"How do you know?" asked my uncle.
"Because he was just looking over my shoulder," I replied. "Shall I speak to him? I'd like to know what he intends to do next."
"It won't do any good. It ain't likely he'd tell you anything, and if he did, it wouldn't be the truth."
"Maybe it might."
"Well, do as you think best, Roger, only don't be too long— the widow and Kate are waiting, you know."
Pushing through the crowd, I tapped Stumpy on the shoulder. He looked around in assumed surprise.
"Hullo!" he exclaimed sharply. "What do you want?"
"Nothing much," I returned. "I just saw you were greatly interested in what I was doing."
"Why, I didn't see you before."
"You were just looking over my shoulder."
"You're mistaken, young man, just as you are in several other things."
"I'm not mistaken in several other things."
"What do you intend to do?" he asked curiously.
"That's my business."
"Where have you been?"
"That is my business also."
"Strong, you're a fool," he whispered. "Do you think you can hurt men like Mr. Woodward and myself?"
"I can bring you to justice."
"Bah! I suppose you think you can do wonders by going to Chicago."
"How do you know I am going to Chicago?" I questioned quickly.
Stumpy's face fell, as he realized the slip he had made.
"Never mind. But you won't gain anything," he went on. "Better stay home and save your money."
And to avoid further talk he pushed his way through the crowd and was lost to sight.
A moment later I joined the others in the carriage. While driving home I related the conversation recorded above.
"It's too bad he found out you were going to Chicago," said my uncle. "He may try to stop you."
"I'll keep my eyes open," I replied.
The remainder of the day was spent in active work around the widow's place. Not only did I labor all the afternoon, but far into the evening as well, to show that I did not intend to shirk my duty even though I was going away. Besides, Mrs. Canby had treated me so well that I was almost willing to work my fingers to the bone to serve her.
The following day was Sunday. Kate and I were in the habit of attending church and Sunday-school over in Darbyville, but we shrank from doing so now. But Uncle Enos and I went to church, and despite the many curious eyes levelled at me, I managed to give attention to an excellent sermon. I noticed that the Woodward pew was empty, but then this was of common occurrence and excited no comment.
On Sunday evening my handbag stood in my room packed, ready for my departure. Dick Blair came over to see me and brought strange and sad news.
Duncan Woodward and Pultzer, his intimate crony, had gotten into a row in a pool room down in Newville and were both under arrest. Mr. Woodward and Mr. Pultzer had gone off to get their sons out of jail. Dick did not know how the row had started, but had heard that the young men had been drinking heavily.
I was much shocked at the news, and so were the others. If affairs kept on like this, Mr. Aaron Woodward would certainly have his hands full.
I retired early so as to be on hand the next day. Sleep was out of the question. I had never been a hundred miles away from Darbyville, and the prospect of leaving filled me with excitement.
I was up long before it was necessary, but found Kate ahead of me.
"You're going to have a good, hot breakfast before you go," she said. "Sit right down. It's all ready."
Presently, as I was eating, my uncle and Mrs. Canby joined me. They were full of advice as to what to do and what to avoid, and I listened to all they had to say attentively.
But all things must come to an end, and at length breakfast was over. My Uncle Enos and Kate drove me to Newville, and waited till the train rolled in.
"Good-by, Roger," said Kate. "Please, please, now do keep out of trouble."
"I will, Kate," I returned, and kissed her. Then I shook hands with my uncle.
"Keep a clear weather eye and a strong hand at the wheel, Roger, my boy," he said, "and you'll make port all safe."
"I'll try, Uncle Enos."
A moment more and I was on the cars. Then with an "All aboard" the conductor gave the signal, and the train moved off.
I passed into the car and took a vacant seat near the centre. I had hardly sat down before a well-dressed stranger took the seat beside me.
"Hot day," said he, after he had arranged his bag on the floor beside my own.
"Yes, it is," I replied, "and dry, too."
"Meanest part of the country I've struck yet," he went on. "Don't have any such climate as this out West."
"I should think that would depend on where you come from," I returned, with a short laugh.
"I hail from Chicago. It's hot there, but we get plenty of breeze from the lakes."
I looked at the man with some attention. He came from the city I intended to visit, and perhaps he might give me some information.
He was a burly man of middle age, and, as I have said, well dressed, though a trifle loud. His hair was black, as was also his mustache, which he continually kept smoothing down with one hand. I did not like his looks particularly, nor his tone of voice. They reminded me strongly of some one, but whom I could not remember.
"You come from Chicago," I said. "I am going there."
"Is that so? Then we can travel together. I like to have some one going along, don't you?"
I felt like saying that that would depend on who the some one was, but thinking this would hardly be polite, I returned:—
"I don't know. I've never travelled before."
"No? Well, it's fun at first, but you soon get tired of it. My name is Allen Price; what is yours?"
"Glad to meet you." He extended his hand. "You're rather young to be travelling alone— that is, going a distance. Do you smoke? We'll go into the smoker and take it easy. I have some prime cigars."
"Thank you, I don't smoke."
"That's too bad. Nothing like a good cigar to quiet a man's nerves when he's riding. So you're going to Chicago? On a visit?"
"No, sir; on business."
"Yes? Rather young for business— excuse me for saying so."
"It is a personal business."
"Oh, I see. Going to claim a dead uncle's property or something like that, I suppose. Ha! ha! well, I wish you luck."
Mr. Allen Price rattled on in this fashion for some time, and at length I grew interested in the man in spite of myself. I was positive I had seen him before, but where I could not tell. I asked him if he had ever been to Darbyville.
"Never heard of the place," he replied. "Only been in Jersey a month, and that time was spent principally in Jersey City and Camden. I'm in the pottery business. Our principal office is in Chicago."
"Do you know much about that city?"
"Lived there all my life."
I was on the point of asking him about Holtzmann, but on second thought decided to remain silent.
On and on sped the train, making but few stops. There was a dining-car attached but I was travelling on a cheap scale, and made my dinner and supper from the generous lunch the widow had provided.
Mr. Price went to the dining-car and also the smoker. He returned about nine o'clock in the evening, just as I was falling into a light doze.
"Thought I'd get a sleeper," he explained. "But they are all full, so I'll have to snooze beside you here."
His breath smelt strongly of liquor, but I had no right to object, and he dropped heavily into the seat.
Presently I went sound asleep. How long I slept I do not know. When I awoke it was with a sharp, stinging sensation in the head. A pungent odor filled my nose, the scent coming from a handkerchief some one had thrown over my face.
With a gasp I pulled the handkerchief aside and sat up. Beside me sat Mr. Allen Price with my handbag on his lap. He had a number of keys in his hand and was trying to unlock the bag.
I was startled and indignant when I discovered Mr. Allen Price with my handbag, trying to open it. It looked very much as if my fellow-passenger was endeavoring to rob me.
I had suspected from the start that this man was not "straight." There was that peculiar something about his manner which I did not like. He had been altogether too familiar from the first; too willing to make himself agreeable.
What he expected to find in my bag I could not imagine. If his mission was robbery pure and simple, why had he not selected some one who looked richer than myself? There was, I am certain, nothing about me to make him believe I had anything of great value in the bag.
"What are you doing with my valise?" I demanded as I straightened up.
My sudden question made the man almost jump to his feet. The bag dropped from his lap to the floor, and the keys in his hand jingled after it.
"I— I— didn't think you were awake," he stammered.
"You didn't?" I repeated, puzzled as to what to say.
"No— I— I—"
"You were trying to open my bag."
"So I was— but it's all a mistake, I assure you."
"Quite a mistake, Strong." He cleared his throat. "The fact is, I'm suffering so from the toothache that I'm hardly able to judge of what I'm doing. I thought your bag was my own."
"They are not much alike," I returned bluntly.
"Well, you see mine is a new one, and I'm not used to it yet. I hope you don't think I was trying to rob you?" he went on, with a look of reproach.
I was silent. I did think that that was just what he was trying to do, but I hardly cared to say so.
"It's awful to have such toothaches as I get," he continued, putting his hand to his cheek. "They come on me unawares, and drive me frantic. I wanted to get my teeth attended to in Jersey City when I was there, but I didn't have time."
"What's this on the handkerchief?" I asked.
"Oh, I guess I spilled some of my toothache cure on it," he replied, after some hesitation. "I used some and then put the bottle back in the valise. That's how I came to look for the bottle again. I hope you're not offended. It was all a mistake."
"It's all right if that's the case," I returned coolly.
Holding my valise on my lap, I settled back in the seat again, but not to sleep. The little adventure had aroused me thoroughly. Mr. Allen Price sat beside me for a few moments in silence.
"Guess I'll go into the smoker," he said finally, as he rose. "Maybe a cigar will help me," and taking up his handbag, he walked down the aisle.
In a dreamy way I meditated over what had occurred. I could not help but think that the handkerchief I had found spread over my face had been saturated with chloroform, and that my fellow-passenger had endeavored to put me in a sound sleep and then rifle my bag. Of course I might be mistaken, but still I was positive that Mr. Allen Price would bear watching.
