"Is the mortgage a large one?"
"It is much less than the value of the farm, but ready money is scarce in the town, and that old Sheldon calculates upon. Now I think of going to Burton to look up the matter."
"You must save your uncle, if you can, Mr. Pettigrew."
"I can and I will. I shall start for Boston this afternoon by the Fall River boat and I want you to go with me."
"I should enjoy the journey, Mr. Pettigrew."
"Then it is settled. Go home and pack your gripsack. You may be gone three or four days."
A CHANGE OF SCENE.
"Now," said Mr. Pettigrew, when they were sitting side by side on the upper deck of the Puritan, the magnificent steamer on the Fall River line. "I want you to consent to a little plan that will mystify my old friends and neighbors."
"What is it, Mr. Pettigrew?"
"I have never written home about my good fortune; so far as they know I am no better off than when I went away."
"I don't think I could have concealed my success."
"It may seem strange, but I'll explain—I want to learn who are my friends and who are not. I am afraid I wasn't very highly thought of when I left Burton. I was considered rather shiftless.
"I was always in for a good time, and never saved a cent. Everybody predicted that I would fail, and I expect most wanted me to fail. There were two or three, including my uncle, aunt and the friend who lent me money, who wished me well.
"I mustn't forget to mention the old minister who baptized me when I was an infant. The good old man has been preaching thirty or forty years on a salary of four hundred dollars, and has had to run a small farm to make both ends meet. He believed in me and gave me good advice. Outside of these I don't remember any one who felt an interest in Jefferson Pettigrew."
"You will have the satisfaction of letting them see that they did not do you justice."
"Yes, but I may not tell them—that is none except my true friends. If I did, they would hover round me and want to borrow money, or get me to take them out West with me. So I have hit upon a plan. I shall want to use money, but I will pretend it is yours."
Rodney opened his eyes in surprise.
"I will pass you off as a rich friend from New York, who feels an interest in me and is willing to help me."
"I don't know if I can look the character," he said.
"Oh yes you can. You are nicely dressed, while I am hardly any better dressed than when I left Burton."
"I have wondered why you didn't buy some new clothes when you were able to afford it."
"You see we Western miners don't care much for style, perhaps not enough. Still I probably shall buy a suit or two, but not till I have made my visit home. I want to see how people will receive me, when they think I haven't got much money. I shall own up to about five hundred dollars, but that isn't enough to dazzle people even in a small country village."
"I am wiling to help you in any way you wish, Mr. Pettigrew."
"Then I think we shall get some amusement out of it. I shall represent you as worth about a hundred thousand dollars."
"I wish I were."
"Very likely you will be some time if you go out to Montana with me."
"How large a place is Burton?"
"It has not quite a thousand inhabitants. It is set among the hills, and has but one rich man, Lemuel Sheldon, who is worth perhaps fifty thousand dollars, but put on the airs of a millionaire."
"You are as rich as he, then."
"Yes, and shall soon be richer. However, I don't want him to know it. It is he who holds the mortgage on my uncle's farm."
"Do you know how large the mortgage is?"
"It is twelve hundred dollars. I shall borrow the money of you to pay it."
"I understand," said Rodney, smiling.
"I shall enjoy the way the old man will look down upon me very much as a millionaire looks down upon a town pauper."
"How will he look upon me?"
"He will be very polite to you, for he will think you richer than himself."
"On the whole, we are going to act a comedy, Mr. Pettigrew. What is the name of the man who lent you money to go to Montana?"
"A young carpenter, Frank Dobson. He lent me a hundred dollars, which was about all the money he had saved up."
"He was a true friend."
"You are right. He was. Everybody told Frank that he would never see his money again, but he did. As soon as I could get together enough to repay him I sent it on, though I remember it left me with less than ten dollars in my pocket.
"I couldn't bear to think that Frank would lose anything by me. You see we were chums at school and always stood by each other. He is married and has two children."
"While you are an old bachelor."
"Yes; I ain't in a hurry to travel in double harness. I'll wait till I am ready to leave Montana, with money enough to live handsomely at home."
"You have got enough now."
"But I may as well get more. I am only thirty years old, and I can afford to work a few years longer."
"I wish I could be sure of being worth fifty thousand dollars when I am your age."
"You have been worth that, you tell me."
"Yes, but I should value more money that I had made myself."
Above five o'clock on Monday afternoon Mr. Pettigrew and Rodney reached Burton. It was a small village about four miles from the nearest railway station. An old fashioned Concord stage connected Burton with the railway. The driver was on the platform looking out for passengers when Jefferson Pettigrew stepped out of the car.
"How are you, Hector?" said the miner, in an off hand way.
"Why, bless my soul if it isn't Jeff!" exclaimed the driver, who had been an old schoolmate of Mr. Pettigrew's.
"I reckon it is," said the miner, his face lighting up with the satisfaction he felt at seeing a home face.
"Why, you ain't changed a mite, Jeff. You look just as you did when you went away. How long have you been gone?"
"Made a fortune? But you don't look like it. That's the same suit you wore when you went away, isn't it?"
Mr. Pettigrew laughed.
"Well no, it isn't the same, but it's one of the same kind."
"I thought maybe you'd come home in a dress suit."
"It isn't so easy to make a fortune, Hector."
"But you have made something, ain't you?"
"Oh, yes, when I went away I hadn't a cent except what I borrowed. Now I've got five hundred dollars."
"That ain't much."
"No, but it's better than nothing. How much more have you got, Hector?"
"Well, you see I married last year. I haven't had a chance to lay by."
"So you see I did as well as if I had stayed at home."
"Are you going to stay home now?"
"For a little while. I may go back to Montana after a bit."
"Is it a good place to make money?"
"I made five hundred dollars."
"Thats only a little more than a hundred dollars a year. Frank Dobson has saved as much as that and he's stayed right here in Burton."
"I'm glad of that," said Pettigrew heartily. "Frank is a rousing good fellow. If it hadn't been for him I couldn't have gone to Montana."
"It doesn't seem to have done you much good, as I can see."
"Oh, well, I am satisfied. Let me introduce my friend, Mr. Rodney Ropes of New York."
"Glad to meet you," said Hector with a jerk of the head.
"Rodney, won't you sit inside? I want to sit outide with Hector."
"All right, Mr. Pettigrew."
"Who is that boy?" asked Hector with characteristic Yankee curiosity, as he seized the lines and started the horses.
"A rich young fellow from New York. I got acquainted with him there."
"Rich is he?" Jefferson Pettigrew nodded.
"How rich do you think?"
"Shouldn't wonder if he might be worth a hundred thousand."
"You don't say! Why, he beat Squire Sheldon."
"Oh, yes, Squire Sheldon wouldn't be considered rich in New York."
"How did he get his money?"
"His father left him a fortune."
"Is that so? I wish my father had left me a fortune."
"He did, didn't he?"
"Yes, he did! When his estate was settled I got seventy five dollars, if you call that a fortune. But I say, what brings the boy to Burton?"
"His friendship for me, I expect. Besides he may invest in a place."
"There's the old Morse place for sale. Do you think he'd buy that?"
"It wouldn't be nice enough for him. I don't know any place that would be good enough except the squire's."
"The squire wouldn't sell."
"Oh, well, I don't know as Rodney would care to locate in Burton."
"You're in luck to get such a friend. Say, do you think he would lend you a hundred dollars if you were hard up?"
"I know he would. By the way, Hector, is there any news? How is my uncle?"
"I think the old man is worrying on account of his mortgage."
"Who holds it?"
"The squire. They do say he is goin' to foreclose. That'll be bad for the old man. It'll nigh about break his heart I expect."
"Can't uncle raise the money to pay him?"
"Who is there round here who has got any money except the squire?"
"Where are you goin' to stop, Jeff?"
"I guess I'll stop at the tavern tonight, but I'll go over and call on uncle this evening."
JEFFERSON PETTIGREW'S HOME.
News spreads fast in a country village. Scarcely an hour had passed when it was generally known that Jefferson Pettigrew had come home from Montana with a few hundred dollars in money, bringing with him a rich boy who could buy out all Burton. At least that is the way the report ran.
When the two new arrivals had finished supper and come out on the hotel veranda there were a dozen of Jefferson Pettigrew's friends ready to welcome him.
"How are you, Jefferson, old boy?" said one and another.
"Pretty well, thank you. It seems good to be home."
"I hear you've brought back some money."
"Yes, a few hundred dollars."
"That's better than nothing. I reckon you'll stay home now."
"I can't afford it, boys."
"Are ye goin' back to Montany?"
"Yes. I know the country, and I can make a middlin' good livin' there."
"I say, is that boy thats with you as rich as they say?"
"I don't know what they say."
"They say he's worth a million."
"Oh no, not so much as that. He's pretty well fixed."
"Hasn't he got a father livin'?"
"No, it's his father that left the money."
"How did you happen to get in with him?"
"Oh, we met promiscuous. He took a sort of fancy to me, and that's the way of it."
"Do you expect to keep him with you?"
"He talks of goin' back to Montana with me. I'll be sort of guardian to him."
"You're in luck, Jeff."
"Yes, I'm in luck to have pleasant company. Maybe we'll join together and buy a mine."
"Would you mind introducin' him?"
"Not at all," and thus Rodney became acquainted with quite a number of the Burton young men. He was amused to see with what deference they treated him, but preserved a sober face and treated all cordially, so that he made a favorable impression on those he met.
Among those who made it in their way to call on the two travelers was Lemuel Sheldon, the rich man of the village.
"How do you do, Jefferson?" he said condescendingly.
"Very well, sir."
"You have been quite a traveler."
"Yes, sir; I have been to the far West."
"And met with some success, I am told."
"Yes, sir; I raised money enough to get home."
"I hear you brought home a few hundred dollars."
"Oh, well," said the squire patronizingly, "that's good beginning."
"It must seem very little to a rich man like you, squire."
"Oh, no!" said the squire patronizingly. "You are a young man. I shouldn't wonder if by the time you get as old as I am you might be worth five thousand dollars."
"I hope so," answered Mr. Pettigrew demurely.
"By the way, you have brought a young man with you, I am told."
"I should like to make his acquaintance. He is rich, is he not?"
"I wish I was as rich."
"You don't say so! About how much do you estimate he is worth?"
"I don't think it amounts to quite as much as a quarter of a million. Still, you know it is not always easy to tell how much a person is worth."
