Chapter 16




AN UNPLEASANT ADVENTURE.

A week later Jasper was one of the passengers on a train bound for St. Louis, and already within sixty miles of that flourishing city. He had stopped over at Niagara and Cincinnati—a day or so at each place. He gratified his desire to see the great cataract, and felt repaid for doing so, though the two stops trenched formidably upon his small capital. Indeed, at the moment when he is introduced anew to the reader's notice he had but ten dollars remaining of the sum with which he started. He was, however, provided, besides, with a through ticket to St. Louis.

He had been sitting alone, when a stranger entering the car seated himself in the vacant seat.

Looking up, Jasper noticed that he was a tall man, shabbily dressed, with thin, sallow face and a swelling in the left cheek, probably produced by a quid of tobacco.

"Good-mornin', colonel," said the stranger, sociably.

"Good-morning, sir," said Jasper, smiling. "I haven't the honor of being a colonel."

"Haven't you, cap'n? Well, that ain't of no account. It'll come in time. Where are you travelling?"

"To St. Louis."

"Ever been there afore?"

"No; this will be my first visit."

"You don't say! Where may you be from?"

"From New York State," answered Jasper, amused.

The stranger drew from his pocket a package of chewing tobacco and passed it politely to Jasper.

"Help yourself, colonel," he said hospitably.

"No, thank you; I don't chew."

"Shoo, you don't say so! High time you began, then."

"I don't think I shall ever form the habit of chewing."

"Yes, you will, colonel; everybody does. Travellin' on business?"

"Well, not exactly," said Jasper, hesitatingly. "That is, I am looking for a chance to go into business."

"Got any capital?" interjected the stranger, carelessly, squirting a yellow stream upon the floor of the car.

"Oh, I don't expect to go into business for myself at present," said Jasper, amused at the thought.

"No?" said the other, reflectively. "If you had five thousand dollars I might take you into partnership."

"What is your business?" asked Jasper, with curiosity.

"Cotton," said the stranger. "I'm a cotton broker. I do a large business."

"You don't look like it," thought Jasper, looking at his shabby costume.

"You don't want a clerk, do you?" asked our hero.

"Well, no, colonel. There ain't any vacancy now in my establishment. May be soon."

Had Jasper felt favorably impressed with his companion he would have inquired where in the city his place of business might be, but it did not strike him that he should care to be in his employ.

He accordingly pulled out a copy of a popular magazine which he had bought the day before, and began to read. The stranger bought a paper of the train-boy, and engaged in a similar way. Fifteen minutes passed in this way. At the end of that time the stranger rose leisurely, and with a brief "Mornin', colonel," passed out of the car. Whether he got into the next one or got out at the station which they were approaching Jasper could not distinguish, nor did he feel specially interested in the matter.

The time soon came when he felt his interest increased.

A few miles further on the conductor entered the car.

It was one of his usual rounds to look at tickets.

When he came up to Jasper, he said:

"Be lively now. Let me see your ticket."

"Isn't it in my hat?" asked Jasper, taking it off.

"No; did you put it there?"

"I thought I did," said our hero, surprised. "It was there when you last passed round."

"Look in your pockets."

Jasper felt in all of them, but the missing ticket could not be found.

"It may have fallen on the floor," he said, and rising he looked under the seat.

But in vain.

"Did you have any ticket?" asked the conductor, suspiciously.

"Certainly. You have looked at it yourself several times."

"You are mistaken; I got on at the last station."

"I have come all the way from Cincinnati," said Jasper, uncomfortably. "I couldn't have come so far without a ticket. What shall I do?"

"You'll have to pay from the last station to St. Louis."

This was not very agreeable in the state of Jasper's finances.

"How much is it?" he asked.

"Two dollars."

Jasper felt for his pocket-book, when a new surprise awaited him. A look of consternation swept over his countenance.

His pocket-book was gone.

"Don't keep me waiting," said the conductor, impatiently.

"My pocket-book is gone!" exclaimed our hero, gazing in blank dismay at the expectant official.

"What?"

"I can't find my pocket-book."

"Look here, young man," said the conductor, roughly, "that's too thin."

"It's true!" said Jasper.

"It won't go down, young man. I've seen such customers as you before. You're a beat!"

"A what?"

"A beat—a dead-beat, if you prefer it. Off you go at the next station!"

Jasper was greatly alarmed at the unexpected turn affairs had taken.

"Let me go to St. Louis, and I'll get money to pay you."

"It's no use," said the conductor, inexorably. "My orders are strict. If you can't pay, you can't ride."

"But my pocket was picked," said Jasper, new light flashing upon him. "There was a stranger who sat beside me a while ago. He must have taken my ticket and money, too."

"Of course there was," said the conductor, with sarcasm. "That's the way it usually happens. I'm used to such games, young man. It won't do you any good. Out you go!"

"Let me go through the cars and see if I can't find the man that robbed me. I'd know him in a minute."

"Well," said the conductor, relenting slightly, "be quick about it."

Jasper waited for no more. He rose from his seat and, carpet-bag in hand, passed into the next car.

It proved to be the smoking car.

Groups of men were playing cards, and, as Jasper judged, were playing for money. Among them, to his great joy, he recognized his shabby companion, the cotton broker of St. Louis. The latter was playing with three other men, black-bearded, and loud both in their dress and speech.

Without a moment's hesitation Jasper advanced and touched his late companion on the shoulder.

The latter looked up, and without a sign of recognition said:

"What's wanted, sir?"

For the first time it struck Jasper that his errand was rather an awkward one. How could he ask this man if he had taken his property?

"I beg your pardon, sir," said he, "but did you see anything of my ticket and money?"

"What do you mean, stranger?"

"You were sitting by me a little while ago, in the rear car."

"I don't remember it."

"And I thought you might have seen my pocket-book and ticket."

"Well, I didn't," said the other, fiercely. "What made you think I did?"

"I can't find them."

"I don't know anything about them. General, it's your deal."

He turned abruptly away from Jasper, and the boy slowly withdrew to a little distance, sorely puzzled. On the one hand, he felt convinced that this man had abstracted his ticket and money. On the other, he doubted whether it would be safe to charge him with it.

While he was hesitating, the cars began to go more slowly.

The conductor entered the car.

"Have you found your ticket?" he asked.

"No."

"Then leave the train at this next stopping-place."

Jasper had no chance to remonstrate. Obeying necessity, he stepped upon the platform, and the train swept on.



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