Chapter XIX. The Burly Stranger's Little Game
 

"I'm more than glad to have met you as we did," said Dick, a little later, after Jack Wumble had asked the boys about their father. "I think it has saved us from getting into a lot of trouble."

And he related the particulars of the meeting with Henry Bradner, and what the stranger had said and done concerning Wumble.

"The snake!" ejaculated the old miner passionately. "He's a sharp, true as you are born! Why, I never put up at the Palace of the West in my life."

"I wish I knew what his game was," went on Dick.

"You will know Dick -- if I can get my hands on him. Do you reckon as how he is over to that other hotel now?"

"More than likely."

"Unless he shadowed us to here," burst out Tom. "If he did that he must know his game is up, and you can be sure he will keep out of sight."

The matter was talked over, and it was decided that Jack Wumble and the boys should go to the other hotel without delay.

On the way Dick told the old miner what had brought them to the West. Jack Wumble took a deep interest in all mining schemes, and listened closely to all the youth had to say.

"Yes, I remember about the Eclipse Mine," he said. "And I remember this Arnold Baxter, too. He was a bad one, and if I and some others had our say he would have dangled from a tree for his stealings, for, you see, we didn't have no jails in those days, and stealing was a capital crime."

"It will you help us to locate the mine before Arnold Baxter or his confederates can get on the ground? We will pay you for your trouble."

"Certainly, I'll do what I can. But I -- don't want any of Anderson Rover's pile -- not me. Why, your father nursed me through the worst case o' fever a miner ever had -- an' I ain't forgittin' it, lads. I'll stick to ye to the end." And the old miner put out his hand and gave another squeeze that made Dick wince.

The Palace of the West reached, Wumble pushed his way into the smoke-laden office and to the desk.

"Say, is there a man named Jack Wumble stopping here?" he demanded.

"Jack Wumble," repeated the clerk slowly.

"That's what I said."

"There is a Jack Wimple stopping here -- but he is out -- gone to St. Louis."

"Jack Wimple? He's not the man," and the old miner fell back and repeated what had been said to the three boys.

"Perhaps Bradner made a mistake," suggested Tom. "But I don't believe it."

"He tried to make us believe this hotel and the Western Palace were one and the same," put in Sam.

"He's sharp, I tell you," declared Jack Wumble. "Just wait till I get on his trail, I'll make him tell us the truth. More than likely he wanted to clean you boys out."

They waited around for the best part of an hour, but Henry Bradner failed to return, and at last they gave up looking for him, and the boys went back to where they had hired a room for the night, promising to rejoin Jack Wumble early in the morning, when the whole party would take a train for Denver, where Wumble wished to transact a little business before starting out for Larkspur Creek.

The boys had not slept very well on the train, so they were thoroughly tired out. They were on the point of retiring when a bell-boy came up stating that their friend wished to see Dick for a few minutes.

"Wumble must have forgotten something," said Dick. "I'll see what it is," and he took the elevator to the ground floor.

To his surprise it was not Wumble who wished to see him, but Henry Bradner.

"What, you!" cried the youth. "I thought you had skipped out."

"Skipped out?" queried the burly man in pretended surprise. "Why should I skip out?"

"Don't you know that we have found you out?"

"Found me out? You are talking in riddles, young man." And the stranger drew himself up proudly.

"We have found Mr. Jack Wumble, and he tells us that he never stopped at the Palace of the West in his life."

"Mr. Jack Wimple, you mean. Why, he is certainly at the hotel -- or was."

"We were looking for Mr. Wumble -- and you know it. I care nothing for your Mr. Wimple. And besides, you told us that the Western Palace and the Palace of the West were one and the same. That was a deliberate falsehood."

Bradner turned pale, and looked as if he wished to catch Dick by the throat. "Have a care, young man!" he hissed. "I am not a man to be trifled with. I tried to do you a good turn, but I see I have put my foot into it. Henceforth you can take care of yourself."

