Tom Connor's Scare





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!"





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