TOM IN A TIGHT PLACE

TOM’S NEW employer was Oliver Burton. He had come from New Jersey
originally with the intention of going to the mines, but he was shrewd
enough to see, on landing in San Francisco, that trading was a more
certain means of getting rich than mining. He established himself in the
city, therefore, bought out a man who was compelled by sickness to
retire from active business, and was now rich. Though occasionally
irritable, he was in the main just and easy to get along with, and Tom
soon got into favor.

Our hero had never worked, but he was sharp and diligent, and he did not
need to be told the same thing twice. So at the end of the first week
his employer said:

“Well, Tom, you have been with me a week, and for a green hand you have
done remarkably well.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Tom; “I have tried to do my duty faithfully.”

“You have. Moreover, I am convinced of your honesty.”

“You need have no fears on that score,” said Tom proudly.

“I have not, and experience teaches me that this is quite as important
as a capacity for business. Why, my last clerk was a capital
salesman—knew how to please customers and influence trade—but contrived
to swindle me out of several hundred dollars in three months.”

“That wasn’t very satisfactory,” said Tom.

“I should say not. But what I am coming at is this—I should like to have
you remain with me. What wages will satisfy you?”

“You are a better judge than I am. What did you give your last clerk?”

“Twenty-five dollars a week and board. You are a green hand, and several
years younger, but in consideration of your honesty, in which I feel
full confidence, I will give you twenty.”

“That will satisfy me, sir,” said Tom promptly.

“Then here are your first two week’s wages.”

Tom took the money—it was in gold—with pride and pleasure. It was no
novelty to him to have considerable money, but excepting the three
dollars which he had received for carrying a bundle, this was the first
money he had actually earned, and he felt pleased accordingly.

“Twenty dollars and my board for a week’s work!” he said to himself.
“Now I really begin to feel that I am of some use in the world. It’s a
good deal better than leading an idle life.”

It may be remarked also, that Tom had lost with his property the old
bullying spirit which gave him the title by which he was known at the
beginning of this story. He still retained, however, the spirit and
courage which in his case had accompanied it; and this was fortunate,
for he was in a country where at that time the laws had not yet obtained
that ascendency which they possess in older settlements. The time was
not far off when his courage was to be tested.

About three weeks after his entrance into the store, Mr. Burton left the
city for a visit of several days into the interior. By this time Tom
knew enough of the business to be intrusted with the sole charge.

“I shouldn’t have dared to leave my former clerk,” said Mr. Burton, “but
I am sure I can trust you.”

“You can,” said Tom promptly. “I may not be able to fill your place, but
I’ll do the best I can.”

“I am convinced of it. You will sleep in the store; for though
burglaries are not frequent, there might be an attempt to open the
store.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You won’t be afraid to remain here alone?”

“Afraid!” exclaimed Tom. “I hope not. I should be ashamed of myself if I
were.”

“I shall leave my revolver, and I expect you to use it if necessary. Do
you understand its use?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then I have no further directions to give. I cannot tell exactly how
many days I shall be absent.”

“Don’t hurry home, sir. All will go well.”

“It’s odd how much confidence I have in that boy,” said Mr. Burton to
himself. “He says he is only sixteen, but he’s as cool and self-reliant
as a man of twenty-five. He has been well educated, too, I judge from
his manners and conversation. I feel fortunate in securing him.”

On the fourth night after Mr. Burton’s departure, Tom went to bed at his
usual hour. His bed was made up on the floor, about the center. He was
unusually fatigued, and this no doubt accounted for his sleeping sounder
than common. Something roused him at last. At first he thought, in his
bewilderment, that it was Mr. Burton who had shaken him, but he was
quickly undeceived.

Lifting his head, he saw a sinister face, rough and unshaven, bending
over him.

“What!” he commenced, but the other interrupted him in a stern whisper.

“Speak low, boy! Make no alarm, or by the powers above I’ll kill you
instantly. Do you understand?”

Tom was now thoroughly awake. He comprehended that this man was one
against whom it was his duty to defend the store and its contents. On
account of the soundness of his sleep he had not heard him effect his
entrance.

“What do you want?” he asked.

“You can guess why I am here. I want all the money you have in this
store.”

“You had better leave here at once,” said Tom, having recourse to
stratagem. “Suppose my employer should have heard you and come in.”

“Suppose he don’t,” said the burglar, with a sneer. “I know as well as
you that he is in the country. You can’t play any of your games on me,
boy.”

“He has been in the country.”

“And he is there now. Boy, I can’t waste time. Do you see this?” and he
drew a formidable knife from its sheath.

