BEN SURPRISES EVERYBODY

And where was Gus all this while? He was just where he had been every
day since he came from Elmwood, and that was in Barlow’s saloon. The
boarding-house keeper was almost the only one there was in the village
who would have anything to do with him, and Gus liked to be in his
company, for the old man talked of nothing but the “meanness” of which
Captain Nellis had been guilty, and was never tired of rehearsing the
plans he had laid against his son. Gus, knowing that Bob was expected on
this particular morning, dropped into the saloon as if by accident, but
in reality for the purpose of directing Barlow’s attention to him in
case the old man did not happen to see him when he landed from the
steamer. But Barlow always knew who landed in that port, day or night.
His house fronted on the wharf, and by taking his stand in the door he
could see everyone who passed. This morning Bob was almost the first
passenger that left the steamer, and Barlow knew him at once.
“There’s that conceited young prig now,” said he, quickly. “I didn’t
tell you that I had got things all fixed for him, did I, Mr. ‘Gustus?”
“No,” replied the boy.
“Well, I will tell you,” said Barlow, leaving the door and walking to
his accustomed place behind the counter, “because I know the secret will
be safe with you, and perhaps I shall want you to help me.”
“Be careful,” interrupted Gus, nodding his head toward a sailor who was
seated near the end of the counter with his hat drawn down over his
eyes, as if fast asleep.
“No fear of him,” replied Barlow. “He has been snoring there for the
last hour. As I was going to say, a ship is to sail to-night for
Australia and the Spice Islands, and the cap’n has been here a dozen
times during the last few days, begging me to raise a crew for him by
fair means or foul. I’ve got all but two aboard, and I’ve got them in my
eye. Bob Nellis is one, and there’s the other,” said Barlow, pointing to
the sailor before spoken of.
“Who is he?” asked Gus.
“Why, don’t you know? Then it must be because he keeps his hat down over
his face. If he would raise it for a moment you would see that he is old
Ben Watson, your uncle’s gardener. When your father got possession of
the place he kicked out all the old servants, as you know, and hired
niggers to fill their places. I suppose he don’t want them about, to
remind him of his brother-in-law, and I don’t blame him. Ever since he
was discharged, Ben has been layin’ around with no heart to go at
anything, and he owes me twenty dollars for board and grub. I’ve tried
my best to ship him in a crew by fair means, for Ben is a good sailor,
but the old fellow says he has too many years on his shoulders. But I
must have him for the J. W. Smart, ’cause I can’t find anybody else that
is goin’ to sail, and so I shall have to doctor his tea to-night.”
“Drug it?” asked Gus.
“Yes; put him to sleep and take him aboard before he awakes. And now
about Bob. He is going up to your house, I suppose, and if you will keep
an eye on him, and get him out into the garden to-night about eight
o’clock, me and my barkeeper will slip up and take him in tow, and no
one will be the wiser for it. I shall make sixty dollars by shipping him
and Ben, and I’ll give you ten of it. What do you say?”
“It is a bargain,” replied Gus, wondering at the readiness with which he
accepted the villainous offer. “I will be on hand when you want me.”
“You will never see him again when once he is aboard that ship,”
continued Barlow. “Cap’n French is the hardest ship-master that ever
sailed, and when a man doesn’t do to suit him, he quietly knocks him
overboard. More than that, the ship belongs to old man Brock, who feeds
his hands on nothin’ and pays them the same. He has to promise them
thirty dollars a month, for that is what they are payin’ out of this
port, but he always orders his skippers to treat them harshly, so that
they will desert the first chance they get, and the cap’n fills their
places with cheaper hands, which they can always find in foreign ports.
Between the belayin’-pins which Cap’n French slings about so reckless,
and the yellow fever, and the niggers among whom they are going to
trade, Mr. Bob will have a lively time of it. Now, don’t forget to have
him out of the house to-night at eight o’clock sharp, and me and my
barkeeper will do the rest. We’ll just slip up there—”
Barlow suddenly paused and startled his auditor with the heaviest kind
of an oath. Gus followed the direction of his gaze and saw that it
rested on the sailor, who had raised his hat from his face and was
looking at them with wide-open eyes. It was old Ben Watson, sure enough,
and he had heard every word of the conversation.
