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Rare Books and Special Collections: Horatio Alger Digital Repository: Tom Parker's Strange Visitor by Horatio Alger, Jr.

Author: Alger, Horatio, 1832-1899.
Title: Tom Parker's Strange Visitor.
In: Argosy. New York, NY : F. Munsey. Vol. 15, no. 524 (December 17, 1892)
Format: 5 columns ; 24 cm.
Horatio Alger Collection.
Other Title: The Argosy
Location: PS 535 .G545aa (Special Collections)
Optically scanned and encoded by Mark A. Williams
Horatio Alger Digital Serials Project, Northern llinois University Libraries
DeKalb, IL
8-June-2000


Mr. Alger's Prize Story

"SOMEHOW, Hannah, I feel rather skittish about leaving home tonight. I've got a—what do you call it—presentiment that something will happen while I am gone."

"What can happen, Reuben? You know Tom will be here."

"I'll tell you a secret, Hannah. In my desk yonder there is a wallet containing five hundred dollars."

"Where on earth did you get so much money, Reuben?" asked Mrs. Parker in great surprise.

"I will tell you. When Joe Bent went to California two years since, I lent him a hundred and twenty five dollars. Yesterday I received by Wells and Fargo's express the sum of five hundred dollars, of which I am to keep one hundred and fifty for my loan and interest, and the balance Joe wants me to put into some savings bank for him. I mean to go to Castleton tomorrow and carry the money with me, but tonight I must keep it here."

"I don't see how there can be any danger, Reuben. No one knows that the money is in the house."

"We can't tell. When the express package was handed to me there were two persons present—strangers to me. They might have suspected what the bundle contained."

"If you feel anxious, Reuben, we can stay at home."

"No; Lucy would be disappointed. She expects me to be present at the christening of our grandchild, and there is no reason which I could venture to give for staying away. We will go, and trust to good luck that no harm comes of it."

"Better tell Tom, so as to put him on his guard."

 Reuben Parker was a farmer and lived in Northern Iowa. His farm was a large one, and was distant a mile and a half from the village of Horton, in whose town limits it was located.

Though somewhat isolated, the farmer's family never felt any fears of injury from wandering tramps or thieves, chiefly because it was seldom that anything likely to attract their cupidity was to be found in the house. Tonight, however, for the first time, a presentiment of evil disturbed the farmer's peace of mind. Yet he felt that he could not well break the engagement to spend the evening at his daughter's house in Castleton, five miles away.

"After all," he said to himself, "why need I borrow trouble? Tom will stay and mind the house, and there is little chance that any one knows about the money. I won't be foolish, but go prepared to have a good time. But I must first have a talk with Tom."

Tom Parker was the farmer's only son, six years younger than his married sister, and a strong, sturdy, manly boy of sixteen. There was nothing delicate or dude-like about him. He was a boy to be proud of.

In a few words Reuben Parker explained the situation to his son.

"Now, Tom," he concluded, "are you afraid to be left in charge of this money?"

"No, father, why should I be? Do you think these is any chance of any one knowing there is money in the house?"

"Very little, but professional thieves make it their business to find out such things."

"Is there any one you particularly suspect?"

"I have heard that Steve Berry, the notorious outlaw, has been seen in Castleton lately, and if so he is no doubt intent upon some evil scheme. Still, I can't understand how he should know anything of the money in my desk."

"What is his appearance, father?"

"He is a tall, heavily built man, with short black whiskers, and a scar on the left cheek."

"Then if he calls I shall know him," said Tom, smiling.

"He needs to be cautious, for there is a reward of five hundred dollars offered for his apprehension."

"I should think he would leave the State."

"He is bold, and no one ever charged him with lack of courage. Some time he will prove too bold and will be caught.''

"I should like to be the one to catch him and receive the reward."

"Yes, five hundred dollars would come handy to any of us. Well, Tom, good night. The buggy is at the door and it is time to start."

"When will you be back, father?"

" Probably by eleven o'clock."

