TRUE TO HIMSELF
ROGER STRONG'S STRUGGLE FOR PLACE
"True to himself," while a complete story in itself, forms the third volume of the "Ship and Shore Series," tales of adventure on land and sea, written for both boys and girls.
In this story we are introduced to Roger Strong, a typical American country lad, and his sister Kate, who, by an unhappy combination of events, are thrown upon their own resources and compelled to make their own way in the world.
To make one's way in the world is, ordinarily, difficult enough; but when one is handicapped by a cloud on the family name, the difficulty becomes far greater. With his father thrown into prison on a serious charge, Roger finds that few people will have anything to do with either himself or his sister, and the jeers flung at him are at times almost more than he can bear. But he is "true to himself" in the best meaning of that saying, rising above those who would pull him down, and, in the end, not only succeeds in making a place for himself in the world, but also scores a worthy triumph over those who had caused his parents' downfall.
When this story was first printed as a serial, the author has every reason to believe it was well received by the boys and girls for whom it was written. In its present revised form he hopes it will meet with equal commendation.
Newark, N.J., April 15, 1900.
THE TROUBLE IN THE ORCHARD
"Hi, there, Duncan Woodward!" I called out. "What are you doing in Widow Canby's orchard?"
"None of your business, Roger Strong," replied the only son of the wealthiest merchant in Darbyville.
"You are stealing her pears," I went on. "Your pockets are full of them."
"See here, Roger Strong, just you mind your own business and leave me alone."
"I am minding my business," I rejoined warmly.
"Indeed!" And Duncan put as much of a sneer as was possible in the word.
"Yes, indeed. Widow Canby pays me for taking care of her orchard, and that includes keeping an eye on these pear trees," and I approached the tree upon the lowest branch of which Duncan was standing.
"Humph! You think you're mighty big!" he blustered, as he jumped to the ground. "What right has a fellow like you to talk to me in this manner? You are getting too big for your boots."
"I don't think so. I'm guarding this property, and I want you to hand over what you've taken and leave the premises," I retorted, for I did not fancy the style in which I was being addressed.
"Pooh! Do you expect me to pay any attention to that?"
"You had better, Duncan. If you don't you may get into trouble."
"I suppose you intend to tell the widow what I've done."
"I certainly shall; unless you do as I've told you to."
Duncan bit his lip. "How do you know but what the widow said I could have the pears?" he ventured.
"If she did, it's all right," I returned, astonished, not so much over the fact that Widow Canby had granted the permission, as that such a high-toned young gentleman as Duncan Woodward should desire that privilege.
"You've no business to jump at conclusions," he added sharply.
"If I judged you wrongly, I beg your pardon, Duncan. I'll speak to the widow about it."
I began to move off toward the house. Duncan hurried after me and caught me by the arm.
"You fool you, what do you mean?" he demanded.
"I'm going to find out if you are telling the truth."
"Isn't my word enough?"
"It will do no harm to ask," I replied evasively, not caring to pick a quarrel, and yet morally sure that he was prevaricating.
"So you think I'm telling you a falsehood? I've a good mind to give you a sound drubbing," he cried angrily.
Duncan Woodward had many of the traits of a bully about him. He was the only son of a widower who nearly idolized him, and, lacking a mother's guiding influence, he had grown up wayward in the extreme.
He was a tall, well-built fellow, strong from constant athletic exercise, and given, on this account, to having his way among his associates.
Yet I was not afraid of him. Indeed, to tell the truth, I was not afraid of any one. For eight years I had been shoved in life from pillar to post, until now threats had no terrors for me.
Both of my parents were dead to me. My mother died when I was but five years old. She was of a delicate nature, and, strange as it may seem, I am inclined to believe that it was for the best that her death occurred when it did. The reason I believe this is, because she was thus spared the disgrace that came upon our family several years later.
At her death my father was employed as head clerk by the firm of Holland & Mack, wholesale provision merchants of Newville, a thriving city which was but a few miles from Darbyville, a pretty village located on the Pass River.
We occupied a handsome house in the centre of the village. Our family, besides my parents and myself, contained but one other member— my sister Kate, who was several years my senior.
When our beloved mother died, Kate took the management of our home upon her shoulders, and as she had learned, during my mother's long illness, how everything should be done, our domestic affairs ran smoothly. All this time I attended the Darbyville school, and was laying the foundation for a commercial education, intending at some later day to follow in the footsteps of my father.
Two years passed, and then my father's manner changed. From being bright and cheerful toward us he became moody and silent. What the cause was I could not guess, and it did not help matters to be told by Duncan Woodward, whose father was also employed by Holland & Mack, that "some folks would soon learn what was what, and no mistake."
At length the thunderbolt fell. Returning from school one day, I found Kate in tears.
"Oh, Roger!" she burst out. "They say father has stolen money from Holland & Mack, and they have just arrested him for a thief!"
The blow was a terrible one. I was but a boy of fourteen, and the news completely bewildered me. I put on my cap, and together with Kate, took the first horse car to Newville to find out what it all meant.
We found my father in jail, where he had been placed to await the action of the grand jury. It was with difficulty that we obtained permission to see him, and ascertained the facts of the case.
The charge against him was for raising money upon forged cheeks, eight in number, the total amount being nearly twelve thousand dollars. The name of the firm had been forged, and the money collected in New York and Brooklyn. I was not old enough to understand the particulars.
My father protested his innocence, but it was of no avail. The forgery was declared to be his work, and, though it was said that he must have had an accomplice to obtain the money, he was adjudged the guilty party.
"Ten years in the State's prison." That was the penalty. My father grew deadly white, while as for me, my very heart seemed to stop beating. Kate fainted, and two days later the doctor announced that she had an attack of brain fever.
Two months dragged slowly by. Then my sister was declared to be out of danger. Next the house was sold over our heads, and we were turned out upon the world, branded as the children of a thief, to get a living as best we could.
Both of us would willingly have left Darbyville, but where should we go? The only relation we had was an uncle,— Captain Enos Moss,— and he was on an extended trip to South America, and when he would return no one knew.
All the friends we had had before deserted us. The girls "turned up their noses" at Kate,— which made my blood boil,— and the boys fought shy of me.
I tried to find work, but without success. Even in places where help was wanted excuses were made to me— trivial excuses that meant but one thing— that they did not desire any one in their employ who had a stain upon his name.
Kate was equally unsuccessful; and we might have starved but for a lucky incident that happened just as we were ready to give up in despair.
Walking along the road one day, I saw Farmer Tilford's bull tearing across the field toward a gate which had been accidentally left open. The Widow Canby, absorbed in thought and quite unconscious of the danger that threatened her, was just passing this gate, when I darted forward and closed it just a second before the bull reached it. I did not consider my act an heroic one, but the Widow Canby declared it otherwise.
"You are a brave boy," she said. "Who are you?"
I told her, coloring as I spoke. But she laid a kindly hand upon my shoulder.
"Even if your father was guilty, you are not to blame," she said, and she made me tell her all about myself, and about Kate, and the hard luck we were having.
The Widow Canby lived in an old-fashioned house, surrounded on three sides by orchards several acres in extent. She was well to do, but made no pretence to style. Many thought her extremely eccentric but that was only because they did not know her.
The day I came to her assistance she made me stay to supper, and when I left it was under promise to call the next day and bring my sister along.
This I did, and a long conversation took place, which resulted in Kate and myself going to live with the widow— I to take care of the garden and the orchards, and my sister to help with the housekeeping, for which we received our board and joint wages of fifteen dollars per month.
We could not have fallen into better hands. Mrs. Canby was as considerate as one would wish, and had it not been for the cloud upon our name we would have been content.
But the stain upon our family was a source of unpleasantness to us. I fully believed my father innocent, and I wondered if the time would ever come when his character would be cleared.
My duties around Widow Canby's place were not onerous, and I had plenty of chance for self-improvement. I had finished my course at the village school in spite of the calumny that was cast upon me, and now I continued my studies in private whenever the opportunity offered.
I was looked down upon by nearly every one in the village. To strangers I was pointed out as the convict's son, and people reckoned that the "Widder Canby wasn't right sharp when she took in them as wasn't to be trusted."
I was not over-sensitive, but these remarks, which generally reached my ears sooner or later, made me very angry. What right had people to look down on my sister and myself? It was not fair to Kate and me, and I proposed to stand it no longer.
It was a lovely morning in September, but I was in no mood to enjoy the bright sunshine and clear air that flooded the orchard. I had just come from the depot with the mail for Mrs. Canby, and down there I had heard two men pass opinions on my father's case that were not only uncharitable but unjust.
I was therefore in no frame of mind to put up with Duncan Woodward's actions, and when he spoke of giving me a good drubbing I prepared to defend myself.
"Two can play at that game, Duncan," I replied.
"Ho! ho! Do you mean to say you can stand up against me?" he asked derisively.
"I can try," I returned stoutly. "I'm sure now that you have no business here."
"Why, you miserable little thief—"
"Stop that! I'm no thief, if you please."
"Well, you're the son of one, and that's the same thing."
"My father is innocent, and I won't allow any one, big or little, to call him a thief," I burst out. "Some day he will be cleared."
"Not much!" laughed Duncan. "My father knows all about the case. I can tell you that."
"Then perhaps he knows where the money went to," I replied quickly. "I know he was very intimate with my father at that time."
Had I stopped to think I would not have spoken as I did. My remark made the young man furious, and I had hardly spoken before Duncan hit me a stinging blow on the forehead, and, springing upon me, bore me to the ground.
AN ASSAULT ON THE ROAD
I knew Duncan Woodward would not hesitate to attack me. He was a much larger fellow than myself, and always ready to fight any one he thought he could whip.
