Cast Upon the Breakers/Chapter IV
"Were the contents of the casket valuable?" asked the land agent.
"Yes; it contained my mother's jewels, all the more valuable because she is dead," replied Rodney.
"Were they of much intrinsic worth?"
"They must be worth several hundred dollars at least."
"Then they must be found," said Adin Woods energetically. "They have evidently been taken by some passenger during the five minutes we were away from our seat."
"Were you inquiring about the casket?" asked a lady sitting opposite.
"Yes, madam. Can you give any information about it?"
"Just after you left your seat the man that sat behind you rose and reaching over for it went to the rear end of the car and got out,"
"I wish you had stopped him, madam."
"He was so cool about it that I thought he might be a friend of the young gentleman."
"I didn't know him. He must have been a thief."
"What was his appearance, madam?" asked the lot agent.
"He was a thin, dark complexioned man, with side whiskers coming half way down his cheeks."
"And you say he got out of the rear end of the car?"
"He won't get on the train again," said the agent turning to Rodney. "He thinks the casket valuable enough to pay him for the interruption of his journey."
"What shall I do then?" asked Rodney, feeling helpless and at a loss which way to turn.
"Follow him," said the agent briefly. "He will probably stop over in the village a day and resume his joumey tomorrow."
"Even if I found him I am afraid I shouldn't know how to deal with him."
"Then I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll stop over with you and help you make it hot for him. I've had a spite against thieves ever since I had a valuable overcoat stolen in one of my journeys."
"I shall feel very much obliged to you, Mr. Woods, but won't it interfere with your business?"
"Not materially. If we succeed in overhauling the rascal I shall feel sufficiently repaid for the small interruption. But come on, we can't afford to linger here while he is carrying off the plunder."
"I don't know how I can repay you, Mr. Woods," said Rodney gratefully.
"You can buy a lot of me when you get rich enough."
"I will certainly do so, though I am afraid it will be a long time first."
"You don't know what good fortune may be in store for you. Did you notice, madam, in which direction the thief went?"
"Yes, I was looking out of the window. He went over the road to the left."
"That leads to the village. You will see, Mr. Ropes, that I was right about his plans."
"Don't call me Mr. Ropes. Call me Rodney."
"I will. It don't seem natural to dub a boy Mr. Now, Rodney, follow me."
The two passengers set out on the road that led to the village. They could see the latter easily, for it was not more than a mile away.
"He will be surprised to think we have `struck his trail' so quick," said the agent.
"Where shall we go first?"
"To the hotel if there is one."
"The village seems small."
"Yes, there are only a few hundred inhabitant probably. It is not a place where a traveler would be likely to interrupt his journey unless he had a special object in doing so, like our dishonest friend. However, I think we shall be able to balk his little game."
Ten minutes' walk brought them to the village. Looking about they saw a small hotel just across the way from a neat white chapel.
"Follow me," said the agent.
They went into the public room in which there was a small office.
The book of arrivals was open, and Adin Woods went forward and examined it. Silently he pointed to a name evidently just written, for the ink was scarcely dry. This was the name: Louis Wheeler, Philadelphia.
"This may or may not be his real name," said Mr. Woods in a low voice.
"Do you wish to register, gentlemen?" asked the clerk.
"We will take dinner, and if we decide to stay will register later. By the way, I recognize this name, but it may not be the man I suppose."
"Yes, the gentleman just registered."
"Would you mind describing him?"
"He was a tall, dark man as near as I can remember."
"And he carried a small casket in his hand?"
"Yes, and a gripsack."
"Oh yes," said the agent his face lighting up with satisfaction. "It is the man I mean--where is he now?"
"In his room."
"Did he say how long he intended to stay?"
"No, sir. He said nothing about his plans."
"Did he seem specially careful about the casket?"
"Yes, sir. He carried that in his hands, but let the servant carry up the gripsack."
"My friend," said the agent in an impressive tone, "I am going to surprise you."
The country clerk looked all curiosity.
"Is it about Mr. Wheeler?" he asked.
"Yes, the man is a thief. He stole the casket, which contains valuable jewelry, from my young friend here. We are here to demand a return of the property or to arrest him. Is there a policeman within call?"
"I can summon a constable."
"Do so, but don't breathe a word of what I have told you."
The clerk called a boy in from the street and gave him instructions in a low voice. He went at once on his errand, and in ten minutes a stout broad shouldered man made his appearance.
"This gentleman sent for you, Mr. Barlow," said the clerk.
"What can I do for you?" asked the constable.
"Help me to recover stolen property."
"That I will do with pleasure if you will tell me what you want me to do."
Adin Woods held a brief conference with the constable, then he led the way up stairs, followed immediately by Rodney, while the constable kept a little behind.
"His room is No. 9," said the bell boy.
The agent paused before the door of No. 9, and knocked.
"Come in!" said a voice.
The agent opened the door, and entered, accompanied by Rodney. A glance showed that the occupant answered the description given by the lady in the car.
Louis Wheeler changed color, for he recognized both the agent and Rodney.
"What is your business?" he asked in a tone which he tried to make indifferent.
"That" answered Woods, pointing to the jewel casket on the bureau.
It looked to him as if Wheeler, if that was his name, had been trying to open it.
"I don't understand."
"Then I will try to make things clear to you. You have, doubtless by accident" he emphasized the last word, "taken from the car a casket belonging to my young friend here."
"You are mistaken, sir," said Wheeler with brazen hardihood. "That casket belongs to me."
"Indeed. What does it contain?"
"I fail to see how that is any of your business," returned Wheeler, determined, if possible, to bluff off his visitors.
"I admire your cheek, sir. I really do. But I am too old a traveler to be taken in by such tricks. I propose to have that casket."
"Well, sir, you are the most impudent thief and burglar I ever met. You break into a gentleman's room, and undertake to carry off his private property. Unless you go out at once, I will have you arrested."
"That you can do very readily, for I have an officer within call."
Louis Wheeler changed color. He began to see that the situation was getting serious.
"There is a great mistake here," he said.
"I agree with you."
The agent went to the door, and called "Constable Barlow."
The constable promptly presented himself.
"Do you want me, sir?" he asked.
"That depends on this gentleman here. If he will peacefully restore to my young friend here yonder jewel casket I am willing to let him go. Otherwise--" and he glanced at Wheeler significantly.
"Perhaps I have made a mistake," admitted the thief. "I had a casket exactly like this. Possibly I have taken the wrong one."
"I have the key to the casket here," said Rodney, "and I can tell you without opening it what it contains."
"What did yours contain?" asked the agent.
"Jewelry," answered Wheeler shortly.
"Never mind. I am inclined to think this casket belongs to the boy."
"Rodney, you can take it and Mr. Wheeler will probably find his where he left it."
No objection was made, and the discomfited thief was left a prey to mortification and disappointment.
Rodney handed a dollar to the constable which that worthy official received with thanks, and he and the agent resumed their journey by an afternoon train. They saw nothing further of Louis Wheeler who sent for dinner to be served in his room.