"Go down?" she queried.
"Oh, I forgot I was a prisoner."
"Never mind, Roger. I'll go down myself."
"Aren't you afraid?"
"Not now. I wouldn't have been of this Stumpy only he came on me so suddenly. I'll go at once."
"You'd better," said a voice behind her. "Your five minutes is up, Miss Kate." And Booth appeared at the head of the stairs and motioned her down.
"Good-by, Roger. I'm so sorry to leave you here alone."
"It's not such a dreadful place," I rejoined lightly. "If you discover anything, let me know at once."
"Be sure I will." And with this assurance Kate was gone.
I was as sorry for her as I was for myself. I knew all she would have to face in public— the mean things people would say to her, the snubbing she would be called on to bear.
The loss of the statement rendered me doubly downhearted. Oh, how much I had counted on it, assuring myself over and over again that it would surely clear my father's name!
Hardly had my sister left me than there were more voices below, and I heard Mr. Woodward tell Booth that he had an order from Judge Penfold for a private interview with me.
"Better go right upstairs then, Mr. Woodward," was the jailer's reply. "He's all alone."
I wondered what the merchant's visit could portend, but had little time for speculation.
"So, sir, they've got you fast," said Mr. Woodward sharply as he faced me. "Fast, and no mistake."
"What do you want?" I demanded boldly, coming at once to the front.
"What do I want?" repeated the merchant, looking behind him to make sure that Booth had not followed him. "What do I want? Why, I want to help you, Strong, that's what I want."
I could not help but smile. The idea of Mr. Woodward helping any one, least of all myself!
"The only way you can help me is to set me free," I returned.
"Oh, I can't do that. You are held on the Canby charge solely."
"But you told me you wanted me arrested."
"So I did, but I intend to give you a chance— that is, if you will do what I want."
"But why did you want me arrested?"
"You know well enough, Strong."
"On the contrary, I haven't the least idea."
"Stuff and nonsense. See here, if you want to get off without further trouble, hand over those papers."
"The papers you took last night," replied Mr. Woodward, sharply.
I was truly astonished. How in the world had he found out about the statement dropped by Stumpy? Was it possible there had been a meeting between the two? It looked like it.
"I haven't got the papers," I rejoined.
"Don't tell me a falsehood sir," he thundered.
"Do you deny you have the packet?"
"Come, Strong, that story won't answer. Hand it over."
"I haven't it."
"Where is it?"
"I lost it," I replied, before I had time to think.
"Lost it!" he cried anxiously.
"Yes, sir," I returned boldly, resolved to make the best of it, now the cat was out of the bag. "Either that or it was stolen from me."
He looked at me in silence for a moment.
"Do you expect me to believe all your lies?" he demanded finally.
"I don't care what you believe," I answered. "I tell the truth. And one question I want to ask you, Aaron Woodward. Why are you so anxious to gain possession of Nicholas Weaver's dying statement?"
The merchant gave a cry of astonishment, nay, horror. He turned pale and glared at me fiercely.
"Nicholas Weaver's dying statement!" he ejaculated. "What do you know of Nicholas Weaver?"
Now I had spoken I was almost sorry I had said what I had. Yet I could not but notice the tremendous effect my words had produced.
"Never mind what I know," I replied. "Why do you take an interest in it?"
"I? I don't know anything about it," he faltered. "I hardly knew Nicholas Weaver."
"Indeed? Yet you want his statement."
"No, I don't. I don't know anything about his statement," he continued doggedly. "I want my papers. I don't care a rap about any one else's."
It was now my turn to be astonished. Evidently I had been on the wrong track from the beginning.
"If you don't want his statement, I'm sure I don't know what you do want," I rejoined, and I spoke the exact truth.
"Don't tell lies, Strong. You know well enough. Hand them over."
"Hand what over?"
"The packet of papers."
"I haven't any packet."
"Strong, if you don't do as I demand, I'll send you to prison after your father."
"I can't help it. I haven't any papers. If you don't believe me, search me."
"Where have you hidden them?"
"I never had them to hide."
"I know better, sir, I know better," he fumed.
I made no reply. What could I say?
"Do you hear me, Strong?"
For reply I walked over to the slatted window and began to whistle. My action only increased the merchant's anger.
"For the last time, Strong, will you give up the papers?" he cried.
"For the last time, Mr. Woodward, let me say I haven't got them, never had them, and, therefore, cannot possibly give them up."
"Then you shall go to prison, sir. Mark my word,— you shall go to prison!"
And with this parting threat the merchant hurried down the loft steps and rapped loudly for Booth to come and let him out.
When he was gone, I sat down again to think over the demand he had made upon me. To what papers did he refer? In vain I cudgelled my brain to elicit an answer.
He spoke about sending me to prison, and in such tones as if it were an easy matter to do. Assuredly he must have some grounds upon which to base so positive an assertion.
No doubt he was now on his way to Judge Penfold's office to swear out the necessary papers. I did not know much about the law, but I objected strongly to going to prison. Once in a regular lockup, the chances of getting out would be indeed slim.
I reasoned that the best thing to do was to escape while there was a chance. Perhaps I was wrong in this conclusion, but I was only a country boy, and I had a horror of stone walls and iron bars.
Escape! No sooner had the thought entered my mind than I was wrapped up in it. Undoubtedly it was the best thing to do. Freedom meant not only liberty, but also a chance to hunt down John Stumpy and clear my father's name.
I looked about the loft for the best means of accomplishing my purpose. As I have said, the place was over a carpenter shop. The roof was sloping to the floor, and at each end was a small window heavily slatted.
The distance to the ground from the window was not less than fifteen feet, rather a long drop even if I could manage to get the slats loose, which I doubted, for I had no tools at hand.
I resolved to try the door, and was about to do so when I heard the bolts shoot back and Booth appeared.
For an instant I thought to trip him up and rush past him, but he stood on the steps completely blocking the way.
"All right, Roger?" he asked.
"Quite com'table, boy?"
"As comfortable as any one could be in such a place," I rejoined lightly.
" 'Tain't exactly a parlor," he chuckled. "No easy chairs or sofys; but the food's good. I'm a-going to get it for you now. Then after that maybe the judge will call around. I'll bring the dinner in a minute."
He climbed downstairs, bolting the door after him.
In five minutes— or ten at the most— I knew he would be back. After that there was no telling how long he would stay.
Now, therefore, was the proper time to escape, now or never!
No time must be lost. Booth lived but a short hundred feet from the jail, if such it might be called, and if his wife had dinner ready it would not take him long to bring it.
I surveyed the room in which I was incarcerated critically. Escape by either window was, as I have intimated, out of the question. On account of its height, the scuttle was also not to be considered.
Apparently nothing remained to try but the door. Running down the steps, I looked it over. It was of solid oak planking, an inch thick, and fastened at both top and bottom.
It was a hard thing to tackle, especially with no tools, and, after surveying it, I went upstairs again to search for something that might do as a pry.
I could see nothing but the empty nail keg, and I could discover no use at first in this until the idea struck me of wedging it between one of the lower steps and the door, and, by jumping upon it, forcing the bottom bolt.
With some difficulty I placed the keg in position and brought down my full weight upon it. The first time the bolt merely creaked, but the second there was a snap, and the lower part of the door burst outward several inches.
The bottom bolt had yielded, and now only the top one remained. But to reach this was a difficult matter, as no purchase could be had against it.
While considering the situation, I imagined I heard my jailer returning, and my heart jumped into my throat. What if Booth should see the damage I had done? I reckoned that things would go hard with me if it became known that I had attempted to break jail. Judge Penfold would surely give me the full penalty of the law.
But the approach of Booth was only imaginary, and, after a brief interval of silence, I breathed freer.
I ascends the stairs once more to see if I could not find something besides the keg to assist me. If only I had a plank or a beam, I might use it as a battering-ram.
The thought of a plank led me to examine the floor, and, going over it carefully, I soon came to a short board, one end of which was loose. Raising it, I pulled with all my might, and the board came up.
I was astonished to see that it made an opening into the shop below. I had imagined that the floor or ceiling was of double thickness.
This gave me a new idea. Why not escape through the floor? To pry up another board would perhaps be easier than to force the door.
I tried the board next to the opening. The end was somewhat rotted, and it came up with hardly an effort.
In another moment the opening would be large enough to allow the passage of my body. Putting the first board under the edge of the second, I bore down upon it.
As I did so I heard a noise that alarmed me greatly. It was the sound of Booth returning, and the next instant the carpenter had opened the outer door and entered.
In one hand he carried a tray containing my dinner. He crossed the floor directly under me without looking up. Then his eyes caught the shattered door and he gave a loud exclamation.
"By ginger! If that boy ain't gone and escaped!"
He set down the tray with a rattle and tried to pull the door open. But the top bolt had become displaced, and it was several seconds before it could be shot back.
Meanwhile I was not idle. As quietly as I could I tore up the second board. The deed was done just as Booth stumbled over the keg on his way up the stairs.
As my jailer appeared at the top, I let my body through the opening. It was a tight squeeze, especially when accomplished in a hurry. I landed in a heap on a pile of shavings.
"Stop! stop!" called out Booth. "Roger, don't you hear me?"
I certainly did hear him, but paid no attention to his words. My one thought was to get away as quickly as possible.
"If you don't stop, I'll shoot you," went on Booth at the top of his voice. "Don't you know breaking jail is a— a felony?"