Yet I was not prepared for the sudden onslaught that had been made. Had I been, I might have parried his blow.
But I did not intend to be subdued as easily as he imagined. The blow on my forehead pained not a little, and it made me mad "clear through."
"Get off of me!" I cried, as Duncan brought his full weight down upon my chest.
"Not much! Not until you promise to keep quiet about this affair," he replied.
"If you don't get off, you'll be mighty sorry;" was my reply, as I squirmed around in an effort to throw him aside.
Suddenly he caught me by the ear, and gave that member a twist that caused me to cry out with pain.
"Now will you do as I say?" he demanded.
Again he caught my ear. But now I was ready for him. It was useless to try to shake him off. He was too heavy and powerful for that. So I brought a small, but effective weapon into play. The weapon was nothing more than a pin that held together a rent in my trousers made the day previous. Without hesitation I pulled it out and ran it a good half-inch into his leg.
The yell be gave would have done credit to a wild Indian, and he bounded a distance of several feet. I was not slow to take advantage of this movement, and in an instant I was on my feet and several yards away.
Duncan's rage knew no bounds. He was mad enough to "chew me up," and with a loud exclamation he sprang after me, aiming a blow at my head as he did so.
I dodged his arm, and then, gathering myself together, landed my fist fairly and squarely upon the tip of his nose, a blow that knocked him off his feet and sent him rolling to the ground.
To say that I was astonished at what I had done would not express my entire feelings. I was amazed, and could hardly credit my own eyesight. Yet there he lay, the blood flowing from the end of his nasal organ. He was completely knocked out, and I had done the deed. I did not fear for consequences. I felt justified in what I had done. But I wondered how Duncan would stand the punishment.
With a look of intense bitterness on his face he rose slowly to his feet. The blood was running down his chin, and there were several stains upon his white collar and his shirt front. If a look could have crushed me I would have been instantly annihilated.
"I'll fix you for that!" he roared. "Roger Strong, I'll get even with you, if it takes ten years!"
"Do what you please, Duncan Woodward," I rejoined. "I don't fear you. Only beware how you address me in the future. You will get yourself into trouble."
"I imagine you will be the one to get into trouble," he returned insinuatingly.
"I'm not afraid. But— hold up there!" I added, for Duncan had begun to move off toward the fence.
"I want you to hand over the pears you picked."
"Very well. Then I'll report the case to Mrs. Canby."
Duncan grew white.
"Take your confounded fruit," he howled, throwing a dozen or more of the luscious pears at my feet. "If I don't get even with you, my name isn't Duncan Woodward!"
And with this parting threat he turned to the fence, jumped over, and strode down the road.
In spite of the seriousness of the affair I could not help but laugh. Duncan had no doubt thought it a great lark to rob the widow's orchard, never dreaming of the wrong he was doing or of the injury to the trees. Now his nose was swollen, his clothes soiled, and he had suffered defeat in every way.
I had no doubt that he would do all in his power to get even with me. He hated me and always had. At school I had surpassed him in our studies, and on the ball field I had proved myself a superior player. I do not wish to brag about what I did, but it is necessary to show why Duncan disliked me.
Nor was there much love lost on my side, though I always treated him fairly. The reason for this was plain.
As I have stated, his father, Aaron Woodward, was at one tune a fellow-clerk with my father. At the time my father was arrested, Woodward was one of his principal accusers. Duncan had, of course, taken up the matter. Since then Mr. Woodward had received a large legacy from a dead relative in Chicago, or its suburbs, and started the finest general store in Darbyville. But his bitterness toward us still continued.
That the man knew something about the money that had been stolen I did not doubt, but how to prove it was a difficult problem that I had pondered many times without arriving at any satisfactory conclusion.
I watched Duncan out of sight and then turned and walked slowly toward the house.
It was Mrs. Canby who called me. She stood on the side porch with a letter in her hand.
"You want me?"
"Yes, I have quite important news," she continued. "My sister in Norfolk is very ill, and I must go to her at once. I have spoken to Kate about it. Do you think you can get along while I am gone?"
"Yes, ma'am. How long do you expect to be away?"
"If she is not seriously ill I shall be back by day after to-morrow. You can hitch up Jerry at once. The train leaves in an hour."
"I'll have him at the door in five minutes."
"And, Roger, you and Kate must take good care of things while I am gone. There are several hundred dollars locked up in my desk. I would take the money to the bank in Newville, only I hate to lose the time."
"I reckon it will be safe," I replied; "I'll keep good watch against burglars."
"Do you think you can handle a pistol?" she went on.
"I think I could," I replied, with all the interest of the average American boy in firearms.
"There is a pistol upstairs in my bureau that belonged to Mr. Canby. I will let you have that, though of course I trust you won't need it."
"Is it loaded?"
"Yes; I loaded it last week. I will lay it out before I go. Be very careful with it."
"I will," I promised her.
I hurried down to the barn, and in a few moments had Jerry hooked up to the family turnout. As I was about to jump in and drive to the house, a man confronted me.
He was a stranger, about forty years of age, with black hair and shaggy beard and eyebrows. He was seedily dressed, and altogether looked to be a disreputable character.
"Say, young man, can you help a fellow as is down on his luck?" he asked in a hoarse tone.
"Who are you?" I responded.
"I'm a moulder from Factoryville. The shop's shut down, and I'm out of money and out of work."
"How long have you been out?"
"And you haven't found work anywhere?"
"Not a stroke."
"Been to Newville?"
"All through it, and everything full."
I thought this was queer. I had glanced at the Want column of a Newville newspaper and had noted that moulders were wanted in several places.
The man's appearance did not strike me favorably, and when he came closer to me I noted that his breath smelt strongly of liquor.
"I don't think I can help you," said I. "I have nothing for you to do."
"Give me a quarter, then, will you? I ain't had nothing to eat since yesterday."
"But you've had something to drink," I could not help remark.
The man scowled, "How do you know?"
"I can smell it on you."
"I only had one glass,— just to knock out a cold I caught. Come, make it half a dollar. I'll pay you back when I get work."
"I don't care to lend."
"Make it ten cents."
"Not a cent."
"You're mighty independent about it," he sneered.
"I have to be when such fellows as you tackle me," I returned with spirit.
"You're mighty high toned for a boy of your age."
"I'm too high toned to let you talk to me in this fashion. I want you to leave at once."
The tramp— for the man was nothing else— scowled worse than before.
"I'll leave when I please," he returned coolly.
I was nonplussed. I was in a hurry to get away to drive Widow Canby to the station. To leave the man hanging about the house with no one but my sister Kate home was simply out of the question.
Suddenly an idea struck me. Like most people who live in the country, Mrs. Canby kept a watch-dog— a large and powerful mastiff called Major. He was tied up near the back stoop out of sight, but could be pressed into service on short notice.
"If you don't go at once, I'll set the dog on you."
"Huh! You can't fool me!"
"No fooling about it. Major! Major!" I called.
There was a rattling of chain as the animal tried to break away, and then a loud barking. The noise seemed to strike terror to the tramp's heart.
"I'll get even with you, young fellow!" he growled, and running to the fence he scrambled over and out of sight. I did not wait to see in what direction he went.
When I reached the porch I found Mrs. Canby bidding my sister good-by. A moment more and she was on the seat. I touched up Jerry and we were off.
"It took you a long time to hitch up," the widow remarked as we drove along.
"It wasn't that," I replied, and told her about the tramp.
"You must be very careful of those men," she said anxiously. "Some of them will not stop at anything."
"I'll be wide awake," I rejoined reassuringly.
It was not a long drive to the station. When we arrived there, Mrs. Canby had over five minutes to spare, and this time was spent in buying a ticket and giving me final instructions.
At length the train came along and she was off. I waited a few moments longer and then drove away.
I had several purchases to make in the village— a pruning-knife, a bag of feed, and some groceries, and these took some time to buy, so it was nearly noon when I started home.
Several times I imagined that a couple of the village young men noticed me very closely, but I paid no attention and went on my way, never dreaming of what was in store for me.
The road to the widow's house ran for half a mile or more through a heavy belt of timber land. We were jogging along at a fair pace, and I was looking over a newspaper I had picked up on the station platform. Suddenly some one sprang out from the bushes and seized Jerry by the bridle.
Astonished and alarmed, I sprang up to see what was the matter. As I did so I received a stinging blow on the side of the head, and the next instant was dragged rudely from the carriage.
I had been taken completely off my guard, but by instinct I tried to ward off my assailants. My effort was a useless one. In a trice I found myself on the ground, surrounded by half a dozen of the fastest young men to be found in Darbyville.
Prominent among them was Duncan Woodward, and I rightfully guessed that it was he who had organized the attack.
"Take it easy, Strong," exclaimed a fellow named Moran, "unless you want to be all broke up."
"What do you mean by treating me in this way?" I cried indignantly.
"You'll find out soon enough," said Phillips, another of the young men. "Come, stop your struggling."
"I'll do nothing of the kind. You have no right to molest me."
"Pooh!" sniffed Duncan. "The Models have a right to do anything."
"The Models?" I queried, in perplexity. "Who are they?"
"The Models are a band of young gentlemen organized for the purpose of social enjoyment and to teach cads lessons that they are not likely to forget," replied Moran.
"I suppose you are the members," I said, surveying the half-dozen.
"We have that honor," rejoined a boy named Barton, who had not yet spoken.
"And we intend to teach you a lesson," added Pultzer, a short, stout chap, whose father had once been a butcher.
"For your unwarranted attack upon our illustrious president."
"Your president? You mean Duncan?"
"Mr. Woodward, if you please," interrupted Duncan, loftily. "I won't have such a low-bred fellow as you calling me by my first name."
