AT NIAGARA FALLS

Robert Rudd had been in New York more than once, and he therefore had
no difficulty in finding out the fine hotel on Broadway known as the
St. Nicholas.

He entered it, and, walking up to the desk, inquired, “Is Mr. John
Fitzgerald staying here?”

“Yes,” answered the clerk. “Do you wish to see him?”

“If you please.”

“Then write your name on a card and I will send it up.”

Robert did so.

“See if No. 35 is in,” said the clerk, calling a hall boy, and handing
him the card.

In five minutes the hall boy came back, saying: “Mr. Fitzgerald wants
the young gentleman to come up.”

Robert followed him to a room on the third floor and knocked at the
door.

“Come in,” was heard from the interior.

On entering Robert looked with some curiosity at the solitary occupant
of the room, who was to be his future employer. He saw a tall,
dark-complexioned man neatly dressed in a suit which appeared to be
new, since it had not lost its first gloss.

Fitzgerald, for it was he, rose promptly, and advanced to meet Robert
with an air of great cordiality.

“I am glad to see you, Mr. Rudd,” he said, extending his hand. “You
were perhaps surprised to receive my letter.”

“I was still more pleased,” answered Robert, politely.

“I am glad to hear it, since it gives me the assurance that you regard
my offer favorably.”

“Yes sir, I could not well do otherwise. It is of a tempting character.
I am only surprised that you should make me such an offer, knowing so
little of me.”

“Perhaps I know more of you than you imagine,” said Fitzgerald to
himself, with a peculiar look which, however, Robert did not notice.

“I judge of persons quickly!” he said aloud, “and when first I saw you
in the ring it occurred to me that you were just the young person I
should like to have travel with me. Of course, I didn’t dream then that
there was any possibility of my securing you, for I was not prepared to
pay a sum as large as you were doubtless paid at the circus. However,
when you were injured by the dastardly trick of some scoundrel, and I
subsequently learned that you would be unable to ride for the remainder
of the season, it occurred to me that perhaps you would accept my
proposal.”

“I am very glad to do so, and I am very much obliged to you for giving
me such a chance. Do you think I can fulfil the duties of the post?”

“Oh, I should think so. Favor me by writing a line or two from this
newspaper. I wish to judge of your handwriting.”

There were writing materials on the table, and Robert complied with the
request.

Though not a handsome writer, he wrote a plain and legible hand, and
with considerable readiness.

Fitzgerald scanned it hastily, and said, “Oh, that will suit me very
well.”

“Do you think I shall be competent to do all you desire?”

“I feel sure of it. You have travelled considerably, I presume?”

“Yes, with the circus.”

“Precisely. Then you know something about hotels, trains, etc. A boy
who had always lived at home would not suit me so well. Where is your
luggage?”

“I have only a gripsack—I mean valise—with me.”

“That is better. Travellers should not be encumbered with too much
baggage. It is a great nuisance. Where is it?”

“I left it below.”

“You can bring it up to my room. I won’t hire a room for you, for I
intend to start this very night for the West by a night train from the
Grand Central depot. That won’t be too sudden for you, will it?”

“O no, sir; I am entirely at your service. I have nothing to detain me
in New York.”

“Go down and get your valise and bring it up here, and I will give you
my instructions.”

“The boy has walked into the trap,” said Fitzgerald, thoughtfully,
when Robert left him. “He is a fine boy, and seems a thorough little
gentleman in spite of the way in which he has been brought up. It is a
pity to harm him, but my interests and that scoundrel Hugo’s require
it.”

Robert and his new employer started the same morning on their western
trip. From the first Robert was haunted by the thought that he had seen
Fitzgerald somewhere before. The man’s features looked familiar to him,
but he had no associations, or could recall none, connected with him.
Fitzgerald, however, who remembered very well his past connection with
the boy, was afraid that he would succeed in remembering him, and grew
uneasy when he saw Robert’s bright, expressive eyes fixed upon him.

“You seem interested in my appearance,” he said, dryly.

Robert answered quickly: “I beg your pardon, Mr. Fitzgerald, for
staring at you. Somehow your features looked familiar to me, and I was
trying to think whether I had ever met you before.”

“Very possibly you may have seen me, for I have been something of a
traveller,” answered his employer; “but we never knew each other. I
should have remembered you.”

“Very like I may have seen you at some place where we gave an
entertainment,” said Robert.

“I was at Crampton, you know.”

“I mean longer ago than that. I have a queer feeling as if some time
you were connected with me in some way,” said Robert, thoughtfully.

Fitzgerald was secretly uneasy. If Robert’s recollections should become
clearer, and he should come to suspect the truth, then good-by to his
plans, for the boy would of course be on his guard. His ingenuity came
to his aid.

