"Here's marm'" said Abner, as his mother's tall figure appeared in the doorway.
HERBERT IS PROVIDED WITH A NEW HOME
Mrs. Barton regarded the newcomers with a wondering stare.
"Did you want to see Joel?" she asked.
"I shall be glad to see him in due time, Mrs. Barton," returned Willis Ford, with unwonted politeness; "but I came principally to see you."
"Who be you?" inquired Mrs. Barton, unceremoniously; "I don't know you no more'n the dead."
"There is a slight connection between us, however. I am the stepson of Pauline Estabrook, of New York, who is a cousin of yours."
"You don't say Pauline is your mother?" ejaculated the lady of the house. "Well, I never expected to see kith or kin of hers out here. Is that your son?"
"No, Mrs. Barton; but he is under my charge."
Herbert was about to disclaim this, but an ominous frown from Willis Ford intimidated him.
"My name is Willis Ford; his is Sam Green."
Herbert's eyes opened wide with astonishment at this statement.
"My name is—" he commenced.
"Silence!" hissed Ford, with a menacing look. "You must not contradict me."
"I s'pose I ought to invite you to stay here," said Mrs. Barton, awkwardly; "but he's so shif-less, and such a poor provider, that I ain't got anything in the house fit for dinner."
"Thank you," returned Ford, with an inward shudder. "I shall dine at the hotel; but I have a little business matter to speak of, Mrs. Barton, and I would wish to speak in private. I will come into the house, with your permission, and we will leave the two boys together."
"Come right in," said Mrs. Barton, whose curiosity was aroused. "Here, you Abner, just take care of the little boy."
Abner proceeded to do this, first thinking it necessary to ask a few questions.
"Where do you live when you're at home, Sam?" he asked.
"In New York; but my name isn't Sam," replied Herbert.
"What is it, then?"
"What makes him call you Sam, then?" asked Abner, with a jerk of the finger toward the house.
"I don't know, except he is afraid I will be found."
Abner looked puzzled.
"Is he your guardeen?" he asked.
"No; he was my father's clerk."
"Ho! Did your father have clerks?"
"Yes; he is a rich man and does business in New York."
"What made him send you out here?"
"Then why did you come?"
"Mr. Ford was mad with papa, and stole me away."
"He wouldn't steal me away easy!" said Abner, defiantly; "but, then, I ain't a little kid like you."
"I'm not a kid," said Herbert, who was not used to slang.
"Oh, you don't know what I mean—you're a little boy and couldn't do nothin'. If he tried to take me, he'd find his hands full."
Herbert, who was not very much prepossessed by Abner's appearance, thought it very doubtful whether any one would ever attempt to kidnap him.
"What's he goin' to do with you?" continued Abner.
"I don't know. I expect he'll make papa pay a good sum to get me back."
"Humph!" remarked Abner, surveying with some contempt the small proportions of the boy before him. "You ain't much good. I don't believe he'll pay much for you."
Tears sprang to the eyes of the little boy, but he forced them back.
"My papa would think differently," he said.
"Papa!" mimicked Abner. "Oh, how nice we are! Why don't you say dad, like I do?"
"Because it isn't a nice name. Papa wouldn't like to have me call him so."
"Where did you get them clothes? I don't think much of 'em."
"Nor I," answered Herbert. "They're not my own clothes. Mr. Ford bought them for me in Chicago."
"He must like you, to buy you new clothes."
"No, he doesn't. My own clothes were much nicer. He sold them. He was afraid some one would know me in the others."
"I wonder what he and marm are talking about so long?"
This question Herbert was unable to answer. He did not guess how nearly this conversation affected him.
No sooner had the two entered the house than Willis Ford began.
"Mrs. Barton," he said, "I'll tell you now what brought me here."
"Go ahead," said the lady, encouragingly.
"I want you to take the boy I have brought with me to board."
"Land sakes! I don't keep a boardin' house!"
"No; but if I will make it worth your while you will take him, won't you?"
"How much will you give?" asked Mrs. Barton, shrewdly.
"Four dollars a week."
"He'll be a sight of trouble," said the lady; but there was something in her tone that satisfied Ford that she was favorably inclined to the proposal.
"Oh, no, he won't. He's so small that you can twist him round your finger. Besides, Abner will be company for him. He will be with him most of the time."
"Say five dollars and it's a bargain," said Mrs. Barton.
Ford hesitated. He did not care to spend more than he was obliged to, but it was of importance to obtain at least a temporary refuge for the boy, of whose care he was heartily tired. It seemed to him that five dollars would be enough to support the whole family in the style in which they were apparently accustomed to live. However, it was politic to make the sum sufficient to interest these people in retaining charge of the boy.
"Well," he said, after a pause, "it's more than I expected to pay, but I suppose I shall have to accept your terms. I conclude Mr. Barton will not object to your taking a boarder?"
"Oh, Joel is of no account," returned Mrs. Barton, contemptuously. "I run this house!"
Willis Ford suppressed a smile. He could easily believe from Mrs. Barton's appearance that she was the head of the establishment.