I did not know what kind of a crime it was. I had made up my mind to escape, and intended to do so, even if such a deed constituted manslaughter. I made a break for the door and passed out just as Booth came tramping down the stairs.
I ran across the yard that separated the carpenter shop from the house. As I did so, Mrs. Booth appeared at the back door. Upon seeing me she held up her hands in horror.
"Mercy on us! Roger Strong! Where be you a-running to? 'Zekel! 'Zekel! the prisoner's broke loose!"
"I know it, Mandy!" I heard Ezekiel Booth answer. "Dunno how he did it, though. Stop, Roger, it's best now; jest you mark my word!"
I heard no more. Jumping the side fence, I ran through a bit of orchard and across a stony lot until I reached the Pass River.
At this point this body of water was several hundred feet wide. The bank sloped directly to the water's edge. Near at hand were several private boat-houses, one belonging to Mr. Aaron Woodward, he having built it to please Duncan.
At the end of the boat-house pier lay a skiff, the oars resting upon the seats. I knew it was wrong to make use of the craft, but "necessity knows no law," and my need was great.
Running down to the end of the pier, I dropped into the boat and shoved off. As I did so, Duncan Woodward, accompanied by Pultzer, came out of the boat-house.
"Hi, there, what are you doing in my boat?" he sang out. "What, Roger Strong!" he continued as he came nearer.
"You must lend me the boat, Duncan," I returned. "I've got to cross the river in a hurry."
"Not much! I thought you were in jail."
"Not just now," I replied. "You can get your boat on the other side."
"Hold up! You shan't have her. Come back!"
But I was already pulling out into the stream. He continued to shout after me, and presently I saw the two joined by Booth, and all watched me in dismay as I made for the opposite shore.
Reaching the bank, I beached the boat high up and then climbed to the roadway that ran beside the stream. Trees and bushes were thick here, and I had but little difficulty in hiding from the view of those opposite.
For a moment I hesitated as to which way to proceed. A number of miles down the stream lay Newville, of which I have already spoken. Probably my pursuers would think I had gone in that direction. If so, they would hasten to the bridge below, with the intention of cutting me off.
I therefore started immediately on my way up the river road, resolved to put as much ground as possible between myself and my pursuers. I had no definite destination in view, but thought to gain some hiding-place where I might rest secure and think things over.
It was now going on to two o'clock in the afternoon, and as I had not had anything to eat since the noon previous, I began to feel decidedly hungry. I felt in my pocket and discovered that I was the possessor of sixty-five cents, and with this amount of cash I did not see any reason for my remaining hungry any longer.
Presently I came to a small, white cottage, upon the front porch of which was displayed the sign
Ascending the steps, I knocked at the door, and a comely, middle-aged woman answered my summons.
"I see that you take boarders here," I said, "I am hungry, and several miles from any restaurant. Can you furnish me with dinner?"
She looked me over rather sharply before replying. Then I realize for the first time that my appearance was not of the best. My clothes were considerably the worse for having rolled over and over in the old tool house, and in escaping from my prison I had made several rents in my coat.
"I will pay you whatever you charge," I added hastily, "and I would like to wash and brush up, too; I have had a tumble," which was literally true.
"I can let you have dinner for twenty-five cent," she said finally. "I won't charge you anything for cleaning up," she added, with something like a smile. "Will you mind paying in advance?"
"No, ma'am," and I handed over the money. "I suppose I won't have to wait very long."
"Oh, no, the regular boarders have just finished. You can sit right down."
"If you don't mind, I'll take a wash first."
The woman led the way to an ante-room, in which were placed a bowl of water, towel, and soap, as well as a dust brush. It did not take me long to fix myself up, and then I flattered myself I did not present an unbecoming appearance.
The dinner that the woman served was not as good as that which my sister Kate helped to prepare at the Widow Canby's, but it was wholesome food, and my sharpened appetite made it disappear rapidly.
As I ate I reflected upon my situation. For the life of me I did not know what to do next. I longed to see my sister and tell her that I was safe. This done, I intended to devote my time to hunting up the man who I firmly believed held my father's reputation in his hand. I was sure I would discover him sooner or later, and this accomplished, I would not let him out of my sight until he had confessed his secret. I wondered if Kate had succeeded in finding that precious statement I had lost. Heartily did I reproach myself for not having taken better care of it.
Having satisfied myself upon the substantial things set before me, I finished my meal with a small cut of apple pie.
As I was swallowing the last mouthful I glanced out of the window up the road, and gave a cry of surprise. And no wonder, for coming toward the house was Mr. Aaron Woodward, and beside him walked John Stumpy!
AN INTERESTING CONVERSATION
I could hardly believe the evidence of my senses when I saw Mr. Aaron Woodward coming up the road with John Stumpy beside him. It would have astonished me to have seen the merchant alone, but to see him in company with the very man I was looking for was more than I had thought possible.
Yet I reflected that the tramp— or whatever the man was— had evinced a determination to secure an interview with Mr. Woodward before quitting Darbyville. There was important business to be transacted between them. Mr. John Stumpy intended to have his say, whatever that might mean.
What was to be done? It would never do for me to be seen. Nothing short of arrest would follow. I must get out of the way as quickly as possible.
During the time I had been eating, the sky had become overcast as if a shower was imminent. Taking advantage of this fact I rose quickly and reached for my hat.
"Guess we're going to have a thunder shower," I remarked. "Hope it holds off. I don't want to get wet."
"Then you'll have to hurry," rejoined the woman as she looked out of the door. "Looks as if it would be here in less than quarter of an hour."
"Then I'm off. Good day."
"Good day. Come again."
I slipped out of the door, and passing behind a hedge, made my way to the road. As I did so, Mr. Woodward and Stumpy turned from the highway and walked directly up the gravel path that led to the house!
I was dumfounded by this movement. What did they mean by going to the very place I had just vacated? Was it possible they had seen me?
I earnestly hoped not; for if so, it would spoil a little plan that had just come to me, which was to follow them, see what they were up to, and, if possible, overhear whatever might be said.
I was soon convinced that neither of the men was aware of my presence. They were talking earnestly and stepped up on the porch just as ordinary visitors would have done. In a moment the woman let them in and the door closed behind them.
My curiosity was aroused to its highest pitch, and at the risk of being discovered by any one who might chance to be passing by I walked cautiously back along the hedge until I reached a clump of rose bushes that grew directly under one of the dining-room windows.
The window was open, and by a little manoeuvring I easily managed to see and hear what was going on within.
"You came for the rent, I suppose, Mr. Woodward," the woman was saying. "Joel was going to bring it up to-night. He would have brought it over this morning, only he thought it was going to rain and he had some hay he wanted to get in."
"Yes, I did come for the rent, Mrs. Decker," replied the merchant. "It's due several days now."
"I have it here— thirty dollars. Here is the receipt book."
There was the rustle of bills and the scratching of a pen.
"Here you are, Mrs. Decker."
"Thank you, sir. Now we'll be worry free for another month."
"So you are. Nothing like being prompt."
"My husband was going to speak to you about the roof. It leaks dreadfully."
"Pooh! That can't be. Why, it was patched only two years ago."
"You are wrong, Mr. Woodward. It is four years, and then but very little was done to it."
"It cost near twelve dollars," growled the merchant. "You can't expect me to be fixing up the house all the time."
"It leaks very badly."
"Then your husband will have to attend to it. I can't spend any more money this year."
"I don't know what we'll do. I wish you would just step outside and look up at the shingles. Nearly all of them are ready to fall off."
I was alarmed by Mrs. Decker's request. Suppose the trio should come out? I would surely be discovered. But my fears were groundless, as the next words of Mr. Woodward proved.
"I can't go out now, madam, not now. I haven't time. I have a little business to transact with this man, and then I must return to Darbyville."
"I'm sorry—" began the woman.
"So am I; but it cannot be helped. Can I use this room for a while?"
By the look upon Mrs. Decker's face it was plain to see she wanted to say, "No, you can't," but she hardly dared to speak the words, so she gave an icy assent and withdrew.
The merchant followed her to the door and saw that it was closed tightly behind her. Then he strode across the room and faced John Stumpy.
"Wall, sir, now we'll have an accounting," he began in an authoritative voice.
"So we will, Woody," returned John Stumpy, in no wise abashed by the other's manner.
The merchant winced at the use of a nickname, but after an instant's hesitation passed it over.
"What do you mean by coming to Darbyville, sir, when I have repeatedly written you to stay away?"
"Oh, come, Woody, don't get on your high horse," was Stumpy's response, as he swung back in the rocker he occupied. "You know I never could stand your high-toned ways."
"I flatter myself I am a trifle above common people," returned Mr. Woodward, and it was plain to see where Duncan got his arrogant manner.
"Oh, pshaw! don't make me tired," yawned Stumpy. "Come, let's to business."
"I am at business. Why did you come here?"
"You know well enough. Didn't I write to you?"
"Yes, and got my answer. We've squared up accounts, sir."
"Don't 'sir' me,— it don't go down," cried Stumpy, angrily. "We haven't squared up, not by a jugful,— not till you hand over some more cash."
"I've handed over enough now."
"No, you hain't. Do you think I'm going to do all your work for nothing?"
"You were well paid."
"It's only you as thinks so; I don't."
"How much more do you want?"
"A thousand dollars."
The largeness of the demand fairly took away my breath. As for Mr. Aaron Woodward, he was beside himself.
"A thousand dollars!" he said. "Why, you're crazy, sir."
"No, I ain't; I mean just what I say."
