"Yes," answered Otto. "I think these two men are the notorious Dixon brothers who are credited with a large number of murders. The country will be well rid of them."
Roderick turned his glazing eyes upon the tall miner. "I wish I had killed you," he muttered.
"No doubt you do. It wouldn't have been your first murder."
"Don't kill me, massa!" pleaded Caesar in tones of piteous entreaty.
"I don't know," answered Fred. "That depends on yourself. If you obey us strictly we will spare you."
"Try me, massa!"
"You black hound!" said Roderick hoarsely. "If I were not disabled I'd kill you myself."
Here was a new danger for poor Caesar, for he knew Roderick's fierce temper.
"Don't let him kill me!" he exclaimed, affrighted.
"He shall do you no harm. Will you obey me?"
"Tell me what you want, massa."
"Is the boy these men captured inside?"
"Open the cave, then. We want him."
"Don't do it," said Roderick, but Caesar saw at a glance that his old master, of whom he stood in wholesome fear, was unable to harm him, and he proceeded to unlock the door.
"Go and call the boy!" said Fred.
Caesar disappeared within the cavern, and soon emerged with Rodney following him.
"Are you unhurt?" asked Fred anxiously.
"Yes, and overjoyed to see you. How came you here?"
"We followed the nigger from Oreville."
What happened afterwards Rodney did not need to inquire, for the two outstretched figures, stiffening in death, revealed it to him.
"They are the Dixon brothers, are they not?" asked Fred, turning to Caesar.
"Then we are entitled to a thousand dollars each for their capture. I have never before shed blood, but I don't regret ending the career of these scoundrels."
Half an hour later the two outlaws were dead and Rodney and his friends were on their way back to Oreville.
THE RODNEY MINE.
Rodney was received by Jefferson Pettigrew with open arms.
"Welcome home, boy!" he said. "I was very much worried about you."
"I was rather uneasy about myself," returned Rodney.
"Well, it's all over, and all's well that ends well. You are free and there has been no money paid out. Fred and Otto have done a good thing in ridding the world of the notorious Dixon brothers. They will be well paid, for I understand there is a standing reward of one thousand dollars for each of them dead or alive. I don't know but you ought to have a share of this, for it was through you that the outlaws were trapped."
"No, Mr. Pettigrew, they are welcome to the reward. If I am not mistaken I shall make a good deal more out of it than they."
"What do you mean?"
Upon this Rodney told the story of what he had seen in the cavern.
"When I said I, I meant we, Mr. Pettigrew. I think if the gold there is as plentiful as I think it is we shall do well to commence working it."
"It is yours, Rodney, by right of first discovery."
"I prefer that you should share it with me."
"We will go over tomorrow and make an examination. Was there any one else who seemed to have a claim to the cave except the Dixons?"
"No. The negro, Caesar, will still be there, perhaps."
"We can easily get rid of him."
The next day the two friends went over to the cavern. Caesar was still there, but he had an unsettled, restless look, and seemed undecided what to do.
"What are you going to do, Caesar?" asked Pettigrew. "Are you going to stay here?"
"I don't know, massa. I don't want to lib here. I'm afraid I'll see the ghostes of my old massas. But I haven't got no money."
"If you had money where would you go?"
"I'd go to Chicago. I used to be a whitewasher, and I reckon I'd get work at my old trade."
"That's where you are sensible, Caesar. This is no place for you. Now I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll give you a hundred dollars, and you can go where you like. But I shall want you to go away at once."
"I'll go right off, massa," said Caesar, overjoyed. "I don't want to come here no more."
"Have you got anything belonging to you in the cave?"
"No, massa, only a little kit of clothes."
"Take them and go."
In fifteen minutes Caesar had bidden farewell to his home, and Rodney and Jefferson were left in sole possession of the cavern.
"Now, Mr. Pettigrew, come and let me show you what I saw. I hope I have made no mistake."
Rodney led the way to the narrow passage already described. By the light of a lantern Mr. Pettigrew examined the walls. For five minutes not a word was said.
"Well, what do you think of it?" asked Rodney anxiously.
"Only this: that you have hit upon the richest gold deposits in Montana. Here is a mining prospect that will make us both rich."
"I am glad I was not mistaken," said Rodney simply.
"Your capture by the Dixon brothers will prove to have been the luckiest event in your life. I shall lose no time in taking possession in our joint name."
