Open main menu

CHAPTER III.


a false identification.


"Gone!"

That was the single word which dropped from Earl's lips as he stood at the window of the telegraph office at Spruceville and hunted for the missing letter from his Uncle Foster. He cared nothing for the message,—that could easily be rewritten,—but the letter was highly important.

Not finding it about his person, he commenced to retrace his steps with his eyes on the ground. An hour was spent in this manner, and then he returned slowly to the office.

"I want to send a message to San Francisco, and I had a letter with me to show that it was all right," he explained.

"Will you send the message anyhow and collect at the other end? The man who is to receive the message wanted it sent that way."

The telegraph operator mused for a moment. Then he asked Earl who he was and where he lived, and finally said he guessed it would be all right. The message was again written out, and ten minutes later it was on its long journey westward, by way of Boston. The business finished, Earl thanked the operator and started on his return home.

He was very much out of sorts with himself, and wondered what his younger brother would think of him. "I needn't find fault with Randy for being careless after this," he sighed, almost bitterly. "I'm as bad as he is, and worse. One thing is a comfort, though: I remember the name of that Boston firm that is to provide us with our money—Bartwell & Stone. I had better make a note of that." And he did.

The evening shadows were beginning to fall when Basco was again reached. On the main street of the little town Earl halted to think matters over. Why wouldn't it be a good thing to let folks know that they wanted to sell out their household goods and their tools and other things? He made his way to the general store.

"Well, Portney, I heard you had been put off your place," was the greeting received from the general storekeeper.

"We have not been put off—we are going to leave it, Mr. Andrews."

"Oh! Where are you going?"

"To Alaska."

"Alaska? You must be joking."

"No, sir. My uncle, Foster Portney, has sent for Randy and me to come to San Francisco, and the three of us are going to some new gold fields."

"Well, what about my bill?" asked the storekeeper, anxiously. He was interested in but little outside of his business. "Of course that has got to be settled before you leave."

"We will pay up, never fear. But we want to sell off all our stuff first. Will you let me write out a notice to that effect and post it outside?"

"Yes, you can do that. Going to sell off, eh? What have you got?" Earl enumerated the various articles he and Randy had listed to sell. They were not of great value, and the storekeeper smiled grimly.

"They won't bring much."

"They ought to bring thirty or forty dollars."

"You'll be lucky to get ten."

"Ten dollars won't see us through. We have got to get enough to pay our bills and secure our passage down to Boston."

"And how much will that be?" questioned Peleg Andrews, cautiously. Earl made a rapid calculation. With the money already on hand and that owing for tools and groceries, twenty-five dollars ought to see them through.

"We must have thirty dollars for the stuff."

Peleg Andrews said no more, but turned away to wait on a customer that had just come in. Procuring sheets of paper. Earl set to work and penned two notices, both alike, stating that the goods and chattels of the Portney brothers would be sold within the next three days, to the highest bidders, and a list of the articles followed. One of the notices was tacked up in front of the store and the other in front of the hotel, and then Earl returned home.

As the big brother had expected. Randy was much put out about the loss of the letter, but he was glad that Earl had gone ahead, nevertheless, and before lie retired that night, he brought forth some of the articles to be sold, and mended and cleaned them up.

The two were eating breakfast when the first prospective buyer rode up in a farm wagon. It was a lumberman from over the ridge behind Basco, who was thinking of settling down to cabin life by himself. He made an offer of fifteen dollars for everything in sight, but Earl held out for forty dollars.

The man was about to drive away, when a second lumberman drove up, followed by Peleg Andrews in his store wagon. Both of the newcomers were eager to buy, although they affected indifference. Bidding became rather lively, and at last the goods were split up between the first comer and the storekeeper, the former paying thirty dollars and the latter twenty dollars for what they got. This made fifty dollars in all, and out of this amount Earl settled with Peleg Andrews on the spot.

It was while the men were loading the goods preparatory to taking them away, that Caleb Norcross appeared. He had expected to make a cheap purchase, and was keenly disappointed to find he was too late.

"Getting out, eh?" he ventured.

"Yes," answered Earl, briefly. "You can have your keys in a couple of hours. Here is your money."

"I ain't in any hurry," grumbled the landlord.

