AN AVENGER ON THE TRACK

TOM WAS up and about early the next morning. But there was one who was
earlier than he. On leaving the robbers he saw the captain pacing to and
fro, apparently engrossed by his reflections. When he saw Tom he
beckoned to him.

“Take a walk with me,” he said abruptly. “I want to speak to you.”

Tom, of course, joined him promptly.

“Let us go further away,” said the robber, looking about him cautiously.
“What I have to say is for your ears alone.”

“I shall take care to keep it secret,” said Tom in a low voice.

“You must, for I am about to say what will compromise my safety. But, in
the first place, can you guarantee that I shall receive ten thousand
dollars on the delivery of these papers?”

“I can,” said Tom promptly. “Mr. Armstrong has authorized me to make
such an offer.”

“Is he a man to be relied upon? You know my position. I am an outlaw. I
cannot appeal to the law in my own behalf.”

“I understand your position fully,” said Tom. “As to your being an
outlaw, I have nothing to do with that, nor has Mr. Armstrong. You have
in your possession the papers which we need. It is worth our while to
pay ten thousand dollars. You may be sure the money will be paid, and
that no trap will be set for you. Should you be recognized, it will not
be through any information obtained from me or Mr. Armstrong.”

“That is enough,” said the captain. “Though you are only a boy, there is
something about you that I can trust. You understand business. You have
gone to the root of the matter without any unnecessary words. I will
confide in you, and in so confiding I put my life in your hands.”

Tom listened with surprise. He could not understand what was coming.

The captain proceeded:

“You know me as the captain of a band of robbers, but you do not
understand that I have in a manner been forced into my position. I don’t
like the life I am leading. I want to leave it, and I think I see the
way. With the money you promise me, I will change my name, go to some
obscure place, and lead a respectable life, entering upon some business
of which I shall not be ashamed.”

“Do so,” said Tom earnestly. “I am glad to hear you say this, and I will
do what I can to help you.”

The captain appeared pleased with his prompt sympathy and proceeded:

“Of course my plan must be a profound secret. If the band were to learn
what I propose I should never live to leave California. They would
regard me as a traitor and a renegade, and would feel that they were
entitled to a share in the money obtained for these bonds.”

“How, then, will you manage to leave?” asked Tom, interested.

“I will tell you. I shall say that I am going to San Francisco in
disguise to negotiate these securities, and will bring back the
proceeds. I hope this will deceive them. But the one whom I dread the
most is Alonzo.”

“The lieutenant?”

“Yes; he is my second in command. Our relations have not always been
cordial. He is in the habit of exceeding his proper authority, and more
than once I have been compelled to reprimand him publicly. Though he has
taken it quietly, I have reason to believe that he never forgave
me—that, in fact, he cherishes a secret grudge against me, and that he
would willingly undermine my authority with the band. He has not as yet
had an opportunity.”

“I should think, then, that he would be glad to have you leave, in order
that he might succeed to your authority.”

“That would not satisfy him. He would not be willing to have me better
myself in so doing. He would prefer that I should be cast adrift in
disgrace.”

“Have you decided upon your plan?” asked our hero.

“Yes; after breakfast I will dismiss you and the other prisoners. They
will go on to the mines, I suppose.”

“Yes, I think so.”

“You will not.”

“No; I shall return to San Francisco.”

“Good. I shall follow you. It would create suspicion if we should go
together. You shall give me your address there, and I will join you.
Then we will take the first steamer to New York.”

Tom nodded. He felt that the plan was a good one, and that he was now in
a fair way to accomplish successfully the object which had brought him
so far from home.

“Agreed,” he said, “Call for me at Burton’s clothing store, —— Street,
Even if I am not staying there, you will learn where I am.”

The captain repeated the name two or three times.

“I will not forget it,” he said. “Of one thing I will apprise you. You
must not expect to know me at first meeting.”

“Why not?”

“I shall be cleverly disguised. It is necessary, for unfortunately I am
not altogether unknown to the authorities. Once let me get away from
California, and I shall feel comparatively safe. I may as well tell you
by what name I prefer to be known. I shall call myself James Davenport.
Under that name, if fortune favors me, I hope to build up a respectable
future, far from the scene of my lawless proceedings.”

