Cast Upon the Breakers/Chapter XXX
At the end of a month Jefferson Pettigrew said: "I've been looking over the books, Rodney, and I find the business is better than I expected. How much did I agree to pay you?"
"A hundred and fifty dollars a month, but if you think that it is too much----"
"Too much? Why I am going to advance you to two hundred and fifty."
"You can't be in earnest, Mr. Pettigrew?"
"I am entirely so."
"That is at the rate of three thousand dollars a year!"
"Yes, but you are earning it."
"You know I am only a boy."
"That doesn't make any difference as long as you understand your business."
"I am very grateful to you, Mr. Pettigrew. My, I can save two hundred dollars a month."
"Do so, and I will find you a paying investment for the money."
"What would Jasper say to my luck?" thought Rodney.
Three months passed without any incident worth recording. One afternoon a tall man wearing a high hat and a Prince Albert coat with a paste diamond of large size in his shirt bosom entered the public room of the Miners' Rest and walking up to the bar prepared to register his name. As he stood with his pen in his hand Rodney recognized him not without amazement.
It was Louis Wheeler--the railroad thief, whom he had last seen in New York.
As for Wheeler he had not taken any notice of the young clerk, not suspecting that it was an old acquaintance who was familiar with his real character.
"Have you just arrived in Montana, Mr. Wheeler?" asked Rodney quietly.
As Rodney had not had an opportunity to examine his signature in the register Wheeler looked up in quiet surprise.
"Do you know me?" he asked.
"Yes; don't you know me?"
"I'll be blowed if it isn't the kid," ejaculated Wheeler.
"As I run this hotel, I don't care to be called a kid."
"All right Mr.----"
"Mr. Ropes, you are the most extraordinary boy I ever met."
"Who would have thought of your turning up as a Montana landlord."
"I wouldn't have thought of it myself four months ago. But what brings you out here?"
"Business," answered Wheeler in an important tone.
"Are you going to become a miner?"
"I may buy a mine if I find one to suit me."
"I am glad you seem to be prospering."
"Can you give me a good room?"
"Yes, but I must ask a week's advance payment."
"Twenty five dollars."
"All right. Here's the money."
Louis Wheeler pulled out a well filled wallet and handed over two ten dollar bills and a five.
"Is that satisfactory?" he asked.
"Quite so. You seem better provided with money than when I saw you last."
"True. I was then in temporary difficulty. But I made a good turn in stocks and I am on my feet again."
Rodney did not believe a word of this, but as long as Wheeler was able to pay his board he had no good excuse for refusing him accommodation.
"That rascal here!" exclaimed Jefferson, when Rodney informed him of Wheeler's arrival. "Well, thats beat all! What has brought him out here?"
"Business, he says."
"It may be the same kind of business that he had with me. He will bear watching."
"I agree with you, Mr. Pettigrew."
Louis Wheeler laid himself out to be social and agreeable, and made himself quite popular with the other boarders at the hotel. As Jefferson and Rodney said nothing about him, he was taken at his own valuation, and it was reported that he was a heavy capitalist from Chicago who had come to Montana to buy a mine. This theory received confirmation both from his speech and actions.
On the following day he went about in Oreville and examined the mines. He expressed his opinion freely in regard to what he saw, and priced one that was for sale at fifty thousand dollars.
"I like this mine," he said, "but I don't know enough about it to make an offer. If it comes up to my expectations I will try it."
"He must have been robbing a bank," observed Jefferson Pettigrew.
Nothing could exceed the cool assurance with which Wheeler greeted Jefferson and recalled their meeting in New York.
"You misjudged me then, Mr. Pettigrew," he said. "I believe upon my soul you looked upon me as an adventurer--a confidence man."
"You are not far from the truth, Mr. Wheeler," answered Jefferson bluntly.
"Well, I forgive you. Our acquaintance was brief and you judged from superficial impressions."
"Perhaps so, Mr. Wheeler. Have you ever been West before?"
"When you came to Oreville had you any idea that I was here?"
"No; if I had probably I should not have struck the town, as I knew that you didn't have a favorable opinion of me."
"I can't make out much of that fellow, Rodney," said Jefferson. "I can't understand his object in coming here."
"He says he wants to buy a mine."
"That's all a pretext. He hasn't money enough to buy a mine or a tenth part of it."
"He seems to have money."
"Yes; he may have a few hundred dollars, but mark my words, he hasn't the slightest intention of buying a mine."
"He has some object in view."
"No doubt! What it is is what I want to find out."
There was another way in which Louis Wheeler made himself popular among the miners of Oreville. He had a violin with him, and in the evening he seated himself on the veranda and played popular tunes.
He had only a smattering in the way of musical training, but the airs he played took better than classical music would have done. Even Jefferson Pettigrew enjoyed listening to "Home, Sweet Home" and "The Last Rose of Summer," while the miners were captivated by merry dance tunes, which served to enliven them after a long day's work at the mines.
One day there was a sensation. A man named John O'Donnell came down stairs from his room looking pale and agitated.
"Boys," he said, "I have been robbed."
Instantly all eyes were turned upon him.
"Of what have you been robbed, O'Donnell?" asked Jefferson.
"Of two hundred dollars in gold. I was going to send it home to my wife in Connecticut next week."
"When did you miss it?"
"Where did you keep it?"
"In a box under my bed."
"When do you think it was taken?"
"What makes you think so?"
"I am a sound sleeper, and last night you know was very dark. I awoke with a start, and seemed to hear footsteps. I looked towards the door, and saw a form gliding from the room."
"Why didn't you jump out of bed and seize the intruder whoever he was?"
"Because I was not sure but it was all a dream. I think now it was some thief who had just robbed me."
"I think so too. Could you make out anything of his appearance?"
"I could only see the outlines of his figure. He was a tall man. He must have taken the money from under my bed."
"Did any one know that you had money concealed there?"
"I don't think I ever mentioned it."
"It seems we have a thief among us," said Jefferson, and almost unconsciously his glance rested on Louis Wheeler who was seated near John O'Donnell, "what do you think, Mr. Wheeler?"
"I think you are right, Mr. Pettigrew."
"Have you any suggestion to make?" asked Jefferson. "Have you by chance lost anything?"
"Not that I am aware of."
"Is there any one else here who has been robbed?"
No one spoke.
"You asked me if I had any suggestions to make, Mr. Pettigrew," said Louis Wheeler after a pause. "I have.
"Our worthy friend Mr. O'Donnell has met with a serious loss. I move that we who are his friends make it up to him. Here is my contribution," and he laid a five dollar bill on the table.
It was a happy suggestion and proved popular. Every one present came forward, and tendered his contributions including Jefferson, who put down twenty five dollars.
Mr. Wheeler gathered up the notes and gold and sweeping them to his hat went forward and tendered them to John O'Donnell.
"Take this money, Mr. O'Donnell," he said. "It is the free will offering of your friends. I am sure I may say for them, as for myself, that it gives us all pleasure to help a comrade in trouble."
Louis Wheeler could have done nothing that would have so lifted him in the estimation of the miners.
"And now," he said, "as our friend is out of his trouble I will play you a few tunes on my violin, and will end the day happily."
"I can't make out that fellow, Rodney," said Jefferson when they were alone. "I believe he is the thief, but he has an immense amount of nerve."