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   Chapter 28 AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE TURNS UP.

The Young Bank Messenger By Jr. Horatio Alger Characters: 8213

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The journey to Sacramento was made, the goods selected, and in less than a week the new store was stocked. In the arrangement of goods Ernest took a zealous part. He had never served in a store, yet it seemed to come natural to him, and he felt more interest in it than in the work of mining.

After the store was in full working order Horace Ames left Ernest as sole manager, coming in only in the evening to look at the books, for Ernest, as far as possible, kept a record of every sale.

Storekeeping in those days and in that country was unusually profitable. Ernest made a little comparison between the cost of goods and the selling price, and arrived at the conclusion that the average profits were a hundred per cent. And still the miners were able to buy goods cheaper than when they sent to Sacramento for them.

At the end of the first week Ernest figured up the sales and found they aggregated two hundred dollars. His share of the profits amounted to a little over thirty dollars.

This was encouraging, being three times as much as he had ever realized in the same length of time from mining.

There was one embarrassment. There was no bank in the place where money could be deposited, and of course the chance of loss by robbery was much increased. However, his partner purchased a small safe, and this afforded some security.

One day a man entered the store, and purchased a pipe and tobacco. He was a stranger to Ernest, but there was something familiar in his look, yet he could not place him.

The newcomer looked about with considerable curiosity.

"You have quite a snug store here," he remarked.

"Yes."

"Does it belong to you?"

"I have an interest in it, but it belongs to Mr. Ames."

"Is he here much?"

"He usually comes in evenings, but he is interested in mining."

"You seem to have a good trade."

"What makes you think so?"

"You have a good stock. You would not keep so many goods unless you had a call for them."

"Have I ever seen you before?" asked Ernest abruptly, for the idea grew upon him that he and his new customer had met somewhere under peculiar circumstances.

"I don't know. I don't remember you," answered the customer, shrugging his shoulders. "I haven't been in California long. I suppose you were born here."

"No; very few of those now living in California were born here. I once lived in Iowa. Were you ever there?"

"Never," answered the customer. "I've been in Missouri, but never in Iowa."

"I have never been in that State. Are you going to stay here?"

"I don't know. It depends on whether I can make any money. I suppose you don't want to hire a clerk?"

"No."

Ernest said to himself that this man, with his shifty looks and suspicious appearance, would be about the last man he would think of engaging.

"Perhaps Mr. Ames would give you a chance to work some of his claims," he suggested.

"I will look about me a little before I apply to him," replied the customer.

"Did you come here alone?" he asked after a pause.

"No. A friend came with me--Luke Robbins."

The stranger started a little when Ernest pronounced this name, so that young Ray was led to inquire, "Do you know Luke?"

"How should I know him? Is he a young man?"

"No; he is probably about your age."

"I suppose he came with you from Nebraska?"

"Iowa."

"Oh, yes, Iowa. He isn't in the store, is he?"

"He is working for Mr. Ashton on one of his claims."

At this point a new customer came in, and the visitor, after a brief delay, left the store.

When Ernest had waited upon the new customer he look for the first visitor, but missed him.

"I wonder who he was," he reflected, puzzled. "I am sure that I have seen him before."

But think as he might, he could not trace him.

Yet with this man he had had a very exciting experience in Oak Forks, for it was no other than Tom Burns, the tramp who had entered his cabin during the night and robbed him, and later had attacked him when digging for Peter's hidden treasure. It had been only a few months since they had met, but Tom Burns, during t

hat time, had grown a thick beard, which had help to disguise him.

It is hardly necessary to explain how Burns had found his way out to Oreville. It was his business to tramp about the country, and it had struck him that in the land of gold he would have a chance to line his pockets with treasure which did not belong to him. So fortune had directed his steps to Oreville.

When he entered the store in which Ernest was employed, he immediately, and in some surprise, recognized the boy of Oak Forks. He was glad to find that Ernest did not recognize him, and he immediately began to consider in what way he could turn the circumstance to his own advantage.

"I wonder if the boy sleeps there," he said to himself. "If so, I will make him a visit to night. Probably the money he has taken in during the day will be in some drawer where I can get hold of it."

As he was leaving the store in the stealthy way habitual to him he met a man walking towards the place with a long and careless stride.

He started nervously, for this man was one whom he dreaded, and had reason to fear.

It was Luke Robbins, who, tired with working the claim, was going to the store to replenish his stock of tobacco.

Tom Burns pulled his soft hat down over his eyes and pushed swiftly on.

Luke Robbins halted a moment and looked at him. As in Ernest's case, he seemed to see something familiar in the appearance of the tramp. He realized, at all events, that he was a stranger in Oreville, for he knew every one in the mining settlement.

"Who are you, stranger? Have I seen you before?" asked Luke, hailing him.

Tom Burns did not dare to reply, for he feared that Luke might prove to have a better memory than Ernest. So he was passing on without a response, when Luke, who considered his conduct suspicious, demanded, in a peremptory tone, "Who are you? Do you live here?"

Tom Burns shrugged his shoulders, and said, disguising his voice, "Me no understand English, boss."

"What countryman are you?" asked Luke, suspiciously.

"Italian," answered Tom.

"Humph! You are the first Italian I have seen in Oreville."

"Si, signor," answered Tom, and this comprised all the Italian he knew.

"Well, I don't think you will find any inducement to stay."

"Si, signor," replied Burns, meekly.

Without another word Luke entered the store.

"Ernest," he said, "I am out of tobacco and must have a smoke. Give me half a pound."

"All right, Luke."

"I ran across an Italian just outside. He seemed to be leaving the store."

"An Italian?" queried Ernest, his tone betraying surprise.

"Yes. Wasn't he in here?"

"There was a man in here--a stranger, but I don't think he was an Italian."

"This man answered me in some Italian gibberish. He said he couldn't understand English."

"What was his appearance?"

Luke described him.

"It's the same man that was in here just now, but he could speak English as well as you or I."

"Did you have some conversation with him?"

"Yes. He looked familiar to me and I asked him who he was. He said he had come from Missouri. He was in search of work."

"You say he understood and spoke English?"

"Yes."

"Then I wonder what could be his game."

"Don't he look familiar to you?"

"Yes; there was something familiar about his appearance, but I couldn't place him."

"He asked me if I couldn't employ him in the store. I told him Mr. Ames might give him a chance at mining."

"Well?"

"He said he would look round a little before deciding."

"Did he buy anything?"

"Yes, tobacco."

"Did you mention my name?"

"Yes, and he looked uneasy."

"Ernest," said Luke Robbins, with a sudden inspiration, "I know the man."

"Who is it?"

"Don't you recall any man at Oak Forks with whom you had trouble?"

"Tom Burns?"

"Yes. That's the man."

"Why didn't we recognize him then?"

"Because he has grown a full beard."

"That's so, Luke. I understand now why he looked so familiar. I am sorry to see him here."

"He'd better not undertake any of his rascalities or he will find himself in hot water."

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