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   Chapter 30 A BURGLAR'S FAILURE.

The Young Bank Messenger By Jr. Horatio Alger Characters: 8929

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


If Tom Burns had been more prudent he would have made good his escape with the money and gold watch he had already secured. But he was too greedy for gain.

He pictured to himself the store with its goodly stock of money taken in during the day, and he felt an irresistible craving for it. There might be one or two hundred dollars, and no one in charge but a boy whom he could easily overpower.

Apart from the pecuniary gain he felt that he should enjoy getting the best of Ernest, who had already foiled him at Oak Forks.

"This time he will come out second best," chuckled Burns to himself.

Then he laughed when he remembered how his appearance had puzzled Ernest.

"It was a good idea, growin' a beard," he said to himself. "Seems to have disguised me pretty well. The boy thought he had seen me before, but he couldn't make out where. The next time he'll know me, I reckon.

"I must keep out of the way till night," he said to himself. "It won't do for me to be seen prowlin' round the settlement."

He retired a mile or two among the hills, and waited impatiently for night to come.

"It is lucky that the old man gave me a meal," he reflected, "otherwise I should be about starved. I wonder if that watch is worth much."

He examined the watch, and decided that its value was probably not far from a hundred dollars. In fact the old man had bought it in St. Louis, and had selected a high-priced article.

It did occur to Burns that perhaps he had better remain satisfied with what he had got, for the watch would probably bring him fifty dollars at a sacrifice sale; but the temptation to stay was too strong.

"It would be a sin to give up such a fine chance," he reflected. "There's next to no risk, and I may get two hundred dollars."

Then he began to consider what he would do in that case. He decided that he would go to San Francisco, and see what pickings he could find there.

He had already found out that mining men and others in the far West were more careless about their money than those in the East, probably because money came easier.

"I did well when I came out here," he said to himself in a tone of congratulation. "I'll make hay while the sun shines."

Meanwhile, though he did not know it, his visit was expected, and preparations were being made to receive him.

After supper Luke Robbins came to the store, and held a conference with Ernest.

"I am going to pass the night with you, lad," he said.

"I wish you would, Luke."

"I want to help you do the honors to my old friend Burns."

"Perhaps he won't call."

"If he knows what's best for himself he won't, but he will be like the foolish moth, and won't be contented till he has singed his wings. I will look about me and see where to bestow myself for the night."

Ernest occupied a bed in the rear of the store, just behind one of the counters. It was near a window in the rear of the building.

"I'll take that bed, Ernest, and you can find another place."

"Shall I fasten the window?"

"No. I am going to make it easy for my friend Burns to get in. Whether he will find it as easy to get out will be another matter."

Nothing was said to the miners about the presence of a thief in the settlement. At that time there was no toleration for thieves. The punishment visited upon them was short, sharp, and decisive. The judge most in favor was Judge Lynch, and woe be to the offender who ventured to interfere with the rights of property.

Had Luke breathed a word about Burns, half a dozen miners would have volunteered to stand guard, and would thus have interfered with Tom Burns' visit.

"I want to keep all the fun to myself, Ernest," said Luke. "We'll give him a lesson he won't soon forget. If I told the boys, they'd hang him up in short order. I don't want to take the fellow's life, but I'll give him a first-class scare."

It was about ten minutes of twelve when Tom Burns, leaving his place of concealment, walked with eager steps towards the mining settlement. The one street was not illuminated, for Oreville had not got along as far as that. The moon gave an indistinct light, relieving the night of a part of its gloom.

Burns looked from one cabin to another with a wistful glance.

"I suppose some of these miners have got a lot of gold dust hidden away in their shanties," he said to himself. "I wish I knew where I could light on some of their treasure. If I only knew which cabin to choose!"

But then it occurred to him that every miner was probably armed, and would make it dangerous to any intruder.

So Tom Burns kept on his way. He was troubled by no conscientious scruples. He had got beyond that long ago. Sometimes it did occur to him to wonder how it would seem to settle down as a man of respectability and influence, taking a prominent part in the affairs of town and church.

"It might have been," he muttered. "My father was a man of that sort. Why not I? If I hadn't gone wrong in my early days, if I had not been tempted of the devil to rob the storekeeper for whom I worked, and so made myself an outcast and a pariah, who knows but I might have been at this moment Thomas Burns, Esq., of some municipality, instead of Tom Burns the tramp. However, it is foolish to speculate about this. I am what I am, and there is little chance of my being anything else."

So he dismissed the past, and recalled the work he had set for himself. Everything was still. In the mining village probably there was not a person awake. It was like a dead town. Everything seemed favorable to his designs.

There was the store. He could see it already. And now there was nothing to do but to get in and take the money, which he had no doubt was waiting ready to his hand.

Perhaps he might be fortunate enough to secure it without waking the boy. He hoped so, at any rate, for he was not a desperate or cruel man. He did not wish to injure Ernest unless it should be absolutely necessary. If he could get along without it, so much the better.

Arriving at his destination, he paused to reconsider.

He did not expect to enter by the front door. He did not as yet know whether there was any other. But at any rate there must be a window somewhere, and he preferred to get in that way.

He walked around to the rear of the store, and there he discovered the window. He had been afraid it might be blockaded with shelves, which would make entrance difficult, but fortunately this did not appear to be the case. He stood at the window and looked in.

"He stood at the window and looked in."

The faint moonlight did not enable him to penetrate the interior very far, but he could make out something. There were goods of various kinds scattered about, and he could just see a recumbent figure on a bed near the counter.

"That's the boy," he said to himself. "I wonder if he is asleep."

There did not seem to be any doubt on this point.

But for the indistinct light, Tom Burns might have thought the outstretched figure rather large for a boy. But he only glanced at it furtively.

The next thing to consider was whether the window was fastened. In that case he would have some difficulty, though for this he was prepared, having an instrument with which he could cut a pane of glass, and, thrusting in his hand, unfasten the catch.

But through some strange inadvertence, apparently, the window was not locked, and much to his relief he had no difficulty in lifting it. In this way he made his entrance into the store.

He was as careful as possible, fearing lest he might stumble over some article, and by the noise betray his presence.

What if there was a dog inside? This thought brought alarm to the burglar. In that case his visit would probably be a failure. He remembered, however, with a feeling of relief, that he had seen no dog about during his visit to the store.

Now that he had passed through the window, and was fairly in the store, he looked round for the money-drawer. He had not seen the safe, or probably he might not have entered the store at all, for he was not expert in breaking open safes, and at any rate it would be a matter of time and difficulty. So he was looking about, when, as he passed by the bed, he felt himself seized by the leg. Evidently the sleeper had awakened and discovered his presence.

Burns got down on his knees and grasped the recumbent by the throat.

"Lie still, or I'll choke you!" he said, fiercely.

But as he spoke he felt the rough beard of a man, and with dismay he realized that he had tackled a more formidable foe than the boy for whom he was prepared.

He then felt himself seized with an iron grasp.

[Illustration: "HE STOOD AT THE WINDOW AND LOOKED IN."]

"I've got you, you rascally burglar!" were the words he heard, and gave himself up for lost.

"Who are you?" he asked faintly.

"I am Luke Robbins, and I know you of old. You are Tom Burns!"

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