SEEK AND FIND;
THE ADVENTURES OF A SMART BOY.
AUTHOR OF "YOUNG AMERICA ABROAD," "THE ARMY AND NAVY STORIES," "THE WOODVILLE STORIES," "THE BOAT-CLUB STORIES," "THE RIVERDALE STORIES," ETC.
BOSTON LEE AND SHEPARD PUBLISHERS
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1867, by WILLIAM T. ADAMS, In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.
COPYRIGHT, 1895, BY WILLIAM T. ADAMS. All rights reserved.
SEEK AND FIND.
My Young Friend,
ALICE LEE GOOKIN,
IS AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED.
"SEEK AND FIND" is the third of the serial stories published in "OUR BOYS AND GIRLS," where it appeared as the sequel of "BREAKING AWAY." The author had no more reason to complain of its reception than of that accorded to its predecessors; and he returns his sincere thanks to all those young friends who have written hundreds of letters to him, containing the most generous commendation, with an occasional criticism, which was by no means unwelcome.
Ernest Thornton is a smart boy—perhaps he is too smart; but his smartness is not worldly cunning; it is made up of those elements of character which constitute a noble and true man—good judgment, quick perception, and manly decision, mingled with those moral and religious attributes which are the leading springs of the true life. If some of the hero's actions are doubtful, his motives are always good. The greatest crime against the moral law is to be without a high aim; and while a thousand errors and short-comings may be forgiven, the want of a good intention is the capital sin which may not be pardoned. While we cannot ask or expect all young men to accomplish what Ernest Thornton did, we may point to his high aims and good intentions, and say to the reader, "Go thou and do likewise."
HARRISON SQUARE, MASS., November 29, 1867.
CHAPTER I. PAGE IN WHICH ERNEST THORNTON BECOMES ACQUAINTED WITH MISS KATE LORAINE 11
CHAPTER II. IN WHICH ERNEST LISTENS TO THE STORY OF MISS KATE LORAINE 22
CHAPTER III. IN WHICH ERNEST CALLS UPON MRS. LORAINE 33
CHAPTER IV. IN WHICH ERNEST RELEASES THE CAPTIVE MAIDEN FROM HER PRISON 44
CHAPTER V. IN WHICH ERNEST IS AWAKENED BY A LOUD KNOCKING 56
CHAPTER VI. IN WHICH ERNEST GETS AN IDEA 67
CHAPTER VII. IN WHICH ERNEST HAS AN INTERVIEW WITH MR. TOM THORNTON 78
CHAPTER VIII. IN WHICH ERNEST VISITS HIS UNCLE'S LIBRARY 89
CHAPTER IX. IN WHICH ERNEST, AFTER A SUCCESSFUL RETREAT, FALLS INTO A TRAP 100
CHAPTER X. IN WHICH ERNEST STRIKES A HEAVY BLOW FOR LIBERTY 111
CHAPTER XI. IN WHICH ERNEST MAKES GOOD HIS RETREAT FROM THE COTTAGE 122
CHAPTER XII. IN WHICH ERNEST OBTAINS SOME VALUABLE LETTERS 132
CHAPTER XIII. IN WHICH ERNEST LEAVES PARKVILLE, AND TAKES THE TRAIN FOR THE EASTWARD 144
CHAPTER XIV. IN WHICH ERNEST WONDERS WHAT TOM THORNTON WILL DO, AND FINDS OUT 155
CHAPTER XV. IN WHICH ERNEST FACES THE ENEMY 166
CHAPTER XVI. IN WHICH ERNEST MAKES A LANDING ON THE HUDSON 177
CHAPTER XVII. IN WHICH ERNEST OUTFLANKS TOM THORNTON 189
CHAPTER XVIII. IN WHICH ERNEST CALLS ON SEVERAL LORAINES 200
CHAPTER XIX. IN WHICH ERNEST STARTS FOR MADISON PLACE WITH KATE 211
CHAPTER XX. IN WHICH ERNEST STRIKES A HEAVY BLOW, AND TOM THORNTON HAS A BAD FALL 221
CHAPTER XXI. IN WHICH ERNEST VISITS MADISON PLACE 232
CHAPTER XXII. IN WHICH ERNEST MAKES THE ACQUAINTANCE OF E. DUNKSWELL 243
CHAPTER XXIII. IN WHICH ERNEST FINDS THAT E. DUNKSWELL IS A DISAGREEABLE ROOM-MATE 254
CHAPTER XXIV. IN WHICH ERNEST LANDS AT CROOKHAVEN, AND PROCEEDS TO LONDON 265
CHAPTER XXV. IN WHICH ERNEST VISITS STONY STRATFORD, AND E. DUNKSWELL COMES TO GRIEF 276
CHAPTER XXVI. IN WHICH ERNEST RETURNS TO PARKVILLE WITH HIS MOTHER, AND THE STORY ENDS ON THE SHORES OF LAKE ADIENO 289
SEEK AND FIND;
THE ADVENTURES OF A SMART BOY.
IN WHICH ERNEST THORNTON BECOMES ACQUAINTED WITH MISS KATE LORAINE.
"WE are getting a capital breeze over here," said my friend Bob Hale, who was seated at my side in the Splash.
"There is always plenty of wind over here when it comes from the north-west," I replied.
It was one of the last days of May, and the weather, which had been chilly and disagreeable during the preceding week, was warm and pleasant. I had been to school, as usual, in my boat, and was taking Bob out for a sail, intending to land him at Parkville before dark, and return to the cottage of my uncle beyond the town. I had made one long stretch with the wind on the beam, nearly over to Cannondale; in fact, the water was beginning to shoal off the point half a mile to the northward and eastward of that town.
Along the shore of the lake for two or three miles, on each side of Cannondale, were many beautiful residences, occupied by wealthy people, who were attracted to the locality by the pleasant but not picturesque scenery. It was a delightful region for a summer sojourn, though many of the people were permanent residents.
"Well, Bob, we must come about or get aground," I continued. "Where shall we go now?"
"Anywhere you please, Ernest. I enjoy sailing wherever you go, though I like running along the shore, where you can enjoy these fine gardens, and occasionally look in upon a pleasant party, especially if they happen to be singing, or playing a lively game."
"That's just my idea; and we will follow the shore round to Parkville. The wind will favor us all the way."
I put the Splash about, and with the wind on the quarter, laid a course which kept the boat within a few rods of the shore. From the beach in the rear of many of the houses, little piers, not more than three or four feet wide, were extended into the lake, for the convenience of embarking and landing in the boats, with which nearly every dwelling was supplied. We were approaching one of these piers belonging to the first house beyond the Point, when Bob and myself were startled by a shrill scream, which caused both of us to spring to our feet.
"What does that mean?" demanded Bob.
"I don't know. I can't see anything," I replied.
"Is it somebody overboard?"
"I don't see any one. It came from the garden beyond that first pier."
"There it is again," said Bob, greatly excited, as the scream was repeated.
We were not long left in doubt in regard to the person who had uttered the cry; for a girl immediately emerged from the foliage of the garden, and ran down to the end of the pier, where she paused and looked timorously behind her. We looked anxiously for the cause of her terror, almost expecting to see a bear, a wolf, or at least a savage dog, in pursuit of the hapless maiden. The young lady was nicely dressed, and seemed to be fourteen years of age. Of course Bob and I were both willing "to do or die" in her defence, though we were just then rather too far off to be of instant service to her, even if any savage beast had assailed her.
"What's the matter with her?" said Bob; "she appears to be frightened out of her wits."
"I don't see anything to alarm her."
But then the young lady screamed again, and we saw a lady rushing out to the place where the girl was, at the end of the pier. The latter seemed to be fearfully agitated; and giving one more agonizing cry, she leaped into the lake, just as the lady was on the point of seizing her by the arm.
Bob and I were thrilled to the depths of our being by this exciting scene. I had already put the helm up, and the Splash was headed directly towards the young lady, who was struggling in the water. The wind carried her away from the pier about twenty feet, when the Splash reached the place, and I ran her between the girl and the shore.
"Save her! save her!" cried the lady on the pier.
"Take the helm, Bob," shouted I, throwing the boat round into the wind, and springing upon the half deck.
I was prepared to jump overboard, if it was necessary; but it was not. I had seized the short boat-hook as I went forward, and with it I hooked on to her dress. Drawing her towards the boat, I seized her by the arm, and lifted her on board. She had been in the water but a few moments, and had not lost her consciousness; indeed, she appeared not to have suffered at all from her bath. I at once concluded that she was one of the young ladies whom I had frequently seen bathing on the beach, and that the water had no terrors to her. I had not seen her swim, though the water was over her head.
I placed her on one of the seats as soon as I had pulled her out of the water, expecting her to faint, or do some other womanish thing. She brushed the water from her eyes, and bending down so that she could look under the foresail, she caught a glimpse of the lady on the pier.
"Take me away from here—O, do!" said she, bestowing a pleading look upon me.
"Where shall I land you?" I asked, in gentle tones.
"Anywhere but here—don't leave me here," she replied, earnestly, and hardly less agitated than when she had leaped into the lake.
"But you are wet through, and you may take cold," I suggested, mildly.
"I don't care if I do. It makes no difference. Take me away from here."