Never in his life had Gus been more astounded and alarmed. He leaned
against the counter and stared stupidly at old Ben, and even Barlow
seemed to be at his wits’ end. The old sailor was the only one who
retained his presence of mind. Hastily putting on his hat he arose and
started for the door; but his indignation got the better of his
prudence, and he stopped to say a parting word to the conspirators.
“You’ll kidnap me and Bob and ship us off to foreign parts against our
will, will you!” he exclaimed. “Not if I know myself. I’ll have the pair
of you arrested in less’n an hour!”
These words seemed to bring Barlow to his senses. Like all men of his
class he had faithful assistants close at hand, who had lent their aid
in more than one emergency like the present, and he shouted out their
names with so much earnestness that they lost no time in making their
appearance.
“Here, Bull! Bull! I say, Samson! Show yourself!” he roared.
The first was a huge bull-dog which was lying on the steps in front of
the house, and the second was the barkeeper, a man who, judging by his
size and apparent muscular power, was rightly named. These two worthies
came in at opposite doors at the same instant. The dog at once launched
himself at the sailor’s throat, but was met half-way by a heavy chair,
which Ben caught up and threw at him with such accuracy of aim that the
fierce brute was stretched motionless on the floor. In an instant he
turned upon the barkeeper. Just as he put out his hands to seize Ben
from behind he was met by a stunning blow in the face—a regular one-two,
which showed that the old sailor had received some early training in
boxing—and he, too, was stretched on the floor, quivering like a man who
had just had his death-wound.
[Illustration: BEN ON HIS METTLE.]
“Got any more help?” said Ben. “I ought to put you by the side of them,
you old land-shark, and I will, too, if you open your head.”
But it seems that Ben was not alone. There was a scurrying of feet out
in front of the house, and who should come in but Leon Sprague and his
father. They had had some business on the docks and were just going home
when their attention was attracted by the noise of the fight going on in
Barlow’s saloon. Mr. Sprague was a man the boarding-house keeper was not
at all delighted to see. During the short time he had been in the
village he had been elected police magistrate, and of course he had it
in his power to get at the bottom of the matter.
“What is the meaning of this?” he exclaimed. “Put down that chair!”
“Gus Layton!” said Sprague, astonished almost beyond measure to find his
old stroke there in the saloon.
“Yes, sir; it is Gus Layton,” responded Ben. “He and that old land-shark
have been laying their plans to kidnap Bob and me to-night and send us
off to foreign parts. They would have taken me at once if I hadn’t laid
the bull-dog and barkeeper out. I want the pair of them arrested.”
“It’s a lie!” said the barkeeper, arousing himself at this moment.
“Yes, of course it is!” exclaimed Barlow, catching at the idea thus
thrown out. “It’s a lie out of the whole cloth. Ain’t it, Gus?”
“Ye-es,” said Gus, who didn’t know whether he stood on his head or his
feet, so frightened was he. “Of course it is a lie. He was asleep, and
dreamed it all.”
“That’s the idea,” echoed Barlow. “He was asleep there on that table,
with his hat over his eyes, and dreamed about being kidnapped. There
ain’t a word of truth in it. Gus came in here to ask me—to say that he
had seen—to ask me how I was, in fact, and I told him I was pretty
well—”
“If I ain’t telling you the truth I don’t want to lay up anything for
old age,” said Ben, earnestly; and one couldn’t have looked into his
honest face and accused him of telling a falsehood. “I was just as
wide-awake as I am at this moment, and heard them talk the matter all
over. When I got up to go, Barlow yelled for the barkeeper and the
bull-dog.”
“I believe that is so,” Sprague whispered to his father. “You are Ben
Watson, are you not?”
“Yes, sir; that’s who I am.”
“Well, did you know that Bob has come home?”
“I never knew it until to-day, sir. I want to see him the first thing I
do.”
“I wouldn’t make out a warrant for anybody’s arrest until Ben has had an
interview with Bob,” said Sprague to his father. “I have heard a good
deal about Ben Watson, but I never heard of his telling a lie yet. Come
on. I’ll go up to the house with you.”
“Now let me tell you something before I go away,” said Mr. Sprague. “You
are beginning to keep a most disorderly house here, and the very next
time you have a fight here I shall shut you up.”
“I tell you, sir, we ain’t been keepin’ no disorderly house,” replied
Barlow. He was as mad a man as ever stepped, but he took good care not
to show it. “That fellow has been asleep and dreamed—”
“I understand all about it,” said Mr. Sprague. “I only caution you
against having another fight here.”
