THE ABSCONDING CLERK

THE TWO customers did not notice Tom’s earnest look, nor his start of
surprise, but asked to look at a miner’s outfit. Tom waited upon them,
and listened eagerly, hoping to hear something that might confirm his
suspicions.

“Gates,” said the shorter of the two whom Tom suspected, “here’s
something that will suit you.”

“I don’t know but you are right, Morton,” was the response.

“So his name is Morton,” thought Tom, with momentary disappointment.
“But of course he would change his name,” he immediately reflected. “He
must be Samuel Lincoln. The description tallies in every particular.”

“Are you going to the mines?” he asked, feeling that the inquiry would
create no suspicion.

“Yes,” said Gates. “We are going to make our fortunes.”

“Then you’d better take me along,” said Tom. “That’s exactly what I am
after.”

Gates laughed.

“Do you want to go as private secretary?” he asked jestingly. “I don’t
think my friend will want one, and I am sure I don’t.”

“I can think of another position I would like,” said Tom.

“What is that?”

“Treasurer.”

“Good!” said Gates, laughing. “I see you are sharp. But I’ll tell you
what, young man, we are too sharp to employ you in that capacity. You
might take a notion to leave us without warning.”

“I see you don’t know me,” said Tom. “I am poor but honest.”

“I’ve heard of that before,” said Gates. “There’s a good deal of humbug
about that.”

“Seriously, gentlemen,” said Tom, “I am anxious to go out to the
gold-fields, and am able to pay my expenses there, but I haven’t any
friends that are going. Would you mind my going along with you?”

“Oh, come and welcome, if you’ll pay your own expenses,” said Gates.
“What do you say, Morton?”

“I don’t mind,” said Morton. “He won’t trouble us.”

“Thank you,” said Tom. “When are you going to start?”

“Day after to-morrow.”

“I will be ready. Where shall I join you?”

“We are stopping at the Hotel of California.”

“I will come round there to-morrow night.”

“All right. You will find us.”

When this conversation was taking place Mr. Burton was out. After the
strangers had retired he entered.

“Mr. Burton,” said Tom, “I am going to surprise you.”

“Not unpleasantly, I hope.”

“I leave that to you to decide. I am going to leave your employment.”

“Going to leave me! Have you received a better offer? If you have, I
will advance your wages to the same point. I should be very sorry to
lose you.”

“I am glad to hear you say that, Mr. Burton, but I have received no
better offer, nor am I dissatisfied with my wages.”

“Then why do you wish to leave me?” demanded his employer in surprise.

“I am going to the mines.”

“Better think twice of that, Tom. Here you have a certainty and a
comfortable living. There you will encounter hardship and privation,
while the prospect of profitable returns for your labor is very
uncertain.”

“I know all that, sir, but I have a special object.”

“What is it?”

“I will tell you, sir, in confidence. I came to California in search of
a clerk who ran away from New York with a large sum of money and
securities.”

“You—a boy of your age?” exclaimed Mr. Burton in astonishment.

“Yes, sir.”

“Who would employ so young a detective?”

“I came at my own expense and on my own account. You will understand
better when I tell you that this clerk caused the failure of a merchant
who owed me ten thousand dollars. If the securities can be recovered he
will be able to pay me dollar for dollar.”

“This is a strange story, Tom.”

“It is perfectly true, sir.”

“What made you think the clerk was in California?”

“I was not certain, but there were rumors that he had come here.”

“Rumors are not very safe to rely upon.”

“I know that, sir, but it seemed very probable, and I was willing to
take the risk.”

“I infer that you think you may find this clerk at the mines.”

“Yes, sir. I know he is going out there.”

“How do you know it?” asked Burton in fresh surprise.

“Because he was in this store to-night, and said so in my presence.”

“The absconding clerk was here to-night?”

“Yes, sir. I recognized him at once from the description, though he had
changed his name, and I had never met him. I learned that he was going
to the mines with a companion, and I asked leave to join the party.”

“Of course he has no idea who you are?” said Mr. Burton.

“No, he never saw me, and had no ground of suspicion. But he might
recognize my name, and so I am going to change it. I shall call myself
Tom Lincoln.”

“Why Lincoln?”

