no!" screamed the old man. "I won't give you one!"
"Then I shall have to help myself," said Ralph, coolly, and this he proceeded to do.
The old man, who was lying on his back on the floor, tried to get up, but he was too weak, and his unfeeling nephew laughed at his efforts.
"Will no one help me?" he again asked, in piteous accents.
"I guess not," said Ralph; but as he spoke the outer door opened, and Gerald Lane appeared.
Scarcely noticing who it was, but knowing that some one had entered the room, the old man again called for assistance.
Ralph Nixon was at first alarmed when he heard the door open, but on seeing Gerald his boldness returned.
"It's only a kid?" he exclaimed, contemptuously.
"What are you doing there?" demanded Gerald, with spirit.
"None of your business, boy. You'd better clear out!"
"He is robbing me!" complained the old man.
"I am his nephew. Part of the gold is mine."
"I never saw him till this morning. He is a thief! Help me if you can!"
"I'll try," said Gerald.
Looking about him for some offensive weapon he espied a broom. Seizing it, he flourished it above his head, and ordered the ruffian to put back the gold he had taken.
These words were greeted by a derisive laugh.
"I take no orders from a kid!" said the thief.
"Then take that!"
Carried away by his indignation, Gerald struck Ralph a smart blow on the head with the broom-handle. The ruffian was immediately on his feet, his face blazing with wrath.
"I'll give you a lesson!" he exclaimed, between his set teeth.
Gerald began to realize that he was in a tight place, but he was a brave boy, and he had no intention of surrendering. He dodged quickly to one side, and dealt the intruder another blow on his head. This added to his fury, and he made a mad dash after Gerald. He finally seized him by the shoulder, and, with a violent push, threw him on the floor. Of course a boy's strength was no match for that of a robust man. Struggle as he might, Gerald was overpowered. The ruffian, with a cruel gleam in his eyes, seized the boy by the throat and tried to strangle him.
Though the old man didn't know Gerald, he appreciated the fact that it was in trying to serve him that he had gotten into trouble. Had he possessed the requisite strength, or any strength at all, he would have gone to his assistance. The hardest thing was to lie helpless and see his brave young defender in danger of his life.
He did what he could. He raised his feeble voice, calling, shrilly: "Help! help!"
There seemed little chance of his cry being heard, but it is sometimes the unexpected that happens. When Gerald was very near the point of strangulation help came. The door flew open and two roughly dressed miners entered.
"What's up? What's all this?" exclaimed the two miners as they stepped into the room.
A glance about the cabin told the story.
"I declare if it isn't the chap that was down to Loche's," said one of the men.
"He's been robbing me," feebly whimpered the old man. "He's stolen my gold."
The faces of the two men became stern. In a mining settlement robbing is a capital crime, and a thief has but a short shrift and a speedy passage to another world.
When the two men entered, Ralph Nixon in alarm let go his hold on Gerald and rose to his feet. He saw that the tables were turned and that he was in danger.
"What were you doing with that boy?" demanded one of the miners.
"He struck me on the head, and I was teaching him a lesson."
"Suppose we hear what he has to say?"
Gerald, thus appealed to, answered:
"I came into the cabin five minutes ago and found him robbing the old man, and I interfered."
"So he was robbing the old man? Mr. Nixon, is this true?"
"Yes," answered Thomas Nixon, feebly. "He has some of my gold pieces in his pocket."
"Then he must unload. Seize him, Mike."
The two miners seized Ralph in a powerful grasp, and turned his pockets inside out. They discovered about fifty gold coins.
"What have you to say, you thief?" demanded one, sternly.
"He gave them to me," answered Ralph, alarmed.
"No, no; it isn't so," protested Thomas Nixon. "He took them out of yonder box. I tried to stop him, but it did no good. Then that brave boy came in and the rascal tried to murder him."
"It's a clear case, Mike. What shall we do with him?"
"We'll call a meeting of the boys, and then we'll decide."
They seized Ralph, and proceeded to drag him off between them.
"Uncle Thomas!" cried the terrified ruffian, "save me, save me!"
"Is he your nephew, Mr. Nixon?" asked one of the miners.
"I don't know. He says he is."
"Certainly I am. I am his brother's son."
"That doesn't entitle you to rob him."
"I only borrowed the gold. I meant to pay it back."
"That's a likely story. Bring him along."
They left the cabin with Ralph between them, and proceeded at once to the store kept by Joe Loche.
In five minutes their numbers were increased till the original two had swelled to twenty-five or thirty.
"What has he done?" asked one of the new members.
"Been stealing gold from old man Nixon. We caught him in the act."
"It's mighty dangerous for a thief round here, stranger," said Joe Loche. "What have you got to say for yourself?"
"He can't say anything. We found the gold in his pocket."
"Boys," said Chris Nelson, who was generally looked up to as a leader in the settlement, "you hear what is said against this man. What shall be his fate?"
"Hang him!" was the laconic response of half a dozen.
"No, no!" shrieked the affrighted wretch, "I only took the gold in joke."
"Then we'll hang you in joke."
"Oh, don't hang me! I ain't fit to die."
"I guess that's right," said Chris Nelson.
"Get a rope—a good, strong rope, and we'll hang him to yonder tree."
They began to drag him to a tree on a small knoll two hundred yards away. He shrieked and howled with fear till all were sickened with his pusillanimity. Finally, on his promise to leave the settlement and never return, they commuted his punishment to a lashing on his bare back, in which all eagerly took part. When it was over the repentant rogue crawled away, bruised and sore. Seldom has retribution been so swift.
Gerald remained after the others left the cabin. The old man looked at him inquiringly.
"I don't think I know you," he said. "Do you live in the village?"
"No, sir. I was sent here from the East."
Thomas Nixon looked puzzled.
"Are you going to school?"
"No, sir. I was sent here to see you."
"To see me? I don't understand."
"Do you remember writing a letter to Mr. John Nugent, of Portville?"
"Yes; but surely——"
"I have a copy of your letter here, which I will show you. You wished Mr. Nugent to send a messenger to represent him and assist you in any way you might desire."
"But," exclaimed the old man, in astonishment, "I didn't expect him to send a boy."
"This letter will explain to you why he sent me."
"Read it to me. I cannot see without my glasses."
Gerald drew the letter from the envelope, and read as follows:
"I need not say that I was surprised to receive your letter. I supposed you dead long ago. I am glad to hear that you are alive, and are in such a creditable state of mind. When you appropriated our funds, you injured yourself more than you did us. I am sure you have regretted it many times.
"I cannot go out to see you as I would if I were younger and stronger, for I am getting to be an old man, and I am feeble, besides being a victim of rheumatism. As to sending a messenger, I was at first greatly in doubt whom I could select. Finally I fixed upon Gerald Lane, whose late father I knew well. He is only a boy, but he possesses as much good judgment as many men ten years older. Besides, he is thoroughly honest and reliable. I place him at your service, with full power to act for me, and I will pay his expenses. When you know him as well as I do, you will learn to trust him as much as I do.
"I remain, with sincere good wishes,
"Your old friend,
Gerald was gratified in reading the terms used in speaking of him.
Mr. Nixon listened intently.
"That is a good letter, and gives me great pleasure!" he said. "I am glad that John Nugent forgives me the injury I did him."
"Yes, he told me that he freely forgave you."
"But still," said the old man, "it seems strange to me that a boy of your age—— How old are you?"
"That a boy of sixteen should be so trusted."
"I am surprised, too, Mr. Nixon," said Gerald, frankly. "I hope I shall be found to deserve all that Mr. Nugent says of me. He is a fine man, and has been a good friend to me."
"He is an excellent man," said Mr. Nixon, with emphasis. "I like you, too, and I feel confident that you deserve what he says of you."
"I hope so, Mr. Nixon, and I want to be of service to you. Will you let me offer a suggestion?"
"By all means."
"Then don't you think it is unwise to keep your gold so exposed? I wonder you have not been robbed before."
"That is true. I have been imprudent. But I have been so miserably sick, I was unable to make any other arrangements. Now that you are here, I will think what I can do."
"Is there no bank where you could store it?"
"Yes, there is one ten miles away, in Fairfield, but I am not able to go there."
"Send me, then. You will want to keep some of the gold by you for use."
"I use very little money," said the old man, shaking his head.
"I hope you will use more. You are getting old, and you ought to be more comfortably situated. As I read the letter you sent to Mr. Nugent I know that you are abundantly able to live better than you do."
"You are right. Heretofore I have had no ambitions and no object in life, but since I am assured of John Nugent's forgiveness I feel that a burden had been lifted from my soul. You are so young, you won't get tired of staying with the old man?"
"No, Mr. Nixon. Not only for Mr. Nugent's sake, but for your sake, I will gladly remain with you and do what I can."
"Thank you. It puts new life into me to know that I have a young companion who will help me, and do for me what I cannot do for myself. You came at the right time."
"Yes, I was startled when I opened the cabin door to see that man in the act of robbing you. Is he really your nephew?"
"Dear knows, I don't! I never saw him before. Whatever he is I don't care to recognize him as a relative."
"I don't think he will ever trouble you again. The men who carried him away will give him a good fright, at any rate. Now, Mr. Nixon, where do you think it best that I should stay? I need to be near you to take care of you."
The old man looked puzzled. He looked about him at the contracted accommodations of the cabin, and hesitated.
"I am afraid you would not like staying here," he said, after awhile.
"Not for any length of time, Mr. Nixon. If you won't be offended, I will ask you why you stay here yourself?"
"I have lived here ever since I came to Campville," he answered.
"And how long is that?"
"Did you build the cabin?"
"No. It had just been vacated by the original owner and builder."
"You ought to have a more comfortable home."
"Yes, I suppose so," said Thomas Nixon; "but I don't know where to go."
"Will you authorize me to find you a place, Mr. Nixon?"
"Then I will go out at once and see what I can find. You should not stay here another night."
"Come back soon," said the old man.
He had already come to value the company of his young companion, and felt that he should miss him, even for a short time.
Gerald took his hat and went out. He bent his steps toward the store of Joe Loche, feeling that he should there be more likely to obtain the information of which he was in search. He had already called there, like Ralph Nixon, to inquire the way to the cabin of the old man.
"Mr. Loche," he said, proceeding at once to business, "is there any comfortable house vacant in the village?"
"Yes," answered the storekeeper. "There is a four-room house, which was occupied yesterday but is vacant to-day."
"Who owns it?"
"I do. I bought it, furniture and all, from Jim Morris, who has made his pile, and is going back to his old home in New Hampshire."
"Are you willing to sell or let it?"
"Either one. Are you going to get married and settle down among us?"
"Not quite yet," answered Gerald, with a laugh. "I have been sent from the East to Mr. Nixon, and I shall stay with him for a while. He has authorized me to look him up a more suitable home."
"I am glad to hear it. That old tumble-down shanty isn't fit for the old man to live in."
"Would you mind showing me the house?"
"I shall be glad to do so. Here, Dennis, just look after business, and I will go over to Jim's house with this young man."
Gerald found the house better furnished than he had anticipated. Jim Morris had a wife and young family, and had provided them a comfortable home. The house seemed completely furnished, even to crockery and kitchen furniture. Gerald was much pleased.
"I will recommend Mr. Nixon to hire it, and after a while I hope he will buy it. Can he move in to-night?"
"Then I will take it. I am sure Mr. Nixon will do what I advise."
"You don't ask what I shall charge!"
"No, Mr. Loche, because I know you will only ask a fair price; and, besides, there is no other house I can get."
"That is true. Well, it will be all right about the terms."
"One thing more. Have you a wagon in which you can bring Mr. Nixon over? He is too feeble to walk."