"There's one thing more," added Mrs. Barton; "you're to pay the money to me. Jest as sure as it goes into Joel's hands, it'll go for drink. The way that man carries on is a disgrace."
"I should prefer to pay the money to you," said Ford.
"You'll have to pay somethin' in advance, if you want the boy to have anythin' to eat. I've got to send to the village, and I haven't got a cent in the house."
Willis Ford took out a pocketbook. Extracting therefrom four five-dollar bills, he handed them to Mrs. Barton.
"There's money for four weeks," he said. "When that time is up I'll send you more."
Mrs. Barton's eyes sparkled, and she eagerly clutched the money.
"I ain't seen so much money for years," she said. "I'll jest look out Joel don't get hold of it. Don't you tell Joel or Abner how much you've paid me."
"I'll take care of that, Mrs. Barton. By the way, I must caution you not to believe any of the boy's stories. He's the son of a friend of mine, who's put him under my care. The boy's weak-minded, and has strange fancies. He thinks his name isn't Sam Green, and that his father is rich. Why, only the other day he insisted his name was George Washington."
"Land's sake! How cur'us!" "Of course; you won't pay any attention to what he says. He may take it into his head to run away. If he does, you must get him back."
"You can trust me to do that!" said Mrs. Barton, with emphasis. "I ain't goin' to let no five-dollar boarder slip through my fingers!"
"That's well! Now I must be going. You will hear from me from time to time."
He passed through the front door into the yard.
"Good-by!" he said.
Herbert was about to follow him, but he waived him back.
"You are not to come with me, Sam," he said. "I shall leave you for a few weeks with this good lady."
Herbert stared at him in dismay. This was something he had never dreamed of.
INTRODUCES MR. BARTON
When Herbert realized that he was to be left behind he ran after Willis Ford, and pleaded for the privilege of accompanying him. "Don't leave me here, Mr. Ford!" he said. "I should die of homesickness!"
"So you would rather go with me?" Ford said, with an amused smile.
"Oh, yes, much rather!"
"I had not supposed you valued my company so highly. I ought to feel complimented. I am sorry to disappoint you, but I shall have to leave you here for a few weeks. This good lady will take good care of you."
Herbert stole a glance at Mrs. Barton, who was watching him with mingled contempt and impatience, but he did not become any more reconciled to the prospect. He reiterated his request.
"I have had enough of this," said Ford, sternly. "You will stop making a fuss if you know what is best for yourself. Good-by! You will hear from me soon."
Herbert realized the uselessness of his resistance, and sank despondently upon the grass.
"Is he goin' to stay here, marm?" asked Abner, curiously.
"Yes; he's goin' to board with us."
"Ho, ho!" laughed Abner; "he'll have a nice boardin' place!"
"Abner, you jest shut up, or I'll take a stick to you! You needn't make him any more homesick than he is. Just try ef you can't amuse him."
"Say, Sam, I guess we'll have a stavin' time together," said Abner, really pleased to have a companion. "What'll we do? Want to play leapfrog?"
"I don't feel like playing," answered Herbert, despondently.
"We might go fishin'," suggested Abner. "There's a pond only a quarter of a mile from here."
"I don't know how to fish," said Herbert.
"Don't know how to fish? What do you know how to do?"
"We don't have any chance in New York."
"Say," exclaimed Abner, with sudden interest, "is New York a nice place?"
"I wish I was back there. I never shall be happy anywhere's else."
"Tell me what you fellows do there. I dunno but I'd like to go myself."
Before Herbert had a chance to answer Mrs. Barton broke in:
"Abner, you take care of Sam while I go to the village."
"What are you goin' there for, marm?"
"I'm going to buy some sausages for dinner. We haven't got anything in the house."
"Me and Sam will go, if you'll give us the money."
"I know you too well, Abner Barton. I won't trust you with the money. Ef I gave you a five-dollar bill, I'd never see any on't back again."
"Say, mam, you haven't got a five-dollar bill, have you?" asked Abner, with distended eyes.
"Never you mind!"
"I'll tell dad ef you don't give me some."
"You jest dare to do it!" returned Mrs. Barton, in a menacing tone. "Your father ain't got nothin' to do with it. It's money for Sam's board."
"My name isn't Sam," expostulated Herbert, who had a natural preference for his own appellation.
"That's what I'm goin' to call you. You can call yourself George Washington, or General Jackson, ef you want to. Mebbe you're Christopher Columbus."
"My name is Herbert Reynolds," said Herbert, annoyed.
"That's what you call yourself to-day. There's no knowin' who you'll be to-morrow."
"Don't you believe me, Mrs. Barton?" asked Herbert, distressed.
"No, I don't. The man who brung you—I dis-remember his name—"
"Well, Willis Ford, then! It seems you know his name. Well, he told me you was loony, and thought you was somebody else than your own self."
"He told you that I was crazy?" ejaculated Herbert.
"Yes; and I have no doubt it's so."
"It's a wicked lie!" exclaimed Herbert, indignantly; "and I'd like to tell him so to his face."