"Where shall I land you?" I asked again, puzzled by her singular conduct.
"I don't care where; but if you land me here I shall jump into the lake again."
Bob Hale had put the helm up, and the Splash had filled away again on her former course, which was bearing us away from the pier on which the lady still stood.
"Shall I come about?" asked he, apparently satisfied that the only thing we could do was to land the young lady on the pier.
"Not just yet, Bob," I replied, fearful that a change of our course would increase her agitation.
"I am very much obliged to you for what you have done for me," said the dripping maiden, who paid not the slightest attention to the condition of her clothing, and was wholly absorbed in her own thoughts, which were painful enough to give her face an expression of agony. "I hope you will not think I am ungrateful, Ernest Thornton."
"I do not think so," I replied, astonished to find she knew my name.
"And I shall be ever so much more grateful to you if you will take me away from this place," she added, with a beseeching look.
"I really don't know what to do. You called me by name, just now, but I do not remember to have seen you before."
"Perhaps you have not; but I have seen your boat so often that I feel acquainted with you."
"May I ask you to tell me your name?"
"I will tell you, but you will not know me any better. It is Kate Loraine," she replied, more calmly than she had yet spoken.
I was certainly no wiser for what she told me, though I knew that Loraine was the name of the people who lived in the house nearest to the Point.
"Who is the lady on the pier?" I asked.
"Mrs. Loraine," answered she, with a visible shudder; though I could not tell whether it was caused by the mention of the lady's name, or by the cold chill of her wet condition.
"Is she your mother?" I continued; and it seemed to me that her answer to this question would enable me to decide whether or not to land her on the pier.
"No, no!" replied she, with the most decisive emphasis.
"But your names are the same."
"They are; of course she has my father's name."
I could not see why that followed, but I did not like to carry my questions to the point of impudence.
"Is your father at home?"
"My father is dead," she answered, in a very sad tone.
"Excuse me if I ask who the lady is that stands on the pier."
"And not your mother?"
"You seemed to be running away from her when I heard you screaming."
"I was; she was trying to catch me."
Perhaps Miss Kate Loraine thought I was very obtuse, but I could not understand the relation between the parties, and I had not the faintest idea why she was running away from Mrs. Loraine. I was not willing to believe that a young miss like her intended to resort to such a desperate remedy as suicide for any real or imaginary sufferings.
"What shall we do, Bob?" I asked, turning to my companion, completely nonplussed by the circumstances.
"I don't know what to do. It seems to me we ought to return the young lady to her friends," replied he.
"I have no friends," interposed Kate, and the tears started in her eyes; "at least I have none in Cannondale."
"Don't you live at Mrs. Loraine's?" asked Bob.
"Yes; but I shall live there no longer."
"You say she is not your mother?" I added, returning to the point I had twice left.
"She was my father's wife, but she is not my mother."
"She is your step-mother," I continued, as the light flooded my dull brain.
"She is; I do not wish to speak ill of her, but I do wish to keep away from her. She is not kind to me, to say the very least."
I pitied her, and I saw by Bob's looks that he was not at all behind me in the outflow of his sympathy. I had read stories enough about "awful step-mothers" to form an idea of Kate's situation, though I had no prejudices against step-mothers, as such. Bob Hale's father had married a second wife, but Bob and his sister would never have known from her treatment of them, that she was not their own mother.
If Kate was not a very pretty girl, she was certainly a very interesting one. Her form was grace itself, but her eyes were all that was pretty about her face; and when I looked at her I was not willing to believe it possible that any one, and especially one bearing her father's name, could ill-treat her.
By this time the boat had gone to the farther corner of the lake, and it was necessary to brace her up or come about. I went aft to take the helm, and Kate followed me, taking a seat at my side. I put the tiller hard down, and the Splash came about, heading towards Cannondale. Our passenger was quick to discern the course, and became quite excited again.
"You are taking me home again!" exclaimed she. "O, Ernest Thornton! you will not do that. Let me land here, anywhere, even on that island, but do not give me back to her."
"I don't know what to do, Miss Loraine; but I think you ought to have dry clothes at once."
"Have pity upon me, and do not take me home," pleaded she.
She was so agitated that I became alarmed; and to pacify her, I came about again, and steered for Parkville.
IN WHICH ERNEST LISTENS TO THE STORY OF MISS KATE LORAINE.
FORTUNATELY the day was warm and the sun shining brightly, or our gentle passenger must have suffered severely from the effects of her voluntary bath. I do not know that I ever felt more embarrassed and perplexed than I did when I sat in the Splash that day, with Miss Kate Loraine at my side, her dress hanging "slinky" and dripping upon her. Certainly there was nothing sentimental in the affair, for, though I was willing to become a knight errant in a good cause, the situation was so awkward that I could not enjoy it.
Bob Hale was as much in trouble as I was, and he could not tell what to do any better than I could. Neither of us was willing to assume the responsibility of taking the young lady from her home on the strength of her own assertion that her step-mother abused her. There were two sides to every question, and with the brighter example of Mrs. Hale before us, we were not disposed to regard her as a monster without giving her a hearing.
Kate was quite composed again when she found the boat was headed towards Parkville, instead of Cannondale. One thing was very much in her favor; she was not willing to speak evil of the lady who abused her. She had told us no more than was necessary to explain her position. Her demeanor did not indicate any thing malignant in her heart; on the contrary, her conduct exhibited a degree of Christian forbearance which was hardly to be expected of one who had been abused.
"I have heard all about you, Ernest Thornton," said Kate, as the Splash stood over towards Parkville.
"Have you, indeed? I was not aware that I was celebrated enough to be talked about," I laughingly replied.
"You are; and ever since you beat the Champion in the race with the Adieno, I have looked upon you as a hero. I have often wished that I might see you close to."
She was close enough to me now to make me shiver when I looked at her, she was so wet and drabbled.
"Perhaps I am a kind of one-horse hero among the boys," I added, for the sake of saying something.
"And among the girls, too," said she, promptly, if not boldly, though there was a degree of simplicity in her manner which prevented me from giving her words an unfavorable construction. "I have heard them in Cannondale and Parkville tell what a bold, brave fellow you are."
"I am very much obliged to them and to you for the good opinion of me. If you have confidence in me, that will answer my present purpose."
She looked curiously at me; and taking advantage of this favorable current of sentiment, I put the Splash about on the other tack, so that she was again headed towards Cannondale. Bob looked anxiously from Kate to me, and from me to Kate again. He expected another storm of emotion from her, and so did I; but I had decided upon my course, and was fully determined to carry it out, even if it broke the heartstrings of my fair passenger. I was sorry to be so ungallant as to resist the will of a young lady, but my conscience would not let me interfere with the domestic arrangements of Mrs. Loraine, without giving her a chance to defend herself.
"They say you are a smart boy, Ernest Thornton," added she, apparently without noticing the change in the course of the boat.
"Perhaps I am—I don't know," I replied; "I am afraid if I take you over to Parkville, people will think I am smarter than I ever was before."
"Why?" asked she, bestowing a painfully anxious glance upon me.
"Don't you think it would be rather smart for Bob Hale and me to run away with a young lady like you?"
"Run away with me!" exclaimed she, with a troubled look.
"What should we do with you after we had landed you?"
"O, I won't give you any trouble at all—not a bit."
"We don't mind the trouble, Miss Loraine; we were only thinking what would become of you."
"I have an uncle in New York city—my father's brother. If I can only get to him, it will be all I want," she answered, and her future course seemed to be clear enough to her.
"But how will you get to New York?" I asked.
"I don't know; I would rather walk than stay at Cannondale any longer."
"Haven't you written to your uncle?" asked Bob.
"No; I don't know what his first name is; and Mrs. Loraine won't let me write any letters. I wrote one once, and directed it to Mr. Loraine, New York, but she burnt it up."
"Do you think you could find him?"
"I am sure I could. I would call on every one of that name in the city. Why, Ernest Thornton! You are going back to Cannondale!" exclaimed Kate, as she happened to glance ahead, and saw the shore not far distant.
"Don't be alarmed, Miss Loraine. Just now you said I was a hero, and a smart boy, and all that sort of thing. My friend Bob Hale, here, is as smart and as much of a hero as I am, I assure you. Between us two we will do what we can for you," I interposed when she began to exhibit signs of another outbreak of emotion.
"That's so!" added Bob, decidedly; and he was always ready to back up any thing I said or did.
"Now keep cool, Miss Loraine," I continued. "Don't be a bit afraid, and Bob and I will see you through, if we have to stand on our heads and walk through fire and water to do it."
"You are very kind, and I am very much obliged to you," replied she, with a shudder, as she glanced at the pier, a quarter of a mile off, on which Mrs. Loraine was still standing. "But don't make me go there again."
"Now, Miss Loraine, you must be reasonable," said I, in the gentlest tone I could command, albeit I was not much accustomed to the refinements of young ladies' society. "It would not be right for Bob and me to carry you away from your home. People would think hard of us."
"Then I don't want you to do it," she replied, in tones of resignation.
"We don't know any thing about the affairs at your house."
"I have told you the truth."
"We do not doubt that; but you only say that Mrs. Loraine is not kind to you."
"She is not."
"Do you mean that she abuses you?"