Tom knew little of the man who was walking beside him, except what he
had chosen to communicate. He knew not in what ways he had violated the
laws, nor did he now take this into consideration. He pictured him as a
man who wanted to forsake the evil of his ways, and become a respectable
and law-abiding citizen, and with the instinct of a generous nature, he
felt like doing all in his power to help him, apart from any selfish
interest of his own. Instinctively he held out his hand, and the captain
grasped it in his own.

“Whatever may happen,” said the robber, “I shall have full confidence in
your word. You have it in your power to denounce me to the authorities
in San Francisco, but I am sure you will not do it.”

“You only do me justice,” said Tom.

“Or you could reveal my purpose to these men under my command, and this
would insure my death, provided they had confidence in your word.”

“You are not afraid of that?” asked Tom, looking him full in the face.

“No,” said the captain. “As I said in the first place, there is
something about you that enlists my confidence. I would trust you as
myself.”

“You may,” said Tom.

They had turned back, and were again near the building occupied by the
band. Only one was stirring. This was Alonzo, who watched their
approach.

“You are up early, captain,” he said.

“Yes,” returned the captain carelessly; “I have been taking a walk. I
did not sleep well.”

“What is on his mind?” thought the lieutenant. “Something is up. I can
see it in his manner. I must watch him.”

“I don’t like his looks,” thought Tom. “He is a dangerous man. The
captain does right in suspecting him.”

MR. BURTON was putting back some goods upon the shelves, when Tom walked
quietly in. This was four days later.

“Tom!” he exclaimed in amazement. “What brings you here?”

“My legs,” answered Tom smilingly.

“But I thought you were at the mines?”

“I got part way there, but I changed my mind and came back.”

Mr. Burton looked a little perplexed.

“I wish I had known in time; but I have filled your place, and though I
would much rather employ you, I don’t think it would be right to
discharge your successor.”

“Nor I,” said Tom promptly. “You have made a mistake, Mr. Burton. I am
not going to stay in San Francisco. I am going back to New York.”

“But I thought you were after some papers?” said his employer.

“I expect to take them back with me.”

“You have indeed been fortunate. How did you succeed?”

“I would tell you, but I am not at liberty, as it would involve
another’s secret.”

“At all events, Tom, you have shown yourself a man of judgment. You have
succeeded where many a man would have failed.”

“Perhaps I have,” said Tom; “and perhaps the fact of my being a boy has
been in my favor. I can see myself how it has helped me.”

“Where are you stopping, Tom?”

“At the California Hotel.”

“That is expensive. You may stay with me, and welcome.”

“Thank you, Mr. Burton,” said Tom warmly. “I will accept your kind
invitation, partly because I really cannot afford to stay at an
expensive hotel, partly because I prefer the privacy of a house to a
hotel.”

“All right. Settle your bill at the hotel, and come at once.”

“Thank you, but you must allow me in return to occupy a part of the day
with my old duties in the shop.”

“I shall be glad to have you, as it will give me some relief. As your
successor needs breaking in to his duties, I have been considerably
confined.”

This arrangement was satisfactory to Tom, as he felt that the obligation
now would not be wholly on his side. He had an independent spirit, and
he did not like to receive favors of a pecuniary nature.

He was behind the counter in the afternoon, when a man came in, who was
by no means a specimen of manly beauty. He had a good figure, indeed,
but his hair was bright red, and he had whiskers of the same color,
while his complexion was mottled. In addition his eyes were obscured by
an enormous pair of spectacles.

“An odd-looking specimen,” thought Tom.

The man walked up to the counter, and leaning over, said in a low voice:

“Can I speak with you in private?”

Tom started. It occurred to him that the man might be crazy, and he
hesitated.

“What can you wish to speak to me about?” he said. “I don’t know you.”

“About a matter of importance.”

Tom was more and more surprised.

“Frederick,” he said to his successor. “I am going out a few minutes
with this gentleman. I shall soon be back.”

He took his hat and went out, followed by the red-haired man.

“Now,” he said, turning to the stranger, “you may say what you wish.”

“You don’t appear to know me,” said the other.

“I never saw you before in my life.”

“Don’t be too sure of that.”

“I should remember you.”

The other laughed.

“On account of my beauty, I suppose,” he remarked.

“If you choose to put it that way—yes,” said Tom.

“Oh, I am not sensitive as to my looks. By the way, you haven’t inquired
my name.”

“What is it?”

“Davenport,” said the other significantly.