"Well, you won't have a chance for some time. But I can't stand here talkin'. I must be goin' to the store. You two behave yourselves while I'm gone!"
Herbert felt so dull and dispirited that he did not care to speak, but Abner's curiosity had been excited about New York, and he plied his young companion with questions, which Herbert answered wearily. Though he responded listlessly, and did not say any more than he felt obliged to, he excited Abner's interest.
"I mean to go to New York some time," he said. "Is it far?"
"It's as much as a thousand miles. It may be more."
"Phew! That's a big distance. How did you come?"
"We came in the cars."
"Did it cost much?"
"I don't know. Mr. Ford paid for the tickets."
"Has he got plenty of money?"
"I don't think he has. He used to be pa's clerk."
"I wish we had enough money. You and me would start some fine mornin', and mebbe your father would give me something to do when we got there."
For the first time Herbert began to feel an interest in the conversation.
"Oh, I wish we could," he said, fervently. "I know pa would give you a lot of money for bringing me back."
"Do you really think he would?" asked Abner, briskly.
"I know he would. But your mother wouldn't let us go."
"She wouldn't know it," said Abner, winking.
"You wouldn't run away from home?" questioned Herbert.
"Why wouldn't I? What's to keep me here? Marm's always scoldin', and dad gets drunk whenever he has any money to spend for drink. I reckon they wouldn't care much if I made myself scarce."
Herbert was not sure whether he ought not to feel shocked. He admitted to himself, however, that if he had a father and mother answering the description of Abner's, that he would not so much regret leaving them. At any rate, Abner's words awoke a hope of sometime getting away from the place he already hated, and returning to his city home, now more valued than ever.
"We can't go without money," he said, in a troubled voice.
"Couldn't we walk?"
"It's too far, and I'm not strong."
"I could walk it, ef I took time enough," asserted Abner, positively. "Hello! there's dad!"
Herbert looked up, and, following Abner's glance, saw a man approaching the farmhouse. Mr. Barton—for it was he—was a tall man, shabbily attired, his head crowned with a battered hat, whose gait indicated a little uncertainty, and betrayed some difficulty about the maintenance of his equilibrium.
"Is that your father?" asked Herbert.
"It's the old man, sure enough. He's about half full."
"He's been drinkin', as usual; but he didn't drink enough to make him tight. Guess his funds give out."
Herbert was rather shocked at Abner's want of respect in speaking of his father, but even to him Mr. Barton hardly seemed like a man who could command a son's respect.
"Wonder whether dad met marm on the way?" said Abner, musing.
By this time, Mr. Barton had entered the yard, and caught sight of his son and Herbert.
"Abner," said he, in a thick voice, "who's that boy?"
"Then he didn't meet marm," thought Abner. "He's a boy that's goin' to board with us, dad," he answered.
"You don't say! Glad to make your acquaintance, boy," he said, straightening up.
"Thank you, sir," answered Herbert, faintly.
A MODEL HOUSEHOLD
"When did you come?" asked Barton, steadying himself against a tree.
"Half an hour ago," answered Abner, for Herbert was gazing, with a repulsion he found it difficult to conceal, at Barton, whose flushed face and thick utterance indicated his condition very clearly.
"Who came with him?" continued Barton.
"You'd better ask marm. She attended to the business. It was a young man."
"Where is she?"
"Gone to the village to buy some sassiges for dinner."
"Good!" exclaimed Barton, in a tone of satisfaction. "I'll stay at home to dinner to-day. Did the man pay your mother any money?"
"I s'pose so, or she wouldn't be buyin' sassiges. Old Schickman won't trust us any more."
"The money should have been paid to me. I'll see about it when your marm comes back from the store."
"You'd spend it all for drink, dad," said Abner.
"How dare you speak so to your father, you ungrateful young dog!"
He essayed to reach Abner to strike him, but his dutiful son dodged easily, and his father, being unsteady on his legs, fell on the ground.
Abner laughed, but Herbert was too much shocked to share in his enjoyment.
"Come here and help me up, you Abner!" said his father.
"Not much, dad! If you hadn't tried to lick me you wouldn't have fallen!"
"Let me help you, sir!" said Herbert, conquering his instinctive disgust and approaching the fallen man.
"You're a gentleman!" murmured Barton, as he took the little boy's proffered hand and, after considerable ado, raised himself to a standing position. "You're a gentleman; I wish I had a boy like you."
Herbert could not join in the wish. He felt that a father like Joel Barton would be a great misfortune.
But just then Mrs. Barton entered the yard, marching with long strides like a man's.
"Here's marm!" announced Abner.
Barton steadied himself as he turned to look at his wife.
"I want to see you, Mrs. B.," he said. "When are you goin' to have dinner?"
"Never, if I depended on you to supply the vittles!" she answered, bluntly.
"Don't speak so before a stranger," said Barton, with a hiccough. "You hurt my feelin's."
"Your feelin's are tough, and so are mine by this time."
"What have you got there?"
"Some sassiges. Ef you want your share, you'll have to be on time. I shan't save you any."
