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The Man Under The Bed

From: Far Past The Frontier

The Eagle tavern was a long, low structure and stood close beside the
highway, on the opposite side of which was the weather-beaten log and
frame barn to which John had referred. Near the tavern was a well and an
old-fashioned sweep towering above it. At the roadside there was a
moss-covered log trough at which horses were watered. An air of
loneliness, such as is noticed about old, deserted houses, whose
door-yards have grown up to rank weeds and briars, hung over the tavern,
and the deep shadows cast by the setting sun heightened this effect.
Little wonder is it that a feeling of depression came over the young
travelers as they approached.

No other houses were near the tavern and guests were evidently few. The
road which passed it was not a main thoroughfare, and no stage-coach made
the Eagle a regular stopping-place. It may have been a handsome;
much-frequented place at one time, but those days had long since

Up to the watering-trough Ree drove, however, and unreined the horse,
that it might drink.

"It does look kind of creepy around here," he remarked in an undertone;
"but put on a bold front, John, we are going to stay, just to prove to
ourselves that we are not afraid."

"I would a great deal rather camp out," John frankly confessed, "but you
are the captain, Ree. I can stand it if you can."

A skulking fellow of about thirty years, none the handsomer for having
lost nearly all his front teeth, came to help put up their horse when the
boys had made their wants known inside the tavern. No unusual thing
occurred, however, and the young travelers had shaken off the gloomy
feelings which the lonely place inspired by the time their supper was
ready. As they were by themselves at the table, a man whom Ree had not
seen before approached and took a chair nearby, tilting back against the
wall and calmly surveying them.

John kicked Ree's shins under the table. It was not, perhaps, a polite
way of imparting the information that this was the fellow he had seen
peering out of the barn, but Ree understood perfectly.

Having eyed the boys for a minute or two, the stranger said, in a gruff,
indifferent tone:

"Good evenin'."

"Good evening, sir," spoke Ree, and John's voice repeated the words like
an echo.

"Traveled far?" growled the stranger.

"Far enough for one day," Ree answered, little inclined to engage in
conversation with the man, for the fellow's appearance was far from
favorable. The sneaking glance of his eyes, his unshaved face and uncouth
dress, half civilized, half barbarian, gave him an air of lawlessness,
though except for these things he might have been considered handsome.

For a minute the stranger did not speak, and John suppressed a laugh as
he saw with what cool unconcern Ree returned the fellow's stare whenever
he looked at them.

"Don't show off your smartness, bub," sharply spoke the man at last, as
he fully comprehended that Ree had purposely given him an evasive answer,
"I asked a civil enough question."

"And got a civil answer," Ree quickly replied.

"I see you are emigrating," the stranger went on, trying to make his
coarse voice sound friendly. "I just had in mind puttin' a flea in your
ear. Because it is the wrong time of year to be goin' west, in the first
place, and the woods are full of Indians and the roads alive with
cutthroats, in the second place. If I was you young shavers I'd sell out
and wait a year or two, or till next spring anyhow, before goin' any
further. I s'pose you have a lot of goods in your cart; goin' to do some
tradin' with the Mingoes, maybe."

John pricked up his ears at this reference to the nature of their cart's
contents, but waited for Ree to speak. This the latter did at once,
respectfully but firmly.

"We are much obliged for your advice and the interest you take in us, but
we expect to be able to take care of ourselves both on the road and in
the woods. Aren't you the man we saw in the barn as we were coming up?"

The question was an experimental thrust. Ree wished to learn whether the
fellow would give a reason for having spied upon them. The man looked at
him searchingly before replying.

"I never clapped eyes on you till you come into this room," he coolly
said, however. "What do you take me for? I was only goin' to tell you
that I know a man that will buy your outfit if you want to sell!"

"Which we do not," said Ree with moderate emphasis.

"You would find a little ready money mighty handy; I don't s'pose you
have any too much," the stranger replied with assumed carelessness.

"Say; tell us what you are trying to get at, will you!" John spoke up,
with a show of spirit.

"Hold your horses, sonny!" the fellow growled. "You are almost too big
for your breeches!"

"Well what do you take us for! Maybe you have some more questions to
ask!" John exclaimed, and Ree smiled to see how heated he had become.

The stranger relapsed into silence, and presently arose and strolled

Having finished their supper, the boys went into the general sitting-room
of the tavern, a long room in one end of which there was a bar, and sat
down by themselves to talk. As their conversation flagged, Ree drew from
his belt beneath his coat, the ivory handled knife Captain Bowen had been
at such pains to give them. In an idle, listless way he began stropping
the blade on his boot-leg.