“Why,” said Tom starting, as for the first time light flashed upon him,
“you are——”

“Hush!” said the other impetuously. “What I was is not to be breathed in
this city. I am in peril till I leave it.”

“I never should have known you,” said Tom in a low voice. “Your disguise
is complete. Even now when I know the truth, I cannot realize that it is
to you I am speaking.”

“So much the better, for sharp eyes may be upon us. There are those who
are interested in ferreting me out. But let that pass. Come with me to
some place where we shall be safe from prying eyes and curious ears.”

Ten minutes brought them to such a place. They threw themselves down
upon a grassy spot, and the captain proceeded.

“The next steamer starts on Saturday. We must take passage.”

“There is only one difficulty in the way,” said Tom. “I have no money.”

“There will be no difficulty about that. I will secure two passages, one
for myself and the other for you.”

“Thank you.”

“We will meet on board, for it is best that we should not be too much
together. Where are you staying?”

“At the place where you found me.”

“I am at an obscure boarding-house. I avoid the publicity of a hotel.”

“Tell me how you got away without incurring suspicion.”

“I am afraid I have incurred suspicion. I came ostensibly to negotiate
these bonds.”

“You have them with you?”

“Yes; I was not likely to forget them. The band generally accepted my
reason for going, but I could see that Alonzo was not satisfied. There
was a look on his face that said so. But he said nothing in words. I
started, promising to be back as soon as possible. I hope never while I
live to look upon the face of any one of them again.”

“You have managed well, it seems to me,” said Tom. “I don’t think there
can be any danger, even if the lieutenant does suspect you.”

“I will tell you what I most fear,” said the other, in a low voice.

“What is that?”

“That he may follow me—that even now he may be in the city.”

Tom shook his head.

“I don’t believe there is any chance of it,” he said.

“So I hope,” said the captain. “But we will not stay too long together.
It may excite suspicion.”

“When shall you engage passage?”

“This very day. I don’t know why it is, but I feel a feverish anxiety to
get away. I am not inclined to be nervous, but I feel as if danger were
hovering over me like a cloud, and likely at any time to burst and
overwhelm me.”

“I never have any presentiments of evil,” said Tom. “I am always
hopeful.”

“You are fortunate,” said the other thoughtfully, “but you are a boy,
and it is natural at your age to be sanguine and hopeful. I was so, too,
when at your age of life. But I will shake off this feeling and do what
is necessary. Let me return.”

They rose from their grassy seat and took their way back to Mr. Burton’s
shop.

On their way they encountered an old man with snowy beard, half bowed
over, clad in rags, and apparently in extreme poverty.

“A few pennies, good gentlemen,” he whined. “Only a few pennies in
charity. I am miserably poor.”

The captain drew out a silver coin and put it into the old man’s hand.
Tom did the same.

“He looks wretched enough,” said Tom.

“Yes.”

Scarcely were the two a few rods away, than the old beggar lifted his
eyes and looked after them.

“So, Signor Captain,” he muttered, “this is your game. I have not
followed you for nothing. You are intriguing with that boy to leave us
all in the lurch, are you? We shall see.”

The old beggar was Alonzo.

THE CAPTAIN’S presentiments were verified. The suspicions of his
lieutenant had been aroused by his unusual manner, nor had they been
allayed by the explanation he gave of his intended journey. Immediately
after the captain’s departure he had convened the members of the band,
and harangued them thus.

“Boys, I have something to say to you that affects our common interests.
The captain has left us for a visit to the city, and he has explained
his reasons for going. He will try to negotiate the bonds taken from one
of our late prisoners. Very likely he has told us the truth. He will
doubtless get what he can for them, but _will he come back_?”

At this significant question the robbers started, and their faces looked
dark and threatening.

“What makes you think he won’t, lieutenant?” asked one.

“Human nature,” replied Alonzo. “If he gets a good round sum, say ten or
twenty thousand dollars, he will be tempted to keep it all himself, and
leave us to our fate. Who shall say there is no danger? What should
hinder his taking the next steamer for New York?”

Alonzo saw by the fierce looks of his adherents that his suggestion had
produced its effect. He continued:

“I noticed, just before the captain’s departure, that he acted
strangely; he took walks by himself, and evidently had some plan in
view. I noticed also that he had a confidential talk with the boy, Tom.
What does all this mean?”

