Respecting Detective Maxx, there was much wonderment, and the mayor was vexed that he did not show up. Some doubted his presence in Damietta, but the superior officer of the city felt that courtesy demanded that Maxx should report to him before trying to follow up any trail of his own. If he was with us, he was so effectually disguised that no one suspected his identity.
"I wonder whether that seedy, tramp-like fellow who stole the cipher dispatch, can be Detective Maxx?" said Ben to me on Wednesday night before he started for home.
"It is not impossible," I answered, "for detectives are forced to assume all manner of disguises. He may have chosen to stroll about the city in that make-up."
"But if it is the detective, why did he go to all the trouble of copying off the telegram by sound when he could have got it from us with the translation merely by making himself known?"
"I admit that, if he is a detective, he acts, in my judgment, in a very unprofessional way. He was so persistent in his attentions that he must have known he was sure to draw unpleasant, if not dangerous suspicion, to himself."
"Do you know," said Ben, with a meaning smile, "that I half believe this stranger and Burkhill are partners? They have been here at the same time, they show interest in the same thing, and like enough are working out the same scheme of robbery."
This had never occurred to me, and I was struck with its reasonableness, when I came to think it over. The ill-favored individual signed the name "John Browning" to the dispatch which he sent some months before, as a pretext for visiting our office so much—but that was clearly an alias.
"Well," said I, "it is all conjecture any way. With the ample warning the authorities have received, I do not believe there is the slightest prospect of a robbery being committed. I intend to retire to-morrow night at my usual hour with little fear of my slumbers being disturbed."
A few minutes after, we bade each other good-night, and wended our way quietly homeward.
My experience was singular, after parting with my young friend—not meaning to imply that anything unusual occurred to me; but the mental processes to which I was subjected that evening, in the light of subsequent events, were very peculiar, to say the least.
I am convinced that the inciting cause was the remark made by Ben Mayberry to the effect that he believed the seedy individual was a confederate of Burkhill, and that the two were perfecting a scheme for robbing one of the banks—most likely the Mechanics'.
"Ben is right," I said to myself. "His bright mind has enabled him to grasp the truth by intuition, as a woman sometimes does when a man has been laboring for hours to reach the same point."
But before I could satisfy myself that the boy was right, a still stronger conviction came to me that he was wrong. The men were not pals—as they are called among the criminal classes—and they were not arranging some plan of robbery.
While I was clear on this point, I was totally unable to form any theory to take the place of the one I had demolished.
Who was the pretended John Browning, and what was the dark scheme that was being hatched "in our midst," as the expression goes?
These were the questions which presented themselves to me, and which I could not answer in a manner thoroughly satisfactory to myself.
"They are all wrong—everybody is wrong!" I exclaimed to myself; "whatever it is that is in the wind, no one but the parties themselves knows its nature."
This was the conclusion which fastened itself in my mind more firmly the longer I thought.
"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, and it is the only thing which will protect us in this case—helloa!"
So rapt was I in my meditation that I had walked three squares beyond my house before I awoke to the fact. It was something which I had never done before in all my life.
BETWEEN TWO FIRES
In the meantime, Ben Mayberry underwent an experience more peculiar than mine.
I cannot speak of the mental problems with which he wrestled, but, as he explained to me afterward, he had settled down to the belief that the Mechanics' Bank was the one against which the burglars were perfecting their plans. He was hopeful that the only outcome of the conspiracy would be the capture of the criminals, though he felt more than one pang when he reflected that the principal one was a relative of Dolly Willard, who was the personification of innocence and goodness to him.
Ben had acquired the excellent habit of always being wide awake, excepting, of course, when he lay down for real slumber. Thus it was that he had gone but a little distance on his way home when he became aware that someone was following him.
I doubt whether there is a more uncomfortable feeling than that caused by such a discovery. The certainty that some unknown person, with no motive but a sinister one, is dodging at your heels, as the mountain wolf slinks along behind the belated traveler, awaiting the moment when he can spring upon him unawares, is enough to cause the bravest man to shiver with dread.
The night was very dark. The day had been cloudy, and there was no moon; but Ben was in a large city, with an efficient police system (that is, equal to the average), there were street lamps, the hour was not unusually late, and there were other persons beside himself abroad. And yet, in the heart of the metropolis, at the same hour, crimes have been perpetrated whose mystery has never been unraveled to this day.
Ben Mayberry may have felt somewhat uneasy, but there was not so much fear as there was curiosity to know what earthly reason any living man could have for following him in that stealthy fashion.
Surely no one could suspect him of being burdened with wealth. The only article of any account about his person was a silver watch, which had cost him sixteen dollars. He never carried a pistol, for he saw no necessity for doing so. If he should find himself beset by enemies who were too strong to be resisted, he could run as rapidly as any person in the city, and a short run in Damietta was enough to take him to a place of safety inaccessible to his assailants.
When he turned into the narrow street which led across the bridge where he had his affray with Rutherford Richmond and his companion, he reflected that it was perhaps the most dangerous spot in the neighborhood. There was a single lamp just before stepping on the bridge, where one might run against another before seeing him.
He hesitated a minute as he made the turn. It was easy enough to reach his home by a different route, which was somewhat longer, but which was well lighted all the way, and there could be little risk in taking it.
"I'll stick to the usual way," muttered Ben, striding resolutely forward; "I don't believe anything like murder is contemplated."