"How much money did the man pay you, Mrs. B.?"
"That's my business!" retorted his wife, shortly.
"Mrs. B.," said her husband, straightening up, "I want you to understand that I'm the master of this house, and it's my right to take care of the money. You'll oblige me by handin' it over."
"I'll do nothing of the sort, Joel Barton! You'd only spend it for drink."
"Would you grudge me the few pennies I spend for drink? My system requires it. That's what the doctor says."
"Then you must find the money for it yourself. My system requires something to eat, and, ef I take a boarder, he's got to have something to eat, too."
"Mrs. B., I didn't think your heart was so hard," said Barton, in a maudlin tone.
"Look here, Joel Barton; you might as well stop such foolish talk. It won't do no good. I can't stay here all day. I must go and be gettin' dinner."
Had Barton succeeded in raising money from his wife, he would probably have returned at once to the tavern, and his place would have been vacant at the dinner table. Failing in this, he lay back and fell asleep, and was not roused till dinner time.
Mrs. Barton was a fair cook, and Herbert ate with an unexpected relish. It is needless to say that Abner also did full justice to the meal.
"I say, Sam," he said, "I'm glad you've come."
Herbert was hardly prepared to agree with him.
"Now we'll have to live better," Abner explained. "Mam and I gen'ally have to skirmish round for vittles. We don't often get meat."
This frank confession rather alarmed Herbert. He was not over self-indulgent, but he had never lacked for nourishing food, and the prospect of an uncertain supply was not encouraging.
When dinner was over—there was no second course—they left the table. Joel Barton made a fresh attempt to extort a small sum from his wife, but was met with an inflexible refusal. Mrs. Barton proved deaf alike to entreaties and threats. She was a strong, resolute woman, and not one to be intimidated.
When Barton left the house, his look of disappointment had given place to one of cunning.
"Come here, Abner!" he said, beckoning to his son and heir.
"Never you mind."
"But I do mind. Do you want to catch hold of me?"
"No; it's only a little matter of business. It's for your good."
Abner accompanied his father as far as the fence.
"Now, what do you want?" he asked, with his eyes warily fixed on his father.
"I want you to find out where your marm keeps that money," said Barton, in a coaxing tone.
"You're to take it and bring it to me."
"And go without eatin'?"
"I'll buy the provisions myself. I'm the head of the family."
"Do you want me to hook money from marm?"
"'Twon't be hookin'. The money by right belongs to me. Ain't I the head of the family?"
"I dunno about that. Marm's the boss, and always has been," chuckled Abner.
Joel frowned, but immediately tried another attack.
"Of course I'll give you some of it, Abner," he resumed. "If there's five dollars I'll give you a quarter."
"I'll see about it, dad."
"Get it for me before evenin', if you can. I shall need it then."
Abner returned to Herbert, and frankly related the conversation that had taken place between himself and his father.
Herbert was shocked. He did not know what to think of the singular family he had got into.
"You won't do it, will you?" he asked, startled.
"No, I won't. I want a quarter bad enough, but I'd rather mam would keep the money. She'll spend it for vittles, and dad would spend it for drink. Wouldn't you like to go a-fishin'? It's fine weather, and we'll have fun."
Herbert assented, not knowing how to dispose of his time. Abner turned the conversation again on New York. What Herbert had already told him had powerfully impressed his imagination.
"Haven't you got any money?" he asked.
"No," answered Herbert. "Mr. Ford took away all I had, except this."
He drew from his pocket a nickel.
"That won't do no good," said Abner, disappointed. "Stop a minute, though," he added, after aminute's pause. "Wouldn't your folks send you some money, if you should write to them?"
"Yes," answered Herbert, his face brightening. "Why didn't I think of that before? If I could get me paper and ink I'd write at once to papa. I know he'd either send the money or come for me."
"We'll go to the post office," said Abner. "There you can buy some paper and a postage stamp. You've got just money enough. There's a pen and ink there."
"Let us go at once," said Herbert, eagerly.
The boys took their way to the village. The letter was written and posted, and a burden was lifted from the boy's mind. He felt that his father would seek him out at once, and he could bear his present position for a short time. But, alas! for poor Herbert—the letter never came into his father's hands. Why, the reader will learn in the next chapter.
THE HOUSEKEEPER'S CRIME
It is not to be supposed that during this time the family of the missing boy were idle. The mystrerious disappearance of his only son filled his father's heart with anguish, and he took immediate steps to penetrate the mystery. Not only was the fullest information given to the police, but an experienced detective connected with a private agency was detailed for the search. The matter also got into the papers, and Herbert, in his Western home, little suspected that his name had already become a household word in thousands of families.
Days passed, and in spite of the efforts that were being made to discover him, no clew had been obtained by Herbert's friends, either as to his whereabouts, or as to the identity of the party or parties hat had abducted him. It is needless to say that Grant heartily sympathized with the afflicted father, and was sad on his own account, for he had become warmly attached to the little boy whose instant companion he had been in his hours of leisure.
