ON WATCH

There was nothing especially noticeable about the chamber into which
Scott and the earl were ushered. It was a corner apartment, and had two
windows on different sides of the room.

There was a double bed, a washstand, a small table, and two chairs,
besides a plain pine bureau. There was no carpet on the floor, but
beside the bed was a cheap rug.

“Will this do you?” asked the woman, as she set the candle on the table.

“Yes,” answered the earl, after a comprehensive glance around the room.

“We don’t keep a hotel. If we did—-”

“My good lady, make no apologies. We are obliged to you for taking us
in.”

“I hope you’ll sleep well,” said the woman, with her hand on the latch.

“We generally do,” replied the earl.

“Ah!” she said, and there seemed something significant in her tone.

She opened the door and went downstairs, leaving the two travelers
alone.

“This isn’t very luxurious, Mr. Grant,” remarked Scott.

“No.”

“I suppose you are used to a luxurious house?”

“When I am at home–yes; but I have knocked about the world so much that
I can stand a little discomfort. How is the bed?”

He felt of the mattress, and found that it was of straw. Had there been
a feather bed over it there would have been greater comfort.

“Only a straw bed,” he said. “This is, certainly, Spartan simplicity. I
don’t think Red Ralph would be a success as an innkeeper.”

“I think I can sleep, Mr. Grant,” rejoined Scott. “I feel quite tired.”

“Is there a lock on the door?”

Scott went forward to examine.

“Yes,” he reported, “there is a lock, but no key.”

“Is there a bolt?”

“No.”

“I wonder,” said the earl, very thoughtfully, “whether the key has been
lost or intentionally removed?”

“We might ask for a key.”

“No. That would make it evident that we were distrustful. Besides, it
may be that the people below are not aware that there is no means of
locking them out. On the whole, we will not call attention to our
defenseless condition.”

While they were talking, a step was heard on the stairs–a heavy step,
too heavy for the woman. Then came a knock at the door.

Scott opened it.

There stood Red Ralph, holding in his hand a pitcher and glass.

“I have brought you a nightcap,” he said. “I had my wife mix some whisky
and water. It is good for the stomach. I drink some every night before I
go to bed.”

“Thank you,” returned the earl, politely. “You are very considerate.”

He took the pitcher and set it down on the table. Red Ralph lingered a
moment, and his eyes wandered about the apartment.

There was nothing to see, however, as the travelers had brought no
luggage with them, not expecting to be detained overnight.

“I hope that you will be comfortable,” he said, cordially.

“Thank you.”

“Do you sleep sound?”

“Generally. Do you?”

“Oh, I never wake from the time I strike the bed. At what hour shall I
wake you?”

“At seven.”

“Good! I will tell the wife to have breakfast at half-past seven.”

“By the way, may I trouble you to look after my horse? I meant to go out
to the barn before I retired.”

“I will look after him. I am used to horses. I am a horse trader.”

“Thank you. Good-night.”

“Good-night.”

“Our friend is unusually attentive,” said the earl, with a glance at the
pitcher.

“Yes; perhaps we have misjudged him.”

“Perhaps, but I am not sure. Scott, will you hold the candle?”

He took the pitcher and peered into it attentively, rather to Scott’s
surprise. Then he poured out a small quantity, and tasted it.

“I hope you will excuse me from drinking, Mr. Grant,” said Scott. “I
promised my father I would never drink whisky.”

“Even if you did indulge, I should not advise you to drink any of
this.”

“Why not? Is it of poor quality?”

“I am quite confident that it is drugged. It has a peculiar taste, and I
detect minute particles of some foreign substance which has been mixed
with it.”

“Poison?” asked Scott, looking startled.

“Not so bad as that. It is only a sleeping potion. Our friend had an
object in asking if we slept soundly. He means that we shall.”

“Are you quite sure the whisky has been tampered with, Mr. Grant?”

“I am reasonably sure of it.”

“Then of course we won’t drink it.”

“Certainly not, but we will appear to have done so. Open the window.”

The earl poured out a glass of the whisky and emptied it out of the
window. He filled the glass a second time, and again emptied it.

“That is better than to have swallowed it,” he said. “I will leave a
small portion in the pitcher to disarm suspicion.”

“What do you think Red Ralph intends to do?” asked Scott, in a low tone.

“I think he intends to make us a visit during the night. As there is no
way of locking the door, that will be very easily managed. Had we drunk
the whisky, we should have slept so profoundly that Ralph could have
ransacked the room without interference.

“Have you a pistol, Mr. Grant?”

“Yes, but I might as well be without one. I have no means of loading
it.”

“What, then, do you propose to do?”

“That is not easy to decide.”

“Can we secure the door in any way?”