Barlow walked around behind the counter, the barkeeper got up and rubbed
his face, which began to be puffed out around the eyes, the bull-dog
staggered to his feet and began reeling across the floor, and Gus leaned
on the place where the drinks were served, so utterly amazed and
bewildered that he could not speak.
“Those two are going up to your house,” said Barlow, recovering his
speech with an effort. He had first uttered a volley of oaths when he
saw his bull-dog and his barkeeper worsted, and had gathered up a chair
to take a hand in the muss, but his swear-words grew soft the moment Mr.
Sprague entered. He knew that the magistrate had a right to fine him for
every oath to which he gave utterance. “They are going up to your house,
and they’ll see Bob there.”
“That’s just what I am afraid of,” said Gus, walking up and down in
front of the counter and wringing his hands. “I don’t see what made me
come here, anyway.”
“No more do I,” said Barlow, looking savagely at him. “The whole thing
is out on us. You had better get out of here as soon as you can, and
don’t come to us with any more trickery.”
“Why, this was your own doing!” said Gus, surprised to learn that he was
the cause of all Barlow’s trouble. “You hollered for the barkeeper and
the bull-dog—”
“But I wouldn’t ‘a’ done it if you hadn’t been here!” retorted the old
man, angrily. “Come now, get out!”
Barlow came out from behind the counter and Gus made haste to get
through the open door into the street; but where should he go? He pulled
his hat down over his eyes, thrust his hands deep into his pockets, and
walked along, thinking the matter over.
“If that man ever gets into another row I’ll shut him up,” repeated Mr.
Sprague, as they hurried on in the direction of the house which had once
been Bob’s home. “I have heard of such things as shipping a lot of
landsmen to make up a ship’s company, but I never thought it would be
brought home to me in this manner. Watson, you’re sure you were not
asleep and dreamed it all?”
“I told you nothing but the truth,” said Ben, as if he hoped in some way
to make Mr. Sprague believe it. “I can repeat every word they said. You
ask Bob, and see if he will believe me. I never told a lie in my life,
except when I was telling some stories of the sea.”
“Well, Leon will go around there with you and I’ll go home. And I want
you to add my earnest invitation to Leon’s, and tell Bob that if he
can’t see his way clearly to stopping there he must come up to my
house.”
Ben promised compliance, and Mr. Sprague turned up the street that led
to his residence.
“I’ll tell you another thing,” said Ben. “That man Barlow says I owe him
twenty dollars for grub and lodging. I’ll go there to-morrow and pay
him, though to tell the truth I didn’t suppose I owed him anything. I’ve
got money that I saved while Cap’n Nellis was here, and if Bob wants it
he can have it.”
“You say when Mr. Nellis was here,” replied Leon. “Then you don’t think
he is dead?”
“He’s as lively as you or I at this minute,” said Ben, earnestly.
“Then why don’t you go and get him?” asked Leon.
“Ah! That’s the trouble. We don’t know where he is. The ocean is large,
and there’s a heap of islands scattered around in it.”
“But Barlow might have killed him. They went for you pretty rough.”
“They didn’t kill nobody; Barlow hasn’t stooped quite low enough for
that yet. I don’t say that Barlow had a hand in it, but I think I know
who had. And this ‘will’ business. I tell you it is all a fraud.”
Ben became silent after this, and said no more until they had opened the
iron gate and moved up the sidewalk to the door that led to Bob’s home;
for it was Bob’s home in spite of all that happened, and Ben
acknowledged the fact. It didn’t make any difference how many people
came there to live, the will wasn’t right, even though it had been
admitted to probate. Mr. Layton was on hand, and he sent Sam with orders
to clear them out. He knew Sprague and Watson, and he was afraid to have
them come there.
“Sah, it’s moster’s positive commands dat you,” began Sam—
“Never mind that,” said Sprague. “We have come here to see Bob. If he is
about the house ask him to come here.”
“I—I don’t know, sah,” hesitated Sam, “but I think he has gone away. He
hain’t been around de house since ‘arly dis morning. I will go and see
what moster say about it.”


