Chapter XVIII. An Evening Call.
 

To lie awake in momentary expectation of a hostile attack, from which there is apparently no escape, is by no means a comfortable position. The cabin was in the heart of the woods, with no other dwelling within twenty miles, so far as Ben knew. In fact, if it were true, as Jack had said, that there were no mines near at hand, there were probably no neighbors, except, possibly, of Jack's kind.

The question recurred to Ben: Was he willing to surrender his money, and go forth penniless, or should he attempt to escape or resist?

"If Jake would only wake up!" he thought, surveying, with perplexity, the recumbent form at his side.

But Jake was as senseless as a log, and the attempt to rouse him would inevitably attract attention below and precipitate the attack, besides leaving them utterly penniless.

There was another idea which occurred to our hero: Could he secrete his own money and Jake's, or the greater part of it, and thus save it from the clutches of his dishonest host?

If it had been in the form of bank-bills, there might have been some chance of doing this, but it was not so easy to conceal gold pieces. While considering this question, Ben rose softly and looked out of the window. Strictly speaking, there was no window, but a hole about fifteen inches square, screened by a curtain of coarse cotton cloth. This Ben moved aside, and looked out.

It was not a very dark night. In the half-light Ben was able to see a considerable distance. The height of the opening from the ground was probably not much over twelve feet, as well as the boy could estimate. There would have been no difficulty in his getting out and swinging to the ground, but to this move there were two objections: First, he would be sure to be heard by his enemy below; and, secondly, he was unwilling to leave Jake in the power of the enemy.

While he was standing at the window he heard the noise of some one moving below. The heavy step convinced him that it was Jack. He could not leave his place and lie down without being detected, and he hastily decided to remain where he was.

In this way he might possibly gain time.

Jack softly stepped from round to round of the ladder, and presently his head peered above the floor. He started angrily when he saw the boy at the window.

"What are you about there, boy?" he demanded roughly.

Ben turned, and said composedly: "I am looking out."

"Why are you not in bed and asleep, like your friend?"

"I tried to sleep, sir, but I couldn't."

"Do you expect to get to sleep looking out of that hole?"

"I thought I'd see how light it was."

"Well, I can't have you trampin' round, keepin' the old woman and me awake. I wouldn't have let you sleep here ef I had known that's the way you spend the night."

"I beg pardon if I disturbed you," said Ben politely.

"Well, that don't do no good, your apologizin'. Jest lay down and get to sleep in a hurry, or I'll know the reason why."

"All right, sir," said Ben submissively.

"What's the name of that chap that's with you?" continued Jack.

"It's Jake Bradley."

"He's a sensible man, he is. He lays down and goes to sleep, while you're trampin' round the room and lookin' out of doors. You won't see nothin' to pay you."

"I think you're right, sir. I'll lie down and go to sleep."

"You'd better. Me and the old woman can't be kept awake all night."

When Ben had resumed his place on the floor, the intruder descended the ladder. Though it would have been easy enough to execute his plan of robbery now, he evidently preferred to wait till both the travelers should be asleep.

It was not true, as he had said, that he had heard Ben moving about. In fact, it had been a surprise to him to find the boy up, but this afforded a convenient and plausible pretext for his intrusion, and he had availed himself of it.