"I'll send at once. My assistant, Dennis Carlyle, will harness up and go back with you."
"Thank you, Mr. Loche."
"I say, boy, you seem to be a pretty smart kid. So you are going to look after the old man?"
"Then he's in luck. You have begun well."
"What was done with the man who tried to rob him?"
"He got an everlasting thrashing. We made him run the gauntlet, and he was pretty sore when he crept away. We thought at first of hanging him!"
"I am glad you didn't. I don't think he will trouble his uncle again."
"No, he won't come within fifty miles of Campville again as long as he lives."
Gerald jumped from the wagon and entered the cabin. Thomas Nixon sat in his old, listless attitude, but his eyes brightened when Gerald entered the room.
"Well, Mr. Nixon," said Gerald, "are you ready to move?"
"I don't understand. Where am I to move to?"
"I have hired a house for you—the one till recently occupied by a man whom they call Jim Morris. I have hired it completely furnished, and all you will have to do is to walk in."
The old man seemed almost bewildered by the suddenness of the proposition.
"But I can't walk so far," he said.
"You won't have to. I have a wagon at the door; we will help you into it, and in fifteen minutes you will find yourself in a more comfortable home."
"If you think it best," said the old man, hesitatingly.
"I do; and so will you when you have made the change."
"Then I will go."
"What do you want carried with you?"
"I am used to this chair."
"Very well, we will take it. Is there anything else?"
Thomas Nixon pointed to the tin box.
"Oh, yes; we mustn't forget that. Is there anything else?"
"Then, Mr. Carlyle, will you help get Mr. Nixon into the wagon?"
Dennis Carlyle, who was a stout, muscular young man, lent a hand, and the old man soon found himself in the wagon, sitting in his favorite chair.
"Sha'n't we need to carry some dishes? There's a few in yonder closet."
"Not to-day, Mr. Nixon. We shall have all the dishes and kitchen utensils left by Mr. Morris."
It was not long before they found themselves at the door of the new home. Gerald helped Mr. Nixon out of the wagon, and led the way into the house. All was neat and comfortable, and furnished a very favorable contrast to the dilapidated cabin where Nixon had lived so many years. There was a woolen carpet on the floor of the sitting-room, an eight-day clock on the mantel, three or four pictures on the walls, and a comfortable couch on one side of the room. The old man heaved a sigh of satisfaction.
"This is the way I used to live," he said.
"It is the way you shall live hereafter," said Gerald.
"It makes me feel younger already. What a wonderful boy you are!"
"Oh, no, I am only an ordinary boy," he replied.
"I understand now why John Nugent sent you to me. Are you sure you are only sixteen."
"And I am sixty-six! What a difference!"
In truth, Thomas Nixon looked ten years older than he really was. It was partly sickness, and partly want of nourishing food and cheerful companionship.
"We will have you looking younger soon," said Gerald, cheerfully. "And, now, don't you think it is almost time for dinner?"
"I—I think I could eat something," said the old man, slowly. "It is long since I have had an appetite, but now I almost feel hungry. You—you may get a loaf of bread and some butter at Mr. Loche's store."
"Leave that matter in my hands, Mr. Nixon. I suppose you won't mind my spending a little money?"
"No, no. Take a gold piece from the box, and buy what you like."
Gerald found a small hotel at which many of the miners boarded, and engaged two dinners to be sent over to their new home. When the food arrived he set out the table and properly arranged it.
"Now, Mr. Nixon," he said, cheerfully, "let me move up your chair and we will have dinner."
It was long since the old man had sat down to a regular meal, and it was as much the lack of nourishing food as any other cause that had weakened him.
His faded eyes lighted up, and for the first time in many weeks he felt a craving for food. Gerald took the head of the table.
"Now, Mr. Nixon," he said, "let me help you to some roast beef. Now, here is a boiled potato, and some turnips; and there is bread and butter."
"It is a feast," said the old man, gleefully. "It is long since I tasted roast beef."
"Then you made a mistake in stinting yourself when there was no need of it. Hereafter you must live well."
"So I will—so I will; that is, if you stay with me. But I thought I was going to die soon, and it didn't make any difference."
"You don't want to die till your time comes. Why, you are not so very old."
"I am sixty-six."
"And you may live twenty years yet."
"I didn't care to live; but now, since you have come, things look different."
Both ate heartily, and when the dinner was over, the old man moved back his chair and breathed a sigh of content.
"It is the best meal I have tasted for years," he said.
"Your nephew ought to have stayed to dinner," said Gerald, smiling.
"I hope I shall never see him again; he is a very bad man."
"He won't dare to come back to this settlement. He had to run the gauntlet, and he was lucky to escape with his life. Now, let me show you the other rooms."
There were two other rooms, each provided with a comfortable bed. In the smaller one Gerald put his gripsack, and, unpacking his clothes, laid them away in the drawers of a small bureau.
"Where are your clothes, Mr. Nixon?" he asked.
The old man looked embarrassed.
"I have very few," he said, "and those are about worn out."
"May I buy you some?"
"I wish you would; and you may as well throw away the old ones. Take whatever money you need and go to the store."
"I see you have confidence in me, Mr. Nixon."
"Yes; I feel that you are a good boy and I can trust you. You have made a new man of me already. This morning I thought I was very near to death. Now I feel ten years younger."
During the rest of the day Gerald exerted himself to supply any deficiencies in the household, and provided whatever was needed in the way of comfort. When evening came on the lamps were lighted, and the new residence seemed homelike. With Mr. Nixon's consent, arrangements were made to have all their meals sent over from the hotel.
The box of gold coins had been placed in the sitting-room.
"I wish your gold was in some safe place, Mr. Nixon," said Gerald, as his glance fell on the tin box.
"You can take it to the bank in Fairfield to-morrow," said the old man; "that is, most of it. We shall need some to spend from day to day."
"Very well. I will engage a team from Mr. Loche, and ride over in the morning. Have you an account there already?"
"Yes. I have five thousand dollars in the bank."
"You must give me something to do, Mr. Nixon. I will attend to any business that requires attention—that is, provided you think I am competent."
"I shall be glad to accept your offer; but if you are entering my service you must be paid."
"Mr. Nugent will see that I am paid."
"No, no; I cannot allow it. I am a rich man. It is right that I should pay you. I will give you—" he paused for a moment—"sixty dollars a month and your board. Will that be sufficient?"
"It is high pay for a boy."
"You will be doing a man's work."
"I am afraid my services will not be worth that money."
"Have no fear on that score. I am a rich man, as I wrote to Mr. Nugent. I may be worth nearly one hundred thousand dollars."
"Is your wealth known in the settlement?"
"No. I don't think any one considers me worth over five thousand dollars. It is fortunate for me, or there might have been attempts to rob me before."
"How is your property invested, if you don't mind telling me?"
"I have some mines over in the next county. I have been too ill to look after them. I will send you soon in my place."
"I will do as well as I can, Mr. Nixon; but I wish I were older."
"You are a smart boy. I am sure you will be able to do all that is required."
The next morning Gerald went over to Joe Loche's store. He had already learned that Joe was the principal business man in the place. Besides his store team he had an extra horse and wagon, which he let out to any one who needed to hire. He readily agreed to let Gerald have it.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
"To Fairfield," answered Gerald. "Is the way easy to find?"
"Yes; it is a straight road."
"I want to visit the bank. I shall take over a thousand dollars in gold belonging to Mr. Nixon."
"Aye, it will be better in the bank than in his house. Are you related to the old man?"
"No; but I am going to help him about his business. He is too feeble to look after it himself."
"Take care you don't get robbed," said Joe, with a smile. "It is a lonely road."
"Yes, I will be careful."
Gerald paid little attention to the caution that had been given him. He looked upon it as given more in jest than in earnest. But had he known that the conversation had been listened to by a stranger whose outward appearance suggested the tramp or desperado he would have felt a degree of apprehension. This man had been staying in the village for a couple of days; he had been one of the loungers at the store, and had listened to all the gossip that was in circulation. Among other things he had heard about the attempt at robbery in which Thomas Nixon came near being a victim, and had listened with interest to speculations about the money kept on hand by the old man.
When he heard the conversation between Gerald and the storekeeper he understood that the boy was about to carry a large sum in gold coins to the bank in Fairfield. Now, Saul Gridley was in a penniless condition. He was very much in want of money, and by no means scrupulous as to the method of filling his depleted pocketbook. He had served time in more than one prison, and had no character to lose. It is not strange, therefore, that he considered the present opportunity a good one for placing his finances in a satisfactory condition. Issuing bonds—a method recently made popular—was impracticable. He speedily formed his plans, and set out at a quick pace en route for Fairfield.
Gerald was detained for half an hour, partly from the necessity of going back to the Nixon home to obtain the gold. There, too, he found something to do for the old man. He lifted the tin box into the wagon and started away.
When he had gone two miles on the road he began to think over the caution which had been given him by Joe Loche. The road, he saw, was a lonely one. It was uneven, and not across the level prairie, for Montana, as its name indicates, is a hilly State.
"It would be quite possible for me to be robbed if I should meet a highwayman," he reflected. "I am only a boy, and, hampered as I am by the care of a team, I should be unable to make resistance. What shall I do to insure safety?"
Gerald began to doubt the expedience of carrying the gold in the tin box, as in the recent attempt at robbery it had become generally known that Mr. Nixon used the box as a receptacle for his treasure. Anyone seeing it in the wagon would at once conjecture its contents. However, this matter could be set right with little trouble.
Montana, unlike most Western States, is rocky, and there were plenty of rocks and small stones near at hand. This gave Gerald an idea. He halted his horse, and began to stuff the gold coins into his pockets. Then he got out of the team and collected an equal bulk of small stones. These he put into the tin box, and then locked it with a key, with which Mr. Nixon had supplied him. The stones rattled as the team made its way over the rough road.
"I don't suppose it was necessary," said Gerald to himself. "Still, it is well to be on the safe side."
He drove a mile further. In the three miles he had met but one team, for the road was an unfrequented one, as Montana was only sparsely settled, and the towns were far apart. Gerald began to think he should not meet any one during the whole distance. This would, of course be satisfactory, and would spare him all anxiety. If he met any one after his errand was completed, and the money safely stored in the Fairfield, bank, it would not matter.
It was fortunate that Gerald made the transfer, for in less than half a mile he was stopped by the man who had overheard the conversation between him and Joe Loche.
"Can't you give a poor fellow a lift, youngster?" asked the tramp.
Gerald hesitated. He noted the appearance of the man, and felt that it might not be safe to refuse outright.
"Where do you want to go?"
"A mile or two," answered the tramp, with a leer.
Gerald considered whether it would be safe to lash the horse and attempt to get away from his troublesome acquaintance, but it did not seem to be practicable. Yet to take him as a passenger, with so valuable a treasure on board, was certainly hazardous. If he had been sure that the tramp was not armed, he might have attempted flight; but of this he could not be sure.
"I will give you a lift for a mile or so," he said.
With a smile the tramp clambered in and took a seat beside him. He stretched out his legs with a look of satisfaction.
"And where might you be going, youngster?" he asked Gerald.
"I am going to Fairfield."
"Well, there is a small matter of business I have to attend to."
"Where do you live?"
"I am living at present in Campville."
"This is Joe Loche's team, isn't it?"
"You don't live with him, do you?"
"With whom, then?"
"With an old man near the store."
"Old man Nixon?"
"Yes," answered Gerald, reluctantly.
"Humph! that's the man that came near getting robbed yesterday?"
"Yes," answered Gerald, uneasily.
"Lemme see. He kept a lot of gold pieces in the house."
"You seem to know all about it."
