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The Young Bank Messenger By Jr. Horatio Alger Characters: 7421

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

The tramp stood with his face glued to the pane, looking in at the boy. He could not quite understand what had taken place, but gathered that the old man was dead.

"So much the better!" he said. "It will make my task easier."

He had hoped to find both asleep, and decided to wait near the house till the boy went to bed. He had made many inquiries at the store of Joe Marks, and the answers to his questions led him to believe that old Peter had a large amount of money concealed in his cabin.

Now, Tom Burns was a penniless tramp, who had wandered from Chicago on a predatory trip, ready to take any property he could lay his hands on. The chance that presented itself here was unusually tempting to a man of his character.

Earlier in the evening he had reached the cabin, but thought it best to defer his plans until later, for Ernest was awake and stirring about the room.

The tramp withdrew to some distance from the cabin and lay down under a tree, where he was soon fast asleep. Curiously, it was the very oak tree under which Peter's little hoard was concealed, but this, of course, he did not know. Had he been aware that directly beneath him was a box containing a hundred dollars in gold he would have been electrified and full of joy.

Tom Burns in his long and varied career had many times slept in the open air, and he had no difficulty in falling asleep now. But asleep he took no note of time, and when he woke up it was much later than he intended. However, without delay he made his way to the cabin, and arrived just as Ernest discovered the death of the old man whom he had supposed to be his uncle.

What time it was the tramp did not know, for it was years since he had carried a watch; but as he stood with his face glued to the window-pane he heard a clock in the cabin striking the hour of three.

"Three o'clock," he ejaculated. "Well, I did have a nap!"

The boy was awake and he thought it best to wait a while.

"Why didn't I get here a little sooner?" he grumbled. "Then I could have ransacked the cabin without trouble. Probably the old man has been dead some time."

He watched to see what Ernest would do.

"He won't be such a fool as to sit up with the corpse," he muttered, a little apprehensively. "That wouldn't do no good."

Apparently Ernest was of this opinion, for after carefully covering up the inanimate body he lay down again on his own bed.

He did not fall asleep immediately, for the thought that he was in the presence of death naturally affected his imagination. But gradually his eyes closed, and his full, regular breathing gave notice that he was locked in slumber.

He had left the candle burning on the table. By the light which it afforded the tramp could watch him, and at the end of twenty minutes he felt satisfied that he could safely enter.

He lifted the window, and passed into the room noiselessly. He had one eye fixed on the sleeping boy, who might suddenly awake. He had taken off his shoes, and left them on the grass just under the window.

When Tom Burns found himself in the room, he made his way at once to the trunk, which his watchful eye had already discovered.

"That's where the old man keeps his gold, likely," he muttered. "I hope it isn't locked."

Usually the trunk would have been fastened, but the conversation which Ernest had had with old Peter so engrossed his mind as to make him less careful than usual. Tom Burns therefore had no difficulty in lifting the lid.

With eager fingers he explored the contents, and was not long in discovering the box which contained the two gold coins.

The discovery pleased and yet disappointed him.

"Only ten dollars!" he muttered. "There

ought to have been a pile of these yellow boys. Perhaps there are more somewhere."

Meanwhile he slipped the two coins into his vest pocket It was not much, but it was more than he had had in his possession for months.

He continued his search, but failed to discover any more money. He felt indignant. It seemed to him that he was badly used. That a miser should have but a paltry ten dollars in his trunk was very discreditable.

"He must have some more somewhere," Burns reflected.

It occurred to him that there might be hoards hidden under the floor, or in the immediate neighborhood of the cabin. But it was night, and there would be no profit in pursuing the search now.

"To-morrow," he reflected, "the boy will be off making preparations for buryin' the old man, and then I can make another visit."

He closed the lid of the trunk, and with a general glance to see if there was anything more worth taking, he rose to his feet and prepared to leave the room.

Just at this moment Ernest, who was probably dreaming of the old man, spoke in his sleep.

"Uncle Peter," he murmured.

The tramp stood still, apprehensive that Ernest would open his eyes and detect his presence. But the boy did not speak again.

"I had better get," soliloquized Burns.

He got out of the window quietly, but as the boy stirred again, he hurried away with out stopping to shut it.

When, a little after seven o'clock, Ernest woke up, the sun was streaming in at the open window, and the cool air entered with it.

"How came the window up?" thought Ernest, wondering. "I am sure I didn't leave it open last night."

There was nothing else to indicate that the cabin had been entered. But the more Ernest thought it over, the more convinced he was that there had been a visitor.

What could have been his motive?

With sudden suspicion, he went to the trunk and opened it. It was evident that things had been disturbed. His eyes sought out the box that contained the gold pieces. He opened it, and found that he had been robbed.

"Who could have done it?" he asked himself.

He could not think of any one. He was acquainted with every one in the little village, and he knew none that would be capable of theft. He never thought of the ill-looking tramp whom he had met in Joe Marks' store.

Ten dollars was a considerable loss to him, for he had estimated that it would defray the expenses of old Peter's interment. It was not so bad as it might have been, however, for the hundred dollars of which Peter had told him were still safe.

"When I get that I must be careful," he said to himself.

Though his rest had been disturbed, he felt ready to get up. There was work for him to do. He must arrange for the burial of the old man with whom he had lived so long, the only friend he felt he could claim.

Ernest rose, and after dressing himself, made a frugal breakfast. He looked sadly at Peter. Death was to him something new and strange, for he did not remember ever having seen a dead man before. He must get help, and with that object in view he went to the village, and sought the store of Joe Marks.

"What brings you out so early, my lad?" asked Joe.

"Matter enough, Joe. My uncle is dead."

He still called him uncle, though he knew now that Peter was no kin to him.

"Old Peter dead!" ejaculated Marks. "When did he die?"

"Some time during the night. I wish you'd help me, for I don't know what to do."

"So I will, boy. We'll stand by you, won't we, Luke?"

This was said as Luke Robbins entered the store.

"To be sure we will, Ernest. We all like you."

"Oh, I forgot to say," continued Ernest, "the cabin was entered last night, and some money taken."

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