"You expect me to pay you a thousand dollars?"
"Of course I do. I wouldn't ask it if I didn't."
"See here, Fer—"
"Sh!— John Stumpy, if you please."
"That's so, I forgot. But see here, a thousand dollars! Why, I've already paid you that."
"So you have. Now I want another thousand and then we'll cry quits."
Mr. Aaron Woodward grew white with rage. "I never heard of such an outrageous demand," he cried. "I'll never pay it."
"Oh, yes, you will," rejoined the other, coolly. "Aaron Woodward never yet acted rashly."
"Suppose I refuse to pay?"
"Better not; I'm a bad man when I am aroused."
"I don't fear you. You can do nothing to me."
"Oh, yes, I can. I can tell ugly stories about Mr. Aaron Woodward; stories concerning his doings when he was collector for Holland & Mack."
"And who would believe you?" sneered the merchant. "You, a common tramp—"
"Tramp, am I—" interrupted John Stumpy, with a scowl. "If I am, who made me so?"
"Your own self and the bottle. Do you think you can hurt me? Nonsense!"
"I can try."
"And who will believe you, I repeat? A common tramp— whom the police are now hunting for, because of a robbery that occurred only last night."
" 'Tain't so!"
"It is. You broke into the Widow Canby's house and stole over two hundred dollars."
In spite of the dirt on his face, John Stumpy grew pale.
"Who can prove it?"
"Several people. Carson Strong's son, for one."
Stumpy sprang to his feet. Then almost as suddenly sat down.
"Didn't know he had a son," he said, as carelessly as he could.
"Yes, you did," returned the merchant, flatly. "I think, Fer— Stumpy, I know a little more about you than you do about me."
Bitter hatred spread itself over the tramp's face.
"Oh, ho, you do, do you? Well, we'll see. 'Them laughs best as laughs last.' If you won't pay, I'm off."
He rose to his feet and reached for his hat, Mr. Woodward intercepted him.
"Where are you going?"
"That's my business. I want you to know I didn't come on all the way from Chicago for nothing."
"Are you hard up?"
"Yes, I am. I want money, and I'm going to have it."
"How about the two hundred dollars you stole last night?"
"Well, if you want to know the truth, I lost the money," he said.
THE PRICE OF SILENCE
For a moment I was staggered by John Stumpy's announcement. Was it possible he was telling the truth? If so, the chances of recovering the Widow Canby's money would assume a different shape. To arrest him would prove a moral satisfaction, but it would not restore the stolen dollars.
Occupying the position I did, I was more interested in restoring the stolen money than I was in having the tramp incarcerated.
Nothing would have given me greater satisfaction than to have met the Widow Canby at the depot with the two hundred odd dollars in my pocket. It would have silenced the public tongue and made my breaking jail of no consequence.
But perhaps John Stumpy was telling a falsehood. He was not above such a thing, and would not hesitate if he thought anything could be gained thereby. That Mr. Aaron Woodward also guessed such to be a fact was proven by the words that followed Stumpy's statement.
"Lost the money?" he ejaculated. "Do you expect me to believe you, sir?"
"Nonsense, sir. Jack Fer—"
"John Stumpy isn't the one to lose over two hundred dollars!"
"Just what I always said myself, partner, and—"
"Don't 'partner ' me, sir!"
"Well, wasn't we all partners in the good times gone by?"
"I reckon we were. Howsomever, let it pass. Well, as I was saying, I reckoned I'd never lose any money, leasewise a small pile, but that's what I have done, and that's why I want you to come down."
And John Stumpy leaned back in the rocker in a defiant fashion.
The merchant eyed him sharply in silence for a moment.
"Where did you lose the money?" he asked at length.
"How do I know? If I did, don't you suppose I'd go back and pick it up?"
"I thought perhaps you were afraid of discovery."
"Humph! I'm not skeered of any such constables as they have in Darbyville."
"But you must have some idea where you dropped it," went on Mr. Woodward, and I was astonished to see how coolly this man, who always pretended to be so straightforward, could inquire about stolen money.
"Not the least," responded John Stumpy. "There was two hundred and sixty dollars in all. I took out ten and left the rest in the pocketbook it was in. I've got the ten dollars, and that's all. And that's why you've got to come down," he went on deliberately. "I'm off for Chicago to-night, and I'm not going back empty handed."
"You think I ought to pay you for your own carelessness," returned Mr. Woodward, coolly.
"Not a bit of it. You owe me every cent I ask."
"I don't owe you a penny."
"You owe me a thousand dollars, and for the last time let me tell you, you've got to pay or take the consequences." And John Stumpy brought his fist down on the table with a bang.
"Hold on; don't make so much noise," cried Mr. Aaron Woodward in alarm. "There is no use of rousing the household."
"I don't care. Either you'll come down or I'll rouse the whole of Darbyville," cried the tramp, vehemently.
"I haven't any money."
"You can't tell me that."
"It's true. Times are getting worse every day."
"Didn't the woman who lives here just pay you?"
"Yes; thirty dollars—"
"And didn't you put the bills in with a big roll in your vest pocket?" went on Stumpy, triumphantly.
The merchant bit his lip.
"That money is to pay a bill that falls due to-morrow," he replied.
"Well, my 'bill' falls due to-day, and it's got to be met. So come; no more beating about the bush. We've talked long enough. Now to business. Do you intend to pay or not?"
The merchant hesitated. Evidently he was afraid to oppose the other too strongly.
"Well, I don't want to let you go without anything," he began. "I'll let you have twenty-five dollars—"
John Stumpy jumped up in a passion. "That settles it. I'm done with you. To-night I'll send a letter to Chris Holtzmann, 897 Sherman Street, Chicago, and tell him a few things he wants to know, and—"
"You dare!" almost shrieked Mr. Woodward. "Write a single word to him and I'll— I'll—"
"So! ho! You're afraid of him, are you?"
"No, I'm not, but what's the use of letting him know anything?"
"Humph! Do you suppose I'd tell him without pay? Not much! I can easily get him to fork over fifty or a hundred dollars. And he'll make you pay it back, ten times over."
Mr. Aaron Woodward sank back in a chair without a word. Evidently he was completely baffled, and knew not which way to turn.
As for myself, I was very much in the dark as to what all this was about. I was certain the past events spoken of pertained to my father's affairs, but failed to "make connections."
One thing, however, I did do, and that was to make a note of Mr. Chris Holtzmann's address. He was the man Stumpy had written to just previous to the robbery, and he was perhaps one of the persons concerned in my father's downfall.
"See here," said the merchant at last. "It's too late for us to quarrel. What good would an exposure to Holtzmann do?"
"Never mind. If you won't come to time, I shall do as I please," growled Stumpy.
"But a thousand dollars! I haven't got it in cash."
"You can easily get it."
"Not so easily as you think. Tell you what I will do. I'll give you a hundred. But you must give up all evidence you have against me."
Stumpy gave a short, contemptuous laugh. "You must think me as green as grass," he sneered. "I'm not giving up any evidence. I'm holding on to all I've got and gathering more."
"You have Nicholas Weaver's statement," went on Mr. Woodward, with interest.
"So I have. Nick told the truth in it, too."
"I would like to see it"
"Of course you would. So would some other people,— Carson Strong's boy, for instance."
"Sh!— not so loud."
"Well, then, don't bring the subject up."
"Have you the statement with you?"
"Maybe I haven't; maybe I have."
"Perhaps it was taken from you," went on Mr. Woodward, curiously.
"What do you know about that?" Stumpy again jumped to his feet. "You've been talking to that Strong boy," he cried.
"Supposing I have?"
"Well, it didn't do you no good. Say, how much does the young cub know?"
"He knows too much for the good of either of us," responded the merchant.
"Sorry he wasn't found in the ruins of that tool house," growled the tramp, savagely.
This was certainly a fine assertion for me to hear. Yet it was no more than I would expect from John Stumpy. He was a villain through and through.
"You meant to burn him up, did you?" asked Mr. Woodward.
"And if I had, Mr. Aaron Woodward would never have shed a tear," laughed John Stumpy.
"Let me see the statement."
John Stumpy hesitated. "Hand over the money first, and maybe I will."
"The hundred dollars?"
"No, a thousand."
"Do you suppose I carry so much money with me?"
"Give me what you have in that roll, and I'll take your word for the rest."
The merchant gave something that sounded very much like a groan.
"Well, I suppose if you insist on it, I must," he said. "I'll give you what I have, but I won't promise you any more."
"Hand it over," was Stumpy's laconic reply. He probably thought half a loaf better than no bread, at all.
With a heavy sigh Mr. Woodward drew the roll of bills from his pocket and began to count them over. I was eager to catch sight of them. I stood on tiptoe and peered into the window. It was an interesting scene; the sour look upon the merchant's face; the look of greed in the tramp's eye. In a moment the counting was finished.
"A hundred and seventy dollars," said Mr. Aaron Woodward. "Here you are." And he held them out. Stumpy almost snatched them from his hand.
"There, now that's settled," he said. "Now about— What was that?"
A noise had disturbed him. While absorbed in what the two were doing I had given an involuntary cough.
"Somebody listening," he declared as he thrust the money into his pocket.
"We ought to be more careful."
"Only some one coughing in the next room," returned Mr. Woodward. "Don't get scared."
"I ain't scared, but I don't want other folks to know my business. Reckon you don't either."
"No, indeed. It's bad enough for me to be seen in your company," returned Mr. Aaron Woodward, with just a trace of his former lofty manner.