There was great excitement when the discovery of the gold deposit was made known. In connection with the killing of the outlaws, it was noised far and wide. The consequence was that there was an influx of mining men, and within a week Rodney and Jefferson were offered a hundred thousand dollars for a half interest in the mine by a Chicago syndicate.
"Say a hundred and fifty thousand, and we accept the offer," said Jefferson Pettigrew.
After a little haggling this offer was accepted, and Rodney found himself the possessor of seventy five thousand dollars in cash.
"It was fortunate for me when I fell in with you, Mr. Pettigrew," he said.
"And no less fortunate for me, Rodney. This mine will bring us in a rich sum for our share, besides the cash we already have in hand."
"If you don't object, Mr. Pettigrew, I should like to go to New York and continue my education. You can look after my interest here, and I shall be willing to pay you anything you like for doing so."
"There won't be any trouble about that, Rodney. I don't blame you for wanting to obtain an education. It isn't in my line. You can come out once a year, and see what progress we are making. The mine will be called the Rodney Mine after you."
The Miners' Rest was sold to the steward, as Mr. Pettigrew was too busy to attend to it, and in a week Rodney was on his way to New York.
Otis Goodnow arrived at his place of business a little earlier than usual, and set himself to looking over his mail. Among other letters was one written on paper bearing the name of the Fifth Avenue Hotel. He came to this after a time and read it.
It ran thus:
I was once in your employ, though you may not remember my name. I was in the department of Mr. Redwood, and there I became acquainted with Jasper Redwood, his nephew. I was discharged, it is needless to recall why. I had saved nothing, and of course I was greatly embarrassed. I could not readily obtain another place, and in order to secure money to pay living expenses I entered into an arrangement with Jasper Redwood to sell me articles, putting in more than I paid for. These I was enabled to sell at a profit to smaller stores. This was not as profitable as it might have been to me, as I was obliged to pay Jasper a commission for his agency. Well, after a time it was ascertained that articles were missing, and search was made for the thief. Through a cunningly devised scheme of Jasper's the theft was ascribed to Rodney Ropes, a younger clerk, and he was discharged. Ropes was a fine young fellow, and I have always been sorry that he got into trouble through our agency, but there seemed no help for it. It must rest on him or us. He protested his innocence, but was not believed. I wish to say now that he was absolutely innocent, and only Jasper and myself were to blame. If you doubt my statement I will call today, and you may confront me with Jasper. I desire that justice should be done. PHILIP CARTON.
"Call Mr. Redwood," said the merchant, summoning a boy.
In five minutes Mr. Redwood entered the office of his employer.
"You sent for me, sir?"
"Yes, Mr. Redwood; cast your eye over this letter."
James Redwood read the letter, and his face showed the agitation he felt.
"I don't know anything about this, Mr. Goodnow," he said at last.
"It ought to be inquired into."
"I agree with you. If my nephew is guilty I want to know it."
"We will wait till the writer of this letter calls. Do you remember him?"
"Yes, sir; he was discharged for intemperance."
At twelve o'clock Philip Carton made his appearance, and asked to be conducted to Mr. Goodnow's private office.
"You are the writer of this letter?" asked the merchant.
"And you stand by the statement it contains?"
"Why, at this late day, have you made a confession?"
"Because I wish to do justice to Rodney Ropes, who has been unjustly accused, and also because I have been meanly treated by Jasper Redwood, who has thrown me over now that he has no further use for me."
"Are you willing to repeat your statement before him?"
"I wish to do so."
"Call Jasper Redwood, Sherman," said the merchant, addressing himself to Sherman White, a boy recently taken into his employ.
Jasper entered the office, rather surprised at the summons. When he saw his accomplice, he changed color, and looked confused.
"Jasper," said the merchant, "read this letter and tell me what you have to say in reply."
Jasper ran his eye over the letter, while his color came and went.
"It's a lie," said Jasper hoarsely.
"Do you still insist that the articles taken from my stock were taken by Rodney Ropes?"
"What do you say, Mr. Carton?"
"Not one was taken by Rodney Ropes. Jasper and I are responsible for them all."
"What proof can you bring?"
"Mr. James Redwood will recall the purchase I made at the time of the thefts. He will recall that I always purchased of Jasper."
"That is true," said Mr. Redwood in a troubled voice.
"Do you confess, Jasper Redwood?"
"If you will tell the truth, I will see that no harm comes to you. I want to clear this matter up."
Jasper thought the matter over. He saw that the game was up—and decided rapidly that confession was the best policy.
