THE VALUE OF A HARMONICA

About the middle of the forenoon Pompey curled up on a pallet in one
corner of the room, and went to sleep. There was nothing in particular
to do, and it seemed rather a sensible way of spending the time. Dean,
however, felt too anxious to follow his example.

It occurred to him that it would be a good time for him to gratify his
curiosity by examining the cavern in which he was immured, and devise,
if possible, some method of escape. First he went up close to Pompey,
and examined him carefully to see whether he was really asleep, or only
shamming. But the negro’s deep breathing soon satisfied him that there
was no sham about his slumber. So Dean felt at liberty to begin his
exploration.

He went back to the entrance, which he knew by the staircase he had
descended with Kirby and Dan. He mounted to the top, and found his way
barred by a trap-door which he tried, but unsuccessfully, to raise. It
appeared to be secured by a lock, and, not having the key, there was no
hope of escape. He gazed ruefully at this door, which shut him out from
liberty.

“I wonder if there is any other way out of the cave,” he asked himself.

It didn’t seem probable, but it was of course possible, and worth while
to investigate. If there were it would be at the other end, no doubt.

He retraced his steps, and found Pompey still fast asleep, and utterly
unconscious of the movements of the prisoner under his charge.

Dean took a lamp and went farther into the cave. There seemed to be a
series of excavations, connected by narrow passages. In one of these
was a large box, constructed like a sailor’s chest. It occurred to
him that it might belong to Pompey, and be used by him to contain his
clothing. But a little thought suggested that the negro was not likely
to have a large stock of clothes. Probably the suit he had on was about
all he possessed. What, then, did the chest contain?

At each end was a handle. Dean took hold of one and tried to lift the
chest. But he found it very heavy, much heavier than it would have been
had it contained clothing.

He rose to his feet and eyed it with curiosity. There was nothing
elaborate about the lock, and it struck Dean that a key which he had in
his pocket might possibly unlock it. Upon the impulse of the moment he
kneeled down and inserted it in the lock.

Very much to his surprise, and indeed it did seem an extraordinary
chance, for it was the only key he had, it proved to fit the lock. He
turned it, and raised the lid. The sight dazzled him.

Before him lay piles of gold and silver coins, and a package of bank
bills. This cave was evidently the store house of an organized band of
robbers, and the chest might be considered their treasury.

“I wonder if this is real,” thought Dean. “It seems like a scene in the
Arabian Nights.”

It did indeed seem strange that this far off nook of Colorado should be
the rendezvous and treasure house of a band so widely scattered that
the captain was a quiet citizen of a small town in the State of New
York, nearly two thousand miles away.

How improbable it would have seemed to the Citizens of Waterford,
among whom Squire Bates moved, living in outward seeming the life of
any other respectable and law abiding citizen! This was the Waterford
mystery, which by a series of remarkable adventures it had fallen to
Dean to solve.

He locked the chest, fearing that Pompey might suddenly awake, and,
following, discover what he was about. He wanted some time to think
over this strange discovery, and consider what to do. To be sure, there
seemed little chance of his doing anything except to remain where he
was, a subterranean prisoner.

Dean felt more than ever a desire to leave the cave, but the prospect
was not encouraging. Why he was kept a prisoner he could guess. He
knew too much of the band, and especially of their leader, and he was
considered dangerous. His imprisonment might be a prolonged one, and
Dean felt that this would be intolerable.

It was in a very sober frame that he returned to the room where Pompey
was still sleeping. An hour later the negro awoke and stretched himself.

“Have I been asleep long, young massa?” he asked.

“Two or three hours, I should think, Pompey.”

“Dat’s strange! I only just closed my eyes for a minute, and I done
forgot myself.”

“You might as well go to sleep. There’s nothing else to do.”

“I must get some dinner, honey. Don’t you feel hungry?”

“I might eat something,” said Dean listlessly.

Pompey bustled round, and prepared a lunch, to which Dean, homesick as
he was, did not fail to do justice. It takes a great deal to spoil the
appetite of a growing boy.

After the noon repast Dean sat down. He was beginning to find the
monotony intolerable.

“Have you got any books down here, Pompey?” he asked.

Pompey shook his head.

“No use for books, young massa. I can’t read.”

“But I can.”

“Perhaps Massa Kirby will bring you some if you ask him.”

Dean did not care to ask any favor of Kirby. Moreover he knew that that
gentleman was not particularly literary, and doubted if he was in a
position to grant the request.

By way of beguiling the time he took out his harmonica in an absent
mood, and began to play “Old Folks at Home.”

Instantly Pompey was on the alert. His eyes brightened, and he fixed
them in rapture upon the young player.

“What’s dat, young massa?” he asked.

“That’s a harmonica.”

“You do play beau’ful, young massa.”

“Thank you, Pompey, I am glad you like it.”

“Play some more,” entreated Pompey.

