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Tom Connor's Scare








From: The Boys Of Crawford's Basin

When Long John Butterfield (it was Yetmore himself who told us all this
long afterwards) when Long John, returning from his day's prospecting up
among the foot-hills of Mount Lincoln, had related to his employer the
result of his labors, two conclusions instantly presented themselves to
the worthy mayor of Sulphide. A man less acute than Yetmore would have
understood at once that we had discovered the nature of the black sand
in the pool, and that just as he had sent out Long John, so my father
had sent out us boys to determine, if possible, which stream it was that
had brought down the powdered galena.

Moreover, knowing my father as he did--whose opinions on prospecting as
a business were no secret in the community--Yetmore was sure that it was
in the interest of Tom Connor we had been sent out; and it was equally
plain to him that, such being the case, Tom's information on the
subject would be just as good as his own. He was, of course, unaware
that our information was in reality a good deal better than his own,
thanks to the hint given us by our friend, Peter, as to the deposit at
the head of Big Reuben's gorge.

Knowing all this, Yetmore had no doubt that Tom would be starting out
the moment the foot-hills were bare, and as Long John could do no
more--for it was obviously useless to start before the ground was
clear--it would result in a race between the two as to who should get
out first and keep ahead of the other; in which case Tom's chances would
be at least equal to his competitor's.

But was there no way by which Tom Connor might be delayed in starting,
if only for a day or two? That was the question; and very earnestly it
was discussed between the pair.

Vain, however, were their discussions; they could think of no way of
keeping Tom in town. For, though Long John threw out occasional hints as
to how he would manage it, if his employer would only give him leave,
his schemes always suggested the use of unlawful means of one sort or
another, and Yetmore would have none of them; for he had at least
sufficient respect for the law to be afraid of it.

A gleam of hope appeared when it was rumored about town that Tom Connor
was trying to raise money on his house; a rumor which Yetmore very
quickly took pains to verify. In this he had no trouble whatever, for
everybody knew the circumstances, and everybody, Yetmore found, was loud
in his praises of Tom's self-sacrifice in spending his hard-earned
savings for the benefit of Mrs. Murphy and her distressed family.

The fact that his rival was out of funds caused Yetmore to rub his hands
with glee. Here, indeed, was a possible chance to keep him tied up in
town. It all depended upon his being able to prevent Tom from securing
the loan he sought, and diligently did the storekeeper canvass one plan
after another in his own mind--but still in vain. The sum desired was so
moderate that some one would almost surely be found to advance it.

While his schemes were still fermenting in his head, there came late one
night a knock at his door--it was the very night that Tom Connor went
boring for oil--and Long John Butterfield slipped into the house.
Long John, too, had heard of Tom's necessities; he, too, had perceived
the value of the opportunity; and being untrammeled by any respect for
law as long as there was little likelihood that the law would find him
out, he had devised in his own mind a plan which would promptly and
effectually prevent Tom from raising any money on his house.



This plan he had now come to suggest to his employer.

"Any one in the house with you, Mr. Yetmore?" he inquired.

"No, John, I'm all alone. Come in. Why do you ask?"

"Oh, I just wanted to talk to you, and I didn't want anybody listening,
that's all. Can folks see in from outside?"

"No, not while the curtains are drawn. Come on in. What's all this
mystery about?"

Long John entered, and sitting down close to his friend, he began,
speaking in a low tone:

"You've heard about Tom Connor trying to raise money on his house, o'
course? Well, I can stop him, if you say so. Any one can see what Tom
wants the money for. He'll get that hundred and fifty, sure, and then
off he'll go. He's a thorough good prospector, better'n me, and with
equal chances the betting will be in his favor. If there's a big vein,
there's a big fortune for the finder, and it's for you to say whether
Tom Connor is to get a shot at it or not."

Long John paused a moment, and then, emphasizing each point with an
extended finger, he continued: "Without money Tom can't move--that's
sure; he's strapped just now--that's sure; and his only way of getting
the cash is by raising it on that house of his--and that's sure. Now,
Mr. Yetmore, you say the word and he shan't get it. No personal violence
that you're always objecting to. Just the simplest little move; nobody
hurt and nobody the wiser."