"Very well, sir, if I must I will do so, but that man put me up to it."
"You did not need any putting up to it. I wish young Ropes were here, that I might clear him."
As if in answer to the wish a bronzed and manly figure appeared at the office door. It was Rodney, but taller and more robust than when he left the store nearly a year before.
"Rodney Ropes!" ejaculated Jasper in great surprise.
"Yes, Jasper, I came here to see you, and beg you to free me from the false charge which was brought against me when I was discharged from this store. I didn't find you in your usual places, and was directed here."
"Ropes," said Mr. Goodnow, "your innocence has been established. This man," indicating Philip Carton, "has confessed that it was he and Jasper who stole the missing articles."
"I am thankful that my character has been cleared."
"I am ready to take you back into my employ."
"Thank you, sir, but I have now no need of a position. I shall be glad if you will retain Jasper."
"You are very generous to one who has done so much to injure you."
"Indirectly he put me in the way of making a fortune. If you will retain him, Mr. Goodnow, I will guarantee to make up any losses you may incur from him."
"How is this? Are you able to make this guarantee?"
"I am worth seventy five thousand dollars in money, besides being owner of a large mining property in Montana."
"This is truly wonderful! And you have accumulated all this since you left my store?"
"Rodney," said Jasper, going up to his old rival, and offering his hand. "I am sorry I tried to injure you. It was to save myself, but I see now how meanly I acted."
"That speech has saved you," said the merchant. "Go back to your work. I will give you another chance."
"Will you take me back also, Mr. Goodnow?" asked Philip Carton.
The merchant hesitated.
"No, Mr. Carton," said Rodney. "I will look out for you. I will send you to Montana with a letter to my partner. You can do better there than here."
Tears came into the eyes of the ex-clerk.
"Thank you," he said gratefully. "I should prefer it. I will promise to turn over a new leaf; and justify your recommendation."
"Come to see me this evening at the Fifth Avenue Hotel, and I will arrange matters."
"Shall you stay in the city long, Ropes?" asked the merchant.
"About a week."
"Come and dine with me on Tuesday evening."
"Thank you, sir."
Later in the day Rodney sought out his old room mate Mike Flynn. He found Mike in a bad case. He had a bad cold, but did not dare to give up work, because he wouldn't be able to meet his bills. He was still in the employ of the District Telegraph Company.
"Give the company notice, Mike," said Rodney. "Henceforth I will take care of you. You can look upon me as your rich uncle," he added with a smile.
"I will be your servant, Rodney."
"Not a bit of it. You will be my friend. But you must obey me implicitly. I am going to send you to school, and give you a chance to learn something. Next week I shall return to Dr. Sampson's boarding school and you will go with me as my friend and room mate."
"But, Rodney, you will be ashamed of me. I am awfully shabby."
"You won't be long. You shall be as well dressed as I am."
A week later the two boys reached the school. It would have been hard for any of Mike's old friends to recognize him in the handsomely dressed boy who accompanied Rodney.
"Really, Mike, you are quite good looking, now that you are well dressed," said Rodney.
"Oh, go away with you, Rodney? It's fooling me you are!"
"Not a bit of it. Now I want you to improve your time and learn as fast as you can."
"I will, Rodney."
A year later Rodney left school, but he kept Mike there two years longer. There had been a great change in the telegraph boy, who was quick to learn. He expects, when he leaves school, to join Rodney in Montana.
I will not attempt to estimate Rodney's present wealth, but he is already prominent in financial circles in his adopted State. Philip Carton is prospering, and is respected by his new friends, who know nothing of his earlier life.
As I write, Rodney has received a letter from his old guardian, Benjamin Fielding. The letter came from Montreal.
"My dear Rodney," he wrote. "I have worked hard to redeem the past, and restore to you your fortune. I have just succeeded, and send you the amount with interest. It leaves me little or nothing, but my mind is relieved. I hope you have not had to suffer severely from my criminal carelessness, and that you will live long to enjoy what rightfully belongs to you."
In reply Rodney wrote: "Please draw on me for fifty thousand dollars. I do not need it, and you do. Five years from now, if you can spare the money you may send it to me. Till then use it without interest. I am worth much more than the sum my father intrusted to you for me."
This offer was gratefully accepted, and Mr. Fielding is now in New York, where he is likely to experience a return of his former prosperity.
As for Rodney, his trials are over. They made a man of him, and proved a blessing in disguise.