The only one in the house who took the matter coolly was Mrs. Estabrook, the housekeeper. She even ventured to suggest that Herbert had run away.
"What do you mean, Mrs. Estabrook?" exclaimed the father, impatiently. "You ought to know my poor boy better than that!"
"Boys are a worrisome set," returned the housekeeper, composedly. "Only last week I read in the Herald about two boys who ran away from good homes and went out to kill Indians."
"Herbert was not that kind of a boy," said Grant. "He had no fondness for adventure."
"I have known Herbert longer than you, young man," retorted the housekeeper, with a sneer.
"It is very clear that you didn't know him as well," said Mr. Reynolds.
Mrs. Estabrook sniffed, but said nothing. Without expressly saying so, it was evident that she dissented from Mr. Reynolds' opinion.
The broker's loss unfitted him for work, and he left the details of office work to his subordinates, while nearly all his time was spent in interviews with the police authorities or in following up faint clews. His loss seemed to strengthen the intimacy and attachment between him and Grant, in whom he confided without reserve. When at home in the evening he talked over with Grant, whom he found a sympathetic listener, the traits of the stolen boy, and brought up reminiscences, trifling, perhaps, but touching, under the circumstances. To Mrs. Estabrook he seldom spoke of his son. Her cold and unsympathetic temperament repelled him. She had never preferred to feel any attachment for Herbert, and the boy, quick to read her want of feeling, never cared to be with her.
One morning, after Mr. Reynolds and Grant had gone out, Mrs. Estabrook, on going to the hall, saw a letter on the table, which had been left by the postman. As curiosity was by no means lacking in the housekeeper's composition, she took it up, and peered at the address through her glasses.
It was directed to Mr. Reynolds in a round, schoolboy hand.
Mrs. Estabrook's heart gave a sudden jump of excitement.
"It's Herbert's handwriting," she said to herself.
She examined the postmark, and found that it was mailed at Scipio, Illinois.
She held the letter in her hand and considered what she should do. Should the letter come into the hands of Mr. Reynolds, the result would doubtless be that the boy would be recovered, and would reveal the name of his abductor. This would subject her favorite, Willis Ford, to arrest, and probably imprisonment.
"He should have been more careful, and not allowed the boy to write," said the housekeeper to herself. "Willis must have been very imprudent. If I only knew what was in the letter!"
The housekeeper's curiosity became so ungovernable that she decided to open it. By steaming it, she could do it, and if it seemed expedient, paste it together again. She had little compunction in the matter. In a few minutes she was able to withdraw the letter from the envelope and read its contents.
This is what Herbert wrote:
"DEAR PAPA: I know you must have been very anxious about me. I would have written you before, but I have had no chance. Willis Ford found me playing in the street, and got me to go with him by saying you had sent for me. I thought it strange you should have sent Mr. Ford, but I didn't like to refuse, for fear it was true. We went on board a steamer in the harbor, and Mr. Ford took me in a stateroom. Then he put a handkerchief to my face, and I became sleepy. When I waked up, we were at sea. I don't know where I went, but when we came to land, some time the next day, we got into the cars and traveled for a couple of days. I begged Mr. Ford to take me home, but it made him cross. I think he hates you and Grant, and I think he took me away to spite you. I am sure he is a very wicked man.
"Finally we came to this place. It is a small place in Illinois. The people who live here are Mr. and Mrs. Barton and their son Abner. Mr. Joel Barton is a drunkard. He gets drunk whenever he has money to buy whisky. Mrs. Barton is a hard-working woman, and she does about all the work that is done. Mr. Ford paid her some money in advance. She is a tall woman, and her voice sounds like a man's. She does not ill treat me, but I wish I were at home. Abner is a big, rough boy, a good deal older and larger than I am, but he is kind to me and he wants to come to New York. He says he will run away and take me with him, if we can get enough money to pay our fares. I don't think we could walk it so far. Abner might, for he is a good deal stronger than I am, but I know I should get very tired.
"Now, dear papa, if you will send me money enough to pay for railroad tickets, Abner and I will start just as soon as we get it. I don't know as he ought to run away from home, but he says his father and mother don't care for him, and I don't believe they do. His father doesn't care for anything but whisky, and his mother is scolding him all the time. I don't think she would do that if she cared much for him, do you?
"I have filled the paper, and must stop. Be sure to send the money to your loving son,
"How easy you write!" said Abner, in wonder, as he saw Herbert's letter growing long before his eyes. "It would take me a week to write as long a letter as that, and then I couldn't do it."
"I can't write so easy generally," said the little boy, "but, you see, I have a good deal to write about."
"Then there's another thing," said Abner. "I shouldn't know how to spell so many words. You must be an awful good scholar."
"I always liked to study," said Herbert. "Don't you like to read and study?"
"No; I'd rather play ball or go fishin', wouldn't you?"
"I like to play part of the time, but I wouldn't like to grow up ignorant."
"I expect I'll always be a know-nothin', but I reckon I know as much as dad. The old man's awful ignorant. He don't care for nothin' but whisky."