“That is his real name.”

“Won’t it lead him to suspect you?”

“I think not. There are a good many Lincolns at the East. But I presume
he will be a little startled when he first hears the name, and in fact
that is the reason why I adopt it. I want to be perfectly sure that he
is the man I am after.”

“Tom, you appear to me to be shrewd enough to be a detective. I wish you
success with all my heart. I am sorry to have you leave me, but of
course I feel that I ought not to wish to detain you. When do you want
to go?”

“I shall have to make some preparations,” said Tom. “I should like to
leave you at twelve to-morrow. I hope you won’t be troubled to fill my
place.”

“There’s a young fellow—a distant relation of my wife—who is anxious to
obtain a position. I would rather have you, but if you insist upon
leaving me, I will at any rate give him a trial. I will send for him
to-morrow morning.”

“That’s all right then,” said Tom with satisfaction. “I will ask you to
give me a recommendation under the name of Lincoln, as it may come handy
some day.”

“I will do that with pleasure, Tom. How are you provided with money?”

“I have nearly two hundred dollars, thanks to the hundred you gave me.”

“That sum you richly deserved. I may as well say now that if you should
fail in your project and return to San Francisco, you have only to come
to me and I will find something for you to do.”

“Thank you,” said Tom warmly. “I will remember that and your constant
kindness to me.”

“He’s a fine fellow,” thought Burton, “and as sharp as a steel-trap. I’m
very sorry to lose him.”

But Tom felt less regret. He had a boyish love of adventure, and he was
about to play for a high stake. The mission which he had undertaken was
one which required all his shrewdness to carry out successfully. Tom
realized this, but he was resolved to do his best.

“SO YOU haven’t changed your mind, young man,” said Gates, as Tom
presented himself at the hotel the following evening.

“No,” said Tom, “I’m in earnest. When do you start?”

“To-morrow at ten.”

“I will be on hand.”

“By the way, what is your name? How shall we call you?”

The time had come for Tom to test the correctness of his suspicions.
Fixing his eyes, but not with obtrusive attention, on the man he
suspected, he answered carelessly:

“You may call me Tom Lincoln.”

Morton started and turned swiftly toward our hero.

“What name did you say?”

“Tom Lincoln.”

“I once knew a man of that name,” said Morton hesitatingly. “From what
State do you come?”

“Our family originated in Massachusetts,” answered Tom, not appearing to
notice anything in the other’s manner. “I believe the name is a common
one.”

“Very likely,” said Morton, recovering himself, convinced that it was
only an accidental coincidence. He was naturally suspicious, not knowing
what steps might have been taken to secure him. It seemed improbable,
however, that a mere boy like Tom should know anything of his crime or
have any connection with the efforts to capture him. It may be added
that his secret was known to no one in California except our hero. Gates
was an acquaintance he had picked up and made a companion from his need
of society, but this chosen comrade knew nothing of him save what he had
chosen to tell, and sincerely believed that Morton was his real name.

They did not occupy the same room at the hotel. Gates had proposed it,
but Morton had not encouraged the idea. He said that he was a light
sleeper and always accustomed to room alone, and Gates acquiesced.

When Morton was alone in his chamber, after disrobing himself, he
unclasped from around his waist a belt which had been made expressly for
his use. Opening it, he drew forth a quantity of papers and carefully
examined them. It is not my intention to mystify the reader. These were
the papers which had been taken from his employer, and for the lack of
which that employer had been compelled to fail. They represented an
aggregate value of eighty thousand dollars.

Morton looked them over carefully, as I have said.

“Yes, they are all here,” he said thoughtfully. “I wish I could turn
them into cash; at present they do me no good. I wish I could with
safety dispose of them, but no doubt an accurate list has been furnished
to the detectives. Meanwhile they are a great care to me. I am compelled
to carry them round with me all the time. I don’t dare to leave them on
deposit at any bank lest they should be identified as stolen property.”

Here there was a knock at the door. Morton turned pale, and huddled the
papers into the bed near by. Then with a perturbed look he opened the
door to Gates.

“What’s the matter, Morton?” he said. “You look startled. Did you think
I was a burglar?”

Morton responded with a forced laugh.