"Then I hope Steve Berry will postpone his call till that time."

"Yes; if he comes while I am here I will be ready for him."

The farmer helped his wife into the buggy and the horse started briskly in the direction of Castleton.

"Well," thought Tom, as he settled himself in the rocking chair before the fire, "I am in for a lonely evening, I suppose. It is not yet seven, and the folks won't get back till eleven at least. What shall I do to fill up the time?"

After a little consideration Tom came to a decision. Though his educational advantages had been limited, he was fond of study, and particularly of mathematics. In arithmetic he had ciphered as far as cube root, and had begun algebra. This last he liked, but he had been obliged to give it up, as the last teacher whose school he had attended didn't understand it.

Tom had made a beginning, however, and having the book at home he had gone on, as well as he could, in his leisure hours without assistance. It struck him that the long evening before him could not be better employed than in trying to solve some of the problems that had puzzled him.

He drew up a small table in front of his chair, and taking from his father's desk a sheet of foolscap, tackled a problem which thus far had baffled him.

Time passes quickly when a boy is studying, as many of my young readers can testify, and probably Tom had been occupied for an hour when he was startled by a knock at the front door. The farmhouse was not provided with that modem improvement, a door bell.

I said Tom was startled, and this was true. Callers in the evening, so isolated was the farmhouse, were rare, and this evening in particular, when all except himself were away, there seemed less chance than usual of any interruption from visitors.

"Who can it be?" thought Tom, as he laid his algebra down on the table.

He didn't immediately go to the door, and the visitor, whoever he might be, became impatient, for another knock, louder and more imperative than the first, woke the echoes in the old house.

"I must go and see who it is," thought Tom.

He opened the front door, holding the light. A strong gust of wind nearly blew it out, but Tom shielded it with his hand and looked curiously at the visitor.

His heart beat in quick excitement, not unmingled with dismay, when he found him to bea tall, heavily, built man, with short black whiskers, and a scar on the left cheek!

Could it be the notorious Steve Berry of whom his father had spoken? Yes, it must be. The resemblance was perfect.

"Well, kid," said the caller impatiently, "what are you staring at? Are you struck dumb?"

"What can I do for you?" asked Tom, recovering his wits.

"You can invite me in out of the cold," said the visitor. "I suppose you have a fire?"

"Yes, sir," answered Tom.

"Well, lead the way in, and I will follow."

Tom did as he was told—there seemed no other way—and Steve Berry followed him into the cozy sitting room.

"Ah, that's something like," said the visitor as he drew a chair up to the open log fire and spread out his hands before it. "Do you know, kid, it's growing cold fast?"

"I suppose it is," answered Tom.

"You seem to be alone," went on Berry, casting a glower around the room.

"Yes, my father and mother have gone out to make a call."

"And won't be home till late in the evening."

"How can he know that?" Tom asked himself, startled.

"It's quite a distance to Castleton," continued Berry composedly.

"How do you know they have gone there?" asked Tom.

"I saw them entering the village," answered Berry, "and it occurred to me that you might be lonely, so I just plodded on to spend the evening with you. I nearly repented of my bargain, though, when I found how cold it was."

"I wish you had given it up," thought Tom.

Looking about with his quick, keen glance Berry noticed the algebra.

"What's that?" he asked.

"An algebra."

"And were you amusing yourself with it when I came?"

"I was trying to solve a problem, but it puzzled me."

"Show it to me."

In great surprise Tom handed over the book and pointed out the sum which had perplexed him.

"I used to be pretty good in algebra," said Berry. "Give me a piece of paper."

Tom handed him the paper on which he had been figuring.

"Is that your work?"

"Yes."

Steve Berry looked it over.

"I'll show you your mistake," he said, "and I'll show you the correct way of solving the problem. Draw your chair up to mine."

Tom did so, and in a few words the visitor made the matter clear.

"Do you understand now?" asked Berry.

"Yes, thank you. What a talent you have for mathematics!"