About four o'clock in the morning the train came to a sudden stop. The jar was so pronounced that it woke nearly all of the passengers.
Thinking that possibly we had arrived at our destination, I raised the window and peered out.
Instead of being in the heart of a city, however, I soon discovered we were in a belt of timber land. Huge trees lined the road on both sides, and ahead I could hear the flowing of a mountain stream.
The train hands were out with their lanterns, and by their movements it was plain to see that something was up.
I waited in my seat for ten minutes or more, and then as a number of passengers left the car, I took up my bag and did the same.
A walk to the front of the train soon made known the cause of the delay. Over a small mountain stream a strong wooden bridge with iron frame had been built. Near the bridge grew a number of tall trees, and one of these had been washed loose by the water and overturned in such a manner that the largest branch blocked the progress of the locomotive. The strong headlight had revealed the state of affairs to the engineer, and he had stopped within five feet of the obstruction. Had he run on, it is impossible to calculate what amount of damage might have been done.
"Don't see what we are going to do, except to run back to Smalleyville," said the engineer, who was in consultation with the conductor.
"Can't we roll the tree out of the way?" asked the latter official.
The engineer shook his head.
"Too heavy. All the men on the train couldn't budge it."
They stood in silence for a moment.
"If you had a rope, you could make the engine haul it," I suggested to the fireman, who was a young fellow.
"A good idea," he exclaimed, and reported it to his superior.
"First-class plan; but we haven't got the rope," said the engineer.
"Have you got an axe?"
"Then why not chop it off?"
"That's so! Larry, bring the axes."
"It won't do any good," said one of the brakemen who had just come up. "The bridge has shifted."
An examination proved his assertion to be correct. As soon as this became known, a danger light was hung at either end of the structure, and then we started running backward to Smalleyville.
"How long will this delay us?" I asked of the conductor as he came through, explaining matters.
"I can't tell. Perhaps only a few hours, perhaps more. It depends on how soon the wrecking gang arrive on the spot. As soon as they get there, they will go right to work, and it won't take them long to fix matters up."
Smalleyville proved to be a small town of not over five hundred inhabitants. There was quite an excitement around the depot when the train came in, and despatches were sent in various directions.
Presently a shower came up, and this drove the passengers to the cars and the station. I got aboard the train at first to listen to what the train hands might have to say. I found one of the brakemen quite a friendly fellow, and willing to talk.
"This rain will make matters worse," said he. "That tree was leaning against the bridge for all it was worth, and if it loosens any more it will carry the thing away clean."
"Isn't there danger of trains coming from the other way?"
"Not now. We've telegraphed to Chicago, and no train will leave till everything is in running order."
"When does the next train arrive behind us?"
"At 9.30 this morning."
We chatted for quite a while. Then there was a commotion on the platform, and we found that part of the wrecking gang had arrived on a hand-car.
They brought with them a great lot of tools, and soon a flat car with a hoisting machine was run out of a shed, and they were off.
By this time it was raining in torrents, and the station platform was deserted. Not caring to get wet, I again took my seat in the car, and presently fell asleep.
When I awoke I found it was six o'clock. The rain still fell steadily, without signs of abating.
I was decidedly hungry, and buttoning my coat up tightly about my neck, I sallied forth in search of a restaurant.
I found one within a block of the depot, and entering, I called for some coffee and muffins— first, however, assuring myself that my train was not likely to leave for fully an hour.
While busy with what the waiter had brought, I saw Mr. Allen Price enter. Luckily the table I sat at was full, and he was compelled to take a seat some distance from me.
"Good morning, my young friend," said he, as he stopped for an instant in front of me.
I was surprised at his pleasant manner. He acted as if nothing had ever happened to bring up a coolness between us.
"Good morning," I replied briefly.
"Terrible rain, this, isn't it?"
"My toothache's much better," he went on, "and I feel like myself once more. Funny I mistook your valise for mine, last night, wasn't it?"
"I don't know," I replied flatly.
I returned to my breakfast, and, seeing I would not converse further, the man passed on and sat down. But I felt that his eyes were on me, and instinctively I made up my mind to be on my guard.
As I was about to leave the place, several more passengers came in, and by what they said I learned that the train would not start for Chicago till noon, the bridge being so badly damaged that the road engineer would not let anything cross until it was propped up.
Not caring to go back to the train, I entered the waiting-room and took in all there was to be seen. At one end of the place was a news stand, and I walked up to this to look at the picture papers that were displayed.
I was deeply interested in a cartoon on the middle pages of an illustrated paper when I heard Mr. Price's voice asking for some Chicago daily, and then making inquiries as to where the telegraph once was located.
He did not see me, and I at once stepped out of sight behind him.
Having received his directions, Mr. Price sat down to write out his telegram. Evidently what he wrote did not satisfy him, for he tore up several slips of paper before he managed to prepare one that suited him.
Then he arose, and throwing the scraps in a wad on the floor, walked away.
Unobserved, I picked up the wad. Right or wrong, I was bound to see what it contained. Perhaps it might be of no earthly interest to me; on the other hand, it might contain much I would desire to know. Strange things had happened lately, and I was prepared for all sorts of surprises.
A number of the slips of paper were missing and the remainder were so crumpled that the pencil marks were nearly illegible.
At length I managed to fit one of the sheets together and then read these words:—
C. Hholtzmann>, Chicago:
Look out for a young man claiming to—
I had not been mistaken in my opinion of Mr. Allen Price. He was following me, and doing it with no good intention.
I concluded the man must be employed by Mr. Woodward. Perhaps I had seen him at some time in Darbyville, and so thought his face familiar.
I was glad that if he was a detective I was aware of the fact. I would now know how to trust him, and I made up my mind that if he got the best of me it would be my own fault.
One thing struck me quite forcibly. The merchant and John Stumpy both considered my proposed visit to Chris Holtzmann of importance. They would not have put themselves to the trouble and expense of hiring some one to follow me if this was not so. Though Mr. Aaron Woodward was rich, he was close, and did not spend an extra dollar except upon himself.
I was chagrined at the thought that Holtzmann would be prepared to receive me. I had hoped to come upon him unawares, and get into his confidence before he could realize what I was after.
I began to wonder when the telegram would reach Chicago. Perhaps something by good fortune might delay it.
Mr. Allen Price walked over to the telegraph office, and following him with my eyes I saw him pay for the message and then stroll away.
Hardly had he gone before I too stepped up to the counter.
"How long will it take to send a message to Chicago?" I asked of the clerk in charge.
"Probably till noon," was the reply. "The storm has crippled us, and we are having trouble with our lineman."
"It won't go before noon!" I repeated, and my heart gave a bound. "Are you sure?"
"Yes; perhaps even longer."
"How about the message that gentleman just handed in?"
"I told him I would send it as soon as possible,"
"Did you tell him it wouldn't go before noon?"
"No; he didn't ask," returned the clerk, coolly. He was evidently not going to let any business slip if he could help it.
"Is there any possible way I can get to Chicago before noon?" I went on.
The clerk shook his head. "I don't think there is," he replied.
"What is the nearest station on the other side of the bridge?"
"And how far is that from Chicago?"
I walked away from the counter filled with a sudden resolve. I must reach Chicago before the telegram or Mr. Allen Price. If I did not, my trip to the city of the lakes would be a failure.
How was the thing to be accomplished? Walking out on the covered platform, out of sight of the man who was following me, I tried to solve the problem.
Smalleyville was a good ten miles from the misplaced bridge, and in a soaking rain such a distance was too far to walk. Perhaps I might get a carriage to take me to the spot. I supposed the cost would be several dollars, but decided not to stand on that amount.
I had about made up my mind to hunt up a livery stable, when some workingmen rolled up to the station on a hand-car.
"Where are you going?" I inquired of one of them.
"Down to the Foley bridge," was the reply,
"Will you take a passenger?" I went on quickly.
"You'll have to ask the boss."
The boss proved to be a jolly German.
"Vont ter haf a ride, does you!" he laughed.
"I'm not over particular about the ride," I explained. "I've got to get to Chicago as soon as possible, even if I have to walk."
"Vell, jump on, den."
I did so, and a moment later we were off. I was pretty confident that Mr. Allen Price had not witnessed my departure, and I hoped he would not find it out for some hours to come.
The rain had now slackened, so there was no further danger of getting soaked to the skin. There were four men on the car besides the boss, and seeing they were short a hand I took hold with a will.
Fortunately the grade was downward, and we had but little difficulty in sending the car on its way. At the end of half an hour the stream came in sight, and then as we slackened up I hopped off.
Down by the water's edge I found that the bridge had shifted fully six inches out of line with the roadbed. It was, however, in a pretty safe condition, and I had no difficulty in crossing to the other side.
Despite the storm a goodly number of men were assembled on the opposite bank, anxiously watching the efforts of the workmen. Among them I found a man, evidently a cabman, standing near a coupe, the horses of which were still smoking from a long run.
"Are you from Foley?" I asked, stepping up.
"No; just come all the way from Chicago," was the reply. "Had to bring two men down that wanted to get to Smalleyville."
