AN UNEXPECTED MEETING

Red Ralph and his companion slept soundly till after nine o’clock. The
drug was only of moderate strength, or they would have slept longer.

When Ralph opened his eyes he saw the breakfast table spread, and his
wife moving about the room. He looked around him half dazed.

“How does it happen that I am asleep on the floor?” he asked.

“You fell from your chair last night.”

“Why didn’t you rouse me, and make me go to bed?”

“I tried to, but you slept too sound.”

“It is strange I should sleep so–and Conrad, too. What time is it?”

“Half-past nine.”

“Has there been any noise in the room above, where the strangers are
sleeping?”

“I have heard none.”

“The potion kept them asleep. I must go up and rouse them.”

“What are you going to do to them, Ralph? You won’t injure them?”

“I must have their money. I may as well take Conrad with me. Here,
Conrad, wake up!” and he shook his companion with no gentle hand.

Conrad opened his eyes, and looked sleepily around him.

“How came I here?” he asked.

“You took too much whisky and got stupid drunk,” said Ralph, not
mentioning that he, too, had been in the same box. “Is breakfast ready,
Sarah?”

“Yes.”

“Then we’ll sit up and eat. I am famished. Come, Conrad.”

“Won’t you rouse the strangers first?”

“No. That will do afterward. If I get their money, you may give them
some breakfast, too.”

“Very well.”

The woman spoke calmly, but she was inwardly excited. She knew that her
husband would be enraged when he learned that the prisoners had escaped,
but she hoped that her agency in the matter would not be suspected.

The two men ate heartily, and his breakfast made Ralph feel better
natured.

When the meal was over, he said: “Come with me, Conrad. We have work to
do.”

He went upstairs, followed by his accomplice.

The key was in the lock, just as he had left it, apparently.

He turned the key, and opened the door of the chamber. What he expected
to see was the two travelers in a profound slumber. What he did see was
the bed disarranged and the chamber empty.

“What does all this mean?” he ejaculated, starting back in surprise.

“They’re not here!” said Conrad, looking about him.

“Of course they’re not, you fool! But how could they get away?”

Conrad pointed to one of the windows that was half open.

“That explains it,” he said.

Ralph hurried to the window, and put his head out.

Stretching from the window to the ground was the bed cord.

This was a piece of strategy on the part of his wife. After the
departure of Scott and the earl, she had removed the bed cord, and
fastened it to the window to mislead her husband into supposing that it
was in this way their guests had escaped.

“Well, I’ll be blowed!” ejaculated Ralph.

“They must have smelt a rat,” said Conrad, sagely.

“What I can’t understand is how a man of good weight could have been
held up by such a slender cord. And it doesn’t seem to be stretched at
all.”

“It may be stronger than you think,” suggested Conrad.

“I suppose it was, but I wouldn’t like to trust myself to it.”

“I wouldn’t mind.”

“Try it, then.”

Conrad was a man who inclined to be venturesome. He got out of the
window, and tried to lower himself by the rope. The slender cord broke,
and he fell and lay an inglorious heap on the greensward below.

“I told you so!” said Ralph, with a loud laugh.

“The man strained it,” said Conrad, looking rather foolish.

“Here, Sarah,” called out Ralph, “come and look here.”

Outwardly calm, but with inward trepidation, Ralph’s wife ascended the
stairs.

“What’s the matter?” she asked.

“What’s the matter? You can see for yourself. The men have escaped.”

“So they have,” she said, in affected surprise. “How did they do it?”

“Climbed out of the window by the bed cord. Didn’t you hear it?”

“They must have done it before I was up,” she replied, evading a direct
answer.

“Conrad,” called out Ralph, with a sudden thought, “go out to the barn,
and see if they have taken the horse.”

“Yes, they have. The horse isn’t there,” reported Conrad.

“Then I’ve been taken in, and done for. What beats me is, how did they
suspect anything?”

“You forget,” said the wife, “that they may have missed the wallet.”

“That’s true. I should like to know how long they have been gone. I
wonder you didn’t hear the horse.”

“I think I slept pretty sound myself. It was not till late that I went
to bed.”

“Well, there’s no use in crying over spilt milk,” said Ralph,
philosophically. “At any rate we’ve got the five dollars.”

“And that will pay for all they got here.”

“Especially,” chimed in Conrad, “as they went off without their
breakfast.”

“So they did,” said Ralph, with a broad smile.

He seemed amused by the thought that their guests had, after all, been
overreached, and this contributed to restore his good humor.

Sarah breathed a sigh of relief. Her stratagem had been successful, and
there was no suspicion entertained by her husband that she had assisted
the two to escape. Had he suspected it, she shuddered to think what
would have happened.

When Scott and the earl reached the hotel at Niagara, they went up to
their room to finish out a night’s rest, their slumber at the farmhouse
having been interrupted.