Berry laughed, but he was evidently pleased.

"Yes," he said, "I ought to have been a professor of mathematics. As it is—by the way," and he bent a keen glance into Tom's face," do you know who I am?"

"I think you are Steve Berry," answered Tom, after a slight hesitation.

"You've got it right the first time, kid. And what am I? Come, let it out! Don't be bashful!"

"I think you are a—burglar."

"Right. I am glad you understand me. It will save trouble. I may as well come to business. In that desk yonder is a package of money. Go and get it. I want it."

The crisis had come, and Tom felt that he was unprepared for it.

"Mr. Berry," he said in agitation, "that money doesn't belong to us—at any rate, only a part of it. Don't take it!"

"My boy, I am sorry to disappoint you, but I can't let any one interfere with my business. I have come here expressly for that money, and I must have it."

"Then take it yourself. I won't give it to you."

"All right!"

Steve Berry rose, went over to the desk, and searching it, soon found the roll of bills. He counted them over with a face indicating satisfaction, and said aloud—" Good! here's five hundred dollars."

"Only one hundred and fifty belongs to my father," said Tom." Take that, and leave the rest."

"That would be very unbusinesslike, and I can't consent. I need it, and, besides, I think I deserve some pay for the help I gave you with your algebra."

Poor Tom! He was in despair, but he was no match for the burly robber, and he knew not what to do.

Steve Berry became quite lively and jovial.

"Come, boy," he said, "I feel like making a night of it. Haven't you got any whisky in the house?"

"We have some cider."

"Well, get that."

Tom rose to comply with Berry's request, and there flashed into his mind a way to recover the money. He went into the adjoining room, used as a kitchen, and in the closet he found a jug of cider.

On the second shelf was a flask filled with a fine white powder which his mother had used as a sleeping potion in a recent sickness. Quickly Tom poured the whole contents of the flask into the jug of cider, and then taking the latter into the sitting room, set it on the table with a glass.

"Help yourself, Mr. Berry," he said.

Steve Berry did so, nothing loath.

He drained a glass at a draught.

"Ah!" he said, smacking his lips, "that reminds me of my boyhood days. Take a glass, kid."

"Cider don't agree with me," answered Tom.

"I am sorry to drink alone, but that cider is good. I'm not afraid of it."

He poured out two glasses more and drained them.

Then he drew up a lounge and lay down just opposite the fire.

Tom watched him in feverish excitement. Soon the potion began .to work. Berry's eyes closed and his breathing became deep and regular. Presently he seemed to be in a profound slumber.

Then Tom, his heart beating quickly, prepared to act.

He approached the sleeping man, and from his side pocket gently withdrew the wallet containing the bills. He paused two or three times to make sure that he was still unconscious.

He put the wallet in his own pocket, and then opening the outer door stole quietly from the house.

How he ever got over the five miles between the farmhouse and Castleton he hardly knew. But he came panting and excited into his sister's house, and as soon as he could he told his story.

"And you left Steve Berry asleep in the sitting room?" asked his father.

"Yes."

"We will go home at once."

Reuben Parker and two officers from Castleton set out at once and went as fast as their horses could carry them to the farm.

They found all as Tom had represented. Steve Berry was fast asleep on the lounge, and the fire was burning brightly. They had little difficulty in binding the sleeping burglar. When he came to himself he was a captive.

"What is all this?" he asked.

"What sent me to sleep?"

"The cider was drugged," answered Reuben Parker.

"And the boy did it?"

"Yes."

"You're a smart one, kid!" said the burglar. "You're the first one, boy or man, that has fooled Steve Berry. Well, I won't bear a grudge. I would have done the same in your case."

Steve Berry was tried, convicted and sentenced to a term of imprisonment. The five hundred dollars which had been offered as a reward for his apprehension were given to Tom Parker, who feels well repaid for his long and lonely walk to Castleton. He still keeps up his algebra, but expects no more assistance from Steve Berry.

Horatio Alger, Jr.