This was interesting news. Perhaps I could get the man to take me back with him. Of course he would take me if I hired him in the regular way, but if I did this, I was certain he would charge me a small fortune.
"I am going to Chicago," I said. "I just came from Smalleyville."
"That so? Want to hire my rig?"
"You charge too much," I returned. "A fellow like me can't afford luxuries."
"Take you there for two dollars. It's worth five— those two men gave me ten."
"What time will you land me in Chicago?"
"Where do you want to go?"
That question was a poser. I knew no more of the city of Chicago than I did of Paris or Pekin. Yet I did not wish to be set down on the outskirts, and not to show my ignorance I answered cautiously:—
"To the railroad depot."
"Have you the time now?"
"It is about seven o'clock."
"I'll be there by nine."
"All right. Land me there by that time, and I'll pay you the two dollars."
"It's a go. Jump in," he declared.
I did so. A moment later he gathered up the reins, and we went whirling down the road.
The ride was an easy one, and as we bowled along I had ample opportunity to ponder over my situation. I wondered what Mr. Allen Price would think when he discovered I was nowhere to be found. I could well imagine his chagrin, and I could not help smiling at the way I had outwitted him. I was not certain what sort of a man Chris Holtzmann would prove to be, and therefore it was utterly useless to plan a means of approaching him.
At length we reached the suburbs of Chicago, and rolled down one of the broad avenues. It was now clear and bright, and the clean broad street with its handsome houses pleased me very much.
In half an hour we reached the business portion of the city, and soon the coupe came to a halt and the driver opened the door.
"Here we are," said he.
I jumped to the ground and gazed around. Opposite was the railroad station, true enough, and beyond blocks and blocks of tall business buildings, which reminded me strongly of New York.
I paid the cabman the two dollars I had promised, and he drove off.
In Chicago at last! I looked around. I was in the heart of a great city, knowing no one, and with no idea of where to go.
Yet my heart did not fail me. My mind was too full of the object of my quest to allow me to become faint-hearted. I was there for a purpose, and that purpose must be accomplished.
My clothes were still damp, but the sunshine was fast drying them. Near by was a bootblack's chair, and dropping into this, I had him polish my shoes and brush me up generally.
While he was performing the operation I questioned him concerning the streets and gained considerable information.
"Did you ever hear of a man by the name of Chris Holtzmann?" I asked.
"I dunno," was the slow reply. "What does he do?"
"I don't know what business he is in. He came from Brooklyn."
The bootblack shook his head.
"This city is a big place. There might be a dozen men by his name here. The street what you spoke about has lots of saloons and theatres on it. Maybe he's in that business."
"Maybe he is," I returned. "I must find out somehow."
"You can look him up in the directory. You'll find one over in the drug store on the corner."
"Thank you; I guess that's what I'll do," I replied.
When he had finished, I paid him ten cents for his work, and walked over to the place he had mentioned.
A polite clerk waited on me and pointed out the directory lying on a stand.
I looked it over carefully, and three minutes later walked out with Chris Holtzmann's new address in my pocket.
As I did so, I saw a stream of people issue from the depot. Some of them looked familiar. Was it possible that the train from Smalleyville had managed to come through, after all? It certainly looked like it.
I was not kept long in doubt. I crossed over to make sure, and an instant later found myself face to face with Allen Price!
WHO MR. ALLEN PRICE WAS
I will not deny that I was considerably taken aback by my unexpected meeting with the man who had been following me. I had been firmly under the impression that he was still lolling around Smalleyville, waiting for a chance to continue his journey.
But if I was surprised, so was Mr. Allen Price. Every indication showed that he had not missed me at my departure, and that he was under the belief that I had been left behind.
He stopped short and gazed at me in blank astonishment.
"Why— why— where did you come from?" he stammered.
"From Smalleyville," I returned as coolly as I could. "And that's where you came from, too," I added.
"I didn't see you on the train," he went on, ignoring my last remark.
"I didn't come up by train."
"Maybe you walked," he went on, with some anxiety.
"Oh no; I rode in a carriage."
"Humph! It seems to me you must have been in a tremendous hurry."
"Perhaps I was."
"Why, you excite my curiosity. May I ask the cause of your sudden impatience?"
He put the question in an apparently careless fashion, but his sharp eyes betrayed his keen interest.
"And what, was it?"
I looked at him for a moment in silence.
"I came to see a man."
"Ah! A friend? Perhaps he is seriously sick."
"I don't know if he is sick or not."
"And yet you hurried to see him?"
"Well, that— that is out of the ordinary." He hesitated for a moment. "Of course it is none of my business, but I am interested. Perhaps I know the party and can help you. May I ask his name?"
"It's the same man you telegraphed to," I returned.
Mr. Allen Price stopped short and nearly dropped his handbag. My unexpected reply had taken the "wind out of his sails."
"I telegraphed to?" he repeated.
"But— but I telegraphed to no one."
"Yes, you did."
"Why, my dear young friend, you are mistaken."
"I'm not your dear friend," I returned with spirit. "You telegraphed to Chris Holtzmann to beware of me. Why did you do it?"
The man's face fell considerably, and he did not answer. I went on:—
"You are following me and trying to defeat the object of my trip to Chicago. But you shall not do it. You pretend to be an ordinary traveller, but you are nothing more than a spy sent on by Mr. Aaron Woodward to stop me. But I have found you out, and now you can go back to him and tell him that his little plan didn't work."
The man's brow grew black with anger. He was very angry, and I could see that it was with difficulty he kept his hands off me.
"Think you're smart, don't you?" he sneered.
"I was too smart for you."
"But you don't know it all," he went on. "You don't know it all— not by a jugful."
"I know enough to steer clear of you."
"Maybe you do."
The man evidently did not know what to say, and as a matter of fact, neither did I. I had told him some plain truths, and now I was anxious to get away from him and think out my future course of action.
"What's your idea of calling on Chris Holtzmann?" he went an after a long pause.
"That's my business."
"It won't do you any good."
"Perhaps it may."
"I know it won't," he replied in decided tones.
"What do you know about it?" I said sharply. "A moment ago you denied knowing anything about me. Now I've done with you, and I want you to leave me alone."
"You needn't get mad about it."
"I'll do as I please."
"No, you won't," he growled. "If you don't do as I want you to, I'll have you arrested."
This was strong language, and I hardly knew what to say in reply. Not that I was frightened by his threat, but what made the man take such a strong personal interest in the matter?
As I have said, I was almost certain I had seen the fellow before, though where and when was more than I could determine. Perhaps he was disguised.
"Perhaps you don't think I know who you are," I said quickly.
My words were a perfect shock to Mr. Allen Price. In spite of his bronzed face he turned pale.
"You know who I am? Why, I am as I tell you,— Allen Price," he faltered.
"Really," I replied, with assumed sarcasm.
"I know better," I returned boldly.
I was hardly prepared for what was to follow. The man caught me by the arm.
"Then what you know shall cost you dear," he cried. "I'm not to be outwitted by a country boy. Help! Police! Police!"
As he uttered his call for assistance he let drop his handbag and drew his purse from his pocket.
"I've got you, you young thief!" he cried, letting the purse fall to the sidewalk. "You didn't think to be caught as easily, did you? Help! Po— Oh, officer, I'm glad you've come!" the last to a policeman who had just hurried to the scene.
"What's the matter here?" demanded the minion of the law.
"I just caught this young fellow picking my pocket," exclaimed Mr. Allen. "Where's my pocketbook?"
"There's a pocketbook on the sidewalk," put in a man in the crowd that had quickly gathered.
"So it is." He picked it up. "You rascal! You thought to get away in fine style, didn't you?" he continued to me.
For a moment I was too stunned to speak. The un-looked-for turn of affairs took away my breath.
"I didn't pick his pocket," I burst out.
"Yes, you did."
"It isn't so. He's a swindler and is trying to get me into trouble."
"Here! here! none of that!" broke in the officer. "Tell me your story," he said to Mr. Allen Price.
"I was coming along looking in the shop windows," began my accuser, "when I felt a hand in my pocket. I turned quickly and just in time to catch this fellow trying to make off with my pocketbook."
"It is a falsehood, every word of it," I declared.
"Shut up!" said the officer, sternly. "Please go on."
"He is evidently a smart thief," continued Mr. Allen Price. "I must see if I have lost anything else."
He began a pretended examination of his clothes. In the meantime the crowd began to grow larger and larger.
"We can't stay here all day," said the policeman, roughly. "What have you got to say to the charge?"
"I say it isn't true," I replied. "This man is a humbug. He is following me for a purpose, and is trying to get me into trouble."
"Ridiculous!" cried my accuser. "Why, I never heard of such a thing before!"
"That story won't wash," said the officer to me. "Do you make a charge?" he continued to Mr. Allen Price.
My accuser hesitated. "I will, if it is not necessary for me to go along," he said. "I am pressed for time. My name is Sylvester Manners. I am a partner in the Manners Clothing Company. You know the firm, I presume."
"Oh, yes, sir," replied the officer. He knew the Manners Clothing Company to be a rich concern.
"I will stop at the station house to-morrow morning and make a complaint," continued Mr. Allen Price. "Don't let the young rascal escape."