"Yes; I heard. He kept them in a tin box—very much like that," and the tramp indicated the box in the wagon.
"Well, suppose he did?" said Gerald, eyeing his companion closely.
The tramp laughed.
"Only that you've got the box in this here wagon, and the gold, too."
"Now for it!" thought Gerald. "The crisis is near at hand!"
"You might be mistaken," he answered, trying not to show the excitement he felt.
"And then again I mightn't. You're taking the gold to the bank in Fairfield."
"Who told you so?"
"Ah, the cat's out of the bag!" said the tramp, triumphantly.
"Well," said Gerald, with apparent frankness, "as you seem to know I may as well own up that you are right. I am glad to have you with me, as some one might try to rob me, and I can rely on your assistance."
The tramp laughed long and loud.
"Oh, yes," he replied, "you can depend on me. I won't let anyone else have the money."
"Thank you! I feel safe now."
The tramp laughed again. To him it seemed like a delicious joke.
He did not seem to be in a hurry to possess himself of the booty, as he felt sure he could have it at any time. It was a good joke that Gerald seemed quite unsuspicious of his intentions.
"How much gold might there be in the box?" he asked.
"Not far from a thousand dollars," said Gerald, frankly.
The tramp smacked his lips. He had never before bagged so much booty. It really seemed like a big stroke of luck.
"A thousand dollars!" he repeated. "That's a big sum!"
"Yes, it is a large sum, as you say."
"Suppose you and I divide it. That'll be five hundred apiece."
"I see you are joking," said Gerald. "It isn't ours. It belongs to Mr. Nixon."
"He's an old man. He don't need it. Besides, he has plenty more."
"Has he really?" asked Gerald, innocently.
"To be sure! Everybody knows that the old man is a miser. Why, I've no doubt he is worth ten thousand dollars."
"Nor have I any doubt," said Gerald to himself. "But, of course, that is none of our business."
"Look here, youngster; you seem to be as simple as they make 'em."
"Why?" asked Gerald, in affected surprise.
"You can't see that I am a bad man, and have made up my mind to have that gold."
"You don't really mean it? You are trying to frighten me."
"No more nonsense! Stop the horse, and I'll relieve you of the box."
"But what will Mr. Nixon say?"
"Tell him it was taken from you."
"Oh, this is terrible! Won't you take ten dollars and let me go?"
"No; I must have the whole. Stop the horse, I say!"
With an appearance of great reluctance Gerald obeyed directions and halted the horse.
The tramp descended from the wagon.
"Now hand me the box," he said.
Gerald allowed him to take out the box. Then he whipped up the horse, leaving the tramp, as he supposed, master of the situation.
He laughed as he saw Gerald driving off.
"The boy is pretty well scared," he said to himself.
The tramp was only amused by Gerald's precipitate flight. There was no object in pursuing him, as he had obtained what he sought—the box of gold coins. He was in a hurry to open it, and realize his good fortune. He felt that Fortune had been kind to him. When once the gold was transferred to his pockets, he would leave the neighborhood, as he knew very well that by the miners' code the robbery would be punished with death.
There was an obstacle, however, to his realizing the fruits of victory. The tin box was locked.
"Why didn't the kid give me the key?" he complained, in a tone of annoyance.
However, that was not a serious consideration. He could break open the box with a large stone, and he at once began to look for one. He had to go some distance before he found one that would answer his purpose. Meanwhile, as he carried the box, he heard from time to time the rattling of the coins as he interpreted the sound, though, as we know, the noise was made by the gravel stones with which Gerald had weighted the box. However, it was only prolonging his anticipation, and anticipation is always pleasant. He laughed to himself as he thought of Gerald arriving at the bank without the gold. Decidedly it was the richest joke of the season.
At last he found a stone that suited his purpose, and began to hammer away at the lock of the box. There was only slight delay. The lid flew open, and with a smile of gleeful anticipation the thief looked into it.
The bitterness of his disappointment can scarcely be imagined. The cup of success was dashed from his lips just as he was ready to taste its contents. The result of his enterprise was only a heap of gravel stones!
"The boy has made an idiot of me!" he said, bitterly. "But where is the gold?"
It did not take him long to guess the nature of the trick that Gerald had played upon him. He gnashed his teeth with rage when he thought of Gerald riding away with the gold in his pocket, or elsewhere secreted in the wagon.
"I'd like to choke the kid!" he growled between his set teeth.
He understood now why Gerald had driven away so rapidly. If there had been the slightest chance of overtaking him, he would have set out in pursuit. But by this time the boy was nearly a mile away, and it would have been foolish for him to entertain such a thought.
In his anger he kicked the tin box furiously; and, not content with that, he picked it up and flung it as far as he was able. He pictured to himself Gerald entering the bank and depositing the gold—his gold, as he regarded it—and entertaining the bank officials with an account of the way in which he had evaded the robber. If only he could be revenged upon Gerald, that would be a satisfaction though the gold coins were lost.
Meanwhile Gerald kept on his way till he reached the bank. He introduced himself to the receiving teller as representing Mr. Nixon, and began to draw out the gold coins from his pocket.
"You seem loaded down with gold," said the teller. "Why didn't you bring the money in a box or bag?"
"I started with it in a box, but put it in my pockets for security."
"You thought that more secure?"
"Yes, sir. But for my doing so I should have been robbed."
"How is that?"
Gerald explained the encounter with the tramp.
"I see you are right," said the teller, approvingly. "The thief will probably be considerably disappointed when he opens the box."
"I should like to have been present and witnessed his surprise," said Gerald, laughing.
"Are you not afraid he will waylay you on your way back, and try to get revenge?"
Gerald looked thoughtful. He realized the danger.
"What would you advise me to do?" he asked.
"I'll tell you. How soon do you start?"
"In an hour."
"Would you object to a companion?"
"No. I should be glad of company."
"Then it can be arranged. My brother-in-law wants to go to Campville. He is a strong, robust man, who is six feet in height, and would tip the scales at two hundred. If you have him with you I think your dishonest friend won't be in any hurry to attack you."
Gerald listened to these words with satisfaction. He knew that the highwayman was more than a match for him in physical strength, and might inflict upon him a serious injury. The plan proposed would insure his safety.
It chanced at this moment that the person referred to entered the bank.
"Louis," said the receiving teller, "here is a young man who offers to give you a ride to Campville."
"I shall consider it quite a favor."
"I ought to warn you that he may be stopped by a highwayman. If you feel nervous——"
"If there is only one person, I think we can manage him, Mr.——"
"Lane—Gerald Lane. Mr. Lane, here is my brother-in-law, Louis Bean."
Gerald shook hands with his new acquaintance, and gave a brief account of his encounter with the tramp on his way over.
"We will give him a warm reception if he undertakes to attack us, Mr. Lane. You played a neat trick on him. So you represent Mr. Nixon?"
"Yes, sir. I shall remain with him for a time."
"Have you known him long?"
"I was sent out by a friend in the East, to whom he wrote, explaining his need of help."
"I suppose the old man is rich?"
"At any rate, he has money enough to support himself in comfort."
"He hasn't enjoyed much of that for some years. I remember his cabin at Campville. It wasn't fit for any one to live in."
"I induced him to move into the house formerly occupied by Jim Morris."
"Was he willing to move? Didn't he mind the expense?"
"Mr. Nixon is not a mean man. He lived poorly because he had not energy enough to make other arrangements. He lets me spend whatever I like for him."
"He is fortunate in having someone to look after him. When do you want to start?"
"As soon as I have had some dinner. Is there a restaurant or hotel in the town?"
"No, but I will take you round to my house. Mrs. Bean will be glad to give you a dinner."
Half an hour later Gerald and his new friend set out for Campville.
"If your friend of the morning stops you," said Louis Bean, "it will be at a point about four miles distant. When we approach the place I will get out and conceal myself, to give him a chance to show what he intends to do. I will see that he does no harm. We will have another joke at his expense!"
This proposal suited Gerald, who had no objection to a second discomfiture of the ruffian from whom he had already had one narrow escape.
At the point indicated by his companion, Louis Bean got out of the wagon and hid himself behind a clump of trees.
"Perhaps he may have seen me," he said. "If so, we shall have no fun. We shall soon find out."
"When matters are near the danger line," said Bean, "blow this whistle."
Gerald drove on slowly, hoping that the ruffian would appear. He had a sense of humor which would be gratified by the opportunity to turn the tables on him.
Saul Gridley's anger had not cooled in the three hours since he saw Gerald riding off, after serving him a trick which humiliated him the more because he felt that he had been worsted by a mere boy. He resolved to punish him for the trick, and felt sure that he would have a chance to do it. There was but one road by which Gerald could return from Fairfield—the same road by which he went.
All at once, five minutes after Bean had left the wagon, the tall form of Saul Gridley appeared in the center of the road. He smiled grimly.
"So you have come back?" he said, as Gerald pulled up.
"Yes," answered Gerald, calmly, though his heart beat rapidly with excitement.
"That was a mean trick you played on me!"
"What do you mean?"
"You know well enough. You thought yourself very smart, when you rode off with the gold and left me a box of gravel stones!"
"I didn't care to give you the gold. You asked me to give you the tin box, and I did so!"
"Yes; but you knew what I wanted. Didn't it occur to you that I would stop you on your return from the bank?"
"Well, you have done so! What do you propose to do?"
"To flog you within an inch of your life!" said the tramp savagely. "Just get out of the wagon, and we will proceed to business!"
As he spoke he seized the bridle, and Gerald felt that the crisis had come. He drew the whistle from his pocket, and blew a loud blast upon it.
Saul Gridley was startled by the whistle. What did it mean? He decided that it was only a ruse, intended to frighten him.
"None of your fooling!" he exclaimed, angrily. "It won't do any good. Get down from the wagon immediately!"
"Thank you. I would rather not," said Gerald, composedly.
"Then, my boy, I will pull you down!"
He started to carry out his threat, when something happened that really startled him. A bullet whizzed by his ear.
"What!" he began, in a startled tone, but the sentence was not finished, for, darting from a covert where he had been concealed, Louis Bean made his appearance on the scene. Saul Gridley stared at him with dazed countenance.
"What are you about there, you rascal?" demanded Bean, sternly.
Saul Gridley was a man who could act the bully with one inferior to himself in strength, but he was a coward in the presence of his physical superior.
"Why did you fire at me?" he asked, nervously. "You might have killed me!"
"I don't think any one would have missed you. But you have not answered my question. What were you doing?"
"I—I was just having a little talk with the boy," he answered, stammering.
"Oh, that is all, is it?"
"What did he say to you, Gerald?"
"He ordered me to get out of the wagon, and threatened to flog me within an inch of my life."
"That is what you call having a little talk," said Bean. "What have you to say to this?"
"The boy must have misunderstood me," stammered Gridley.
"I don't mean that you shall misunderstand me! You attempted to rob this boy a few hours ago."
"I did not rob him. Ask him if I did."
"No; because he was too sharp for you. What is your name?"
"Saul Gridley," answered the tramp, reluctantly.
"How long have you been in this neighborhood?"
"It is not a healthy neighborhood for a man in your line of business. If your attempt at robbery should become known in Campville, you would probably be strung up without delay. However, don't let me interfere with your plans. You want to flog the boy. Well, proceed with your flogging!"
"That was only a joke," said Saul Gridley, beginning to look nervous and apprehensive.
"Then suppose you try to flog me. I offer myself in the place of the boy."
"I don't care to undertake it."
"That is where you are wise. You would find it the biggest contract you ever undertook. Gerald, what——"
"Let me go!" said Saul, nervously.
"I think I had better take you to Campville in the wagon."