“It is more likely,” he said, in an apparently indifferent tone,
“that I resemble some such person. The fact is,” he added with a
forced laugh, “I once came near falling a victim to my unfortunate
resemblance to a rascal. I was arrested on suspicion of being a forger
or something of the sort, because I looked like the real culprit. Of
course the truth came out, but not until I had been subjected to some
inconvenience.”

This explanation seemed satisfactory to Robert, who gave up his
scrutiny of his employer, convinced that he had been deluded by a
fancied or real resemblance.

They made a day’s stop at Buffalo, and went from there to Niagara
Falls, which Robert had never before seen. He naturally derived a rare
enjoyment from the sight of the great cataract. He was hurried away
from the falls by Fitzgerald in consequence of a conversation which the
boy had with a stranger, which grievously alarmed his employer.

This is how it happened:

Robert and Fitzgerald were on Goat Island. Our hero was looking
earnestly at the mighty cataract, and did not observe that a stranger
was looking earnestly at him. Fitzgerald had strayed to a little
distance, and was not within earshot.

Robert was roused from his revery by a tap upon the shoulder.

Turning he saw a man of forty-five, well dressed, and apparently a man
of position.

“Did you wish to speak to me, sir?” he inquired.

“Yes,” answered the stranger. “You will, perhaps, think me curious if I
ask your name?”

“My name is Robert Rudd.”

Robert thought it probable that the stranger had seen him riding
somewhere, and recognized him from this, though he could not call him
by name. But the name seemed to tell the inquirer nothing. On the
contrary, he appeared to be disappointed.

“I suppose I am mistaken, then,” he said, apologetically; “but I can
only say in apology for my curiosity, that you bear a remarkable
resemblance to an old school-mate of mine.”

“Who was he?” asked Robert, eagerly.

It must be borne in mind that the boy knew nothing of his own family,
and earnestly desired, though he never expected, to solve the mystery
of his birth.

“His name was Julian Richmond. Are you, by chance, related to him?”

“Not that I know of,” answered Robert, soberly. “Would you mind telling
me something about him?”

Rather wondering at our hero’s curiosity in regard to a man of whom he
had never before heard, the stranger answered, “Certainly, if you would
like to hear. Julian and I were school-fellows together in Albany,
where I live now. His father, old Cornelius Richmond, was a rich man.
I believe he is still living on a fine estate along the Hudson. When
we grew up the Richmonds moved away and I lost sight of them. I heard,
however, that Julian went out West and married. A coldness sprang up
between him and his father, for what reason I don’t know. I don’t know
whether they were ever reconciled. At any rate, poor Julian died, as
I some time after heard, leaving his father childless. If you were
Julian’s son you could not look more like him.”

Robert listened to this communication with intense interest. Could it
be that this Julian Richmond was his father? It was the first clew of
any kind that he had ever found, and he repeated over to himself the
names of Julian and Cornelius Richmond, determined to remember them,
and some time to make further inquiries.

Meanwhile Fitzgerald, turning, noticed that Robert was conversing
with a stranger. Though he was far from suspecting that an important
secret has been revealed to the boy, he was naturally of a cautious
temperament, and he thought it imprudent to allow Robert to become
intimate with any one, lest possibly when he disappeared he might be
suspected of having had some agency in the affair. He therefore walked
up rapidly to where the two were conversing.

“Robert,” he called, when two rods distant.

Robert obeyed the summons.

“I think we will go back to the hotel. I have something to do before
leaving Niagara, and there is not much time.”

“O, Mr. Fitzgerald,” said Robert, eagerly, “that gentleman tells me I
look very much like an old school-mate of his.”

Fitzgerald was instantly alarmed. He knew, for Hugo had told him,
that the boy bore a wonderful resemblance to his dead father, and, of
course, that father must have old friends and acquaintances who would
see the resemblance and possibly betray it to the boy.

“Is there anything so remarkable in that?” he asked. “Probably there
are hundreds of people whom you resemble.”

“But he said I looked as if I might be this man’s son,” continued
Robert.

“Did he mention the name of this old school-mate?” inquired Fitzgerald,
alarmed.

“Yes; he said his name was Julian Richmond.”

If Robert had been watching the countenance of his employer he
would have seen a sudden look of dismay which might have roused his
suspicions, but he was taking a last look at the great cataract.

“Very likely!” said Fitzgerald, after a slight pause. “I have been told
plenty of times that I looked like this one and that one.”