“I can think of no way.”

“We might put the bureau against it.”

“Yes; I will consider whether that is best. It interposes only a
temporary obstacle. Then Ralph and his companion may be armed, while we
are not. The two would be more than a match for us.”

“I suppose they would be satisfied if you would give up your money.”

“Probably, but though the loss of the money would not seriously
embarrass me–it is only five hundred dollars–I decidedly object to
being robbed of it. By the way, have you a newspaper with you?”

“Yes, Mr. Grant. Here it is.”

The earl took the paper, and carefully tore it into strips about the
size of a bank bill. Then he removed the bank bills from his wallet, put
them in an inside pocket in his vest, and replaced them with strips of
newspaper.

“It is a good plan to oppose roguery with artifice,” he said. “Possibly
this will help to circumvent the enemy.”

Scarcely had he done this when Ralph’s step was heard on the staircase,
and a moment afterward there was a knock at the door.

“Open it, Scott.”

There stood Ralph, smiling craftily.

“Have you drunk the whisky, gentlemen?” he asked. “Would you like to
have me fill the pitcher again?”

“We shall not need any more, thank you,” said the earl. “Perhaps you
will kindly take the pitcher?”

Ralph looked into the pitcher, and his face indicated satisfaction. From
the little that remained he felt assured that both his guests had drunk
liberally.

“I hope you liked it,” he said.

“You were very kind to think of us,” rejoined the earl, avoiding a reply
to his question.

“Won’t you let me fill the pitcher?”

“No, we shall not need any more. I think you said it would make us sleep
sound?”

“It has that effect upon me.”

“I think you are right. I can hardly keep my eyes open,” and the earl
yawned ostentatiously.

“I feel the same way,” added Scott.

Red Ralph smiled.

“Yes,” he said, “I am sure you will have a good night’s sleep. I will
remember to call you at seven. I won’t stay any longer, for you must
wish to retire.”

“Good-night, then.”

“Now,” said the earl, when the coast was clear, “we must decide what to
do.”

“Shall we go to bed?”

“We will lie on the bed, but it will be better not to undress. We must
be prepared for any contingency.”

“Shall I move the bureau against the door?”

“No. We will try to keep awake for an hour. My opinion is that our
friend will make us a visit within that time.”

Though the two travelers had not removed their clothes, they covered
themselves up with the quilt, in order to deceive anyone entering the
room. Then they lay and waited.

It was perhaps ten minutes less than the hour when they heard the door
softly opened. In the half light they saw Red Ralph enter. He had
removed his shoes, and was walking in his stocking feet.

The earl had hung his coat from a nail just behind the door.

Ralph saw it, and at once began to search the pockets. He only glanced
carelessly at the bed, for he felt sure that the potion had done its
work, and that both his guests were asleep.

In the side pocket he found the wallet. He uttered an ejaculation of
satisfaction, and quickly transferred it to his own pocket.

He could not very well examine it in the darkness. But he could tell
from the feeling that it was well filled, and naturally concluded that
the contents represented a large sum of money.

Having got what he wanted, he withdrew as quietly as he came, carefully
shutting the door behind him.

When he had gone, Scott broke the silence.

“What will he do when he discovers that the wallet is stuffed with waste
paper?”

“Probably he will be angry, and feel that he has been defrauded.”

Scott laughed.

“Do you think he will make us another visit?”

“If he does, and complains of the deception, it will involve a
confession that he is a thief. I confess I don’t know what to
anticipate.”

Ten minutes later a slow step was heard ascending the staircase.

Scott and the earl listened in excitement. They could not forecast the
next act in the drama.

The steps paused before the door, but the door was not opened. In place
of this they heard a key turn in the lock outside. It was clear that
they were locked in.

“Ralph does not mean that we should escape,” said the earl.

“What shall we do?”

“I shall go to sleep. I think we are secure from any other visit.
Hostilities are probably deferred till morning. What will be done then I
am quite at a loss to understand, but when that time comes we can decide
what to do.”

When Red Ralph went downstairs after purloining the wallet, it was with
a feeling of satisfaction at the apparent success of his dishonest
scheme.

Below, his wife and his accomplice still sat before the fire.

“Well, Ralph?” said the latter, with an eager look of interrogation.

“I have got it,” chuckled Ralph.

“I don’t like such doings,” said his wife, wearily. “Heaven will never
prosper dishonesty.”

“Shut up, Sarah,” commanded Ralph, harshly. “I can’t stand a sniveling
woman. What I have done is my business, not yours.”

“I wish they had never come. I ought to have sent them away.”

“You did just right. You invited them in, and delivered them into my
hands.”

“Open the wallet!” said the dark man, impatiently.