At that moment he would have felt much more comfortable had he possessed a pistol, or some kind of weapon, but he did not hesitate, now that he had "put his hand to the plow."
A minute later he stepped on the bridge, where the gas lamp shone upon him, and, with his usual deliberate tread, passed off in the gloom of the other side. The instant he believed himself beyond sight of his pursuer, he quickened his gait but continually looked back in the hope of gaining a view of the man, for the boy was naturally eager to learn who it was that was playing such a sinister trick on him.
Just beyond, on the limit of his field of vision, Ben saw a shadowy figure cross quickly, to the other side of the street. The stranger did this before coming within the glare of the lamp, which would have revealed him too plainly to those who might be curious to secure a glimpse of his features.
An instant later his footfall was heard on the bridge, and he was walking rapidly toward Ben, crossing again to the same side of the street, as soon as over the stream. The boy stepped lightly but briskly forward until he reached Carter's Alley, into which he entered a couple of yards, and then came to a sudden halt.
At the moment of doing so, his foot struck something hard. He knew what it was, and, stooping down, picked up a large stone, which he held tightly grasped in his hand. Such a weapon was very formidable in the grip of a vigorous boy, who could throw with the skill and accuracy of Ben Mayberry.
The lad had scarcely halted when he caught the tip, tip of his pursuer, who was evidently determined to overtake him before he reached the lighted regions beyond. Ben was astonished just then, to note that a second person was just approaching from the opposite direction in the same guarded fashion.
"It must be there are two of them," was the sensible conclusion of the boy; "they have agreed to meet here, where I wouldn't have much show against them."
It followed that the party of the second part was waiting for the coming of young Mayberry, doubtless with the understanding that his partner in crime should follow him to a certain point near at hand, when the two would close in on him.
Ben had never suspected any such conspiracy as this, and, had he gone a little further, he would have walked directly into the arms of the second ruffian, while peering behind him at the shadowy villain who "still pursued him."
But the lad had stopped short and disconcerted the plans of the conspirators by so doing. The one who was lying in wait was quick to miss the boy whom he had seen cross the bridge, and, suspecting something was wrong, he hastened stealthily toward the creek to learn the explanation.
It so happened that the two men stopped directly at the mouth of the alley, within a few feet of Ben Mayberry, who could hear their guarded words, though he could not catch the first glimpse of their figures.
A whistled signal or two first made them certain of each other's identity, and then the one who had crossed the bridge gave utterance to an oath, expressive of his anger, as he demanded:
"Where has he gone?"
"How should I know?" growled the other. "I waited where you told me to wait, and finding he didn't come, I moved down to meet him, but he don't show up."
"'Sh! Not so loud. He can't be far off."
"I don't know how that is, but he's given us the slip. There's an alley right here, and he has turned into that."
"I don't hear him."
"Of course not. Because he's standing still and listening to us."
"Flash your bull's-eye into the alley."
When Ben Mayberry heard this order he trembled, as well he might, for he was so close to the scoundrels that the first rays of the lantern would reveal him to them. Indeed he dare not move, lest the noise, slight as it was, would bring them down on him.
He grasped the ragged stone in his hand and braced himself for the explosion that he was sure was at hand.
But fortunately, and most unexpectedly, the crisis passed. The other villain growled in return:
"What do you mean by talking about a bull's-eye? I doused the glim long ago."
"Why did you do that?"
"The cops are watching us too close. I had hard work to dodge one of 'em to-night. Do you s'pose I meant to have him find any of the tools on me? Not much."
The other emitted another sulphurous expression, and added the sensible remark:
"Then there's no use of our hanging around here. He's smelt a mice and dodged off, and we won't get another such a chance to neck him."
These words sounded very strange to Ben Mayberry. Well might he ask himself what earthly purpose these scamps could have in wishing to waylay him in such a dark place, where he was not likely to secure help. The latter part of their conversation proved they contemplated violence.
"There's one thing certain," Ben said to himself, "if I manage to get out undiscovered, I will see that I am prepared for such gentlemen hereafter."
The couple suddenly stopped talking, for the sound of approaching footsteps were heard. The two moved into the alley, and a minute after a heavy man came ponderously along with a rolling tread. He was puffing at a cigar, whose end glowed so brightly that the tip of his nose and his mustache were seen by the three standing so near him. Ben believed the wretches intended to assault and rob the citizen, and doubtless they were none too good to do so. In case the attempt was made, Ben meant to hurl the stone in his hand at the spot where he was sure they were, and then yell for the police.
Policy alone prevented the commission of the crime.
"We could have managed it easily," whispered one, as the portly citizen stepped on the bridge and came in sight under the lamp-light, "but I guess it was as well we didn't."
"No; it wouldn't have paid as matters stand. We might have made a good haul, but the excitement to-morrow would have been such that we wouldn't have had a show to-morrow night."
The heart of the listening Bob gave a quick throb, for this was another proof of the intended crime on Thursday evening.
"Well," added one, "that telegraph fellow was too smart for us this time, and has given us the slip. We may as well go home, for there's nothing more to do."
Thereupon they began walking toward the creek, with the deliberate tread of law-abiding citizens, who, if encountered anywhere on the street at any hour, would not have been suspected of being "crooked."
Ben Mayberry had good cause for feeling indignant toward these ruffians, who clearly intended personal violence toward him, and who were, in all probability, desperadoes from the metropolis, brought into Damietta for the most unlawful purposes.