"I'm no lower bred than you are," I retorted.
"Come, none of that!"cried Moran. "We all know you well. We shall at once proceed to teach you a lesson."
I could not help smile— the whole affair seemed so ridiculous that had it not been for the rough handling I had received when pulled from the carriage, I would have considered it a joke.
"You'll find it no laughing matter," said Duncan, savagely, angry, no doubt, because I did not show more signs of fear. "Just wait till we are through with you. You'll grin on the other side of your face."
"What do you intend to do with me?"
"You'll see soon enough."
I began to think the affair might be more serious than I had imagined. Six to one was heavy odds, and who could tell what these wild fellows would not do?
"I want you to let me go at once," I said decidedly. "If you don't, it will be the worse for you."
"Not a bit of it. We intend that you shall remember this occasion as long as you live," returned Moran. "Come, march along with us."
"Never mind. March!"
For reply I turned, and made a hasty jump for the carriage, intending to utilize Jerry in a bold dash for liberty. I had just placed my foot upon the step and called to the horse when Moran caught me by the jacket and dragged me to the ground.
"No you don't!" he ejaculated roughly.
"There, Dunc, catch hold of him; and you too, Ellery. We mustn't let him escape after we've watched two hours to catch him!"
In an instant, I was surrounded. Now that Duncan had his friends to back him he was brave enough and held my arm in a grip of iron.
"Any one bring a rope?" went on Moran.
"Here's one," replied Ellery Blake.
"Hand it over. We had better bind his hands."
Knowing that it would be folly to resist, I allowed them to do as Moran had advised. My wrists were knotted together behind my back, and then the cord was drawn tightly about my waist.
"How about the horse and carriage?"
"They'll be O. K."
There seemed to be no help for it, so I walked along with them. Had there been the slightest chance offered to escape I would have taken it, but warned by experience, all six kept close watch over me.
Away we went through the woods that lined the east side of the road. It was bad walking, and with both my hands behind me I was several times in danger of stumbling. Indeed, once I did go down, but the firm grasp of my captors saved me from injury.
Presently we came to a long clearing, where it had once been the intention of some capitalists to build a railroad. But the matter had drifted into litigation, and nothing was done but to build a tool house and cut away the trees and brush.
The building had often been the resort of tramps, and was in a dilapidated condition. It was probably fifteen feet square, having a door at one end and a window at the other. The roof was flat and full of holes, but otherwise the building was fairly strong.
"Here we are, fellows," said Duncan, as we stopped in front of the door. "Just let go of him."
The others did as he requested. But they formed a small circle around me that I might not escape.
"Now that I have got you in a place free from interruption I intend to square up accounts with you," continued the president of the Models. "You hit me a foul blow this morning."
"You brought it on yourself, Duncan," I replied, as coolly as I could, though I was keenly interested.
"Stop! How many times must I tell you not to call me by my first name."
"Well, then, Woodward, if that suits you better."
"Mr. Woodward, if you please."
"Oh, come, Dunc, hurry up," interrupted Moran. "We don't want to stay here all day."
"I'm only teaching this fellow a lesson in politeness."
"All right; only cut it short."
"See here, Moran, who's the president of this club?"
"Well, then, I'll take my own time," replied Duncan, loftily.
"Go ahead then. But you'll have to do without me," rejoined Moran, considerably provoked by the other's domineering tone.
"Yes. I've got other things to do besides standing here gassing all day."
"Indeed!" sneered Duncan.
I enjoyed the scene. It looked very much as if there would be lively times without my aid.
"You're getting up on your dignity mighty quick, Dan Moran."
"I don't intend to play servant-in-waiting for any one, Duncan Woodward."
"Who asked you to?"
" 'Actions speak louder than words.' "
"I'm the president of the Models, am I not?"
"Yes, but you're not a model president."
I could not help smiling at Moran's pun. He was not a bad chap, and had he not been to a great extent under Duncan's influence he might have been a first-rate fellow.
Of course, as is the fashion among men as well as boys, all the others groaned at the pun; and then Ellery broke in:—
"Come, come, this will never do. Go ahead with Strong, Dunc."
"I intend to," was the president's rejoinder. "But you all promised to stick by me, and I don't want any one to back out."
"I'm not backing out," put in Moran. "I only want to hurry matters up."
There was a pause after this speech, then Duncan addressed me:—
"Perhaps you are anxious to know why I brought you here?"
"Not particularly," I returned coldly.
Duncan gave a sniff.
"I guess that's all put on."
"Not at all. What I am anxious to know is, what you intend to do with me."
"Well, first of all I want you to get down on your knees and apologize for your conduct toward me this morning."
"Not much!" I cried.
"You are in my power."
"I don't care. Go ahead and do your worst," I replied recklessly, willing to suffer almost anything rather than apologize to such a chap as Duncan Woodward.
Besides, what had I done to call for an apology? I had certainly treated him no worse than he deserved. He was a spoilt boy and a bully, and I would die rather than go down on my knees to him.
"You don't know what's in store for you," said Dunce, nonplussed by my manner.
"As I said before, I'll risk it."
"Very well. Where is the rope, boys?"
"Here you are," answered Pultzer. "Plenty of it."
As he spoke he produced a stout clothes line, five or six yards in length.
"We'll bind his hands a little tighter first," instructed Duncan, "and then his legs. Be sure and make the knots strong, so they won't slip. He must not escape us."
I tried to protest against these proceedings, but with my hands already bound it was useless.
In five minutes the clothes line had been passed around my body from head to feet, and I was almost as stiff as an Egyptian mummy.
"Now catch hold, and we'll carry him into the tool house," said Duncan. "I guess after he has spent twenty-four hours in that place without food or water he'll be mighty anxious to come to terms."
I was half dragged and half carried to the tool house and dropped upon the floor. Then the door was closed upon me, and I was left to my fate.
THE TRAMP AGAIN
I am sure that all will admit that the prospect before me was not a particularly bright one. I was bound hand and foot and left without food or water.
Yet as I lay upon the hard floor of the tool house I was not so much concerned about myself as I was about matters at Widow Canby's house. It would be a hardship to pass the night where I was, to say nothing of how I might be treated when Duncan Woodward and his followers returned. But in the meantime, how would Kate fare?
I knew that my sister would be greatly alarmed at my continued absence. She fully expected me to be home long before this. As near as I could judge it was now an hour or so after noon, and she would have dinner kept warm on the kitchen stove, expecting every minute to see me drive up the lane.
Then again I was worried over the fact that the widow had left the house and her money in my charge. To be sure, the latter was locked up in her private secretary; but I felt it to be as much in my care as if it had been placed in my shirt bosom or the bottom of my trunk.
I concluded that it was my duty, then, to free myself as quickly as possible from the bonds which the members of the Model Club had placed upon me. But this idea was more easily conceived than carried out.
In vain I tugged at the clothes line that held my arms and hands fast to my body. Duncan and the others had done their work well, and the only result of my efforts was to make the cord cut so deep into my flesh that several times I was ready to cry out from pain.
In my attempts I tried to rise to my feet, but found it an impossibility, and only succeeded in bumping my head severely against the wall.
There was no use in calling for help, and though I halloed several times I soon gave it up. I was fully three-quarters of a mile from any house and half that distance from the road, and who would be likely to hear me so far off?
The afternoon dragged slowly along, and finally the sun went down and the evening shadows crept up. By this time I was quite hungry and tremendously thirsty. But with nothing at hand to satisfy the one or allay the other I resolutely put all thoughts of both out of my head.
In the old tool house there had been left several empty barrels, behind which was a quantity of shavings that I found far more comfortable to rest upon than the bare floor.
As the evening wore on I wondered if I would be able to sleep. There was no use worrying about matters, as it would do no good, so I was inclined to treat the affair philosophically and make the best of it.
An hour passed, and I was just dropping into a light doze when a noise outside attracted my attention. I listened intently and heard a man's footsteps.
I was inclined to call out, and, in fact, was on the point of so doing, when the door of the tool house opened and in the dim light I recognized the form of the tramp moulder who earlier in the day had so impudently asked me for help.
I was not greatly surprised to see him, for, as mentioned before, the old tool house was frequently used by men of his stamp. He had as much right there as I had, and though I was chagrined to see him enter I was in no position to protest.
On the contrary, I deemed it advisable to keep quiet. If he did not see me, so much the better. If he did, who could tell what indignities he might visit upon me?
So I crouched down behind the empty barrels, hardly daring to breathe. The man stumbled into the building, leaving the door wide open.
By his manner I was certain that he had been drinking heavily, and his rambling soliloquy proved it.
"The same old shebang," he mumbled to himself, as he swayed around in the middle of the floor, "the same old shebang where Aaron Woodward and I parted company four years ago. He's took care of his money, and I've gone to the dogs," and he gave a yawn and sat down on top of a barrel.
I was thoroughly surprised at his words. Was it possible that this seedy-looking individual had once been intimate with Duncan Woodward's father? It hardly seemed reasonable. I made a rapid calculation and concluded that the meeting must have had something to do with the proposed railroad in which I knew Mr. Woodward had held an interest. Perhaps this tramp had once been a prosperous contractor.
"Great times them were. Plenty of money and nothing to do," continued the man. "Wonder if any one in Darbyville would recognize— hold up, Stumpy, you mustn't repeat that name too often or you'll be mentioning it in public when it ain't no interest for you to do it. Stumpy, John Stumpy, is good enough for the likes of you."
And with great deliberation Mr. John Stumpy brought forth a short clay pipe which he proceeded to fill and light with evident satisfaction.