"No fear, sir. Come on!" the last to me.
"I've done no wrong. I want that man arrested!" I cried. "He is no more a merchant here in Chicago than I am. He—"
But the officer would not listen. He took a strong hold upon my collar and began to march me off. Mr. Allen Price walked beside us until we reached the corner.
"I will leave you here, officer," he said. "I'll be down in the morning, sure. As for you," he continued to me, "I trust you will soon see the error of your ways and try to mend them, and—" he continued in a whisper, as the officer's attention was distracted for a moment, "never try to outwit John Stumpy again!"
AN EXCITING ADVENTURE
Mr. Allen Price and John Stumpy were one and the same person! For a moment so great was my surprise that I forgot I was under arrest, and walked on beside the officer without a protest.
Now that I knew the truth it was easy to trace the resemblance, and I blamed myself greatly for not having discovered it when we first met.
Of a certainty the man was bent upon frustrating my plans, partly for his own safety, and more so upon Mr. Aaron Woodward's account. No doubt the merchant was paying him well for his work, and John Stumpy intended to do all he could to crush me.
But I was not to be crushed. The forces brought against me only made my will stronger to go ahead. It was do or die, and that was all there was to it.
I could easily understand why John Stumpy wished to obtain possession of my handbag. In it he hoped to find the papers Mr. Woodward had lost and Nicholas Weaver's confession. I could not help but smile at the thought that, notwithstanding all I had said to the contrary, the two plotters still believed I had the lost documents.
One thing perplexed me. Why was my visit to Chris Holtzmann considered of such importance that every possible means was taken to prevent it? Did this man possess the entire key to the situation? And were they afraid he could be bought up or threatened into a confession? It looked so.
"You are not from Chicago, young fellow?" said the policeman who had me in charge.
"No; I'm from the East."
"Humph! Got taken in short, didn't you?"
"I'm not guilty of any crime," I returned, "and you'll find it out when it comes to the examination."
"I'll chance it," replied the officer, grimly.
"That man is a fraud. If you call on the Manners Clothing Company, you will find it so."
"That's not part of my duty. I'll take you to the station house, and you can tell the judge your story," replied the policeman.
Yet I could see by the way his brow contracted that my assertion had had its effect upon him. Probably had he given the matter proper thought in the first place, he would have compelled John Stumpy to accompany him.
Still, this did me no good. Here I was being taken to the jail while the man who should have been under arrest was free. I would probably have to remain in confinement until the following morning, and in the meantime John Stumpy could call on Chris Holtzmann and arrange plans to suit himself.
This would never do, as it would defeat the whole object of my trip West, and send me home to be laughed at by Mr. Aaron Woodward and Duncan.
"Can I ask for an examination at once?" I inquired.
"Maybe; if the judge is there."
"And if he isn't?"
"You'll have to wait till to-morrow morning. You see it isn't— Hello! thunder and lightning! what's that?"
As the officer uttered the exclamation there was a wild cry on the streets, and the next instant the crowds of people scattered in every direction.
And no wonder, for down the pavement came an infuriated bull, charging everybody and everything before him.
The animal had evidently broken away from a herd that was being driven to the stock-yards, and his nose, where the ring was fastened, was torn and covered with blood, and he breathed hard, as if he had run a great distance.
"It's a mad bull!" I cried. "Take care, or he'll horn both of us!"
My words of caution were unnecessary, for no sooner had the bull turned in our direction than the officer let go his hold upon me and fled into a doorway near at hand.
For an instant I was on the point of following him. Then came the sudden thought that now would be a good chance to escape.
To think was to act. No sooner had the policeman jumped into the doorway than I dodged through the crowd and hurried across the street. Reaching the opposite side, I ran into an alley. It was long and led directly into the back garden of a handsome stone mansion.
The garden was filled with beautiful flowers and plants, and in the centre a tiny fountain sent a thin spray into the air. At one side, under a small arbor, stood a garden bench, and on this sat a little girl playing with a number of dolls.
Her golden hair hung heavy over her shoulders, and she looked supremely happy. She greeted my entrance with a smile, and took me at once into her confidence.
"This is my new dolly," she explained, holding the article up.
"Is it?" I asked, hardly knowing what to say.
"Yes; papa bringed it home yesterday. Does oo like dollies?"
"Oh, yes, nice ones like that. You must have lots of fun. I—"
I did not finish the sentence. There was a noise in the alley, and the next instant the mad bull came crashing into the garden!
For a second I was too surprised to move or speak. The little girl uttered a piercing scream, and gathering her dolls in her arms huddled into a corner of the bench.
Why the animal had followed so closely behind me I could not tell, but once in the garden, it was plain to see he was bent upon doing considerable damage. He was more enraged than ever, and scattered the sodding about in every direction.
At first some red flowers attracted his attention, and he charged upon these with a fury that wrecked the entire flower-bed in which they were standing.
While the bull was at this work I partly recovered my senses, and then the first thought that came to my mind was the necessity of getting the little girl to a place of safety. Let the bull once get at her, and her life might pay the penalty. I was not many feet away from the little miss, and a few bounds took me to her side.
"Come, let me take you into the house," I said, and picked her up.
She made no reply, but continued to scream and clung to me with all the strength of her little arms.
There was a back piazza to the mansion five or six steps high. I knew that if we once reached this we would be safe, for no matter what the bull might do, he could not climb.
"Oh, Millie, my child!" came s voice from the house, and I saw a lady at one of the windows. "Oh, save her! Bring her here!" she cried, as she caught sight of the bull.
I uttered no reply, but sprang toward the steps.
But though I wasted no time, the bull was too quick for me. Springing over the flower-bed, he planted himself directly in my path.
It made my blood run cold to have him face me with that vicious look and those glaring eyes. One prod of those horns and all would be over.
"Oh, save Millie! Save my child!" The lady had opened the door and now came running out upon the piazza.
"I will if I can!" I returned. "Don't come down here. He'll tear you all to pieces!"
Even as I spoke the bull made a plunge for me. I darted to one side and sprang over to the edge of the piazza corner.
"Give her to me! Hand her up!" exclaimed the lady, as she rushed over, and as I held the little one on my shoulder, the lady drew her up and clasped the child, dolls and all, to her breast.
Hardly had I got rid of my charge than the bull came for me again. The trick I had played on him only served to increase his rage, and he snorted loudly.
I was in a bad fix. Between the piazza and the next-door fence was a distance of but ten feet, and behind me was the solid stone wall of the house. Escape on any side was impossible. Had I had time I might have climbed up to the piazza, but now this was not to be thought of, and another means of getting out of danger must be instantly devised.
"Oh, he will be killed!" cried the lady, in horror. "Help! help!"
I glanced around for some weapon with which to defend myself. I had nothing with me. Even my valise lay at the other end of the garden, where I had dropped it when the animal first made his appearance.
As I said, I looked around, and behind me found a heavy spade the gardener had at one time or another used for digging post holes. It was a strong and sharp implement, and I took it up with a good deal of satisfaction.
The bull charged on me with fury. As he did so, I took the spade and held it on a level with my waist, resting the butt end on the wall behind me.
The next instant there was a terrific crash that made me sick from head to foot. With all his force the bull had sprung forward, only to receive the sharp end of the spade straight between his eyes.
The blow was as if it had been delivered by an axe. It made a frightful cut, and the blood rushed forth in a torrent.
With a mad cry of pain the bull backed out. At first I thought he was going to charge me again, but evidently the blow was too much for him, for with several moans he turned, and with his head hanging down, he staggered across the garden to the alley and disappeared.
I gave a sigh of relief when the bull was gone. The encounter with the mad animal had been no laughing matter. I had once heard of a man being gored to death by just such an infuriated creature, and I considered that I had had a narrow escape. I put my hand to my forehead and found the cold sweat standing out upon it. Taking my handkerchief, I mopped it away.
"Are you hurt?" inquired the lady, with great solicitation.
"No, ma'am," I replied. "But it was a close shave!"
"Indeed it was. And you saved my Millie's life! How can I thank you!"
"I didn't do so much. I guess she's scared a good bit."
"She hardly realized the danger, dear child. Did you, Millie, my pet?"
"The bad cow wanted to eat up my dollies!" exclaimed the little miss, with a grave shake of the head. "But oo helped me," she added, to me.
"I'm glad I was here," I returned.
"May I ask how you happened to come in?" continued the lady.
In a few words I told my story. I had hardly finished when the back door opened and a gentleman stepped out.
"What is the trouble here?" he asked anxiously. "I just heard that a mad bull had run into the garden."
"So he did, James; a savage monster indeed. This young man just beat him off and saved Millie's life."
"Hardly that," I put in modestly. I did not want more praise than I was justly entitled to receive.
"Indeed, but he did. See the spade covered with blood? Had he not hit the animal over the head with that, something dreadful would have happened."
"I didn't hit him exactly," I laughed. "I held it up and he ran against it," and once more I told my story.