"No insinuations, please," was the ready reply. "My hands ain't any dirtier than yours."
"Well, well, let's stop quarrelling. Let me see the statement."
"Will you promise to hand it back if I do?"
"Why not let me have it?"
"Never mind why. Will you give it back?"
"If you insist on it, you shall have it back," was Mr. Woodward's final reply, seeing that he could gain nothing by parleying.
Stumpy drew forth the envelope. I anticipated what was coming.
"Here it is," he said, and handed it over, as he supposed.
"The envelope is empty," said Mr. Woodward.
Stumpy looked dumfounded.
AN ODD STATEMENT
Before Mr. Woodward made the announcement just recorded he had walked close up to the window, probably to get into the light, for the sky was now darkening rapidly, portending the near breaking out of the storm I have mentioned.
In doing this the merchant's back was turned upon his companion, and for an instant Stumpy had been unable to see what the other was doing.
When therefore Mr. Woodward declared the envelope to be empty every action of the tramp indicated that he did not believe the statement.
"Empty?" he cried hoarsely.
"Yes, empty," replied the merchant; "and you knew it," he added.
"No such thing. The statement was inside. Woody, you're trying to play a sharp game, but it won't work."
"What do you mean, sir?"
"You're trying to rob me."
"Nonsense. I say the envelope was empty."
"And I say it wasn't. Come, hand over my property."
"I tell you, Fer— Stumpy, I haven't it."
"I don't care what you say. You can't play any such game off on me," rejoined John Stumpy, with increasing anger.
"I'm only speaking the truth."
"You ain't. Hand it over, or I'll—"
John Stumpy caught the merchant by the coat collar.
"What would you do?" cried Mr. Woodward in alarm, and it was plain to see he was a coward at heart.
"I'll choke the life out of you; that's what I'll do. Hand over the statement."
"I haven't it, upon my honor."
"Your honor? Bah! What does that amount to?"
John Stumpy suddenly shifted his hand from its grasp on the collar to the merchant's throat. For a moment I thought Mr. Woodward was in danger of being choked to death.
"Stop! Stop! Se— search me if you— you want to," he gasped.
But John Stumpy's passion seemed to have got the better of his reason. He did not relax his hold in the least.
A short struggle ensued. The two backed up against the table, and presently a chair was upset. Of course all this made considerable noise. Yet neither of the men heeded it.
Presently the door from the other room swung open, and the two had hardly time to separate before a tall, lank farmer entered.
"Hello, what's up?" he asked in a loud, drawling tone.
For an instant neither spoke, evidently not knowing what to say.
"We were— were— ahem— trying to— to catch a rat," replied Mr. Woodward, with an effort.
"Exactly, sir. Had a terrible time with him, Mr. Decker."
The farmer looked surprised. "So I supposed by the row that was going on," he said. "Curious. I knew there were rats down to the barn, but I didn't suppose they came up to the house. What became of him?"
"Slipped out of the door just now," put in John Stumpy. "There he goes!" he added, pointing out into the hall.
Mr. Decker made a spring out of the room.
"I must ketch him, by gopher!" he cried. "There's enough eat up here now without having the vermin taking a hand in."
Mr. Woodward closed the door after the man.
"Now see to what your actions have brought us," he exclaimed. "If it hadn't been for my quick wit we'd been in a pretty mess."
"Not my fault," growled John Stumpy. "Why don't you give up the statement?"
I could not help but feel amused at his persistency. His demands upon the merchant were about on a footing with those Mr. Woodward had made upon me.
"If you'll only listen to reason," began the merchant, "I will prove—"
The rest of his remark was drowned out in a clap of thunder. Somewhat startled, I looked up at the sky.
The black clouds in the south had rolled up rapidly, until now the entire horizon was covered. The first burst of thunder was succeeded directly by several others, and then large drops of rain began to fall.
The wind blew the drops directly into the window. I crouched down out of sight, and the next moment Mr. Woodward said:—
"It's raining in the window. We'd better close it up."
Of course directly the window was closed I could hear no longer. I remained in my position for half a minute or more, and then as the rain began to pour down rapidly I made a break for better shelter.
I sought the barn. It was a low, rambling structure, with great wide doors. No one seemed to be around, and I rushed in without ceremony. I was pretty fairly soaked, but as it was warm I did not mind the ducking. I shook out my hat and coat and then sat down to think matters over.
What I had heard had not given me much satisfaction. To be sure, it had proved beyond a doubt that Mr. Aaron Woodward was a thorough scoundrel, but of this I had been already satisfied in my own mind.
What was I to do? I had asked myself that question several times, and now I asked it again.
If only I could get John Stumpy arrested, perhaps it would be possible to force him to make a confession. But how was this to be done?
While I sat on the edge of a feed box, a form darkened the doorway, and Farmer Decker appeared.
"Hello!" he exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"
"I took the liberty to come in out of the rain," I replied. "Have you any objections to my remaining until the shower is over?"
"No, guess not. It's a mighty heavy one. Where're you from? Newville?"
"No, sir, Darbyville."
"Yes? Had quite a robbery down there, I understand."
"Is that so?"
"Yes, a chap named Strong robbed an old woman of nearly five hundred dollars. Do you know him or the woman?"
"I know the woman quite well," was my reply, and I hoped he would not question me further.
"They've got him in jail, I believe. The fellow and his sister tried to make out that a tramp had taken the money, but I understand no one would listen to the story."
"No. It seems this Strong boy's father is in jail now for stealing, so it ain't strange the boy's a thief."
"But maybe he isn't guilty," I put in, by way of a mild protest.
"Maybe. Of course it's rather tough on him if he isn't. But you can't tell nowadays; boys is so all-fired high toned, and want to play big fiddle."
"Some boys are, but not all of them."
"Some of them. Now there's our landlord, who is in the house now, he's got a son as extravagant as can be, and if it wasn't for Mr. Woodward keeping him in funds I don't know what that boy might not do. He— whoa, there, Billy, whoa!"
The last remark was addressed to a horse standing in one of the stalls. A clap of thunder had set the animal to prancing.
"Your horse feels rather uneasy," I remarked, glad of a chance to change the subject.
"Allers acts that way when there's a storm going on. Too bad, too, for I want to hitch him up and take Mr. Woodward and another man that's with him over to Darbyville."
As Mr. Decker spoke he led the horse from the stall and backed him up between the shafts of the carriage that stood near the rear of the barn.
While he was hitching up I set myself to thinking. While I was perfectly willing that Mr. Woodward should return to Darbyville, I did not wish to allow John Stumpy out of my sight. Once away, and I might not be able to lay hands on him.
Had I been sure that Kate had succeeded in finding the lost statement, I would not have cared, but the chances in her favor were slim, and I did not wish to run any risks.
"Are you going to drive around to the house for them?" I asked as the farmer finished the job.
"Guess I'll have to. It will be a beastly drive. Sorry I can't offer you a seat— it would be better than walking."
"I think I'll wait till it clears off," I returned. "I'm not on business, and—"
"Say, Decker, how long is it going to take you to hitch up?" interrupted a voice from the doorway, and the next instant Mr. Woodward strode into the barn, followed by John Stumpy.
I did not have time to conceal myself. I tried to step behind a partition, but before I could do so the merchant's eye was on me.
"Roger Strong!" he exclaimed.
"Yes, sir," I replied, as boldly as I could.
"How did you get here?" he demanded.
"Walked, just as you did."
"Thought you were in jail."
"So do most people."
"Who is this chap?" asked the farmer, staring at me with open eyes.
"It's the boy who was arrested for that robbery last night," explained the merchant.
"Shoo— you don't say? And I was talking to him about that very thing. You rascal, you!"
"How did you get out?" put in John Stumpy.
"None of your business," I replied briskly. "If you'd had your way I'd been burnt up in the tool house last night."
"No such thing," was the tramp's reply. "Never saw you before."
"You're the fellow who stole the Widow Canby's money."
"You must be crazy, young fellow. I don't know anything about the Widow Canby or her money."
"I can prove it. My sister can prove it, too."
"Then your sister must be as crazy as yourself."
"Stop there! You're the thief and you know it."
"I know nothing of the kind."
"Your story is nonsensical, Strong," broke in Mr. Woodward. "Gentlemen like Mr. Stumpy here do not break into people's houses and commit robberies."
"Gentlemen! He's nothing but a tramp, and you know it."
"Tramp? How dare you?" cried Stumpy, in suddenly assumed dignity, put on for the farmer's benefit. "I am a ranchero from Texas and an honest man. I am visiting Mr. Woodward, and know nothing more of the robbery excepting having heard that it occurred— ahem!" And John Stumpy drew himself up.
Under other circumstances I would have laughed at his effrontery. But the situation was too serious to indulge in any humor.
"Being placed under arrest has turned your head, Strong," said the merchant. "You seem to be quite out of your mind."
"When was the robbery committed?" put in John Stumpy, suddenly.
"You know well enough," I cried.
"I heard it was about two o'clock in the morning," vouchsafed Farmer Decker.
"Then I can easily prove an alibi," said the tramp, triumphantly. "I can prove I was with my esteemed friend Mr. Woodward at that hour. Isn't it so, Aaron?"
The merchant hesitated. I fairly held my breath to catch his answer. Would he commit deliberate perjury?
"Quite true," he replied slowly. "Mr. Stumpy was with me last night. We sat up in the library, smoking, and playing cards until after midnight, and then I showed him to bed. He could not possibly have committed the crime of which Strong speaks."