During the brief period of lighting up I caught a good glance at his face, and fancied that I saw beneath the surface of dirt and dissipation a look of shrewdness and intelligence. Evidently he was one of the unfortunates who allowed drink to make off with their brains.
Mr. John Stumpy puffed on in silence for several minutes. I wondered what he intended to do, and was not prepared for the surprises that were to follow.
"Times are changed and no mistake," he went on. "Here I am, down at the bottom, Nick Weaver dead, Woodward a rich man, and Carson Strong in jail. Humph! but times do change!"
Carson Strong! My heart gave a bound. This man was speaking of my father. What did it mean? What did the tramp know of the events of the past? As I lay behind the barrels, I earnestly hoped he would go on with his talk. I had heard just enough to arouse my curiosity.
I was certain that I had never, until that day, seen the man. What, then, could he have in common with my father?
Instinctively I connected the man with the cause of my father's imprisonment— I will not say downfall, because I firmly believed him innocent. Why I should do so I cannot to this day explain, but from the instant he mentioned my parent's name the man was firmly fixed in my memory.
In a few moments Mr. John Stumpy had puffed his pipe out, leaving the place filled with a heavy and vile smoke which gave me all I could do to keep from coughing. Then he slowly knocked the ashes from the bowl and restored the pipe to his pocket.
"Now I reckon I'm in pretty good trim to go ahead," he muttered as he arose. "No use of talking; there ain't anything like a good puff to steady a man's nerves. Was a time when I didn't need it, but them times are gone, and the least little job on hand upsets me. Wonder how much that old woman left behind."
I nearly uttered an ejaculation of astonishment. Was this man speaking of Mrs. Canby? What was the job that he contemplated?
Clearly there could be but one answer to that question. He knew the widow had gone away, and in her absence he contemplated robbing her house. Perhaps he had overheard her make mention of the money locked up in her desk, and the temptation to obtain possession of it was too strong to resist.
"I'll have to get rid of that boy and the dog, I suppose," he went on. "If it wasn't for the noise I'd shoot the dog; but it won't do to arouse the neighborhood. As for the lad, I reckon the sight of a pistol will scare him to death."
I was not so sure of that, and I grated my teeth at the thought of my present helplessness. Had I been free, I am sure I could have escaped easily, and perhaps have had the tramp arrested.
It was an alarming prospect. Kate was the only occupant of the house, and the nearest neighbor lived a full five hundred feet away. If attacked in the middle of the night, what would my sister do?
For a moment I felt like exposing myself, but then I reflected that such a course would not liberate me, and he would know that he had nothing to fear from me at the house, whereas, if I kept quiet, he might, by some lucky incident, be kept at bay.
So I lay still, wondering when he would start on his criminal quest.
"Now, one more drink and then I'll be off," he continued, and, producing a bottle, he took a deep draught. "Ha! That's the stuff to brace a man's nerves! But you mustn't drink too much, John Stumpy, or you'll be no good at all. If you'd only let liquor alone you might be as rich as Aaron Woodward, remember that." He gave something like a sigh. "Oh, well; let it pass. I'll get the tools and be on the way. The money in my pocket, I'll take the first train in the morning for the West." He paused a moment. "But no; I won't go until I've seen Woodward. He owes me a little on the old score, and I'll not go until he has settled up."
There was an interval of silence, during which Stumpy must have been feeling around in his pockets for a match; for a moment later there were several slight scratches, and then a tiny flame lit up the interior of the tool house.
"Let's see, where did I leave them tools? Ah, yes; I remember now. Behind those barrels."
And Stumpy moved over to where I was in hiding.
FOLLOWING JOHN STUMPY
I expected to be discovered. I could not see how it could possibly be avoided. John Stumpy was but a few feet away. In a second more he would be in full sight of me.
What the outcome of the discovery would be I could not imagine. I was at the man's mercy, and I was inclined to think that, our interview of the morning would not tend to soften his feelings toward me.
But at that instant a small, yet extremely lucky incident occurred. A draught of wind came in at the partly open door and blew out the match, leaving the place in darkness.
"Confound the luck!" ejaculated John Stumpy, in high irritation. "There goes the light, and it's the last match I've got, too."
This bit of information was gratifying to me, and, without making any noise, I rolled back into the corner as far as possible.
"Well, I'll have to find them tools in the dark, that's all." He groped around for several seconds, during which I held my breath. "Ah, here they are, just as I left 'em last night. Reckon no one visits this shanty, and maybe it will be a good place to bring the booty, especially if I happen to be closely pushed."
I sincerely hoped that he would be closely pushed, and in fact so closely pushed that he would have no booty to bring. But if he did succeed in his nefarious plans, I was glad that I would know where to look for him.
No sooner had the man found the bag of tools,— which was nothing more nor less than a burglar's kit,— than he quitted the place, and I was left to my own reflections.
My thoughts alarmed me. Beyond a doubt John Stumpy intended to rob the Widow Canby's house. The only one at home was Kate, and I groaned as I thought of the alarm and terror that she might be called upon to suffer. As it was, I was sure she was worried about my continued absence. In my anguish I strove with all my might to burst asunder the bonds that held me. At the end of five minutes' struggle I remained as securely tied as ever.
What was to be done? It was a puzzling, but pertinent question. By hook or by crook I must get free. At great risk of hurting my head I rolled to the door of the tool house, which Stumpy had left wide open. Outside, the stars were shining brightly, and in the southwest the pale crescent of the new moon was falling behind the tree-tops, casting ghostly shadows that would have made a timid person shiver. But as the reader may by this time know, I was not of a timid nature, and I gave the shadows scant attention until a sudden movement among the trees attracted my notice. It was the figure of some person coming rapidly toward me.
At first I judged it must be Stumpy returning, and I was on the point of rolling back to my hiding-place when I saw that the newcomer was a boy.
When he reached the edge of the clearing he paused, and approached slowly.
"Roger Strong!" he called out. I instantly recognized the voice of Dick Blair, one of the youngest members of the Models, who, during my capture, had had little to say or do. He was the son of a wealthy farmer who lived but a short distance down the road from the Widow Canby's place.
I had always considered Dick a pretty good chap, and had been disagreeably surprised to see him in company with Duncan Woodward's crowd. How Duncan had ever taken up with him I could not imagine, except it might have been on account of the money Dick's father allowed him to have.
"Roger Strong!" he repeated. "Are you still here?"
I could, not imagine what had brought him to this place at such an hour of the night. Yet I answered at once.
"Yes, I am, Dick Blair."
"I thought maybe you had managed to get away," he continued, as he came closer.
"No; you fellows did your work pretty well," I replied as lightly as I could, for I did not want to show the white feather.
"Precious little I had to do with it," he went on, as he struck a match and lit a lantern that he carried.
"You were with the crowd."
"I know it; but I wouldn't have been if I'd known what they were up to. I hope you will not think too badly of me, Roger."
"I thought it was strange you would go into anything of this kind, Dick. What brings you back to-night?"
"I am ashamed of the whole thing," he answered earnestly, "and I came to release you— that is, on certain conditions."
My heart gave a bound. "What conditions, Dick?"
"I want you to promise that you won't tell who set you free," he explained. "If Dunc or the rest heard of it, they would never forgive me."
"What of it, Dick? Their opinion isn't worth anything."
"I know it— now. But they could tell mighty mean stories about me if they wanted to." And Dick Blair turned away and shuffled his foot on the ground to hide his shame.
"Don't mind them, Dick. If they start any bad report about you, do as I'm doing with the stain on our name— live it down."
"I'll try it. But you'll promise, won't you?"
"If you wish it, yes."
"All right; I know I can trust you," said Dick. Producing his pocket knife, he quickly cut the cords that bound me. Somewhat stiff from the position in which I had been forced to remain, I rose slowly to my feet.
"I don't know whether to thank you or not for what you've done for me, Dick," I began. "But I appreciate your actions."
"I don't deserve any thanks. It was a mean trick, and I guess legally I was as guilty as any one. Just keep quiet about it and don't think too hard of me."
"I'll do both," I responded quickly.
"It's a mighty lonely place to spend the night in," he went on. "I'm no coward, but I wouldn't care to do it, all alone."
"I haven't been alone."
"No." And Dick looked intensely surprised. "Who has been here?"
I hesitated. Should I tell him?
"A tramp," I began.
"Why didn't he untie you?"
"He didn't see me."
"Oh, I suppose you hid away. What did he want, I wonder?"
"He was after some tools."
"Tools! There are none here, any more."
"But there were."
"What kind of tools?"
I hesitated again. Should I tell Dick the secret? Perhaps he might give me some timely assistance.
"Will you promise to keep silent if I tell?"
"Why, what do you mean, Roger?"
"It is very important."
"All right. Fire away."
"He came after some burglar's tools."
Dick stepped back in astonishment. "You surely don't mean it!" he gasped "Who was he going to rob?"
"The widow's house. He knows she is away and has left considerable money in her desk."
And in a rapid manner I told Dick of what I had overheard, omitting the mentioning of my father's and Mr. Woodward's names. Of course he was tremendously excited. What healthy country boy would not be?
"What are you going to do about it?" he questioned.
"Now I'm free I'm going to catch the fellow," I returned decidedly. "He shall not rob Mrs. Canby's house if I can help it."
"Aren't you afraid?"
"I intend to be cautious."
"He may have a pistol."
"The widow left one in the house. Maybe I can secure it. Then we'll be on an equal footing."
"I've got a pistol, Roger."
"Yes, the Models all carry them. Dunc always insisted that it was the proper thing."
As Dick spoke, he produced a highly polished nickel-plated five-shooter.
"It looks like a good one," I said, after examining it. "Is it loaded?"
"Oh, yes; and I've got a box of cartridges in my pocket besides."
