Chapter XXI. Ben's Savings-Bank.
 

It was not till an hour afterward that Ben rose from his lowly couch, and, by dint of violent shaking, succeeded in rousing Bradley.

"Come, Bradley, wake up!" he cried. "The sun is high, and it is time we were on our way."

Bradley stretched himself, took a long breath, and said:

"I must have had a long sleep."

"Yes, you dropped off as soon as you lay down, and have slept ever since."

"And did you sleep as soundly?"

"No, I was awake twice during the night," answered Ben.

"I don't know how it is, but I am sleepy still. Seems to me I don't stand fatigue as well as you. I am sleepy yet, and feel as if I could sleep all the forenoon."

"The effects of the drug," thought Ben.

Ben considered whether he should tell Bradley what had happened during the night. He decided briefly to say a few words about it in a whisper, and postpone a full explanation till later, for their hostess was below, and could hear any loud word that might be uttered. Bradley was instructed that he must claim to have lost five dollars.

"But I had a hundred," said Bradley, feeling in his pockets.

"It's all right," whispered Ben. "I'll explain by and by. Not a word of the loss till after breakfast."

Bradley was quite bewildered, and utterly failed to understand the situation. But he had considerable faith in his young companion, and was willing to follow Ben's instructions. They descended the ladder, Ben in advance.

The woman looked at them sharply, to see if they had yet discovered the robbery, but each seemed unconcerned.

"They don't know it yet," she said to herself.

"Madam, can you give us some breakfast?" asked Ben politely.

"I'll give you such as I have," said Mrs. Carter, feeling a little remorse for her husband's theft, and pity for what she supposed their penniless condition.

"That will be perfectly satisfactory, and we shall be much obliged to you."

The breakfast was nearly ready in anticipation of their needs, and they partook of it heartily.

Now came the critical moment.

Ben thrust his hand into his pocket, appearing to search for his money, and, after a brief space, withdrew it in apparent dismay.

"I can't find my money," he said.

Mrs. Carter's face flushed, but she said nothing. She anticipated their suspicion, and was ashamed.

"Bradley," said Ben, "have you your money?"

Jake Bradley repeated the search, and he, too, expressed surprise.

"I had it when I went to bed," he added.

"What is it?" asked the woman slowly, turning to them a troubled face. "Have you lost anything?"

"I don't seem to find my money, ma'am," answered Bradley.

"Nor I mine," said Ben. "It's curious."

Mrs. Carter could not tell by their manner whether they suspected anything, but she had her story ready. It was an invention, but life with Jack Carter had left her few compunctions about such a simple matter as telling a lie.

"I missed something myself," she said. "We don't lock our door of nights, and I reckon some tramp got in last night, when we were asleep, and robbed us all. Have you lost much, you two?"

"Not much, ma'am. There wasn't much to take."

"It's a pity. I am sorry it happened under my roof. But we slept very sound last night, Jack and me, and that's the way it must have come."

She looked at them critically, to detect, if she could, whether they suspected her husband or herself, but both the travelers were on their guard.

"Did you have much taken, ma'am?" asked Bradley.

"No," she answered hurriedly, rather ashamed of the imposture. "We ain't rich, Jack nor I."

"What I am most sorry for," said Ben, "is that we have nothing to pay for our accommodations."

"You're welcome to your lodging and what you've ate," said the woman sincerely. "And, if you like, I'll put up some luncheon for you to eat by and by."

"Thank you, ma'am, it will be very acceptable," answered Bradley.

"She's better than her husband," thought Ben.

"After all, we haven't lost much, for we shall get nearly the worth of our lost money."

The woman remarked, with some surprise, that they did not take their loss much to heart.

"How do you expect to get along without money?" she could not help asking.

"We're used to roughing it, ma'am," said Bradley. "I'm an old miner, and I think I can find some of my old chums before long."

By this time luncheon was ready, and they soon left the cabin.

Bradley could no longer repress his curiosity.

"Now, Ben, tell me all about it," he said. "Where is our money?"

Ben looked back, to make sure that he would not be overheard, and answered: "I put it in the bank for security, Jake."

"What do you mean?"

"If I am not very much mistaken, we shall find it hidden in a hole in a tree, quarter of a mile away."

"Who put it there?" asked his companion, in surprise.

"I did."

"When?"

"Last night, about midnight, as near as I can guess."

Ben laughed at his companion's evident perplexity, and told him in detail the story of the night's adventure.

"Ben, I'm proud of you," said Bradley, slapping our hero on the back. "There are not many grown men that would have known what to do under the circumstances."

"I confess that I was very much puzzled myself," said Ben modestly. "I could have done nothing if our honest host hadn't fallen asleep."

"He would feel rather provoked if he knew that nearly all of our money is untouched," said Bradley; "that is, if we find it again."

"There's no fear of that," said Ben. "Do you see that tree yonder?"

"The large one?"

"Yes."

"That is my savings-bank."

They quickened their steps till they reached the stately monarch of the forest. Ben quickly thrust his hand into the cavity and drew out the precious parcel which he had committed to it during the night. It was precisely as he had placed it there. No one had touched it.

"Now," said Ben, "I will give you ninety-five dollars. That is the amount of which I picked your pocket last night."

"You are a pickpocket of the right sort," said his companion. "You took my money in order to save it."

Their money recovered, they started on their day's march, and nightfall found them twenty miles nearer their destination.