"Then the boy must be the guilty one hisself," said the farmer. "And so young, too. Who would a-thought it! What shall we do with him, Mr. Woodward?"
"You had better help me take him back to Darbyville jail," responded the merchant.
MY UNCLE ENOS
John Stumpy gave a smile of triumph. As for myself, I stood aghast. Mr. Aaron Woodward had committed deliberate perjury, or at least, something that amounted to the same thing. He had positively declared that John Stumpy was at his house at the time of the robbery of Widow Canby's house, and could not, therefore, be the guilty party.
It was easy to guess that in this statement it was his intention to screen his partner in iniquity. To be sure, he had been forced to take the position by Stumpy himself, but once having taken it, I was morally certain he would not back down.
His action would make it harder than ever for me to clear myself and bring the tramp to justice. His word in a court of law would carry more weight than mine or my sister's, and consequently our case would fall to the ground.
I was glad that Dick Blair could testify concerning my whereabouts and the scene in the dining room directly after the robbery. The merchant knew nothing of Blair's presence on the occasion— at least I imagined so from his conversation— and might, by saying too much, "put his foot in it."
But now my mind was filled with only one thought. The three men intended to take me to the Darbyville jail. I was to be ignominiously dragged back to the prison from which I had escaped.
Once again in Ezekiel Booth's custody I was certain he would keep so strict a guard over me that further breaking away would be out of the question. Perhaps Judge Penfold would consider me so dangerous a prisoner as to send me to the county jail for safe keeping, in which case it would be harder than ever for me to clear myself or see Kate.
For an instant I meditated taking to my legs and running my chances, but this idea was knocked in the head by Farmer Decker grasping me by the collar.
"Maybe he might take a notion and run away," he explained. "He did it once, you say."
"A good idea to hold him," said Mr. Woodward. "Have you finished hitching up?"
"Have you room for him?"
"I might put in another seat."
"Do so. And hurry; the rain has slackened up a bit, and we may reach Darbyville before it starts again."
The extra seat was soon placed in the carriage. Then the farmer procured a couple of rubber blankets.
"All ready now," he said. "How shall we sit?"
"You and Mr. Stumpy sit in front. I and the boy will occupy the back seat. Come, Strong, get in."
For an instant I thought of refusing. The merchant had no right to order me. But then I reflected that a refusal would do no good, and might do harm, so without a word I entered the carriage.
The others were not slow to follow. Then Farmer Decker chirruped to Billy, and we rolled out of the farm yard and down the road.
But little was said on the way. I was busy with my own thoughts, and so were Mr. Woodward and Stumpy. The farmer asked several questions, but the merchant said he would learn all he wished to know at the judge's office, and this quieted him.
About five o'clock in the afternoon we rolled into Darbyville. While crossing the Pass River the sun had burst through the clouds, and now all was as bright and fresh as ever.
Judge Penfold's office was situated in the centre of the principal business block. When we arrived there we found a number of men standing about the door, no doubt discussing my escape, for they uttered many exclamations of surprise on seeing me.
Chief among them was Parsons, who looked pale and worried.
"Roger Strong!" he exclaimed. "Where have you been?"
"Took a walk for my health," I replied as lightly as I could, though my heart was heavy.
"Well, I guess we'll make sure it shan't happen again," he returned. "Hi, there, Booth! Here's your prisoner come back!"
In a moment the carpenter appeared upon the scene.
"You rascal, you!" he cried in angry tones. "A fine peck of trouble you've got yourself into!"
"What's all this about?" asked a heavy voice from the stairs, and Judge Penfold stood before me.
"I have brought your prisoner back, judge," replied Mr. Woodward.
"So I see. Well, Strong, what have you to say for yourself? Do you know breaking jail is a serious offence?"
"I don't know anything about it. I know I was locked up for nothing at all, and I escaped at the first chance offered."
"There was no chance offered at all, judge," broke in Booth, fearful of having a reflection cast upon his character. "He just went and ripped the hull floor up, that's what he did."
"Silence, Booth! Come upstairs and we will hear the particulars."
In a moment we were in Judge Penfold's office. I was told to take a seat on a bench, with Booth on one side of me and Parsons on the other.
Then Mr. Woodward introduced John Stumpy as a friend from San Antonio, Texas, and the two told their story, corroborated at its end by Farmer Decker, who trembled from head to foot at the idea of addressing as high a dignitary as Judge Penfold.
"What have you to say to this, Strong?" I was asked.
In a plain, straightforward way I told my story from beginning to end, told it in a manner that did not fail to impress nearly every one in the court-room but the judge and my accusers.
Of course Mr. Woodward and John Stumpy stoutly denied all I said, and their denial carried the day.
"Until we can have a real trial I will send you back to jail," said Judge Penfold.
"Why don't you send John Stumpy to jail, too?" I asked. "He is as much accused as I."
"We have only your word for that."
"Then let me send for my sister Kate and Dick Blair."
Judge Penfold rubbed his chin reflectively.
"I think I'll have to put you under bonds," he said to John Stumpy.
"Why so? The boy's word doesn't amount to anything," put in Mr. Woodward.
"Only a matter of form, Mr. Woodward. I will make it a thousand dollars. Will you go his bondsman?"
"Of course he will," said John Stumpy, hastily. "Won't you?"
The merchant winced. "I— I guess so," he stammered. "But it's a strange proceeding."
In a few moments, by the aid of two other men, the bond was made out.
"I will make your bail a thousand dollars also," said Judge Penfold, turning to me. "I suppose it's quite useless though," he added sarcastically.
"Not quite so useless as you might think," exclaimed a hearty voice from the rear of the court-room.
I thought I recognized the tones, and turned hastily. There beside my sister Kate stood my uncle, Enos Moss, of whom I have already spoken.
He was a grizzly bearded sea-captain of seventy, with manner and speech suggestive of the brine.
Breaking from Parsons and Booth, I ran to meet him. He shook both my hands and then clapped me on the shoulder.
"Cast up on a lee shore, are you, Roger?" he exclaimed. "And the wind a-blowing a hurricane."
"Yes, I am," I replied, "and I'm mighty glad you've come, Uncle Enos."
"Just dropped anchor in time," he went on. "Judge Penfold, do you remember me?"
"You are Carson Strong's brother-in-law, I believe?" replied the judge.
"You've hit it. Captain Enos Moss, part owner and sailing master of the Hattie Baker, as trim a craft as ever rounded the Horn. Been away for three years, and now on shore to stay."
"You're not going on any more voyages?" I queried.
"No, my hearty. I've made enough to keep me, and I'm getting too old to walk the quarter-deck. Besides, I've heard of your father's troubles from Kate, and I reckon they need sounding."
"Indeed they do."
"Well, now about your difficulty. A thousand-dollar bond, eh. It's pretty stiff, but I guess I can stand it."
"Thank you, sir," was all I could say.
"Don't say a word. Didn't your father put in a good word for me when I was a-courting your aunt that's dead and gone— God bless her! Indeed, he did! And I'll stand by you, Roger, no matter how hard the gale blows."
"Then you don't think I'm guilty?"
"What! a lad with your bearing a thief? Not much. The people in this village must be asleep— not to know better'n that?"
"Ahem!" coughed Judge Penfold, sternly. He considered my uncle's remarks decidedly impertinent. "Are you able to go his bail?" he asked.
"Reckon I am. I've just deposited ten thousand dollars in the bank here, and I've got twenty and more in New York. How will you have it— in cash?"
"A conditional check, certified, will do," replied Judge Penfold, shortly.
What he meant had to be explained, and then we all went to the banker's office. My uncle's account was found to be as he had stated, and about ten minutes later my bond was signed and I was at liberty to go where I pleased until called upon to appear.
Mr. Aaron Woodward and John Stumpy apparently did not relish the turn affairs had taken. But I paid no attention to them, and the business over, I hurried off with my sister and my newly arrived uncle.
"Did you find the statement?" I asked of Kate, as soon as we were out of hearing of the crowd.
"No, Roger, I looked and looked, but it wasn't anywhere, either at the tool house or on the way to Judge Penfold's."
"Have you heard from Mrs. Canby yet?"
"Yes, she is coming home."
"Does she blame me for what has happened?"
"She doesn't say."
"Never mind, Roger. We'll stick up for you," put in Uncle Enos, kindly.
I was considerably disturbed. What if Mrs. Canby should consider me at fault?
As we drew near to the cottage, I saw a lady standing by the gate, watching our approach. It was the Widow Canby.
A SUDDEN RESOLVE
My heart beat rapidly as I walked up to the gate. How would the good lady who had done so much for Kate and myself receive me?
An unkind word or an unfavorable insinuation from her would have hurt me worse than a thousand from any one else. She had been so generous that to have her turn would have made me feel as if I had lost my last friend on earth.
But as she had taken me in before when others had cast me out, so she now proved the friend in need.
"So they've thought better of it and set you free, Roger?" she said as I hurried up.
"Yes, Mrs. Canby," I returned. "I hope— I hope—" I began, and then came to a full stop.
"What?" and she caught my hand.
"I hope you don't think I had anything to do with the robbery," I stammered.
"No, Roger, I don't. I think you're an honest boy, and I've got to have more proof against you than I've heard yet before I'll believe otherwise."
"Thank you, ma'am, oh, thank you!" I blurted out, and the tears started to my eyes and rolled down my cheeks.