“I was plunged in thought,” he said, “and your knock startled me. Will
you come in?”

“A minute, if you don’t mind. Have you any matches? I have none in my
room. I rang the bell, but nobody came.”

“Yes, there are some. Help yourself.”

Gates, not suspecting how unwelcome his visit was, sat down and lighted
a cigar.

“Is smoking offensive to you?” he asked.

“Well, yes, in a bedroom.”

“Out it goes then. I suppose you were thinking of the fortunes we are
going to make.”

“Perhaps so,” said Morton, who didn’t care to divulge his real thoughts.

“By the way,” said Gates, “I hope your bed is better than mine. Mine is
as hard as a brick.”

As he spoke he reached out his hand and touched the quilt, directly over
the spot where the papers were concealed.

“Don’t do that,” said Morton nervously.

“Don’t do what,” asked Gates staring.

“I may be silly,” stammered Morton, “but I can’t bear to have any one
touch my bed.”

Gates laughed.

“Why, man, you’re as nervous as a woman,” he said.

“I suppose I am,” said Morton, smiling in a forced manner

“Luckily for me I was born without nerves,” said Gates. “It’s a great
blessing. Nothing disturbs me except—well, except the want of money.”

“It is uncomfortable,” said Morton.

“You are rich, though. You don’t understand what it is.”

“No, I am not, Gates. I’ve got a thousand dollars, and little
else—except some stocks that are well-nigh worthless.”

“Well, I haven’t got any stocks—worthless or otherwise—to worry me. I
may have, by and by, if we are lucky at the gold-fields.”

“Just so; that is what I am hoping. A thousand dollars won’t go far
here.”

“I should think not. But I suppose you want to go to bed. So
good-night.”

“I am glad he’s gone,” said Morton to himself, when his companion left
the room. “Have I done right to encourage his intimacy? Is there no fear
that through him my secret may be divulged? Then, there is that boy.
It’s strange, by the way, that his name is Lincoln—the same as mine.
Perhaps he is a distant relation. However, he is only a boy. There can’t
be any harm in him.”

It was not altogether true that Morton was reduced to a thousand dollars
in gold. He had about four times that sum remaining of the cash he had
purloined from his former employer. But in California, as I have already
said, this was an era of high prices, and though this sum seemed
considerable, it would soon melt away if Morton did not find some way of
earning more. He might have gone into business in San Francisco with
what money he had, but there was always danger of being recognized in a
city, the population of which was reinforced every week or two by new
emigrants from the States. Under the circumstances the most feasible
plan of increasing his fortunes seemed to be to go to the mines. Could
he only have negotiated the valuable securities which he had brought
away with him, he would have made his way to Europe, settled down on the
Continent, and lived comfortably, provided with ample means. But, as we
know, the securities thus far had only occasioned him anxiety and
apprehension. He could not see his way clear to any benefit to be
derived from them, unless to negotiate for their return in consideration
of a liberal reward. He was not prepared, as yet, to hazard the danger
of such a course.

The night passed, and the next morning rose bright and clear. The first
part of the journey was to be performed in a stage-coach. The last must
be made with such aids as they could find.

At ten they started. Tom and Gates were in high spirits. Morton was more
sober. He had cares and anxieties from which they were exempt.

Each of the three was provided with a revolver, for the country was
unsettled, and they were liable to meet with highwaymen. Tom had no
weapon of his own, but Gates, who had two, lent him one of his. Tom
secretly hoped that he might have a chance to use it. He was of an age
when adventure, even when accompanied by peril, has a certain charm.

IT WAS twilight of the second day. They had exchanged the stage-coach
for a rude wagon, which jolted uncomfortably over the rough roads. They
had traveled for the greater part of two days, yet were less than eighty
miles from San Francisco. It was a wearisome mode of traveling, and they
were all tired. The party consisted of but four: Gates, Morton, Tom, and
a stout Dutchman, who bewailed his miseries most of all.

“I don’t call this traveling for pleasure,” said Gates, as he was jolted
off his seat.

“Nor I,” said Morton. “I wish I had never left San Francisco.”

“Oh, well,” said Tom, who, being younger, was more hopeful than the
rest, “it won’t last forever.”

