Chapter VIII. Walter Buys a Watch
 

Walter was tempted to stop over at Niagara, as his ticket would have allowed him to do, but he was also very anxious to reach Chicago and get to work. "I can visit Niagara some other time," he reflected. "Now I can spare neither the money nor the time."

Hour after hour sped by, until with a little thrill of excitement Walter learned by consulting his railroad guide that he was within fifty miles of Chicago. He looked out of the car window, and surveyed with interest the country through which they were speeding at the rate of thirty-five miles an hour. His attention was drawn from the panorama outside by a voice:

"Is this seat engaged?"

Walter looked up, and his glance rested on a man of perhaps thirty- five, dressed in a light suit, and wearing a tall white hat.

"No, sir," answered Walter politely, removing his gripsack from the seat.

"I don't want to incommode you," said the stranger, as he took the place thus vacated.

"You don't in the least," said Walter.

"I suppose you are going to Chicago?"

"Yes, sir."

"Are you going farther--out to Dakota, for instance?"

"No, sir. Chicago is far enough west for me at present."

"I live in Dakota. I have a long journey to make after we reach Chicago." "I don't know about Dakota. Is it a good place for business?"

"It is going to be. Yes, Dakota has a bright future. I have a pleasant little home out there. I had to go East on business, and stayed a little longer than I intended. In fact I spent more money than I anticipated, and that makes me a little short."

It struck Walter that his new acquaintance for a stranger was very confidential.

"Is it possible he will propose to borrow money of me?" he asked himself. He did not quite know what to say, but politeness required him to say something.

"I am sorry," he replied, in a sympathizing tone.

"I should like to take a train this evening for my home," continued the stranger.

"I hope you will be able to do so."

"Well, there's one drawback. I haven't got money enough to buy a through ticket. Under these circumstances I am going to offer you a bargain."

Walter looked surprised and expectant. The stranger drew a gold watch from his pocket--a very handsome gold watch, which looked valuable.

"You see that watch?" he said. "How much do you think it is worth?"

"It looks like a nice watch. I am no judge of values."

"It cost me ninety dollars six months since. Now I need the money, and I will sell it to you for twenty-five."

"But that would be a great sacrifice."

"So it would, but I need the money. Of course, if you haven't got the money--"

"I have that amount of money," said Walter, "but I haven't got it to spare. I might need it."

"Then all you need to do is to sell the watch or pawn it. You could sell it for fifty dollars without trouble."

"Why don't you do that?" asked Walter shrewdly.

"Because I haven't the time. I want, if possible, to go on to-night. If you had a wife and two children waiting for you, whom you had not seen for two months, you wouldn't mind losing a few dollars for the sake of seeing them a little sooner."

"Very likely," answered Walter, to whom his companion's explanation seemed plausible.

Walter was tempted, but he reflected that twenty-five dollars represented a third of the money he had with him, so he put away the temptation, but with reluctance. He had a silver watch, bought for him, when he entered college, at a cost of fifteen dollars, and like the majority of boys of his age he felt that he should much prefer to carry a gold one. Still he must be prudent.

"No," he said, shaking his head, "I don't think I had better buy the watch. I presume you will find some one else on the train who would be glad of the bargain."

"Very likely, but we are near Chicago, and I haven't time to look around. Come, I'll make you a still better offer, though I ought not to do so. You may have the watch for twenty dollars. That money will get me through, and I won't haggle about five dollars."

"Twenty dollars!" repeated Walter thoughtfully.

"Yes, look at the watch. Isn't it a beauty?"

"Yes; I like the appearance of it very much."

"If you get out of money, you can easily pawn it for more than the sum I ask for it."

Certainly this was an important consideration. Walter felt that he would be foolish to lose so good a chance. It was a pity that the stranger should be forced to make such a sacrifice, yet it really seemed that he would be doing him a favor, as well as benefiting himself, by accepting his proposition.

"You will guarantee it to be solid gold?" he said, with momentary suspicion.

"Certainly. You will see that it is an Elgin watch. Of course you know the reputation of that make. They don't make any sham watches at their factory."

"I thought the case might be gilt," said Walter, half ashamed of his suspicions.

"You do well to be cautious, but I will guarantee the watch to be all I represent it. I only wish you were a jeweler. Then you could judge for yourself."

It sounded very plausible. Then, the watch was a very handsome one.

"Let me open it and show you the works."

The stranger did so. Walter was no judge of the mechanism of a watch, but what he saw impressed him favorably. The stranger seemed very frank and fair-spoken. Walter knew, of course, that in traveling one was likely to meet with sharpers, but that did not justify him in suspecting everybody he met.

"It would look very nice at the end of my chain," he thought. "I suppose I cannot afford it; but, as he says, I can raise money on it at any time."

"Well, young man, what is your decision? You must excuse me for hurrying, but we are not far from Chicago, and I want to make sure that I can continue my journey to-night. I shall telegraph to my wife that I am coming."

"I will take the watch," said Walter. "There doesn't seem to be much risk in doing so."

"Bosh! I should say not. Young man, I congratulate you. You have made the best bargain of your life. Have you got the money handy?"

Walter took out two ten-dollar bills and handed them to his companion, receiving the watch in exchange.

"Well, that settles my mind," said the stranger, in a tone of satisfaction. "I shall see the old woman and the kids very soon, thanks to your kindness."

"Don't mention it," said Walter complacently. "I feel indebted to you, rather, as you have given me much more than an equivalent for my money."

"That is true, but under present circumstances money is worth a good deal to me. Now, if you don't mind I will go into the smoking-car and have a little smoke before we arrive. Will you join me?"

"No, sir, thank you; I don't smoke."

"Good-day, then. Hope we shall meet again."

Walter responded politely, and the stranger, rising, walked forward to the front part of the car and disappeared.

Walter detached the silver watch from the plated chain to which it was attached, substituted the new gold watch, and put the silver watch in his pocket. It occurred to him that if he should really need money it might be better for him to sell the silver watch and retain the gold one.

"I have made thirty dollars at the very least on my purchase," he reflected, "for I am sure I can sell the watch for fifty dollars if I wish to do so. This is a white day for me, as the Romans used to say. I accept it as a good omen of success. I wish Doctor Mack and Nancy were here to see it. I think the doctor would give me credit for a little shrewdness."

The car sped on perhaps a dozen miles farther, when the door opened and the conductor entered, followed by a stout man of perhaps fifty years of age, who looked flushed and excited.

"This gentleman has been robbed of his gold watch," explained the conductor. "He is convinced that some one on the train has taken it. Of course, no one of you is suspected, but I will trouble you to show me your watches."

As Walter heard these words a terrible fear assailed him. Had he bought a stolen watch?