The events of which I am writing occurred several years ago, but I am not ashamed of those tears. They were the outcome of long-pent-up feelings, and I could not hold them back. My sister cried, too, and the Widow Canby and Uncle Enos looked very much as if they wished to join in.
"I knew you wouldn't think Roger did it," cried Kate. "I said all along you wouldn't, though everybody said you would."
"Folks don't appear to know me very well," returned Widow Canby, with a bit of grim humor in her tone. "I don't always think as others do. Come into the house and give me full particulars. Who is this man? Why, really! Captain Moss, I believe?"
"Yes, ma'am, Captain Moss— Roger's uncle, at your service," replied he, taking off his cap and bowing low. "I thought you'd remember me. Your husband as was once sailed to Boston with me."
"Oh, yes, I remember you. Will you come in?"
"Thank you, reckon I will. I have no home now, and hotels is scarce in Darbyville. I only arrived this noon, and I've been with Kate ever since. I must hunt up a boarding-house to stay at. Do you know of any close at hand?"
"Perhaps I do. Let us talk of that later on. I want to hear Roger's story first."
"Just as you say, ma'am. Only I must get a place to stop at to-night."
"You shall be provided for, Captain Moss. I have a spare room."
"You are very kind to an old sea-dog like myself, Mrs. Canby," said Uncle Enos.
The widow led the way into the dining room. The lamp was already lighted, and while my sister Kate busied herself with preparing supper, Mrs. Canby and my uncle sat down to listen to my story.
For the first time I told it with all the details that concerned myself,— how I had been waylaid by the Models, how Dick Blair had released me, what Stumpy had done at the tool house, and all, not forgetting about the statement Kate and I wished so much to find.
The Widow Canby and my uncle listened with close attention until I had finished.
"It's a strange story, Roger," said the widow, at its conclusion. "One hard to believe. But I know you tell the truth."
"What a rascal this Woodward must be!" broke in my uncle "He's a far greater villain in his way than this John Stumpy. I am strongly inclined to figure that you're right, and he is the one that ran your father up on a lee shore."
"I don't think father did a single thing that was wrong— that is, knowingly," I returned. "If he did do wrong, I'm sure Mr. Woodward made it appear as if it was all right."
"No doubt, no doubt. If you could only get to the bottom of this Weaver's statement."
"And when is this trial to come off?" put in Mrs. Canby. "Really I don't see what good it will do me if this man has lost the money."
"I'd like to find that, too," I returned.
Presently Kate announced that supper was ready, and we all sat down. The widow said that she had found her sister much better, and on receiving Kate's letter had started for her home at once. The loss of the money did not disturb her as much as I had anticipated, and as every one was hungry, the meal passed off tolerably well.
When we had nearly finished there was a knock on the door, and Kate admitted Mr. Woodward's errand boy. He had a note for me. It contained but a single sentence:—
"Please call at my house this evening about nine o'clock."
I read the note over with interest, and then informed the others of what it contained.
"Shall you go?" asked Kate, anxiously.
"I suppose I might."
"Maybe it's a plot," suggested the widow.
"Might waylay you," added Uncle Enos. "A man like him is liable to do 'most anything."
"I don't think he would dare do me any bodily injury," I replied. "He would know I had told some one where I was going, and that my absence would be noticed."
"If you go, take me in tow," said my uncle. "I needn't go in with you, but I can hang around outside, and if anything goes wrong, all you've got to do is to holler like all creation, and I'll come to the rescue."
"Oh, if Roger runs any risk, I'd rather he wouldn't go," exclaimed Kate, in alarm.
"I don't think the risk is very great," I returned. "Besides, I may find the missing statement. That is worth trying for."
"I shall be in dread until you return," she replied, with a grave shake of her head.
"When will you start?" asked Uncle Enos.
"About half past eight. It won't take over half an hour to reach his house."
We continued to discuss Mr. Woodward for some time, and also the action of the Models and what I should do on their score. My Uncle Enos was for prosecuting them, but the Widow Canby said that the future would bring its own punishment, and on this we rested.
"And now about my board," began Uncle Enos, during a dull in the conversation. "I must find a boarding-house for after to-night."
"Wouldn't you like to stay with the children?" asked Mrs. Canby.
"Yes, ma'am; indeed I would. To tell the truth, it's my intention sooner or later to offer them a home with me."
"I should hate to have them leave me," returned the widow, quickly.
"I suppose so."
"How would you like to board with me? As I have said, there is lots of room, and you have just eaten a sample meal. We do not live in style— but—"
"Plenty good enough style," interrupted Captain Enos, "and better grub then we had on the Hattie Baker, I'll be bound. I'd like it first rate here if the terms wasn't too high."
"What do you think fair?"
"I'm sure I don't know, ma'am. I haven't paid a week's board in three years."
"Would five dollars a week be too much?"
"No, ma'am. Are you sure it's enough? I don't want to crowd your hospitality."
"I'd be satisfied with five dollars. Of course boarders are out of my line, but there are exceptions to all cases. Besides, I'll feel safer with another man about the house. No reflection on you, Roger, but you won't always be here together."
"No, ma'am," replied my uncle. "I must visit my brother-in-law at the prison— that will take several days."
"Will you take me with you?" asked Kate, eagerly.
"Certainly, and you, too, Roger, if you want to go."
"I would like to very much," was my reply. "But I want to ask even a bigger favor than that, Uncle Enos."
"Yes, sir. You may think it a good deal, but you've been so kind, and I haven't any one else to go to."
"Well, what is it, my boy? I'll do it if I can."
"Lend me about fifty dollars."
My Uncle Enos raised his eyebrows in surprise.
"Fifty dollars?" he repeated.
"Yes, sir. That is, if you can spare it. I'll promise to pay it back some day."
"And what do you intend to do with it?"
"I want to go to Chicago, sir."
All three of my listeners repeated the words in chorus; then Captain Enos continued:—
"And what are you going to do there?"
"I want to hunt up this Holtzmann, and find out what he knows about my father's affairs. I'm satisfied that he is as deep in it as Mr. Woodward or John Stumpy, and if I can only by some means get him to tell what he knows, I may accomplish a good deal."
My Uncle Enos put his hand upon my shoulder; "Well, Roger, you're a brave boy, and I'll trust you. You shall have fifty dollars, and a hundred, if you want it, to do as you think best. Only don't get into trouble."
"Thank you Uncle Enos, thank you!" I cried heartily. "Some day I'll pay you back."
"I don't want it back, my lad. If you can catch any proofs that will help clear your father, I shall be more than satisfied."
"And when shall you go?" asked Kate.
"I don't know. It will depend on my interview with Mr. Woodward and also on what John Stumpy does. Not inside of several days, at least. Besides, we want to see father first, you know."
"We can go to Trenton tomorrow," said Uncle Enos. At Trenton was located the State prison. After consulting a time table printed in the Darbyville Record, we found we could catch a train for that city at 8.25 from Newville the next morning, and this we decided to take.
Having settled this matter, we returned again to the discussion of the incidents surrounding the robbery, and what would probably be the next movements of those fighting against me. Uncle Enos grew greatly interested, and said he knew a lawyer in New York who might secure some good private detective who could take the case in hand.
Finally it came half past eight, and putting on my hat, I started for Mr. Woodward's residence.
IN MR. WOODWARD'S LIBRARY
Though outwardly calm, I was considerably agitated as I walked to Darbyville. Why the merchant had sent for me I could not surmise. Of course it was on account of the robbery, but so far as I knew both of us had taken a separate stand, and neither would turn back. I thought it barely possible that he wished to intimidate me into receding from my position. He was as much of a bully in his way as Duncan, and would not hesitate to use every means in his power to bring me to terms.
Arriving at Mr. Woodward's house, I ascended the steps and rang the bell.
"Is Mr. Woodward in?" I asked of the girl who answered the summons.
"I'll see, sir," she replied. "Who shall I say it is?"
The girl left me standing in the hall. While waiting for her return I could not help but remember the old lines:—
" 'Will you walk into my parlor?' Said the spider to the fly."
But if I was walking into the spider's parlor, it would be my own fault if I got hurt, for I was entering with my eyes open. I determined to be on my guard, and take nothing for granted.
"Mr. Woodward will be pleased to see you in his library," said the girl upon her return, and then, having indicated the door, she vanished down the back hall.
As I put my hand upon the door-knob, I heard steps upon the stairs, and looking up saw Duncan Woodward descending.
His face was still swollen from the punishment I had inflicted upon him. Nevertheless, he was faultlessly dressed in full evening costume, and I rightly conjectured he was going to spend the night in some fashionable dissipation such as dancing or card-playing.
"Hello! how did you get in here?" he exclaimed.
"Was let in," was my mild reply, not caring to pick a quarrel with him.
"Was, eh? And what for, I'd like to know?"
"That's your father's business, Duncan."
"Don't Duncan me any more, Roger Strong. What's my father's business?"
"What I came for. He sent for me."
"Oh, he did. Reckon he's going to square accounts with you."
"I don't know what accounts he's going to square," I went on in curiosity.
"Didn't you as much as try to intimate he was lying— down in Judge Penfold's court this afternoon?"
"I only told what I knew to be the truth," I replied calmly.
"The truth. Humph! I believe you took the widow's money yourself."
"Take care what you're saying," I replied angrily. "I don't propose to stand any such talk from you."
Duncan grew speechless. "Why, you— you—" he began.
"Hold up now before you say something that you'll be sorry for. This is your house, but you have no right to insult me in it."