"And I hope you won't be like him in that, Abner."
"No, I won't. I wouldn't like to have the boys flingin' stones at me, as they did at dad once when he was tight. I licked a couple of 'em."
Mrs. Estabrook read Herbert's letter with intense interest. She saw that the little boy's testimony would seriously incriminate Willis Ford, if he were recovered, as he would be if this letter came into his father's hands.
"There's only one thing to do," the housekeeper reflected, closing her thin lips tightly.
She lit the gas jet in her chamber, and, without a trace of compunction, held the letter in the flame until it was thoroughly consumed.
Day after day Herbert and Abner went to the post office and inquired for letters, but alas! none came. Poor Herbert was in despair. He thought his father would have instantly sent the money, or come out himself to take him home. Was it possible his father had forgotten him, or was indifferent to his absence? He could not believe it, but what was he to think?
"I reckon your father didn't get the letter," suggested Abner.
Herbert hailed this suggestion with relief.
"Or, maybe, marm has told the postmaster to give her any letters that come."
This suggestion, too, seemed not improbable.
"What can we do?" asked Herbert, helplessly. "I reckon we'd better run away."
"We'll hire out to somebody for a week or two and write from where we are."
"I'm afraid I couldn't do much work," said the little boy.
"Then I'll work for both," said Abner, stoutly. "I've got tired of stayin' at home, anyway."
"I'll do whatever you say," said Herbert, feeling that any change would be for the better.
"I'll tell you when I'm ready," said Abner. "We'll start some time when marm's gone to the village."
There was another reason for Herbert's being dissatisfied with his new home. A month had passed—the full time for which Willis Ford had paid the boy's board—and there were no indications that any more was to be paid. During the the first week the fare had been tolerable, though Mrs. Barton was not a skillful cook; but now there was no money left, and the family fell back upon what their limited resources could supply. Mush and milk now constituted their principal diet. It is well enough occasionally, but, when furnished at every meal, both Herbert and Abner became tired of it.
"Haven't you got anything else for dinner, marm?" asked Abner, discontentedly.
"No, I haven't," answered the mother, snappishly.
"You used to have sassiges and bacon."
"That was when I had money to buy 'em."
"Where's all that money gone the man left with him?" indicating Herbert.
"It's spent, and I wish Willis Ford would send along some more mighty quick. He needn't expect me to take a free boarder."
She looked severely at Herbert, as if he were in fault. Certainly the poor boy had no desire to live on the liberality of Mrs. Barton.
"Maybe he's sent you some money in a letter," suggested Abner.
"Well, I never thought of that. It's a bright idee, ef it did come from you, Abner Barton. Jest go up to the postoffice after dinner, and ask if there's any letter for me. Ef there is, mind you, don't open it."
"All right, marm."
"Come along, bub," said Abner.
This was the name he gave to Herbert, whom he liked in his own rough way.
"I don't think," said Herbert, as they walked along, "that your mother can have got any letter written by my father. If she had, she would not be out of money."
"I reckon you're right. Do you think that Ford feller will send money for your board?"
"I think he will, if he can, for he wants to keep me here; but I don't think he has much money with him."
"All the worse for marm."
"Abner," said Herbert, after a pause, during which he had been thinking seriously, "would you mind running away pretty soon?"
"No, bub; I'm ready any time. Are you in a hurry?"
"You see, Abner, I don't want to live on your mother. She isn't rich—"
"No, I guess not. Ef she hadn't married sech a good-for-nothin' as dad—"
"I wouldn't speak so of your father, Abner."
"Why not? Isn't it the truth? Dad's no grit. He gits drunk whenever he has a chance. Marm's a good, hard-workin' woman. She'd git along well enough ef she was alone."
"At any rate, she can't afford to board me for nothing. So I am ready to start whenever you are, Abner."
"Suppose we get up early to-morror and start?"
"Three o'clock. Marm gets up at five. We must be on the road before that time."
"I'm willing, Abner. You must wake me up in time."
"You'd better go to bed early, bub, and git all the sleep you can. We'll have a hard day to-morrer."
THE JOURNEY BEGINS
"Wake up, there."
The little boy stirred in his sleep, and finally opened his eyes. By the faint light that entered through the window, he saw Abner bending over him.
"What is it?" he asked, drowsily.
"The kitchen clock's just struck three," whispered Abner. "You haven't forgotten that we are going to run away, have you?"
"I'll get right up," said Herbert, rubbing his eyes.
In two minutes the boys were dressed and ready for a start. It had taken a great deal longer for Herbert to dress at home, but he had become less particular as to his toilet now.
The boys took their shoes in their hands, and stole out in their stocking feet. As they passed the door of the room in which Mr. and Mrs. Barton slept, they heard the deep breathing of both, and knew that they were not likely to be heard.
Outside the door they put on their shoes, and were now ready to start.
"Wait a minute, bub," said Abner.
He re-entered the house, and presently came out holding half a loaf in his hand.
"That'll do for our breakfast," he said. "We won't eat it now. We'll wait till five o'clock. Then we'll be hungry."