When they had gone a short distance, Ben stepped out of the alley upon the main street, and stood looking toward the bridge. This was slightly elevated, so that in approaching from either side, one had to walk up-hill. The illumination from the lamp, of which I have made mention, gave a full view of the structure itself and all who might be upon it. Ben saw his pursuer, in the first place, when he stepped on the planks, but the light was at his back, and he shrouded his face so skillfully that not a glimpse was obtained of his features.
In a few minutes the conspirators slowly advanced out of the gloom and began walking up the slight ascent toward the bridge, becoming more distinct each second. When they reached the middle of the structure, they were in plain sight, but their backs were toward Ben, who, however, had them where he wanted them.
"I think I can plug one of them," muttered the shortstop of the Damietta club, as he carefully drew back his arm and fixed his eye on the fellows. "At least, here goes."
Gathering all his strength and skill, he hurled the stone at the one who, he believed, had been lying in wait for him. The whizzing missile shot through the air like a cannon-ball, and landed precisely where the thrower intended, directly between the shoulders of the unsuspecting villain, who was thrown forward several paces by the force of the shock, and who must have been as much jarred as though an avalanche had fallen on him.
WATCHING AND WAITING
What imaginings were driven into the head of the ruffian by the well-directed missile it would be impossible to say, but it is safe to conclude he was startled.
His hat fell off, and, without stopping to pick it up, he broke into a frantic run, closely followed by his companion, neither of them making the least outcry, but doubtless doing a great deal of thinking.
Ben Mayberry laughed until his sides ached, for the tables had been turned most completely on his enemies; but he became serious again when he wended his way homeward, for there was much in the incidents of the day to mystify and trouble him.
His mother had retired when he reached his house, but there was a "light in the window" for him. The fond parent had such faith in her son that she did not feel alarmed when he was belated in coming home.
Ben made a confidante of her in many things, but the truth was he was outgrowing her. She was a good, devout lady, but neither mentally nor physically could she begin to compare with her boy.
Had he made known to her the contemplated robbery, or his own narrow escape from assault, she would have become nervous and alarmed.
Ben did not tell her about the affray with Rutherford Richmond and his companion, for it would only have distressed her without accomplishing any good.
He saw that his terrible adventure the preceding winter, on the wrecked bridge, had shocked her more than many supposed, and more than she suspected herself. The consequences became apparent months afterward, and caused Ben to do his utmost to keep everything of a disquieting nature from his beloved mother.
On the morrow Ben told me the whole particulars of his adventures on the way home, and asked me what I made of it.
"I give it up," I answered. "It's beyond my comprehension."
"Do I look like a wealthy youth?" he asked, with a laugh.
"It is not that; they have some other purpose."
"Do they imagine I carry the combination to some safe in the city, and do they mean to force it from me?"
"Nothing of that sort, as you very well know. It looks as if they really meditated doing you harm."
"There is no room for doubt; and it was a lucky thing, after all, that the night was so dark, and the city don't furnish many lamps in that part of the town. Do you think I ought to tell the mayor or some officer about this?"
"Could you identify either of the men if you should meet him on the street?"
"I could not, unless I was allowed to examine his back, where the stone landed."
"Then there's no use of telling anyone else, for no one could help you. You had better carry a pistol, and take a safer route home after this. One of these days, perhaps, the whole thing will be explained, but I own that it is altogether too much for any fellow to find out just now."
It was natural that I should feel nervous the entire day, for there was every reason to believe we were close upon exciting incidents, in which fate had ordered that Ben Mayberry and myself would have to make the initial movements.
Neither Burkhill, the tramp-like looking individual, nor any character to whom the least suspicion could attach, put in an appearance at the telegraph office during the day; this was another disappointment to Ben and myself.
The mayor also was disposed to be uncommunicative, for when I dropped in on him during the afternoon, he was short in his answers, barely intimating that everything was in a satisfactory shape. When asked whether Detective Maxx had revealed himself, he said:
"I have seen nothing of him, and do not care to see him. His help is not needed."
I am convinced that the action of the famous detective had a great deal to do with the ill-humor of the mayor, who was generally one of the most affable of men.
I was pretty well used up, and at eleven o'clock I closed the office and went home, separating as usual from Ben Mayberry, who, I was satisfied, intended to know whether anything was amiss before he lay down to slumber.
Although the impression was general that it was the Mechanics' Bank which was the objective point of the conspirators, yet the chief of police, as I have intimated, had stationed his men so as to be ready for instant use, should it prove to be any one of the moneyed institutions.
Ben Mayberry was so well satisfied that it was the Mechanics' that, after leaving me, he went in that direction, anxious to see a first-class burglary attempted and foiled.
The institution, it will be remembered, stood on the corner of one of the main streets, and a lamp was burning directly opposite. The cashier reported that two suspicious characters had called during the day and made some inquiries about drafts on New York, and the officers, who had spent much time in the neighborhood, were convinced that they had seen the same individuals stealthily viewing the bank from the outside.
When Ben reached the vicinity he saw no person, although he well knew that in almost every dark nook and hiding place, a guardian of the law was stationed, quietly awaiting the moment when the lawbreakers would dare show themselves. Ben knew, too, that more than one pair of eyes carefully scrutinized him as they did every pedestrian who passed.
He continued along until he reached a point where he could stand without being noticed by anyone. Then he stopped, and, wide awake as ever, resolved that he would see the thing out if he was forced to stand where he was until the rising of the sun on the morrow.