"I do mean that," replied Kate, with some hesitation, which evinced an unwillingness to acknowledge the fact.
"What has she done to you?"
"She locks me up in one of the attic rooms for weeks together," she replied, bursting into tears.
"Don't cry, Kate; what does she lock you up for?" asked Bob, when I paused.
"I suppose I am very naughty, sometimes, but I can't help it," sobbed she.
"Then she locks you up to punish you for being naughty—does she?"
Bob looked significantly at me, as much as to say that he did not wish to have anything to do with "rescuing" a young miss who had been shut up for being naughty.
"If she would only be kind to me sometimes, I could bear it all. If she only smiled on me even once a month, I think I should not complain. But, O, it is so terrible to be locked into your chamber, and stay there day after day for a whole week!" moaned she, with a convulsive quiver.
"When did she lock you up last?" continued Bob, who had taken the investigation into his own hands, when Kate showed a willingness to answer.
"About a week ago."
"A week ago? I thought you said she kept you in your room for a week?"
"So she does, and she only let me out this forenoon."
"What did she lock you up for last time?"
"For taking such long stitches hemming her handkerchief."
"For taking long stitches!" exclaimed Bob, with something like horror in his tones. "Did she shut you up for a week for this?"
"She did; and she fastened the blinds of the chamber so that I could not open them."
"Did you refuse to take short stitches?" I asked, fearing there might be some aggravating circumstances.
"No, I did not, indeed. I hemmed the handkerchief just as I always did, and I did not think the stitches were too coarse," she replied, wiping away her tears with a wet handkerchief. "It was done just like this one," she added, exhibiting it as a specimen of her work.
Neither Bob nor myself was sufficiently skilled in sewing craft to judge of the quality of the work, but the stitches did not seem to be very long. We compared the hemming with that on our own handkerchiefs, but were not able to detect much difference.
"When did Mrs. Loraine shut you up the time before that," I asked, handing her the handkerchief.
"I had not been out three days."
"What was it for that time?"
"Because I pulled up some flowers in the garden which were just coming up. I thought they were weeds; and I'm sure I didn't mean any harm."
"How long did she shut you up for this?" asked Bob.
"What do you do in your chamber while shut up there?" I inquired.
"Don't you have books?"
"O, no! If I did, I shouldn't mind it so much."
"Don't you sew?"
"No; I'm not allowed to do anything," she answered, with a convulsive sob.
I could hardly keep from crying myself, and I was almost choked by my efforts to keep down my emotions. I had kept the boat away from the pier, in order to afford time for this inquiry, and the Splash was now off the Point. I put her about, and ran before the wind towards the pier again.
"Are you willing to tell us what the trouble was to-day, before you jumped into the water?" said Bob, tenderly.
"She told me to water the flowers in her garden, and I was doing it. She kept telling me how to do it, and what to water, and I tried as hard as I could to please her; but I was so frightened lest I should do something wrong, that I trod on a peony, and broke it down. She was very angry, and immediately told me to go back to my room, and stay there another week. O, if you only knew how I dreaded that room! If you only knew how gloomy and sad I am when shut up there! If you could only feel how long and heavy the hours are there, you would pity me."
"I do pity you," said Bob, warmly.
"I begged her on my knees not to shut me up. I felt then that I would rather die than be shut up again, for I only got out this morning. That's my room," said she, with a shudder, as she pointed to an attic window in the rear of the house.
"Miss Loraine, we will stand by you!" I exclaimed, with enthusiasm, for my feelings had been strongly worked upon by her story. "But you must go to the house, and get warm clothing. Bob and I will go with you."
"But I shall be sent to my room at once."
"If you are, we will get you out this very night, if we have to lift the roof off the house to do it."
Kate was fearful; but whatever happened, we were determined that she should have dry clothing. I ran the Splash up to the pier, where Mrs. Loraine was impatiently waiting for the boat.
IN WHICH ERNEST CALLS UPON MRS. LORAINE.
"I BEGAN to fear that you did not intend to return, young gentlemen," said Mrs. Loraine, as the Splash came up on the leeward side of the pier. "I am afraid this young lady has given you a great deal of trouble."
"No trouble at all," I replied.
"She is a wayward and disobedient girl. I have trouble enough with her, but I do not wish to have her trouble other people," continued Mrs. Loraine; and I could see that the glances she bestowed upon her step-daughter were full of malice.
"She seems to have some trouble herself, or she wouldn't have jumped into the lake."
"She would not have done that if she hadn't seen your boat close by," added the lady.
"I fear she will take cold," said I, wishing to draw the woman out as much as possible.
"There is no danger. She would be in the water half the time if I would let her. She is a troublesome girl."
Mrs. Loraine certainly took the matter quite coolly, and did not seem to realize or to believe that the troublesome miss had actually jumped into the lake to escape from her cruelty. She told Kate to get out of the boat, and go into the house. The terrified girl obeyed in silence, and with trembling frame.
"Go to your room, and put on dry clothes," she added, as Kate walked up the pier. "She is a very naughty girl; but I am much obliged to you, young gentlemen, for the trouble you have taken on her account."
"We were very glad to serve her," I replied, fastening the painter of my boat to a ring in the pier, as the lady walked towards the house.
Bob and I stepped on shore and followed her—a movement which seemed to annoy her very much; but we were too decidedly in earnest to care what she thought or felt. Without any consultation with my companion, I had by this time made up my mind that Miss Kate had the rights of the case; that Mrs. Loraine was a female tyrant. I did not consider that her family affairs did not concern me, and I had already concluded to adopt the policy of intervention, without regard to consequences.
Mrs. Loraine was a lady, so far as her manners were concerned. There was nothing coarse or brutal about her. Like our old enemy, Mr. Parasyte, she appeared to be a refined tyrant, whose oppression was all the more intolerable because it was smooth and polished. The lady walked at a dignified pace towards the house, and we followed her at a respectful distance. Occasionally she glanced half round, so that she could see us, but she did not challenge us in regard to our intentions.
"What are you going to do, Ernest?" asked Bob Hale, in a low tone.
"I hardly know yet. We will follow the matter up, and when we get a little farther into it we shall know better what to do," I replied. "I think we will stop here a while, and let things take their course."
We halted, and busied ourselves in examining a parterre of flowers, while the lady continued on her way, and entered the house at a side door.
"I don't know about this business," said Bob, when Mrs. Loraine was no longer within hearing.
"I do," I answered decidedly. "I'm as clear as a quill in regard to it."
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to get the young lady out of the scrape, by hook or by crook. Since I have seen this woman, I am satisfied that Miss Kate did not tell us more than half of the truth."
"What can you do?"
"Just as soon as Kate has had time to put on dry clothes, we will call upon her to inquire for her health. We can't do any thing less than that, after we have pulled her out of the lake."
"We can certainly do that, but it seems to me that is about all we can do."
"I don't know; we will see," I replied, not quite willing yet to tell my prudent friend what I intended; not that he would be behind me in carrying out any good work, but because he was rather fond of arguing against bold measures.
We waited about half an hour, but we were not unobserved; for through the Venetian blinds I saw Mrs. Loraine several times in the act of watching our movements. It was plain enough to me that we were not welcome visitors, and that the lady was not a little disturbed by our presence. We went up to the side door, where she had entered, and rang the bell. The summons was answered by the servant girl, who, when we asked to see Mrs. Loraine, invited us to the sitting-room. I judged that we had unwittingly chosen an opportune moment for our entrance, for Kate's persecutor was not in the room, and probably had not noticed our approach. If she had, it is very likely she would not have permitted us to come in.
Through the open door we saw her come down the stairs. She looked vexed and annoyed when she discovered who her visitors were, and sailed into the room with an exhibition of hauteur which might have produced a strong impression on a couple of smaller boys than Bob and myself.
"We called to inquire for Miss Kate," I began, after I had risen from my chair, and made the politest bow I was capable of making.
"She is quite well," replied Mrs. Loraine, coolly.
"I hope she has not suffered from the cold bath she took in the lake," I continued.
"Not at all."
"She was very much agitated and distressed."
"She will get over that."
"We would like to see her, if you please," I added, coming to the point without any more parleying.
"It would not be convenient for her to see you this evening," answered Mrs. Loraine, with more emphasis than an ordinary case seemed to require.
"I am sorry, for we desire very much to see her; indeed, we promised to see her after she had changed her clothes."
"Well, young gentlemen, I will assure her you have kept your promise, which will be sufficient to relieve you from any charge of want of fidelity," said she.
"I beg your pardon, Mrs. Loraine, but if it isn't too much trouble, we would like very much to see Miss Kate."
"It would be no trouble at all, but it would be entirely inconsistent with my purposes to have her leave her room to-night," answered she, haughtily.
"At what hour to-morrow could we see her," I asked.
"It would not be proper at any hour to-morrow for you to see her. Kate is a wilful and disobedient girl, and I find it necessary to permit her to see no one, in her present frame of mind."
"Perhaps I ought to tell you, Mrs. Loraine, that Kate very strongly objected to returning to her home, and begged us to land her any where—in the woods—rather than bring her back to you," I added.
"Did she, indeed!" exclaimed Mrs. Loraine, her face becoming very red. "Then she is even more wilful than I supposed."