"No, no—they would kill me!" ejaculated Saul, livid with fear.
"I will leave it to the boy. What shall I do with this man?"
"Let him go, if he will promise to leave the neighborhood at once."
"You hear? Will you agree to that?"
"Yes," was the eager answer.
"And will you promise never to come back?"
"Yes; I promise solemnly!"
"You had better keep your promise. When Gerald tells of your attempt to rob him, some of his friends may start out to hunt you down."
"Don't tell till to-morrow," entreated Saul.
"No, I won't. I'll give you time to get away," said Gerald.
"You'd better start at once," added Bean.
Saul Gridley lost no time in following this advice. When he was a hundred yards away, Louis Bean fired at him, taking care not to hit him. It is needless to say that the fugitive increased his speed and soon was out of sight.
"He is badly scared," said Bean, laughing. "I don't think we shall have any more trouble with him."
Arrived at Campville, Bean got out at the grocery store, where Gerald left the wagon. He went back at once to the Nixon house.
The old man's eye brightened when Gerald entered.
"I am glad you have come back," he said. "I felt lonely while you were away."
"I am glad you missed me," said Gerald, gently. "I deposited the money in the bank, and here is the bank-book."
"Very well. You may put it in my desk."
"Is there anything I can do for you, Mr. Nixon? Was your dinner brought over from the boarding-house?"
"Yes; but I did not have as much appetite when eating alone."
"Yet you lived alone for years?"
"It was not living—it was only existing. Now I feel much better since Mr. Nugent has forgiven me and allowed me to make atonement. Have you written to him since you came here?"
"No. I should like to do so. Have you paper and ink?"
"You will find writing materials in the desk."
"If I can do nothing for you, I will write at once."
Gerald wrote briefly, giving an account of his arrival in Campville, and the condition in which he found the man to whom he was sent.
When he had finished, he asked: "Won't you add a few lines, Mr. Nixon?"
"I don't feel equal to writing, but I will dictate if you will write for me."
"I will do so with pleasure."
Gerald paused with his pen in readiness. After a short time Thomas Nixon began to dictate:
"Mr. Nugent—Dear Sir: I cannot thank you sufficiently for your kindness in overlooking my serious offense, and for sending me Gerald Lane. I was surprised at first that you chose so young a messenger, but already I have seen enough to justify your choice. He has made a new man of me, and provided me with a more comfortable home. I very much needed some one to help me in my business, for I am too old and feeble to attend to it myself.
"One thing I wish to say, that I do not wish you to be at any expense on my account. I will see that Gerald's expenses are paid, and that he has a satisfactory salary. I suppose I am accounted a miser by people in the village, but it is true that I do not care much for money, though I think it a duty to take care of what I have, and with it make what amends I can for my past transgressions. I will see that all the expenses which you have already incurred are paid. A new life is opening before me, thanks to your kind arrangements, and I hope that the close of my life may be more creditable than the years that are passed.
"Respectfully and gratefully,
Gerald put the two letters in an envelope, and carried them to the post-office. This was in one corner of the grocery store, and Joe Loche, who seemed to be the busiest and most important man in Campville, was the postmaster.
Looking ahead a few days, we will follow the letter to Portville.
It gave great satisfaction to Mr. Nugent, as it confirmed his judgment in selecting so young a messenger. At times it had occurred to him that he was perhaps unwise in throwing so much responsibility on a boy of sixteen, yet it had not seriously weakened his faith in Gerald.
The letter removed all doubts.
Two hours after the letter was received he was told that a lady wished to see him.
"Who is it?" he asked; but the servant was a new one, and could not answer.
"Show her up!" he said, briefly.
Directly Mrs. Lane entered his presence.
"Take a seat, Mrs. Lane," said Mr. Nugent, courteously. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
"I wish to know if you have heard from Gerald?" said Mrs. Lane, abruptly.
"I have just received a letter from him."
"May I see it?"
"I must decline your request, since the letter is to a certain extent confidential."
"You will, at any rate, tell me where the boy wrote from?"
John Nugent hesitated.
"As he is my stepson, I have a right to know."
"I am glad that you show an interest in your stepson. He writes me from Montana."
"Montana!" ejaculated Mrs. Lane. "Is not that a long distance away?"
"Two thousand miles or more."
"And he is only a boy!"
"True, but he has the sense and discretion of a young man."
"I am aware that you have an exalted opinion of Gerald," said Mrs. Lane, looking annoyed. "I consider my Abel quite his equal in the qualities you name."
"I am not well acquainted with Abel," said Mr. Nugent, courteously. "If you are correct, I think you are to be congratulated."
"How long will Gerald be away?"
"I cannot tell at present. The gentleman to whom I sent him is much pleased with him, and will give him a good salary."
"Will you give me his address?"
"I do not feel at liberty to do so; but if you will leave any letter with me, I will forward it."
"You seem to forget that I am his stepmother."
"No, I do not. If I hear anything connected with him which warrants it, I will notify you."
"I wish Abel had his chance," thought Mrs. Lane, as she rose to go. "Mr. Nugent is infatuated with that boy."
Three months passed and found Gerald still in his new home. There were no striking incidents during this time, but in a quiet way Gerald had effected a good deal in the way of change and improvement. The house was provided with new comforts, a safe had been sent from Helena, in which Thomas Nixon kept securities and valuable papers, a good deal of correspondence was carried on, Gerald acting as private secretary. Meals were no longer sent in from the boarding-house, but a young Swedish woman was engaged as servant and housekeeper. In short, Mr. Nixon was beginning to live like other people.
To Gerald the most important event was the purchase of a horse for his use. At that time railroad facilities hardly existed in Campville, walking was difficult and fatiguing over the rough hills of Montana; and in traveling about for his employer Gerald found a horse of great service. He at any rate was in a position to contradict the statement that Thomas Nixon was a miser, for the old man repeatedly offered him money outside of his salary, but thus far Gerald had declined with thanks.
One day Gerald brought back a letter from the morning mail, which Mr. Nixon read with thoughtful interest.
"I may have to send you on a journey, Gerald," he said.
"All right, sir."
"This letter is from the superintendent of a gold mine in Ransom, seventy-five miles from here. I own a half interest in the mine. He writes me that the output for the last six months has been falling off, and that the value of the mine has greatly depreciated. He ends by offering twenty thousand dollars for my share."
"Why should he want to buy it if the mine is falling off so largely?"
"That is what occurred to me. He closes by inviting me to go on and investigate for myself. He knows that I should not be likely to accept the invitation as my health is not sufficiently good."
"Did the superintendent offer to buy for himself?"
"He intimated that there was a man from New York whom he could induce to buy. I presume by a misrepresentation of the paying qualities of the mine."
"That would be a fraud," said Gerald.
"Certainly, and I don't care to defraud anyone."
"What did you regard as the value of your half of the mine?"
"At least thirty-five thousand dollars."
"Whatever I can do for you in this matter, Mr. Nixon, I shall be glad to do."
"I will send you to Ransom, not as representing me, but on a visit of investigation. Look about you, find out what you can, and report to me."
"I hope I shall be able to acquit myself to your satisfaction."
"At any rate, I have great confidence in you, and shall be guided by your report."
"Is Ransom far from here?"
"About seventy-five miles. The way to it is across country, and at times the traveling may be rough."
"Oh, I can rough it," said Gerald, cheerfully. "Won't the superintendent be surprised at your not answering his letter?"
"I shall answer it. I will write that I will take his offer into consideration—that in a matter of such importance I cannot decide at once. I will also add that it is doubtful whether I can go to Ransom on account of my health, but he can write me any further information that he thinks may interest me. I will also give you a paper stating that you represent me, but that is not to be used unless it seems expedient."
"Yes, sir, I understand. Have you any further instructions? When do you wish me to start?"
"As soon as you can get ready. I will make out a list of places along the route for your guidance. I would let you ask Mr. Loche for directions as to the course you are to take, but it might leak out where you had gone."
"I shall find the place, sir. I am a Yankee, and can ask questions."
"Take what money you need. I leave that to your discretion."
"You put great trust in me, Mr. Nixon."
"Well, young as you are, you are my right-hand man. Mr. Nugent could have done me no greater favor than by sending you to me."
On the afternoon of the second day Gerald found himself riding up a rocky incline, probably fifty miles on his way. There was no other traveler in sight. This had been his experience much of the way. Through the clear atmosphere, however, he could see some scattered buildings, betokening the presence of a village three or four miles away.
"I wish some one would come along," thought Gerald. "I haven't seen a face for three hours."
Had Gerald foreseen in what way his solitude would be broken in upon, he would have hesitated to express such a wish.
Ten minutes later he heard a terrible roar, and, looking up quickly, turned pale with dismay, as he noted the approach of a huge lion advancing toward him at terrific speed.
He had never heard that lions were to be found in Montana, and his surprise was almost as great as his terror.
There was no time or inclination on his part to speculate upon such an extraordinary appearance. He felt that his life was in peril, and he must consider at once whether there was any chance of his saving it.
He was armed with a rifle, which thus far he had had no occasion to use. He was not unskilled in the use of firearms, and luckily the rifle was loaded. To use it seemed to be his one chance of safety.
When his horse espied the lion he seemed almost paralyzed with terror. If the lion had no other claim to be called king of beasts, the terror which he inspires in all other animals might be taken for a strong evidence of his royal supremacy. The horse stood stock still, and it seemed to Gerald that he would remain so till the lion came up. This being the case, he thought it best to slip off the horse's back and jump to the ground. It was this act of his, perhaps, that startled the horse into life and motion. At any rate he set out on a wild run, attaining a pace probably unprecedented in his history. The animal could not have rendered his rider a better service. Hitherto the lion's attention had been divided between the horse and the boy. Now that he saw the horse in rapid flight, the hunting instinct came to him. More than one have testified that when they saw a person or animal running they were seized with an impulse to follow. This was the case with the lion. Apparently he did not notice Gerald, but, swerving from his course, set out in pursuit of the horse.
When Gerald noted the fortunate turn that matters had taken, he breathed a sigh of deep-felt relief. But his relief was only temporary. It might not be long before the lion would overtake and kill the horse. Then, inflamed by the sight of blood, he would probably turn back and pursue the rider.
What could Gerald do?
HIS HORSE STOPPED ON SEEING THE LION
He turned his eyes toward the distant town. Probably it was only three miles away, but it might almost as well have been three hundred. Yet to reach it was his only hope of safety.
He turned and ran toward the town as fast as his legs could carry him. He soon became scant of breath. The high elevation helped to make him so. Probably the excitement, too, had its effect.
He had no means of knowing whether the lion had caught up with his intended victim. Gerald fervently hoped not. The longer the horse could hold out, the more time he had to get away. He hardly dared to look, for he felt that even this might take time and so delay him.
He did look up, however, and, to his infinite relief, he discovered that a horseman was speeding toward him from the town.
He stood still and waited.
The man stopped his horse when he saw Gerald, and asked: "Boy, have you seen a lion hereabouts?"
The speaker had long hair, and wore a large sombrero, after the fashion of Buffalo Bill.
"Yes," answered Gerald, as soon as he could get his breath. "I am running away from him."
"But where is he?"
"In pursuit of my horse."
"But why are you not on your horse? Did he throw you?"
"No; I slipped off his back, and he started off in wild terror, the lion in pursuit."
"That probably saved your life."
"But how does a lion happen to be in this territory?" asked Gerald, in curiosity. "I never heard that lions were to be found in Montana."
"Nor are they. This lion belongs to a circus. He escaped only half an hour ago, and I am in pursuit of him."
"Are you connected with the circus?"
"Yes. My brother and I own it. We want to recover the lion, for he cost us a large sum of money."