"He is certainly a VERY fortunate young man," said the squire, impressed. "What is his name?"
"The name sounds aristocratic. I shall be glad to know him."
"Rodney," said Mr. Pettigrew. "I want to introduce you to Squire Sheldon, our richest and most prominent citizen."
"I am glad to meet you, Squire Sheldon," said Rodney, offering his hand.
"I quite reciprocate the feeling, Mr. Ropes, but Mr. Pettigrew should not call me a rich man. I am worth something, to be sure."
"I should say you were, squire," said Jefferson. "Rodney, he is as rich as you are."
"Oh no," returned the squire, modestly, "not as rich as that. Indeed, I hardly know how much I am worth. As Mr. Pettigrew very justly observed it is not easy to gauge a man's possessions. But there is one difference between us. You, Mr. Ropes, I take it, are not over eighteen."
"Only sixteen, sir."
"And yet you are wealthy. I am rising fifty. When you come to my age you will be worth much more."
"Perhaps I may have lost all I now possess," said Rodney. "Within a year I have lost fifty thousand dollars."
"You don't say so."
"Yes; it was through a man who had charge of my property. I think now I shall manage my money matters myself."
"Doubtless you are right. That was certainly a heavy loss. I shouldn't like to lose so much. I suppose, however, you had something left?"
"Oh yes," answered Rodney in an indifferent tone.
"He must be rich to make so little account of fifty thousand dollars," thought the squire.
"How long do you propose to stay in town, Mr. Pettigrew?" he asked.
"I can't tell, sir, but I don't think I can spare more than three or four days."
"May I hope that you and Mr. Ropes will take supper with me tomorrow evening?"
"Say the next day and we'll come. Tomorrow I must go to my uncle's."
"Oh very well!"
Squire Sheldon privately resolved to pump Rodney as to the investment of his property. He was curious to learn first how much the boy was worth, for if there was anything that the squire worshiped it was wealth. He was glad to find that Mr. Pettigrew had only brought home five hundred dollars, as it was not enough to lift the mortgage on his uncle's farm.
After they were left alone Jefferson Pettigrew turned to Rodney and said, "Do you mind my leaving you a short time and calling at my uncle's?"
"Not at all, Mr. Pettigrew. I can pass my time very well."
Jefferson Pettigrew directed his steps to an old fashioned farmhouse about half a mile from the village. In the rear the roof sloped down so that the eaves were only five feet from the ground. The house was large though the rooms were few in number.
In the sitting room sat an old man and his wife, who was nearly as old. It was not a picture of cheerful old age, for each looked sad. The sadness of old age is pathetic for there is an absence of hope, and courage, such as younger people are apt to feel even when they are weighed down by trouble.
Cyrus Hooper was seventy one, his wife two years younger. During the greater part of their lives they had been well to do, if not prosperous, but now their money was gone, and there was a mortgage on the old home which they could not pay.
"I don't know whats goin' to become of us, Nancy," said Cyrus Hooper. "We'll have to leave the old home, and when the farm's been sold there won't be much left over and above the mortgage which Louis Sheldon holds."
"Don't you think the squire will give you a little more time, Cyrus?"
"No; I saw him yesterday, and he's sot on buyin' in the farm for himself. He reckons it won't fetch more'n eighteen hundred dollars."
"Thats only six hundred over the mortgage."
"It isn't that Nancy. There's about a hundred dollars due in interest. We won't get more'n five hundred dollars."
"Surely, Cyrus, the farm is worth three thousand dollars."
"So it is, Nancy, but that won't do us any good, as long as no one wants it more'n the squire."
"I wish Jefferson were at home."
"What good would it do? I surmise he hasn't made any money. He never did have much enterprise, that boy."
"He was allus a good boy, Cyrus."
"That's so, Nancy, but he didn't seem cut out for makin' money. Still it would do me good to see him. Maybe we might have a home together, and manage to live."
Just then a neighbor entered.
"Have you heard the news?" she asked.
"No; what is it?"
"Your nephew Jefferson Pettigrew has got back."
"You don't mean so. There, Jefferson, that's one comfort."
"And they say he has brought home five hundred dollars."
"That's more'n I thought he'd bring. Where is he?"
"Over at the tavern. He's brought a young man with him, leastways a boy, that's got a lot of money."
"Yes; he's from New York, and is a friend of Jefferson's."
"Well, I'm glad he's back. Why didn't he come here?"
"It's likely he would if the boy wasn't with him."
"Perhaps he heard of my misfortune."
"I hope it'll all come right, Mr. Hooper. My, if there ain't Jefferson comin' to see you now. I see him through the winder. I guess I'll be goin'. You'll want to see him alone."
THE BOY CAPITALIST.
"How are you, Uncle Cyrus?" said Jefferson Pettigrew heartily, as he clasped his uncle's toil worn hand. "And Aunt Nancy, too! It pays me for coming all the way from Montana just to see you."
"I'm glad to see you, Jefferson," said his uncle. "It seems a long time since you went away. I hope you've prospered."
"Well, uncle, I've brought myself back well and hearty, and I've got a few hundred dollars."
"I'm glad to hear it, Jefferson. You're better off than when you went away."
"Yes, uncle. I couldn't be much worse off. Then I hadn't a cent that I could call my own. But how are you and Aunt Nancy?"
"We're gettin' old, Jefferson, and misfortune has come to us. Squire Sheldon has got a mortgage on the farm and it's likely we'll be turned out. You've come just in time to see it."
"Is it so bad as that, Uncle Cyrus? Why, when I went away you were prosperous."
"Yes, Jefferson, I owned the farm clear, and I had money in the bank, but now the money's gone and there's a twelve hundred dollar mortgage on the old place," and the old man sighed.
"But how did it come about uncle? You and Aunt Nancy haven't lived extravagantly, have you? Aunt Nancy, you haven't run up a big bill at the milliner's and dressmaker's?"
"You was always for jokin', Jefferson," said the old lady, smiling faintly; "but that is not the way our losses came."
"You see I indorsed notes for Sam Sherman over at Canton, and he failed, and I had to pay, then I bought some wild cat minin' stock on Sam's recommendation, and that went down to nothin'. So between the two I lost about three thousand dollars. I've been a fool, Jefferson, and it would have been money in my pocket if I'd had a guardeen."
"So you mortgaged the place to Squire Sheldon, uncle?"
"Yes; I had to. I was obliged to meet my notes."
"But surely the squire will extend the mortgage."
"No, he won't. I've asked him. He says he must call in the money, and so the old place will have to be sold, and Nancy and I must turn out in our old age."
Again the old man sighed, and tears came into Nancy Hooper's eyes.
"There'll be something left, won't there, Uncle Cyrus?"
"Yes, the place should bring six hundred dollars over and above the mortgage. That's little enough, for it's worth three thousand."
"So it is, Uncle Cyrus. But what can you do with six hundred dollars? It won't support you and Aunt Nancy?"
"I thought mebbe, Jefferson, I could hire a small house and you could board with us, so that we could still have a home together."
"I'll think it over, uncle, if there is no other way. But are you sure Squire Sheldon won't give you more time?"
"No, Jefferson. I surmise he wants the place himself. There's talk of a railroad from Sherborn, and that'll raise the price of land right around here. It'll probably go right through the farm just south of the three acre lot."
"I see, Uncle Cyrus. You ought to have the benefit of the rise in value."
"Yes, Jefferson, it would probably rise enough to pay off the mortgage, but its no use thinkin' of it. The old farm has got to go."
"I don't know about that, Uncle Cyrus."
"Why, Jefferson, you haven't money enough to lift the mortgage!" said the old man, with faint hope.
"If I haven't I may get it for you. Tell me just how much money is required."
"Thirteen hundred dollars, includin' interest."
"Perhaps you have heard that I have a boy with me—a boy from New York, named Rodney Ropes. He has money, and perhaps I might get him to advance the sum you want."
"Oh, Jefferson, if you only could!" exclaimed Aunt Nancy, clasping her thin hands. "It would make us very happy."
"I'll see Rodney tonight and come over tomorrow morning and tell you what he says. On account of the railroad I shall tell him that it is a good investment. I suppose you will be willing to mortgage the farm to him for the same money that he pays to lift the present mortgage?"
"Yes, Jefferson, I'll be willin' and glad. It'll lift a great burden from my shoulders. I've been worryin' at the sorrow I've brought upon poor Nancy, for she had nothing to do with my foolish actions. I was old enough to know better, Jefferson, and I'm ashamed of what I did."
"Well, Uncle Cyrus, I'll do what I can for you. Now let us forget all about your troubles and talk over the village news. You know I've been away for four years, and I haven't had any stiddy correspondence, so a good deal must have happened that I don't know anything about. I hear Frank Dobson has prospered?"
"Yes, Frank's pretty forehanded. He's got a good economical wife, and they've laid away five or six hundred dollars in the savings bank."
"I am glad of it. Frank is a good fellow. If it hadn't been for him I couldn't have gone to Montana. When he lent me the money everybody said he'd lose it, but I was bound to pay it if I had to live on one meal a day. He was the only man in town who believed in me at that time."
"You was a littless shif'less, Jefferson. You can't blame people. I wasn't quite sure myself how you'd get along."
"No doubt you are right, Uncle Cyrus. It did me good to leave town. I didn't drink, but I had no ambition. When a man goes to a new country it's apt to make a new man of him. That was the case with me."
"Are you goin' back again, Jefferson?"
"Yes, uncle. I'm going to stay round here long enough to fix up your affairs and get you out of your trouble. Then I'll go back to the West. I have a little mining interest there and I can make more money there than I can here."
"If you can get me out of my trouble, Jefferson, I'll never forget it. Nancy and I have been so worried that we couldn't sleep nights, but now I'm beginnin' to be a little more cheerful."
Jefferson Pettigrew spent another hour at his uncle's house, and then went back to the tavern, where he found Rodney waiting for him. He explained briefly the part he wished his boy friend to take in his plan for relieving his uncle.
"I shall be receiving credit to which I am not entitled," said Rodney. "Still, if it will oblige you I am willing to play the part of the boy capitalist."
The next morning after breakfast the two friends walked over to the house of Cyrus Hooper. Aunt Nancy came to the door and gave them a cordial welcome.
"Cyrus is over at the barn, Jefferson," she said. "I'll ring the bell and he'll come in."
"No, Aunt Nancy, I'll go out and let him know I am here."
Presently Cyrus Hooper came in, accompanied by Jefferson.