The clock in the tower of the City Hall solemnly boomed the hour of midnight. Damietta lay wrapped in slumber—that is, so far as the majority of her citizens were concerned. Her guardians of the peace, as a rule, were wide awake, and the dozens stationed within the vicinity of her three national banks were particularly so.
Ben Mayberry counted the strokes of the iron tongue, and reflected that Thursday was gone, and Friday had begun. As yet nothing had been seen or heard to indicate that anything unlawful was contemplated in this immediate neighborhood. More than once he was so well convinced that my view of the case was correct, that he was on the point of starting homeward, but he checked himself and stayed.
At such a time the minutes drag with exceeding slowness, and it seemed to Ben that fully a couple of hours had gone by, when the huge clock struck one. During the interval a number of pedestrians had passed, and a party of roystering youths rode by in a carriage, each one singing independently of the other, and in a loud, unsteady voice, but nothing yet had occurred on which to hang a suspicion.
The peculiar, ringing, wave-like tones, which are heard a few minutes after the striking of a large bell, were still lingering in the air and gradually dying out, when one of the policemen gave a guarded whistle, which was a signal for the others to "lay low," or in better English, to keep themselves unusually wide awake.
A minute after two men were heard approaching, and became dimly visible in the partial illumination of the street. It so happened that they walked directly by where Ben was standing. They did not notice him, though he plainly saw them. They were of large frame, and walked with a slight unsteadiness, as though under the influence of liquor.
"There's the bank," said one, in an undertone, as though he was imparting a momentous secret to the other.
"That's so; if we could only get in, knock the watchman on the head, and kick in the door of the safe, we would make a good haul."
"Suppose we try it, Jack——"
For more than two hours a burly watchman had been hidden close at hand, without Ben suspecting his presence. The last sentence was in the mouth of the speaker when this policeman sprang upon the amazed strangers, who were discussing the burglary of the bank.
He must have been surcharged with faithfulness, for, instead of waiting until an overt act was committed, as all had been instructed to do, he rushed upon the men in a burst of enthusiasm which knew no restraint and passed all bounds.
"Yes, you'll rob the bank, will you?" he shouted, swinging his club aloft and bringing it down on the heads of the others. "I'll show you—we've been watching you. We know you. You're a fine set of cracksmen. You think Damietta is a country town, but you'll learn different——"
These vigorous observations were punctuated with equally vigorous whacks of the club, which it seemed must crack the skulls of the men, and in all probability would have done so had they not risen to the exigencies of the case and turned upon the policeman with remarkable promptitude.
Both of them were powerful, and finding themselves assailed in this fashion, one knocked the officer half-way across the street, wrenched his club from his grasp, and began laying it over his head. The stricken guardian of the peace shouted for help, and tried desperately to draw his revolver. Finally he got it out, but before he could use it that also was taken from him, and it looked as though little would be left of him.
But the other policemen came running up, and took a hand in the fracas. While some went for the one who was belaboring the representative of the law, others made for the second burglar. But he was more muscular, if possible, than his friend, and he laid about him with such vigor that three officers were prostrated before he could be secured. Calling to his friend, the two gave themselves up, demanding to know why peaceable citizens should be clubbed when quietly walking along the street.
"We had not uttered a disrespectful word," said the first, "but were joking together, when that brass-buttoned idiot pounced upon us. We simply defended ourselves, as every man has a right to do, and we don't propose to let the matter rest here."
"He lies!" shouted the officer who had fared so ill, as he came forward, his hat off, and his clothing covered with dust; "he was arranging to rob the bank; they are the burglars that we've been watching for days; I know 'em all right."
"We shall have to take you along," said the chief, who saw that matters were considerably mixed.
At this point Ben thought it was his duty to interfere.
"If you will permit me, I am satisfied that some mistake has been made. These gentlemen did nothing——"
"He's one of 'em," broke in the first officer, whose wrath could not be appeased; "he's been their dummy; he was on the lookout to give 'em warning; run him in, too."
Despite Ben Mayberry's protests, he was forced to go with the prisoners; but on the way to the lock-up he was recognized by several officers, including the chief, who ordered his release, Ben promising to appear in the morning at the hearing.
On the morrow several important facts came to light. The two individuals who had been so roughly used were honest countrymen, whose references to the robbery of the bank were purely in jest—such a project as burglary never entering their thoughts.
The policeman who assailed them made a humble apology, and they agreed to let the matter drop.
Another fact that was established was that the policemen of Damietta were very much like those of other cities.
The third truth was, that no burglary took place on Thursday night or Friday morning, and everything was as quiet as the surface of a summer mill-pond, with the single exception of the incident just narrated.
THE BATTLE OF LIFE
After all the elaborate preparations for the capture of the burglars, the whole business had fallen so flat that the officers of the law themselves laughed at the farcical termination. Nothing criminal was attempted, and Damietta never was more peaceful in all its history than it was during the many weeks and months which followed.
And yet, in spite of all this, there could be no question that such a burglarious scheme at one time was contemplated. The cipher telegrams, and the surveillance to which Ben Mayberry was subjected, together with the attempted assault upon him, made this too manifest to be disputed.
"They simply discovered the preparations made by the authorities," I said to Ben, "and they had prudence enough to withdraw."
"Do you believe they have given it up altogether?"