“Yes, I see it,” said our hero.

“You will feel it also,” said the burglar, “if you don’t show me where
you keep your gold, and be quick about it.”

Tom was at his wits’ end. There were eight hundred dollars in gold in
the store, and moreover it was all kept together. If he could have saved
the rest by delivering to the burglar a hundred dollars, he would not
have scrupled to do this, feeling that in so doing he would do the best
thing possible, and obtain Mr. Burton’s approval. But this was
impossible. It must be the whole or none, and it seemed probable that
the whole would be taken. He was only a boy—strong of his age, it is
true, but no match for the burly ruffian who, with drawn knife, was
looking down upon him.

Again, suppose he surrendered the money, how could he convince Mr.
Burton that he did it upon compulsion? Might it not be supposed that the
burglar was a confederate of his own, whom he had voluntarily admitted
into the store? Might it not even be suspected that there had been no
burglary at all, but that he himself had appropriated the money, and
trumped up a story to conceal his guilt.

These thoughts passed through his mind in a much shorter time than I
have taken to record them. But slight as the delay was, it was too great
for the impatience of the ruffian.

“If you don’t get up before I count three,” he said, “you shall have a
taste of this knife.”

USUALLY Tom slept with the revolver under his pillow. This night he had
neglected to do so. Even had it been there, however, it would have been
as much as his life was worth to reach for it, as the motion would have
been at once understood by the ruffian, who stood over him with a knife
in his hand.

“I’ll get up,” said Tom, in answer to the threat recorded in the last
chapter.

“You’d better!” growled the burglar.

“What shall I do?” thought Tom, racking his brain for some way of
escape.

An idea flashed upon him. He turned to go behind the counter.

“Where are you going?” demanded the burglar suspiciously.

“For the money. That’s what you want, isn’t it?” asked Tom.

“Be quick about it. Where do you keep it?”

“Mr. Burton will think I took it,” said our hero, who had an object in
what he said. “Won’t you be satisfied with taking some clothes?”

“Don’t be foolish, boy! What can I do with clothes? It is gold I want.
Come, open the drawer. Where is it you keep it?”

“Will you leave a note for Mr. Burton, saying I didn’t take it?” asked
Tom, who wished the ruffian to consider him simple.

“What a fool!” thought the burglar. “I’ll pretend to humor him. Yes,” he
said, “I’ll leave a note which you can give him.”

“Will you write it now?”

“Of course not. I will as soon as I have the gold in my possession.”

“I suppose that will do. Step back, then.”

“What are you going to do?” asked the burglar in surprise, seeing Tom
bend over.

“Lift the trap-door.”

“What for?”

“You want me to get the gold, don’t you?”

“Well?”

“I must go down cellar for it.”

“Is it kept down there?”

“Mr. Burton thought it would be safest there.”

“Did he?” chuckled the robber. “Then he’ll find his mistake.”

Tom raised the trap-door and disclosed a staircase leading down into a
subterranean vault.

“I can’t see,” he said. “Will you lend me your lantern?” referring to
the dark-lantern which the burglar carried.

“Oh, that will be all right. I’ll go down with you.”

“I wish you would,” said Tom. “I don’t like to go done here alone.”

[Illustration: “TOM RAISED THE TRAP-DOOR TO ALLOW THE BURGLAR TO STEP
INTO THE CELLAR.”]

“A coward!” thought the ruffian. “All the better for me. I thought from
his looks that he was a bold, spirited boy, but appearances are
deceitful. A pretty guardian he is for property.”

This was precisely the opinion which Tom desired his companion to have
of him, as it was necessary for the success of his plan that his
suspicion should be disarmed, and he be taken off his guard.

The cellar into which they descended was used to store goods of various
descriptions, and presented to the glance a confused pile of bales and
boxes, arranged without much regard to order.

“This is a queer place to keep money,” said the burglar, looking round.

“It’s a first-rate place,” said Tom complacently, “for nobody would ever
think of looking for it here.”

“I don’t know but you’re right. Well, where is it?”

“In that little chest,” said Tom, pointing to one under a bale.

“So it’s there, is it?” said the burglar triumphantly. “How much is
there?”

“There’s a good deal,” said Tom; “but don’t take all, will you? Mr.
Burton will be so mad.”

“Oh, no, I’ll leave some,” said the burglar mockingly. “What a simpleton
he is,” he thought. “Come, open it. Is it locked?”

“There, what a fool I was!” said Tom, in a tone so natural that it
deceived his companion. “I left the key up-stairs. But I won’t keep you
a minute. I’ll go up and get it.”