“But you know your family, and I do not. I have no knowledge of who
my father was, and so I hoped that I might hear something that would
reveal it to me. May I ask the gentleman his name? I might like to—”

“No,” answered Fitzgerald, with an abrupt harshness that made Robert
survey him in astonishment. “You are too old to be so childish. I have
no time to lose. Come at once with me to the hotel.”

“It wouldn’t take a minute.”

“Do you hear what I say?” said his employer, angrily.

Robert was too proud to make any further request. He was puzzled at
the extraordinary manner of Fitzgerald, for which there seemed no
occasion. It was the first time that his new employer had spoken to him
harshly, and he was unable to account for it. He did not press the
request, being unwilling to subject himself to any further rudeness.
Had he known how important that inquiry was, he would have made it at
all hazards. As it was, his curiosity had been excited, but he had no
suspicion that he was already on the threshold of the secret which had
always been withheld from him.

Robert was proud, and his proud spirit rebelled against his employer’s
rudeness; but he was not in a position to break with him. He had taken
no money with him, and was of course dependent upon Fitzgerald. He was
hundreds of miles away from his good friends the Greys, and it was the
part of prudence not to manifest the resentment he felt. If he had had
in his pocket the two hundred dollars which belonged to him he might
have acted differently. As it was, he preserved a dignified silence.

Fitzgerald, on arriving at the hotel, made arrangements to leave at
once. When they were fairly on their way he changed his manner, became
conciliatory and affable, and apparently endeavored to make Robert
forget his harsh words.

“I suppose he spoke hastily,” thought Robert. “He could not know how
important it seemed to me to make any inquiries about my family. At any
rate, I know the gentleman lives in Albany, and some day I will hunt
him up.”

Arrived in Chicago, Fitzgerald put up at the Sherman House, and of
course Robert accompanied him.

Our hero was a little puzzled to understand why he had been engaged.
Little or nothing was given him to do. Once or twice he had been
employed to buy tickets, or go on small errands, but his office seemed
to be a sinecure. This would have suited many boys, but Robert was
a boy of active temperament, and felt happier to be employed. I may
remark here that, in general, nothing is worse for a boy than to be
absolutely unemployed, for it is as true as the old proverb expresses
itself, that “Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.”

One day Robert ventured to remark to his employer, “I am afraid, Mr.
Fitzgerald, I am not earning my wages; I am quite ready to do more.”

“That isn’t your fault, Robert,” said Fitzgerald. “It is true, while
we are travelling I don’t find much to do; but when we get to our
destination I shall keep you more busy.”

“I am glad of that,” said Robert, “for I feel better to be employed.”

“I believe I have never said anything about the object of my journey,”
Fitzgerald continued.

“No, sir.”

“I am employed by certain New York parties to look after land and
mining investments at the West. I shall have to visit several places,
and there will be more or less writing to do, in which I shall employ
you. By the way” (they were now in the hotel at Chicago), “I will
dictate a letter to you now.”

“Very well, sir.”

Robert took out writing materials and Fitzgerald dictated the following:

“_Ashley Robinson, Esq., 549 Broadway, New
York_:

“DEAR SIR: I am not quite sure as to the tenor of my instructions
from you. Do I understand that I am empowered to sell your land
without further communication with you, or do you wish me to
apprise you of any offer I may receive? My own impression is that
you ought not to accept less than $5000 for it, as it is sure to
increase in value. Please write me at once.

“Yours truly,
“JOHN FITZGERALD.”

“It is done,” said Robert.

“You may go out and mail it. I should prefer that you would take it to
the post-office yourself, as it will go quicker than if you mailed it
in the hotel, or put it in one of the street boxes. Any one will tell
you where the post-office is.”

Robert went out, well pleased to have something to do, and mailed the
letter at the city post-office, as directed.

Fitzgerald laughed to himself after the boy went out.

“The boy little suspects that that is a bogus letter, and that there is
no such person as Ashley Robinson in New York. If there is, I haven’t
the honor of knowing him. It was rather a happy idea of mine, as the
boy’s suspicion will not be so easily aroused if he thinks I am engaged
in a legitimate business journey. Well, well, I shall be glad when the
job is accomplished, for it isn’t overmuch to my taste. That villain
Hugo might find it to his mind. It is a pity that such fellows should
succeed in feathering their nests and getting all the good things of
this life. When this work is done, I shall have a hold upon him, and
it won’t be my fault if I don’t make him pay handsomely for doing his
dirty work for him.”

Presently Robert returned.

“Did you mail the letter?” asked his employer.

“Yes, sir.”

“That is well, for it was an important one.”

“You forgot to tell your correspondent where to write you,” said
Robert, to whom the omission had occurred as he was returning.

Fitzgerald was for a moment embarrassed, but he was a man of ready wit.