By five o'clock they were as many miles on their way. They had reached the middle of the next town.
"Do you feel tired, bub?" asked Abner.
"A little. I feel hungry. Don't you think we can eat the bread now?"
"Yes, we'd better. I feel kind o' gone myself."
They sat down under a tree, and Abner divided the bread fairly.
"You ought to have more than I," protested Herbert. "You're bigger than I, and need more."
"Never mind that! You'll need it to keep up your strength."
Abner was not naturally unselfish, but he was manly enough to feel that he ought to be generous and kind to a boy so much smaller, and he felt repaid for his self-denial by noticing the evident relish with which Herbert ate his allowance of bread, even to the smallest crumb.
They found a spring, which yielded them a cool, refreshing draught, and soon were on their way once more. They had proceeded perhaps two miles further, when the rumbling of wheels was heard behind them, and a farm wagon soon came up alongside. The driver was a man of about thirty—sunburned and roughly clad.
"Whoa, there," he said.
The horse stopped.
"Where are you two goin'?" he asked.
"We're travelin'," answered Abner, noncommittally.
"Where's your home?"
"Some ways back."
"Where are you goin'?"
"I'm after work," answered Abner.
"Well, you'd orter be a good hand at it. You look strong. Is that little feller your brother?"
"No; he's my cousin."
Herbert looked up in surprise at this avowal of relationship, but he thought it best not to say anything that would conflict with Abner's statement.
"Is he after work, too?" asked the driver, with a smile.
"No; he's goin' to his father."
"Where does he live?"
"Have you walked fur?"
"Ef you want to ride, I'll give you a lift for a few miles."
"Thank you," said Abner, prompt to accept the offer. "I'll help you in, bub."
The two boys took their seats beside the driver, Herbert being in the middle. The little boy was really tired, and he found it very pleasant to ride, instead of walking. He had walked seven miles already, and that was more than he had ever before walked at one time.
They rode about three miles, when the driver pulled up in front of a comfortable-looking house.
"This is where I stop," he said. "My aunt lives here, and my sister has been paying her a visit. I've come to take her home."
The front door was opened, and his aunt and sister came out.
"You're just in time for breakfast, John," said his aunt. "Come in and sit down to the table. Bring in the boys, too."
"Come in, boys," said the young man. "I guess you can eat something, can't you?"
"We've had—-" Herbert began, but Abner checked him.
"Come along, bub," he said. "What's a bit of bread? I ain't half full."
MRS. BARTON'S SURPRISE
A hearty breakfast, consisting of beefsteak, potatoes, corn bread, fresh butter and apple sauce, made Abner's eyes glisten, for he had never in his remembrance sat down at home to a meal equally attractive. He wielded his knife and fork with an activity and energy which indicated thorough enjoyment. Even Herbert, though in the city his appetite had been delicate, and he had already eaten part of a loaf of bread, did excellent justice to the good things set before him. He was himself surprised at his extraordinary appetite, forgetting the stimulating effect of a seven-mile walk.
After breakfast they set out again on their tramp. At sunset, having rested several hours in the middle of the day, they had accomplished twenty miles. Abner could have gone further, but Herbert was well tired out. They obtained permission from a friendly farmer to spend the night in his barn, and retired at half-past seven. Mr. Reynolds would have been shocked had he known that his little son was compelled to sleep on a pile of hay, but it may truthfully be said that Herbert had seldom slept as soundly or felt more refreshed.
"How did you sleep, Abner?" he asked.
"Like a top. How was it with you, bub?"
"I didn't wake up all night," answered the little boy.
"I wonder what dad and marm thought when they found us gone?" said Abner, with a grin.
"Won't they feel bad?"
"Not much," said Abner. "They ain't that kind. I reckon it won't spoil their appetite."
When they descended from the haymow, the farmer was milking his cows.
"Well, youngsters," he said, "so you're up and dressed?"
"And ready for breakfast, I'll be bound."
"I reckon I should feel better for eatin'," said Abner, promptly.
"Jest you wait till I get through milkin', and we'll see what Mrs. Wiggins has got for us."
Abner heard these words with joy, for he was always possessed of a good appetite.
"I say, bub, I'm glad I run away," he remarked, aside, to Herbert. "We live enough sight better than we did at home."
Leaving the boys to pursue their journey, we will return to the bereaved parents, and inquire how they bore their loss.
When Mrs. Barton rose to commence the labors of the day, she found that no wood was on hand for the kitchen fire.
"Abner's gittin' lazier and lazier," she soliloquized. "I'll soon have him up."
She went to the foot of the stairs, and called "Abner!" in a voice by no means low or gentle.
There was no answer.
"That boy would sleep if there was an earthquake," she muttered. "Come down here and split some wood, you lazy boy!" she cried, still louder.
Again no answer.
"He hears, fast enough, but he don't want to work. I'll soon have him down."
She ascended the stairs, two steps at a time, and opened the door of her son's room.
If Abner had been in bed his mother would have pulled him out, for her arm was vigorous, but the bed was empty.