Yetmore gazed at him earnestly for a few moments, and then said: "It's
against the law, I suppose."

"Oh, yes," replied Long John, with a careless shrug of his shoulders.
"It's against the law all right; but what does that matter to you? I'm
the one to do the job, and I'm the only one the law can touch, if it
can touch any one; and I don't mean that it shall touch me. It's safe
and it's sure."

"Well, John, what is it?"

Long John rose from his chair, leaned forward, and whispered in the
other's ear a little sentence of five words.

For a moment Yetmore gazed open-eyed at his henchman, then suddenly
turned pale, then shook his head.

"I daren't, John," said he. "It's a simple plan and it looks safe; and
even if it were found out it would be about impossible for the law to
prove anything against me, whatever it might do to you. But it isn't the
law I'm afraid of--it's the people. Tom Connor has always been a
favorite, and just now he is more of a favorite than ever, and if it
should be found out, or even suspected, that I had any part in such a
deed my business would be ruined: the whole population would turn their
backs upon me. I daren't do it, John."

"Well, boss," said Long John, with an air of resignation, shoving his
hands deep into his pockets and thrusting out his long legs to the
fire, "if you won't, you won't, I suppose; but it seems to me you're a
bit over-timorous. Who's to suspect, anyhow?"

"Who's to suspect!" exclaimed Yetmore, sharply. "Why, Tom Connor,
himself, and old Crawford and those two meddling boys of his. They'd not
only suspect--they'd know that you had done the job and that I'd paid
you for it. And if they should go around telling their version of the
story, everybody would believe them and nothing I could say would count
against them; for they've all of them, worse luck, got the reputation of
being as truthful as daylight, while, as for me----"

Long John laughed. "As for you, you haven't, eh? Well, Mr. Yetmore, it's
for you to say, of course, but it seems to me you're missing the chance
of a lifetime. Anyhow, my offer stands good, and if you change your mind
you've only got to wink at me and I'll trump Tom Connor's ace for him so
sudden he'll be dizzy for a week."

With that, Long John arose, slipped out of the house and sneaked off
home by a back alley, leaving Yetmore pacing up and down his room with
his hands behind him, thinking over and over again what would be the
result if he should authorize Long John to go ahead.

"No," said he at last, as he took up the lamp to go to bed, "I daren't.
It's a good idea, simple, sure and probably safe, but I daren't risk it.
No. Law or no law, the public would be down on me for certain. I must
think up some other scheme."

Though he thus dismissed the subject from his mind, as he believed, the
idea still lurked in the corners of his brain in spite of himself, and
when at six in the morning he awoke, there was the little black imp
sitting on the pillow, as it were, waiting to go on with the discussion.

Yetmore, however, brushed aside the tempter, jumped into his clothes and
walked off to the store, where he found the putty-faced boy anxiously
awaiting his appearance in order that he himself might be off to his
breakfast.

"Pht!" exclaimed the proprietor, the moment he set foot inside the
store. "What's this smell of coal oil?"

"I don't smell it," replied the boy.

"You don't! Hm! I suppose you've got used to it. Well, get along to your
breakfast."

As the boy ran off, Yetmore walked to the back of the building. Here
the scent was so strong that he was convinced the barrel must be
leaking, so, seizing hold of it, he gave a mighty heave, when the empty
barrel came away in his hands, as the saying is. He almost fell over.

To ascertain the nature of the leak was the work of a moment; to trail
the sled to Mrs. Appleby's back yard was the work of five minutes; but
having done this, Yetmore was at fault, for, knowing well enough that
neither the widow nor her son were capable of such an undertaking, he
was at a loss to imagine who the culprit might be.

It was only when Tom Connor a minute later stepped into the store and
arranged that story of the leaky oil-barrel which he had described as
being "agreeable" to Yetmore, that the storekeeper arrived at a true
understanding of the whole matter. To say that he was enraged would be
to put it too mildly, and, as always seems to be the case, the fact that
he, himself, had been in the wrong to begin with, only exasperated him
the more.

The result was what any one might have expected.

Hardly had Connor turned the corner out of sight, than there appeared,
"snooping" up the street, that sheep in wolfs clothing, Long John
Butterfield. Instantly Yetmore's resolution was taken. Seizing a broom,
he stepped outside and made pretense to sweep the sidewalk, and as Long
John, with a casual nod, sauntered past, the angry storekeeper caught
his eye and whispered:

"I've reconsidered. Go ahead."