“Oh, he will know,” he answered; “he will address me at the town where
his land is located.”

This seemed a plausible explanation, and Robert said no more.

They walked to the railroad station with their valises in hand.

On the way rather a rough-looking man accosted Fitzgerald.

“Why, Fitz, old fellow, how did you drop down here?”

Fitzgerald flushed, and answered hurriedly—

“I came by cars from New York.”

“I don’t mean that. What’s your lay, and who have you got with you?”

“Excuse me, Brandon, I am in a hurry,” Fitzgerald answered,
uncomfortably.

Brandon whistled.

“Something mysterious, eh?” he said.

“Not at all, but you must excuse me.”

It seemed peculiar to Robert, who had seen considerable of the world,
that a reputable business man should be addressed in the terms employed
by Brandon, and he looked his surprise.

“That man is an acquaintance I stumbled across in one of my business
journeys,” explained Fitzgerald when they passed on, “and he assumed
undue familiarity. A man stumbles across some strange acquaintances;
I prefer to steer clear of such parties, but it is sometimes hard to
shake them off.”

“He seemed very well acquainted,” thought Robert, but he said nothing.
In fact he was considerably at a loss what to think of his employer,
who chose to say very little of his past history. He felt that he
should not care to remain long with him, but for the present there
seemed no objection to fill up the remainder of the season in his
employ.

From Chicago Robert and his employer travelled northwest, till they
entered the State of Minnesota. Here, somewhat to Robert’s surprise,
they left the cars at a small town, which I will call Florence, and
registered at a small hotel, which I will call the Dearborn House.
Probably our hero looked surprised, and Fitzgerald volunteered an
explanation.

“It is here where Mr. Robertson’s land is located,” he said.

“I thought it was Mr. Robinson—Ashley Robinson,” said Robert.

“To be sure,” returned Fitzgerald, rather disconcerted, for he had
forgotten the name he had extemporized in Chicago; “I am always making
mistakes about names. I have to enter everything in my diary.”

The morning after, Robert chanced to pick up a piece of paper just
outside his employer’s door. As there seemed to be writing upon it he
picked it up, thinking that it might be of some importance.

On the scrap of paper there was a name which immediately arrested
Robert’s interest—the name of Hugo Richmond.

“Richmond,” repeated Robert, in surprise. “Why, that is the name of
the man I was said so strongly to resemble. Is it possible that Mr.
Fitzgerald knows him?”

Then he bethought himself that Richmond was not an uncommon name and
there was no necessary connection between Hugo Richmond and the Julian
Richmond whom he resembled. Still the discovery of this paper made him
thoughtful. He would have liked to question his employer, but felt
instinctively aware that it would do no good. Besides, from the manner
in which he had found the paper, it would seem as if he were trying to
spy out his master’s affairs.

“Robert,” said Fitzgerald, after breakfast, “let us go out and take a
walk.”

“With pleasure,” answered the boy, politely.

“I am going out to take a look at Mr. Robinson’s land,” said Fitzgerald.

“Has he much?”

“Oh, yes; he owns a quarter section, which he took up some years since
at the government’s price—a dollar and a quarter an acre. It must be
worth a good deal more now.”

“I suppose he wants to sell?”

“Yes. He lives so far away that he can’t well look after it. Besides,
by selling now he can make a large profit.”

“Do you think you can sell it readily, Mr. Fitzgerald?”

“Yes; I have written to a land speculator to meet me here to-morrow. I
think I can drive a bargain with him. I shall make a good commission
myself on the sale.”

“I am glad of it,” said Robert, politely.

They left the road, and went across the fields over the level,
prairie-like land. In the distance was a deserted cabin, which appeared
to be partially burned.

“Are you going to that cabin?” asked our hero.

“Yes,” answered his employer. “That cabin is on Mr. Robinson’s land.”

“Did he build it?”

[Illustration: ROBERT THROWN INTO THE DISUSED WELL.]

“No; it was built by a squatter, who took advantage of the owner being
a non-resident, and made himself at home here, without leave or
license. The cabin had not been erected long, however, before it caught
fire and was partially burned.”

“Does any one live there now?”

“No.”

The two kept on their way till they reached the deserted cabin.

A rod or two distant was an open well, which seemed, as well as the
cabin, to be disused.

“The squatter seems to have dug a well,” said Robert.

“Yes; I wonder whether it is deep,” said Fitzgerald.

Naturally Robert advanced till he stood on the brink of the well. An
instant later and he was pushed violently forward and fell into the
yawning pit.

“That disposes of him forever!” said Fitzgerald, and turning, he fled
swiftly from the spot, leaving the victim of his treachery to his fate.