"Uncle Cyrus," said the miner, "let me introduce you to my friend Rodney Ropes, of New York."
"I'm glad to see you," said Cyrus heartily. "I'm glad to see any friend of Jefferson's."
"Thank you, sir. I am pleased to meet you."
"Jefferson says you are goin' to Montany with him."
"I hope to do so. I am sure I shall enjoy myself in his company."
"How far is Montany, Jefferson?"
"It is over two thousand miles away, Uncle Cyrus."
"It must be almost at the end of the world. I don't see how you can feel at home so far away from Vermont."
"I can content myself wherever I can make a good living," he said. "Wouldn't you like to go out and make me a visit?"
"No, Jefferson, I should feel that it was temptin' Providence to go so far at my age."
"You never were very far from Burton, Uncle Cyrus?"
"I went to Montpelier once," answered the old man with evident pride. "It is a nice sizable place. I stopped at the tavern, and had a good time."
It was the only journey the old man had ever made, and he would never forget it.
"Uncle Cyrus," said Jefferson, "this is the young man who I thought might advance you money on a new mortgage. Suppose we invite him to go over the farm, and take a look at it so as to see what he thinks of the investment."
"Sartain, Jefferson, sartain! I do hope Mr. Ropes you'll look favorable on the investment. It is Jefferson's idea, but it would be doin' me a great favor."
"Mr. Pettigrew will explain the advantages of the farm as we go along," said Rodney.
So they walked from field to field, Jefferson expatiating to his young friend upon the merits of the investment, Rodney asking questions now and then to carry out his part of the shrewd and careful boy capitalist.
When they had made a tour of the farm Jefferson said: "Well, Rodney, what do you think of the investment?"
"I am satisfied with it," answered Rodney. "Mr. Hooper, I will advance you the money on the conditions mentioned by my friend, Mr. Pettigrew."
Tears of joy came into the eyes of Cyrus Hooper and his worn face showed relief.
"I am very grateful, young man," he said. "I will see that you don't regret your kindness."
"When will Squire Sheldon be over to settle matters, Uncle Cyrus?" asked Jefferson.
"He is comin' this afternoon at two o'clock."
"Then Rodney and I will be over to take part in the business."
THE FAILURE OF SQUIRE SHELDON'S PLOT.
On the morning of the same day Squire Sheldon sat in his study when the servant came in and brought a card.
"It's a gentleman thats come to see you, sir," she said.
Lemuel Sheldon's eye brightened when he saw the name, for it was that of a railroad man who was interested in the proposed road from Sherborn.
"I am glad to see you, Mr. Caldwell," he said cordially, rising to receive his guest. "What is the prospect as regards the railroad?"
"I look upon it as a certainty," answered Enoch Caldwell, a grave, portly man of fifty.
"And it is sure to pass through our town?"
"Yes, I look upon that as definitely decided."
"The next question is as to the route it will take," went on the squire. "Upon that point I should like to offer a few suggestions."
"I shall be glad to receive them. In fact, I may say that my report will probably be accepted, and I shall be glad to consult you."
"Thank you. I appreciate the compliment you pay me, and, though I say it, I don't think you could find any one more thoroughly conversant with the lay of the land and the most advisable route to follow. If you will put on your hat we will go out together and I will give you my views."
"I shall be glad to do so."
The two gentlemen took a leisurely walk through the village, going by Cyrus Hooper's house on the way.
"In my view," said the squire, "the road should go directly through this farm a little to the north of the house."
The squire proceeded to explain his reasons for the route he recommended.
"To whom does the farm belong?" asked Caldwell, with a shrewd glance at the squire.
"To an old man named Cyrus Hooper."
"Ahem! Perhaps he would be opposed to the road passing so near his house."
"I apprehend that he will not have to be consulted," said the squire with a crafty smile.
"Because I hold a mortgage on the farm which I propose to foreclose this afternoon."
"I see. So that you will be considerably benefited by the road."
"Yes, to a moderate extent."
"But if a different course should be selected, how then?"
"If the road goes through the farm I would be willing to give a quarter of the damages awarded to me to—you understand?"
"I think I do. After all it seems the most natural route."
"I think there can be no doubt on that point. Of course the corporation will be willing to pay a reasonable sum for land taken."
"I think I can promise that, as I shall have an important voice in the matter."
"I see you are a thorough business man," said the squire. "I hold that it is always best to pursue a liberal policy."
"Quite so. You have no doubt of obtaining the farm?"
"Not the slightest."
"But suppose the present owner meets the mortgage?"
"He can't. He is a poor man, and he has no moneyed friends. I confess I was a little afraid that a nephew of his just returned from Montana might be able to help him, but I learn that he has only brought home five hundred dollars while the mortgage, including interest, calls for thirteen hundred."
"Then you appear to be safe. When did you say the matter would be settled?"
"This afternoon at two o'clock. You had better stay over and take supper with me. I shall be prepared to talk with you at that time."
From a window of the farmhouse Cyrus Hooper saw Squire Sheldon and his guest walking by the farm, and noticed the interest which they seemed to feel in it. But for the assurance which he had received of help to pay the mortgage he would have felt despondent, for he guessed the subject of their conversation. As it was, he felt an excusable satisfaction in the certain defeat of the squire's hopes of gain.
"It seems that the more a man has the more he wants, Jefferson," he said to his nephew. "The squire is a rich man—the richest man in Burton—but he wants to take from me the little property that I have."
"It's the way of the world, Uncle Cyrus. In this case the squire is safe to be disappointed, thanks to my young friend, Rodney."
"Its lucky for me, Jefferson, that you came home just the time you did. If you had come a week later it would have been too late."
"Then you don't think the squire would have relented?"
"I know he wouldn't. I went over a short time since and had a talk with him on the subject. I found he was sot on gettin' the farm into his own hands."
"If he were willing to pay a fair value it wouldn't be so bad."
"He wasn't. He wanted to get it as cheap as he could."
"I wonder," said Jefferson Pettigrew reflectively, "whether I shall be as hard and selfish if ever I get rich."
"I don't believe you will, Jefferson. I don't believe you will. It doesn't run in the blood."
"I hope not Uncle Cyrus. How long have you known the squire?"
"Forty years, Jefferson. He is about ten years younger than I am. I was a young man when he was a boy."
"And you attend the same church?"
"And still he is willing to take advantage of you and reduce you to poverty. I don't see much religion in that."
"When a man's interest is concerned religion has to stand to one side with some people."
It was in a pleasant frame of mind that Squire Sheldon left his house and walked over to the farmhouse which he hoped to own. He had decided to offer eighteen hundred dollars for the farm, which would be five hundred over and above the face of the mortgage with the interest added.
This of itelf would give him an excellent profit, but he expected also, as we know, to drive a stiff bargain with the new railroad company, for such land as they would require to use.
"Stay here till I come back, Mr. Caldwell," he said. "I apprehend it won't take me long to get through my business."
Squire Sheldon knocked at the door of the farmhouse, which was opened to him by Nancy Hooper.
"Walk in, squire," she said.
"Is your husband at home, Mrs. Hooper?"
"Yes; he is waiting for you."
Mrs. Hooper led the way into the sitting room, where her husband was sitting in a rocking chair.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Hooper," said the squire. "I hope I see you well."
"As well as I expect to be. I'm gettin' to be an old man."
"We must all grow old," said the squire vaguely.
"And sometimes a man's latter years are his most sorrowful years."
"That means that he can't pay the mortgage," thought Squire Sheldon.
"Well, ahem! Yes, it does sometimes happen so," he said aloud.
"Still if a man's friends stand by him, that brings him some comfort."
"I suppose you know what I've come about, Mr. Hooper," said the squire, anxious to bring his business to a conclusion.
"I suppose it's about the mortgage."
"Yes, its about the mortgage."
"Will you be willing to extend it another year?"
"I thought," said the squire, frowning, "I had given you to understand that I cannot do this. You owe me a large sum in accrued interest."
"But if I make shift to pay this?"
"I should say the same. It may as well come first as last. You can't hold the place, and there is no chance of your being better off by waiting."
"I understand that the new railroad might go through my farm. That would put me on my feet."
"There is no certainty that the road will ever be built. Even if it were, it would not be likely to cross your farm."
"I see, Squire Sheldon, you are bound to have the place."
"There is no need to put it that way, Mr. Hooper. I lent you money on mortgage. You can't pay the mortgage, and of course I foreclose. However, I will buy the farm and allow you eighteen hundred dollars for it. That will give you five hundred dollars over and above the money you owe me."
"The farm is worth three thousand dollars."
"Nonsense, Mr. Hooper. Still if you get an offer of that sum TODAY I will advise you to sell."
"I certainly won't take eighteen hundred."
"You won't? Then I shall foreclose, and you may have to take less."
"Then there is only one thing to do."
"As you say, there is only one thing to do."
"And that is, to pay off the mortgage and clear the farm."
"You can't do it!" exclaimed the squire uneasily.
Cyrus Hooper's only answer was to call "Jefferson."
Jefferson Pettigrew entered the room, followed by Rodney.
"What does this mean?" asked the squire.
"It means, Squire Sheldon," said Mr. Pettigrew, "that you won't turn my uncle out of his farm this time. My young friend, Rodney Ropes, has advanced Uncle Cyrus money enough to pay off the mortgage."
"I won't take a check," said the squire hastily.
"You would have to if we insisted upon it, but I have the money here in bills. Give me a release and surrender the mortgage, and you shall have your money."
It was with a crestfallen look that Squire Sheldon left the farmhouse, though his pockets were full of money.
"It's all up," he said to his friend Caldwell in a hollow voice. "They have paid the mortgage."
After all the railway did cross the farm, and Uncle Cyrus was paid two thousand dollars for the right of way, much to the disappointment of his disinterested friend Lemuel Sheldon, who felt that this sum ought to have gone into his own pocket.
A MINISTER'S GOOD FORTUNE.
"I have another call to make, Rodney," said Mr. Pettigrew, as they were on their way back to the hotel, "and I want you to go with me."
"I shall be glad to accompany you anywhere, Mr. Pettigrew."
"You remember I told you of the old minister whose church I attended as a boy. He has never received but four hundred dollars a year, yet he has managed to rear a family, but has been obliged to use the strictest economy."
"Yes, I remember."
"I am going to call on him, and I shall take the opportunity to make him a handsome present. It will surprise him, and I think it will be the first present of any size that he has received in his pastorate of over forty years.