The consequence was that they appeared late at breakfast.

Meanwhile there had been an arrival at the hotel of two characters well
known to the reader.

Two days previously, Ezra Little suddenly determined to go to Buffalo.
By the failure of a large firm in that city a considerable stock of
goods had been thrown on the market. It was almost certain that the
stock would be sold out for much less than its real value.

Ezra Little, among others, had received a notice from the assignee of
the approaching sale. The goods were, many of them, in his line, and in
several departments his own stock was getting short.

“I think, Mr. Allen,” he said to his superintendent, “I shall run on to
Buffalo, and examine the stock of Frost, Burks & Co., and if it is a
sacrifice sale I shall probably make considerable purchases.”

“It will be an excellent plan, I think, Mr. Little. We are running short
in several departments. Besides, it will be a pleasant trip for you.”

“That is true; I haven’t been fifty miles from the city for three years.
Three years since, I went to Philadelphia, and ever since then I have
tied myself down to business.”

“I will look after things while you are gone. I understand your system.”

When Ezra Little announced at home that he was going to Buffalo, the
news made a sensation.

“Isn’t Buffalo near Niagara Falls?” asked Loammi.

“Certainly.”

“You will go there, won’t you?”

“Yes, I will try to get time. I shall never have a better opportunity.”

“Oh, pa, won’t you take me?” asked Loammi, eagerly.

“Take you? Why should I?”

“I should enjoy it so much.”

“No doubt, but the expense will be too great. The car fare and hotel
rates will amount to considerable.”

“But, pa, as you were just saying, you will probably clear more than a
thousand dollars by the purchase you propose to make.”

“That is not certain.”

“Oh, yes it is; you are so sharp and shrewd, pa.”

Ezra Little’s pride was flattered.

“Well, yes,” he said, “I think I am fairly sharp.”

“And my expenses won’t be much.”

Ezra looked undecided.

At this point his wife intervened.

“You had better take Loammi, Ezra,” she said. “It will be a pleasure to
him, and if you are sick he can take care of you.”

“Well, Loammi,” said his father, with unwonted good humor, “I think I
will let you go. But you must be ready at six o’clock this evening.”

“I’ll be ready, pa, never fear.”

Loammi and his father arrived late in the evening at Niagara, and put up
at the International Hotel. Had they looked back in the book of arrivals
they would have seen the name of Scott Walton, but they failed to do so.

As they sped over the Central Railroad, Loammi was in high spirits. It
was his first long journey and he felt somehow that it would increase
his consequence. He was prepared to make much of it on his return, and
he felt that his friends and schoolfellows would be impressed.

The International Hotel seemed to him quite grand, and as he had never
been a guest at a hotel before, he quite enjoyed his new way of living.

“Isn’t it fine, pa?” he said, as they walked through the office.

“It is fine enough,” responded his father, practically, “but it costs
money, Loammi; I expect they’ll be charging me four or five dollars a
day.”

“Oh, well, pa, you can afford it.”

“That may be, but I am afraid it is money thrown away to pay your
expenses on such a trip. It would have been better to pay you ten
dollars, and let you stay at home.”

“I wouldn’t have been willing to do it, pa. Wouldn’t Scott like to be
traveling as we are doing?”

“I presume he would. You haven’t heard anything of him, have you?”

“No.”

“He can’t be in New York, I should say.”

“He’s probably tramping about somewhere,” said Loammi, rather
contemptuously.

“I think the boy has some business talent,” his father remarked, who was
not so much prejudiced as his son.

“Oh, I suppose he’d pass, but he couldn’t hold a place. He had to leave
you and now he’s left Tower, Douglas & Co.”

“Do you know why he left them?”

“One of the clerks told me he was too fresh.”

This was not quite correct, as it was Loammi who had designated his
cousin in that way.

While they were waiting for breakfast, a traveling acquaintance from
Boston, a Mr. Norwood, greeted them.

“Do you know,” he said, “there’s an English earl staying in this hotel?”

“Is there? Who is it?” asked Ezra Little, for he had a reverence for
rank.

“It is the Earl of Windermere.”

“Yes, I know of the title. Have you seen him?”

“No, but I saw his name on the register.”

“I hope we shall meet him, pa,” said Loammi. “It would be quite a
feather in our cap if we could get introduced to him.”

“I should like that myself, Loammi. Do you know if he is a young man, or
an old one, Mr. Norwood?”

“He is a young man, under thirty.”

“We will look for him at breakfast.”

When they took their seats at the table, Mr. Little said to the waiter:
“I hear there’s an earl staying at the hotel?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Could you point him out to us?”

The waiter looked across the room.

“He generally sits at that table, sir, but he has not come in yet.”

“Is any one of his family with him?”

“I don’t rightly know. There’s a boy goes round with him a good
deal–about the age of this young gentleman.”