"You have done us a great service, young man," said the gentleman when I had concluded. "I was once in the butcher business myself,— in fact, I am in it yet, but only in the export trade,— and I know full well how dangerous bulls can get. Had it not been for you my little girl might have been torn to pieces. One of her dolls is dressed in red, and this would have attracted the bull's immediate attention. I thank you deeply." He grasped my hand warmly. "May I ask your name?"
"Roger Strong, sir."
"My name is Harrison— James Harrison. You live here in Chicago, I suppose?"
"No, sir, I come from Darbyville, New Jersey."
"Darbyville?" He thought a moment. "I never heard of such a town."
"It is only a small place several miles from New York. I came to Chicago on business. I arrived about half an hour ago."
"Really? Your introduction into our city has been rather an exciting one."
"I've had other adventures fully as exciting in the past few days," I returned.
"Yes?" and Mr. Harrison eyed me curiously.
"Yes. Our train was delayed, I almost had my handbag stolen, and I've been arrested as a thief."
"And all in a half an hour?" The gentleman and his wife both looked incredulous.
"No, sir; since I've left home."
"I should like to hear your story— that is, if you care to tell it."
"I will tell you the whole thing if you care to listen," I returned, reflecting that my newly made friend might give me some material assistance in my quest.
"Then come into the house."
"I'd better shut the alley gate first," said I, and running down I did so, and picked up my handbag as well.
Mr. Harrison led the way inside. I could not help but note the rich furnishings of the place— the soft carpets, artistically papered walls, the costly pictures and bric-a-brac, all telling of wealth.
Mrs. Harrison and the little girl had disappeared up the stairs. Mr. Harrison ushered me into his library and motioned me to a seat.
I hardly knew how to begin my story. To show how John Stumpy had had me arrested, it would be necessary to go back to affairs at Darbyville, and this I hesitated about doing.
"If you have time I would like to tell you about my affairs before I started to come to Chicago," I said. "I would like your advice."
The gentleman looked at the clock resting upon the mantel shelf.
"I have an engagement at eleven o'clock," he returned. "Until then I am entirely at your service, and will be in the afternoon if you desire it. I'll promise to give you the best advice I can."
"Thank you. I am a stranger here, and most people won't pay much attention to a boy," I replied.
Then I told my story in full just as I have written it here. Mr. Harrison was deeply interested.
"It is a strange case," he said, when I had concluded. "These men must be thorough rascals, every one of them. Of course it yet remains to be seen what this Chris Holtzmann has to do with the affair. He may be made to give evidence for or against your father just as he is approached. I think I would be careful at the first meeting."
"I did not intend to let him know who I was."
"A good plan."
"But now if I venture on the street I may be arrested," I went on.
"It is not likely. Chicago is a big city, and unless the officer who arrested you before meets you, it is improbable that he can give an accurate enough description of you for others to identify you. Then again, having failed in his duty, he may not report the case at all."
"That's so; but if I do run across him—"
"Then send for me. Here is my card. If I can be of service to you, I shall be glad."
Mr. Harrison gave me minute directions how to reach Holtzmann's place. Then it was time for him to go, and we left the house together. I promised to call on him again before quitting Chicago.
It was with a lighter heart that I went on my way. In some manner I felt that I had at least one friend in the big city, to whom I could turn for advice and assistance.
Guided by the directions Mr. Harrison had given me, I had no difficulty in making my way in the direction of Chris Holtzmann's place of business or house, whatever it might prove to be.
As I passed up one street and down another, I could not help but look about me with great curiosity. If Chicago was not New York, it was "next door" to it, and I could have easily spent the entire day in sightseeing.
But though my eyes were taking in all that was to be seen, my mind was busy speculating upon the future. What would Chris Holtzmann think of my visit, and what would be the result of our interview?
At length I turned down the street upon which his place was located. It was a wide and busy thoroughfare, lined with shops of all kinds. Saloons were numerous, and from several of them came the sounds of lively music.
"Can you tell me where Chris Holtzmann's place is?" I asked of a man on the corner.
"Holtzmann's? Sure! Down on the next corner."
"Variety actor?" went on the man, curiously.
"Oh, no!" I laughed.
"Thought not. They're generally pretty tough— the ones Chris hires."
"Does he have a variety theatre?"
"That's what he calls it. But it's nothing but a concert hall with jugglers and tumblers thrown in."
I did not relish the idea of going into such a place, and I knew that my sister Kate and the Widow Canby would be horrified when they heard of it.
"What kind of a man is this Holtzmann?" I continued, seeing that the man I had accosted was inclined to talk.
"Oh, he's a good enough kind of a fellow if you know how to take him," was the reply. "He's a bit cranky if he's had a glass too much, but that don't happen often."
"Does he run the place himself?"
"What, tend bar and so?"
"Oh, no; he's too high-toned for that. He only bosses things. They say he's rich. Be came from the East some years ago with quite a little money, and he's been adding to it ever since."
"Then you know him quite well?"
"Worked for him two years. Then he up one day and declared I was robbing him. We had a big row, and I got out."
"Did he have you arrested?"
"Arrested? Not much. He knew better than to try such a game on me. When I was in his employ I kept my eyes and ears open, and I knew too much about his private affairs for him to push me, even if I had been guilty. Oh, Sammy Simpson knows a thing or two."
"That is your name?"
"Yes; Samuel A. Simpson. Generally called Sammy for short. I was his bookkeeper and corresponding clerk."
"Maybe you're just the man I want to see," I said. "Do you know anything about Mr. Holtzmann's private affairs in the East?"
Sammy Simpson hesitated for a moment.
"Maybe I do," he replied, with a shrewd look in his eyes. "Is there anything to be made out of it?"
"I will pay you for whatever you do for me."
"Then I'm your huckleberry. Who are you and what do you want to know?"
THE PALACE OF PLEASURE
Mr. Sammy Simpson was a character. He was tall and slim, certainly not less than fifty years of age, but with an evident desire to appear much younger. His face was cleanly shaven, and when he removed his hat to scratch his head I saw that he was nearly bald.
He was dressed in a light check suit and wore patent-leather shoes. I put him down as a dandy, but fond of drink, and that he proved to be.
"Whom do you work for now?" I asked.
"No one. To tell the truth, I'm down on my luck and I'm waiting for something to turn up."
"You say you worked for Holtzmann two years ago?"
"No, I said I worked for him two years. I only left last month."
"And he accused you of stealing?"
"Yes; but it was only to get rid of me because I knew too much of his private affairs."
"What do you know of his private affairs?"
Sammy Simpson rubbed his chin.
"Excuse me, but who am I talking to?" he asked abruptly.
"Never mind who I am. I am here to get all the information I can about Chris Holtzmann, and I'm willing to pay for it. Of course I'm not rich, but I've got a few dollars. If you can't help me I'll have to go elsewhere."
My plain speech startled Sammy Simpson.
"Hold up; don't get mad because I asked your name. You've a perfect right to keep it to yourself if you want to. Only make it sure to me that I'll get paid for what I tell and it will be all right."
I was perplexed. I had half a mind to mention Mr. Harrison's name, but if I did that, the man might expect altogether too much.
"I will promise you that you lose nothing," I said. "But we can't talk things over in the street. Tell me where I can meet you later on."
"Want to see Holtzmann first?"
"You won't get anything out of him, I'll wager you that."
"I don't expect to. I want to see what kind of a man he is."
"Well, you'll find me at 28 Hallock Street generally. If I'm not in, you can find out there where I've gone to."
"I'll remember it. In the meantime don't speak of this meeting to any one."
"Mum's the word," rejoined Sammy Simpson.
I went on my way deep in thought. I considered it a stroke of luck that I had fallen in with Chris Holtzmann's former clerk. No doubt the man knew much that would prove of value to me.
I doubted if this man was perfectly honest. I was satisfied that the concert-hall manager had had good grounds for discharging him. But it often "takes a rogue to catch a rogue," and I was willing to profit by any advantage that came to hand.
At length I reached the next corner. On it stood a splendid building of marble, having over the door in raised letters:—
CHRIS HOLTZMANN'S PALACE OF PLEASURE. Open all the Time. Admission Free!
For a moment I hesitated. Should I enter such a hole of iniquity?
Then came the thought of my mission; how I wished to clear the family name from the stain that rested upon it and free my father from imprisonment, and I went in.
I do not care to describe the scene that met my eyes. The magnificent decorations of the place were to my mind entirely out of keeping with its character. The foulness of a subcellar would have been more appropriate.
In the back, where a stage was located, were a number of small tables. I sat down at one of these and had a waiter bring me a glass of soda water.
"Is Mr. Holtzmann about?" I asked.
"Yes, sir. There he is over by the cigar counter. Shall I call him?"
I paid for my soda and sipped it leisurely. The place was about half full, and all attention was being paid to "Master Ardon, the Wonderful Boy Dancer," who was doing a clog on the stage.
Mr. Chris Holtzmann was very much the style of a man I had imagined him to be. He was short and stout, with a thick neck and a double chin. He was loudly dressed, including several seal rings and a heavy gold watch chain.
I calculated that he would be a hard man to approach, and now that I was face to face with him I hardly knew how to proceed.
