Cast Upon the Breakers/Chapter XXIII
Louis Wheeler had not seen Rodney in the hotel office, and probably would not have recognized him if he had, as Rodney was quite differently dressed from the time of their first meeting. He had no reason to suppose, therefore, that Mr. Pettigrew had been enlightened as to his real character.
It was therefore with his usual confidence that he accosted his acquaintance from Montana after supper.
"It is time to go to the theater, Mr. Pettigrew," he said.
Jefferson Pettigrew scanned his new acquaintance with interest. He had never before met a man of his type and he looked upon him as a curiosity.
He was shrewd, however, and did not propose to let Wheeler know that he understood his character. He resolved for the present to play the part of the bluff and unsuspecting country visitor.
"You are very kind, Mr. Wheeler," he said, "to take so much trouble for a stranger."
"My dear sir," said Wheeler effusively, "I wouldn't do it for many persons, but I have taken a fancy to you."
"You don't mean so?" said Pettigrew, appearing pleased?
"Yes, I do, on my honor."
"But I don't see why you should. You are a polished city gentleman and I am an ignorant miner from Montana."
Louis Wheeler looked complacent when he was referred to as a polished city gentleman.
"You do yourself injustice, my dear Pettigrew," he said in a patronizing manner. "You do indeed. You may not be polished, but you are certainly smart, as you have shown by accumulating a fortune."
"But I am not as rich as you."
"Perhaps not, but if I should lose my money, I could not make another fortune, while I am sure you could. Don't you think it would be a good plan for us to start a business together in New York?"
"Would you really be willing to go into business with me?"
Jefferson Pettigrew asked this question with so much apparent sincerity that Wheeler was completely deceived.
"I've got him dead!" he soliloquized complacently.
He hooked his arm affectionately in the Montana miner's and said, "My dear friend, I have never met a man with whom I would rather be associated in business than with you. How much capital could you contribute?"
"I will think it over, Mr. Wheeler. By the way what business do you propose that we shall go into?"
"I will think it over and report to you."
By this time they had reached the theater. The play soon commenced. Mr. Pettigrew enjoyed it highly, for he had not had much opportunity at the West of attending a high class theatrical performance.
When the play ended, Louis Wheeler said, "Suppose we go to Delmonico's and have a little refreshment."
They adjourned to the well known restaurant, and Mr. Pettigrew ordered an ice and some cakes, but his companion made a hearty supper. When the bill came, Louis Wheeler let it lie on the table, but Mr. Pettigrew did not appear to see it.
"I wonder if he expects me to pay for it," Wheeler asked himself anxiously.
"Thank you for this pleasant little supper," said Pettigrew mischievously. "Delmonico's is certainly a fine place."
Wheeler changed color. He glanced at the check. It was for two dollars and seventy five cents, and this represented a larger sum than he possessed.
He took the check and led the way to the cashier's desk. Then he examined his pockets.
"By Jove," he said, "I left my wallet in my other coat. May I borrow five dollars till tomorrow?"
Jefferson Pettigrew eyed him shrewdly. "Never mind," he said, "I will pay the check."
"I am very much ashamed of having put you to this expense."
"If that is all you have to be ashamed of Mr. Wheeler," said the miner pointedly, "you can rest easy."
"What do you mean?" stammered Wheeler.
"Wait till we get into the street, and I will tell you."
They went out at the Broadway entrance, and then Mr. Pettigrew turned to his new acquaintance.
"I think I will bid you good night and good by at the same time, Mr. Wheeler," he said.
"My dear sir, I hoped you won't misjudge me on account of my unfortunately leaving my money at home."
"I only wish to tell you that I have not been taken in by your plausible statement, Mr. Wheeler, if that is really your name. Before we started for the theater I had gauged you and taken your measure."
"Sir, I hope you don't mean to insult me!" blustered Wheeler.