"Lend it to me, Dick."
"If you don't mind I'll— I'll go along with you, Roger," he returned. "You won't find me such a terrible coward."
"All right. But we must hurry. That fellow has got a good start, and he may even now be in the house."
"Hardly. He'll want to take a look around first."
Nevertheless, we lost no time in getting away from the tool house. We walked side by side, I with the pistol in the pocket of my jacket, and Dick with the lantern held aloft, that we might see to make rapid progress over the unaccustomed road.
It was a good walk to the widow's, and once Dick stumbled down in a heap, while the lantern rolled several yards away. But he picked himself up without grumbling and went along faster than ever.
"If I'm not mistaken, I saw that tramp down at the depot this morning," said he, as we drew near to the main road. "He was hanging around, and I thought he looked like a suspicious character."
"Did you see him yesterday?"
"Did you ever hear of him before?"
"I guess not. He was near the baggage room when I saw him. Then Mr. Woodward came up to see about a trunk, and the tramp made right off."
I was interested. John Stumpy had intimately that he intended to have an interview with Duncan Woodward's father, and if this was so, why had he not taken advantage of the opportunity thus offered?
I could arrive at but one conclusion. The tramp wished their meeting to be a strictly private one. He did not care to be seen in Mr. Woodward's presence, or else the wealthy merchant would not tolerate such a thing.
If the meeting was to be of a private nature, it would no doubt be of importance. Had my father's name not been mentioned I would not have cared; but as it was, I was deeply interested.
Perhaps it would be better to merely scare the fellow off. If he was captured, all chance of finding out his secrets might be lost.
By this time the reader may be aware that I thought John Stumpy's secrets important. Such was a fact. Try as hard as I was able, I could not but imagine that they concerned my father and his alleged downfall.
In five minutes Dick and I came within sight of Widow Canby's house. There was a light burning in the kitchen and another in the dining-room.
"Everything seems to be all right," said Dick, as we stood near a corner of the front fence. "I guess the fellow hasn't put in an appearance yet."
"I don't know. See I the side porch door is open. We generally keep it closed, and Kate would certainly have it shut if she was alone."
"What do you intend to do? Go into the house?"
"Guess we had better. I'd like to know where that fellow is," I replied. "Likely as not he is prowling about here somewhere. If we can only catch sight of him, we can— Hark!"
As I uttered the last word, a shrill cry reached our ears. It was Kate's voice; and with my heart jumping wildly I made a dash for the house, with Dick Blair following me.
A STRANGE ENVELOPE
I was sure that my sister's cry could mean but one thing— that the tramp had made a raid on the house. I was thoroughly alarmed, and ran with all possible speed in the direction of the dining-room, from whence the sound proceeded.
As I tore across the lawn, regardless of the bed of flowers which was Mrs. Canby's pride, Kate's cry was repeated, this time in a more intense tone. An instant later I dashed across the porch and into the room through the door that, as I have said, stood wide open.
I found my sister standing in the middle of the floor, holding in her hand a heavy umbrella with which she had evidently been defending herself. She was pale, and trembled from head to foot.
"What is it, Kate?" I exclaimed. "Where is the fellow?"
"Oh, Roger!" she gasped. "I'm so glad you've come. A tramp was here— he robbed— robbed the desk— the window—"
She pointed to the open window on the opposite side of the room. Then her breast heaved, the umbrella slipped from her grasp, and she sank into a chair.
"Are you hurt?" I cried anxiously.
"No, no— but the money— it is gone! What will Mrs. Canby say?"
And overcome with the dreadful thought, my sister fainted dead away.
As for myself I felt sick at heart. John Stumpy had been there— the widow's money had been stolen. What could be done?
Meanwhile, Dick Blair had come in. His common sense told him what had happened, and he set to work to restore my sister to consciousness.
"Will you stay here with Kate?" I asked.
"Certainly," he returned promptly. "But where are you going? After that tramp?"
"Be careful, for he may be a desperate character."
"I'm not afraid of him. I'm going to get that money back or know the reason why," was my determined reply; and I meant every word I said.
To my mind it was absolutely necessary that I recover the stolen property. It would have been bad enough to have had it taken when the Widow Canby was at home, but it had been stolen when left in my charge, and that was enough to make me turn Darbyville district up side down before letting the matter drop.
Besides, there was still another important factor in the case. I knew well enough that if the money was not recovered, there would be plenty of people mean enough to intimate that I had had something to do with its disappearance. The Strong honor was considered low by many, and they would not hesitate to declare that I was only following in my father's footsteps.
To a person already suffering under an unjust accusation such an intimation is doubly stinging, and when I told Dick that I was not afraid of Mr. John Stumpy, I meant that I would rather face the robber now than the Darbyville people later on.
"I want to take the pistol," I added.
"All right. There is the box of extra cartridges. Do you want the lantern?"
"Yes; I may want to use it before I return. I'll blow it out now."
Our conversation had lasted but a few seconds, and an instant after I was on my way, the lantern on my left arm and the pistol in my right hand.
"Take good care of Kate," I called back as I passed out.
"I will," replied Dick. "Don't stay away too long, if you don't find the fellow."
I passed around to the other side of the garden, where an open gateway led to the pear orchard. I felt pretty certain that John Stumpy had pursued this course, and I entered the orchard on a run.
The thief, I reckoned, was not over five minutes ahead of me. To be sure, he could easily hide, but it was not likely that he would care to remain in the neighborhood, unless it was really necessary for him to see Mr. Aaron Woodward.
When I got well into the orchard, where it was darker than in the garden, I listened intently, hoping that I might hear some sound that would guide me.
But all was silent. Occasionally a night bird fluttered through the trees and a frog gave a dismal croak, but otherwise not a sound broke the stillness.
I continued on my way toward the road, and reaching the fence, paused again.
Had the thief jumped over? If so, which way had he gone, up, down, or into the woods beyond? It was a perplexing question. Perhaps if I had been in a story book I might have found some clew to direct me. But I was not that kind of a hero. I was only an everyday boy, and consequently no clew presented itself.
I stood by the fence for several minutes, my eyes and ears on the alert to catch anything worthy of notice. I judged it was near midnight, and hardly had I thought of the matter before the distant town bells tolled the hour of twelve.
As the echo of the last stroke died away, two figures came slowly up the road. As they drew nearer, I recognized Moran and Pultzer, the two Models members who had assisted at my capture.
I was astonished at their appearance. What on earth could they be doing out at this time of night?
As they drew near I thought for many reasons that it would not be advisable to show myself, and I stepped behind a tree.
"I don't care what you say," said Pultzer, "Dunc was half scared to death when we came away."
"I guess he didn't think what a serious matter it was when he asked us to go into it," returned Moran. "It's the worst affair I ever got into."
"Ditto myself," responded Pultzer.
"And if we get out without being caught, you'll never find me in another such," continued the other earnestly.
"I wonder what Dunc's father will say when he hears of it?"
"And all the rest of the Darbyville people? Of course they've got to lay it to some one."
I surmised that they must be speaking of what they had done to me. I never dreamed that they were discussing a subject much more serious.
"I'm glad Dick Blair wasn't along to-night," went on Moran. "Dick is not to be trusted any more. He kicked awfully at the idea of tying up Strong this noon."
I was gratified to hear this bit of news. I liked Dick in many respects, and now I was almost ready to look upon him as a friend.
"Strong didn't give in quite as much as Dunc thought he would. Hang it, if I didn't admire his grit."
"So did I. Wonder how he's getting along in the old tool house. We must release him first thing in the morning."
"No need of doing that, gentlemen," I put in, stepping out from behind the tree. "I am—"
But it would have been useless for me to say more, as no one would have heard me.
At the first sound of my voice both of the Models had started in alarm, and then, led by Pultzer, they dashed up the road as fast as their feet could carry them.
At first I was amazed at their actions, and then, as the ridiculousness of the situation presented itself, I smiled. "A guilty conscience needeth no accuser," it is said, and this truth was verified to the letter.
Yet I was sorry that I had not had a chance to speak to them. I wanted to question them in regard to the thief. Perhaps they had seen him, and if so, I did not want to miss my chance of getting upon his track.
Jumping over the fence, I walked slowly down the road, but not in hopes of meeting John Stumpy. If he was anywhere near, the approach of the two boys had certainly driven him into hiding.
Suddenly I thought of the tool house. The tramp had spoken of returning to the place. He evidently knew the road. I determined to go to the spot and make a search at once.
It was no easy matter to find my way back to the tool house, and at the risk of being seen I lit the lantern.
As I walked along I wondered how my sister and Dick were faring. No doubt Kate had been much surprised to see who was with her on her recovery, and I sincerely hoped that the shock Stumpy had given her would not have any evil effects. She was a sensitive girl, and such happenings were calculated to try her nerves severely.
At length I came within sight of the clearing. Here I hesitated for an instant, and then, pistol in hand, approached the tool house boldly.
The door was still open, and I entered, only to find the place empty.
With a sigh I realized that my journey thither was a useless one. Nothing remained but to go back to the road, and I was about to leave again when the rays of the lantern fell upon a white object lying on the floor.
I picked it up. It was a common square envelope. Thinking it contained a letter I turned it over to read the address. Judge of my astonishment when I read the following:—
Dying Statement of Nicholas Weaver Concerning the Forgeries for which Carson Strong Was Sent to State's Prison.
A WAR OF WORDS
No words of mine can express the feeling that came over me as I read the superscription written on the envelope I had picked up in the old tool house.
Was it possible that this envelope contained the solution of the mystery that had taken away our good name and sent my father to prison? The very thought made me tremble.