Dean complied with the negro’s request, partly because he was obliging,
partly because it helped to fill up the time. He could scarcely forbear
laughing to see Pompey rocking to and fro with his mouth open, drinking
in the melodious strains.

Nature had given Pompey a rapt appreciation of music, and he began to
croon a vocal accompaniment to the instrument.

“Who learn you to play, young massa?” he asked.

“I taught myself. It isn’t hard.”

“Dat’s because your white. A poor nigger like me couldn’t learn,” said
Pompey half inquiringly.

“Oh yes, you could. I see you have an ear for music. Would you like to
try?”

“If you would let me.”

Dean handed the negro the harmonica, and gave him the necessary
directions. In the course of half an hour he was able to play through
“Old Folks at Home,” with substantial accuracy.

“I wish I had a harmonicum,” said Pompey wistfully. “It would make old
Pompey happy.”

An idea came into Dean’s head—a wild, perhaps an impracticable idea,
but he resolved to carry it out, if possible.

“Pompey,” he said, “I’ll give you the harmonica if you’ll let me out of
the cave.”

Pompey rolled his eyes in affright.

“Couldn’t do it no how, young massa,” he said. “Massa Kirby would kill
me.”

“He’d think I got away when you were asleep, Pompey. Come, I’ll show
you two or three more tunes on the instrument, and you can learn others
yourself.”

“I don’t dare to, young massa,” said Pompey, but there was a suspicion
of indecision in his voice.

“Very well, then, give me back the harmonica. I will never play any
more upon it.”

“Oh, young massa!”

“I mean what I say, Pompey”—and Dean put the harmonica in his pocket.

Pompey eyed him with a troubled look. He was evidently weighing the
matter in his mind.

“If I thought Massa Kirby wouldn’t kill me,” he said reflectively.

Dean upon this redoubled his persuasions. He played another tune on
the harmonica—”Sweet Home”—with variations, and this completed the
conquest of his sable custodian.

“I’ll do it, young massa,” said Pompey, hoarsely. “Give me the
harmonicum, and I’ll take the risk.”

Dean did not want to give him time for reflection. He seized his hat,
and handed Pompey the instrument.

The negro guided him, not to the front entrance which he already knew,
but to a back exit which he had overlooked. Here there was a door
skillfully concealed on the outside. Pompey drew out a key, opened it,
and with infinite relief Dean again saw the sunshine and breathed the
air of freedom.

“Good-bye, Pompey!” he said. “I thank you with all my heart.”

“If Massa Kirby cotch you, don’t you tell him I let you go,” said
Pompey, hoarsely.

“No, I won’t, Pompey, but I don’t mean to let him catch me.”

The door closed behind him, and Dean paused to consider what course to
take. He must at all hazards avoid falling in with Kirby and Dan.

“That harmonica is worth its weight in gold!” thought Dean, gratefully.
“It is a regular talisman.”

Dean had no particular choice as to the direction he would take.
His principal desire was to get out of the neighborhood, so as to
avoid meeting Kirby or Dan, as this would insure a second term of
imprisonment from which he could not hope to escape so easily. He had
a general idea of the location of the cabin in which he had passed
the previous night, and he shaped his course as far away from it as
possible. He looked at his watch, which Kirby had neglected to take,
and found that it was between four and five in the afternoon. He did
not know how far the wooded district extended, but hoped soon to emerge
from it.

[Illustration: MR. KIRBY WAS COUNTING A NUMBER OF $50 BILLS.]

It might have been that he was bewildered, but the farther he traveled
the more he seemed to be surrounded by trees. Moreover the shades
were deepening, and soon the night would settle about him.

“I wish I had a compass,” thought Dean. “That would help me find my way
out of this labyrinth.”

He had met no one as yet, and this was upon the whole a relief, as
the persons most likely to be encountered were Kirby and Dan. But at
length a sound of voices fell upon his ear, and he stayed his steps in
momentary alarm. He listened intently, but was reassured when he found
that the voices were unfamiliar.

“It may be some one who can show me the way out of these woods,”
thought Dean. “At any rate I don’t believe they will harm a boy. I will
try to find them.”

Guided by the voices he directed his steps in the direction of the
sound, and found himself at length in an open space. Under a tree
reclined two stalwart men who, from their garb, appeared to be miners.
They were lying in an easy position, and both were smoking pipes.

“Good-afternoon, gentlemen,” said Dean politely.

The two men looked up in surprise.

“Why, it’s a kid!” ejaculated one. “How came you here, boy?”

“I’ll tell you, if you don’t mind my joining you,” said Dean.

“Come and welcome! It’s rather refreshing to see a young chap like you.
I’ve got a boy at home who is within a year or two as old as you.”

“I am sixteen.”

“So I thought. My boy is fourteen. What is your name?”

“Dean Dunham. I come from Waterford, New York.”

“Then you are from my State. I am from Syracuse. My name is Rawson—Ben
Rawson. My friend here is Ebenezer Jones, commonly called Eben, a
Connecticut Yankee—Eben, shake with our young friend.”