“What is dat you say?” broke in the German. “Forever! Gott in Himmel! I
hope not. I think I shall never see meine Frau and die Kinder once more
at all.”

“Oh, yes, you will, mein Herr,” said Tom. “You will go back with a big
lump of gold, and live happy ever after.”

“If I do not get killed first,” said the German dubiously. “Gott in
Himmel, where am I going?”

As he spoke, in consequence of a sudden jolt the unhappy German tumbled
over backwards upon the floor of the wagon, there being no back to the
seat, and lay on his back incapable of sitting up.

“Ich bin toldt!” he groaned, “ich denke dat my bones are broke in two.”

“Oh, no, mein herr,” said Tom. “They are too well covered for that.
Don’t you be alarmed, I’ll help you up,” and he sprung to the side of
his prostrate fellow-traveler, and tried to help him to his feet. But
Herr Johann Schmidt weighed two hundred and sixty pounds, and though Tom
succeeded in raising his head about six inches from the floor of the
wagon, he could do no more. In fact, as bad luck would have it, it fell
back with a whack, and caused the poor Dutchman to redouble his groans.

“You have killed me once more,” he said dolefully.

“Excuse me, mein herr,” said Tom. “I didn’t know you were so heavy. Mr.
Gates, won’t you help me?”

But before Gates could come to his help there was another fearful jolt,
causing the prostrate body to give an upward bound and fall back with
several additional bruises.

“Stop the horse!” roared the incumbent Teuton. “Stop him all at once, or
I shall be murdered.”

The horse was stopped, and by the united help of the other three, Herr
Johann Schmidt was replaced on his seat.

“I wish I had not come out here,” he bewailed to himself. “Why could I
not stay zu home in my lager bier saloon, where I was make much money. I
shall not never go back once more, and what will meine Frau do?”

“Oh, don’t mind about her,” said Gates mischievously. “She’ll marry
another man, and he’ll take care of the children.”

“Was!” roared the Teuton, his small eyes lighted up with anger. “Mein
frau marry another man! Den I will not die at all!”

“That’s where your head’s level,” said Tom, who had picked up the phrase
in San Francisco. “I wouldn’t peg out it I were you.”

“And my Katrine be another man’s frau!” continued the German, in a tone
of disgust.

“You couldn’t blame her, you know,” said Gates, in a mischievous spirit.
“Of course she couldn’t manage the children alone. I’m not married, and
I might be willing to take her myself, that is, if anything happened to
you.”

“You marry my Katrine!” exclaimed Herr Schmidt, almost speechless with
indignation.

“I suppose you would prefer that a friend like me should marry her to a
stranger, wouldn’t you, Herr Schmidt?”

“But I am not dead! I will not die!” roared Johann. “You shall not have
her!”

“Oh, of course if you are not going to die, that makes a difference. You
said you were, you know.”

“I have change my mind—I will go home to mein Katrine myself. She shall
have no other husband.”

“Good for you! I like your pluck,” said Gates. “Give me your hand.”

But Herr Schmidt was offended.

“I will nicht give my hand to dem man who will wish to marry meine
Katrine,” he said obstinately.

“Oh, that was only to oblige you, Herr Schmidt. I thought you might like
to have your wife and children taken care of.”

“I take care of them myself.”

“To be sure you will, if you don’t kick the bucket. I see you’re riled,
Herr Schmidt. My advice is that you smoke a pipe. It will make you feel
better.”

This suggestion appeared to strike the German favorably, for though he
did not deign an articulate reply, he pulled out a pipe, which appeared
to have seen much service, and was soon smoking placidly, and to judge
from appearance, much more comfortable in mind.

Meanwhile the road had entered the forest and the trees cut off what
scanty daylight yet remained.

“How long are these woods?” inquired Gates of the driver.

“Two miles or thereabouts, sir.”

“It is a lonely place?”

“Yes, sir; but that isn’t the worst of it,” said the driver, with a
certain significance in his tone.

“Isn’t the worst of it? What is, then?”

“Loneliness is better than bad company.”

“What are you driving at?”

“I’ll tell you, sir. There’s a set of desperadoes who infest these
parts—bandits, we call them—and these woods are said to be their
favorite lurking-place.”

