Cast Upon the Breakers/Chapter XXXII
Rodney had reason to be satisfied with his position as landlord of the Miners' Rest. His pay was large, and enabled him to put away a good sum every month, but his hours were long and he was too closely confined for a boy of his age. At the end of three months he showed this in his appearance. His good friend Pettigrew saw it and said one day, "Rodney, you are looking fagged out. You need a change."
"Does that mean that you are going to discharge me?" asked Rodney, with a smile.
"It means that I am going to give you a vacation."
"But what can I do if I take a vacation? I should not like lounging around Oreville with nothing to do."
"Such a vacation would do you no good. I'll tell you the plan I have for you. I own a small mine in Babcock, about fifty miles north of Oreville. I will send you up to examine it, and make a report to me. Can you ride on horseback?"
"That is well, for you will have to make your trip in that way. There are no railroads in that direction, nor any other way of travel except on foot or on horseback. A long ride like that with hours daily in the open air, will do you good.
What do you say to it?"
"I should like nothing better," replied Rodney, with his eyes sparkling. "Only, how will you get along without me?"
"I have a man in my employ at the mines who will do part of your work, and I will have a general oversight of things. So you need not borrow any trouble on that account. Do you think you can find your way?"
"Give me the general direction, and I will guarantee to do so. When shall I start?"
"Day after tomorrow. That will give me one day for making arrangements."
At nine the appointed morning Mr. Pettigrew's own horse stood saddled at the door, and Rodney in traveling costume with a small satchel in his hand, mounted and rode away, waving a smiling farewell to his friend and employer.
Rodney did not hurry, and so consumed two days and a half in reaching Babcock. Here he was cordially received by the superintendent whom Jefferson Pettigrew had placed in charge of the mine. Every facility was afforded him to examine into the management of things and he found all satisfactory.
This part of his journey, therefore, may be passed over. But his return trip was destined to be more exciting.
Riding at an easy jog Rodney had got within fifteen miles of Oreville, when there was an unexpected interruption. Two men started out from the roadside, or rather from one side of the bridle path for there was no road, and advanced to meet him with drawn revolvers.
"Halt there!" one of them exclaimed in a commanding tone.
Rodney drew bridle, and gazed at the two men in surprise.
"What do you want of me?" he asked.
"Why should I? What right have you to interfere with my journey?"
"Might gives right," said one of the men sententiously. "It will be best for you to do as we bid you without too much back talk."
"What are you--highwaymen?" asked Rodney.
"You'd better not talk too much. Get off that horse!"
Rodney saw that remonstrance was useless, and obeyed the order.
One of the men seized the horse by the bridle, and led him.
"Walk in front!" he said.
"Where are you going to take me?" asked Rodney.
"You will know in due time."
"I hope you will let me go," urged Rodney, beginning to be uneasy. "I am expected home this evening, or at all event I want to get there."
"No doubt you do, but the Miners' Rest will have to get along without you for a while."
"Do you know me then?"
"Yes; you are the boy clerk at the Miners' Rest."
"You both put up there about two weeks since," said Rodney, examining closely the faces of the two men.
"Right you are, kid!"
"What can you possibly want of me?"
"Don't be too curious. You will know in good time."
Rodney remembered that the two men had remained at the hotel for a day and night. They spent the day in wandering around Oreville.
He had supposed when they came that they were in search of employment, but they had not applied for work and only seemed actuated by curiosity. What could be their object in stopping him now he could not understand.
It would have been natural to suppose they wanted money, but they had not asked for any as yet. He had about fifty dollars in his pocketbook and he would gladly have given them this if it would have insured his release. But not a word had been said about money.
They kept on their journey. Montana is a mountainous State, and they were now in the hilly regions. They kept on for perhaps half an hour, gradually getting upon higher ground, until they reached a precipitous hill composed largely of rock.
Here the two men stopped as if they had reached their journey's end.
One of them advanced to the side of the hill and unlocked a thick wooden door which at first had failed to attract Rodney's attention. The door swung open, revealing a dark passage, cut partly through stone and partly through earth. Inside on the floor was a bell of good size.
One of the men lifted the bell and rang it loudly.
"What does that mean?" thought Rodney, who felt more curious than apprehensive.
He soon learned.
A curious looking negro, stunted in growth, for he was no taller than a boy of ten, came out from the interior and stood at the entrance of the cave, if such it was. His face was large and hideous, there was a hump on his back, and his legs were not a match, one being shorter than the other, so that as he walked, his motion was a curious one. He bent a scrutinizing glance on Rodney.
"Well, Caesar, is dinner ready?" asked one of the men.
"No, massa, not yet."
"Let it be ready then as soon as possible. But first lead the way. We are coming in."
He started ahead, leading the horse, for the entrance was high enough to admit the passage of the animal.
"Push on!" said the other, signing to Rodney to precede him.
Rodney did so, knowing remonstrance to be useless. His curiosity was excited. He wondered how long the passage was and whither it led.
The way was dark, but here and there in niches was a kerosene lamp that faintly relieved the otherwise intense blackness.
"I have read about such places," thought Rodney, "but I never expected to get into one. The wonder is, that they should bring me here. I can't understand their object."
Rodney followed his guide for perhaps two hundred and fifty feet when they emerged into a large chamber of irregular shape, lighted by four large lamps set on a square wooden table. There were two rude cots in one corner, and it was here apparently that his guides made their home.
There was a large cooking stove in one part of the room, and an appetizing odor showed that Caesar had the dinner under way.
Rodney looked about him in curiosity. He could not decide whether the cave was natural or artificial. Probably it was a natural cave which had been enlarged by the hand of man.
"Now hurry up the dinner, Caesar," said one of the guides. "We are all hungry."
"Yes, massa," responded the obedient black.
Rodney felt hungry also, and hoped that he would have a share of the dinner. Later he trusted to find out the object of his new acquaintances in kidnaping him.
Dinner was soon ready. It was simple, but Rodney thoroughly enjoyed it.
During the meal silence prevailed. After it his new acquaintances produced pipes and began to smoke. They offered Rodney a cigarette, but he declined it.
"I don't smoke," he said.
"Are you a Sunday school kid?" asked one in a sneering tone.
"Well, perhaps so."
"How long have you lived at Oreville?"
"About four months."
"Who is the head of the settlement there?"
"He is the moneyed man, is he?"
"Is he a friend of yours?"
"He is my best friend," answered Rodney warmly.
"He thinks a good deal of you, then?"
"I think he does."
"Where have you been--on a journey?"
"Yes, to the town of Babcock."
"Did he send you?"
"What interest has he there?"
"He is chief owner of a mine there."
"Humph! I suppose you would like to know why we brought you here."
"I would very much."
"We propose to hold you for ransom."
"But why should you? I am only a poor boy."
"You are the friend of Jefferson Pettigrew. He is a rich man. If he wants you back he must pay a round sum."
It was all out now! These men were emulating a class of outlaws to be found in large numbers in Italy and Sicily, and were trading upon human sympathy and levying a tax upon human friendship.