The packet was not a thick one. In fact, it was so thin that for an instant I imagined the envelope was empty. But a hasty examination proved my fears groundless.
In nervous excitement I put the lantern down on the top of a barrel, and then drew from the envelope the single shoot of foolscap that it contained. A glance showed me that the pages were closely written in a cramped hand extremely difficult to read.
For the moment I forgot everything else— forgot that the Widow Canby's house had been robbed and that I was on the track of the robber— and drawing close to the feeble light the lantern afforded, strove with straining eyes and palpitating heart to decipher the contents of the written pages.
"I, Nicholas Weaver, being on the point of death from pneumonia, do make this my last statement, which I hereby swear is true in every particular."
This was the beginning of the document which I hoped would in some way free my father's character from the stain that now rested on it.
Exactly who Nicholas Weaver was I did not know, though it ran in my mind that I had heard this name mentioned by my father during the trial.
Beyond the opening paragraph I have quoted the handwriting was almost illegible, and in the dim light it was only here and there that I could pick out such words as "bank," "assumed," "risk," "name," and so forth, which gave but an inkling of the real contents of the precious document.
"It's too bad," was my thought. "I'd give all I possess to be able to read this right off, word for word."
Hardly had the reflection crossed my mind when a noise outside startled me. I had just time enough to thrust the paper into my pocket when the door was swung open and the tramp appeared.
He was evidently as much surprised as I was, for he stopped short in amazement, while the short pipe he carried between his lips fell unnoticed to the floor.
I rightly conjectured he had not noticed the light of the lantern and fully believed the tool house tenantless.
"You here!" he cried.
"It looks like it, doesn't it?" was all I could find to reply, and as I spoke my hand sought the pistol I carried.
"What brought you here?" he demanded roughly.
"I came after you," I returned as coolly as I could; and by this time I had the pistol where it could be brought into instant use.
"What do you want of me?"
"I want you to hand over the money you stole awhile ago."
"What are you talking about? I never stole any money."
"You did. You broke into the Widow Canby's house less than an hour ago. Come, hand over that money."
The fellow gave a coarse laugh. "Ha! ha! do you think I'm to be bluffed by a boy? Get home with you, before I hammer you for calling me a thief."
"That's just what you are, and I don't intend to go until you hand over the money, John Stumpy," I returned decidedly.
"Ha! you know my name?"
I bit my lip. I was sorry for the slip I had made. But I put on a bold front. "I know what you are called," I replied.
"What I am called?"
"What do you mean? Come, out with it."
"I will when I please. In the meantime hand over that money."
"You talk like a fool!" he cried.
"Never mind. You'll find I won't act like one."
"What do you know about me?" he went on curiously, believing, no doubt, that he was perfectly safe from attack.
"I know more than you think. I know you are a burglar, and may be worse."
"I'll kill you!" he cried, rushing forward.
"Stand where you are!" I returned, pulling out the pistol. "Don't stir a step."
He did not see the weapon until he was fairly upon me. The glint of the nickeled steel made him shiver.
"Don't shoot!" he cried in sudden terror, that showed he was a coward at heart. "Don't— don't shoot."
"I won't if you do as I tell you."
"Give up the widow's money."
"See here, young fellow, you've made a mistake. I never was near the widow's house, 'cepting this morning."
"I know better. You just broke open her desk and stole over two hundred dollars."
"It's a mistake. Put down the pistol and I'll tell you all about it."
"I'm not such a fool, Mr. John Stumpy, or whatever your name is," was my decided reply.
The tone of my voice disconcerted the man, for he paused as if not knowing what to say next.
"Say, young feller, do you want to make some money?" he asked suddenly, after a short pause.
The change in his manner surprised me.
"How?" I asked, although I knew about what was coming.
"I've got nearly three hundred dollars in cash with me. I'll give you fifty of it if you'll go home and say you couldn't find me."
"Thank you; I'm not doing business that way," I rejoined coldly.
"Fifty dollars ain't to be sneezed at," he went on insinuatingly.
"I wouldn't care if you offered me fifty thousand," I cried sharply. "I'm no thief."
"Humph; don't you suppose I know who you are?" he went on. "You're the son of a thief. Do you hear that?— the son of a thief! What right have you got to set yourself up to be any better than your father was afore you?"
"Take care!" I cried, my blood fairly boiling as I spoke. He saw his mistake.
"I didn't mean no harm, partner. But what's the use of being high toned when it don't pay?"
"It always pays to be honest," I said firmly.
"There are those who don't think so any more than I," he replied.
"My father never was a thief. They may say all they please, I will always think him innocent."
"If it hadn't been for men like you and Nicholas Weaver, my father would never be in prison."
The words were out before I knew it. They were most injudicious ones.
"What do you mean?" gasped the man. "What do you know about Nick Weaver?"
"More than you imagine. When he died he made a confession—"
"It's false. Nick Weaver wasn't in his right mind when he died, anyhow."
"Perhaps he was."
"What you—" began the man. Then he paused and began a rapid search in his pockets. "You've got that paper," he cried hoarsely. "Give it up," and as he spoke, John Stumpy took a threatening step toward me.
"Stand back!" and I raised the pistol.
I was trembling in every limb, but I actually believe I would have fired it if he had rushed upon me.
"I won't. Give up that paper."
"Never. I'll die first."
And die I would. His earnestness convinced me of the letter's worth. If it contained that which could clear my father's name, only death would be the means of parting me from it.
"Give it up, I say! Do you think I'm to be defeated by a boy?"
I raised the pistol on a level with his head. As I did so, he made a dash forward and caught up a stick which was lying near.
"I'll fix you!" he roared, and swinging the billet over his head, he brought it down with all his force on my arm, causing the pistol to fly from my hand into a corner beyond.
"Now we'll see who's master here," he cried exultingly. "You're a smart boy, but you don't know everything!" Rushing over to the corner, he secured the pistol and aimed it at me. "Now, we'll settle this matter according to my notions," he went on triumphantly.
I was deeply chagrined at the unexpected turn affairs had taken, and I felt decidedly uncomfortable as John Stumpy levelled the weapon at my head. I could readily see that the battle of words was at an end. Action was now the order of the day. I wondered what the fellow would do next; but I was not kept long in suspense.
"Now, it's my turn, young fellow," he remarked, with a shrewd grin, as I fell back.
"Well, what do you want?" I asked, as coolly as I could recognizing the fact that nothing was to be gained by "stirring him up."
"You'll see fast enough. In the first place, hand over that paper."
I was silent. I did not intend to tell a falsehood by saying I did not have it, nor did I intend to give it up if it could possibly be avoided.
"Did you hear what I said?" continued Stumpy, after a pause.
"I thought you said the paper wasn't valuable," I returned, more to gain time than anything else.
"Neither it ain't, but, just the same, I want it. Come, hand it over."
He was getting ugly now, and no mistake. What was to be done?
As I have mentioned before, it would have been useless to call for help, as no one would have heard the calls.
Suddenly the thought struck me to try a bit of deception. I put my hand in my pocket and drew out the empty envelope.
"Is that what you want?" I asked, holding it up.
"Reckon it is," he returned eagerly. "Just toss it over."
Somewhat disappointed that he did not approach me and thus give me a chance of attacking him, I did as requested. It fell at his feet, and he was not long in transferring it to his pocket.
"Next time don't try to walk over a man like me," he said sharply. "I know a thing or two, and I'm not to be downed by a boy."
"Are you satisfied?" I asked calmly, though secretly exultant that he had not discovered my trick.
"Not yet. You followed me when you had no business to, and now you've got to take the consequences."
"What are you going to do?"
"You'll see soon enough. I ain't the one to make many mistakes. Years ago I made a few, but I ain't making no more."
"You knew my father quite well, didn't you?" I inquired in deep curiosity.
"As the old saying goes, 'Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies.' Maybe I didn't; maybe I did."
"I know you did."
"Well, what of it? So did lots of other people."
"But not quite as well as you and Nicholas Weaver and Mr. Aaron Woodward," I continued, determined to learn all I could.
"Ha! What do you know of them?" He scowled at me. "Reckon you've been reading that paper of Nick's putty closely. I was a fool for not tearing it up long ago."
"Why did you keep it— to deliver it to Mr. Wentworth?"
It was a bold stroke and it told. Stumpy grew pale in spite of the dirt that covered his face, and the hand that held the pistol trembled.
"Say, young fellow, you know too much, you do. I suppose you read that paper clear through, did you?"
"As you say: Maybe I didn't; maybe I did."
"Perhaps you wasn't careful of it. Maybe I'd better examine it," he added.
My heart sank within me. In another moment the deception I had practised would be known— and then?
He fumbled in his pocket and drew forth the envelope. He could not extract the letter he supposed it contained with one hand very well, and so lowered the pistol for a moment.
This was my chance. Unarmed I was evidently in his power. If I could only escape from the tool house!
The door still stood partly open, and the darkness of night— for the moon had gone down— was beyond. A dash and I would be outside. Still the tramp stood between me and liberty. Should I attack him or endeavor to slip to one side?
I had but an instant to think; another, and it would be too late. John Stumpy was fumbling in the envelope. His eyes were searching for the precious document.
With a single bound I sprang against him, knocking him completely off his feet. Then I made another jump for the door.
But he was too quick for me. Dropping the envelope and the pistol, he caught me by the foot, and in an instant both of us were rolling on the floor.
It was an unequal struggle. Strong as I was for a boy of my age, I was no match for this burly man. Turn and twist all I could, he held me in his grip while he heaped loud imprecations upon my head.
In our movements on the floor we came in contact with the lantern and upset it, smashing the frame as well as the glass.
For a moment darkness reigned. Then a tiny light from the corner lit up the place. The flames had caught the shavings.