A tall, lank man of fifty, with a thin, sharp face and nose, whom the
lads had noticed sitting opposite them, reading a pamphlet of some kind,
came nearer and seemed to take an unusual interest in the sharpening of
the knife. His keen eyes watched every movement the blade made. Coming
close up, he quietly said:

"If that ar ain't Cap. Bowen's knife over to Bruceville, he hes the mate
to it! His'n is the only knife I ever see with a handle like that."

"Do you know Captain Bowen?" asked Ree, and as the man said he did, and
told them who he was, both lads held out their hands which the newcomer
shook cordially. It was like meeting someone from home; for the lanky
individual was a peddler who had often visited at Captain Bowen's house
and knew many of their friends.

As they talked further the peddler said, sinking his voice to an
undertone, "I want yeow youngsters to hev some advice; it won't cost ye
nothin', an' it may save ye a heap of trouble. There's a bad 'un stayin'
at this old tavern, an' he's likely to want yeow boys to pay fer his rum.
Naow, he won't ask ye fer money, but be all-fired keerful that he don't
git it from ye anyhow. Jes sleep with one eye open, an' hev a hick'ry
club handy t' yer bed."

Ree told the peddler of their conversation with the stranger at the
table, and as he described the fellow, their new friend said:

"He ar the one, an' him an' the hos'ler here are bad 'uns."

As the hour grew late Ree and John went to the barn to see that their
cart and horse had been properly cared for, and returning, went
immediately to bed. For half an hour they lay awake talking of their
journey. Their money was between them in the big four-poster and each had
a pistol within reach. At last they said "Good night" to one another, and
settling themselves in comfortable positions, composed themselves to

All had grown quiet about the old tavern. The ticking of the big clock
down stairs, and the baying of a hound off in the woods somewhere, were
the only sounds which reached the ears of the young emigrants. And thus
they forgot their travels and where they were, and the danger which
hovered near.

It was sometime after midnight when Ree was suddenly awakened. He had
heard no sound, nor could he tell what had disturbed his slumber; but he
had instantly found himself, eyes wide open, every sense alert. Without
the slightest noise or movement he lay listening. A minute later he felt
for just an instant the touch of something cold against his skin.

"A snake," was his first thought, and a little thrill of horror crossed
him as the idea of a reptile being in their bed, flashed over his brain.
Again he felt the touch, cold and clammy against his side; and, intending
to grab the serpent, if such it was, and hurl it from the bed, with a
quick movement of his arm he made a desperate grab. He caught and for but
an instant held a human hand, large and coarse.

"John!" Ree spoke the name with startled emphasis, and its owner rose up
in bed like a flash.

"What? What is it?"

"There is some one in this room! He has been reaching into the bed,
trying to rob us."

As he spoke Ree sprang out upon the floor. "And here's the window open!
That shows where he came in. Get your pistol and be ready to fire if he
tries to jump out. I am going to skirmish for the rascal!"

Faint rays of moonlight made the room not entirely dark, but Ree could
see no sign of the intruder as he stepped softly to the middle of the
floor. It was a useless action; for, as he was between the three dark
walls and the window in the outer wall, the robber could easily see him
without being seen himself. It was a fault of Return Kingdom's that he
did not properly consider his own safety, and the wonder is that he did
not in this instance become the target for a bullet.

"I'd better yell for help," suggested John.

"You'd better not!" said Ree emphatically, peering into the dark corners.
"I cannot be mistaken, but if I should be--well we don't care to be
laughed at."

Not a sound was heard as both boys remained perfectly quiet. Then on
tip-toe Ree went to all the corners of the room, his left hand
outstretched before him while his right held a pistol ready for instant

"John, did you sneeze?" he demanded as a smothered "kerchoo" came from
the direction of his friend.

"He's under the bed, Ree! He's under the bed! Call help!" This was John's
answer and his tone was sharp with excitement.

In a trice Ree was at the foot of the bed and looking beneath it. A dark
object there moved slightly.

"Come out of that!" Ree sternly demanded, and the click of his pistol as
he cocked the weapon sounded loud and clear. At the same moment the
object beneath the four-poster began to crawl and soon coming forth,
stood erect--the stranger the boys had met at supper.

"Oh, it's you, is it?" ejaculated Ree with an inflection of contempt in
his voice; but the next instant the intruder's hands were about his

"Help! Help!" yelled John Jerome.