"There he lives!" continued Jefferson, pointing out a very modest cottage on the left hand side of the road.
It needed painting badly, but it looked quite as well as the minister who came to the door in a ragged dressing gown. He was venerable looking, for his hair was quite white, though he was only sixty five years old. But worldly cares which had come upon him from the difficulty of getting along on his scanty salary had whitened his hair and deepened the wrinkles on his kindly face.
"I am glad to see you, Jefferson," he said, his face lighting up with pleasure. "I heard you were in town and I hoped you wouldn't fail to call upon me."
"I was sure to call, for you were always a good friend to me as well as many others."
"I always looked upon you as one of my boys, Jefferson. I hear that you have been doing well."
"Yes, Mr. Canfield. I have done better than I have let people know."
"Have you been to see your uncle? Poor man, he is in trouble."
"He is no longer in trouble. The mortgage is paid off, and as far as Squire Sheldon is concerned he is independent."
"Indeed, that is good news," said the old minister with beaming face. "You must surely have done well if you could furnish money enough to clear the farm. It was over a thousand dollars, wasn't it?"
"Yes, thirteen hundred. My young friend, Rodney Ropes, and myself managed it between us."
"I am glad to see you, Mr. Ropes. Come in both of you. Mrs. Canfield will be glad to welcome you."
They followed him into the sitting room, the floor of which was covered by an old and faded carpet. The furniture was of the plainest description. But it looked pleasant and homelike, and the papers and books that were scattered about made it more attractive to a visitor than many showy city drawing rooms.
"And how are all your children, Mr. Canfield?" asked Jefferson.
"Maria is married to a worthy young man in the next town. Benjamin is employed in a book store, and Austin wants to go to college, but I don't see any way to send him, poor boy!" and the minister sighed softly.
"Does it cost much to keep a boy in college?"
"Not so much as might be supposed. There are beneficiary funds for deserving students, and then there is teaching to eke out a poor young man's income, so that I don't think it would cost over a hundred and fifty dollars a year."
"That isn't a large sum."
"Not in itelf, but you know, Jefferson, my salary is only four hundred dollars a year. It would take nearly half my income, so I think Austin will have to give up his hopes of going to college and follow in his brother's steps."
"How old is Austin now?"
"He is eighteen."
"Is he ready for college?"
"Yes, he could enter at the next commencement but for the financial problem."
"I never had any taste for college, or study, as you know, Mr. Canfield. It is different with my friend Rodney, who is a Latin and Greek scholar."
The minister regarded Rodney with new interest.
"Do you think of going to college, Mr. Ropes?" he asked.
"Not at present. I am going back to Montana with Mr. Pettigrew. Perhaps he and I will both go to college next year."
"Excuse me," said Jefferson Pettigrew. "Latin and Greek ain't in my line. I should make a good deal better miner than minister."
"It is not desirable that all should become ministers or go to college," said Mr. Canfield. "I suspect from what I know of you, Jefferson, that you judge yourself correctly. How long shall you stay in Burton?"
"I expect to go away tomorrow."
"Your visit is a brief one."
"Yes, I intended to stay longer, but I begin to be homesick after the West."
"Do you expect to make your permanent home there?"
"I can't tell as to that. For the present I can do better there than here."
The conversation lasted for some time. Then Jefferson Pettigrew rose to go.
"Won't you call again, Jefferson?" asked the minister hospitably.
"I shall not have time, but before I go I want to make you a small present," and he put into the hands of the astonished minister four fifty dollar bills.
"Two hundred dollars!" ejaculated the minister. "Why, I heard you only brought home a few hundred."
"I prefer to leave that impression. To you I will say that I am worth a great deal more than that."
"But you mustn't give me so much. I am sure you are too generous for your own interest. Why, it's munificent, princely."
"Don't be troubled about me. I can spare it. Send your boy to college, and next year I will send you another sum equally large."
"How can I thank you, Jefferson?" said Mr. Canfield, the tears coming into his eyes. "Never in forty years have I had such a gift."
"Not even from Squire Sheldon?"
"The squire is not in the habit of bestowing gifts, but he pays a large parish tax. May I—am I at liberty to say from whom I received this liberal donation?"
"Please don't! You can say that you have had a gift from a friend."
"You have made me very happy, Jefferson. Your own conscience will reward you."
Jefferson Pettigrew changed the subject, for it embarrassed him to be thanked.
"That pays me for hard work and privation," he said to Rodney as they walked back to the tavern. "After all there is a great pleasure in making others happy."
"Squire Sheldon hadn't found that out."
"And he never will."
On the way they met the gentleman of whom they had been speaking. He bowed stiffly, for he could not feel cordial to those whom had snatched from him the house for which he had been scheming so long.
"Squire Sheldon," said Jefferson, "you were kind enough to invite Rodney and myself to supper some evening. I am sorry to say that we must decline, as we leave Burton tomorrow."
"Use your own pleasure, Mr. Pettigrew," said the squire coldly.
"It doesn't seem to disappoint the squire very much," remarked Jefferson, laughing, when the great man of the village had passed on.
"It certainly is no disappointment to me."
"Nor to me. The little time I have left I can use more pleasantly than in going to see the squire. I have promised to supper at my uncle's tonight—that is, I have promised for both of us."
Returning to New York, Jefferson and Rodney set about getting ready for their Western journey. Rodney gave some of his wardrobe to Mike Flynn, and bought some plain suits suitable for his new home.
While walking on Broadway the day before the one fixed for his departure he fell in with Jasper Redwood.
"Have you got a place yet Ropes?" asked Jasper.
"I am not looking for any."
"How is that?" asked Jasper in some surprise.
"I am going to leave the city."
"That is a good idea. All cannot succeed in the city. You may find a chance to work on a farm in the country."
"I didn't say I was going to the country."
"Where are you going, then?"
"Isn't that a good way off?"
"What are you going to do there?"
"I may go to mining."
"But how can you afford to go so far?"
"Really, Jasper, you show considerable curiosity about my affairs. I have money enough to buy my ticket, and I think I can find work when I get out there."
"It seems to me a crazy idea."
"It might be—for you."
"And why for me?" asked Jasper suspiciously.
"Because you might not be willing to rough it as I am prepared to do."
"I guess you are right. I have always been used to living like a gentleman."
"I hope you will always be able to do so. Now I must bid you good by, as I am busy getting ready for my journey."
Jasper looked after Rodney, not without perplexity.
"I can't make out that boy," he said. "So he is going to be a common miner! Well, that may suit him, but it wouldn't suit me. There is no chance now of his interfering with me, so I am glad he is going to leave the city."
A MINING TOWN IN MONTANA.
The scene changes.
Three weeks later among the miners who were sitting on the narrow veranda of the "Miners' Rest" in Oreville in Montana we recognize two familiar faces and figures—those of Jefferson Pettigrew and Rodney Ropes. Both were roughly clad, and if Jasper could have seen Rodney he would have turned up his nose in scorn, for Rodney had all the look of a common miner.
It was in Oreville that Mr. Pettigrew had a valuable mining property, on which he employed quite a number of men who preferred certain wages to a compensation depending on the fluctuations of fortune. Rodney was among those employed, but although he was well paid he could not get to like the work. Of this, however, he said nothing to Mr. Pettigrew whose company he enjoyed, and whom he held in high esteem.
On the evening in question Jefferson rose from his seat and signed to Rodney to follow him.
"Well, Rodney, how do you like Montana?" he asked.
"Well enough to be glad I came here," answered Rodney.
"Still you are not partial to the work of a miner!"
"I can think of other things I would prefer to do."
"How would you like keeping a hotel?"
"Is there any hotel in search of a manager?" asked Rodney smiling.
"I will explain. Yesterday I bought the 'Miners' Rest.'"
"What—the hotel where we board?"
"Exactly. I found that Mr. Bailey, who has made a comfortable sum of money, wants to leave Montana and go East and I bought the hotel."
"So that hereafter I shall board with you?"
"Not exactly. I propose to put you in charge, and pay you a salary. I can oversee, and give you instructions. How will that suit you?"
"So you think I am competent, Mr. Pettigrew?"
"Yes, I think so. There is a good man cook, and two waiters. The cook will also order supplies and act as steward under you."
"What then will be my duties?"
"You will act as clerk and cashier, and pay the bills. You will have to look after all the details of management. If there is anything you don't understand you will have me to back you up, and advise you. What do you say?"
"That I shall like it much better than mining. My only doubt is as to whether I shall suit you."
"It is true that it takes a smart man to run a hotel, but I think we can do it between us. Now what will you consider a fair salary?"
"I leave that to you, Mr. Pettigrew."
"Then we will call it a hundred and fifty dollars a month and board."
"But, Mr. Pettigrew," said Rodney in surprise, "how can I possibly earn that much?"
"You know we charge big prices, and have about fifty steady boarders. I expect to make considerable money after deducting all the expenses of management."
"My friend Jasper would be very much surprised if he could know the salary I am to receive. In the store I was only paid seven dollars a week."
"The duties were different. Almost any boy could discharge the duties of an entry clerk while it takes peculiar qualities to run a hotel."
"I was certainly very fortunate to fall in with you, Mr. Pettigrew."
"I expect it will turn out fortunate for me too, Rodney."
"When do you want me to start in?"
"Next Monday morning. It is now Thursday evening. Mr. Bailey will turn over the hotel to me on Saturday night. You needn't go to the mines tomorrow, but may remain in the hotel, and he will instruct you in the details of management."
"That will be quite a help to me, and I am at present quite ignorant on the subject."
Rodney looked forward with pleasure to his new employment. He had good executive talent, though thus far he had had no occasion to exercise it. It was with unusual interest that he set about qualifying himself for his new position.
"Young man," said the veteran landlord, "I think you'll do. I thought at first that Jefferson was foolish to put a young boy in my place, but you've got a head on your shoulders, you have! I guess you'll fill the bill."
"I hope to do so, Mr. Bailey."
"Jefferson tells me that you understand Latin and Greek?"
"I know something of them."
"Thats what prejudiced me against you. I hired a college boy once as a clerk and he was the worst failure I ever came across. He seemed to have all kinds of sense except common sense. I reckon he was a smart scholar, and he could have made out the bills for the boarders in Latin or Greek if it had been necessary, but he was that soft that any one could cheat him. Things got so mixed up in the department that I had to turn him adrift in a couple of weeks. I surmised you might be the same sort of a chap. If you were it would be a bad lookout for Jefferson."