“That’s pleasant news, Morton,” said Gates, turning to the clerk.

Evidently Morton thought so, for he looked very much disturbed at the
intelligence.

“Why didn’t you tell us before?” he said to the driver.

“I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

“Then why did you bring us to these woods?”

“Because there is no other way.”

“What is dat you say?” interrupted Herr Schmidt at this point.

“Oh, nothing very particular,” said Gates. “I hope your life is
insured.”

“What for?”

“Because there is a gang of robbers in this forest, the driver says. If
we meet them, they may take a fancy to cut our throats.”

“Let me get out!” roared the frightened Dutchman. “I will nicht stay to
have meine throat cut. How will I get home to meine Frau?”

“It won’t do any good, your getting out,” said the driver. “The robbers
are just as likely to be behind as before. The best thing to do is to
push on.”

The driver’s words were unexpectedly verified. Before he had fairly
finished speaking, two men sprang out from the covert from opposite
sides of the road. One seized the horse by the bridle. The other
advanced, pistol in hand, to parley with the passengers.

“WHAT do you want?” demanded Gates.

“Your money,” said the other briefly.

Gates was a man of courage, and he answered coolly:

“Your answer is brief, and to the point.”

“I meant it to be,” said the highwayman.

“Suppose we object to complying with your polite request, what then?”

“I hold the answer in my hand.”

“Your pistol, I suppose.”

“You are perfectly correct. You must surrender either your money or your
life.”

The Dutchman, who had been staring open-mouthed, began to understand the
condition of affairs, and was panic-stricken.

“Give him de money,” he said, trembling. “Take his money, good
gentleman, and spare my life. I want to go home to meine Katrine.”

Serious as the case was, Gates could not help laughing at the naiveté of
his Teutonic traveling companion.

“Mr. Highwayman,” he said, “I assure you it isn’t worth your while to
rob me. My Dutch friend here is a great capitalist—a banker, I believe.
Be content with what he will give you.”

Herr Schmidt was exasperated.

“That is one beeg lie,” he said. “I am only a poor saloon-keeper, with a
few dollars which I made by selling lager. Let me go, and I will go home
to meine Katrine.”

“Gentlemen,” said the highwayman, “I make no exceptions. You must all
empty your pockets.”

“Stop a minute!” said Gates, and he suddenly drew a revolver from his
pocket and pointed it at the robber.

The latter did not appear disconcerted.

“That won’t avail you,” he said.

“Why not?” asked Gates. “We are four to two.”

“We shall see.”

The robber put a whistle to his lips and blew a shrill blast.

In answer to this summons six other men burst from the covert, all
armed, all dangerous.

“You see,” said the first speaker, “we are stronger than you thought.
Fire at me, and all your lives are sacrificed. Your triumph will be
short.”

“Don’t shoot, Herr Gates,” said the Dutchman in an agony of
apprehension. “I don’t want to die. What would become of Katrine and the
Kinder?”

Gates was a sensible man. He saw that to fire would only be to throw
away his own life and that of his companions. This he felt that he had
no moral right to do.

“What shall I do?” he asked, turning to Morton.

“It’s useless to resist,” said the latter nervously.

“And what do you say, Tom?”

“Since these gentlemen are so very pressing, we shall be obliged to
yield.”

“I believe you are right.”

Then turning to the former speaker, who appeared to be the chief of the
robbers, he said:

“Will you let us go if we surrender our money?”

“Not to-day. You must follow us.”

“Where?”

“Where we shall lead you.”

“What is that for?”

“It is unnecessary to ask.”

“That is adding insult to injury. I don’t like that.”

“Perhaps,” suggested Tom, “these gentlemen mean to give us some supper
and a night’s lodging. If so, I go for accepting the invitation. There
isn’t any hotel about here that I know of. I take their invitation as
very kind.”

“They mean to make us pay dearly for their accommodation.”

“We may as well get something for our money,” said Tom.

“That’s so. Well, gentlemen, for reasons which it is unnecessary to
particularize, we accept your invitation.”

“Very good,” said the chief. “Put up your revolver, then, first of all,
or rather give it to me.”

“I would like to keep it.”

“Impossible. Give it up.”

Gates handed over the weapon unwillingly.