"Bully for you," replied the other in a low tone; and passed on.

No one would have guessed that in that brief instant a criminal act had
been arranged. Nor did Tom Connor, as he went chuckling up the street,
guess that by his lawless recovery of the widow's property he had given
Yetmore the excuse he longed for to defy the law himself. Least of all
did any of them--not even Long John--guess that between them they were
to come within an ace of snuffing out the lives of two innocent
outsiders, namely, Joe Garnier and myself. Yet such was the case. It was
only the accidental putting in of Tom's second window that saved us.

Long John, being authorized to proceed, at once made his preparations,
which were simple enough, and all he wanted now was an opportunity. By
an unlooked-for chance, which, with his perverted sense of right and
wrong, seemed to him to be providential, his opportunity turned up that
very night.

The miner, George Simpson, hastening homeward from Connor's house,
happened to overtake Long John in the street, and as he passed gave him
a friendly "Good-night."

"Good-night," said John. "You're late to-night, aren't you?"

"Yes, a bit late. One of our men's sick, and I've been fixing things
so's he won't lose his job. Tom Connor and I are going to work his shift
for him."

"So!" cried Long John, with sudden interest. "Which half do you take?"

"The second. Tom's gone off already, and I'm going to relieve him at
eleven. So I must be getting along: I want my supper and two or three
hours' sleep."

So Tom would be out of his house till eleven o'clock! Such a chance
might never occur again. Long John hastened home at once and got
everything ready.

As it would not do to start too early, because people might be about,
John waited till nearly ten o'clock, and then sallied out. As he
rounded the corner of his shack a furious blast of wind, driving the
rain before it, almost knocked him over.

"Good!" he exclaimed. "There won't be a soul out o' doors to-night."

With his head bent to the storm and his hat pulled down over his ears,
John made his way through alleys and bye-streets to the edge of town,
and then set off across the intervening empty space towards the house
where Joe and I were at that moment playing our last game of checkers.
As he approached, he saw dimly through the blur of rain the light of two
windows.

"Good!" he exclaimed a second time. "Old Snyder not gone to bed yet.
Mighty kind of the old gent to leave his light burning for me to steer
by. If it hadn't been for him I'd 'a' had a job to tell which was the
right house. As it is, I've borne more to the right than I thought."

At this moment the town clock struck ten, and almost immediately
afterwards the light in the windows went out.

"Never mind," remarked John to himself. "I know where I am now."

Advancing a little further, he caught sight of the dim outline of the
house through the rain, and turning short to his left, he measured off
one hundred steps along the empty street, a distance which brought him
opposite the next house to the east.

All was dark and silent, as he had expected, but to make sure he
approached the house and thumped upon the door. There was no reply.
Again he thumped and struck the door sharply with the handle of his
knife. Silence!

"He's out all right," muttered John. "Was there ever such a lucky
chance? Howling wind, driving rain, dark as the ace of spades, and Tom
Connor not coming back for an hour!"

Dark it surely was. The night was black. Not a glimmer of light in any
direction. Even the town itself, only a quarter-mile away, seemed to
have been blotted from the face of the earth.

As he had noticed in coming across the flats that there were lights
still burning in two of the other houses, the patient plotter, in order
to give the inmates a chance to get to bed and to sleep, sat waiting on
the leeward side of the building for a full half hour. At the end of
that time, however, he arose, moved along a few steps, and then, going
down on his hands and knees, crept under the house. Ten minutes later he
came crawling out again, feet foremost. Once outside, he struck a match,
and sheltering it in his cupped hands he applied the flame to the end of
something which looked like a long, stiff cord about as thick as a lead
pencil. Presently there was a sharp "spit" from the ignited "cord,"
blowing out the match and causing John to shake his hand with a gesture
of pain, as though it had been scorched.

Next moment Long John sprang to his feet and fled away into the
darkness; not straight across lots as he had come, but by a roundabout
way which would bring him into town from the eastern side.

Then, for two minutes, except for the roaring of the wind, all was
silence.