At first I thought to ask him for a situation of some kind and thus get on speaking terms with him, but concluded that openness would pay best in the end, and so, rising, I approached him.
"Mr. Holtzmann, I believe?" I began.
"Yes," he said slowly, looking me over from head to foot.
"If you please I would like to have a talk with you," I went on.
"What is it?" and he turned his ear toward me.
"I have come all the way from Darbyville, New Jersey, to see you."
"What!" He started. "And what is your business with me, sir?" he went on sharply.
"I would like to see you in private," and I glanced at the clerk and several others who were staring at us.
"Come to my office," he returned, and led the way through a door at one side, into a handsomely furnished apartment facing the side street.
"Ross, you can post the letters," he said to a clerk who was writing at a desk. "Be back in half an hour."
It was a hint that we were to be left alone, and the clerk was not long in gathering up the letters that had been written, and leaving.
"I suppose Woodward sent you," began Chris Holtzmann, when we were seated.
This remark nearly took away my breath. I thought he would deny all knowledge of having ever known the merchant, and here he was mentioning the man at the very start.
I hardly knew how to reply, and he continued:—
"I've been expecting him for several days."
"Well, you know there was an accident on the railroad," I began as coolly as I could. "The bridge shifted and the trains couldn't run."
"Yes, I heard of that." He paused for a moment. "What brought you?"
This was a home question. I plunged in like a swimmer into a deep stream.
"I came to get the papers relating to the Strong forgeries. You have all of them, I suppose."
I was surprised at my own boldness. So was my listener.
"Sh! not so loud," he exclaimed. "Who said I had the papers?"
"John Stumpy spoke about them to Mr. Woodward."
"He did, eh?" sneered Chris Holtzmann. "He had better keep his mouth shut. How does he know but what the papers were destroyed long ago?"
"I hope not," I replied earnestly.
"What does Woodward want of the papers?"
"I don't know exactly. The Strong family are going to have the case opened again, and he's afraid they may be dragged in."
"No one knows I have them but him, Stumpy— and you." He gave me a suspicious glance. "Who are—"
"The Strongs know," I put in hastily, thus cutting him off.
"What!" He jumped up from his chair. "Who was fool enough to tell them?"
"Nicholas Weaver left a dying statement—"
"The idiot! I always said he was a weak-minded fool!" cried Chris Holtzmann. "Who has this statement?"
"I don't know where it is now, but Carson Strong's son had it."
"Strong's son! Great Scott! Then Woodward's goose is cooked. I always told him he hadn't covered up his tracks."
"Yes, but he paid you pretty well for your share of the work," I returned. I was getting mixed. The deception could not be kept up much longer, and I wondered what would happen when the truth became known.
"Didn't pay me half of what I should have got. I helped him not only in Brooklyn, but here in Chicago as well. How would he have accounted for all his money if I hadn't had a rich aunt die and leave it to him?" Chris Holtzmann gave a short laugh. "I reckon that was a neat plan of mine."
"You ran a big risk."
"So we did— but it paid."
"And John Stumpy helped, too."
"He did in a way. But he drank too much to be of any great use. By the way, do you drink?"
As Holtzmann spoke he opened a closet at one side of the room, behind a screen, and brought forth a bottle of liquor and a pair of glasses.
"No, thank you," I replied.
"No? Have a cigar, then."
"Thank you; I don't smoke."
"What! Don't smoke or drink! That's queer. Wish I could say the same. Mighty expensive habits. What did you say your name was?"
At this instant there was a knock on the door, and Chris Holtzmann walked back of the screen and opened it.
"A man to see you, sir," I heard a voice say.
"Who is it?" asked Chris Holtzmann.
"Says his name is Aaron Woodward."
A DEAL FOR A THOUSAND DOLLARS
I was thunderstruck by the announcement that Mr. Aaron Woodward was waiting to come in. Had it been John Stumpy who was announced, I would not have been so much surprised. But Aaron Woodward! The chase after me was indeed getting hot.
Evidently the merchant was not satisfied to leave affairs in Chicago entirely in his confederate's hands. Either he did not trust Stumpy or else the matter was of too much importance.
I did not give these thoughts close attention at the time, but revolved them in my mind later. Just now I was trying to resolve what was best to do. Would it be advisable for me to remain or had I better get out?
To retire precipitately might not be "good form," but it might save me a deal of trouble. I had had one "round" with the merchant in his mansion in Darbyville, and I was not particularly anxious for another encounter. I was but a boy, and between the two men they might carry "too many guns" for me.
I looked around for some immediate means of escape. As I have said, the office was located on the side street. Directly in front of the desk was a large window, opened to let in the fresh morning air. For me to think was to act. In less than a minute I was seated on the desk with my legs dangling over the window sill.
"Aaron Woodward!" repeated Chris Holtzmann, in evident surprise.
"Yes, sir, and he says he must see you at once."
"Did you hear that?" called out Holtzmann to me.
"Yes, I did," I returned as coolly as I could.
"Did you expect him?"
Holtzmann made a movement as if to step into view, and I prepared to vanish from the scene. But he changed his mind and walked from the office.
I was in a quandary. To remain would place me in great peril, yet I was anxious to know the result of the meeting between the two men. They were the prime movers in my father's downfall, and nothing must be left undone to bring them to justice.
I resolved to remain, even if it were at the peril of my life. I was not an over-brave boy, but the thought of my father languishing in prison because of these men's misdeeds, nerved me to stay.
The closet door was still open, and that gave me a sudden idea.
As I jumped from the desk another idea struck me, and without any hesitation I scattered the papers on the floor and upset the ink-well.
Then I squeezed myself into the closet, crouching down into one corner, behind several canes and umbrellas.
I was not an instant too soon, for hardly had I settled myself than the door opened, and Chris Holtzmann reentered, followed by Mr. Aaron Woodward.
Both men were highly excited, and both uttered an exclamation when they saw the room was empty.
"He's gone!" cried Holtzmann.
"Gone?" repeated the merchant. "Get out, Holtzmann! He was never here."
"I say he was, less than two minutes ago."
"Well, where is he now?"
"I don't know. Ha! I see it! He has jumped through the windows. See how he has upset the ink and scattered the papers. It's as clear as day."
"Can you see anything of him outside?"
Chris Holtzmann leaned out of the window.
"No; he's up and around the corner long ago."
"We must catch the rascal," went on Mr. Woodward, in a high voice. "He knows too much; he will ruin us both."
"Ruin us both?" sneered the proprietor of the Palace of Pleasure. "I don't see how he can ruin me."
"You're in it just as deep as I am— just as deep."
"Not a bit of it," returned Holtzmann, with spirit. "You are the only one who profited by the whole transaction, and you are the one to take the blame."
"See here, Chris, you're not going back on me in this way," exclaimed the merchant, in a tone of reproach.
"I'm not going back on you at all, Woody. But you can't use me as you used John Stumpy. It won't go down."
"Now don't get excited, Chris."
"I'm not excited. But I know a thing or two just as well as you do. If there is any exposure to take place, you must stand the brunt of it. You were a fool to let the boy get ahead of you."
"I didn't; it was Stumpy. He let the boy get hold of Nick Weaver's statement, and that started the thing. Then the boy stole some of my papers that were in my desk, and how much information he has now I don't know."
"All your own fault," responded Holtzmann, coolly. "Why don't you destroy all the evidence on hand?"
"Do you do that?" asked Mr. Woodward, furiously.
"I do when I think it isn't going to do me any more good," replied Holtzmann, evasively.
"Have you destroyed all the evidence in this matter?"
Holtzmann closed one eye. "I'm not so green as you take me to be," he replied impressively. "All my evidence against you is locked up in my safe."
"You intend to use it against me?" said the merchant.
"Only if it becomes necessary."
"And yet you pretend to be a friend of mine."
"I was until you cheated me out of my fair share of the spoils. But I am satisfied, and willing to let the whole matter rest."
"What will you take for the papers you hold?"
"Wouldn't sell them at any price. I'm not running my head into any trap."
"It will be all right."
"Maybe it will, but I'll run no risk," He paused a moment. "I'll tell you what I will do. Give me a thousand dollars and I'll let you see me burn them up.
I was intensely surprised at this proposition, more so, I believe, than was Mr. Woodward.
"A thousand dollars!" he exclaimed. "Chris, you're crazy."
"No, indeed. I know a thing or two. What do you suppose the Strongs would pay for them?"
"You don't mean to say you would play me false?" ejaculated the merchant, hoarsely.
"I mean to say I'd do anything to save myself if you got us into a hole. As far as I can see, you have allowed this boy to get the best of you at every turn."
"Humph! You needn't talk. You let him walk right into your confidence the first thing."
"Only when he told me all about your affairs."
"Well, let that drop. Can't you let me have the papers cheaper?"
"I said I wouldn't let you have the papers at all. I'll burn them up."
"Will you let me see them?"
Chris Holtzmann's brow contracted.
"Oh, I only want to make sure of what you've got.
"Will you pay the price?"
"Make them cheaper."
"I'll take them."
"You mean have them burnt up."
"Yes. But I must examine them first."
"I'm willing. And I must have my check before they go into the fire."