"The place is on fire!" I cried in horror.
"Yes, and you did it," replied the tramp.
"It was you!" I returned stoutly, and, as a matter of fact, it may be as well to state that John Stumpy's foot had caused the accident.
"Not much; it was your fault, and you've got to take the blame."
As the rascal spoke, he caught me by the throat, squeezing it so tightly that I was in great danger of being choked to death.
"Let— let up!" I gasped.
The choking continued. My head began to grow dizzy, and strange lights danced before my eyes. I protested against this proceeding as vigorously as I could by kicking the man sharply and rapidly.
But Stumpy now meant to do me real injury. He realized that I knew too much for his future welfare. In fact, he, no doubt, imagined I knew far more than I really did. If I was out of the way for all time so much the better for him.
"Take that!" he suddenly cried, and springing up he brought his heel down with great force on my head.
I cannot describe the sensation that followed. It was as if a sharp, blinding pain had stung me to the very heart. Then my senses forsook me.
How long I lay in a comatose state I do not know. Certainly it could not have been a very long time— probably not over five or six minutes.
In the meantime the fire rapidly spread igniting the barrels that were stored in the tool house, and climbing up the walls of the building to the roof.
When I recovered my senses, my face was fairly scorched, and no sooner had I opened my eyes than they were blinded by smoke and flame.
By instinct rather than reason I staggered to my feet. I was so weak I could hardly stand, and my head spun around like a top. Where was the door?
I tottered to one side and felt around. There was the window tightly closed. The door I knew was opposite.
Reeling, I made my way through the smoke that now seemed to fill my lungs, to where I knew the door to be. Oh, horror! it was closed and secured!
"Heaven help me now!" burst from my parched lips. "Am I to be roasted alive?"
With all my remaining strength I threw myself against the door. Once, and again, and still it did not budge.
"Help! help!" I called at the top of my voice.
No answer came to my cry. The fire behind me became hotter and hotter. The roof had now caught, and the sparks fell down upon me in a perfect shower.
Another moment and it would be all over. With a brief prayer to God for help in my dire need, I attacked the door for the last time.
At first it did not budge. Then there was a creaking, a sharp crack, and at last it flew wide open.
Oh, how grateful was the breath of fresh air that struck me! I stumbled out into the clearing and opened wide my throat to take in the pure draught.
Then for the first time I realized how nearly I had been overcome. I could no longer stand, and swooning, sank in a heap to the ground.
"He's alive, boys."
These were the words that greeted my ears on recovering my senses. I opened my eyes and saw that I was surrounded by a number of boys and men.
"How did you come here?" asked Henry Morse, a sturdy farmer who lived in the neighborhood.
I was too much confused to make any intelligent reply. Rising to a sitting position, I gazed around.
The tool house had burned to the ground, there being no means at hand to extinguish the fire. The glare of the conflagration had called out several dozens of people from Darbyville and the vicinity, several of whom had stumbled upon me as I lay in the clearing.
"What's the matter, Roger?" asked Larry Simpson, a young man who kept a bookstore in the town.
"The matter is that I nearly lost my life in that fire," I replied.
"How did you come here?"
As briefly as I could I related my story, leaving out all references to my personal affairs and the finding of Nicholas Weaver's statement. At present I considered it would do no good to disclose what I knew on those points.
"I think I saw that tramp yesterday," said Larry after I had finished. "He bought a sheet of paper and an envelope in my store, and then asked if he could write a letter there."
"And did he?" I asked in curiosity.
"Yes. At first I hated to let him do it,— he looked so disreputable,— but then I thought it might be an application for a position, and so told him to go ahead."
"Who did he write to? do you know?"
"Somebody in Chicago, I think."
"Do you remember the name?"
"He tried the pen on a slip of paper first. It wouldn't work very well. But I think the name was Holtzmann, or something similar."
I determined to remember the name, thinking it might prove of value sometime.
"The thing of it is," broke in Henry Morse, "what has become of this Stumpy? If he stole the Widow Canby's money, it's high time somebody was after him."
"That's true," ejaculated another. "Have you any idea which way the fellow went?"
Of course I had not. Indeed, I was hardly in condition to do any rational thinking, much less form an opinion. The thief might be in hiding close at hand, or he might be miles away.
"Some of us had better make a search," put in another. "Come, boys, we'll spread out and scour the woods."
"That's a good idea," said Tony Parsons, the constable of the town. "Meanwhile, Roger Strong, let us go to Judge Penfold's house and put the case in his hands. He'll get out a warrant, and perhaps a reward."
I thought this was a good idea, and readily assented, first, however, getting one of the boys to promise that he would call at the widow's house and quiet Kate's fears concerning my whereabouts.
It was now early morning, and we had no difficulty in making our way through the woods to the main road.
"Guess we won't find the judge up yet," remarked Tony Parsons as we hurried along. "I've never yet found him out of bed afore seven o'clock. It will make him mighty mad to get up afore this time."
"I'm sorry to disturb him," I replied, with something of awe at the thought of rousing a magistrate of the law.
"But it's got to be done," went on Parsons, with a grave shake of his head, "unless we all want to be murdered and robbed in our beds!"
"That's true. I'd give all I'm worth to catch that tramp."
"Reckon Widow Canby'll be dreadfully cut up when she hears about the robbery."
"I suppose so."
"She may blame you, Roger. You see if it was anybody else, it would be different. But being as it's you, why—"
"I know what you mean," I returned bitterly. "No one in Darbyville believes I can be honest."
"I ain't saying nothing against you, Roger," returned Parsons, hastily. "I reckon you ain't no worse than any other boy. But you know what public sentiment is."
"So I do; but public sentiment isn't always right," was my spirited answer.
"Who did you say those boys were that tied you up?" went on the constable, to change the subject.
"Duncan Woodward was the principal one."
"Phew! Reckon he didn't think tying you up would prove such a serious matter."
"If it hadn't been for that, the robbery might have been prevented. I would have been home guarding the widow's property, as she expected me to do."
"Reckon so you would."
"In a certain sense I hold Duncan Woodward and his followers responsible for what has occurred."
"Phew! What will Mr. Woodward say to that, I wonder?"
"I can't help what he says. I'm not going to bear all the blame when it isn't my fault."
"No, neither would I."
At length we reached the outskirts of the town. Judge Penfold lived at the top of what was termed the Hill, the aristocratic district of the place, and thither we made our way.
"Indeed, but the judge ain't stirring yet!" exclaimed the Irish girl who came to answer our summons at the door.
"Then wake him at once," said Parsons. "Tell him there has been a most atrocious robbery and assault committed."
"Mercy on us!" said the girl, lifting up her hands in horror. "And who was it, Mr. Parsons?"
"Never mind who it was. Go at once."
"I will that! Robbery and assault. Mercy on us!"
And leaving us standing in the hall, the hired girl sped up the front stairway.
"The judge will be down as soon as he can," she reported on her return.
We waited as patiently as we could. While doing so I revolved what had occurred over in my mind, and came to the conclusion that the crime would be a difficult one to trace. John Stumpy had probably made good use of his time, knowing that even if I had lost my life in the fire my sister would still recognize him as the thief.
Suddenly I thought of the written confession that must yet remain in my pocket, and I was on the point of assuring myself that it was still safe when a heavy foot-step sounded overhead, and Judge Penfold came down.
The judge was a tall, slender men of fifty, with hollow cheeks, a pointed nose, and a sharp chin. His voice was of a peculiarly high and rasping tone, and his manner far from agreeable.
"What's the trouble?" he demanded, and it was plain to see that he did not relish having his early morning sleep broken.
"Widow Canby's house was robbed last night," replied the constable; and he gave the particulars.
Judge Penfold was all ears at once. Indeed, it may be as well to state that he was a widower and had paid Widow Canby much attention, which, however, I well knew that good lady heartily resented. No doubt he thought if he could render her any assistance it would help along his suit.
"We must catch the fellow at once," he said. "Parsons, you must catch him without fail."
"Easier said than done, judge," replied the constable, doubtfully. "Where am I to look for him? The country around here is pretty large."
"No matter. You are constable, and it is your duty to seek him out. I will sign the warrant for his arrest, and you must have him in jail by to-night, without fail."
"I'll do what I can, judge," returns Parsons, meekly.
"Strong, I'll have to bind you over as a witness."
"Bind me over?" I queried in perplexity. "What do you mean?"
"Hold you, unless you can give a bond to appear when wanted."
"But I had nothing to do with the burglary."
"You are principal accuser of this John Stumpy."
"Well, I'll promise to be on hand whenever wanted."
"That is not sufficient. Your character is— is not— ahem! of the best, and—"
"Why is my character not of the best?" I demanded.
"Well, ahem! Your father, you see—"
"Perhaps— perhaps, but, nevertheless, I will have to hold you. Parsons, I will leave him in your charge."
"You have no right to arrest me," I cried, for I knew very little of the law.
"What's that?" demanded Judge Penfold, pompously. "You forget I am the judge of that."
"I don't care," I burst out. "I have done no wrong."
"It ain't that, Roger. Many innocent men are held as witnesses," put in Parsons.
"But I've got to attend to Mrs. Canby's business," I explained.
"I fancy Mrs. Canby would rather get on the track of her money," said Judge Penfold severely. "Can you furnish bail?"
I did not know that I could. The woman who had been robbed was my only friend, and she was away.
"Then you'll have to take him to the lockup, Parsons."
This news was far from agreeable. It would be no pleasant thing to be confined in the Darbyville jail, not to say anything of the anxiety it might cause Kate. Besides, I wanted to follow up John Stumpy. I was certain I could do it fully as well as the constable.