"I doubt it. They have simply deferred the execution until some safer time. We must continue to be on the lookout for telegrams in cipher. These gentry have evil designs upon Damietta, as will be proven before we are many years older."
When Ben Mayberry reached the age of fifteen, he attained an important epoch in his life. He had long been one of the most skillful operators in the district, being remarkably quick and accurate.
I have told enough to prove his courteous disposition toward all who entered our office. The pretended Mr. Jones, who acted the part of the ignorant farmer, was, as I have stated, a high official of the company, who took odd means to test the character and skill of our employees. The test in the case of young Mayberry proved most satisfactory in every respect.
At my request, I was transferred to one of the cities in the Eastern States, where the climate agreed better with me. I was given charge of an important office, an advance made in my wages, and everything was done to make the change agreeable. Such being the fact, it is no assumption on my part to say that my administration of the exacting duties in Damietta had been fully appreciated by my superior officers.
Ben Mayberry was made manager of the office in his native city at a salary of seventy-five dollars per month. This statement the reader may doubt, for I am quite certain that no telegraphist of his age was ever given such an important charge, nor is anyone so young paid such a liberal salary; but, did I feel at liberty to do so, I could locate Ben Mayberry so closely that all skeptics could ascertain the facts, in a brief time, precisely as I have given them.
We have many office managers, in different parts of the country, who lack several years of their majority; but, as a rule, their stations are not very important, and their pay is nothing like what Ben received. There were exceptional circumstances in his case. He was unusually bright, he was very attentive, he was courteous, cheerful, and never shirked work. He was popular with our patrons, and much of the increase in the business of the Damietta office was due to Ben alone. This became known to those above him, and they felt that an unusual promotion on his part would not only be a just recognition of his ability and devotion, but would do much to stimulate others to imitate the good example set by the boy.
In addition to all this, it cannot be denied that fortune favored Ben in a marked degree. The fact that he was swept down the river in the darkness and tempest, while trying to deliver a telegram for a messenger who was ill, and that he saved the life of a little girl, could not fail to operate strongly to his benefit. But he would have reached the end all the same, without these aids, just as you, my young friend, may attain the topmost round by climbing up, up, up, step after step, step after step.
There is no cup in this life without some drops of bitterness, and, despite the promotion of Ben, which he fully appreciated, he was cast down by another circumstance, which troubled him more than he would admit to his closest friends.
He had not seen sweet Dolly Willard since the grand children's party at Mr. Grandin's, more than two years previous. She had written him regularly every week for months, and he had been equally prompt in answering. Ben wrote a beautiful hand, and his missives to Dolly were long and affectionate. She would have visited her cousins in Damietta, had they not made a visit to Europe, which shut off the possibility of her doing so for some time to come.
Ben felt that under the circumstances it was hardly the thing for him to make a call upon Dolly in New York, though she invited him to do so.
But during the very week that Ben was given charge of the Damietta office, the mail failed to bring the usual letter from Dolly. He waited impatiently for several days and then wrote to her. There was no response to this, and he felt resentful. He held out for a fortnight, and then was so worried that he was forced to write again. But this was equally fruitless of results, and he became angry.
"She is getting to be quite a large girl; her folks are wealthy, and she has begun to realize that I am nothing but a poor telegraphist. Her folks have told her she must look higher, and she has come to that same mind herself. Ah, well; let it be so!"
That was expressive of his feelings. Sometimes Ben felt like rebelling against his fate. He had applied himself hard for years; he possessed an excellent education; he held a prominent position in the greatest telegraph company of the country, with a prospect of further advancement before him, and yet, because he was poor, he was looked down upon by those who were his inferiors in everything except the single one of wealth.
"It is a great disappointment," he sometimes murmured, "but I am young; most folks would laugh that one of my age should take such a fancy to a little girl like Dolly, and they would say I am certain to get over it very soon. And just there is where they would all make a great mistake."
And Ben Mayberry was right on that point.
FACE TO FACE
Ben Mayberry was sitting at his desk in the Damietta office, one beautiful day in Indian summer, attentive as ever to his duties, when a carriage drove up to the door containing a young gentleman and a lady. The former sprang lightly out and ran into the office, after the manner of one who was in a hurry to send an important telegram.
Suddenly, while Ben was looking at the youth he recognized him as Rutherford Richmond, with whom he had had several important meetings.
"Why, Rutherford, you have grown so much I didn't recognize you; I am glad to see you; how have you been?"
Ben reached his hand over the counter as he greeted the young man, but the latter affected not to hear him. Turning to the desk, he wrote out a message with great rapidity, wheeled about, and, without the slightest evidence of ever having seen Ben, handed him the paper and ordered the dispatch to be sent to New York.
This was the telegram:
"Richard Willard, No.— Avenue, New York:
"Dolly and I reached here safe. Big party at Grandin's to-morrow; sure of grand time. Will take good care of Dolly.
As the writer hurried out the door, Ben followed him with his eyes. There, in a handsome, single-seated carriage, sat a beautiful miss of thirteen or fourteen, elegantly dressed and looking straight toward him. It was Dolly Willard, more enchanting than ever, her eyes luminous with health and her cheeks as pink and rosy as the delicate tint of the coral.
Ben was too shocked to salute her, and probably it was as well he did not do so, for she simply stared with scarcely less directness than did her companion.
Only by the most supreme exertion was the youth enabled to choke down his rebellious emotions, so that none in the office noticed his excitement.