In Oreville Mr. Pettigrew was so well known that nearly everyone called him by his first name. Mr. Pettigrew did not care about this as he had no false pride or artificial dignity.
"Do you consider this hotel a good property, Mr. Bailey?"
"I'll tell you this much. I started here four years ago, and I've made fifty thousand dollars which I shall take back with me to New Hampshire."
"That certainly is satisfactory."
"I shouldn't wonder if you could improve upon it."
"How does it happen that you sell out such a valuable property, Mr. Bailey? Are you tired of making money?"
"No, but I must tell you that there's a girl waiting for me at home, an old schoolmate, who will become Mrs. Bailey as soon as possible after I get back. If she would come out here I wouldn't sell, but she has a mother that she wouldn't leave, and so I must go to her."
"That is a good reason, Mr. Bailey."
"Besides with fifty thousand dollars I can live as well as I want to in New Hampshire, and hold up my head with the best. You will follow my example some day."
"It will be a long day first, Mr. Bailey, for I am only sixteen."
On Monday morning the old landlord started for his Eastern home and Rodney took his place. It took him some little time to become familiar with all the details of hotel management, but he spared no pains to insure success. He had some trouble at first with the cook who presumed upon his position and Rodney's supposed ignorance to run things as he chose.
Rodney complained to Mr. Pettigrew.
"I think I can fix things, Rodney," he said. "There's a man working for me who used to be cook in a restaurant in New York. I found out about him quietly, for I wanted to be prepared for emergencies. The next time Gordon act contrary and threatens to leave, tell him he can do as he pleases. Then report to me."
The next day there came another conflict of authority.
"If you don't like the way I manage you can get somebody else," said the cook triumphantly. "Perhaps you'd like to cook the dinner yourself. You're nothing but a boy, and I don't see what Jefferson was thinking of to put you in charge."
"That is his business, Mr. Gordon."
"I advise you not to interfere with me, for I won't stand it."
"Why didn't you talk in this way to Mr. Bailey?"
"That's neither here nor there. He wasn't a boy for one thing."
"Then you propose to have your own way, Mr. Gordon?"
"Yes, I do."
"Very well, then you can leave me at the end of this week."
"What!" exclaimed the cook in profound astonishment. "Are you going crazy?"
"No, I know what I am about."
"Perhaps you intend to cook yourself."
"No, I don't. That would close up the hotel."
"Look here, young feller, you're gettin' too independent! I've a great mind to leave you tonight."
"You can do so if you want to," said Rodney indifferently.
"Then I will!" retorted Gordon angrily, bringing down his fist upon the table in vigorous emphasis.
Oreville was fifty miles from Helena, and that was the nearest point, as he supposed, where a new cook could be obtained.
After supper Rodney told Jefferson Pettigrew what had happened.
"Have I done right?" he asked.
"Yes; we can't have any insubordination here. There can't be two heads of one establishment. Send Gordon to me."
The cook with a defiant look answered the summons.
"I understand you want to leave, Gordon," said Jefferson Pettigrew.
"That depends. I ain't goin' to have no boy dictatin' to me."
"Then you insist upon having your own way without interference."
"Yes, I do."
"Very well, I accept your resignation. Do you wish to wait till the end of the week, or to leave tonight?"
"I want to give it up tonight."
"Very well, go to Rodney and he will pay you what is due you."
"Are you goin' to get along without a cook?" inquired Gordon in surprise.
"What are you going to do, then?"
"I shall employ Parker in your place."
"What does he know about cookin'?"
"He ran a restaurant in New York for five years, the first part of the time having charge of the cooking. We shan't suffer even if you do leave us."
"I think I will stay," said Gordon in a submissive tone.
"It is too late. You have discharged yourself. You can't stay here on any terms."
Gordon left Oreville the next day a sorely disappointed man, for he had received more liberal pay than he was likely to command elsewhere. The young landlord had triumphed.
THE MYSTERIOUS ROBBERY.
At the end of a month Jefferson Pettigrew said: "I've been looking over the books, Rodney, and I find the business is better than I expected. How much did I agree to pay you?"
"A hundred and fifty dollars a month, but if you think that it is too much——"
"Too much? Why I am going to advance you to two hundred and fifty."
"You can't be in earnest, Mr. Pettigrew?"
"I am entirely so."
"That is at the rate of three thousand dollars a year!"
"Yes, but you are earning it."
"You know I am only a boy."
"That doesn't make any difference as long as you understand your business."
"I am very grateful to you, Mr. Pettigrew. My, I can save two hundred dollars a month."
"Do so, and I will find you a paying investment for the money."
"What would Jasper say to my luck?" thought Rodney.
Three months passed without any incident worth recording. One afternoon a tall man wearing a high hat and a Prince Albert coat with a paste diamond of large size in his shirt bosom entered the public room of the Miners' Rest and walking up to the bar prepared to register his name. As he stood with his pen in his hand Rodney recognized him not without amazement.
It was Louis Wheeler—the railroad thief, whom he had last seen in New York.
As for Wheeler he had not taken any notice of the young clerk, not suspecting that it was an old acquaintance who was familiar with his real character.
"Have you just arrived in Montana, Mr. Wheeler?" asked Rodney quietly.
As Rodney had not had an opportunity to examine his signature in the register Wheeler looked up in quiet surprise.
"Do you know me?" he asked.
"Yes; don't you know me?"
"I'll be blowed if it isn't the kid," ejaculated Wheeler.
"As I run this hotel, I don't care to be called a kid."
"All right Mr.——"
"Mr. Ropes, you are the most extraordinary boy I ever met."
"Who would have thought of your turning up as a Montana landlord."
"I wouldn't have thought of it myself four months ago. But what brings you out here?"
"Business," answered Wheeler in an important tone.
"Are you going to become a miner?"
"I may buy a mine if I find one to suit me."
"I am glad you seem to be prospering."
"Can you give me a good room?"
"Yes, but I must ask a week's advance payment."
"Twenty five dollars."
"All right. Here's the money."
Louis Wheeler pulled out a well filled wallet and handed over two ten dollar bills and a five.
"Is that satisfactory?" he asked.
"Quite so. You seem better provided with money than when I saw you last."
"True. I was then in temporary difficulty. But I made a good turn in stocks and I am on my feet again."
Rodney did not believe a word of this, but as long as Wheeler was able to pay his board he had no good excuse for refusing him accommodation.
"That rascal here!" exclaimed Jefferson, when Rodney informed him of Wheeler's arrival. "Well, thats beat all! What has brought him out here?"
"Business, he says."
"It may be the same kind of business that he had with me. He will bear watching."
"I agree with you, Mr. Pettigrew."
Louis Wheeler laid himself out to be social and agreeable, and made himself quite popular with the other boarders at the hotel. As Jefferson and Rodney said nothing about him, he was taken at his own valuation, and it was reported that he was a heavy capitalist from Chicago who had come to Montana to buy a mine. This theory received confirmation both from his speech and actions.
On the following day he went about in Oreville and examined the mines. He expressed his opinion freely in regard to what he saw, and priced one that was for sale at fifty thousand dollars.
"I like this mine," he said, "but I don't know enough about it to make an offer. If it comes up to my expectations I will try it."
"He must have been robbing a bank," observed Jefferson Pettigrew.
Nothing could exceed the cool assurance with which Wheeler greeted Jefferson and recalled their meeting in New York.
"You misjudged me then, Mr. Pettigrew," he said. "I believe upon my soul you looked upon me as an adventurer—a confidence man."
"You are not far from the truth, Mr. Wheeler," answered Jefferson bluntly.
"Well, I forgive you. Our acquaintance was brief and you judged from superficial impressions."
"Perhaps so, Mr. Wheeler. Have you ever been West before?"
"When you came to Oreville had you any idea that I was here?"
"No; if I had probably I should not have struck the town, as I knew that you didn't have a favorable opinion of me."
"I can't make out much of that fellow, Rodney," said Jefferson. "I can't understand his object in coming here."
"He says he wants to buy a mine."
"That's all a pretext. He hasn't money enough to buy a mine or a tenth part of it."
"He seems to have money."
"Yes; he may have a few hundred dollars, but mark my words, he hasn't the slightest intention of buying a mine."
"He has some object in view."
"No doubt! What it is is what I want to find out."
There was another way in which Louis Wheeler made himself popular among the miners of Oreville. He had a violin with him, and in the evening he seated himself on the veranda and played popular tunes.
He had only a smattering in the way of musical training, but the airs he played took better than classical music would have done. Even Jefferson Pettigrew enjoyed listening to "Home, Sweet Home" and "The Last Rose of Summer," while the miners were captivated by merry dance tunes, which served to enliven them after a long day's work at the mines.
One day there was a sensation. A man named John O'Donnell came down stairs from his room looking pale and agitated.
"Boys," he said, "I have been robbed."
Instantly all eyes were turned upon him.
"Of what have you been robbed, O'Donnell?" asked Jefferson.
"Of two hundred dollars in gold. I was going to send it home to my wife in Connecticut next week."
"When did you miss it?"
"Where did you keep it?"
"In a box under my bed."
"When do you think it was taken?"
"What makes you think so?"
"I am a sound sleeper, and last night you know was very dark. I awoke with a start, and seemed to hear footsteps. I looked towards the door, and saw a form gliding from the room."
"Why didn't you jump out of bed and seize the intruder whoever he was?"
"Because I was not sure but it was all a dream. I think now it was some thief who had just robbed me."
"I think so too. Could you make out anything of his appearance?"
"I could only see the outlines of his figure. He was a tall man. He must have taken the money from under my bed."
"Did any one know that you had money concealed there?"
"I don't think I ever mentioned it."
"It seems we have a thief among us," said Jefferson, and almost unconsciously his glance rested on Louis Wheeler who was seated near John O'Donnell, "what do you think, Mr. Wheeler?"
"I think you are right, Mr. Pettigrew."
"Have you any suggestion to make?" asked Jefferson. "Have you by chance lost anything?"
"Not that I am aware of."
"Is there any one else here who has been robbed?"
No one spoke.
"You asked me if I had any suggestions to make, Mr. Pettigrew," said Louis Wheeler after a pause. "I have.
"Our worthy friend Mr. O'Donnell has met with a serious loss. I move that we who are his friends make it up to him. Here is my contribution," and he laid a five dollar bill on the table.