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The negro disappeared, locking the front door behind him, whereupon
Sprague looked at Ben and smiled. It made Ben madder than ever. It was
the first time he had ever had that front door locked upon him. The
darky passed along the hall until he reached the library door, upon
which he pounded with his fingers. He opened it in response to the
summons from the inside, and found Mr. Layton pacing the floor. He was
paler now than he was the first time we saw him, and trembled so visibly
that any one could have noticed it.
“Dem gemmen out dar gwine to see Moster Bob,” said Sam, in a tone of
voice that Mr. Layton did not like. It showed that the darky understood
that there was something wrong. “Yes, sah; they gwine to see him. Mebbe
he up in his room, sah.”
“That’s a pretty way to talk!” said Mr. Layton. “They come onto my
grounds without being invited, and then say they are going to see
somebody. Did you lock the front door?”
“Oh, yes, sah; I locked it.”
“Then let them ring until they are tired. They will soon get weary of it
and go away. Have you seen Augustus lately? Well, when he comes, tell
him that I want to see him.”
But it seems that Sprague was not in the habit of ringing the bells on
doors that had been locked against him. He had another and a better way
of reaching the ears of the boy he wanted to see. After waiting a
sufficient length of time for the negro to open the door he threw back
his head and whistled, shrilly, three long whistles and a short one, and
he knew that if Bob was anywhere about the house that signal would be
sure to bring him out. Nor was he disappointed. One of the upper windows
was thrown up and Bob’s head was thrust out. He did not look much like
the stroke of the winning boat that had been rowed in the race at
Elmwood. His face was pale and sunken, and his eyes looked as though
they had long been in want of sleep. But his voice was as strong as
ever.
“Halloo, Sprague; I didn’t expect to see you again so soon,” said he.
“Why, isn’t that Ben Watson? I’ll be down directly.”
In a few moments they heard his steps coming down the stairs. He tried
the door, but it was locked, and he stopped to turn the key. When he
appeared on the porch his face wore an angry expression which even
Sprague had never seen there before.
“I didn’t lock it, boys,” said he, as he hurried down the steps to shake
Watson by the hand. “I heard you talking, but I didn’t know who it was.
It is the first time a door has been locked in the face of my friends.”
“But that ain’t the worst of it, Mister Bob,” said Ben, lifting his hat
to the boy out of respect to his old commander. “You know that saloon
that is run by that old land-shark Barlow, don’t you?”
“I know of it, but I have never been there,” returned Bob. “What of it?
Has anything been going on there?”
“Well, I should say so,” said Ben. “Gus Layton has been there, and him
and Barlow have made all arrangements for shipping us on the ship Smart
and sending us off to foreign parts.”
Bob was utterly amazed, and began to see that Gus was not quite so
helpless as he thought he was. He looked toward Sprague to confirm the
story, and he nodded his head.
“Did you hear it?” asked Bob.
“No; but we got there in time to help Ben. He had the bull-dog and the
barkeeper laid out and was getting ready to defend himself against
Barlow, who had a chair.”
“And then they said I was asleep and dreamed it all!” chimed in Ben. “I
never was more wide-awake in my life. Mister Bob, you don’t want to go
near the garden to-night.”
“I will see a lawyer about it this very afternoon,” said Bob, with a
very determined expression on his face. “I am not going to put up with
this thing any longer. They seem to think that, because they have taken
my father’s property away, they can drive me out of town; but I’ll show
them that they can’t.”
“Good for you, Mister Bob!” said Ben; and he reached out his hand for
another shake. “I always said that you would come out at the top of the
heap. I’ve got some money, and you can have it all.”
“Thank you, Ben; but I don’t think I shall have need for it.”
“Let us go a little farther away from the house before we do any more
talking,” said Sprague. “These windows are open, and it would be any
easy matter for someone to slip up and hear everything we said.”
“Now, Ben, I want you to begin and tell me all about that kidnapping
business,” said Bob, as they walked along toward the gate. “How was he
going to do it?”
As they walked away somebody behind one of the curtains, near one of the
open windows, straightened up and staggered toward the library. It was
Mr. Layton, and he had heard every word of their conversation. When he
reached the library he sank into the nearest chair and rang the bell for
the negro, who presently appeared.
“Sam,” said Mr. Layton, in a trembling voice, “put on your cap and see
if you can find Augustus somewhere about the streets. If you can, tell
him that I want to see him directly—directly, mind you. Those are my
imperative orders.”