“Now give me yours,” said the chief to Morton.

The latter with trembling hand surrendered it. He was deficient in
courage, and had sat silent, pale with terror, while the conference had
gone on.

“Now, my young bantam,” said the robber, turning to Tom, “have you any?”

“Yes, but I should like to keep it.”

“Hand it over.”

“It doesn’t belong to me.”

“We’ll take care of it for the owner.”

“Here it is. Be careful how you handle it, for it’s loaded. It might hit
my fat friend there.”

The Dutchman began to kick at this suggestion.

“Take care, Mr. Robber,” he exclaimed. “It might go off all at once, and
that would be an end of Johann Schmidt.”

“Oh, never mind, mein herr,” said Tom. “There are plenty of John
Schmidts in the world. One more or less wouldn’t make much difference.”

“It would make much difference to me,” said Johann sensibly, “and mein
Katrine and the kinder.”

“Well, what next?” asked Gates. “Can we go on?”

“No, you must go with us. First, get down from the wagon.”

“What is that for?”

“Ask no questions, but obey,” said the highwayman sternly.

“Very good. I suppose, under the circumstances, we must obey orders.”

“Get down, Herr Schmidt,” said Tom to the Teuton.

“What for? What will he do?” asked the terrified Dutchman.

“I don’t know,” said Tom gravely; “but I’ll tell you what they do
sometimes.”

“Was?”

“They stand travelers up in a line and shoot them.”

“Will they be so wicked?” groaned the poor Dutchman, turning as pale as
his florid complexion would admit. “They would not dare!”

“They dare anything, but the only thing we can do is to follow
directions.”

Tom assisted the poor man from the wagon. Gates and Morton were already
out.

“Now,” said the chief of the highwaymen, turning to the driver, “you can
go. But take heed,” he added sternly, “that you say nothing of this
adventure. If you do, you are a marked man, and your life will not be
worth an hour’s purchase.”

“I understand,” said the man.

Gates turned toward the driver with sudden suspicion.

“I believe you are in league with these men,” he said sternly. “You have
led us into a trap.”

“That is not so,” said the driver earnestly. “I swear it.”

“The man speaks truth,” said the captain. “We have never had anything to
do with him.”

“Then why don’t you keep him as you do us?”

“We don’t fly at such game. He is a poor laboring man. We don’t prey on
such.”

“I am a poor laboring man,” said Herr Schmidt eagerly. “Let me go, too,
good Mr. Robber. I am not rich like these gentlemen.”

The chief laughed.

“We can tell better by and by,” he said. “Now, gentlemen, I must trouble
you to follow us.”

Escorted by the eight highwaymen, our four travelers walked on into the
depths of the forest.

THEY walked for about a mile, threading the intricacies of the forest.
Tom did not particularly mind the walk. In fact, though the idea of
being a captive in the hands of robbers was not particularly agreeable,
there was a spice of adventure and romance about it which he liked.
Gates, too, was a man who took things philosophically, and did not allow
himself to be disturbed overmuch by any contretemps like the present.
But the other two, namely, Morton and our Teutonic friend, took it more
to heart. Morton had a great deal to lose, and he was in terror lest the
papers and certificates of stock should be found upon his person. For
them he had staked reputation and liberty. For them he was an exile and
a fugitive, and he felt that if they were lost he should have little
left to live for.

As for Herr Schmidt, he was troubled in more than one way. First, with
his portly figure and superfluous load of flesh, he found locomotion,
especially in the forest, quite difficult. Then again he had with him
three hundred dollars in gold, which he was very reluctant to part with.
He felt that they would all be taken from him, and what to do then he
did not know. It would take money to go on, it would take money to go
back. On the whole the prospect of his seeing again the fair Katrine,
who, good woman, was physically a very good match for her Johann, was
indeed small. So he kept groaning as he walked, and indulged, from time
to time, in little ejaculations expressive of his unhappy frame of mind.

Tom and Gates walked on together.

“I wonder if it’s much farther,” said Gates. “Our German friend doesn’t
look happy.”

Tom laughed.

“Perhaps I shouldn’t be, if I had such a load to carry.”

“And if you had a Katrine and kinder at home.”