"It was only by the promise to see her, that we induced her to land here."
"You behaved very properly in returning her to me, and I am greatly obliged to you for your consideration. It is not necessary for me to detail to you, who are strangers to me, the troubles I experience in my domestic affairs; and you are too gentlemanly to wish to pry into them."
"Excuse me, but when a young lady becomes so desperate as to jump overboard, it seems to me she must be in a very bad condition."
"That was all a sham. Perhaps I have indulged her too much, and not begun early enough to subdue her violent temper. She is very wilful, and needs stern discipline."
"Do you think it was fair to keep her in a room a week for taking too long stitches, or for treading on a flower?"
She looked at me, and turned red again.
"I see that Kate has been indelicate enough to tell you about our family affairs. Of course you have sufficient discretion to disbelieve such ridiculous stories."
"After pulling her out of the lake, we were much interested in her. We don't wish to interfere, but I suppose there can be no harm in telling us what you did shut her up a week or ten days for."
"I am greatly obliged to you, young gentlemen, for what you have done; but I cannot submit to be called to an account for my conduct in my own family. I must ask you to excuse me now, for I have an engagement at this hour."
It was evident to me that we could find out nothing about Kate from her; but the look of malignity she wore on her face when she spoke of her step-daughter was the best kind of testimony to me. I rose from my chair, and moved towards the door, followed by Bob Hale. We bade the lady good evening, and she closed the door behind us.
Just as we were going down the steps, a buggy, drawn by two handsome horses, came up to the door, which assured us that the lady's engagement was not a pretence used to get rid of us. The horses were driven by a gayly-dressed gentleman. When he alighted, and I obtained a fair view of his face and form, I was considerably interested in him, for I had seen him before.
It was the gentleman I had seen at the cottage, with whom my uncle Amos had had some hard words. He was in some way connected with my silent guardian, and I was very anxious to know who and what he was, for such information might be the key to the mystery which shrouded my existence. For the moment I forgot all about Kate.
"Come along, Ernest," said Bob, when I paused to observe the gentleman.
"Go down to the boat, Bob, and I will be with you in a few minutes."
I stepped into a path where the foliage concealed me; but I saw the gentleman looking down the drive-way as if to obtain a second view of me, for I had observed before that he appeared to recognize me.
"I will be ready in a moment, Tom," said Mrs. Loraine, opening the front door.
Tom! He was a constant visitor, or she would not be thus familiar with him. Who was Tom? I wished she had called him by his surname. As I gazed at his face, while he sat in the buggy, I fancied that it bore some resemblance to that of my uncle.
This man had a quarrel with my misanthropic guardian. I had lived at the cottage with uncle Amos from early childhood. I could faintly remember a weary waste of waters before I came to Parkville,—in which the cottage was located,—but nothing more. During the preceding year I had drawn it out of my uncle that my father was dead, and my mother an inmate of an insane asylum, and that no property was left for me by my parents. Who they were, where my father died, or where my mother was imprisoned, he refused to tell me.
This gentleman who sat in the buggy had been to the cottage several times. High words had generally attended his visits. I had once asked my uncle who he was, and the fact that an answer was refused, was enough to assure me that a better knowledge of him would assist me in finding a clew to my own history.
Mrs. Loraine appeared at the door, and "Tom" nimbly leaped from his seat, and assisted her into the buggy.
"Who was that young fellow that came out of the house as I drove up?" asked he, as he took his place at her side.
"Ernest Thornton," replied the lady.
"Whew!" exclaimed he, as he drove off.
IN WHICH ERNEST RELEASES THE CAPTIVE MAIDEN FROM HER PRISON.
WHAT the precise signification was of the "whew!" which the gentlemanly Tom had uttered, I did not know; but it seemed to indicate that he was not particularly pleased to learn that I had been a visitor at the house. I felt that there was work for me to do, which I could commence at once by following out the clew afforded me by Mrs. Loraine's visitor. My first business was to ascertain who this gentleman was. Doubtless any one in the house could tell me. Probably Kate knew all about him, and I was all the more eager to see her.
I walked down to the pier in a brown study. Mrs. Loraine had positively refused to let me see Kate, at the present time or in the future. She was again confined to her room, not to leave it, I judged, for weeks, unless I put my plan of intervention into execution. Her oppressor was away, and the present seemed to be the most favorable time for releasing the captive.
"Come, Ernest, are you going home, or not?" called Bob, who was getting impatient at my delay.
"Not yet, Bob; there is something for us to do before we go."
"I don't intend to leave Miss Kate here."
"I don't see what we can do about it," said he.
"I haven't any idea of leaving her to the tender mercies of that tigress. She shall be a passenger in the Splash," I added, as I stepped into the boat, and sat down in the standing-room. "I want to see her for my own sake as well as hers. I've had an idea since you left me."
"An idea?" queried he.
"Yes, a big idea. You know my story as well as I know it myself, and I don't mean to keep anything from you."
"What's up, Ernest?"
"I want to know who and what I am; and I'm going to find out, if there is any such thing. I told you about a well-dressed fellow who has been to the cottage of my uncle several times."
"I remember all about him. He quarrelled with your uncle, you said."
"That's the man. Well, Bob, the fellow that drove up in that two-horse buggy, as we came out of the house, was the very one who came to the cottage."
"Is that so?"
"Does he live in Cannondale?"
"I don't know where he lives. I heard Mrs. Loraine call him Tom, and that's all I know about him. I'm going to find out who he is."
"If you can."
"Kate must know who he is, for he seems to be a regular visitor at the house of Mrs. Loraine."
"Well, what are you going to do about it?"
"I'm going to get Kate out of the house."
"I don't exactly know yet, but I shall find a way."
"Don't you think that would be rather high-handed?"
"I can't help it if it is. I would just as lief raise a breeze over here as not."
"We shall get into a scrape, Ernest."
"I won't drag you into it, Bob. You may stay on the boat—"
"No, I won't! I'm ready to take my share in the enterprise."
"I'm satisfied this girl is abused, and it would be mean in us to leave her to her fate. It's nearly dark now, and there isn't any one in the garden. I'm going up to take a look. Kate said her room was in the attic."
"Yes; that's the one with the blinds closed."
I landed again, and Bob went with me up to the house. There was no one in sight, and nothing to prevent our doing the work we had undertaken immediately. After examining the premises, I concluded that we must release the captive maiden by means of the window. It would not be prudent to enter by the door, which was probably locked in the absence of the lady.
I visited the stable on the grounds in search of a rope; but I found there a ladder, which suited me better. With the assistance of Bob, I carried this to the rear of the house, and raised it to the window. I ascended to the window, and found that the blinds were nailed on the outside, so that they could not be opened. This was some confirmation of the truth of Kate's story. I descended again, and found a hammer in the stable, with which I returned and removed the nails.
"Kate!" I called, as soon as I had opened the blinds.
"O, Ernest Thornton!" exclaimed she, opening the window. "I felt sure that you had deserted me. I am so glad you have come!"
"We have no time to spare. Get your clothes as quick as possible; tie them up in a bundle, and throw them out the window."
She did not occupy many minutes in this preparation for her departure. The bundle was made up and thrown to the ground.
"How am I to get out?" asked she, glancing blankly at the ladder.
"Can you go down stairs and go out by the door?" I asked, willing to spare her the descent by the ladder.
"I cannot; the door is locked," she replied, in trembling tones, for she was violently agitated by the situation.
"Then you must go down by the ladder," I added, ascending a few rounds higher. "Now give me your hands, and don't be afraid, for I can hold you so that you cannot fall."
I braced myself upon the ladder, which I directed Bob to hold firmly in its place, and took her by both hands. It was a perilous feat to step from the window to the ladder, and she was so terrified that I held her whole weight; but the passage was safely effected. I held her by the hands till she reached the ground, for she was so timid I dared not trust her to her own energies. I went up again, closed the blinds, and restored the nails, hoping that the escape of the prisoner would not be discovered before the next day. The ladder was conveyed to the stable, and placed where we had found it.
"Now run down to the pier and get into the boat as fast as you can," said I to Kate. "Crawl into the cuddy, and keep out of sight."
"Do you think any one will catch me?" asked she, quivering with terror.
"No; there is no person near to catch you," I replied, as I picked up her bundle of clothes.
We reached the boat without meeting any person, though Mrs. Loraine's man drove the cow into the yard just as we were pushing off from the pier. I had only lowered the jib of the Splash, so that she was ready to start without any delay; and in a few moments we were standing up the lake, the breeze still fresh from the north-west.
"You may come out now, Kate," I called to our passenger, when we were half a mile from the pier.
"Am I perfectly safe?" she asked, timidly, as she crawled out of the cuddy.
"Yes; no one can see you now. Sit down on this seat, and don't be alarmed."
"What shall we do with Miss Loraine now we have released her?" asked Bob, as she sat down by his side in the standing-room.
"I don't know," I replied. "We will settle that question before we go on shore. What did Mrs. Loraine do to you when you went into the house, Kate?"
"She spoke to me very severely, and sent me to my room. She told me I should not come out again for a month."
"She was mistaken this time, if she never was before," said Bob, with a congratulatory smile.
"She was, indeed; and O, I'm so thankful to you!"