It was a happy suggestion and proved popular. Every one present came forward, and tendered his contributions including Jefferson, who put down twenty five dollars.
Mr. Wheeler gathered up the notes and gold and sweeping them to his hat went forward and tendered them to John O'Donnell.
"Take this money, Mr. O'Donnell," he said. "It is the free will offering of your friends. I am sure I may say for them, as for myself, that it gives us all pleasure to help a comrade in trouble."
Louis Wheeler could have done nothing that would have so lifted him in the estimation of the miners.
"And now," he said, "as our friend is out of his trouble I will play you a few tunes on my violin, and will end the day happily."
"I can't make out that fellow, Rodney," said Jefferson when they were alone. "I believe he is the thief, but he has an immense amount of nerve."
MR. WHEELER EXPLAINS.
Probably there was no one at the hotel who suspected Louis Wheeler of being a thief except Rodney and Mr. Pettigrew. His action in starting a contribution for John O'Donnell helped to make him popular. He was establishing a reputation quite new to him, and it was this fact probably that made him less prudent than he would otherwise have been.
As the loss had been made up, the boarders at the Miners' Rest ceased to talk of it. But Jefferson and his young assistant did not forget it.
"I am sure Wheeler is the thief, but I don't know how to bring it home to him," said Jefferson one day, when alone with Rodney.
"You might search him."
"Yes, but what good would that do? It might be found that he had money, but one gold coin is like another and it would be impossible to identify it as the stolen property. If O'Donnell had lost anything else except money it would be different. I wish he would come to my chamber."
"Perhaps he would if he thought you were a sound sleeper."
"That is an idea. I think I can make use of it.".
That evening when Wheeler was present Mr. Pettigrew managed to turn the conversation to the subject of sleeping.
"I am a very sound sleeper," he said. "I remember when I was at home sleeping many a time through a severe thunder storm."
"Don't you sometimes wake up in the middle of the night?" asked Rodney.
"Very seldom, if I am in good health."
"Its different with me," said another of the company. "A step on the floor or the opening of the door will wake me up at any time."
"I am glad I am not so easily roused."
"If I had a fish horn," said Rodney, laughing, "I should be tempted to come up in the night and give it a blast before your door."
"That might wake me up," said Mr. Pettigrew. "I wouldn't advise you to try it or the other boarders might get up an indignation meeting."
The same evening Jefferson Pettigrew took out a bag of gold and carelessly displayed it.
"Are you not afraid of being robbed, Mr. Pettigrew?" asked Rodney.
"Oh no. I never was robbed in my life."
"How much money have you there?"
"I don't know exactly. Perhaps six hundred dollars," said Pettigrew in an indifferent tone.
Among those who listened to this conversation with interest was Louis Wheeler. Rodney did not fail to see the covetous gleam of his eyes when the gold was displayed.
The fact was, that Wheeler was getting short of cash and at the time he took John O'Donnell's money—for he was the thief—he had but about twenty dollars left, and of this he contributed five to the relief of the man he had robbed.
His theft realized him two hundred dollars, but this would not last him long, as the expenses of living at the Miners' Rest were considerable. He was getting tired of Oreville, but wanted to secure some additional money before he left it. The problem was whom to make his second victim.
It would not have occurred to him to rob Jefferson Pettigrew, of whom he stood in wholesome fear, but for the admission that he was an unusually sound sleeper; even then he would have felt uncertain whether it would pay. But the display of the bag of money, and the statement that it contained six hundred dollars in gold proved a tempting bait.
"If I can capture that bag of gold," thought Wheeler, "I shall have enough money to set me up in some new place. There won't be much risk about it, for Pettigrew sleeps like a top. I will venture it."
Jefferson Pettigrew's chamber was on the same floor as his own. It was the third room from No. 17 which Mr. Wheeler occupied.
As a general thing the occupants of the Miners' Rest went to bed early. Mining is a fatiguing business, and those who follow it have little difficulty in dropping off to sleep. The only persons who were not engaged in this business were Louis Wheeler and Rodney Ropes. As a rule the hotel was closed at half past ten and before this all were in bed and sleeping soundly.
When Wheeler went to bed he said to himself, "This will probably be my last night in this tavern. I will go from here to Helena, and if things turn out right I may be able to make my stay there profitable. I shan't dare to stay here long after relieving Pettigrew of his bag of gold."
Unlike Jefferson Pettigrew, Wheeler was a light sleeper. He had done nothing to induce fatigue, and had no difficulty in keeping awake till half past eleven. Then lighting a candle, he examined his watch, and ascertained the time.
"It will be safe enough now," he said to himself.
He rose from his bed, and drew on his trousers. Then in his stocking feet he walked along the corridor till he stood in front of Jefferson Pettigrew's door. He was in doubt as to whether he would not be obliged to pick the lock, but on trying the door he found that it was not fastened. He opened it and stood within the chamber.
Cautiously he glanced at the bed. Mr. Pettigrew appeared to be sleeping soundly.
"It's all right," thought Louis Wheeler. "Now where is the bag of gold?"
It was not in open view, but a little search showed that the owner had put it under the bed.
"He isn't very sharp," thought Wheeler. "He is playing right into my hands. Door unlocked, and bag of gold under the bed. He certainly is a very unsuspicious man. However, that is all the better for me. Really there isn't much credit in stealing where all is made easy for you."
There seemed to be nothing to do but to take the gold from its place of deposit and carry it back to his own room. While there were a good many lodgers in the hotel, there seemed to be little risk about this, as every one was asleep.
Of course should the bag be found in his room that would betray him, but Mr. Wheeler proposed to empty the gold coins into his gripsack, and throw the bag out of the window into the back yard.
"Well, here goes!" said Wheeler cheerfully, as he lifted the bag, and prepared to leave the chamber. But at this critical moment an unexpected sound struck terror into his soul. It was the sound of a key being turned in the lock.
Nervously Wheeler hastened to the door and tried it. It would not open. Evidently it had been locked from the outside. What could it mean?
At the same time there was a series of knocks on the outside of the door. It was the signal that had been agreed upon between Mr. Pettigrew and Rodney. Jefferson had given his key to Rodney, who had remained up and on the watch for Mr. Wheeler's expected visit. He, too, was in his stocking feet.
As soon as he saw Wheeler enter his friend's chamber he stole up and locked the door on the outide. Then when he heard the thief trying to open the door he rained a shower of knocks on the panel.
Instantly Jefferson Pettigrew sprang out of bed and proceeded to act.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded, seizing Wheeler in his powerful grasp.
"Where am I?" asked Wheeler in a tone of apparent bewilderment.
"Oh, it's you, Mr. Wheeler?" said Jefferson. "Don't you know where you are?"
"Oh, it is my friend, Mr. Pettigrew. Is it possible I am in your room?"
"It is very possible. Now tell me why you are here?"
"I am really ashamed to find myself in this strange position. It is not the first time that I have got into trouble from walking in my sleep."
"Oh, you were walking in your sleep!"
"Yes, friend Petttigrew. It has been a habit of mine since I was a boy. But it seems very strange that I should have been led to your room. How could I get in? Wasn't the door locked?"
"It is locked now?"
"It is strange! I don't understand it," said Wheeler, passing his hand over his forehead.
"Perhaps you understand why you have that bag of gold in your hand."
"Can it be possible?" ejaculated Wheeler in well counterfeited surprise. "I don't know how to account for it."
"I think I can. Rodney, unlock the door and come in."
The key was turned in the lock, and Rodney entered with a lighted candle in his hand.
"You see, Rodney, that I have a late visitor. You will notice also that my bag of gold seems to have had an attraction for him."
"I am ashamed. I don't really know how to explain it except in this way. When you displayed the gold last night it drew my attention and I must have dreamed of it. It was this which drew me unconsciously to your door. It is certainly an interesting fact in mental science."
"It would have been a still more interesting fact if you had carried off the gold."
"I might even have done that in my unconsciousness, but of course I should have discovered it tomorrow morning and would have returned it to you."
"I don't feel by any means sure of that. Look here, Mr. Wheeler, if that is your name, you can't pull the wool over my eyes. You are a thief, neither more nor less."
"How can you misjudge me so, Mr. Pettigrew?"
"Because I know something of your past history. It is clear to me now that you were the person that stole John O'Donnell's money."
"Indeed, Mr. Pettigrew."
"It is useless to protest. How much of it have you left?"
Louis Wheeler was compelled to acknowledge the theft, and returned one hundred dollars to Jefferson Pettigrew.
"Now," said Jefferson, "I advise you to leave the hotel at once. If the boys find out that you are a thief you will stand a chance of being lynched. Get out!"
The next morning Jefferson Pettigrew told the other boarders that Louis Wheeler had had a sudden call East, and it was not for a week that he revealed to them the real reason of Wheeler's departure.
RODNEY FALLS INTO A TRAP.
Rodney had reason to be satisfied with his position as landlord of the Miners' Rest. His pay was large, and enabled him to put away a good sum every month, but his hours were long and he was too closely confined for a boy of his age. At the end of three months he showed this in his appearance. His good friend Pettigrew saw it and said one day, "Rodney, you are looking fagged out. You need a change."
"Does that mean that you are going to discharge me?" asked Rodney, with a smile.
"It means that I am going to give you a vacation."
"But what can I do if I take a vacation? I should not like lounging around Oreville with nothing to do."
"Such a vacation would do you no good. I'll tell you the plan I have for you. I own a small mine in Babcock, about fifty miles north of Oreville. I will send you up to examine it, and make a report to me. Can you ride on horseback?"
"That is well, for you will have to make your trip in that way. There are no railroads in that direction, nor any other way of travel except on foot or on horseback. A long ride like that with hours daily in the open air, will do you good. What do you say to it?"
"I should like nothing better," replied Rodney, with his eyes sparkling. "Only, how will you get along without me?"
"I have a man in my employ at the mines who will do part of your work, and I will have a general oversight of things. So you need not borrow any trouble on that account. Do you think you can find your way?"
"Give me the general direction, and I will guarantee to do so. When shall I start?"
"Day after tomorrow. That will give me one day for making arrangements."
At nine the appointed morning Mr. Pettigrew's own horse stood saddled at the door, and Rodney in traveling costume with a small satchel in his hand, mounted and rode away, waving a smiling farewell to his friend and employer.