"Not at all. You have been mistaken in me, but I am not mistaken in you. I judge you to be a gentlemanly adventurer, ready to take advantage of any who have money and are foolish enough to be gulled by your tricks. You are welcome to the profit you made out of the theater tickets, also to the little supper to which you have done so much justice. I must request you, now, however, to devote yourself to some one else, as I do not care to meet you again."
Louis Wheeler slunk away, deciding that he had made a great mistake in setting down his Montana acquaintance as an easy victim.
"I didn't think he'd get on to my little game so quick," he reflected. "He's sharper than he looks,"
Rodney took breakfast with Mr. Pettigrew the next morning. When breakfast was over, the Montana man said:
"I'm going to make a proposal to you, Rodney. How much pay did you get at your last place?"
"Seven dollars a week."
"I'll pay you that and give you your meals. In return I want you to keep me company and go about with me."
"I shall not be apt to refuse such an offer as that, Mr. Pettigrew, but are you sure you prefer me to Mr. Wheeler?" laughed Rodney.
"Wheeler be--blessed!" returned the miner.
"How long are you going to stay in New York?"
"About two weeks. Then I shall go back to Montana and take you with me."
"Thank you. There is nothing I should like better."
Two days later, as the two were walking along Broadway, they met Mr. Wheeler. The latter instantly recognized his friend from Montana, and scrutinized closely his young companion.
Rodney's face looked strangely familiar to him, but somehow he could not recollect when or under what circumstances he had met him. He did not, however, like to give up his intended victim, but had the effrontery to address the man from Montana.
"I hope you are well, Mr. Pettigrew."
"Thank you, I am very well."
"I hope you are enjoying yourself. I should be glad to show you the sights. Have you been to Grants Tomb?"
"I should like to take you there."
"Thank you, but I have a competent guide."
"Won't you introduce me to the young gentleman?"
"I don't require any introduction to you, Mr. Wheeler," said Rodney.
"Where have I met you before?" asked Wheeler abruptly.
"In the cars. I had a box of jewelry with me," answered Rodney significantly.
Louis Wheeler changed color. Now he remembered Rodney, and he was satisfied that he owed to him the coolness with which the Western man had treated him.
"I remember you had," he said spitefully, "but I don't know how you came by it."
"It isn't necessary that you should know. I remember I had considerable difficulty in getting it out of your hands."
"Mr. Pettigrew," said Wheeler angrily, "I feel interested in you, and I want to warn you against the boy who is with you. He is a dangerous companion."
"I dare say you are right," said Pettigrew in a quizzical tone. "I shall look after him sharply, and I thank you for your kind and considerate warning. I don't care to take up any more of your valuable time. Rodney, let us be going."
"It must have been the kid that exposed me," muttered Wheeler, as he watched the two go down the street. "I will get even with him some time. That man would have been good for a thousand dollars to me if I had not been interfered with."
"You have been warned against me, Mr. Pettigrew," said Rodney, laughing. "Mr. Wheeler has really been very unkind in interfering with my plans."
"I shan't borrow any trouble, or lie awake nights thinking about it, Rodney. I don't care to see or think of that rascal again."
The week passed, and the arrangement between Mr. Pettigrew and Rodney continued to their mutual satisfaction. One morning, when Rodney came to the Continental as usual, his new friend said: "I received a letter last evening from my old home in Vermont."
"I hope it contained good news."
"On the contrary it contained bad news. My parents are dead, but I have an old uncle and aunt living. When I left Burton he was comfortably fixed, with a small farm of his own, and two thousand dollars in bank. Now I hear that he is in trouble. He has lost money, and a knavish neighbor has threatened to foreclose a mortgage on the farm and turn out the old people to die or go to the poorhouse."
"Is the mortgage a large one?"
"It is much less than the value of the farm, but ready money is scarce in the town, and that old Sheldon calculates upon. Now I think of going to Burton to look up the matter."
"You must save your uncle, if you can, Mr. Pettigrew."
"I can and I will. I shall start for Boston this afternoon by the Fall River boat and I want you to go with me."
"I should enjoy the journey, Mr. Pettigrew."
"Then it is settled. Go home and pack your gripsack. You may be gone three or four days."