"You are very suspicious, Chris, very suspicious."
"No more so than you, Woody. I wasn't born yesterday."
"Well, let's have the papers and I'll write out the check. But it must be understood that you give no more information to the boy."
"Give him information!" cried Holtzmann. "Let him show his face here again and I'll break every bone in his body," he added grimly.
This was certainly an interesting bit of news. I made up my mind that to be seen would render matters decidedly warm for me.
But I was even more interested over the fact that the two men intended to burn up part of the evidence that might clear my father's name. Such a thing must not happen. I must use every means in my power to prevent it.
Yet what was to be done? If the documents were produced at once, how could I save them from destruction?
A bold dash for them seemed the only way. Once snatched from Holtzmann's or Aaron Woodward's hands, and escape through the window or the door would be difficult, but not impossible.
Yet while I was revolving these thoughts over in my mind the same thing evidently suggested itself to the proprietor of the Palace of Pleasure.
"Wait till I lock the door," he said. "We don't want to be interrupted."
"No indeed," returned Mr. Woodward; "interruptions don't pay."
"And I'll close the window, too," went on Holtzmann; "it's cool enough without having it open."
"So it is."
So the window and the door were both closed and fastened. I was chagrined, but could do nothing.
A moment later I heard Chris Holtzmann at his safe, and then the rattle of something on his desk.
"The papers are in this tin box," he said. "I placed them there over six months ago."
He opened the box, and I heard a rustling of documents.
"Why— why— what does this mean!" he ejaculated. "They are not here!"
"What!" cried Mr. Aaron Woodward, aghast.
"The papers are not here!" Holtzmann hurried over to his safe and began a hasty search. "As sure as you're born, Woody, they have been stolen!"
"It's that boy," exclaimed the merchant. "He's a wizard of a sly one. He has stolen them, and we are lost!"
THE PRECIOUS PAPERS
I was not as much surprised over the situation as were the two men. I could put two and two together as quickly as any one, and I knew exactly where the papers were to be found.
Sammy Simpson, of 28 Hallock Street, was the thief. He had intimated that he had evidence against Chris Holtzmann, and these papers were that evidence.
This being so, there was no further use for my remaining in my cramped position in the closet, and I longed for a chance for escape. It was not long in coming.
"I don't see how that boy managed it," said Holtzmann. "He was alone only a few minutes."
"Never mind. He's as smart as a steel trap. Was the safe door open?"
"Yes. My clerk left it open. He is a new one and rather careless. What's to be done?"
"I'm going after the rascal," cried Aaron Woodward.
"You'd have a fine time finding him here in Chicago."
"I must find him. Most likely when he discovers how valuable the papers are he'll be off at once for home with them. I can intercept him at the depot."
"That's an idea, if you can locate the right depot."
"I'll be off at once," went on Mr. Woodward.
"I'll go with you," returned Chris Holtzmann, and three minutes later the two men quitted the office, locking the door after them.
I waited several minutes to make sure they were not returning, and then emerged from my hiding-place.
I was stiff in every joint and nearly stifled from the hot air in the closet. But at present I gave these personal matters scant attention, my mind being bent upon escape.
Even if the door had been unlocked, I would not have chosen it as a means of egress. It led into the main hall of the Palace of Pleasure, and here I might meet some one to bar my escape.
The window was close at hand, and I threw it open. The noise I made did not frighten me, for in the main hall a loud orchestra was drowning out every other sound.
I looked out and saw a number of people walking up and down the street. No one appeared to be watching me, and waiting a favorable opportunity, I slid out of the window to the sidewalk below.
With my ever present handbag beside me I hurried down the side street as fast as my feet would carry me. The neighborhood of the Palace of Pleasure was dangerous for me, and I wished to get away from it as quickly as possible.
After travelling several blocks I slackened my pace and dropped into a rapid walk. Coming to a fruit-stand, I invested in a couple of bananas, and then asked its proprietor where Hallock Street was.
"Sure an' it's the first street beyant the cable road," was the reply.
"And where is the cable road?" I queried.
"Two squares that way, sor," and the woman pointed it out.
I thanked her and hurried on. When I reached the street, I found the numbers ran in the three hundreds, and I had quite a walk to the southward to reach No. 28.
At length I stood in front of the house. It was a common-looking affair, and the vicinity was not one to be chosen by fastidious people. The street, sidewalks, and doorways all looked dirty and neglected. I concluded that since being discharged Sammy Simpson had come down in the world.
"Does Mr. Simpson live here?" I asked of a slip of a girl who sat on the stoop, nursing a ragged doll.
"Yes, sir; on the third floor in the front," she replied.
I climbed up the creaky stairs two flights, and rapped on the door.
"Come," said a voice, and I entered. The room was the barest kind of a kitchen. By the open window sat a thin, pale woman, holding a child.
"Does Mr. Samuel Simpson live here?" I asked.
"Yes, sir, but he's not in now," she returned. "Can I do anything for you?"
"I guess not."
"I hope— I hope there is nothing wrong," she went on falteringly.
"Wrong?" I queried. I did not quite understand her.
"Not exactly. What makes you think so?"
"Because he drinks so," she replied.
"I wish to get some information from him; that is all," I returned.
As I concluded a heavy step sounded in the hall, and an instant later Sammy Simpson appeared. He had evidently been imbibing freely, for his voice was thick and his sentences muddled.
"Hello!" he cried. "You here already, eh! What brought you? Want to find out all about Chris Holtzmann?"
"Thought so. Saw it in your eye. Yes, sir, your optic betrayed you. Sit down. Mag, give Mr. What's-his-name a chair. I'll sit down myself." And he sank heavily down on a low bench, threw one leg over the other, and clasped his hands on his knee.
"I want to see those documents you took from Mr. Holtzmann's safe," I began boldly.
He started slightly and stared at me.
"Who said I took any document out of his safe?"
"Didn't you say so? I mean the ones relating to Holtzmann's affairs in Brooklyn."
"Well, yes, I did."
"I want to see them."
"Again I ask, what is there in it?" he exclaimed dramatically.
"If they really prove of value to me, I will pay you well for all your trouble," I replied.
"Is that straight?" he asked thickly.
"It is," I replied, and, I may as well add, I was thoroughly disgusted with the man.
"Then I'm yours truly, and no mistake. Excuse me till I get them."
Be rose unsteadily and left the room. Hardly had he gone before his wife hurried to my side.
"Oh, sir, I hope you are not getting him into trouble?" she cried. "He is a good man when he is sober; indeed he is,"
"I am not going to harm him, madam. A great wrong has been done, and I only want your husband to assist me in righting it. He has papers that can do it."
"You are telling me the truth?" she questioned earnestly.
"I think I can trust you," she said slowly. "You look honest. And these papers— ought you to have them?"
"Yes. If your husband does not give them up, he will certainly get into great trouble."
"You are young, and you don't look as if you would lie. If Sam has the papers, he shall give them to you. He's coming now."
"Here's all the evidence in the case," said Sammy Simpson, on returning. He held a thick and long envelope. "What's the value to you?"
"I can tell better after I have examined them," I returned.
"Will you give them back if I let you see them?"
He handed the precious papers to me and then sat down.
Oh, how eagerly I grasped the envelope! How much of importance it might contain for me!
There were three letters and four legal papers. Like Nicholas Weaver's statement, all were badly written, and I had a hard job to decipher even a portion of the manuscript.
Yet I made out enough to learn that Aaron Woodward was the forger of the notes and checks that had sent my father to prison, and that the death of a relative in Chicago was only a pretence. The work had been done in Brooklyn through that branch of Holland & Mack's establishment. Chris Holtzmann had helped in the scheme, and John Stumpy had presented one of the checks, for which service he had received six hundred dollars. This much was clear to me. But two other points still remained dark.
One was of a certain Ferguson connected with the scheme, who seemed to be intimate with my father. He was probably the man my father had mentioned when we had visited him at the prison. His connection with the affair was far from clear.
The other dark point in the case was concerning Agatha Mitts, of 648 Vannack Avenue, Brooklyn. She was a boarding-mistress, and the three or four men had stopped at her house. But how much she knew of their doings I could not tell.
"Well, what do you think?" muttered Sammy Simpson. "Mighty important, I'll be bound."
"Not so very important," I returned, as coolly as I could. "They will be if I can get hold of other papers to use with them."
"Exactly, sir; just as I always said. Well, you can get them easily enough, no doubt."
"I don't know about that," I said doubtfully.
"No trouble at all. Come, what will you give?"
"Ha! ha! They're worth a million." He blinked hard at me. "Say, you're a friend of mine, a good boy. Meg, shall I give them to him?"
"You ought to do what's right, Sam," replied his wife, severely.
"So I ought. You're a good woman; big improvement on a chap like me. Say, young man, give my lady ten dollars, keep the papers, and clear out. I'm drunk, and when Sammy Simpson's drunk he's a fool."
I handed over the money without a word. Perhaps I was taking advantage of the man's present state, but I considered I was doing things for the best.
A minute later, with the precious papers in my pocket, I left.