Rodney did not hurry, and so consumed two days and a half in reaching Babcock. Here he was cordially received by the superintendent whom Jefferson Pettigrew had placed in charge of the mine. Every facility was afforded him to examine into the management of things and he found all satisfactory.
This part of his journey, therefore, may be passed over. But his return trip was destined to be more exciting.
Riding at an easy jog Rodney had got within fifteen miles of Oreville, when there was an unexpected interruption. Two men started out from the roadside, or rather from one side of the bridle path for there was no road, and advanced to meet him with drawn revolvers.
"Halt there!" one of them exclaimed in a commanding tone.
Rodney drew bridle, and gazed at the two men in surprise.
"What do you want of me?" he asked.
"Why should I? What right have you to interfere with my journey?"
"Might gives right," said one of the men sententiously. "It will be best for you to do as we bid you without too much back talk."
"What are you—highwaymen?" asked Rodney.
"You'd better not talk too much. Get off that horse!"
Rodney saw that remonstrance was useless, and obeyed the order.
One of the men seized the horse by the bridle, and led him.
"Walk in front!" he said.
"Where are you going to take me?" asked Rodney.
"You will know in due time."
"I hope you will let me go," urged Rodney, beginning to be uneasy. "I am expected home this evening, or at all event I want to get there."
"No doubt you do, but the Miners' Rest will have to get along without you for a while."
"Do you know me then?"
"Yes; you are the boy clerk at the Miners' Rest."
"You both put up there about two weeks since," said Rodney, examining closely the faces of the two men.
"Right you are, kid!"
"What can you possibly want of me?"
"Don't be too curious. You will know in good time."
Rodney remembered that the two men had remained at the hotel for a day and night. They spent the day in wandering around Oreville.
He had supposed when they came that they were in search of employment, but they had not applied for work and only seemed actuated by curiosity. What could be their object in stopping him now he could not understand.
It would have been natural to suppose they wanted money, but they had not asked for any as yet. He had about fifty dollars in his pocketbook and he would gladly have given them this if it would have insured his release. But not a word had been said about money.
They kept on their journey. Montana is a mountainous State, and they were now in the hilly regions. They kept on for perhaps half an hour, gradually getting upon higher ground, until they reached a precipitous hill composed largely of rock.
Here the two men stopped as if they had reached their journey's end.
One of them advanced to the side of the hill and unlocked a thick wooden door which at first had failed to attract Rodney's attention. The door swung open, revealing a dark passage, cut partly through stone and partly through earth. Inside on the floor was a bell of good size.
One of the men lifted the bell and rang it loudly.
"What does that mean?" thought Rodney, who felt more curious than apprehensive.
He soon learned.
A curious looking negro, stunted in growth, for he was no taller than a boy of ten, came out from the interior and stood at the entrance of the cave, if such it was. His face was large and hideous, there was a hump on his back, and his legs were not a match, one being shorter than the other, so that as he walked, his motion was a curious one. He bent a scrutinizing glance on Rodney.
"Well, Caesar, is dinner ready?" asked one of the men.
"No, massa, not yet."
"Let it be ready then as soon as possible. But first lead the way. We are coming in."
He started ahead, leading the horse, for the entrance was high enough to admit the passage of the animal.
"Push on!" said the other, signing to Rodney to precede him.
Rodney did so, knowing remonstrance to be useless. His curiosity was excited. He wondered how long the passage was and whither it led.
The way was dark, but here and there in niches was a kerosene lamp that faintly relieved the otherwise intense blackness.
"I have read about such places," thought Rodney, "but I never expected to get into one. The wonder is, that they should bring me here. I can't understand their object."
Rodney followed his guide for perhaps two hundred and fifty feet when they emerged into a large chamber of irregular shape, lighted by four large lamps set on a square wooden table. There were two rude cots in one corner, and it was here apparently that his guides made their home.
There was a large cooking stove in one part of the room, and an appetizing odor showed that Caesar had the dinner under way.
Rodney looked about him in curiosity. He could not decide whether the cave was natural or artificial. Probably it was a natural cave which had been enlarged by the hand of man.
"Now hurry up the dinner, Caesar," said one of the guides. "We are all hungry."
"Yes, massa," responded the obedient black.
Rodney felt hungry also, and hoped that he would have a share of the dinner. Later he trusted to find out the object of his new acquaintances in kidnaping him.
Dinner was soon ready. It was simple, but Rodney thoroughly enjoyed it.
During the meal silence prevailed. After it his new acquaintances produced pipes and began to smoke. They offered Rodney a cigarette, but he declined it.
"I don't smoke," he said.
"Are you a Sunday school kid?" asked one in a sneering tone.
"Well, perhaps so."
"How long have you lived at Oreville?"
"About four months."
"Who is the head of the settlement there?"
"He is the moneyed man, is he?"
"Is he a friend of yours?"
"He is my best friend," answered Rodney warmly.
"He thinks a good deal of you, then?"
"I think he does."
"Where have you been—on a journey?"
"Yes, to the town of Babcock."
"Did he send you?"
"What interest has he there?"
"He is chief owner of a mine there."
"Humph! I suppose you would like to know why we brought you here."
"I would very much."
"We propose to hold you for ransom."
"But why should you? I am only a poor boy."
"You are the friend of Jefferson Pettigrew. He is a rich man. If he wants you back he must pay a round sum."
It was all out now! These men were emulating a class of outlaws to be found in large numbers in Italy and Sicily, and were trading upon human sympathy and levying a tax upon human friendship.
Rodney realized his position. The alternative was not a pleasant one. Either he must remain in the power of these men, or cost his friend Mr. Pettigrew a large sum as ransom. There was little hope of changing the determination of his captors, but he resolved to try what he could do.
"Mr. Pettigrew is under no obligations to pay money out for me," he said. "I am not related to him, and have not yet known him six months."
"That makes no difference. You are his friend, and he likes you."
"That is the very reason why I should not wish him to lose money on my account."
"Oh, very well! It will be bad for you is he doesn't come to your help."
"Why? What do you propose to do to me?" asked Rodney boldly.
"Better not ask!" was the significant reply.
"But I want to know. I want to realize my position."
"The least that will happen to you is imprisonment in this cave for a term of years."
"I don't think I should like it but you would get tired of standing guard over me."
"We might, and in that case there is the other thing."
"What other thing?"
"If we get tired of keeping you here, we shall make short work with you."
"Would you murder me?" asked Rodney, horror struck, as he might well be, for death seems terrible to a boy just on the threshold of life.
"We might be obliged to do so."
Rodney looked in the faces of his captors, and he saw nothing to encourage him. They looked like desperate men, who would stick at nothing to carry out their designs.
"I don't see why you should get hold of me," he said. "If you had captured Mr. Pettigrew himself you would stand a better chance of making it pay."
"There is no chance of capturing Pettigrew. If there were we would prefer him to you. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."
"How much ransom do you propose to ask?"
This Rodney said, thinking that if it were a thousand dollars he might be able to make it good to his friend Jefferson. But he was destined to be disappointed.
"Five thousand dollars," answered the chief speaker.
"Five thousand dollars!" ejaculated Rodney in dismay. "Five thousand dollars for a boy like me!"
"That is the sum we want."
"If it were one thousand I think you might get it."
"One thousand!" repeated the other scornfully. "That wouldn't half pay us."
"Then suppose you call it two thousand?"
"It won't do."
"Then I suppose I must make up my mind to remain a prisoner."
"Five thousand dollars wouldn't be much to a rich man like Pettigrew. We have inquired, and found out that he is worth at least a hundred thousand dollars. Five thousand is only a twentieth part of this sum."
"You can do as you please, but you had better ask a reasonable amount if you expect to get it."
"We don't want advice. We shall manage things in our own way."
Convinced that further discussion would be unavailing, Rodney relapsed into silence, but now his captors proceeded to unfold their plans.
One of them procured a bottle of ink, some paper and a pen, and set them on the table.
"Come up here, boy, and write to Mr. Pettigrew," he said in a tone of authority.
"What shall I write?"
"Tell him that you are a prisoner, and that you will not be released unless he pays five thousand dollars."
"I don't want to write that. It will be the same as asking him to pay it for me."
"That is what we mean him to understand."
"I won't write it."
Rodney knew his danger, but he looked resolutely into the eyes of the men who held his life in their hands. His voice did not waver, for he was a manly and courageous boy.
"The boy's got grit!" said one of the men to the other.
"Yes, but it won't save him. Boy, are you going to write what I told you?"
"Are you not afraid that we will kill you?"
"You have power to do it."
"Don't you want to live?"
"Yes. Life is sweet to a boy of sixteen."
"Then why don't you write?"
"Because I think it would be taking a mean advantage of Mr. Pettigrew."
"You are a fool. Roderick, what shall we do with him?"
"Tell him simply to write that he is in our hands."
"Well thought of. Boy, will you do that?"
Rodney gave his consent for he was anxious that Mr. Pettigrew should know what had prevented him from coming home when he was expected.
"Very well, write! You will know what to say."
Rodney drew the paper to him, and wrote as follows:
DEAR MR. PETTIGREW,
On my way home I was stopped by two men who have confined me in a cave, and won't let me go unless a sum of money is paid for my ransom. I don't know what to do. You will know better than I. RODNEY ROPES.
His chief captor took the note and read it aloud.
"That will do," he said. "Now he will believe us when we say that you are in our hands."
He signed to Rodney to rise from the table and took his place. Drawing a pile of paper to him, he penned the following note:
Rodney Ropes is in our hands. He wants his liberty and we want money. Send us five thousand dollars, or arrange a meeting at which it can be delivered to us, and he shall go free. Otherwise his death be on your hands. HIS CAPTORS.
Rodney noticed that this missive was written in a handsome business hand.
"You write a handsome hand," he said.
"I ought to," was the reply. "I was once bookkeeper in a large business house."
"And what—" here Rodney hesitated.
"What made me an outlaw you mean to ask?"
"My nature, I suppose. I wasn't cut out for sober, humdrum life."
"Don't you think you would have been happier?"
"No preaching, kid! I had enough of that when I used to go to church in my old home in Missouri. Here, Caesar!"
"You know Oreville?"
"Go over there and take this letter with you. Ask for Jefferson Pettigrew, and mind you don't tell him where we live. Only if he asks about me and my pal say we are desperate men, have each killed a round dozen of fellows that stood in our way and will stick at nothing."
"All right, massa," said Caesar with an appreciative grin. "How shall I go, massa?"