“I will try to get acquainted with him, pa,” said Loammi. “I guess
that’ll be the easiest way to get in with the earl.”

The breakfast proceeded and was nearly over for Loammi and his father,
when the waiter came up.

“There’s the earl just coming in, sir,” he said, “and the boy with him.”

Both father and son looked toward the earl with eager curiosity. They
did not at first take special notice of the boy. When they did, Loammi
grasped his father’s arm in excitement.

“The boy looks just like Scott,” he said.

“It is Scott,” pronounced his father, looking through his eyeglasses.

“Nonsense, pa, it can’t be!” said Loammi. “It’s ridiculous to think of
Scott being in company with an earl.”

“Ridiculous or not, it is a fact.”

“Perhaps they are not together,” said Loammi, who did not like to
believe that his humble cousin was in such aristocratic company. “Is
that the boy that usually goes around with the earl?” he asked, turning
to the waiter.

“Yes, sir, it’s the very identical boy,” answered the waiter.

“I never heard of such a thing,” gasped Loammi. “That boy’s cheek seems
too great for anything. But perhaps he is the earl’s valet, though I
don’t know how he could have got the position.”

“I don’t know but he’s the earl’s brother,” said the waiter. “Anyhow,
they’re pretty thick. They went out riding together yesterday
afternoon.”

“He isn’t the earl’s brother,” said Loammi, emphatically. “He’s a–a
relative of ours.”

“Lor’ now, you don’t mean it! Didn’t you know he was traveling with the
earl?”

“No,” answered Loammi; “I haven’t seen much of him lately.”

“The earl seems to think everything of him. They’re always together.”

“I never was so astonished in my life, pa,” said Loammi, when the waiter
had left them.

“It does seem singular.”

“I’ll get Scott to introduce me.”

“I thought you didn’t care to take any more notice of him.”

“No more I did, but as he’s intimate with an earl that makes a
difference.”

Mr. Little and his son lingered at the table till they saw the earl and
his young companion rise. Then they followed them out.

Scott had not noticed the presence of Loammi and his father, but it was
soon made evident to him.

As he was walking with the earl, suddenly he felt a tap on his arm, and
looking round espied Loammi.

“Loammi!” he exclaimed, in surprise.

“Yes, I am here with pa. I was surprised to find you here.”

Scott smiled.

“I have been traveling for some weeks,” he said.

“Here’s pa.”

“How do you do, Scott? I hope you are well,” said Ezra Little,
graciously.

“Very well, thank you.”

The earl, noticing that Scott had met acquaintances, walked slowly on.

“Won’t you introduce us to your friend, Scott?” asked Loammi, eagerly.

“If he is willing,” Scott said.

He went up to the earl and acquainted him with his cousin’s request.

“Are they friends of yours, Scott?”

“I can’t say they are friends, but they are my cousins. I have told you
of them. They are my cousin, Loammi Little, and his father.”

“Do you think they know who I am?”

“Yes. It is probably your title that makes them desirous of an
introduction.”

“Very well.”

In answer to a look, Loammi and his father approached.

“My lord,” said Scott, formally, “let me present to you Mr. Ezra Little
and his son, Loammi. They are relatives of mine.”

“I am glad to meet any relative of my young friend, Mr. Walton,” said
the earl, with dignity.

“My lord earl,” said Mr. Little, with a profound bow, “I am indeed
honored in making your acquaintance.”

“And I, too,” murmured Loammi.

“I am an Englishman, like yourself, my lord.”

“And so, I believe, is my young friend, Scott,” said the nobleman.

“Yes,” said Scott, “but I have nearly forgotten it. I intend to be an
American citizen.”

“I shall never forget that I am an Englishman,” observed Ezra Little.

“Gentlemen,” said the earl, “will you excuse me? I have a letter to
write.”

“Certainly, my lord.”

“I will meet you in half an hour, Scott,” said the earl, familiarly.
“You will find me in the reading room.”

“How on earth did you get so thick with the earl, Scott?” asked Loammi.

“He seemed to take a fancy to me.”

“Are you with him a good deal?”

“Yes.”

“How can you afford to stay at this expensive hotel?” asked Ezra Little.

“I am traveling on business.”

“For what house?”

“Please excuse my mentioning just yet.”

“How long are you going to stay here?”

“I expected to leave this morning, but I have a letter from my employers
with instructions that will detain me here a day or two longer. But how
do you and Loammi happen to be here?”

“I have business in Buffalo.”

Scott smiled.

“So have I,” he said.

“I intend to make large purchases from the assignees of Frost, Burks &
Co.”

“I shall probably meet you both this evening.”

As Scott walked away, Loammi said, enviously: “Did you notice how well
Scott was dressed?”

“I didn’t notice.”

“He doesn’t look much like the poor relation we took in some months ago.
But it won’t last.”

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