"But suppose you meet him—won't you be in danger?"
"No. Any one else would; but I am his keeper, and he is afraid of me."
Gerald looked at him in curiosity. He could not understand how any one could gain such power over a lion.
"In what direction did the lion go?"
Gerald pointed eastward.
"I suppose, then, there is nothing to do but wait till he comes back."
"I would rather not wait. You may have power over the lion, but I have not."
"Then you can push on to the village; I will wait here."
"How far is it?"
"Rather more than a mile."
"But if the lion should overtake me, I should be in a bad case."
"I'll tell you what you may do. You may take my horse, and I will stay here. Go to the hotel and say that I sent you."
"What name shall I use?"
"King. I am Paul King, and I belong to King Brothers' Circus."
"I don't like to deprive you of your horse."
"It is of no consequence. If Nero comes back I can meet him just as well alone."
"Do you think he will come back?"
"Aye. Look!" he added, with excitement, "there he is!"
Speeding toward them came the big beast, lashing his sides with his tail, evidently in a state of great excitement. Gerald trembled as he saw him. There are few, whatever their courage, who would not do so. He did not dare to set out on the way to the village. He thought it better to remain with the lion's keeper and under his protection.
Paul King stood calm and imperturbable, waiting the arrival of his lost charge. There was a time when he, too, would have fled, but he had become used to lions and their ways, and felt perfect confidence in his power to subdue them.
As Nero came nearer, Gerald could see that his jaws were bloody. He guessed that the blood was that of his ill-fated horse.
"He has killed your horse, sure enough," said King. "Was he valuable?"
"I paid a hundred dollars for him."
"He wasn't insured against lions?"
"I am sorry for your loss."
"I shall not mind that if I save my own life."
"Your life is in no danger."
By this time the lion was almost upon them. He looked terrible, with the blood-stains about his jaws, but Paul King's equanimity was not shaken. One thing, however, he failed to consider, and that was the effect of blood upon the savage brute. Great as was his ascendency over Nero, the savage instinct of the great animal destroyed the effect of years of discipline.
Paul King understood this when Nero advanced upon him, unheeding his tone of command.
"Down, Nero!" he cried; but Nero would not down. His wicked eyes glared, his tail lashed his sides, and he rushed at his keeper with hostile intent.
It flashed upon King that Nero was becoming dangerous.
"I shall have to kill you!" he cried, between his set teeth.
He fired at the lion, but either the huge animal swerved or something affected his aim, for it did not hit the mark.
Then Gerald thought it was time for him to act. His life as well as the keeper's was in peril. Raising his weapon he took steady aim.
"Shoot him in the eye!" exclaimed King.
Gerald obeyed, directions. As a boy, of course, he was not a practised marksman; but luck—or perhaps it would be better to say Providence—was on his side, and the bullet entered Nero's eye and penetrated to his brain. The lion swayed a moment, and then fell over on his side. Death seemed to be instantaneous.
"By Jove! you have killed him!" exclaimed Paul King. "It was a fine shot!"
"Is he really dead?" asked Gerald, finding it difficult to believe in his success.
"Yes, he is dead fast enough. He is dead, and the circus is out nearly five thousand dollars."
"That was better than to have him kill either of us."
"You are right. I never knew Nero in such a mood. It must have been the horse's blood that excited him."
"Have you any other lion in the show?"
"Yes, one; but this was the best."
"Shall you leave him here?"
"I will send out some of my men to bury him. He was a grand beast, and deserves burial. And now let us be going back."
"I will get off the horse and leave him to you," said Gerald.
"No; since my lion killed your horse, it is only fair that you should ride on mine. To be sure you killed the lion."
"I feel proud of it. I never expected to kill a lion."
"You have reason to be proud. You are the only boy I ever knew that could say as much."
Though Goldwin was a small town, a circus performance was given there during the evening. Five miles away was a mining station, and some seventy-five miners were in attendance. Gerald was glad to go, partly because it filled up his evening agreeably, and partly from the taste for such performances which he had in common with most boys of his age.
It was a small show, but Goldwin had never had a visit from Barnum or Forepaugh, and vociferously applauded the clown, the bareback riders, the trapeze performers, and other acts familiar to the regular circus goer.
In cages, in full view of the audience, were a few animals, including a Bengal tiger and a lioness. Paul King, Gerald's acquaintance of the afternoon, described these in succession. When he came to the lioness, he said: "I am sorry not to be able to show you the lion Nero, one of the finest specimens ever imported from Africa. He has been connected with our show for five years, but this morning he escaped and started out on a jaunt across country. He nearly killed a boy, who slipped off his horse and left the lion to chase the unfortunate animal. He overtook and tore the horse to pieces, and then started on his return.
"I had gone out in search of him, having confidence in my power over him. But I was mistaken. The blood which he had tasted roused his savage nature, and I was compelled to use my gun. But by bad luck I failed, and should myself have fallen a victim, but for the boy who had joined me and shot him in the eye, instantly killing him.
"I cannot show you the lion Nero, but I am able to show you the boy who killed him, the only boy within my knowledge who ever killed a lion."
He signaled, to Gerald, who rose from his seat, flushed and bashful. The whole audience, and especially the miners, cheered him loudly. Gerald bowed his acknowledgment and sat down.
When the performance was over more than one went up to Gerald and shook his hand. Among them was a tall, slabsided Yankee, who closely resembled the pictures of Uncle Sam.
"I tell you, boy, you're true grit," he said; "take the word of Joshua Burdoch for that. I've shot a panther, but I own I shouldn't dare to tackle a lion."
"It was a case of necessity," said Gerald, smiling. "Either I must kill him, or he would have killed me."
"Weren't you afraid?"
"Yes, I was."
"I think better of you for saying so. Some would have denied it and said they were perfectly cool."
"I hope I shall never meet another lion," said Gerald. "I am satisfied with killing one."
"Where are you going when you leave here?"
"So am I. Suppose we hitch horses?"
"I shall be very glad of your company, Mr. Burdoch; but, as to hitching horses, I shall have to buy one first. The poor animal I came on was killed by Nero."
"You can buy one in town, and if you need money I will lend you some."
"There won't be any trouble about that. I am well provided."
Gerald was pleased to have secured as companion, an honest man whom he could trust. Moreover, in case of danger or difficulty, he felt that he could rely on Joshua Burdoch for help.
Gerald purchased a horse, and kept on his way to Ransom with Joshua Burdoch. After some reflection he told his Yankee friend his business. The latter promised him his assistance if required.
"That man, the superintendent, is a crafty old fox," he said. "Between us we must circumvent him. What is his name?"
"When we get to Ransom we must make inquiries and learn all we can before acting. It seems to me it is rather a heavy responsibility for you!"
"So it is, and I am glad to have your advice and assistance."
"It will be fun for me to outwit the old fox!"
They speedily reached Ransom. It was entirely a mining town. The houses of the miners, with the hotel and store, constituted the town. Gerald stayed at the hotel, which he found a fair one for such a place. His room and Mr. Burdoch's joined. If Mr. Burdoch had any business he did not mention it, except to say that he had a few dollars, and might invest if he found anything worth buying.
Among the boarders at the Ransom House was a small, thin, shriveled man, with a wrinkled face and a pair of sharp, crafty eyes, whose name on the register was Matthew Grote. He appeared to have money, and it was currently reported that he wanted to make an investment.
On the evening of their arrival, Nelson Hawk, the superintendent of the mine, called, and, taking a seat in the public room, began to converse with Grote. Gerald conjectured that this must be the man who wanted to buy the mine. He sat down about ten feet from the pair, and appeared to be absorbed in a paper which he had picked up in the office. Grote and Hawk had no suspicion that the boy, whom they considered of small importance, was a listener to their conversation, and spoke in their ordinary tone of voice.
"Have you heard from old Nixon, Mr. Hawk?" asked Grote.
"Yes. I received a letter yesterday."
"What does he say?"
"That he can't come on. His health will not admit of it."
"Will he sell you his interest?"
"He says he will take the offer into consideration, and will let me know soon."
"I wish the old crank would hurry up. Does he express any doubts about your statements as to the depreciation in value?"
"No. Why should he? He knows nothing about it except what I tell him."
"But suppose these stories should be true?"
"What do you mean?"
"That the mine is falling off in the amount of its output."
"My dear sir, you are not in earnest. Why, the mine was never in better condition than at present. Our output last month was greater than ever before. A half share is well worth the forty thousand dollars I require. Why, if you buy you can make fifty per cent. in one year. I can almost guarantee that."
"Why, then, are you willing to sell your share?"
"Because I want to divide the responsibility. Besides, I am short of ready money. I should like, if I get hold of Nixon's share, to sell the whole thing for seventy-five thousand dollars. I am tired of this country, and I want to go back to my Eastern home."
"Well, we will see. I might make up my mind to buy the entire mine if I find that your statements are correct. How soon do you think Mr. Nixon will make up his mind?"
"Very soon. If not, I will write him again."
"The sooner the better."
Here the twain parted. Gerald had heard all that he needed. He saw that a stupendous fraud was contemplated, of which Mr. Nixon was to be the victim. Hawk had offered him twenty thousand dollars for his half interest, and agreed conditionally to sell it to Grote for forty thousand. This would give the superintendent a very neat profit.
Mr. Burdoch had not heard this conversation. Had he been within hearing, they would have been more careful in their speech. As to Gerald, they looked upon him as a mere boy, and did not feel it necessary to be on their guard.
Gerald, however, lost no time in imparting the information he had obtained to Mr. Burdoch.
"The confounded rascal!" exclaimed the Yankee. "He has got up a very pretty scheme for fleecing your employer. So he says the mine is doing well?"
"Never better. He says a half interest is well worth forty thousand dollars."
"Humph! It may be worth looking up. I might decide to buy the mine myself."
Gerald regarded his companion with surprise. He had not looked upon him as a rich man, but thought he might be worth one or two thousand dollars.
"Do you really mean it?" he asked.
"Certainly I do."
"I did not suppose——" Here Gerald hesitated.
"Oh, I see—you didn't think I had money enough. Well, Gerald, I don't mind telling you I could buy two such mines as this one here. I ain't no dude, but I've got the gold."
Gerald lost no time in writing a letter to Thomas Nixon, to let him know of his arrival in Ransom and his adventures up to date. He finished by advising Mr. Nixon not to sell his share in the mine for less than forty thousand dollars.
"Indeed," he added, "I think I can find you a purchaser at that price."
He did not make himself known to Nelson Hawk, but remained at the hotel waiting for further developments.
He did not observe that one of the miners who hung about the hotel surveyed him curiously, nor had he any idea that he was recognized. But this miner—Jack Manton—remembered to have seen him at Campville, and knew his connection with old Tom Nixon, whose interest in the mine was well known. Desiring to ingratiate himself with the superintendent, he joined him in the street as he was leaving the mine, and said, touching his hat:
"Mr. Hawk, may I have a few words with you?"
"Go on," said Hawk, impatiently, "but my time is valuable."
"It will be worth your while to hear me. Have you seen a boy about the hotel?"
"Yes; what of it?"
"Do you know who he is?"
"No. Is he a person of any importance?"
"I should say so. He is secretary and companion—whatever you may choose to call it—to old Tom Nixon."
Nelson Hawk uttered an exclamation of dismay.
"Are you sure of that?" he asked hurriedly.
"Certainly I am."
"How do you know?"
"I saw him at Campville three weeks ago and I know he lives with old Tom."
Straightway it flashed upon the superintendent's mind that he had discussed the condition of the mine with Matthew Grote in hearing of this boy. He must, he felt convinced, have spoken of its large output, having no idea that this youth was an agent of his partner. If this were the case all his plans were upset. Gerald would of course communicate what he had heard to the old man.