"You can take the kid's horse. Ride to within a mile of Oreville, then tether the horse where he won't easily be found, and walk over to the mines. Do you understand?"
"He won't probably give you any money, but he may give you a letter. Bring it safely to me."
Caesar nodded and vanished.
For an hour the two men smoked their pipes and chatted. Then they rose, and the elder said: "We are going out, kid, for a couple of hours. Are you afraid to stay alone?"
"Why should I be?"
"That's the way to talk. I won't caution you not to escape, for it would take a smarter lad then you to do it. If you are tired you can lie down on the bed and rest."
"I am sorry we haven't got the morning paper for you to look over," said his captor with a smile. "The carrier didn't leave it this morning."
"I can get along without it. I don't feel much like reading."
"You needn't feel worried. You'll be out of this tomorrow if Jefferson Pettigrew is as much your friend as you think he is."
"The only thing that troubles me is the big price you charge at your hotel."
"Good! The kid has a good wit of his own. After all, we wouldn't mind keeping you with us. It might pay you better than working for Pettigrew."
"I hope you'll excuse my saying it, but I don't like the business."
"You may change your mind. At your age we wouldn't either of us like the sort of life we are leading. Come, John."
The two men went out but did not allow Rodney to accompany them to the place of exit.
Left to himself, Rodney could think soberly of his plight. He could not foresee whether his captivity would be brief or prolonged.
After a time the spirit of curiosity seized him. He felt tempted to explore the cavern in which he was confined. He took a lamp, and followed in a direction opposite to that taken by his captors.
The cave he found was divided into several irregularly shaped chambers. He walked slowly, holding up the lamp to examine the walls of the cavern. In one passage he stopped short, for something attracted his attention—something the sight of which made his heart beat quicker and filled him with excitement.
There was a good reason for Rodney's excitement. The walls of the subterranean passage revealed distinct and rich indications of gold. There was a time, and that not long before, when they would have revealed nothing to Rodney, but since his residence at Oreville he had more than once visited the mines and made himself familiar with surface indications of mineral deposit.
He stopped short and scanned attentively the walls of the passage.
"If I am not mistaken," he said to himself, "this will make one of the richest mines in Montana. But after all what good will it do me? Here am I a prisoner, unable to leave the cave, or communicate with my friends. If Mr. Pettigrew knew what I do he would feel justified in paying the ransom these men want."
Rodney wondered how these rich deposits had failed to attract the attention of his captors, but he soon settled upon the conclusion that they had no knowledge of mines or mining, and were ignorant of the riches that were almost in their grasp.
"Shall I enlighten them?" he asked himself.
It was a question which he could not immediately answer. He resolved to be guided by circumstances.
In order not to excite suspicion he retraced his steps to the apartment used by his captors as a common sitting room—carefully fixing in his mind the location of the gold ore.
We must now follow the messenger who had gone to Oreville with a letter from Rodney's captors.
As instructed, he left his horse, or rather Rodney's, tethered at some distance from the settlement and proceeded on foot to the Miners' Rest. His strange appearance excited attention and curiosity. Both these feelings would have been magnified had it been known on what errand he came.
"Where can I find Mr. Jefferson Pettigrew?" he asked of a man whom he saw on the veranda.
"At the Griffin Mine," answered the other, removing the pipe from his mouth.
"Where is that?"
"Over yonder. Are you a miner?"
"No. I know nothing about mines."
"Then why do you want to see Jefferson? I thought you might want a chance to work in the mine."
"No; I have other business with him—business of importance," added the black dwarf emphatically.
"If that is the case I'll take you to him. I am always glad to be of service to Jefferson."
"Thank you. He will thank you, too."
The man walked along with a long, swinging gait which made it difficult for Caesar to keep up with him.
"So you have business with Jefferson?" said the man with the pipe, whose curiosity had been excited.
"Of what sort?"
"I will tell him," answered Caesar shortly.
"So its private, is it?"
"Yes. If he wants to tell you he will."
"That's fair. Well, come along! Am I walking too fast for you?"
"Your legs are much longer than mine."
"That's so. You are a little shrimp. I declare."
A walk of twenty minutes brought them to the Griffin Mine. Jefferson Pettigrew was standing near, giving directions to a party of miners.
"Jefferson," said the man with the pipe, "here's a chap that wants to see you on business of importance. That is, he says it is."
Jefferson Pettigrew wheeled round and looked at Caesar.
"Well," he said, "what is it?"
"I have a letter for you, massa."
"Give it to me."
Jefferson took the letter and cast his eye over it. As he read it his countenance changed and became stern and severe.
"Do you know what is in this letter?" he asked.
"Come with me."
He led Caesar to a place out of earshot.
"What fiend's game is this?" he demanded sternly.
"I can't tell you, massa; I'm not in it."
"Who are those men that have written to me?"
"I don't know their right names. I calls 'em Massa John and Massa Dick."
"It seems they have trapped a boy friend of mine, Rodney Ropes. Did you see him?"
"Yes; I gave him a good dinner."
"That is well. If they should harm a hair of his head I wouldn't rest till I had called them to account. Where have they got the boy concealed?"
"I couldn't tell you, massa."
"You mean, you won't tell me."
"Yes. It would be as much as my life is worth."
"Humph, well! I suppose you must be faithful to your employer. Do you know that these men want me to pay five thousand dollars for the return of the boy?"
"Yes, I heard them talking about it."
"That is a new kind of rascality. Do they expect you to bring back an answer?"
"I must think. What will they do to the boy if I don't give them the money?"
"They might kill him."
"If they do—but I must have time to think the matter over. Are you expected to go back this afternoon?"
"Can you get back? It must be a good distance."
"I can get back."
"Stay here. I will consult some of my friends and see if I can raise the money."
"Very well, massa." One of those whom Jefferson called into consultation was the person who had guided Caesar to the Griffin Mine.
Quickly the proprietor of the Miners' Rest unfolded the situation.
"Now," he said, "I want two of you to follow this misshapen dwarf, and find out where he comes from. I want to get hold of the scoundrels who sent him to me."
"I will be one," said the man with the pipe.
"Very well, Fred."
"And I will go with Fred," said a long limbed fellow who had been a Kansas cowboy.
"I accept you, Otto. Go armed, and don't lose sight of him."
"Shall you send the money?"
"Not I. I will send a letter that will encourage them to hope for it. I want to gain time."
"Any instructions, Jefferson?"
"Only this, if you see these men, capture or kill them."
A BLOODY CONFLICT.
This was the letter that was handed to Caesar:
I have received your note. I must have time to think, and time perhaps to get hold of the gold. Don't harm a hair of the boy's head. If so, I will hunt you to death.
P.S.—Meet me tomorrow morning at the rocky gorge at the foot of Black Mountain. Ten o'clock.
Caesar took the letter, and bent his steps in the direction of the place where he had tethered his horse. He did not observe that he was followed by two men, who carefully kept him in sight, without attracting attention to themselves.
When Caesar reached the place where he had tethered the horse, he was grievously disappointed at not finding him. One of the miners in roaming about had come upon the animal, and knowing him to be Jefferson Pettigrew's property, untied him and rode him back to Oreville.
The dwarf threw up his hands in dismay.
"The horse is gone!" he said in his deep bass voice, "and now I must walk back, ten long miles, and get a flogging at the end for losing time. It's hard luck," he groaned.
The loss was fortunate for Fred and Otto who would otherwise have found it hard to keep up with the dwarf.
Caesar breathed a deep sigh, and then started on his wearisome journey. Had the ground been even it would have troubled him less, but there was a steep upward grade, and his short legs were soon weary. Not so with his pursuers, both of whom were long limbed and athletic.
We will go back now to the cave and the captors of Rodney. They waited long and impatiently for the return of their messenger. Having no knowledge of the loss of the horse, they could not understand what detained Caesar.
"Do you think the rascal has played us false?" said Roderick.
"He would be afraid to."
"This man Pettigrew might try to bribe him. It would be cheaper than to pay five thousand dollars."
"He wouldn't dare. He knows what would happen to him," said John grimly.
"Then why should he be so long?"
"That I can't tell."
"Suppose we go out to meet him. I begin to feel anxious lest we have trusted him too far."
"I am with you!"
The two outlaws took the path which led to Oreville, and walked two miles before they discovered Caesar coming towards them at a slow and melancholy gait.
"There he is, and on foot! What does it mean?"
"He will tell us."
"Here now, you black imp! where is the horse?" demanded Roderick.
"I done lost him, massa."
"Lost him? You'll get a flogging for this, unless you bring good news. Did you see Jefferson Pettigrew?"
"Did he give you any money?"
"No; he gave me this letter."
Roderick snatched it from his hand, and showed it to John.
"It seems satisfactory," he said. "Now how did you lose the horse?"
Caesar told him.
"You didn't fasten him tight."
"Beg your pardon, massa, but I took good care of that."
"Well, he's gone; was probably stolen. That is unfortunate; however you may not have been to blame."
Luckily for Caesar the letter which he brought was considered satisfactory, and this palliated his fault in losing the horse.
The country was so uneven that the two outlaws did not observe that they were followed, until they came to the entrance of the cave. Then, before opening the door, John looked round and caught sight of Fred and Otto eying them from a little distance.
He instantly took alarm.
"Look," he said, "we are followed. Look behind you!"
His brother turned and came to the same conclusion.
"Caesar," said Roderick, "did you ever see those men before?"
"They must have followed you from Oreville. Hello, you two!" he added striding towards the miners. "What do you want here?"
Fred and Otto had accomplished their object in ascertaining the place where Rodney was confined, and no longer cared for concealment.
"None of your business!" retorted Fred independently. "The place is as free to us as to you."
"Are you spies?"
"I don't intend to answer any of your questions."
"Clear out of here!" commanded Roderick in a tone of authority.
"Suppose we don't?"
Roderick was a man of quick temper, and had never been in the habit of curbing it. He was provoked by the independent tone of the speaker, and without pausing to think of the imprudence of his actions, he raised his rifle and pointing at Fred shot him in the left arm.
The two miners were both armed, and were not slow in accepting the challenge. Simultaneously they raised their rifles and fired at the two men. The result was that both fell seriously wounded and Caesar set up a howl of dismay, not so much for his masters as from alarm for himself.
Fred and Otto came forward, and stood looking down upon the outlaws, who were in the agonies of death.
"It was our lives or theirs," said Fred coolly, for he had been long enough in Montana to become used to scenes of bloodshed.