“I am glad to meet you, Mr. Jones,” said Dean, extending his hand with
a smile.

“You must look out for Eben,” said Rawson jocosely. “Them Connecticut
Yankees are as sharp as they make ’em.”

“I will risk it,” said Dean. “I am very glad to meet you both, for I
was beginning to feel that I was lost.”

“Eben and I are too good mountaineers to be easily lost. How long have
you been in these woods?”

“Since yesterday noon.”

“Did you sleep out?”

“No, I found a cabin where I lodged.”

“You were in luck.”

“In bad luck.”

“How is that?” asked Rawson in surprise. “Were you robbed?”

“No, but I found myself in the company of two men who I am pretty sure
belong to a gang of robbers. One of them I had seen before—at the
East. They blindfolded me, and took me, to a cavern, where they left me
in charge of a negro named Pompey.”

“What could be their object?” asked Rawson. “You are sure you’re not
romancing, boy?”

“I wish I were, but the cave exists, just as certainly as I do.”

“But of what use is it?”

“I think it is a hiding-place for their booty,” answered Dean, and he
gave an account of the chest which he had opened, and the nature of its
contents.

“Why didn’t you take a handful of the gold?” asked Rawson.

“At the time I didn’t know but I should have to remain in the cave,
when of course it would be discovered on me. Besides, though I knew it
to be stolen property I didn’t feel like taking it.”

“Eben and I wouldn’t be so particular. Whereabouts is this cave?”

“I think it must be three or four miles away, but I may be mistaken,
for I got turned round, and may have doubled on my tracks. I have been
afraid I might fall in with Kirby and Dan. When I heard your voices I
thought at first it might be them.”

“You’re safe now, lad. We would be more than a match for them, even
if they did turn up. I shouldn’t mind giving them a lesson. But you
haven’t told us what brought you out here, lad.”

“I thought I might make a better living than at home.”

“And have you?”

“So far I have, but my prospects don’t appear to be very bright just
now.”

“Don’t be too sure of that. Suppose you join us.”

“I shall be glad to do so, if you will let me.”

“Then we’ll shake hands to our better acquaintance. I’d offer you a
pipe if I had an extra one.”

“Thank you; I don’t smoke.”

“Well, lad, perhaps you’re right. Smoking won’t do any good to a boy
like you.”

“If I am to join you would you mind telling me your plans?”

“Of course I will. We’re miners, as you might guess from our looks.
We’ve been up in Gilpin County, and have done pretty well. We’ve got
some claims there yet, but we wanted a little change and have been on a
little prospecting tour.”

“Have you had good luck?”

“In prospecting? No! We are on our way back, and shall settle down to
work again all the better for our holiday.”

“How long have you been out here?” asked Dean.

“I’ve been here fourteen months—Eben for a year. We never met before,
but we concluded to join forces, and haven’t regretted it, eh—Eben?”

“Right you are, Rawson.”

“Eben here has a girl at home that’s waiting for him. When he has made
his pile, he’s going back to her.”

“And how about you, Mr. Rawson?”

“Never mind about the handle to my name, youngster. Call me Ben.”

“But you are so much older than I,” objected Dean.

“We’re free and easy out here—it’s the best way. When we get back to
the East you may call me Mr. Rawson if you want to. I say, Eben, if we
take the boy into partnership, he ought to have some capital.”

“I am sorry that I can’t put in any capital,” said Dean. “Besides this
watch I haven’t over five dollars about me.”

“You misunderstand me, lad. I mean that Eben and I should set you up
in business. We’ve got six claims—between us. What do you say, Eben,
to giving this boy two? Then we shall be equal partners, and share and
share alike.”

“It’s just as you say, Ben,” answered Eben, who was evidently guided in
all things by his older companion.

“You are very generous, Ben,” said Dean, “but I ought not to accept such
a gift. If you don’t mind giving me one, I will take it, and thank you.”

“No, lad,” persisted Rawson. “It’s share and share alike, as I said.”

“But I ought not to be on equal terms with you two, who have others to
look out for.”

“You won’t be, lad—Eben and I have each got a pile salted down in one
of the banks in Denver. It’s near five thousand dollars apiece, isn’t
it, Eben?”

“Yes, not far from that, Rawson.”

“We will share alike for the future—that’s what I mean. There’s more
gold where the other came from, and I hope the claims will pan out well
for your sake.”

Dean felt that he had indeed fallen into good hands. He might
have traveled far enough in the East without meeting strangers so
free-handed. Indeed had he met the same parties at home, he would
scarcely have found them so liberal. The wild, free life of the West
had opened their hearts and made them generous.

“Hist!” said Rawson suddenly, raising his hand, and assuming an intent
look, “I think I hear voices.”

He was right. Two men, walking slowly, and appearing to be in
earnest conversation, approached. “It’s Dan and Kirby!” said Dean in
excitement.

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