What was to be done?
He must question Gerald and find out how much he knew, and whether he had written to Mr. Nixon.
So when he next saw Gerald in the hotel he sat down beside him.
"Where do you come from, young man? Haven't I seen you in Campville?"
"I don't know. Have you been there recently?"
"No, but one of my men has. Do you know old Tom Nixon?"
"Did he send you here?"
Nelson Hawk breathed hard. All his fears were realized.
"Have you any communication for me? I wrote recently to Mr. Nixon, offering him a large sum for his interest in the mine. Do you think he will accept?"
"I know he will not."
"Because it is worth much more than you offered."
"Shall you advise him to refuse my offer?"
"That is frank. I suppose you heard me say to Mr. Grote that the output had increased?"
"And naturally you concluded that it is worth more than I offered. But there is another side to the question—expenses have increased, too. It is harder to work. Would you like to visit the mine and see for yourself?"
"Yes, sir," said Gerald, promptly.
Hawk's eyes lighted up with satisfaction.
"Very well," he said; "we will go at once."
They proceeded to the mine, half a mile away, and Hawk signaled for the elevator. It was a large cask, operated by a windlass.
"Get in," he said.
They did so, and began slowly to descend. The mine was about three hundred feet deep. Touching bottom, they left the tub, and Hawk began to show Gerald about, talking in a desultory way. At length they reached a side cavern, and Hawk led the way in. Then his manner changed.
"Boy," he said, "are you authorized to sell Mr. Nixon's interest in the mine?"
"I will give twenty thousand dollars."
"I can't take it."
"Be careful! You may come to harm if you don't?"
"What do you mean?" demanded Gerald, startled.
"I mean that I will keep you confined in this room until you agree to the bargain!"
Gerald turned pale. He saw that he was in a trap.
"I can't betray Mr. Nixon's interests."
Hawk opened the door and went out, thrusting Gerald back.
"I will come here to-morrow morning," he said. "By that time you may have come to your senses."
"Let me out!" exclaimed Gerald, vehemently.
"So I will, if you agree to my terms."
In a moment the door was locked, and Gerald found himself immured in a cavern three hundred feet below the surface of the earth.
HE SAW THAT HE WAS IN A TRAP
It seemed to Gerald like a terrible dream, as he tried with his unpractised eyes to peer through the blackness. But it was completely dark. It seemed to be an excavation which had been abandoned. It was at some distance from that part of the mine in which active operations were going on. How long he would be kept here he could not conjecture. Whether, indeed, the superintendent would dare to keep him in captivity, perhaps even let him starve to death, he could not tell. He felt it hard to realize the position he was in.
Leaving him to his troubled thoughts, we will go back to the hotel where Joshua Burdoch and he were guests.
When Gerald left the house with the superintendent, Burdoch was temporarily absent. Twenty minutes later he returned, and looked about for Gerald. Not seeing him he concluded that he had gone out for a walk. But an hour passed, and still Gerald was absent. He did not feel anxious about him, but he and Gerald were such constant companions that he felt lonesome and uneasy without him.
He walked up to the desk of the hotel and asked the landlord: "Have you seen anything of the boy?"
"Yes, he was here rather more than an hour ago."
"Did he go out?"
"Yes; he went out with Mr. Hawk."
"The superintendent of the mine?"
This surprised Mr. Burdoch. For, so far as he knew, the two had never held any communication.
"Did they appear to be talking together?" he asked.
"Where do you think they went?"
"I believe Hawk proposed that the boy should go with him to the mine."
"I wonder what that means?" thought Burdoch, puzzled.
He took his hat and walked out in the direction of the mine.
Near by he saw Nelson Hawk conversing with one of the miners.
"Mr. Hawk," he said, walking up to the superintendent, "where is Gerald Lane?"
Nelson Hawk shrugged his shoulders.
"I don't know," he answered.
"Lockard told me he left the hotel in your company."
"Yes, we walked a little way together."
"And then you separated?"
"Did he go back?"
"I presume so."
"He did not go down into the mine?"
"No. Why should he?"
"I don't know. I merely asked."
"I am busy. I can't talk with you any more."
Joshua Burdoch, more puzzled than ever, walked slowly away. A hundred yards distant he met a man he knew, and asked if he had seen anything of Gerald.
"An hour or two ago I saw him with Mr. Hawk."
"Where were they?"
"Just going down into the mine."
"I'll warrant, there's some mischief here!" exclaimed Burdoch. "Hawk has been deceiving me."
"You didn't see the two come up again?"
"No; but I saw Hawk coming out of the mine alone."
This confirmed the suspicion of Burdoch, and he guessed the truth.
"McKee," he said, "I scent trouble. That man has left the boy in the mine, and I propose to get him out. Are you with me?"
"Yes; I hate Hawk, and I will help you cheerfully."
"Then come back with me."
Burdoch strode back and walked up to the superintendent.
"Mr. Hawk," he said, "you have shut up the boy in the mine. Unless you release him I will shoot you!"
Hawk turned pale, but tried to bluster.
"You are mistaken," he said. "At any rate, I won't be talked to in this style."
"You can't help yourself."
"What motive could I have for confining the boy?"
"You have probably found out that he represents your partner, old Tom Nixon, and that he has come here to find out the real state of the mine."
"You astonish me, and I don't believe you. Nixon wouldn't send a kid like that."
"We won't argue the point. That boy must be released!"
"He is not in the mine."
"I intend to go down and see."
"Oh, very well; you can go!"
"You must go with us."
"I have not time."
In reply, Burdoch put a pistol to the side of his head.
"Be careful," said the affrighted superintendent, "it might go off!"
"Will you go down?"
They started, Burdoch watching Hawk closely, ready at the slightest sign of treachery to shoot him.
But Hawk had made up his mind to deceive him if he could. He did not dare to resort to violence in the case of a man so strong and determined as Joshua Burdoch. They descended to the bottom of the mine, and the party got out.
"Now," said Hawk, waving his hand, "you are at liberty to search for yourself, and if you can find the boy, do so!"
Burdoch and his friend went about the mine, peering everywhere, but no trace of Gerald's presence could be found.
Burdoch became uneasy and discouraged. He had no confidence in the superintendent. He felt convinced that he was being deceived, but how could he prove it?
"Well," said Hawk, who had not accompanied them, "have you found him?"
There was a triumphant smile on his face, which excited Burdoch's suspicions.
"Not yet," he answered, briefly.
"Oh, well, you can continue your search," and he walked away.
"McKee," said Burdoch, abruptly, "have you ever been in this mine before?"
"Yes; two years ago I was employed here for a few weeks."
"Is there any place—any secret place—besides those that we have visited where the boy could be confined?"
"Yes," answered McKee, with a sudden thought, "there is a vault not now used, rather apart from the rest of the mine, where he might be concealed."
"Can you guide me there?" asked Burdoch, eagerly.
"Yes, I think so."
"Then do so in mercy's name!"
McKee's memory served him well. He led the way to the side excavation. It was shut off from the rest of the mine by a wooden door. That door was locked.
"This is the place," said Burdoch. "Now to find out if Gerald is here!"
He struck with his heavy jack-knife on the door, and then waited.
There was an answering knock.
"That is he!" he exclaimed.
He bent down and called through the keyhole:
"Are you inside, Gerald?"
There was a faint sound. He could not hear the words, but he was convinced that it was Gerald's voice.
Now to open the door. It was heavy and the lock was strong. There seemed no way except to use the key. That key undoubtedly the superintendent had. Just then Nelson Hawk came in sight. He had been afraid the secret room would be found.
"Well, gentlemen," he said, uneasily, "you seem to have gone astray. What brought you here?"
"Give me the key of that door!" said Burdoch, sternly.
"I have no key."
"Give me that key!"
"I tell you I have none," and the superintendent started to go away.
Instantly Burdoch had him by the throat.
"Now search his pockets, McKee."
"You will repent this outrage," said Nelson Hawk, in a choking voice.
"I will risk that."
From his pockets a bunch of keys was taken by McKee, and one of them was found to fit the door.
Burdoch inserted it in the lock, and in a moment the door swung back, revealing Gerald, who gladly stepped outside.
"You scoundrel!" said Burdoch, shaking his fist in the superintendent's face. "Now tell your story, Gerald."
Gerald did so.
"What have you to say for yourself, Hawk?" demanded Burdoch.
"It must have been a mistake," whined the superintendent.
"You will hear from us again. Now, Gerald, we will go out."
"Now," said Burdoch, "do you know what I have decided to do?"
"I shall go back with you to Campville, make Mr. Nixon an offer for his share in the mine, come back and force Hawk out. I mean to control it and manage it myself. You shall introduce me to Tom Nixon."
"I will with pleasure."
Within two weeks Joshua Burdoch had bought Mr. Nixon's share of the mine at Ransom for forty thousand dollars. Mr. Hawk's share he secured for thirty thousand. He then made a formal proposal to Gerald to go to work for him as assistant manager. But to this Mr. Nixon demurred.
"I can't spare Gerald, Mr. Burdoch," he said.
"But, Mr. Nixon, think of the boy's interests. I am willing to pay him a salary of a hundred dollars a month."
"And I," said the old man, "will give him outright ten thousand dollars—one-fourth of the sum you have paid me for my interest in the mine."
"Give me your hand, Mr. Nixon," said Burdoch, "I can't go ahead of that. He is a good boy, and he deserves his good fortune."
Gerald was overwhelmed by his liberality.
"How can I thank you, Mr. Nixon," he said, "for your generosity?"
"It isn't generosity. It's only justice. But for you I doubt if I should be living to-day. You have taught me how to live. And now let me tell you something. I have sent on to Mr. Nugent the amount I took from his firm many years ago. He refused to accept interest, but wrote that I might make up to you whatever it amounted to. It amounts to more than the ten thousand dollars I have given you, but that I will account for later."
"I cannot realize my good fortune, Mr. Nixon. You and Mr. Nugent have been very kind to me."
"Are you tired of living in Montana?"
"I don't like it as well as living in my old home."
"Nor do I. With your help I propose to settle up my affairs, convert what property I have here into money, and go back to the East."
"I am very glad to hear you say so, Mr. Nixon."
"It will probably require six months. Then we will start. But you must stay with me there. I have no relations that I care for. I consider you my adopted son, and will see that you are provided for."
Steps were immediately taken to settle up Mr. Nixon's estate. To anticipate matters a little, it was found, after this was effected, that he possessed close upon seventy-five thousand dollars, though he had paid up the sum of his defalcation and made Gerald a gift of ten thousand dollars.
At length the time came when Mr. Nixon was ready to start for the East. The old man brightened up with anticipation.
"Gerald," he said, "I feel ten years younger. I really begin to think that I shall live a few years longer."
"I am sure you will, Mr. Nixon."
"How much I owe you! I little thought when you came to me, a mere boy, that you would do me so much good. John Nugent knew what he was about when he selected you as his messenger. How long is it since you came to me?"
"It must be nearly a year and a half."
"I should have been in my grave before this if you had not come. Do you ever hear from your stepmother?"
"I have not heard from her."
"She is still at Portville?"
"I suppose so."
"You won't leave me and go to live with her?"
"There is no danger of that," answered Gerald.
Mr. Nixon breathed a sigh of relief.
"Stay with the old man till he dies!" he pleaded. "You won't be sorry."
"I will, Mr. Nixon."
We must now go back to Portville and gather some information about Gerald's family.
Mrs. Lane lived in the old mansion that had belonged to his father. Abel also lived with her. He had teased her to go to the city to live, but she hesitated, partly from motives of prudence and partly from a thought of the temptations to which she feared Abel would yield.