Joe and I were sound asleep on the floor of Tom's back room, when by a
single impulse we both sprang out of bed with an irrepressible cry of
alarm, and stood for a moment trembling and clinging to each other in
the darkness. The sound of a frightful explosion was ringing in our
ears!

"What was it, Joe?" I cried. "Which direction?"

"I don't know," my companion replied. "I hope it isn't an accident up at
the Pelican. Let's get into our clothes, Phil."

Lighting the lamp, we quickly dressed, and putting on our hats and
overcoats we went out into the storm. All was dark, except that in the
windows of each of the occupied houses in the row we could see a light
shining. The whole street had been roused up.

"It must have been a powder-magazine," Joe shouted in my ear. "Or else
the boiler in the engine-house of the Pelican. What do you say, Phil?
Shall we go up there? We might be able to help."

"Yes, come on!" I cried. "Let's go and see first, though, if Tom hasn't
a second lantern. We shall save time by it if he has."

Our hurried search for a lantern was vain, however, so we determined to
set off without one. As we closed the door behind us, our clock struck
eleven, and a moment later we heard faintly the eleven o'clock whistle
up at the Pelican.

"Good!" cried Joe. "It isn't the boiler blown up, anyhow, so Tom's
safe; for he is working underground and the explosion, whatever it was,
was on the surface."

With bent heads we pushed our way against the wind, until, looking up
presently, I saw the light of a lantern coming quickly towards us.

"Here's Tom, Joe," I shouted. "Pull up!"

We stopped, and as the light swiftly approached we detected the beating
footsteps of a man running furiously.

"Then there is an accident!" cried Joe. "Ho, Tom! That you?" he shouted.

It was Tom, who, suddenly stopping, held the lantern high, looking first
at one and then at the other of us. He was still in his miner's cap and
slicker, his face was as white as a ghost's, and he was so out of breath
that for a moment he could not speak.

"Hurt, Tom?" I cried, in alarm.

"No,"--with a gasp.

"Anybody hurt?"

"No."

"What is it, then?"

"Scared!" And then, still panting violently: "Come to the house," said
he.

Once inside, I brought Tom a dipper of water, which quickly restored
him, when, turning his still blanched face towards us, he said:

"Boys, I've had the worst scare of my life!"

"How, Tom?" I asked. "That explosion? Was it up at the Pelican?"

"No, it wasn't; and I didn't know anything about it until I came up at
eleven, when George, who was waiting to go on, told me there had been a
heavy explosion down in the direction of my house. When he told me that,
there rushed into my head all of a sudden an idea which nearly knocked
me over--it was like a blow from a hammer. I grabbed the lantern, which
I had just lighted, and ran for it. Can you guess what I expected to
find?"

We shook our heads.

"I expected to find my house blown to pieces, and you two boys lying
dead out in the rain!"

We stared at him in amazement.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Look here, boys," Tom went on. "When George Simpson told me there had
been an explosion down this way, it came into my head all at once that
Yetmore or Long John--probably Long John--had heard that I was out at
work to-night, and not knowing that you were staying the night with me,
had come and wrecked my house."

"But why should they?" Joe asked.

"So as to prevent my raising money on it, and so keep me tied up in town
while they skipped out to look for that vein of galena. I'm glad to find
I was wrong. I did 'em an in----"

He stopped short, and following his gaze, we saw that he was staring at
the second window.

"When did you put that in?" he cried.

"Just after you left. We finished by nine o'clock."

"How soon did you go to bed?"

"Just after ten."

"Come with me!" cried Tom, springing from his chair and seizing the
lantern. "I know what's happened now!"

With us two close at his heels, he led the way to the spot where
Yetmore's empty house had stood. Not a vestige of it remained, except
the upper part of the chimney, which lay prone in the great hole dug out
by the violence of the explosion.

"Boys," said Tom, in a tone of unusual gravity, "if you live a hundred
years you'll never have a narrower squeak than you've had to-night. If
Long John did this--and I'm pretty sure he did--he meant to blow up my
house, but being misled by those two windows, he has blown up Yetmore's
house instead. You never did, and I doubt if you ever will do, a better
stroke of work in your lives than when you put in my second window!"





Next: The Ore-theft

Previous: Tom's Second Window



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