Chapter XXVI. The Events of a Night
 

In the country it may safely be assumed that by twelve o'clock at night every sound and healthy person will be asleep. Dick Ranney gave an extra margin of half an hour, and thirty minutes after midnight made his appearance in the hotel yard. Thanks to the information given by his young messenger, Oren Trott, who, of course, did not know that in this way he was assisting a dishonest scheme, he was able to fix at once upon the windows of the rooms occupied by Walter and the professor.

He decided to enter Walter's chamber first, partly because he wanted his revolver, which would be of service to him in case he were attacked. Then, again, he wanted the satisfaction of triumphing over the boy who had had the audacity to defy him--a full-grown man, and one whose name had carried terror to many a traveler.

There was a long ladder leaning against the stable. Dick Ranney could not call this providential without insinuating that Providence was fighting on the side of the transgressor, but he called it, appropriately, a "stroke of luck," as indeed it seemed at the time.

He secured the ladder and put it up against the window of Walter's room. The window, as he could see, was partly open, it being a summer night.

Dick Ranney observed this with a grim smile of satisfaction.

"He's making things easy for me," he said to himself.

As softly and cautiously as a cat he ascended the ladder, but not softly enough to escape the vigilant ear of Manning, who was expecting him.

Manning at the sound stepped from the bed--he had thrown himself on the outside, without undressing--and stepped into a closet, as he did not wish Ranney to learn that there were two persons in the chamber. Walter was awake, but he lay in bed motionless and with his eyes closed. The revolver was in Manning's hands, but he had placed his clothing temptingly over a chair between the bed and the window, but in such a position that his companion on coming out of the closet would be between the window and the burglar. Dick Ranney stood on the ladder and looked in.

What he saw reassured him. Walter was in bed, and seemed to be fast asleep.

"The coast is clear," he murmured softly. "Now, where is the revolver?"

He could not see it, but this did not trouble him. Probably the boy had it under his pillow, and in that case he could obtain it without trouble. Meanwhile, it would be well to secure the boy's pocketbook. Though he underrated Walter's wealth, he thought he might have twenty dollars, and this would be worth taking.

He lifted the window softly and entered the room. In order to deaden the sound of his steps he had taken off his shoes and placed them on the ground beside the foot of the ladder.

Having entered the room, he strode softly to the chair over which Walter had thrown his clothes and began to feel in the pockets of his pantaloons. There was a purse in one of the pockets which contained a few small silver coins, but it is needless to say that Walter had disposed of his stock of bank bills elsewhere. He felt that prevention of robbery was better than the recovery of the goods stolen.

Meanwhile, Manning, whose hearing was keen, was made aware through it that the burglar had entered the room. He opened the door of the closet and, walking into the center of the apartment, placed himself, revolver in hand, in front of the window.

Though his motions were gentle, the outlaw's ears were quick. He turned swiftly, and with a look of dismay realized that he had walked into a trap. He had not felt afraid to encounter a boy of eighteen, but here was a resolute man, who had the advantage of being armed, and well armed.

Dick Ranney surveyed him for a minute in silence, but was very busily thinking what were his chances of escape.

"Well," said Manning, "we meet again!" "Again?" repeated Ranney, in a questioning tone.

"Yes. When we last met, you had the drop on me and relieved me of my wallet. To-night I have the drop on you."

Dick Ranney paused for reflection.

"That's so," he said. "Do you want your wallet back?"

"Yes."

"Then we'll make a bargain. Give me that revolver, promise not to raise the house, and I will give you back your wallet."

"With all the money inside?"

"Yes."

"I don't think I will," said Manning, after a pause.

"Don't be a fool! Come, be quick, or the boy will wake up."

"He is awake already," said Walter, raising his head from the pillow.

"Were you awake when I entered the room?" asked Dick Ranney, quickly.

"Yes."

"Fooled again!" exclaimed Ranney, bitterly. "Boy, I believe you are my evil genius. Till I met you, I thought myself a match for any one."

"You were more than a match for me," said Manning, "but he wins best who wins last."

"Well, what do you mean to do?" asked Ranney, doggedly.

"To capture you, Dick Ranney, and hand you over to the law which you have so persistently violated."

"That you will never do," said Ranney, and he dashed toward the window, thrusting Manning to one side.

But what he saw increased his dismay. The ladder had been removed, and if he would leave the room he must leap to the ground, a distance of over twenty feet.

"Confusion!" he exclaimed. "The ladder is gone!"

"Yes, I directed the stable-boy to keep awake and remove it," explained Manning.

"I may be taken, but I will be revenged first," shouted Dick Ranney, and he flung himself on Manning, who, unprepared for the sudden attack, sank to the floor, with Ranney on top. But the outlaw's triumph was short-lived. Walter sprang to Manning's rescue, seized the revolver, and, aiming it at the burglar, cried quickly:

"Get up, or I'll fire!"

Dick Ranney rose sullenly. He paid Walter the compliment of believing he meant what he said.

"It's your turn, boy," he muttered.

"Stay where you are!" ordered Walter, and he walked slowly backward, still covering the robber with the revolver, till he reached the door opening into the entry.

Dick Ranney watched him closely, and did not offer any opposition, for it occurred to him that the opening of the door would afford him a better chance for flight.

No sooner, therefore, was the door open than he prepared to avail himself of the opportunity, running the risk of a bullet wound, when his plans were frustrated by the entrance of two village constables-- strong, sturdy men.

"Dick Ranney, do you surrender?" asked Walter, in a clear, resolute tone.

Ranney looked slowly from one to the other and calculated the chances. The ladder was gone and he found himself facing four foes, three of them strong men, some of them armed.

"It's all up with me!" he said quietly. "I surrender."

"You do wisely," remarked Manning. "Now, will you restore my wallet?"

The outlaw took it out of his pocket and handed it over.

"There it is," he said. "I suppose you won't me to pay interest for the use of the money."

The two constables advanced, and one of them took out a pair of handcuffs.

"Hold out your hands!" he said.

The burglar did so. He saw that opposition would not benefit him, and he yielded to the inevitable with a good grace.

"It seems I walked into a trap," he said. "If you don't mind telling me, were you expecting me?"

"Yes," answered Walter.

"Did the boy betray me?" he asked quickly.

"No; the boy suspected nothing wrong, but his questions excited suspicion."

"Dick Ranney," said the outlaw, apostrophizing himself, "you're a fool! I should like to kick you!"

"I think you were imprudent, Mr. Ranney," said Manning,

"It was this revolver that undid me," said Ranney. "I wanted to recover it, for it was given me by my old captain. It was never out of my possession till that boy snatched it from me. I suppose it was to be," and he sighed, comforted, perhaps, by the thought that it would have been useless to struggle against fate.