So speaking, Henry Bradner turned on his heel and strode off, a look of baffled rage in his eyes. Instantly Dick turned to a bell-boy.

"Run up to room 233 and tell Tom Rover to come down at once and follow his brother," he said hurriedly. "I can't go up -- I want to watch that man, for he's a crook."

The boy seemed to understand, and flew for the stairs, the elevator being out of sight. Dick ran to the door, to behold Bradner standing on the sidewalk as if undecided which way to pursue his course. But presently he walked slowly up the street. Dick followed him, and had gone less than half a block when Tom joined him, all out of breath with running.

"What is it, Dick?"

"It was Bradner, who came to smooth matters over. I am following him to see if I can't get on to his game."

"Oh, what nerve! I should think he would have been afraid to come near us."

"He's a bold one, Tom, and we must look out that we don't get bit by him."

Henry Bradner covered half a dozen blocks of the street upon which the hotel was located, and then turned into a narrow thoroughfare running toward the Chicago river.

Here were a number of low drinking places, and in front of one of these he stopped. Instead of entering the resort by the main door he went in through a side hallway, which led to a rear room.

"Perhaps he is stopping here," suggested Tom, as the two lads came to a halt.

"Well, if that is so we had better remember the place," answered Dick.

There was an alleyway alongside of the house, and looking into this the boys saw a light shining out of several windows near the rear of the resort.

"Let us take a peep into the windows," suggested Dick, and led the way.

To let out some of the tobacco smoke the windows were pulled down partly from the top. The bottom sashes were covered with half-curtains of imitation lace, but so flimsy that the boys saw through them without difficulty.

Bradner bad just entered this rear room, and was gazing around inquiringly. Now he stalked over to a table near one of the windows, and dropped heavily into a chair.

"I'm afraid the jig is up," he said, addressing somebody on the opposite side of the table.

"What has happened," asked the other person, and now the two Rover boys were amazed to learn that the party was Dan Baxter. The bully had changed his dress and also the style of wearing his hair, and was sporting a pair of nose glasses.

"They have met the real Jack Wumble, and found out that I was fooling them about the hotel."

"That's too bad," cried Dan Baxter. "You must have made a bad break of it, Bradner."

"I did my best, but I couldn't keep them from looking around, although I offered to conduct them. You can bet if I had had them under my care they wouldn't have got near the Western Palace, nor Jack Wumble either."

"Did you have a man ready to play the part of Wumble?" questioned Dan Baxter, after the burly one had ordered drinks for the two.

"Yes, I had Bill Noxton all cocked and primed. But now our cake is dough--and after all the trouble I've taken for your father, too!" And Henry Bradner uttered a snort of disgust.

"Did you warn this Noxton?"

"Oh, yes, and I put a flea into the ear of the hotel clerk, too. But the thing is, what do you suppose your father will want done next?"

"Don't ask me," answered Dan Baxter recklessly. "He don't half trust me any more. He says I'm only good to sponge on him," and the former bully of Putnam Hall gave a bitter laugh.

"Well, I haven't followed these Rovers all the way from Valley Brook farm to here for nothing," went on Henry Bradner. "Your father wanted 'em watched, and I've watched 'em ever since they came home from that boarding academy. It was a big job, too."

"Didn't they suspect you?"

"One of 'em said he thought he had seen me before." And Bradner laughed. "It was at the Valley Brook Church. I followed them to the church just to keep my word to your father."

"And you are certain Mr. Rover isn't coming West?"

"No, he's laid up with a game leg, and won't move for a month. I got that straight from the hired man." There was a pause. "What do you reckon I had best do next?"

"Telegraph to my father at Denver -- you know his assumed name, and let him advise you. I suppose the boys and that Wumble will go straight through to the mining district now."

"More than likely."

"Then father and Roebuck will have to stop them out there, although how it's to be done I don't know."

At this juncture a waiter came forward, and closed down the window, and the balance of the conversation was lost to the two Rover boys.