It was the same on the morrow, and, as if the fates had combined to crush him in absolute wretchedness, he encountered Rutherford and Dolly riding out as he was making his way homeward. He affected not to see them, but he could not avoid furtively watching Dolly, who certainly was the most winsome-looking young miss he had ever seen.
"To-night another party is given by the Grandins. Their girls are ladies, and they treated me well when I was there more than two years ago, but in this matter Dolly has had all to say—that is, she and Rutherford. Well, if she is that sort of girl, I don't want anything to do with her."
That night, in spite of himself, Ben could not stay at home; he strolled along, a prey to his bitter thoughts, and mechanically walked in the direction of the splendid grounds of the wealthy jeweler, Mr. Grandin. The sound of music from within aroused him.
He saw the lights glimmering through the beautiful shade trees, and could catch sight of the gayly-dressed figures flitting by the open windows.
"I can't feel any worse," muttered Ben, walking through the open gate, confident that he would attract no special attention.
He sauntered up the graveled walk, turning off to the right and moving slowly along, with his gaze fixed upon the gay lads and lasses within, who seemed to be in the very height of enjoyment.
At that instant someone caught his arm, and Ben turned with an apology for his forgetfulness.
"I beg pardon, but I was so interested in the scene that I did not notice where I stepped——"
He paused, fairly gasping for breath, for there stood Dolly Willard at his side, with her hand upon his arm. The light streaming from the windows fell upon her charming face, on which there was an expression that young Mayberry did not understand.
"Ben," said she, in a voice that sounded unnatural, "I've got something I want to say to you."
"And I have a good deal that I would like to say to you," he retorted, firing up, now that the little empress stood before him.
"You say you have something to speak about," added the boy, looking into the enchanting face, as it reflected the light from the windows near at hand; "I have only to suggest that it took you a good time to find it out."
"It is not I, but you who are to blame."
"Possibly I am to be blamed for being born poor while you are rich; but I have paid for my mistake, and it is now too late to correct it."
The conversation had reached this point when the two seemed to conclude it was altogether too public to be in good taste. Several persons, standing near, stepped a little closer, so as to catch every word.
"It is so warm in there," said Dolly; "even with the windows open, that I came outdoors to get the fresh air. Aunt Maggie put my shawl about my shoulders so that I wouldn't take cold. Now, Ben, if you will walk with me to the summer-house yonder, we can sit down by ourselves, finish our talk, and then part forever."
The last expression sent a pang to the boy's heart, but he did not allow her to see it. He followed her a short distance to one of the romantic little lattice-work structures which Mr. Grandin had placed on his grounds.
A few rays of silvery moonlight penetrated the leafy shelter, so the two were not in complete darkness when they sat down on the rustic seat.
"I am ready to listen to you," said Ben in his most frigid voice, the two being separated by a space of several feet.
"In the first place, if you thought so lightly of me, you never should have told me different nor asked me to correspond with you."
"I do not understand you."
"How can you help understanding me?"
"Because I see no reason for your words. I thought all the world of you; the greatest pleasure of my life was to write to you and to receive your letters in return. All at once you stopped writing; I sent you three letters, and you paid no attention——"
"Ben, how dare you! It was you who laughed at my letters, and took no notice of them, except to show them to your friends and ridicule what I put on paper."
Ben Mayberry sprang to his feet. Like a flash it came upon him that some dreadful misunderstanding had been brought about by other parties, for which Dolly was not to blame.
"Tell me the whole story, Dolly," he said in a kinder voice than he had used since they met, as he resumed his seat.
"Well," said she, beginning to feel the same suspicion that thrilled her companion, "there is a good deal to say, but I will make it short. You know my father and Mr. Grandin are cousins, so the girls are really my second cousins. Rutherford Richmond is the son of an old friend of father, who lives in Boston. Father has a large insurance office, and he agreed to take Rutherford until he learned the business, so as to take charge of the same kind of office in Boston, which his father is going to fix up for him. That's how it is Rutherford has been living with us for some months.
"Well, a good while ago, I wrote you a letter, begging you to come and visit me; father said I might do so. You didn't accept the invitation. I wrote you again and got no answer to it; I was frightened, and thought maybe you were ill, and wrote once more, but there was no answer to it. I would have sent a letter to Cousin Jane to find out about you, but she was in Europe. After a while I sent a fourth letter, very long, and full of things which I wouldn't have anyone else know for the world. I sent——"
"Rutherford took it and several other letters, and placed them in the mail-box at father's office, so they were sure to go. But there was no answer to the last, and then I gave up. I felt awful bad; but I was nearly wild when Rutherford came to me one day and said he had something which he thought he ought to tell me. When he said it was about you, I was dreadfully excited. He told me that he had made the acquaintance of a young man from Damietta, who was a close friend of yours. That young person, whose name Rutherford would not give, said that you showed all my letters to him and several others, and made fun of them. I wouldn't have believed it if he hadn't proved what he said?"
"How did he prove it?"
"By repeating what I had written; he gave me half of what was in that last letter, which he said was repeated to him by the person you told. He had them so exactly that my face burned like fire, and I was never so angry in all my life. I knew you must have done what Rutherford said, for how could he know what I had written you?"
"He knew it by opening your letter, reading the contents, and then destroying it. That letter, Dolly, I never saw, nor did I see the three which preceded it. I also sent you three letters, of which I never heard."