But for the opinion he had formed of our hero’s simplicity, the burglar
would hardly have suffered Tom to leave him. As it was his contempt made
him feel secure.

“Well, be quick then,” he said. “I can’t wait here all night.”

Tom did not answer.

He sprung up the stairs, and the first intimation the astonished ruffian
had of his design was conveyed in the slamming to of the trap-door.

“Confusion!” he muttered. “The young rogue has outwitted me.”

He sprung forward, but in such haste that he tripped over a bale and
measured his length on the floor, dropping his lantern at the same time.
His temper by no means improved by this accident, he picked himself up,
and springing up the narrow staircase, tried to raise the trap-door.

But Tom had drawn two bolts which fastened it above, and moreover, was
dragging a heavy box to place upon it, so that the entrapped person
found himself utterly unable to lift it.

“Open the door!” he shouted from below in mingled rage and fright.

“I’d rather not!” Tom shouted back in reply.

“If you don’t I’ll make it the worst for you, you young villain.”

“You’ll have to get at me first,” said Tom in a tone of aggravation.

The burglar realized that so far from being simple he had to deal with a
boy who was brave and quick-witted.

“Confusion!” he muttered to himself. “If I am caught here it will ruin
me.”

Again he shouted:

“I’ll shoot you through the floor.”

“Better not,” retorted Tom. “It will rouse the neighbors. Besides, I’ve
got a revolver too.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“That don’t alter the fact.”

“Why didn’t you show it?”

“I couldn’t get at it while you stood over me with a knife.”

“He’s got me at an advantage,” thought the villain. “I must change my
tone.”

“Let me up,” he pleaded, “and I’ll go off without taking your gold.”

“I don’t mean that you shall,” said Tom coolly. “You can’t get at it.”

“Why not?”

“It isn’t down there at all.”

“Then you deceived me,” exclaimed the baffled villain.

“Of course I did, and would do it again.”

“Are you going to let me out?” demanded the burglar, knocking furiously
at the trap-door.

“Not till morning.”

There was no doubt about it. The burglar had been completely outwitted
and trapped by a boy. That was the most humiliating part of it. If he
could have got at our hero then, there is little doubt that he would
have put him to death without a moment’s hesitation. But luckily for Tom
there was a good plank flooring between, and a trap-door which was
secured by two strong bolts. But Tom did not feel quite secure. There
was an egress from the cellar at one side. If the ruffian should
discover this, his peril would be extreme.

THE BURGLAR, fairly trapped, gnashed his teeth with rage. To have been
caught thus by a boy whom he had despised, increased his rage and
humiliation. Besides he was in great peril. Burglary, and indeed all
offences against property, were severely punished in this new State. It
was a matter of necessity, considering the elements that had been
brought together, and the freedom and lack of restraint that
characterized the people. So the ruffian was fairly frightened. But he
resolved to try the effect of one more appeal.

“Listen, boy,” he called out. “Let me out, and I will not only promise
to do no harm and take no money, but I will give you two hundred dollars
in gold, which I have in my pocket at this moment.”

But Tom was not to be caught by a promise only made to be broken.

“That’s too thin,” he answered back. “I sha’n’t let you out. You are
best off where you are.”

“I’d like to kill him!” thought the burglar, grinding his teeth.

“Beware what you say, boy,” he shouted. “You have me at advantage now,
but the time will come when I shall be free. When that time comes I will
kill you unless you release me at once.”

“I must take the risk,” said Tom.

“Then you won’t let me out?”

“I won’t.”

There was no answer, for the burglar, who had previously decided that he
could not lift the trap-door, determined to see if there was no other
mode of egress.

Here was Tom’s danger.

There was a door at one side, as already explained. This had hitherto
escaped the burglar’s attention, for the dark-lantern lighted up only a
small part of the cellar, and left the rest in gloom. Supposing the door
was found, and being bolted within, it could easily be opened and egress
obtained, Tom would be in a perilous position. The burglar would again
enter as he had done previously, and inflamed by anger, would not only
take the gold, but perhaps kill our hero.

This thought was enough to startle the bravest. Tom felt that he must
have assistance, and he took the most effectual way of calling it.

He threw open the outer door, stepped into the street, and fired the
revolver, not once only, but twice. In the silent street, wrapped in
darkness, these two shots were heard with startling emphasis. Neighbors
rushed to their windows and called out:

“What has happened? What’s the matter?”

“Help!” exclaimed Tom. “Come here at once. There’s a burglar in the
cellar. Come quick, and help me secure him.”

Half a dozen men hurried on their clothes, seized arms and hurried down
into the street.