"Quite right, Strong, quite right." The library door had opened, and Mr. Woodward stood upon the threshold, gazing sharply at his son. "Strong is here upon my invitation, Duncan; you ought to treat him with more politeness," he added.
If Duncan was amazed at this speech, so was I. The merchant taking my part? What did it mean?
"Why, I— I—" began Duncan, but he could really get no further.
"No explanation is necessary," interrupted his father, coolly.
"Strong, please step in, will you?"
"Yes, sir," and I suited the action to the word.
As I did so Duncan passed on to the front door.
"I'll get even with you yet, you cad!" he muttered under his breath; but I paid no attention to his words. I had "bigger fish to fry."
Once inside of Mr. Woodward's library, the merchant closed the door behind me and then invited me to take a seat beside his desk, at the same time throwing himself back in his easy chair.
"I suppose you thought it rather singular that I should send for you," he said by way of an opening.
"Yes, sir, I did," was all I could reply.
"I thought as much. It was only an impulse of mine, sir, only an impulse. I wished to see if we cannot arrange this— this little difficulty without publicity. I would rather lose a good deal, yes, sir, a good deal, than have my name dragged into court."
"All I ask is for justice," I replied calmly. "I am under arrest for a crime of which I am innocent. On the other hand, you are trying to shield a man I know is guilty."
I expected a storm of indignation from Mr. Woodward because of the last remark. Yet he showed no sign of resentment.
"Don't you think you might be mistaken in your identification of Mr. Stumpy?" he replied, and I noticed that again he nearly stumbled in pronouncing the tramp's name.
"No, sir," I replied promptly.
"Remember that you saw him only by lantern light, and then but for a few minutes."
"I saw him by daylight as well."
"In the morning. He came as a beggar."
"A beggar? Impossible!" The merchant held, up his hands in assumed amazement. "Why, Strong, the idea of Mr. Stumpy begging is ridiculous."
"Just the same it is true, Mr. Woodward. And what is more, he is the thief, and you know it."
"That's a strong assertion to make, sir, a very strong assertion."
"Nevertheless, I believe I can prove my words."
Mr. Woodward turned slightly pale.
"You can prove no such thing," he cried.
"Yes, I can. Didn't Stumpy admit he had taken the money?"
"This afternoon while you were at Decker's place."
Had I slapped the merchant in the face he would not have been more surprised. He sprang to his feet and glared at me.
"You— you— Who says he made such an admission?"
"I say so."
"Ah! I see, you were spying on us. You rascal!"
"It strikes me that you are the rascal," I returned. "You try deliberately to shield a thief."
"Yes, it's true."
"Can you prove it?"
Mr. Woodward asked the question sneeringly, but there was much of curiosity in his tones.
"Perhaps I can."
The merchant pulled his mustache nervously.
"Strong, you are greatly mistaken. But don't let us quarrel any more."
"I don't want to quarrel."
"I feel badly over the whole affair, and Mr. Stumpy is fairly sick. I suppose you think you are right, but you are mistaken. Now I have a proposition to make to you." Mr. Woodward leaned forward in his chair. "Suppose you admit that you are mistaken— that Mr. Stumpy is not the man? Do this, and I will not prosecute you for having taken my papers."
I was surprised and indignant; surprised that Mr. Woodward should still insist upon my having taken his papers, and indignant because of his outrageous offer.
"Mr. Woodward," I began firmly, "you can prosecute me or not; Stumpy is the guilty man, and I shall always stick to it."
"Then you will go to jail, too."
"For the last time let me say I have not seen your papers."
"It is false. You took them from this room last night. At the very time you pretend you were after the robber at Mrs. Canby's house you were here ransacking my desk."
"There is no use in denying it. I have abundant proofs. The girl who cleaned up here this morning found a handkerchief with your name on it lying on the floor. If you weren't here, how did that come here?"
"Yes, sir, your handkerchief; and Mary O'Brien can identify it and tell where she found it."
"Some one else must have had it," I stammered, and then suddenly: "I know who the party is— Duncan."
"Yes, sir. He took that handkerchief away from me when the Models waylaid me!"
"My son! Really, Strong, you are mad! But I will take you in hand, sir; yes, indeed, I will."
"No, you won't, Aaron Woodward!" I cried, for once letting my temper get the better of me. "You are awfully cunning, but I am not afraid of you. I am willing to have all these matters sifted to the bottom, and the sooner the better. What papers have you missed? Were they the ones that Holtzmann of Chicago is after? How is it that my father is in prison while you live in style on money you never earned? Who is the relative that left it to you? Did you ever make a clear statement concerning the transactions that took away my father's honest name?"
"I will not stop! You want an investigation; so do I. Luckily my uncle, Captain Enos Moss, has just returned from a voyage. He has quite some money, and I know he will use it to bring the guilty parties to justice. And then—"
I did not finish. Mr. Woodward had strode over to the door and locked it, putting the key in his pocket.
"You know too much, Strong," he muttered between his set teeth, as he caught me by the collar; "too much entirely. We must come to a settlement before you leave this room."
A CLEVER RUSE
I must confess I was frightened when Mr. Woodward locked the door of his library and caught me by the collar. Was it possible that he contemplated doing me physical harm? It looked that way.
I was not accustomed to such rough treatment, and I resented it instantly. I was not very large for my age, but I was strong, and ducking my head I wrenched myself free from his grasp and sprang to the other side of the small table that stood in the centre of the room.
"What do you mean by treating me in this manner!" I cried. "Unlock that door at once!"
"Not much, sir," replied Mr. Woodward, vehemently. "You've made some remarkable statements, young man, and I demand a clear explanation before you leave."
"Well, you demand too much, Aaron Woodward," I replied firmly. "Unlock that door."
"Not just yet. I want to know what you know of Holtzmann of Chicago?"
"You won't learn by treating me in this manner," was my determined reply. "Unlock that door, or, take my word for it, I'll arouse the whole neighborhood."
"You'll do nothing of the kind, young man," he rejoined.
"Make the least disturbance and you shall pay dearly for it. Understand, sir, I'm not to be trifled with."
"And I'm not to be frightened into submission," I returned with spirit. "I have a right to leave when I please and I shall do so."
"Not till I am ready," said he, coolly.
I was nonplussed and alarmed— nonplussed over the question of how to get away, and alarmed at the thought of what might happen if I was compelled to remain.
I began to understand Mr. Aaron Woodward's true character. Like Duncan, he was not only a bully, but also a brute. Words having failed, he was now evidently going to see what physical force could accomplish.
"Forewarned is forearmed" is an old saying, and now I applied it to myself. In other words, I prepared for an encounter. On the centre table lay a photograph album. It was thick and heavy and capable of proving quite a formidable article of defence. I picked it up, and stepping behind a large easy chair, stood on my guard.
Seeing the action, the merchant paused.
"What are going to do with that?" he asked.
"You'll see if you keep on," I replied. "I don't intend to stand this much longer. You had better open the door."
"You think you're a brainy boy, Strong," he sneered.
"I've got too much brain to let you ride over me."
"You think you have a case against me and Mr. Stumpy, and you intend to drag it into court and make a great fuss over it," he went on.
"I'm going to get back my father's honest name."
"What you mean is that you intend to drag my name in the mire," he stormed.
"You can have it so, if you please."
"I shall not allow it. You, a young upstart!"
"Take care, Mr. Woodward!"
"Do you think I will submit to it?" He glared at me and threw a hasty glance around the room. "Not much!"
Suddenly he stepped to the windows and pulled down the shades. Then he took out his watch and looked at the time. I wondered what he was up to now. I was not long in finding out.
"Listen to me," he said in a low, intense tone, "We are alone in this house— you and I— and will be for half an hour or more. You are in my power. What will you do? Give up all the papers you possess and promise to keep silent about what you know or take the consequences."
It would be telling an untruth to say I was not thoroughly startled by the merchant's sudden change of manner. He was about to assault me, that was plain to see, and he wished me to understand that no one was near either to assist me or to bear witness against his dark doings.
I must fight my own battles, not only in a war of words, but also in a war of blows. I was not afraid after the first shock was over. My cause was a just one, and I would stand by it, no matter what the consequences might be.
"I don't fear you, Aaron Woodward," I replied, as steadily as I could. "I am in the right and shall stick up for it, no matter what comes."
"You defy me?" he cried in a rage.
"Yes, I do."
I had hardly uttered the words before he caught up a heavy cane standing beside his desk and made for me. There was a wicked determination in his eyes, and I could see that all the evil passions within him were aroused.
"We'll see who is master here," he went on.
"Stand back!" I cried. "Don't come a step nearer! If you do, you'll be sorry for it!"
He paid no attention to my warning, but kept on advancing, raising the cane over his head as he did so.
When he was within three feet of me he aimed a blow at my head. Had he hit me, I am certain he would have cracked my skull open.
But I was too quick for him, I dodged, and the cane struck the back of the chair.
Before he could recover from his onslaught I hurled the album at him with all force. It struck him full in the face, and must have loosened several of his teeth, for he put his hand up to his mouth as he reeled over backward.
I was not astonished. I had accomplished just what I had set out to do. My one thought now was to make my escape. How was it to be done?
The key to the door was in the merchant's pocket, and this I could, not obtain. The windows were closed, and the blinds drawn down.
I had but an instant to think. Spluttering to himself, my assailant was endeavoring to rise to his feet.