Now that the way was opened, full explanations quickly followed. There could be no earthly doubt that the last three letters sent by Ben Mayberry to Dolly Willard had been intercepted by Rutherford Richmond, who had not hesitated to do the same with those sent by Dolly, though most probably he had simply destroyed the three, and read only the last.
"You risked your life to save mine and that of my mother," she said in a tremulous voice, "and it was an awful thing for you to believe I could ever fail to think more of you than of anyone else in the world."
"I guess I shall have to own up," laughed the happy Ben; "but we were both placed in a false position."
"But we shall never be again——"
"Dolly, Dolly! Where are you?"
The cries came from a gay party of misses who came trooping forth to look for the belle, whose absence so long from her friends had attracted inquiry.
She sprang up.
"Good-by, Ben; I must go."
She caught his hand and returned the pressure, then hurried out and met her young friends, who escorted her back to the house, while Ben quietly departed without attracting attention.
It was past midnight, but Ben thought nothing of time. He had turned off from the street and entered the main business avenue of Damietta.
Just as he came opposite the large jewelry establishment of Mr. Grandin he glanced through the plate-glass window. A light was burning dimly in the rear of the store, as was the custom with many of the merchants in the city, but at the instant of looking Ben saw something like a shadow flit by the light. He looked again, and was certain that another movement had taken place, though he could not define its character.
He paused only an instant, when he walked on again; but in that instant he became convinced that burglars were operating in the jewelry establishment of Mr. Grandin.
He walked slowly forward, humming to himself, as was his custom, but wide awake and alert. Fifty feet further, he detected the shadowy figure of a man standing in one of the adjoining doorways. Ben pretended not to see him, and continued humming gayly to himself.
Ben sauntered along in the same aimless fashion until sure he was not watched, when he turned and made his way directly to the police office. The chief was there and Ben quickly told him everything he knew.
"Those are the parties who arranged to rob the bank year before last," said the chief, "but found out they were suspected."
"They certainly managed it well this time; that is, so far, for there hasn't a single cipher telegram passed through our office since."
"Well, we are ready to move," said the chief, as he observed that four of his best officers were awaiting his orders.
IN THE NICK OF TIME
Ben would have liked to accompany the officers, but that would have been unprofessional on their part, and he did not make the request. He waited until they had been gone several minutes, when he slipped out and passed down the street, determined to see what was to be seen.
The chief managed the delicate and dangerous business with great skill.
The first notice the burglars had of danger was from the rear. They were down behind a screen of dark muslin they had put up, carefully working at the safe, which contained diamonds and jewelry of immense value. They had already drilled a considerable distance into the chilled iron, when the "Philistines descended upon them."
The burglars sprang up like tigers, but they were caught so fairly that they were borne to the floor and handcuffs clicked around their wrists in a twinkling. There were only two, and the three policemen mastered them without difficulty.
But there were two others on the street outside, and they were quick to discover what was going on within. One of these was Dandy Sam, who ran forward and peered through the front window. His companion was at his elbow, and they instantly saw that something was wrong.
They turned to flee, when they found themselves face to face with the chief and his aid.
"Hold up your hands!" commanded the chief, leveling his pistol at the villains.
One of them complied, but Dandy Sam fired point-blank at the chief, whirled on his heel, and ran like a deer down the street. The chief was not touched, and pistol in hand he started after the criminal, leaving his aid to attend to the second one.
Dandy Sam was fleet of foot and was gaining on his pursuer, when he came face to face with Ben Mayberry, who was hurrying toward the scene of the burglary with a view of seeing how it terminated.
The two encountered where the lamp-light showed the face of each. Ben knew the scamp on the instant, from the description given him, and the sight of the flying rascal told him the truth.
Ben had his pistol in his pocket, but he could not bear the thought of shooting a person, especially when there was a possible doubt of the necessity.
Ben compromised matters by darting into the road, where he caught up a stone weighing fully a pound.
The chief was some distance away shouting "Stop thief!" and firing his pistol over his head, so there could be no doubt that Dandy Sam was "wanted."
Ben Mayberry stood about as far from the fugitive as the space between first and second base—thirty yards—when the stone left his hand like a thunderbolt. As before, it sped true to its aim, but struck higher than then, sending the scoundrel forward on his face, and stunning him; only for a minute or so, but this was sufficient.
While he was in the act of climbing to his feet again, the chief dropped upon him; there was a click, and Dandy Sam was at the end of his career of crime, at least for a considerable time to come.
The chief started for the station-house with his man, whom he watched closely despite the stunning blow he had received.
A few minutes later the other three officers came in with their prisoners, who were caught in the very act of committing burglary.
The aid was absent so long that the chief felt uneasy, and started out in quest of him, but at that moment he appeared with his man.
"He went peaceably enough for a while," explained the aid, "and then he tried to bribe me to let him go. When he found that wouldn't work he became ugly, and I had to use my club, but he ain't hurt much."
His face was bleeding, but Ben Mayberry, with a shock, recognized the prisoner as G. R. Burkhill, the uncle of Dolly Willard.
The capture of the burglars made great excitement in Damietta, and the part taken by Ben Mayberry once more placed his name in everyone's mouth. It was he who discovered the criminals, and was the direct means of securing the desperado, Dandy Sam, the leader of the notorious gang.