"Do you know where Mrs. Loraine has gone now?" I asked, approaching the subject which was so near my own heart.
"I don't; I heard a carriage drive up the yard. I suppose she has gone out to ride," replied Kate.
"A gentleman drove up to the door in a two-horse buggy. Do you know who the gentleman was?" I asked, anxiously. "Mrs. Loraine called him Tom."
"O, that was Mr. Thornton," she answered.
"Mr. Thornton!" I exclaimed.
"Yes; is he any relation to you!"
"Not that I am aware of," I replied, musing upon the fact that he bore my name.
"He often comes to see Mrs. Loraine, and people say they are engaged to be married," continued Kate.
"Where does he live?"
"I'm not very sure, but I think it is in Philadelphia. He stays at the Cannondale Hotel about a week at a time, and comes to Mrs. Loraine's every day."
"How often does he come to Cannondale?"
"Every two or three months, I should think. But I don't see much of him. I have been kept in my chamber most of the time," she added, sadly.
"Did you ever hear him speak about Amos Thornton, my uncle?"
"You say he is going to be Mrs. Loraine's husband."
"That's what people say; I don't know anything about it, only that he is very often at the house."
"Do you know anything about Mr. Thornton?" I continued. "Is he rich?"
"I don't know whether he is or not. I think he must be. He always takes her out to ride with a span of fine horses."
"Is Mrs. Loraine very rich herself?"
"She is not very rich herself. She has what my father left her by his will."
"Of course your father left something to you," added Bob Hale.
"Mr. Windleton called me a little heiress two years ago, and said I should have forty thousand dollars when I was old enough to receive it."
"Who is Mr. Windleton?"
"He was a great friend of my father. He keeps the money that belongs to me. I forget what they call him."
"A trustee," suggested Bob, who was somewhat earned in the law.
"Yes; that's what he said he was. My father gave his wife only half as much as he gave me; but I wish he had given her all of his property," said Kate, looking over into the water.
"Why do you wish so?" I asked.
"I think she would have been kinder to me. Mr. Windleton's daughter Ellen told me, if I should die, that my money would go to Mrs. Loraine. I don't know whether it is true or not;" and without any apparent reason, Kate burst into tears.
Bob and I comforted her as well as we could.
"I'm afraid," she continued, when she had wiped away her tears, "she hopes I shall die."
"I guess not," I added. "That would be horrible."
"Why does she treat me so then—not even let me look out the window?" sobbed she. "I think she wants my money. I have tried to think it was not so, but I can't, ever since Ellen Windleton told me that."
"Why don't you tell Mr. Windleton how your step-mother treats you?" asked Bob.
"He and his whole family are in Europe. They have been there more than a year. I shall tell him when he comes back; but Mrs. Loraine is my guardian."
"Ernest, we are almost over to Parkville, and it is time to know what we are to do with Miss Loraine. It won't do to take her to Parkville," said Bob.
"I will stay in the boat all night. That's a nice little place in there," interposed Kate, pointing to the cuddy.
"You may go in there now, if you please," I added. "I will land you, Bob, and take care of Kate myself. It is quite dark now, and I can take her up to the cottage. No one will find her there."
"What will your uncle say?"
"He will not see her; if he does, he won't say anything; he never says anything."
My friend was entirely willing to take his share of the responsibility, but I was satisfied that I could dispose of my fair passenger without any assistance. I landed him at the steamboat pier, and then stood over towards the cottage.
IN WHICH ERNEST IS AWAKENED BY A LOUD KNOCKING.
THE Splash continued on her course up the lake, after I had landed Bob Hale. It was quite dark, and I told Kate she need not stay in the cuddy any longer. She came out, and sat down near me. I was still in doubt as to what I should do with her; and now that Bob had left me, the problem seemed more difficult than before. Mrs. Loraine was not a woman to let the matter rest where it was. She was full of spirit and vindictiveness, and as she was the legal guardian of Kate, she would not let her escape pass unnoticed.
In the morning, if not before, it would be discovered that the bird had flown. After the interest Bob and I had manifested in the welfare of the young lady, her guardian would know where to apply for information, and I might expect to hear from her in the course of twenty-four hours, and it was not improbable that the search would be commenced that very evening. I told Kate, as we sailed along, that her absence would create a tempest in the household of her step-mother, and that we must be prepared for vigorous proceedings on her part.
"I hope I haven't got you into trouble, Ernest Thornton," said she, her tones indicating much anxiety.
"Never mind me, Kate. I am used to trouble, and I can stand anything. I only hope I shall be able to keep you safe from your enemies."
"Can't I stay in this boat? That cabin is a nice place; I am sure it seems like a fairy palace to me, compared with my prison house in the attic chamber."
"You might stay in the cabin a day or two; but of course you can't live there for any great length of time. You say you have an uncle in New York city."
"I have. If I could only find him I should be safe. I never saw him, at least not since I can remember; but as he is my father's brother, he must be something like my father, and he will take care of me."
"How can we get you to New York? That's the question."
"If I could only reach the railroad, I should not be afraid to go alone," she added, earnestly. "I am sure I could find my uncle, for his name is not a very common one."
"But I don't think it would be safe for you to go alone. We must manage that some way or other, though I hardly know how. It will need some money to pay your fare."
"Dear me! so it will!" exclaimed she, blankly. "And I haven't a single cent!"
"Never mind, Kate; we will manage that. I can raise the money for you, and see that you get to New York."
"You are very kind, Ernest Thornton," replied she, warmly. "I shall have plenty of money some time, and will pay you back every cent."
"There will be no trouble about that," I added. "I am only thinking how I shall get you safely to your destination; but I am going to do it somehow or other. Are you not afraid to stay in the boat all night?"
"O, no! I'm not afraid of anything but my attic chamber."
"My cabin isn't a bad place to stay in. I have slept there a great many nights, in all parts of the lake, sometimes miles from any house."
"I'm not a bit afraid, Ernest Thornton. Why, the cabin is a splendid place, and there are two nice beds there. I'm sure I don't want any better room than that. I could live there a whole year."
"You will not have to stay there long. Just as soon as I can get the money, and find some one to go with you to New York, I shall sail up the creek, where there is a railroad station, and you shall start for New York. Now we are almost to the cottage of my uncle, and you had better keep out of sight, for I don't want any one to see you."
She crawled into the cuddy, and sat down on one of the berths. I always moored the Splash about ten rods from the shore, so that she could lie in the deep water. The row-boat in which I came off to her was fastened to the buoy, so that I easily found the place in the darkness, and made fast to the moorings. I lowered my sails, and put every thing in order as usual.
"Now, Kate, I think you will be perfectly safe here. I will bring you off some supper very soon."
"I don't need any supper. Mrs. Loraine sent me some before she went out to ride; but I could not eat a mouthful."
"No matter; I will bring off something, and see you again to-night."
I went ashore in the row-boat. My supper was waiting for me in the dining-room. After I had finished the meal, I buttered several slices of bread, and wrapped them in a napkin, with some cheese and some cake. Probably old Betsey, the housekeeper, thought I had a ravenous appetite that night; but she never asked any questions, or expressed any surprise at anything which occurred at the cottage. I pulled off to the boat again, and gave the contents of the napkin to Kate.
"I am sorry I can't light the lantern, Kate," I added, as I handed her the provisions; "but I'm afraid it would betray you, if Mrs. Loraine should happen to come here in search of you to-night."
"I don't care to have a light. I am so rejoiced to get away from my prison that I don't care for anything," said she, with enthusiasm. "You don't know how much I have suffered over there, Ernest Thornton."
"I hope you have seen the last of it; but we must be very careful. In the morning you must stay in your cabin, for my uncle gets up very early, and walks all about the place. You must not let him see you on any account."
"I will not. I will be as careful as you can desire."
"In the morning I hope I shall be able to do something with you."
"I shall trust myself wholly to you, Ernest Thornton, and one of these days I hope to be able to repay you for your goodness to me."
"Never mind that, Kate; I am going to do what I think is right because it is right. I suppose you thought it was rather hard in me to take you ashore at the pier over there, this afternoon; but I'm sure I shouldn't have dared to do what I have done if I hadn't seen Mrs. Loraine, and satisfied myself that she ill-treated you."
"I think you did just right, Ernest Thornton; but I was willing to suffer rather than get you into trouble."
"I don't care for myself; it don't make much difference what happens to me. If I can only enable you to reach your uncle in New York city, that is all I want. But it is getting late now, and I think you had better go to sleep. You can do as I do, Kate, when I sleep on board. I always lock myself in."
I explained to her how this was done. There were two doors opening into the cuddy, one on each side of the mainmast, with a slide over each. Outside of these doors were two round holes, which I had sawed in the bulkhead for ventilation. By reaching the arm through one of these apertures the slide could be locked. I fastened Kate into the cuddy, and then gave her the key, with which she opened the door without difficulty herself.
"I shall keep a good lookout for you," said I, as I pulled my tender alongside.
"I am not a bit afraid, Ernest Thornton," replied she. "I shall pray for you, and thank God for giving me such a good friend."
"Good night," I added, speaking through the round hole.
"Good night; and don't worry about me," replied she.