She did not find her son a source of satisfaction. He was irritable and unpleasant in his manner, and a source of anxiety to her.
One day he came in and broke out: "What do you think I heard this morning?"
"I don't know. You had better tell me at once."
"Gerald is on his way home."
"Is he indeed? Who told you?"
"Munroe Hill. He lives near Mr. Nugent, you know. Mr. Nugent told him. Are you going to let him come here?"
"I don't know," replied Mrs. Lane, hesitatingly. "I presume he has some money."
"Then let him pay board. You can't afford to support him."
"People might say ill-natured things, as I received all my money from his father."
"Let them talk! It is none of their business. That reminds me, ma. Can't you let me have five dollars?"
"I let you have some money three days ago," said Mrs. Lane, frowning. "What did you do with it?"
"It was only three dollars."
"That is a good deal of money for a boy of your age. You seem to think I am made of money."
"You mustn't get mean, ma. Why, Mr. Lane left you as much as fifty thousand dollars. I have heard you say so."
"I will give you two dollars, and not a cent more. Don't ask me for any more for a week."
Abel did not commit himself, but taking the money, went down the street, where he soon spent part of it playing pool with a young man of not the best reputation.
Mrs. Lane sat down at her desk, and began to examine her accounts.
"Fifty thousand dollars!" she mused. "Yes, it is a goodly sum, and will maintain Abel and myself in comfort all our lives. I am sorry he is growing so extravagant. I shall have to check him. In one month I shall hand in my final accounts, and shall come into undisputed possession of my money. Then I shall be able to carry out the plan I have had in view so long, and will make a tour of Europe with Abel. I am told that it does not cost as much to travel in Europe as in this country. There, free from all money cares, I can enjoy myself. I can hardly wait for the time to come."
She closed her book and leaned back in her chair, in complacent thought.
But her meditation was soon interrupted.
"There's a gentleman below wishes to see you, Mrs. Lane," said Susan, the servant.
"Who is it? Did you ever see him before?"
"What name did he give?"
"Here's his card, ma'am. I came near forgetting to give it to you."
Mrs. Lane took the card from the servant's hand, and glanced at it.
She turned pale and uttered a half exclamation. Of all men in the world John Graves was about the last she wished to see. It was he who had deposited thirty thousand dollars in her husband's hands, and now, doubtless, he had come to claim it. This would take away more than half of the fortune on whose possession she had been congratulating herself.
What should she do? While she was considering this difficult question, Mr. Graves was ushered into the room.
He was a man of somewhat less than medium size, sixty years of age, but looking considerably older on account of his white hair and beard.
"Mrs. Lane?" he said inquiringly.
"That's my name," she answered stiffly.
"I have been living in Australia," he resumed, "for many years. Circumstances cut me off from news, and it is only since I came to Portville that I learned the sad news of your husband's death."
Mrs. Lane did not reply, but regarded him with a frosty air.
"It seems my poor friend has been dead nearly two years?"
John Graves regarded her with some surprise, so cold and repelling was her manner.
"Our relations were very confidential," continued Graves. "Before I went away I deposited in your husband's hands, as he doubtless told you, the sum of thirty thousand dollars."
"You are mistaken, sir," returned Mrs. Lane, in an icy tone. "He never told me any such thing, and you must pardon me for saying that I do not believe such a preposterous statement!"
John Graves arched his eyebrows in amazement, and regarded Mrs. Lane for a moment without speaking.
"Did your husband leave no memorandum respecting my deposit?" he asked, after a pause.
"That is very remarkable."
"It is more remarkable that you should come here with such a barefaced claim—a claim that would sweep away more than half of the estate my husband left."
"Then you doubt the genuineness of my claim?" he asked, calmly.
"Then I will say good-by—for the present." John Graves rose, and, with a bow, left the room. Mrs. Lane breathed a sigh of relief.
"I think I have gotten rid of him," she said.
It was soon noised about that John Graves was in town. Ten years before he had been a frequent visitor at the house of Mr. Lane, and he was still remembered by many.
Among those who were interested in his return was Enoch Perkins, the lawyer who had in his safe the letter which Mrs. Lane had lost relating to his claim on the estate. He had kept it carefully, not knowing whether it would ever be available. Now it seemed the time had come.
Mr. Graves was staying at the house of John Nugent, but he had not yet mentioned the business matter which he had discussed with Mrs. Lane. He was considering what he would do about it. Not that it would seriously embarrass him to lose the money, for he was a rich man outside of this sum. But he felt that at any rate he must substantiate his claim and prove that he was no impostor.
Graves was passing the office of the lawyer the next day, when Mr. Perkins called him to come in.
"I don't know if you know me, Mr. Graves," he said, "but when you were last here I had just opened an office. This is my card."
"I am glad to make your acquaintance, Mr. Perkins," said Graves, politely.
"Will you pardon me for my abruptness, but have you not a claim—a large claim—on the estate of the late Mr. Lane?"
John Graves eyed him in amazement.
"How do you know this?" he asked.
"Let me show you."
He opened his safe and drew out the sheet of paper addressed by Mr. Lane to his wife.
As John Graves read it his eyes brightened and his face showed the relief he felt.
"So my friend was true to me, after all," he murmured.
"Have you been to see Mrs. Lane?" asked the lawyer, shrewdly.
"And she refuses to entertain your claim?"
"Yes. But how did you come into possession of this paper?"
The lawyer told him briefly.
"I foresaw what would happen," he said, "and I have kept this paper carefully for nearly two years."
"Thank you. You have done me a great service."
"The estate is not yet settled. That is, the final accounts have not been handed into the court. Mrs. Lane doubtless thinks she will be able to confiscate your claim. I have heard that she intends to go to Europe when her accounts are filed."
"She seems a very unprincipled woman. I am sorry that my old friend succeeded so poorly in his matrimonial venture."
"She did show not herself in her true colors till after his death. He died believing her to be a woman of good principles."
"I am glad of that."
"If you will put the matter in my hands, Mr. Graves, I will manage it for you."
"I will authorize you to do so. I do not care to see her again."
Mrs. Lane was considerably surprised to receive this letter, signed, "Enoch Perkins, Attorney-at-Law":
"Madam—You are requested to call at my office on business of great importance."
She was disposed at first to take no notice of the letter, but a feeling of uneasiness finally induced her to answer the summons.
"Mr. Perkins," she said, haughtily, as she entered the office, "I have received a strange letter from you."
"Be seated, madam, and I will let you know why I wrote. I am acting for Mr. John Graves, who has a large claim against you."
"I thought as much. He did me the honor to call yesterday and make a most preposterous claim against my husband's estate."
"It is very clear that he is trying to swindle me!"
"The claim is genuine."
"Let him prove it then!"
"He is prepared to do so."
"How?" she asked, a little startled.
"On your husband's testimony."
"My husband is dead."
"He left a memorandum in writing relating to this claim."
Mrs. Lane knew this, but she believed that it was no longer in existence.
"Let him produce it," she said, calmly.
"He is prepared to do so."
"There is no such memorandum in existence."
"Pardon me, but there is!"
"Where is it?"
"In my hands."
Mrs. Lane turned pale.
"I don't believe it!"
"Then I will show you a copy of it."
He drew from his desk a copy of the memorandum printed in an earlier part of this story.
"Read it, if you like," he said.
She did so, and her face twitched convulsively.
"I can't understand how this should have come into your hands," she said; "even if it were genuine?"
"Mrs. Lane, it was left by you on your desk nearly two years ago, and brought to me by a tramp, who didn't know its importance."
"Supposing this to be so, you should have returned it to me at once!" she snapped.
"You would have destroyed it."
"This is not in Mr. Lane's handwriting."
"No, but the original is."
"Let me see it."
"It will be shown in court."
Mrs. Lane breathed hard. She sat back in her chair, and a hard look came over her face.
"I will resist this swindle!" she hissed.
"As you please. Who is your lawyer?"
"I will consider. I am a woman, but I won't allow myself to be robbed!"
"As you please. I have no more to say to you this morning."
She left the office very much perturbed, but gradually became calmer.
"I will resist!" she declared. "Even if the memorandum is in Mr. Lane's handwriting, I shall claim that he was not in sound mind when he wrote it."
She must have a lawyer, however. There was another lawyer in Portville, and she summoned him.
"Mr. Bacon," she said, "a dastardly attempt has been made to swindle me out of thirty thousand dollars. The claimant is John Graves."
"But, Mrs. Lane, Mr. Graves is a man of the highest standing."
"I don't care! He is trying to swindle me now!"
"Please give me the particulars."
"I refer you to Enoch Perkins, whom he has engaged as counsel. He will give you all the information you require. I want you to act as my lawyer."
Mr. Bacon bowed.
"I will call on Lawyer Perkins," he said, "and see you again to-morrow morning."
The next morning he called.
"Well," he said, "I have seen Mr. Perkins."
"And I believe the claim of Mr. Graves to be genuine."
"He can't get the money on a mere memorandum."
"It might be difficult; but this suit would ruin your reputation for honesty. Everybody will believe Mr. Graves."
"Let them do it! I will keep the money!"
She said this between her set teeth.
"There is another little circumstance," said the lawyer, "which will make your case a desperate one."
"What is it?"
"Mr. Graves has your late husband's receipt for the money."
"It is a forgery!" she said, hoarsely.
"No, it is not. I have examined it, and can safely pronounce it to be in Mr. Lane's handwriting. I am very familiar with his handwriting, and so, indeed, are dozens of others in the town."
Mrs. Lane was silent, and her face showed her keen disappointment.
"Then you don't see any chance for me?" she said, in a low voice—"you don't see any chance for me?"
"But it will ruin me. The interest will amount to a large sum."
"Mr. Perkins tells me that Mr. Graves will waive interest."
"I will let you know my decision to-morrow."
Mrs. Lane announced the next day that she would not resist the claim. It was a bitter disappointment, but she would have twenty thousand dollars left.
Three days later Gerald and Mr. Nixon reached Portville. They called at once on Mr. Nugent, who received the old man kindly and cordially.
"Mr. Nugent," said Tom Nixon, "I have come prepared to pay you the interest on the amount of my defalcation."
"Give it to Gerald. I don't want it."
"I have already given Gerald ten thousand dollars, and when I die he will have all that I leave behind me."
Mr. Nugent looked much pleased. He grasped the hand of his old debtor cordially, and said: "I am pleased to hear it. Then you found Gerald of assistance to you?"
"But for him I should not have been living to-day. He has done everything for me."
"Probably you wondered at my choice of a messenger at first?"
"Yes. It seemed strange to me that you should select a young boy, but I soon found that he had the sense and discretion of a man."
"Have you seen your stepmother yet, Gerald?" asked Mr. Nugent.
"No; but I met Abel on the street."
"What did he have to say?"
"He asked me if I had any money."
"What did you reply?"
"'A little.' Then he said, 'If you expect to live on ma you will find yourself much mistaken. You will have to earn your own living.' I told him I shouldn't trouble Mrs. Lane."
"But, perhaps, you may," said Mr. Nugent.
Gerald looked an inquiry.
Mr. Nugent explained:
"I have in my hands a later will than the one under which Mrs. Lane inherits. It was placed in my hands by your father, with directions not to produce it if Mrs. Lane treated you fairly. Otherwise, I was to make it known. By this will you are left half the property. That will only amount to ten thousand dollars, as Mrs. Lane has been compelled to surrender thirty thousand dollars to John Graves. She will be left comparatively poor."
"Mr. Nugent," said Gerald, "am I compelled to take advantage of this will?"
"Why do you ask?"