It was a great shock to all, except a few, to find that Burkhill, the brother-in-law of Dolly Willard's father, was also one of the guilty ones. But there were others (and among them Mr. Willard and Mr. Grandin) who were not surprised in the least. The facts in this singular affair, as they ultimately came to light, were as follows:
George R. Burkhill was the black sheep in a most estimable family, of which Mrs. Willard, the mother of Dolly, was a member. She was the sister of Burkhill, and the only one who clung to the bad brother, pronounced incorrigible by everyone else, even when a small boy. She believed there was some good in him, and, in the face of protests, she labored to bring him to a sense of right. It was through her influence that he was saved from condign punishment for more than one serious offense.
All four of the burglars were duly tried, found guilty, and sentenced to the penitentiary for ten years. Rather curiously, both Dandy Sam and Burkhill died during the third year of their imprisonment, and it is safe to say the world was the gainer thereby.
Some few days after the capture of the burglars, came a glowing letter from Dolly, who had gone home to New York, in which she said that her father insisted that Ben should come and make them a visit, and would accept no excuse for refusing.
"I'll go this time!" exclaimed Ben, knowing he would have no trouble in obtaining permission to take a brief vacation.
And go he did.
In closing the history of Ben Mayberry, the telegraph messenger boy, it seems to me I can do no better than by using the words of the hero himself. The following letter I received only a few days since. It is the last which has come to hand from Ben, who writes me regularly, as he has done ever since I was transferred from the office in Damietta. I should add that the date of the letter is nine years subsequent to that of his visit to the metropolis as the guest of Mr. James Willard:
"My Dear Mr. Melville,—I am now in my twenty-fifth year. In looking back it seems only a few years ago that you called me to you, on the street of my native city, and offered to make me general utility boy in the telegraph office of Damietta. My mother and I were nearly starving at the time, and no kindness could have been more appropriate than yours, nor could anyone have shown greater tact and wisdom in cultivating the good instincts of a ragged urchin, who, otherwise, was likely to go to ruin.
"You awakened my ambition and incited me to study; you impressed upon me the beauty and truth of the declaration that there is no royal road to learning; that if I expected to attain success in any walk of life it could only be done by hard, unremitting, patient work. There are many rounds to the ladder, and each must climb them one by one.
"Good fortune attended me in every respect. It was the providence of God which saved me and enabled me to help save sweet Dolly when the bridge went down in the storm and darkness, and her mother was lost; yet, but for my determination to do my best at all times, and never to give up so long as I could struggle, I must have succumbed.
"It was extremely fortunate that I saw the burglars at work in the jewelry establishment of Mr. Grandin on that memorable night in Damietta. The same stroke of fortune might have fallen to any boy, but it was incomplete until I was able to bring the leader to the ground with the stone which I hurled at him.
"It may be said that all these are but mere incidents of my history, and possibly I may have magnified their importance; but, though my progress was rapid, it never could have carried me successfully along without the regular, systematic, hard work with which I employed my spare hours, when not devoted to exercise. In this world that which wins, is work, work, work!
"When I was fifteen years old, I was made the manager of the office in Damietta, with a larger salary than I was entitled to. Three years later, the partiality of Mr. Musgrave made me assistant superintendent, and now I have been general superintendent of the district for more than two years, with a handsome salary, which enables me to give my dear mother comforts and elegances of which the good lady never dreamed.
"I married Dolly shortly after my promotion to the office of general superintendent, and the little fellow that is learning to lisp 'papa,' you know, has been named after you, my old, true, and invaluable friend, to whose counsel and kindness I feel I am so much indebted.
"Dolly sits at my elbow and continually reminds me that I must insist that you come down and spend Christmas with us. A chair and plate will be placed at the table for you, and you must allow nothing less than Providence itself to keep you away.
"As ever, "Your devoted friend, "Ben."
THE FRONTIER BOYS By Capt. Wyn. Roosevelt.
This noted scout and author, known to every plainsman, has lived a life of stirring adventure. In boyhood, in the early days, he traveled with comrades the overland route to the West,—a trip of thrilling experiences, unceasing hardships and trials that would have daunted a heart less brave. His life has been spent in the companionship of the typically brave adventurers, gold seekers, cowboys and ranchmen of our great West. He has lived with more than one Indian tribe, took part in a revolution at Hawaii and was captured in turn by pirates and cannibals. He writes in a way sure to win the heart of every boy.
Frontier boys on the overland trail. Frontier boys in Colorado, or captured by Indians. Frontier boys in the Grand Canyon, or a search for treasure. Frontier boys in Mexico, or Mystery Mountain.
Finely illustrated. Cloth, 12mo. Attractive cover design. Price 60c per volume.
CHATTERTON-PECK CO. New York
THE COMRADES SERIES
By Ralph Victor. This writer of boys' books has shown by his magazine work and experience that this series will be without question the greatest seller of any books for boys yet published; full of action from start to finish. Cloth, 12mo. Finely illustrated; special cover design. Price, 60c per volume.
Comrades on the Farm, or the Mystery of Deep Gulch. Comrades in New York, or Snaring the Smugglers. Comrades on the Ranch, or Secret of the Lost River. Comrades in New Mexico, or the Round-up. Comrades on the Great Divide (in preparation).
Ralph Victor is probably the best equipped writer of up-to-date boy's stories of the present day. He has traveled or lived in every land, has shot big game with Sears in India, has voyaged with Jack London, and was a war correspondent in Natal and Japan. The lure of life in the open has always been his, and his experiences have been thrilling and many.—"Progress."
CHATTERTON-PECK CO. New York