“But the bonds didn’t belong to the boy.”

“No, but there were other matters in which he might wish to obtain
information from the boy. Again, this boy was on his way to the mines.
After his talk with the captain, he changed his plans and returned to
the city. Shall I tell you what I think?”

“Yes, yes.”

“I think, then, that the boy and he were old acquaintances, that he
brought the captain a message from outside, and that this and the bonds
decided him to abandon us.”

“Let us pursue him! Let us kill him!” exclaimed the exasperated robbers.

“Hold! not so fast. Let him be followed, but by one only. Remember, he
may be innocent. He may mean to deal fairly and squarely with us. If so,
let him still remain our honored chief. But if he means to play us
false”—here the speaker’s face grew stern—“let him die the death of a
traitor.”

“How shall we find out?” asked one.

“Appoint me to follow and watch him. I will go in disguise. I will see
for myself what he does. I will dog his steps, and if it be true that he
would desert us, I will be your avenger. Shall it be so?”

“Yes, yes, let Alonzo go!” was the unanimous shout.

“Be it so. Boys, I go as your messenger. I go into danger, but I go to
serve your interests. Whoever may be found wanting, you shall never find
me a traitor.”

He finished his harangue, and an hour later he was on his way to San
Francisco, which he reached nearly as soon as the captain.

He met his superior in command for the first time on the occasion
mentioned in the last chapter. He penetrated his disguise at once,
assisted thereto by his companion’s presence. As we know, the captain
was not so fortunate, and in the bowed and decrepit beggar who implored
alms, he failed to recognize his subordinate—the man whom he had the
greatest cause to fear—nor did he observe that the beggar followed him.
Had he done so, his suspicions would hardly have been aroused.

After the captain left Tom, he made his way to the office of the
steamship company. Alonzo’s keen eyes lighted up when he saw his
destination. Now his suspicions were verified.

“It is as I thought,” he said to himself. “The captain has betrayed us.
Arrived in New York, he may make his peace with the authorities and
renounce his old comrades, and bring us to capture and death. He shall
never do it! He shall never live to do it!”

As we know, he did the captain wrong in this suspicion. Though he fully
intended to forsake the band and hoped never to meet any member of it
again, it never once occurred to him to denounce them. There is honor
among thieves—so the proverb has it—and he would have shrunk from such a
betrayal.

The captain went back to his place of temporary sojourn. Now that his
object was so far accomplished, and ticket secured for New York, he
deemed it discreet to keep himself as much out of the way as possible
till the time came for going on board the steamer.

Every evening Tom came to see him. He handed our hero his ticket, and
the evening before sailing he handed Tom the belt containing the papers
and securities, much to our hero’s amazement. The captain read his
wonder in his eyes.

“You are surprised that I give you them so soon,” he said.

“Yes,” said Tom. “Of course I am glad to have them in charge, but I did
not suppose you would trust me with them.”

“I will tell you why,” said the robber-chief. “I have a presentiment of
evil. I feel that some one of my old comrades is on my track. Should
evil befall me, I do not want the bonds to fall into their hands. I
prefer, if they cannot benefit me, that they should go to you.”

“Thank you,” said Tom, “but I heartily hope that you are mistaken—that
you will leave this city in safety, and far away have a chance to redeem
your past life.”

“I think you are sincere,” said the captain, taking his hand. “I trust
you more than any other living being. For that reason, whatever comes to
me, I wish that you may prosper.”

The day of sailing came. Tom and the captain went on board the steamer.
As they stood by the railing and looked over the side, Tom said in a low
voice:

“Where are your presentiments now? Nothing has happened.”

The captain shook his head.

“It is not too late yet,” he said.

He had scarcely finished the sentence than a report was heard. The
captain pressed his hand convulsively to his breast and dropped upon the
deck. He never uttered another word. When he was taken up he was dead.

Tom looked about him in horror, expecting to see the assassin. But there
was no one who looked likely to commit the deed. No one thought of
suspecting a decrepit and infirm old beggar, who tottered slowly away
from the wharf with head bowed down.

“The traitor is punished! We are avenged!” he muttered. “Now I am the
captain!”

But Alonzo’s triumph was premature. He had been seen in the act of
firing the pistol. He was arrested, and identified as a member of the
famous band that had been the scourge of the interior. He was tried,
convicted and executed within the space of one month. So the captain was
revenged, and the band, now without a head, was speedily disbanded.