A hasty glance around the room revealed a door partly hidden by a curtain next the mantelpiece. Where it led to I did not know, but concluding that any place would be better than to remain in the library, I tried the door, found it open, and slipped out.
"Stop, stop!" roared Mr. Woodward. "Stop, this instant!"
But I did not stop. I found myself in the dining room, and at once put the long table between us.
"Don't you come any nearer," I called out sharply. "If you do, it may be at the cost of your life."
As I spoke I picked up a fancy silver knife that lay on the table. It had a rough resemblance to a pocket pistol, and gave me the idea of palming it off as such.
"Would you shoot me?" cried the merchant, in sudden terror, as he saw what he supposed was the barrel of a revolver pointed at his head.
"Why shouldn't I?" was the reply. "You have no right to detain me."
"I don't want to detain you. I only want to come to a settlement," he returned lamely.
"And I want nothing more to do with you. I'll give you one minute to show me the way to the front door."
"Yes, but, Strong—"
"No more talk, if you please. Do you intend to show me the way out, or shall I fire?"
Then Mr. Aaron Woodward showed what a coward he really was. He gave a cry of horror and sank completely out of sight.
"Don't shoot, Strong. I pray you, take care. I'll show you the way out, indeed I will!"
"Well, hurry about it. I don't intend to stand any more nonsense."
"Here, this way. Please stop pointing that pistol at me; it might go off, you know."
"Then the sooner you show me the way out, the better for you," I returned coolly, inwardly amused at his sudden change of manner
"This way, then. I— I trust you will keep this— this little meeting of ours a secret."
"Why should I?"
"Because it— it would do no good to have it made public."
"I'll see about it," was my reply.
By this time we had reached the front door, and with unwilling hands the merchant opened it.
"Now stand aside and let me pass," I commanded.
"I will. But, Strong—"
"No more words are needed," I returned. "I have had enough of you, Mr. Aaron Woodward. The next time you hear from me it will be in quite a different shape."
"What do you mean?" he cried, in sudden alarm.
"You will find out soon enough. In the meantime let me return your fancy knife. I have no further use for it."
I tossed the article over. He looked at it and then at me. Clearly he was mad enough to "chew me up." Bidding him a mocking good night, I ran down the steps and hurried away.
AT THE PRISON
Mr. Woodward's actions had aroused me as I had never been aroused before. My eyes were wide open at last. I realized that if I ever expected to gain our family rights I must fight for them— and fight unflinchingly to the bitter end.
It was nearly ten o'clock when I reached the Widow Canby's house. I met my Uncle Enos on the porch. He had grown impatient, and was about to start for Darbyville in search of me.
In the dining room I told my story. All laughed heartily at the ruse I had played upon the merchant, but were indignant at the treatment I had received.
"Wish I'd been with you," remarked my uncle, with a vigorous shake of his head. "I'd a-smashed in his figurehead, keelhaul me if I wouldn't!"
"What do you intend to do now?" asked Kate.
"Let's see; to-day is Friday. If you will take us to Trenton to-morrow, Uncle Enos, I'll start for Chicago on Monday."
"Don't you think you had better have this Woodward arrested first?" asked Captain Enos.
"No; I would rather let him think that for the present I had dropped the whole matter. It may throw him off his guard and enable me to pick up more clews against him."
"That's an idea. Roger, you've got a level head on your shoulders, and we can't do any better than follow your advice," returned my uncle.
I did but little sleeping that night. For a long time I lay awake thinking over my future actions. Then when I did fall into a doze my rest was broken by dreams of the fire at the tool house and Mr. Woodward's attack.
I was up at five o'clock in the morning, attending to the regular chores. I did not know who would do them during my absence, and as soon as the widow appeared I spoke to her on the subject.
"Your uncle mentioned the matter last night," said Mrs. Canby. "He said he would do all that was required until you came back. He doesn't want to remain idle all day, and thought the work would just suit him."
This was kind of Uncle Enos, and I told him so when an hour later he appeared, dressed in his best, his trunk having arrived the evening before.
"Yes, Roger, I'd rather do it than sit twirling my thumbs, a-waiting for you to come back," said he. "I used to do such work years ago, before I shipped on the Anna Siegel, and to do it again will make me feel like a boy once more. But come; let's go to mess and then hoist anchor and away."
A few minutes later we were at breakfast. Then I put on my good clothes and brought around the horse and carriage, for the Widow Canby insisted upon driving us down to Newville by way of Darbyville just to show folks, as she said, that she had not lost confidence in me.
Kate was in a flutter of excitement. She had wished to see my father every day since he had been taken away. As for myself, I was fully as impatient. My father was very dear to me, and every time I thought of him I prayed that God would place it within my power to clear his name from the stain that now rested upon him.
We reached the station in Newville five minutes before train time. My uncle procured our tickets and also checked the basket of delicacies the Widow Canby had prepared.
"Remember me to Mr. Strong," said the widow, as we boarded the train. "Tell him I don't believe he's guilty, and perhaps other people in Darbyville won't think so either before long."
A moment later and we were off. Kate and Uncle Enos occupied one seat, and I sat directly behind them. A ride of an hour followed, and finally, after crossing a number of other railroads, we rolled into a brick station, and the conductor sang out:—
It was eleven o'clock when we crossed the wooden foot-bridge of the station and emerged upon the street.
"We'll go to the prison at once," said my uncle. "Perhaps it isn't 'visiting day,' as they call it, but I reckon I can fix it. Sailors on shore have special privileges," he added with a laugh.
"Which way is it?" asked Kate.
"I don't know. We'll take a carriage and trust to the driver."
He called a coach, and soon we were rolling off.
Finally the coach stopped, and the driver sprang from his box.
"Here you are, sir," he said, as he opened the door.
I looked up at the big stone buildings before us. My father was behind those walls. I glanced at Kate. The poor girl was in tears.
"You had better stay on board here till I go in and take soundings," said Captain Enos. "I won't be gone long."
Jumping to the pavement, he walked up to the big open door and entered.
"What a dreadful place!" said my sister, as she strained her eyes to catch sight of some prisoner.
My uncle was gone not over ten minutes, yet the wait seemed an age. He returned with a brightened face.
"I had hard work to get permission, but we are to have half an hour's talk with your father under the supervision of a deputy," he explained.
In another moment we were inside. We walked along a wide corridor and into an office, and then a short, stout man, Mr. Carr, the deputy, joined us.
"This way, please," he said, and gave a kindly glance at Kate and myself. "You will have to leave the basket here. I will see that it reaches the— the— your father."
He led the way. How my heart beat! Why, I cannot tell.
"I'll go in first," said my Uncle Enos.
We entered a room. In a moment the deputy brought in a man dressed in striped clothing, and with his hair cut close. It was my father.
My uncle and I rushed forward. But we were too late. With a cry Kate was in his arms. It was a great moment all around.
"My children! My Katie and my Roger!" was all my father could say, but the words went straight home.
"I am heartily glad that you are back," he said then to my uncle. "You will look after them, Enos, until I am free."
"Indeed I will," replied Captain Enos, heartily. "But you must listen to Roger. He has a long story to tell."
"Then tell it. I am dying to hear news from home." We sat down, and I told my story. Perhaps the deputy ought not to have allowed me to say all I did, but he pretended not to hear.
My father listened with keen attention to every word, and as I went on, his eyes grew brighter and brighter.
"Roger, my faithful boy, you almost make me hope for freedom," he cried. "Oh, how I long to be set right before the world!"
"God make it so," put in my uncle, solemnly. "To suffer unjustly is terrible."
Then I told of my interview with Mr. Woodward in his library and of Holtzmann.
"Holtzmann was one of the principal witnesses against me," said my father. "So was Nicholas Weaver, who managed the Brooklyn business for Holland & Mack. Who John Stumpy can be I do not know. Perhaps I would if I saw him face to face. There was another man— he was quite bald, with a red blotch on the front of his hand— who was brought forward by Woodward to prove that he had nothing to do with the presentation of the forged checks and notes, but what his name was I have forgotten."
"This can't be the man, for he has a heavy head of hair," I replied. "But I am sure Stumpy is not his true name."
"Probably not. Well, Roger, do your best, not only for me but for Katie's sake and your own."
Then the conversation became general, and all too soon the half hour was at an end. My father sent his regards to Mrs. Canby, with many thanks for the basket of delicacies, and then with a kiss for Kate and a shake of the hand to Uncle Enos and me, we parted.
Little was said on the way back. No one cared to go to a restaurant, and we took the first train homeward.
It was dark when we reached Newville. The Widow Canby's carriage was at the depot waiting for us.
"Suppose I get my ticket for Chicago now," said I. "It will save time Monday, and I can find out all about the train."
"A good idea," returned my uncle. "I'll go with you."
So while Kate joined Mrs. Canby we entered the depot.
The ticket was soon in my possession, and then I asked the ticket seller a number of questions concerning the route and the time I would reach my destination.
Suddenly instinct prompted me to turn quickly. I did so and found John Stumpy at my shoulder.
A MIDNIGHT ADVENTURE
Mr. John Stumpy had evidently been watching my proceedings closely, for when I turned to him he was quite startled. However, it did not take him long to recover, and then, bracing up, he hurried away without a word.
He was now neatly dressed and had had his face shaved. I conjectured that Mr. Woodward had advised this change in order to more fully carry out the deception in relation to the tramp's real character.
"There's that Stumpy," I whispered to Captain Enos, as I pointed my finger at the man. "He has been watching us."