“Just so. But I haven’t. How is it with you?”

“Oh, I’m an independent bachelor, roaming the world for a living. I’m
like a cat. However I’m tossed up, I’m sure to land on my feet.”

“Then I hope I shall be like a cat, too.”

“You don’t seem very much disturbed.”

“No. It’s my first adventure, and I haven’t much to lose.”

“So with me. Well, Morton, how goes it? You look as if you were
attending a funeral.”

“Will there be a funeral?” interrupted the terrified Dutchman. “Oh, Gott
in Himmel! they will not kill us?”

“No, mein herr, I think not. They’ll only take all our money.”

Mr. Schmidt groaned piteously, and for the fiftieth time execrated his
folly in selling out a lager bier saloon, in which he was making money,
to start in quest of the mines. Ah, little did the plump Katrine and the
children, waiting eagerly to hear of his success, dream that he was even
now in the clutches of robbers.

But the longest journey has an ending, and this was not a very long
journey.

They reached a rude wooden building, backed by a precipitous elevation.
There was nothing peculiar in its appearance, except that it had no
windows. In fact, the main wonder was, that in this lonely place there
should be any building at all.

“Halt, gentlemen,” said the captain, “it is here that we stop.”

“Is this our hotel?” asked Tom lightly.

“Yes,” said the captain, relaxing his stern features with a smile.
“Shall I announce to you the rules of this house?”

“What are they?”

“Payment in advance.”

Morton’s face changed, and the Dutchman looked unhappy.

“I hope your bill won’t be unreasonable,” said Gates.

“Not at all. We shall not ask more than you have.”

“Thank you; you are very considerate.”

“We’ll begin with you, then,” said the captain, addressing Gates.

“Oh, I’m a poor devil. I haven’t much.”

“Produce what you have.”

Gates took out his purse, which proved to contain a hundred and fifty
dollars in gold.

“Is that all?”

“Every cent.”

“Search him.”

Two members of the band advanced and searched him, but nothing more was
to be found.

“You are an honest fellow. I won’t take all. Here!” and the robber
returned twenty dollars of the sum taken.

“Thank you!” said Gates, with a little surprise. “Really, for a robber,
you are very polite and honorable.”

“Now it’s your turn, young bantam,” was addressed to Tom.

Our hero produced all his money, as was shown by the subsequent search.

“Good!” said the captain. “Here are twenty for you. It will take you to
the mines. Now, old man, it’s your turn.”

Herr Schmidt would have done well to profit by the example of his
companions, and surrendered what he could not retain. But it was too
much for his equanimity. He brought out twenty-five dollars, and stoutly
asseverated that it was all he had. But the captain was too sharp for
him. A skillful examination disclosed eleven times as much more.

“You were richer than you thought,” said the captain, in a sarcastic
tone.

“It is all I had. I am ruined!” exclaimed Johann piteously. “Good
robber, give me back half.”

“Not one penny!” returned the chief emphatically. “You tried to defraud
me, and you merit no consideration at my hands. You were not like these
gentlemen,” and he nodded approvingly in the direction of Gates and Tom.

Herr Schmidt wrung his hands and protested that he was ruined, and that
his Katrine and children would all starve.

“Let them cook you, then,” said the captain. “That will keep them alive
for a month.”

But even this suggestion did not mitigate the grief of the unhappy
Teuton, who sunk down on a stump near by and bewailed his fate.

Morton was reserved to the last. He was wise enough to give up all his
gold, though he had considerably more than either of his companions. But
he also was compelled to submit to a search. No money was found, but the
belt was discovered.

“What is that?” demanded the captain.

“A belt,” faltered Morton.

“What is in it?”

“Papers—no money, I assure you,” hurriedly answered Morton.

“If they are papers, we must see them,” said the captain.

“They would be of no value to you,” said Morton quickly. “They are
business papers.”

“I must see them,” said the captain suspiciously.

Tom had pricked up his ears when he first heard the papers mentioned.
His heart beat quick. Were these the securities of which he was in
search? He believed so, and waited anxiously to ascertain. Yet, even if
they should prove to be so, how would he be the better off?

He bent his eyes eagerly upon the robber-captain as he opened the belt
and revealed the contents.