TOM WAS very much shocked at the tragical fate of his companion. Though
he had been an outlaw and a chief of a noted gang of robbers, it had
been his purpose to break away from his evil life and his companions in
crime, and to lead hence-forth a blameless life.

The chance had been taken from him. His presentiments of evil had been
verified, and he had been summoned without other warning into the
presence of his Maker.

As he sunk upon the deck, he was surrounded by a crowd of passengers.

“Who did this?” exclaimed the captain, naturally turning to Tom for
information.

“I don’t know, sir,” said Tom.

“You know this gentleman, I believe?”

“Yes, sir, a little. I made his acquaintance while on the way to the
mines.”

“Do you know his name?”

“He called himself Davenport.”

“You say, called himself?”

“It was not his real name. He told me he had enemies from whom he feared
injury. Therefore he concealed his real name.”

“Do you know his real name?”

“No, sir.”

“You think the shot was fired by one of the enemies of whom he stood in
fear?”

“I feel sure of it.”

The question arose what disposition to make of the money left by the
murdered man. Eight hundred dollars in gold were found in his
possession, but this question was solved by a paper found in his
pocket-book.

It was to this effect:

“Should anything happen to me, which is quite possible, I desire that
whatever property I leave may be given to my young friend and
fellow-voyager, known as Thomas Temple.”

“It seems you are his heir,” said the captain, when the examination was
over.

“I?” said Tom, in surprise.

“Yes. Probably the gentleman had few friends and took a fancy to you. I
suppose there need be no formalities, except to give you the property at
once.”

This decision of the captain was approved by the passengers, and Tom
found himself unexpectedly rich. But he felt that he could not consent
to retain the money for his own use, except, indeed, a sum equal to that
of which he had been robbed. It was stolen property, and he could not
conscientiously retain it. He resolved on reaching New York to give it
to some charitable association, where it might be a public benefit.

A new surprise awaited him. Among the passengers was Mr. Stoddard, the
invalid who had been his companion on the voyage out.

He was pleased to find that the old gentleman’s health had been
materially improved by his brief residence in California.

“I am delighted to see you again, my young friend,” said Mr. Stoddard.
“I sought for you in San Francisco, but was told that you had gone to
the mines. Then I gave up all hopes of seeing you, but I left directions
with my bankers to advance you any sum which you might require, should
you apply to them.”

“How have I deserved so much kindness?” said Tom, surprised and
grateful.

“You showed me attention when I required it, Tom. You gave me hours of
your society when the companionship of younger persons would have been
more to your taste. This you did out of the kindness of your heart, and
I shall not soon forget it.”

“Mr. Stoddard, you exaggerate my merits,” said Tom modestly.

“I don’t think I do. At all events, I have taken a strong liking to you.
I am without near relatives; I am rich and lonely. Will you give me the
right to provide for your future? Will you let me regard you as my
adopted son?”

Tom was surprised at this unexpected offer, and he felt that it was not
to be lightly rejected. But it is due to him to say that he was urged
quite as much by a feeling of sympathy for Mr. Stoddard’s loneliness as
by his own interest to decide in the affirmative. He felt that he could
respect and like him, and with proper acknowledgments of his kindness he
gave his consent.

Mr. Stoddard’s eyes lighted up with pleasure.

“Thank you, Tom,” he said earnestly. “You have given me something to
live for. Now I shall have an interest in life apart from the care of my
health. I will pay your expenses, and make you an allowance of a
thousand dollars a year, if you think that will be sufficient for the
present.”

“You overwhelm me with kindness,” said Tom. “I don’t know what to say,
except that I hope you will never have cause to repent your kindness.”

“I am sure I never shall,” said the old gentleman. “When we reach the
city of New York I will consult you as to your plans in life. You may be
interested to know that I have a house in the city and a country place
on the Hudson. I hope you will like them both, as each will be your
home.”

“A place on the Hudson!” exclaimed Tom. “I am sure I shall like that.
Have you any saddle-horses?”

“Two; though I fear they have grown lazy from disuse. You must give them
some exercise.”

“Trust me for that,” said Tom.

“One thing more. I think you had better call me uncle. The name will
give you a claim upon me in the eyes of the world, and moreover, I shall
be proud of such a spirited young nephew.”

“All right, uncle,” said Tom, smiling.