So far as her comfort was concerned, there was not the least need of worrying about her, for the cabin of the Splash was a miniature parlor. There were two good hair mattresses in the berths, with plenty of bed-clothes. The floor was carpeted, and there was every convenience which so small an apartment could contain. I had slept there for a week together; and when my uncle had banished me from his house, I had intended to live on board of her all the time, and earn my living by carrying out parties. So long as no one disturbed her, I had no fears in regard to my guest in the boat.
But I was very much troubled about the final disposal of her. It would not be safe for her to go to New York alone. It might be several days before she found her uncle, and it was not proper to subject a young girl like her to the perils of the great city without a protector. I had no objection to making a trip to New York myself. The spring vacation would commence on the following Monday, and I could be absent from home a whole week without being missed, if I kept the Splash out of sight, for my uncle would suppose I was off on a cruise in her.
This plan pleased me, and I determined to carry it out. School kept but two days more before the vacation, and if I could only keep Kate out of sight till Monday, everything would work well. The financial question was not a difficult one to manage. I calculated that about thirty dollars would pay the expenses of the trip to the metropolis; and uncle Amos would give me this sum or more, without asking a single question. I had about ten dollars on hand, which would be a sufficient margin for contingencies.
The whole matter was as luminous now as youth and enthusiasm could wish; and I went to my chamber satisfied that I had solved the problem. It seemed to me that the only possible obstacle to the complete success of my scheme would be the interference of Mrs. Loraine and her friends. In the morning, at farthest, the search for the escaped prisoner would be commenced. But I could do nothing to provide against emergencies in this direction. I could only wait till I saw how "the land lay" in the morning, and then trust to my own skill and dash to overcome the difficulties as they presented themselves. In my prayers I remembered poor Kate, and asked the blessing of Heaven upon her. I felt sure that the Good Father would help me to save her from the cruel persecution to which she was subjected. Having thus commended myself and Kate to the care of Him who watches over the innocent, I turned over and went to sleep.
My slumber was soon disturbed by a violent pounding at the front door of the cottage, which was just beneath my window. I leaped up in the bed and listened. They were not doubtful sounds that I heard, and they appeared to be made by the heel of a heavy boot. The person who demanded admission to the cottage at that unseemly hour was evidently in earnest, and the door groaned under the vigorous assaults he made upon it. Of course I could not be uncertain in regard to the errand of the midnight visitor—for such the striking of the clock in the hall below now assured me he was. "The tug of war" was at hand, and I was to be called upon at once to "face the music."
I decided not to be forward in meeting the messenger from Mrs. Loraine, whoever he was. It was possible, if not probable, that she had sent the deputy sheriff after me; and this terrible official might hurry me off from my bed to a cell in the Cannondale lockup, heedless of the fact that I was found in another county. If I was arrested, what would become of poor Kate? The cold sweat stood on my brow as I thought of her. But I came to the conclusion that I would not be arrested by any deputy sheriff, or any one else, if I could possibly avoid it; and it was a satisfaction for me to hear the wind piping merrily at my window, for that would give heels to the Splash, if a hurried departure became necessary.
IN WHICH ERNEST GETS AN IDEA.
THE knocking at the door of the cottage was continued almost without intermission. The visitor was evidently endowed with only a small portion of the necessary virtue of patience, for when he ceased pounding for an instant, it was only to curse and swear at the heaviness of the sleepers within. I was sure that old Jerry and Betsey, who slept in the rear of the house, would not hear the summons, even if the imperative messenger broke the door down; but I was rather surprised that my uncle, who, I always supposed, slept with one eye open, if he ever slept at all, did not answer the call more promptly.
I got out of bed, and looked out at the window, hoping to obtain a sight of the visitor; but the night was too dark for me to distinguish his form or features. Again he swore, and again he hammered away at the door. What they do in New Jersey when it rains is to let it rain; and what I did when he pounded was to let him pound. I was perfectly willing he should pound; I even hoped that he enjoyed it. In spite of the anxiety I felt for poor Kate, I could not help laughing at the ludicrous earnestness with which he swore and pounded. Like most men, my uncle was cool when he was not excited; and as there had been nothing on the present occasion to excite him, I suppose he was cool. Doubtless he stopped to dress himself before he answered the summons. Very likely the dread necessity of speaking to the visitor appalled him, and he desired to postpone the trying ordeal as long as possible.
I am obliged to acknowledge my belief that Mrs. Loraine's messenger was exceedingly unreasonable, for he did not intermit his hammering long enough to ascertain whether any one was coming to the door or not. What was not more than five minutes in fact, might have seemed to be half an hour to him. Within as short a time as could have been properly expected, I heard the door of my uncle's library open, and uneasily I listened for the result. The bolt on the front door creaked and grated. The door opened with difficulty, and while my uncle was tugging at it, I lifted the sash of my window a couple of inches, that I might hear what passed.
The door swung back, and I put my head to the window to catch the first words that were spoken. Of course my uncle was not the first to utter them; he seldom spoke, and never was surprised into speaking, even on an emergency.
"Well, governor," said the messenger, crustily, "you sleep like a rock. Where is that confounded boy of yours?"
"In bed," replied my uncle.
"Rout him out; I want him," continued the visitor, pushing his way into the house.
This movement prevented me from hearing what followed immediately; but I hastened to my door, hoping to catch a word which would enable me to determine who the person was.
"The young villain has run away with Mrs. Loraine's step-daughter," I heard him say, as I opened the door wide enough to permit me to catch the sound. "I tell you, governor, you must get rid of the young vagabond, or he will swamp the whole of us."
"Hush! he will hear you," said uncle Amos.
"No matter. I have pounded away hard enough to wake the dead. If that didn't rouse him, nothing will," added the messenger, gruffly.
"I have had about enough of this thing," continued the rough visitor. "You insist on keeping the whelp here, when you know he is a bombshell in your path and mine. Why don't you send him to sea, and let him get drowned?"
"Be still, Thomas," replied my uncle, in a whisper.
"I won't be still, governor. The vagabond has run away with that girl, and—"
They passed into the dining-room, and I could not hear the rest of the sentence. The visitor was Tom Thornton, for my uncle called him Thomas. I was a vagabond, and a bombshell in the path of both of them. Tom called my uncle "governor," and this indicated that he was his son. I half suspected this before, but it was news to me to learn that I was regarded as a dangerous young man. Why was I dangerous? I had not done anything to imperil the life or the fortunes of either of them.
My uncle would not tell me anything about my father, or my mother, save that the latter was insane and the inmate of an asylum. Now, Tom objected because I had not been sent to sea to be drowned! They were talking about me down stairs, and I slipped on my pants, and crept down the stairs. I found that they had entered my uncle's library, and the spring lock on the door had fastened it. I listened, but I could not distinguish what was said.
I was determined not to be balked in my purpose, for this was an opportunity which might not occur again for years to obtain some clew to my own affairs. In fact, I had resolutely resolved to SEEK AND FIND my mother, who was still living; and I wanted information.
The library of my uncle was contained in an addition to the house which had been erected after the completion of the original structure. It was on the end of the house, and could be reached only through his chamber. The roof was flat, and covered with tin plates. On the side fronting the lake there was a bay window. The middle sash was generally open at the top in warm weather, as I had no doubt it was at the present time.
I stole softly up stairs to my chamber, from which one of the windows opened upon the flat roof over the library. I raised this window, and crawled like a cat over to the bay window, the top of which was considerably lower than the roof. Lying down on the projection, I placed my head near the top of the window. I was rejoiced to find that I could hear the voices of the occupants of the room below me. More than this, a lucky thought, as I regarded it, occurred to me as I lay there. The window was pulled down at the top, and I found that I could get into the room almost as easily as I could stay out. I deemed this an important discovery, for I fully intended, at the first convenient opportunity, to explore the library. Though the thought came to me, I did not follow out its leading at this time.
"How can I get rid of him?" demanded uncle Amos, as I placed my head near the open sash; and it was evident that the parties had made some progress in the discussion while I was securing my position.
"Send him off. I can find a place for him in a store in New Orleans, where the yellow fever will make an end of him," replied Tom.
"Thomas, I will not harm him. I don't want to kill him," added uncle Amos.
"Of course you don't want to kill him—let the fever do that. Let him go away, and lose the run of you. Something must be done at once. He is a smart boy, they say, and if he should happen to get an idea, he would blow you and me so high that we never should come down."
That was an idea, and I happened to get it.
"My son, I have stained my soul with crime for your sake," added my uncle, bitterly. "We have wronged this boy enough. I will not have him injured."
"I don't wish to injure him, only to get him out of the way, so that he will lose the run of you," replied Tom, petulantly. "He don't know anything about me."
"Don't flatter yourself, Tom Thornton," I thought, but did not say.
"I am willing to do anything proper to be done with him. He will graduate soon at the Institute, and we must find a place for him in some business," said uncle Amos.
"I will find a situation for him in New Orleans."
"Not to take his life."
"No, no; certainly not. I know of a firm there that wants a young man from the north, and you must send him off in the course of a week. Now, what has the villain done with that girl?"
"I don't know; he has not brought her here," answered my uncle.
"What has he done with her? There was a young fellow with him; do you know who he was?"
"Probably the Hale boy. They run together."
"What could they have done with the girl?"