"Come, Roger, there is no help for it," said Parsons, as I still lingered. "It's the law, and it won't do any good to kick."
"Maybe not, but, nevertheless, it isn't fair."
We walked out into the front hall, the judge following us.
"Of course if you can get bail any time during the day I will let you go," he said; "I will be down in my office from nine to twelve and two to four."
"Will you offer a reward for the capture of the man?" I asked.
"I cannot do that. The freeholders of the county attend to all such matters. Parsons, no doubt, will find the scoundrel."
As the judge finished there was a violent ringing of the door bell. Judge Penfold opened the door and was confronted by Mr. Aaron Woodward, who looked pale and excited.
"Judge, I want you— hello! that boy! Judge, I want that boy arrested at once! Don't you let him escape!"
"Want me arrested?" I ejaculated in astonishment. "What for?"
"You know well enough. You thought to hide your tracks, but I have found you out. Parsons, don't let him get out of the door. He's a worse villain than his father was!"
I will not hesitate to state that I was nearly stunned by Mr. Aaron Woodward's unexpected statement. I knew that when he announced that I was a worse villain than my father he meant a good deal.
Yet try as hard as I could it was impossible for me to discover what he really did mean. I was not conscious of having done him any injury, either bodily or otherwise. Indeed, of late I had hardly seen the man. The Widow Canby was not partial to dealings with him, and I never went near him on my own account.
It was plain to see that the merchant was thoroughly aroused. His face was pale with anger, and the look he cast upon me was one of bitter resentment. For the instant he eyed me as if he intended to spring upon me and choke the life out of my body, and involuntarily I shrank back. But then I recollected that the minions of the law who stood beside me would not allow such a course of procedure, and this made me breathe more freely.
"Yes, sir; he's a worse villain than his father!" repeated Mr. Aaron Woodward, turning to Judge Penfold; "a most accomplished villain, sir." And he shook his fist within an inch of my nose.
"What have I done to you, Mr. Woodward?" I demanded, as soon as I could speak.
"Done, sir? You know very well what you've done, you young rascal!" puffed the merchant. "Oh, but I'll make you pay dearly for your villainy."
"I've committed no villainy," I returned warmly. "If you refer to the way I treated Duncan this morning, why all I've got to say is that it was his own fault, and I can prove it."
"Treated Duncan? Oh, pshaw! This is far more serious affair than a boy's quarrel. Don't let him escape, Parsons"— the last to the constable, who had his hand on my shoulder.
"No fear, sir," was Parson's reply. "He's already under arrest."
"Under arrest?" repeated the merchant quickly. "Then you've already heard—"
"He is ahem— only under detention as a witness," spoke up Judge Penfold. "I do not think he had anything to do with the theft of the widow's money."
"Widow's money! What do you mean?"
In a few words Judge Penfold explained the situation. "Isn't this what you came about?" he asked then.
"Indeed, no, sir. My affair is far more important— at least to me. But you can make up your mind that Strong's story is purely fiction. He is undoubtedly the real culprit, undoubtedly. Takes after his father."
"My father was an honest man!" I cried out. "I don't care what you or any one may say! Some day he will be cleared of the stain on his name."
"Oh, undoubtedly," sneered Mr. Woodward. "Mean while, however, the community at large had better keep a sharp eye on his son. Whom do you assert stole the Widow Canby's money?"
"Humph! A likely story."
"It's true. His name was John Stumpy."
As Mr. Aaron Woodwind uttered the name, all the color forsook his face.
"Yes, sir. And he claimed to know you," I went on, my curiosity amused over the merchant's show of feeling.
"It's a falsehood! I never heard of such a man," cried Mr. Woodward, but his face belied his words.
"Well, what is your charge against Strong?" asked Judge Penfold, impatiently, probably tired of being so utterly ignored in the discussion.
The merchant hesitated.
"I prefer to speak to you about the matter in private," he said sourly.
"That isn't fair. He ought to tell me what I am accused of," I cried, "Every one who is arrested has a right to know that. I have done no wrong and I am not afraid."
"All assumed bravery, Judge Penfold; quite assumed, sir."
"No, sir. Tell me why you want me locked up," I repeated.
But instead of replying Mr. Woodward drew Judge Penfold to the rear end of the hall and began to speak in so low a tone that I could not catch a word.
"You don't mean it!" I heard the judge say presently. "Come into the library and give me the particulars."
The two men passed into the room, closing the door tightly behind them. They were gone nearly quarter of an hour— a long wait for me. I wondered what could be the nature of Mr. Woodward's accusation against me, but failed to solve the mystery.
At length they came out. Judge Penfold's face was a trifle sterner than before. Mr. Woodward looked pleased, as if his argument had proven conclusive.
"You will take Strong to the jail at once," said the judge to Parsons "and tell Booth to be careful of his prisoner."
"Don't let him escape," added Aaron Woodward, anxiously. "Don't let him escape, sir, under any circumstances."
"No fear," was Parsons's ready answer. "I never had one of 'em give me the slip yet."
And with great gravity he drew from his pocket a pair of ancient handcuffs, one of which he attached to my wrist and the other to his own.
"Come, Roger. Better take it easy," he said. "No use of kicking. March!"
"But I'd like to know something about this," I protested. "What right—"
"It is all quite legal," put in Judge Penfold, pompously. "I understand the law perfectly."
"Say no more. Parsons, take him away."
"I shall see you later," whispered Mr. Woodward in my ear as the constable hurried me off.
The next instant we were on the street. Arrests in Darbyville were rare, and by the time we reached the jail we had a goodly following of boys and idle men, all anxious to know what was up.
"He stole the Widow Canby's money," I heard one man whisper, to which another replied:—
"Light fingered, eh? Must take after his father. I always knew the Strongs couldn't be trusted."
The jail was a small affair, being nothing more than the loft over a carpenter shop. The jailer was a round-faced man named Booth, who filled in his spare time by doing odd jobs of carpentering in the shop downstairs. We found him hard at work glueing some doors together. I knew him tolerably well, and he evinced considerable surprise at seeing me in custody.
"What, Roger; arrested! What for?"
"That's what I would like to know," I returned.
In a few words Parsons told him what was to be done, and Booth led the way upstairs.
" 'Tain't a very secure place," he returned. "Reckon I'll have to nail down some of the windows unless you'll give me your word not to run away."
"I'll promise nothing," was my reply. "I'm being treated unfairly, and I shall do as I think best."
"Then I'll fasten everything as tight as a drum," returned Booth.
Going below, he secured a hammer and some nails, with which he secured the windows and the scuttle on the roof.
"Reckon it's tight enough now," he said. "Just wait, Parsons, till I get him a bucket of water."
This was done, and then the two men left me, closing and locking the door of the enclosed staircase behind them.
The loft was empty, saving a nail keg that stood in one corner of the floor. Pulling this out, I sat down to think matters over.
Try my best I could not imagine what charge Mr. Aaron Woodward had brought against me. Yet such had been his earnestness that for the nonce everything else was driven from my mind.
The sounds of talking below interrupted my meditations. I recognized Kate's voice, and the next moment my sister stood beside me.
"Oh, Roger!" was all she could say, and catching me by the arm she burst into tears.
"Don't take it so hard, Kate," I said. "Make sure it will all come out right in the end."
"But to be arrested like— like a thief! Oh, Roger, it is dreadful!"
"Never mind. I have done no wrong, and I'm not afraid of the result. Have they heard anything of John Stumpy yet?"
"Dick Blair says not. Mr. Parsons and the rest are after him, but he seems to have disappeared for good— and Mrs. Canby's money with him."
"Have you heard from her yet?"
"No; but I've written her a letter and just posted it to Norfolk."
"She won't get it till day after to-morrow."
"What will she say? Oh, Roger, do you think—"
"No, I don't. The widow always trusted me, and I know she'll take my word now. She is not so narrow-minded as the very folks who look down on her."
"But it is awful! Over two hundred dollars! We can never make it up. We've only got twenty-eight!"
"We can't exactly be called upon to make it up—" I began.
"But we'll want to," put in Kate, hastily.
"I'd feel better if we did. The widow has always been so kind to us."
"How long must you stay here?"
"I don't know. As long as Judge Penfold sees fit, I suppose."
"If only they could catch this John Stumpy."
"I hope so— for other reasons than those you know, Kate."
"Yes; very important ones, too. John Stumpy knew father well. And he was mixed up in that— that miserable affair."
"Oh, Roger, how do you know?"
"I heard him say so. Besides, he dropped a letter that proved it. I have the letter in my pocket now. It's the dying statement of one Nicholas Weaver—"
"Nicholas Weaver! He was a clerk with father!"
"So I thought. Who Stumpy is, though, I don't know. Do you?"
"No; but his face I'm sure I've seen before. Let me see the letter. Have you read it?"
"No; I hadn't time to spell it out, it is so badly written. Maybe you can read it."
"I'll try," replied Kate. "Hand it over."
I put my hand in my pocket to do so. The statement was gone!
AARON WOODWARD'S VISIT
Puzzled and dismayed, I made a rapid search of my clothes— first one pocket and then another. It was useless. Beyond a doubt the statement was nowhere about my person.
I was quite sure it had not been taken from me. Strange as it may seem, neither Parsons nor Booth had searched me. Perhaps they deemed it useless to take away the possessions of a poor country boy. My jack-knife and other odds and ends were still in their accustomed places.
"It's gone!" I gasped, when I was certain that such was a fact.
"Gone?" repeated Kate.
"Yes, gone, and I don't know where. They didn't take it from me. I must have lost it."
"Oh, Roger, and it was so important!"
"I know it, Kate. It must have dropped from my pocket down at the tool house. Perhaps if I go down I can find it."