"Because, thanks to Mr. Nixon's generosity, I do not need it. I feel rich already. I am willing to surrender all claims upon my father's estate."
"Your stepmother does not deserve it."
"Let the boy have his way," said Thomas Nixon, "I prefer to provide for him myself."
So it was arranged. Mrs. Lane was left in undisturbed possession of the estate, but now—five years later—it has been reduced one half. Abel has proved extravagant and dissipated, and is far from giving satisfaction to his mother. Gerald has bought his father's house, and is now owner of the old homestead. He and Mr. Nixon live there, and he occupies a business position in the city. His prospects are very bright, and there is every indication that he will be in time a very rich man. In his case success is based on merit. He has brought happiness to Mr. Nixon, who is in better health than he has been for the last twenty years. The clouds that darkened a part of his life have rolled by, and his declining years are full of sunshine, thanks to Gerald and his mission.
A Series of books for young people that contains the latest and best works of the most popular writers for boys and girls. The stories are not only told in an interesting and charming manner, but most of them contain something in the way of information or instruction, and all are of a good moral tone. For this reason they prove doubly good reading; for, while the child is pleasantly employing his time, he is also improving his mind and developing his character. Nowhere can better books be found to put into the hands of young people. They are profusely and handsomely illustrated by the best artists and are well printed on good paper with exceedingly handsome and durable bindings.
Sold by the leading booksellers everywhere, or sent prepaid on receipt of price, except on net books, postage extra.
A charming story of an ambitious girl who overcomes in a most original manner, many obstacles that stand in the way of securing a college course. While many of her experiences are of a practical nature and show a brave, self-reliant spirit some of her escapades and adventures are most exciting, yet surrounding the whole there is an atmosphere of refinement and inspiration that is most helpful and pleasing.
This is a most interesting and healthful tale of a girl's life in a New England college. The trustful and unbounded love of the heroine for her mother and the mutual and self-sacrificing devotion of the mother to the daughter are so beautifully interwoven with the varied occurrences and exciting incidents of college life as to leave a most wholesome impression upon the mind and heart of the reader.
Two Wyoming Girls
Two girls, thrown upon their own resources, are obliged to "prove up" their homestead claim. This would be no very serious matter were it not for the persecution of an unscrupulous neighbor, who wishes to appropriate the property to his own use. The girls endure many privations, have a number of thrilling adventures, but finally secure their claim and are generally well rewarded for their courage and perseverance.
A story of life on a sheep ranch in Montana. The dangers and difficulties incident to such a life are vividly pictured, and the interest in the story is enhanced by the fact that the ranch is managed almost entirely by two young girls. By their energy and pluck, coupled with courage, kindness, and unselfishness they succeed in disarming the animosity of the neighboring cattle ranchers, and their enterprise eventually results successfully.
This is a strong and well told tale of the 9th century. It is a faithful portrayal of the times, and is replete with historical information. The trying experiences through which the little heroine passes, until she finally becomes one of the great Alfred's family, are most entertainingly set forth. Nothing short of a careful study of the history of the period will give so clear a knowledge of this little known age as the reading of this book.
A little maid of Palestine goes in search of her father, who for political reasons, has been taken as a slave to Rome. She is shipwrecked in the Mediterranean, but is rescued by a passing vessel bound for Britain. Eventually an opportunity is afforded her for going to Rome, where, after many trying and exciting experiences, she and her father are united and his liberty is restored to him.
The heroine of this unusual tale resides with her uncle on an island in the backwoods of Maine, and her exciting adventures, her unique animal pets, her rescue of her father from unlawful imprisonment, all combine to form a story of exceptional interest and merit. Considerable information concerning animal and plant life is interwoven with the story.
The heroine, while yet a motherless babe, is adopted by a wealthy planter of Virginia. At an early age she evinces a strong love for the cause of the colonies, while her uncle and his family are ardent adherents of the King. Her many deeds of heroism carry her to Philadelphia during its occupancy by the British, thence to Valley Forge, the Wyoming massacre, and finally to the surrender at Yorktown.
A story of the Civil War in which the interest centers about a brave young girl who is sent by her father from New York to New Orleans as a bearer of important messages. Aided by Admiral Farragut she delivers these after running the Mississippi blockade. Later she is forced to leave New Orleans and is captured and held a prisoner at Vicksburg until its surrender to General Grant.
A young girl, reared among most delightful surroundings in Vermont, suddenly discovers that, owing to a clause in her father's will, she must make her future home with relatives in the lower portion of old California. No more interesting experience could come in the life of any bright, observing girl than that of an existence in this semi-tropical region, with its wealth of Spanish tradition and romance, its glorious climate, its grand scenery, and its abundance of flowers and foliage.
A beautifully told story of the trials of a little backwoods girl who lives in a secluded place with an eccentric uncle, until his death. The privations she undergoes during his life-time, her search for other relatives, her rather uncongenial abode with them, her return to her early home to acquire her uncle's estate, and thus to enjoy a useful and happy life, form a most interesting narrative of a girl whose ruggedness and simplicity of character must appeal to the admiration of all readers.
An heroic little Georgia girl, in her father's extremity, takes charge of his ferry, and through many vicissitudes and several impending calamities, succeeds in carrying out her purpose of supporting her invalid parent and his family. The heroine's cheerfulness and hearty good humor, combined with an unflinching zeal in her determination to accomplish her work, make a character which cannot fail to appeal to young people.
A dramatic story dealing with the struggles of the early French and Spanish settlers for supremacy in the Carolinas. The heroine is an only daughter of the French commandant and is enticed from the fort and held captive by the Spaniards. Her release is finally effected by a young Spaniard whom she befriended, but not until after she has endured many severe trials.
A young girl reared in all the simplicity of a Quaker family is suddenly transported to the home of a wealthy cousin. She is at first greeted with derision, but gradually her unfailing gentleness and sterling character win the respect of her cousins, and at a time of financial disaster she becomes the reliance of the entire family.
This is a most interesting story of a bright and spirited young girl whose widowed mother re-marries. The impulsive girl chafes under the new relationship, being unwilling to share with another the bounteous love of her mother which she had learned to claim wholly for her own. By the exercise of great tact and kindness, the obdurate Dorothy is at last won over, and becomes a most estimable girl.
The story of a governess' attempt to win the love and confidence of her ward, who, owing to a lack of early restraint, is inclined to be somewhat of a hoyden. The development of the girl's character and her eventual victory over her turbulent disposition combine to form a story of unusual merit and one which will hold its reader's eager attention throughout.
"A story of girls for girls that teaches a moral without labeling or tagging it at the end."—Western Christian Advocate, Cincinnati, O.
Suddenly bereft of father and fortune, a young girl finds herself face to face with the world. Except for a deed to some waste land, there is practically no estate whatever. To make matters worse, the executor of the estate endeavors to appropriate the deed to the land. The heroine engages in a long and heroic struggle for its possession. She succeeds in regaining it, and the land itself proves to be most valuable because of its location in a rich oil-producing district.
This is a story of the regeneration of a little street waif. She begins life in a lowly court of a large city. Her adventures are numerous, and often quite exciting. After a time she is transplanted to the country, where after many thrilling experiences she eventually grows into a useful and lovable young woman. The story is pleasantly told, and abounds in interesting incident.
"The story is an intensely interesting one, and abounds in pleasing and unique situations."—Religious Telescope, Dayton, Ohio.
The heroine is not an impossible character but only a pure, winsome, earnest girl, who at fourteen years of age is suddenly bereft of fortune and father and becomes the chief support of a semi-invalid mother. While there are many touching scenes, the story as a whole is bright and cheerful and moves forward with a naturalness and ease that carries its readers along and makes them reluctant to put down the book until the end is reached.
Lucile, a girl of strong will and quick temper, but generous and truthful, is confronted with a stepmother. Her rebellious spirit is aroused, and she is sent away to school where she becomes an acknowledged leader in many pranks. Suffering an attack of fever, she is nursed by her stepmother and the two become reconciled.
The career of the Boer boy is one series of exciting adventures. In the gallant service for his country he comes face to face with President Kruger, General Cronje, and General Joubert. Much interesting information pertaining to this country and its people is introduced, and the reader will understand as never before the cause of the intense hatred of the Boers for the British.
A tale of the Indian war waged by King Philip in 1675. The adventures of the young hero during that eventful period, his efforts in behalf of the attacked towns, his capture by the Indians, and his subsequent release through the efforts of King Philip himself, with a vivid account of the tragic death of that renowned Indian chieftain, form a most interesting and instructive story of the early days of the colonies.
Two boys living on the Kennebec River join Benedict Arnold's expedition as it passes their dwelling en route for the Canadian border. They, with their command, are taken prisoners before Quebec. The description of the terrible march through the wilderness, the incidents of the siege, and the disastrous assault, which cost the gallant General Montgomery his life, are in the highest degree thrilling, while at the same time true in every particular.
A vivid picture of the struggles of those heroic New Englanders, the Green Mountain Boys, against the Tory residents. That dramatic character in revolutionary history, Ethan Allen, with whom the young hero is continually in touch, is the central figure of the narrative, and the incidents which lead up to the capture of Fort Ticonderoga are told in a wonderfully interesting manner.
This is an interesting narrative of an earnest, energetic, and ambitious boy who supports his widowed mother, and by persistent efforts against great odds succeeds in rising in the world. There is an abundance of incident and adventure, and the story is one that will encourage any young reader to an effort to make the best of himself.
A sturdy lad of San Francisco is taken, against his will, aboard a vessel bound on the unlawful errand of seal poaching in Alaska. At the time of his departure a large sum of money disappears from his guardian's safe, and suspicion naturally, but unjustly, is attached to the boy. The unraveling of the mystery created by this incident, the proving of the hero's innocence, and his thrilling adventures at sea, form a fascinating story.
The story opens in Philadelphia just prior to its evacuation by the British in 1778. Nathan Stanbury, a bright lad of seventeen, joins the Continental Army which is then suffering the hardships of the winter at Valley Forge. A short time later the Battle of Monmouth is fought, and in this the young hero figures quite prominently, as he does afterward at the Massacre of Wyoming.
A trio of bright New England children are given an island on which to spend their summer vacation. Here they establish a little colony, the management of which gives them a large amount of amusement and at times causes some seemingly serious difficulties. In the solution of their perplexing problems the young people receive much encouragement and counsel from the poet Longfellow, whose delightful acquaintance they form in a very unexpected and amusing manner.
An interesting and healthful story for boys and girls, representing a summer's outing of young people among the Thousand Islands. It is timed to include the visit of General Grant at Alexandria Bay, and several interesting conversations between one of the boys and the hero of the Rebellion shed pleasing side lights upon the great General's character.
"General Grant's talks with the heroes will captivate the heart of every boy."—Teachers' World, New York.
Tales of the sea are always fascinating to young people, especially when some active, adventuresome boys supply plenty of thrilling escapades to add to the interest. The story of an eventful cruise in Southern waters, as told by an old sea captain, and the ludicrous boastings and experiments of a would-be scientist, constitute a pleasing variety of incident, and afford just that amount of instructive material needed to make a perfect book for young readers.
A unique story, the scene of which is laid in the money centre of New York City. The young hero begins life as a broker's messenger and passing rapidly from one post to another in good time rises to a position of importance and responsibility. Numerous exciting experiences incident to the eventual success in his business career all combine to form a most interesting narrative.
The hero of this story will win his way at once into the heart of every one, and his pluck and perseverance will carry the sympathy of every reader through his many adventures, struggles, and singular experiences. Like all of the author's works, the incidents teach in the most convincing manner that true manliness and sturdy integrity are the only principles through which happiness and success in life are possible.