"I don't know. What motive had they for carrying her off?"
"Out of pity I suppose. Kate is a careless girl, wilful, and disobedient. She objects to being shut up in her chamber for her misdemeanors."
Tom Thornton related the incident in which Bob and I had been concerned on the pier.
"The child must have been badly abused, or she would not have jumped into the lake," said uncle Amos, when he had heard the story.
"It does not concern you or me whether she has been or not. I fancy the girl is not of much use to any one."
"Why do you run after her, then?"
"What's the use of arguing the question. Mrs. Loraine wishes me to find the girl, and return her; and I'm going to do it, if I have to choke your smart boy to get at it. Where is he?"
"In his chamber; but you must not harm him," replied uncle Amos, nervously. "He is as high-spirited as his father was."
"What do I care for that? He must tell me where the girl is."
"Perhaps he will not be willing to tell you."
"Then I shall make him do so," added Tom, savagely; and it seemed to me he was getting up a very pleasant prospect for me.
"You must handle him very carefully," said my uncle, nervously.
"If he tells me where the girl is, that's all I want of him. If he don't, I shall—I shall crush it out of him. He will find I am not made of milk and water."
"You will find I am not, either," I said to myself, as, when Tom moved towards the door, I rose from my recumbent posture, and hastened back to my chamber.
I slipped off my pants, and got into bed again, that I might not be suspected of having left it. I had scarcely done so before Tom entered my room with a lamp in his hand. I opened my eyes, rubbed them, and stared at him.
"I want to see you, youngster," he began. "I suppose you don't know me. My name is Jones."
"If your name is Jones, my name is Smith," I replied, with gross imprudence.
He looked at me, and appeared to be startled by my sharp and reckless reply. Very likely he thought me as smart as my reputation.
"Your name is Thornton," said he.
"So is yours," I answered; and I couldn't help it.
He stared at me again. Perhaps he concluded that I had obtained my information of Kate Loraine, and he knew that I had seen him at her step-mother's house.
"What have you done with that girl?" demanded he.
"Hold on a moment till I dress myself," I replied, as I jumped out of bed, and began to put on my clothes.
IN WHICH ERNEST HAS AN INTERVIEW WITH MR. TOM THORNTON.
FROM my perch over the bay window of the library, I had heard Tom Thornton express his savage determination to crush out of me the information he wanted. Being forewarned, I was in a measure forearmed, and I did not intend to be caught in a vulnerable position. I decided to do a little light skirmishing before the battle opened. What I had seen and heard of my assailant gave me a wonderful self-possession, for which I could not account to myself.
I hurried on my clothing, though I dressed myself with the expectation of taking a cruise on the lake before my head rested on the pillow again. Though I felt that it was my first duty to protect Kate Loraine, and send her to a place of safety, I fully realized that I had a battle of my own to fight. By their own confession, Tom and his father had wronged me deeply. If my mother was still living, as I believed she was, they had probably wronged her a hundred fold more than me. With these thoughts and feelings, an impulse of desperation seemed to inspire me. I was ready for anything, but I was astonished and amazed at my own calmness.
"Do you think I'm going to wait all night for an answer?" demanded Tom, gruffly, before I had half finished dressing myself.
"If I am to give the answer, I expect you will wait till I get ready," I replied.
"Do you, indeed?" stormed he.
"I do, indeed."
He moved towards me, and I retreated to a corner of the room, where stood a heavy base-ball bat, which had been presented to me for skilful playing. That corner was my base of supplies.
"Do you know where that girl is?" said he, pausing and glancing at my muscular artillery in the corner.
"Hold on a minute, till I am dressed, and I will answer the question."
"Answer it now—this instant."
"What do you mean, you young villain? Do you intend to insult me?"
"That question is rather refreshing, Mr. Tom Thornton, after coming to my room in the middle of the night as you did. Do you mean to insult me?"
"Insult you, you young villain!" sneered he.
"Insult me, you old villain! for I'm sure you have had a deal of experience in the villain line."
"Will you answer my question, or not? Do you know where that girl is?" he continued, when he saw it was as easy for me to use harsh epithets as for him.
"When I have dressed myself I will answer, but not till then," I replied, adjusting my collar with more than usual care. "Mr. Tom Thornton, I don't wish to quarrel with you on our first acquaintance. Besides it don't look well for near relations to quarrel."
"What do you mean by near relations?" he asked, evincing some alarm.
"Your name is Thornton, and so is mine. As you come to the house of my uncle, I suppose we must be relations. But I assure you I have no particular desire to claim kindred with you."
"You are an impudent young cub; and if you are any relation to me, you shall have some of the starch taken out of you before you grow half an inch taller," replied Tom; and in the war of words I felt that I had the weather-gage of him, for I knew things of which he supposed I was entirely ignorant.
"I don't think my impudence exceeds yours, Mr. Tom Thornton. You didn't come into my room behaving like a gentleman," I answered, as I put on my sack coat.
"I am not in the habit of having a boy speak to me as you do."
"I am not in the habit of having any one speak to me as you do," I retorted. "But I don't want to quarrel with you, as I said before."
"Well, Mr. Ernest Thornton, if your high mightiness is ready to condescend to answer my question, I must beg the favor of a reply," sneered he, putting the lamp down upon the table.
"Take a seat, Mr. Thornton. Your speech is improving," I added, throwing myself into a chair near my base of supplies.
I think my visitor was entirely satisfied by this time that he could make nothing by bullying me; and it seemed to me that in reaching this point I had accomplished a great deal. Tom Thornton sat down in a chair, near the table where he had deposited the lamp.
"Thank you, Mr. Ernest Thornton. I am seated, and await your further pleasure," he continued, with a curling lip.
"You intimated that you came on business."
"I certainly hinted as much as that."
"And your business relates to Miss Kate Loraine?"
"It does. I took the liberty to inquire if you knew where she was at the present time. A direct and unequivocal answer to this question would oblige your humble servant very much," said Tom, nervously; and I saw that it was with the greatest difficulty he could confine himself to this satirical style of speech—for he wanted to break out in menace and violence, to crush me with hard words and savage demonstrations, which prudent cunning restrained him from using. "Do you know where the girl is?"
"I do," I replied, promptly. "I trust my reply is sufficiently direct and unequivocal."
"It is; and you will oblige me by informing me, as directly and unequivocally, where she is," said he, rising from his chair.
"I am sorry to disoblige you, Mr. Tom Thornton; but I must respectfully decline to give you any information on that point," I answered, firmly.
"Am I to understand that you refuse to tell me where she is?" demanded he, turning up the cuff of one of his coat-sleeves.
"That was the idea I intended to convey," I replied, imitating his example by rolling up one of my coat-sleeves.
"You won't tell me."
"You know where she is?"
"And won't tell?"
"I will not."
He turned up the other coat-sleeve, and I did the same.
"I'll tell you what it is, youngster, we have played this farce long enough," Tom proceeded, in a rage. "I want you to understand that I am not to be trifled with. You may make a fool of the old man, but you can't make a fool of me."
"Perhaps nature has already done that kindly act for you," I put in, as he paused to take a long breath with which to whet his wrath.
I know, now, that it was wrong for me to make these saucy and irritating replies; but I could not well help it then. Tom Thornton was a villain, by his own confession. My uncle had declared that he had stained his soul with crime for his son's sake. Whichever was the greater villain, it was clear that the son was the more obdurate, graceless, and unrepentant of the two. I had no patience with him. I had no respect for him, and I certainly had no fear of him. Even policy would not permit me to treat him with a consideration I did not feel.
"For your insults we will settle by and by; at present my business relates to this girl," said he, smarting under my charge.
"Well, Mr. Tom Thornton, so far as Miss Loraine is concerned, your business with me is finished," I replied.
"Not yet; before I have done you will be glad to tell me where the girl is."
"I will tell you nothing in regard to her."
"I command you to tell me where she is."
"You may command, if you choose."
"And I will be obeyed," said he, furiously.
"You will see whether you are or not."
"Who are you, young man, that have the impudence to enter the house of a lady, and entice away her daughter?" foamed he.
"I am Ernest Thornton. I did not enter the house after you rode off with the lady; I did not entice the girl away, and she is not the lady's daughter."
"Silence! Don't you contradict me. You ran away with the girl!"
I whistled a popular air, simply to prove that I was not intimidated, and that Tom was not getting along very rapidly.
"Once more, and for the last time," roared Tom, foaming with passion, "will you tell me where the girl is, or will you take the consequences?"
"If it's all the same to you, I'll take the consequences," I answered.
"Very well; you will take them, or you will tell me the whole truth," said he, savagely, as he rushed to the door.
There was a key in the lock, which I seldom or never used. He took it out, left the room, and locked the door behind him. He was evidently so much in earnest that he did not intend I should escape the fiery furnace he was preparing for me. I could not but laugh at his folly in thinking to confine a live boy of sixteen in the chamber of a cottage. I concluded that he had gone for a stick, a club, or some other weapon, with which to reduce me to subjection.