Ralph seated himself in the chair which he had vacated before he went
upstairs, and, with a smile, opened the wallet.

But the smile quickly faded from his face, and it grew dark with anger,
as the contents were disclosed.

“Confusion!” he muttered. “Look at this!” and he threw the paper into
the fire.

“What does it mean?” asked his accomplice, bewildered.

“It means that we have been fooled–tricked! They have filled the wallet
with this trash, in order to deceive us.”

“But are you sure that they had any money?”

“Sure? Why, I saw it with my own eyes. Didn’t you, Sarah? Didn’t the man
pull out a thick roll of bills when he paid the five dollars he agreed
upon?”

“Yes,” answered the woman, reluctantly.

“There was no mistake about that. The money was real, fast enough. There
must have been two or three hundred dollars.”

“Where could he have put it, then?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why should he play such a trick upon you?”

“He evidently suspected something.”

“How could he suspect a man with your honest face?”

“Be careful, Conrad! I don’t allow any man to insult me,” said Ralph,
with lowering brow.

“Don’t get mad, Ralph; I was only joking. What are you going to do now?”

“I don’t know.”

“The money must be somewhere in the chamber,” said Conrad, suggestively.

“Probably it is, but it is concealed. I can’t get at it without waking
them up.”

“If they drank the doctored whisky, it would be safe enough.”

“I don’t know whether they did drink it or not. They pretended to, but
if they suspected me, they may have emptied it out of the window.”

“Then you won’t do anything?” asked Conrad, in evident disappointment.

“I will lock them in. I will see, at any rate, that they don’t escape
from the room. In the morning I will consider what is best to be done.”

The woman breathed a sigh of relief. She was honest at heart, and felt
no sympathy with her outlaw husband.

It was perhaps by way of consoling themselves for their disappointment
that the two men resumed their drinking, and drank heavily.

“Go and get some more whisky, Sarah,” said Ralph, for the pitcher was
about empty.

The woman did so, but an idea had occurred to her. She was resolved to
prevent the robbery of her guests, and to afford them a chance to
escape.

She turned the tables upon her husband, and dropped into the whisky some
of the same sleeping potion which had been intended for the two
travelers.

Red Ralph and his accomplice were too much affected already to notice
any peculiar taste in the whisky. They drank deep, getting more and more
drowsy, until at last Ralph slipped from his chair to the floor, where
he lay without sense or motion.

“Good-night, old fellow!” hiccoughed Conrad. “I’m with you,” and he was
soon lying beside his friend.

Sarah looked at the twain half remorsefully.

“Ought I to have done it?” she asked herself. “But there was no other
way. I have perhaps saved my husband from prison, for the theft would
surely have been found out. The man looked strong and resolute, and
would not have allowed himself to be robbed without seeking to punish
the robber.”

She left the two men lying upon the floor, and sought her own bed.

“They won’t wake till late,” she reflected, “and I can let the travelers
lie till morning. I won’t deprive them of their night’s rest.”

She went upstairs and saw the key in the lock. “I guess I will leave it
there,” she said, “till morning.”

About five o’clock–her usual time for rising–she dressed and went
upstairs. She unlocked the door, and knocked loudly upon it.

“Who is it?” asked Scott, jumping out of bed.

“It is I,” answered Sarah.

Scott was agreeably surprised, for he had feared it might be Ralph.

“The door is locked,” he said.

“You can open it.”

He did so, and saw the nervous, half-frightened look of his hostess.

“You must get up at once,” she said, “you and your friend. It is not
safe to remain here.”

“I had found that out. But won’t your husband interfere with us?”

“He is sound asleep, and won’t wake for hours. But you had better get
up now, and avoid difficulty.”

“Wait a minute, till I wake my friend.”

But the earl was already awake. He quickly grasped the situation.

“Are you not exposing yourself to danger on our account?” he asked,
earnestly, of the woman.

“No, I shall know how to manage, but go now. It is morning, and the
sooner you get away the better.”

“Can we get into the barn, and take our horse?”

“Yes, there will be no difficulty. Make as little noise as possible
coming downstairs. My husband might awake.”

“Madam,” said the earl, “we are much indebted to you. Take this as an
acknowledgment,” and he tendered her a ten-dollar bill.

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “Should my husband discover that I had
money he would suspect that I had let you out. Then I should be in
danger.”

“Then we can only thank you.”

They were already dressed, and followed the woman downstairs. They saw
Ralph and his friend lying like logs on the floor, and suspected why
they slept so soundly. Both were snoring loudly.

With a sensation of disgust they left the house, and led the horse out
of the barn. He seemed to be much better of his lameness, so that he was
able to travel, though slowly. They reached Niagara in time for
breakfast.

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