"Isn't Dan Roland going to take the property?" asked Randy, curiously.

"No, he backed out last night," answered Caleb Norcross, and to avoid being questioned further he moved away.

Fortunately for the two boys, there was an old trunk in the cabin, and also a small wooden box which could be made to hold clothing, and these they packed with such effects as they intended to take along. A bargain was struck with the man who had failed to purchase any of the other goods, and the two boxes were placed in his wagon, and then the lads were ready to leave the spot which had been their home for many years.

"Well, I'm sure I wish you success," said Peleg Andrews, as he shook each by the hand. "But it looks foolhardy to me—going away off to Alaska."

"You'll be glad enough to come back home, see if you don't," put in Caleb Norcross. He did not offer to shake hands, at which the boys were just as well satisfied. In a minute more the brothers were up beside the lumberman on the wagon seat, the whip cracked, and the horse started; and the long trip to Alaska could be said to have fairly begun.

A stop was made at Basco, where Earl settled up such bills as still remained unpaid, and then the horse set off on a trot for Spruceville, which was reached less than three-quarters of an hour later. At the latter place a way train for Bangor was due, and they had barely time to procure tickets and get their baggage checked before it came along and took them on board.

"We've made a flying start and no mistake," was Randy's comment, as he leaned back in the cushioned seat. "Two days ago we never dreamed of going to Alaska or anywhere else."

"I hope we haven't any cause to regret our hasty action," answered Earl, gravely. Then he immediately brightened up. "But we've started now, so let us make the most of it."

The ride over the rough roads had made them hungry, but they had to wait until Bangor was reached before they could obtain anything to eat. It was late in the evening when the train rolled into the station and they alighted. Both boys had been in Bangor several times, so they did not feel quite like strangers. Having obtained supper at a restaurant, they made their way to the river docks and asked concerning the boat for Boston, having decided to make that trip by water. The boat was in, and having procured their passage, they were privileged to go on board and sleep there overnight.

The trip to Boston was an uneventful one, although full of novelty to Earl and Randy, who had never taken such a voyage before. They might have enjoyed it still more had they not been so anxious concerning what was before them. Alas! little did they dream of all the grave perils the future held in store.

"We don't want to look too green," said Earl, when the steamboat was tying up at her wharf and the passengers were preparing to go ashore.

"Oh, I guess we'll pass in a crowd," said Randy, laughing. "All we want to look out for is that we are not robbed, or something like that."

Leaving their baggage on check, the two boys started from Foster's wharf up into the city. They had no idea where the firm of Bartwell & Stone were located, but Earl was certain they could easily be found by consulting a directory.

The elder brother was on the point of entering a large store in quest of the book mentioned when Randy pulled his arm and pointed down the street. "There goes a fire engine, Earl!" he cried. "Let's follow it. I should like to see how they manage a fire in a city."

Earl was willing, and away they went, easily keeping up with the engine, which had to proceed slowly through the crowded thoroughfare. The fire was in a paint and oil works, and burnt fiercely for over an hour before it was gotten under control. The boys lingered around, watching the movements of the firemen with keen interest, and it was two hours later before Earl caught Randy by the shoulder and hauled him out of the mob of people.

"Remember, we're bound for Alaska," he said. "We can't afford to stop at every sight on the way."

A few blocks further on a directory was found in a drug store and the address of Bartwell & Stone jotted down. They lost no further time in hunting up the firm of bankers and brokers, who occupied the ground floor of a substantial business structure.

"I am Earl Portney," explained Earl, to the clerk who asked them what they wanted. "This is my brother Randolph. Our uncle, Foster Portney, said he would send on some money for us from San Francisco. Has it arrived yet?"

"I'll see. Was it a telegraph order?"

"I suppose so."

The clerk disappeared into an inner apartment, to be gone several minutes. When he came out he was accompanied by a tall, sharp-eyed man in rusty black.

"These are not the young men who called for the money," said the man in rusty black. "There must be some mistake here."

"Were the other men identified, Mr. Stone?" questioned the clerk, while both Randy and Earl pricked up their ears.

"Oh, yes; a clerk from Johnston's restaurant identified them as Earl and Randolph Portney. Besides, they held the original letter which had been sent by their uncle, Foster Portney, from San Francisco."