Finding the young man he had seized, a much harder problem than he was
prepared to handle, and frightened by John's cries, the stranger gave Ree
a shove and sprang toward the window.

"Help! Robbers!" yelled John again, and now the stranger had one leg out
of the window. But he got no further. Ree seized him about the body; the
robber seized him in turn, and his foot striking the ladder by which he
had climbed up, it went tumbling to the ground. With a frightful oath the
fellow endeavored to throw Ree after it. For a second they both balanced
on the window sill at the very verge of falling. Then John seized the
robber's hair, and dealt him a blow with the butt of his pistol. He
raised the weapon to strike again, but Ree had now secured his release
from the villain's grasp and fired at him just as the fellow plunged to
the ground, leaving a bunch of his black hair quivering in John's hand.

The bullet took effect, for the boys found blood on the ground beneath
the window next morning; but the robber dashed around a corner out of
range at such speed that there was no opportunity to fire a second time.

A pounding on the door told the youthful travelers that the house had
been aroused, and they lost no time in admitting the landlord,
accompanied by the greatly excited peddler.

"What's all the row about?" demanded the tavern-keeper, holding a lighted
candle over his shoulder.

"I want to investigate before I say what it is all about," Ree
answered, emphasizing the "all."

"A pretty sort of a place, this is!" put in John indignantly. "We might
have been murdered in our beds!"

"How can I help it, boy? Just you keep your breeches on!"

"I'll have to put them on first," John ejaculated, and forthwith
proceeded to do so.

Ree took the landlord's candle and turned back the bed clothing. He found
the leather wallet containing their money, undisturbed, but as he picked
it up, he noticed a hole in the sheets and tick of the bed.

"Look, here," he exclaimed, "here is where the row you complain of,
began. The man who has just gone out of the window, evidently crawled
under the bed and having cut a hole through the tick, reached for our
wallet. His cold hand on my bare skin waked me up. The question is, how
did he know where the money was?"

"The skunk!" exclaimed the peddler, eyeing the tavern-keeper sharply.

"How should I know anything about it?" the landlord hotly responded. "I
ain't responsible for there being robbers about, am I?"

Ree had joined John in the task of dressing, while the proprietor of the
establishment sat on the bed, the least concerned of any, over what had
taken place.

"Haow should yeow know anythin' about it?" cried the peddler suddenly
turning toward the man. "Why, yeow ain't even asked who the thief was!
Yeow wouldn't 'a come up stairs if I hadn't 'most dragged ye! It looks
consarned strange, that's what I say! An' yeow settin' there like a
stick, sayin', 'Haow kin I help it!'"

The landlord winced and squirmed, and was glad enough to hurry down
stairs when Ree said authoritatively: "Now let's have no further talk
about this matter, but get our breakfasts at once, if you please. It will
soon be daylight."

"Ree Kingdom, you make me mad!" cried John Jerome, as the landlord
disappeared. "Why didn't you let me crack that old villain on the head?
If I didn't know that you are the only one here who has kept cool, I'd be
mad in earnest. If any of our goods have been disturbed, I'll show the
old Tory!"

Ree smiled at his friend's blustering tone, but the peddler slapped him
on the back and told him he was a "reg-lar man-o'-war with flags

The gray glimmer of dawn was in sight as the boys crossed the road to the
barn and by the light of the tallow candle in the old-time lantern,
inspected their cart and horse. All was secure. Recognizing his young
masters by the fine instinct some animals have, Jerry, their horse,
whinnied loudly, as though saying he was all right but ready to move as
soon as convenient. Hay and grain were given the faithful animal, and the
boys went in to their own breakfast.

The meal of potatoes and bacon was soon disposed of, the peddler sitting
at the table with them. He was going in their direction for a mile or two
and would accompany the lads, he said.

"We'll be glad to have you," Ree answered.

"Whatever Ree Kingdom says, I say--only he always gets the words out
first," said John. "I am like the old trapper who came hurrying up to
General Washington saying he could lick all the Redcoats on earth with
one hand tied behind his back. But the war was all over then, though he
did not know it, and so he didn't get a chance to try. He meant well, you
see, but was a little behind hand."

"That's a pert yarn," smiled the peddler, "an' there ain't nobody gladder
than I be tew see yeow so chipper; but I swan, lads, I only hope ye'll be
as jolly as ye be naow, come six months--I only hope ye will be!"

Next: A Mysterious Shot In The Darkness

Previous: The Beginning Of A Perilous Journey

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