THE TRAIN FOR NEW YORK
Down in the street I hesitated as to where to go next. I felt that the case on hand was getting too complicated for me, and that I needed assistance.
I did not relish calling on the police for help. They were probably on the watch for me, and even if not, they would deem me only a boy, and give me scant attention.
My mind reverted to the adventure earlier in the day, and I remembered Mr. Harrison's kind offer. I had done his little daughter a good turn, and I was positive the gentleman would assist me to the best of his ability.
I decided to call on him at once. I had his address still in my pocket, and though I was quite tired, I hurried along at a rapid rate.
On the way I revolved in my mind all that had occurred within the past two hours, and by the time I reached Mr. Harrison's place I had the matter in such shape that I could tell a clear, straightforward story.
I found the gentleman in, and pleased at my return.
"I was afraid you had gotten into more difficulties," he explained, with a smile.
"So I did but I got out of them again," I replied.
Sitting down, I gave him the particulars of my visit to Chris Holtzmann and to Sammy Simpson, and handed over the documents for inspection. Mr. Harrison was deeply interested, and examined the papers with great care. It took him nearly an hour to do so, and then he plied me with numerous questions.
"Do you know what my advice is?" he asked, at length.
"I advise you to have both Holtzmann and Woodward arrested at once. They are thorough rascals, and your father is the innocent victim of their cupidity."
"But how can I do that? No one knows me here in Chicago."
"Hold up, you make a mistake. I know you."
"Yes, but you don't know anything about me," I began.
"I know you to be a brave fellow, and brave people are generally honest. Besides, your face speaks for itself."
"You are very kind."
"I have not forgotten the debt I owe you, and whatever I do for you will never fully repay it."
"And you advise me—"
"To put the case in the hands of the police without delay. Come, I will go with you. Perhaps this Holtzmann may be frightened into a confession."
"I trust so. It will save a good deal of trouble."
"Woodward can be taken into custody as soon as the necessary papers are made out," concluded. Mr. Harrison.
An instant later we were on the way. I wondered what had become of John Stumpy. It was strange that he had not turned up at the Palace of Pleasure. Perhaps Mr. Aaron Woodward had intercepted him and either scared or bought him off.
The fellow held much evidence that I wished to obtain, for every letter or paper against Mr. Woodward would make my father's case so much stronger, and I determined with all my heart that when once brought to trial there should be no failure to punish the guilty, so that the innocent might be acquitted.
At the police station we found the sergeant in charge. Mr. Harrison was well known in the locality, and his presence gained at once for us a private audience.
The officer of the law gave the case his closest attention, and asked me even more questions than had been put to me before.
"I remember reading of this affair in the court records," he said. "Judge Fowler and I were saying what a peculiar case it was. Chris Holtzmann claims to keep a first-class resort, and I would hardly dare to proceed against him were it not for these papers, and you, Mr. Harrison."
"You will arrest him at once?" questioned the gentleman.
"If you say so."
"I do, most assuredly."
"You are interested in the case?" queried the sergeant, as he prepared to leave.
"Only on this young man's account. He saved my little daughter from a horrible death this morning."
"Indeed? How so?"
"There was a mad bull broke into my back garden from the street, and was about to gore her, when this young man, who had been driven into the garden in the first place, came between and drove the bull out."
"Oh, I heard of that bull."
"What became of him?" I put in curiously.
"He was killed by a couple of officers on the next block. He was nearly dead before they shot him, having received a terrible cut between the eyes."
"Given by this young man," explained Mr. Harrison.
"You don't mean it!" cried the officer, in admiration. "Phew! but you must be strong!"
"It was more by good luck than strength," I returned modestly.
"Nonsense!" said Mr. Harrison. "My wife witnessed the whole occurrence, and she says it was pure bravery."
Five minutes later a cab was called, and we all got in. I was not sorry to ride, for my long tramp from one place to another on the stone pavement had made me footsore. I did not mind walking, but the Darbyville roads were softer than those of Chicago.
It did not take long to reach the Palace of Pleasure.
"Just wait in the cab for a minute or two," said the sergeant to me. "If he sees you first, he may make a scene."
"Most likely he's gone out," I returned.
The sergeant and Mr. Harrison left the carriage and entered the building.
I awaited their return impatiently. Would they get their man? And would Mr. Aaron Woodward be along?
Five— ten minutes dragged slowly by. Then the two returned.
"He's not in the place, and no one knows where he has gone," said the officer.
"He can't be far off," I replied. "No doubt he and Mr. Woodward have gone off to look for me."
"And where?" put in Mr. Harrison. I thought a moment.
"The depot!" I exclaimed. "He spoke about looking for me there."
"Then we'll be off at once," returned the sergeant.
As he spoke, a familiar figure came shambling around the corner. It was Sammy Simpson.
"Hello, you!" he cried, on catching sight of me. "I want those papers back."
"Why do you want them back?" I asked.
"You didn't pay the value of 'em, didn't pay enough," he hiccoughed.
"I paid all I agreed to."
"Can't say anything about that. But 'tain't enough." He glared at me. "Holtzmann said he'd pay me a hundred dollars. Yes, sir, ten times as much as you."
"When de you see Holtzmann?" I cried, in great interest.
"Saw him about half an hour ago. He came to see me— came to see Sammy Simpson— climbed the stairs to my abode. Wanted the papers— said I must have 'em. Went wild with rage when I let slip you had 'em. So did the other gent."
"Who? Mr. Woodward?"
"That's the identical name. Yes, sir— the correct handle. And they wanted the papers. Offered a hundred dollars for 'em. Think of it. Here's the ten dollars— give 'em back."
Had Sammy Simpson been sober he would not have made such a simple proposition.
"No, sir," I replied decidedly. "A bargain's a bargain. I've got the papers, and I intend to keep them."
"No, you don't."
"What's that?" broke in the sergeant of police.
"I want those papers."
"Do you know who I am?"
"No, and don't care."
"I am sergeant of police, and I want you to behave yourself, or I'll run you in," was the decided reply.
At the mention of an officer Sammy Simpson grew pale.
"No, no, don't do that. I've never been arrested in my life."
"The papers are in the hands of the proper parties," went on the sergeant.
"Then I can't have 'em back?"
"No; and the less you have to do with the whole matter, the better off you'll be. Where has Holtzmann gone?"
I was astonished. To Brooklyn, and so soon!
"You are sure?" I queried.
"Yes; he and the other gent intended to take the first train."
Here was indeed news. This sudden and unexpected departure must portend something of importance.
"We must catch them!" I exclaimed.
"Do you know anything about the trains?" asked Mr. Harrison.
"Jump in, and we'll be off to the depot," said the sergeant.
In an instant we had started, leaving Sammy Simpson standing in the middle of the pavement too astonished to speak. It was the last I ever saw of the man.
We made the driver urge his horse at the top of his speed. I calculated that the pair would take the same line that had brought me to Chicago.
I was not mistaken; for when we reached the depot a few questions put by the sergeant revealed the fact that the two men had purchased tickets for New York but a minute before.
"And when does the train leave?" I asked.
"Her time's up now."
At that instant a bell rang.
"There's the bell."
"We must catch her," I cried, and ran though the gate and on to the platform.
But the train was already moving. I tried to catch her, but failed; and a minute later the cars rolled out of sight.
Mr. Aaron Woodward and Chris Holtzmann had escaped me.
What was to be done next?
IN THE METROPOLIS
I was thoroughly chagrined when I stood on the platform and saw the train roll away. Now that I had Mr. Harrison and the sergeant of police with me I had fondly hoped to capture the two men, even if it was at the last minute.
But now that chance was gone, and as I turned back to my two companions I felt utterly nonplussed.
One thing was perfectly clear in my mind. The two men had gone to Brooklyn to see Mrs. Agatha Mitts. No doubt they thought that now I had the papers Sammy Simpson had stolen in my possession I would follow up the train of evidence by calling on the woman— a thing I most likely would have done. They intended to head me off, and by this means break down my case against them at its last stage.
Yet though I was disappointed I was not disheartened. I was fighting for honor and intended to keep on until not a single thing remained to do. My evidence against Woodward and Holtzmann was gradually accumulating, and sooner or later it must bring them to the bar of justice.
"Well, they're gone," I exclaimed, as I joined the others. "That is, if they were on that train."
"We'll ask the gateman and make sure," said the sergeant.
This was done, and we soon learned that beyond a doubt Mr. Woodward and Chris Holtzmann had been among the departed passengers.
"My work in Chicago is at an end," remarked the sergeant, as we stood in the waiting-room discussing the situation.
"And so is mine," I replied. "I've got the papers, and now the two men are gone, there is no use of my remaining."
"What do you intend to do?" asked Mr. Harrison.
"Follow them to Brooklyn."
"To Brooklyn? It's a good distance."
"I can't help it; I must go. As for the distance, it is not many miles from my home."
Mr. Harrison mused for a moment.
"I have an idea of going along with you," he said at length.
"Going along with me!" I repeated, astonished by his offer.
"Yes; I intended to take a trip to New York, on special business next week, but I can go to-day instead. You no doubt need help, and I want to give it to you."