Meanwhile the noise of the revolver had been heard by the trapped
burglar also.

“Confusion!” he exclaimed, with an oath, “the boy is calling assistance.
He must be afraid I will get out. There must be a door somewhere. I must
find it at once, or all is over with me.”

He had been turning his attention to the wrong side of the cellar, and
this delayed him a little. But finally, with a cry of triumph, he espied
the door. He saw also that it was bolted inside, and inferred that there
would be no difficulty in opening it. But for some reason it stuck, and
this occasioned further delay. Otherwise he might have got out in time
to attack Tom before the arrival of help. But the little delay was in
our hero’s favor. When the burglar got out he heard voices of men
speaking with his young enemy.

“Where’s the burglar?” asked Archibald Campbell, a gigantic Scot, who
was the next-door neighbor.

“In the cellar,” said Tom in a low voice.

“Can he get out?”

“Yes,” said Tom in a whisper, so as to afford no information in case the
discovery had not yet been made. “There’s a side door, and if he’s found
it he’s free now perhaps.”

“Where is the door?”

“On that side.”

“Come, then,” said the brave Scot, “we’ll nab him. What weapons has he
got?”

“A knife, and perhaps a revolver.”

By this time another man had come up.

“We must have him if it’s a possible thing,” said Campbell. “That sort
of vermin are best shut up where they can’t get into mischief.”

The burglar, now outside, heard these last words. He realized that Tom
was too strong now to attack, and that his only safety lay in flight. If
he could get away, there would be a chance for retaliation later. He
could not escape into the street. That was barred by his pursuers. In
the rear there was a fence to be surmounted. That was the only way of
escape.

He was mounting the fence when his enemies came round the corner of the
house and espied him.

“There he is,” said Tom.

Archibald Campbell raised his revolver and covered the ruffian.

“Halt, man!” he cried. “Do you surrender?”

“No, hang you!” answered the burglar, and he, also, was about to draw a
corresponding weapon, when the Scotchman, feeling that their lives were
in peril, and there was no time for parley, fired, striking the man in
the wrist. The weapon fell to the ground, and he uttered an exclamation
of pain. Before he could recover the weapon they had rushed upon him.

“Look out for his knife!” shouted Tom.

This made them cautious, and they stood off at a distance of six feet.

“Come down from that fence,” said Campbell in a commanding tone, “and
give yourself up as our prisoner. If you refuse, or if you stoop to
raise that pistol, I will shoot you through the head.”

There was a stern resoluteness in his tone which convinced the ruffian
that he was in earnest.

“What do you want with me?” he asked doggedly.

“What should we want with such as you? To give you up to the
authorities. It is not safe for such men to be at large.”

“Let me go,” pleaded the burglar abruptly. “I have taken nothing.”

“You intended to.”

“But I have not, and I will not—from you. I will agree to leave the city
and never return.”

“You cannot be trusted,” said the Scotchman promptly. “We can make no
conditions with you.”

“You may repent this,” the ruffian growled.

“I should repent letting you go, but I sha’n’t leave any chance of that.
Are you coming down?”

Slowly and reluctantly the burglar backed down from the fence, and with
a longing look at his pistol, which he knew it would be death to pick
up, he allowed himself to be taken prisoner.

“Drop your knife,” said his chief captor.

He obeyed with a malignant scowl at Tom.

“I’d like to sheathe it in that boy,” he muttered, “and I will some
time.”

“Don’t let him frighten you, my lad,” said the Scotchman. “You’ve done
your duty bravely.”

“He does not frighten me,” said Tom calmly.

A crowd had collected by this time, who escorted the burglar to the
lock-up.

“Now,” thought Tom as he re-entered the shop, “I’ll try to get a little
more sleep.”

IN SPITE of the exciting events of the night Tom fell asleep and slept
soundly till morning. He had done his duty as a matter of course and it
did not occur to him that he had done anything heroic till he read a
paragraph in the paper the next day giving an account of the affair, in
which he was spoken of in the most complimentary terms. The paragraph
was headed “A Young Hero.”

It served as an excellent advertisement. The following day he had three
times the number of visitors and twice as large sales as on any
preceding one. In fact he was kept so hard at work that he was delighted
about the middle of the afternoon to see his employer walk into the
shop.

“I am glad to see you back, Mr. Burton,” said Tom.

“And I am glad to be back,” said his employer. “But what is all this I
hear, Tom, about an attempted burglary?”

“Did you see the paragraph in the morning’s paper, sir?”

“Yes. I see you are reported to have acted like a young hero.”

Tom smiled.

“I didn’t know that I had done anything heroic till I read it in the
paper,” he said.