Though I felt able with the base-ball bat to defend myself from the assaults of Tom, I did not court the conflict. There was room for an accident which might deprive me of the power to serve Kate in the hour of her extremity; and I was disposed to keep her on the safe side, if I did not keep there myself. I heard the heavy footsteps of Tom Thornton, as he descended the stairs, and walked through the hall. I concluded that he would see my uncle before he returned. I slipped off my shoes, and put one in each side pocket of my sack. Fearing that my bat might be removed during my absence, I thrust it up the chimney, at the fireplace, resting one end on a jamb, where I could easily reach it.
Carefully opening the window, I stepped down upon the roof of the library, and thence to the top of the bay window, to the position I had before occupied. My uncle was in the library, but Tom was not with him, and I concluded that he had gone out of the cottage for the weapon he wanted. I felt safe enough, however; for, by lying down on the top of the bay window, close to the wall of the building, I could not be seen by any one who did not come close to the place where I was concealed.
I bent over and looked into the library window a second time. By the side of the grate, at the end of the room, a small iron safe had been built into the brick-work of the chimney, in which my uncle kept his papers and other valuables. In the occasional visits I had made to the library, after I was conscious of the mystery which shrouded my affairs, I had gazed wistfully at the iron door of this safe, and longed to possess the secrets which it contained. I believed that there were papers in that strong box which could tell me where my mother was, or give me some clew to her place of imprisonment. Perhaps the whole history of my father's family was contained within its iron sides. Perhaps the story of my wrongs could be traced from the documents there. If not, why was I so carefully excluded from the library?
I felt a deep and thrilling interest when I glanced into the room, and saw uncle Amos seated before the open door of this safe.
IN WHICH ERNEST VISITS HIS UNCLE'S LIBRARY.
WHILE Tom Thornton was looking for a battery with which to reduce my fortress, my uncle appeared to be searching for some paper in his safe. I concluded that Tom's unexpected arrival had suggested some business to be done with him. I was in a fever of anxiety to hear what passed between them.
Uncle Amos handled the papers, folding and unfolding them, giving each a hasty glance, and then restoring it to the safe. One document in particular attracted my attention, on which my uncle gazed much longer than on any other, and then laid it down, apart from the others, on the bottom of the safe. While I was watching his motions with breathless interest, I heard the front door slammed violently. My uncle was startled. He hastily closed the door of the safe, locked it, and put the key under the cushion of his arm-chair. Taking the lamp in his hand, he hastened out of the room.
"Thomas!" I heard him call, after he had passed into his chamber.
In a moment he returned to the library, followed by Tom, who had in his hand a heavy stick taken from the wood-pile.
"What are you going to do?" demanded my uncle, as he glanced at the club in Tom's hand.
"I am going to make that boy tell me where the girl is," replied Tom.
"With that stick?"
"Yes, with this stick."
"You will never find the girl in that way," said my uncle, shaking his head. "Throw your stick away."
"But the rascal insulted me with almost every word he spoke," growled Tom.
"I told you to handle him gently. You can't drive him."
"But he must tell me where the girl is."
"He will not, of course. If he thinks the girl has been abused, he is just foolish enough to take her part, and would be pounded to a jelly before he would tell you a word about her. If you are careful you can find out where the girl is. Probably he carried her off in the boat. You say it must have been nearly dark when he left Cannondale. He could not have gone far with her. Either she is at Mr. Hale's in Parkville, or she is concealed somewhere in this vicinity."
Uncle Amos appeared to gasp with the mighty effort this long speech had cost him.
"The young rascal shall tell me where she is, or I will break his head. I will teach him that he can't trifle with me, if he can with you," replied Tom, in snappish tones.
"You will defeat your own purposes. Where is Ernest now?"
"In his room; and I locked him in," answered Tom, with a kind of chuckle, indicating that he thought he had done a big thing.
"Locked him in!" exclaimed my uncle. "How long do you suppose he will stay there?"
"Till I choose to let him out," said Tom, who still appeared to be very well satisfied with himself.
"I think not. There are two windows in the room, and when he gets ready to leave he will do so. You seem to think the boy is a fool. Very likely he has taken the alarm by this time, and has gone off to look out for the girl, if he has hidden her in this vicinity."
"Do you suppose he has gone?" asked Tom; and his tones indicated his perplexity.
"I don't know; but you can't do anything till daylight, and I want to talk with you about our affairs."
"Confound your affairs!" ejaculated Tom, petulantly. "I can't stop to-night to talk about them. I came after the girl, and I must have her too."
"Thomas, I can no longer endure this wasting anxiety," continued my uncle, solemnly. "This boy haunts me by day and by night. I seldom sleep an hour at a time. For your sake I am suffering all this; but you are cold, distant, and harsh to me."
"What do you wish me to do, governor?" demanded the reckless son. "I send you all the money you want."
"It is not money, but a clear conscience, that I need," groaned the wretched old man. "I would rather live in abject poverty than purchase plenty at such a fearful price."
"Don't be foolish, governor."
"I live in constant fear of the boy, especially since he questioned me, months ago, about his parents and his property."
"Of course you told him he had no property."
"Then it's all right. In the course of a week we will send him to New Orleans. When he has gone you can change your residence, and he will lose the track of you."
"Perhaps he will not be willing to go to New Orleans; he certainly will not under such treatment as you bestow upon him. Thomas, my brother's will—"
My uncle paused and looked at his son, as though in doubt whether to finish the sentence he had begun.
"Well, what of the will?" demanded Tom, evincing more interest than he had before exhibited. "Of course you destroyed that years ago?"
"No, Thomas, I dared not do such a thing," replied my uncle, in a hoarse whisper.
"You did not!" exclaimed Tom. "Where is it? Let me have it!"
"No, Thomas, I dare not even yet destroy it," groaned the old man.
"This is madness!"
"Perhaps it is. I wished to talk with you about it. It is no longer safe for me to keep it in the house."
"Why don't you burn it, then?"
"I dare not."
By this time I was so dizzy holding my head down, that I was obliged to raise it. I was so giddy and confused that I came very near rolling off the top of the bay window; and in my efforts to save myself, I made a noise, which disturbed the conference. Tom and my uncle were alarmed. I heard them rush out of the room. Without waiting to ascertain their intentions, I put on my shoes, and climbed down from the bay window to the ground.
I had hardly accomplished my descent before Tom and my uncle appeared at the window of my chamber. They had rightly attributed the noise to me, and hastened to my room to learn what had happened.
"He has escaped," said Tom, as he drew in his head, after satisfying himself that I was not on the roof.
I went round to the front of the house to ascertain what they would do next. There was a horse and chaise in the road, with which Tom had come, the animal fastened to a post. He neighed as I approached him. I found that he was shivering in the cool night air, after the severe sweat he had had in coming. I took a robe from the chaise and covered him, for I liked a horse almost as well as a boat. When I had finished this kindly act, Tom came out of the house with a lantern in his hand. He was followed by my uncle, and they went down to the landing, where my skiff lay.
"He hasn't gone off in the boat," said my uncle.
"And he shall not," added Tom, as he walked off and disappeared behind the house.
I was alarmed lest he should go off to the Splash and find Kate there; but presently he returned with an axe in his hand. Giving the lantern to his father, he proceeded to smash the skiff with the axe, his object being to prevent my going on board the Splash. I regarded it as a puny effort on his part, and was relieved to find they did not intend to visit her themselves. As soon as I was satisfied in regard to his purpose, I crept carefully up to the horse, unfastened him, and jumped into the chaise. The animal was full of spirit, and anxious to go.
"Have you found the girl?" I shouted to Tom, as I drove within a few feet of where he stood.
He sprang for the horse's head as soon as he discovered my intention; but I gave him the rein, and he went off like a rocket. I turned towards Parkville, and after going half a mile, I reined up to ascertain whether I was pursued or not. I could hear nothing; so I turned into a by-road, leading to a grove. I had taken this step only to procure a diversion of Tom's plans, if he had any, and I fastened the horse to a tree. Covering him up with the robe again, I walked back to the highway. In less than ten minutes, I heard the well-known rattle of my uncle's buggy. I stepped behind a bush till it should pass. As it went by, I heard my uncle's voice, as well as Tom's. My diversion had worked well, for both had gone in pursuit of me, and I was delighted with the result.
As fast as my legs would carry me, I hastened back to the cottage. A light was burning in the library. I was almost choking with anxiety, for I had a purpose to accomplish. I climbed up to the bay window, pulled the sash down, and leaped into my uncle's "sanctum sanctorum." With trembling hand I raised the cushion of the arm-chair. I could hardly repress a shout of joy, as I saw the key, just where my uncle had put it. Eagerly I seized it and opened the safe door. I grasped the huge document that lay on the bottom of the safe, and opened it. I read,—
"'In the name of God, amen! I, Ezra Thornton, being feeble in body, but of sound and disposing mind—"
"It is my father's will!" I exclaimed, without pausing to read any more.
My heart was in my mouth. I glanced at other papers; but I did not understand them, and it seemed to me then that the will was all I wanted. I thrust that into my pocket, and was about to close the safe door when my eye rested upon a thick pile of bank bills. I wanted money. Would it be stealing to take some of these bills? No! All that my uncle had was mine, according to his own statement. There were thousands of dollars in the pile. I could not think or reason in the excitement of the moment. I took about one fourth of the bills, thrust them into my pocket, closed the door of the safe, locked it, and put the key under the cushion in the chair.