“I like your modesty, Tom,” said Mr. Burton approvingly. “If the account
is correct, however, I must say that you showed a good deal of pluck.
That was a capital stratagem by which you trapped him.”

“He didn’t think so,” said Tom, laughing. “You have no idea how mad he
was. I pretended to be a simpleton, and that put him off his guard.”

“By Jove, I don’t believe I should have managed the matter so well
myself. Weren’t you afraid?”

“I wasn’t altogether comfortable in my mind,” said Tom, “for I wasn’t
sure that my plan would work, but I can’t say I was frightened.”

“If you had been you wouldn’t have been able to act with so much
coolness. How much money was there in the drawer?”

“Eight hundred dollars.”

“Is it possible? You must have been doing a good trade.”

“I think I have,” said Tom complacently.

“You have done as well as if I had been here. I will take care that you
are rewarded for your fidelity.”

“It is enough if you are pleased,” said Tom.

“No, it isn’t. Such fidelity and bravery as yours deserve to be
encouraged, for they are rare enough.”

Mr. Burton went to the drawer and counted the money. It exceeded eight
hundred dollars, for Tom had been doing a good trade that day. In fact,
it was close upon a thousand.

He took out a hundred dollars in gold and handed it to Tom.

“Here, Tom,” said he. “I give you a hundred dollars. It will show you
that I am not ungrateful.”

“A hundred dollars!” said Tom, in astonishment. “You give it to me?”

“Yes, I don’t know but I ought to give you more.”

“No, no,” said Tom hastily. “You are very generous. But I don’t think I
ought to take it.”

“Then be guided by me and accept it. I give it to you freely. Without
you I should have lost eight times the amount. You not only have done
your duty faithfully, but you risked your life in doing it.”

“I suppose I did,” said Tom, “but I didn’t think of that at the time.”

“Take the money, then, and I hope it may be of service to you.”

“Thank you, sir. The money will be of service to me, and since you
insist upon it, I will accept it.”

“Understand, Tom, that in giving you this money I don’t feel that I have
cancelled the obligation. Should another opportunity occur, I shall do
what I can to promote your interests.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Tom.

The consciousness of having done one’s duty faithfully, and having that
service appreciated, is certainly pleasant, and Tom went about his
duties from this time with even greater alacrity than before, feeling
that he had made a friend of his employer.

It was certainly a great change from the character which he had
previously sustained as a bully, and an arrogant, imperious boy. The
truth was that he had been injured by his prosperity.

When, through circumstances over which he had no control, he had lost
his fortune, and been reduced to comparative poverty, he found himself
for the first time filling a useful place in the world.

His new position required courtesy and a disposition to oblige, and he
was wise enough to see it. So he had improved in a marked manner under
the discipline of adversity, and no longer deserved the appellation once
given him of “Bully of the Village.”

So far as his situation went, Tom had nothing to complain of. Rather he
had reason to congratulate himself on his success. Coming to California,
wholly without friends or acquaintances, and with very slender means, he
had certainly been fortunate, and had deserved his good fortune. But he
did not forget that he came to San Francisco with a special mission, and
he had not as yet taken a single step toward fulfilling this mission.

He had promised Mr. Armstrong to look up the clerk who had absconded
with so large a sum of money, and precipitated his downfall. All that he
had done to redeem this promise was to watch the persons whom he met,
and notice their personal peculiarities, in the hope some day of
identifying Samuel Lincoln.

But as yet no one had been seen at all corresponding to the merchant’s
description.

“What more can I do? What more ought I to do?” thought Tom. “If I only
knew, I would do it. But it may be that this is really a wild-goose
chase. There seems as little chance of finding this man as of finding a
needle in a haymow.”

Tom was right. He had absolutely no clew by which to guide himself. He
would indeed know this man if he came across him, but what was the
chance of such a meeting? Surely, very little.

Tom begun to think he had been altogether too sanguine in the matter. He
had set about the quest with all a boy’s sanguine ardor, forgetting, or
rather leaving out of the account, the difficulties in the way. But
unable to tell what to do, he continued to stay on in Mr. Burton’s
employment, and in so doing he was unconsciously doing the very best
thing he could.

One day, about three months after he had entered upon his place, two
customers entered the shop, and expressed a desire to look at some
clothing.

The spokesman was a tall, thin man, of perhaps forty. From him Tom’s
glance wandered to his companion, and his heart suddenly gave a great
bound.

_He was rather short, stout, dark-complexioned, with a cast in his left
eye, and on the back of his left hand there was a scar._

Every point of his appearance tallied with the description of the
absconding clerk.