"Well, I vum!" she ejaculated, in surprise. "Ef that boy isn't up already. That's a new wrinkle. And the little boy gone, too. What can it mean?"
It occurred to Mrs. Barton that Abner and Herbert might have got up early to go fishing, though she had never known him to make so early a start before.
"I reckon breakfast'll bring 'em round," she said to herself. "I reckon I shall have to split the wood myself."
In half an hour breakfast was ready. It was of a very simple character, for the family resources were limited. Mr. Barton came downstairs, and looked discontentedly at the repast provided.
"This is a pretty mean breakfast, Mrs. B.," he remarked. "Where's your meat and taters?"
"There's plenty of 'em in the market," answered Mrs. Barton.
"Then, why didn't you buy some?"
"You ought to know, Joel Barton. You give me the money, and I'll see that you have a good breakfast."
"Where's all the money that man Ford gave you?"
"Where is it? It's eaten up, Mr. Barton, and you did your share. Ef you'd had your way, you'd have spent some of the money for drink."
"Why don't he send you some more, then?"
"Ef you see him anywheres, you'd better ask him. It's your business to provide me with money; you can't expect one boy's board to support the whole family."
"It's strange where them boys are gone," said Joel, desirous of changing the subject. "Like as not, they hid under the bed, and fooled you."
"Ef they did, I'll rout 'em out," said Mrs. Barton, who thought the supposition not improbable.
Once more she ascended the stairs and made an irruption into the boy's chamber. She lifted the quilt, and peered under the bed. But there were no boys there. Looking about the room, however, she discovered something else. On the mantelpiece was a scrap of paper, which appeared to be so placed as to invite attention.
"What's that?" said Mrs. Barton to herself.
A moment later she was descending the staircase more rapidly than she had gone up just before.
"Look at that," she exclaimed, holding out a scrap of paper to Joel Barton.
"I don't see nothin' but a bit of paper," said her husband.
"Don't be a fool! Read what it is."
"Read it aloud. I ain't got my specks."
"The boys have run away. Abner writ it. Listen to this."
Rudely written on the paper, for Abner was by no means a skillful penman, were these words:
"Bub and I have runned away. You needn't worry. I reckon we can get along. We're going to make our fortunes. When we're rich, we'll come back. ABNER."
"What do you think of that, Joel Barton?" demanded his wife.
Joel shrugged his shoulders.
"I shan't worry much," he said. "They'll be back by to-morrer, likely."
"Then you'll have to split some wood to-day, Joel. You can't expect a delicate woman like me to do such rough work."
"You're stronger'n I be, Mrs. B."
"Perhaps you'll find I am if you don't go to work."
"I'll do it this afternoon."
"All right. Then we'll have dinner in the even-in'. No wood, no dinner."
"Seems to me you're rather hard on me, Mrs. B. I don't feel well."
"Nor you won't till you give up drinkin'."
Much against his will, Mr. Barton felt compelled by the stress of circumstances to do the work expected of him. It made him feel angry with Abner, whom he did not miss for any other reason.
"I'll break that boy's neck when he comes back," he muttered. "It's a shame to leave all this work for his poor, old dad."
To-morrow came, but the boys did not. A week slipped away, and still they were missing. Mrs. Barton was not an affectionate mother, but it did seem lonesome without Abner. As for Herbert, she did not care for his absence. If Willis Ford did not continue to pay his board, she felt that she would rather have him away.
On the sixth day after the departure of the boys there came a surprise for Mrs. Barton.
As she was at work in the kitchen, she heard a loud knock at the door.
"Can it be Abner?" she thought. "He wouldn't knock."
She went to the door, however, feeling rather curious as to who could be her visitor, and on opening it started in surprise to see Willis Ford.
"Mr. Ford!" she ejaculated.
"I thought I would make you a call," answered Ford. "How's the boy getting along?"
"If you mean the boy you left here," she answered, composedly, "he's run away, and took my boy with him."
"Run away!" ejaculated Ford, in dismay.
"Yes; he made tracks about a week ago. He and my Abner have gone off to make their fortunes."
"Why didn't you take better care of him, woman?" exclaimed Ford, angrily. "It's your fault, his running away!"
"Look here, Ford," retorted Mrs. Barton; "don't you sass me, for I won't stand it. Ef it hadn't been for you, Abner would be at home now."
"I didn't mean to offend you, my dear Mrs. Barton," said Ford, seeing that he had made a false step. "Tell me all you can, and I'll see if I can't get the boys back."
"Now you're talkin'," said Mrs. Barton, smoothing her ruffled plumage. "Come into the house, and I'll tell you all I know."
HERBERT BREAKS DOWN
"I don't think I can walk any further, Abner. I feel sick," faltered Herbert.
Abner, who had been walking briskly, turned round to look at his young companion. Herbert was looking very pale, and had to drag one foot after the other. Day after day he had tried to keep up with Abner, but his strength was far inferior to that of the other boy, and he had finally broken down.
"You do look sick, bub," said Abner, struck by Herbert's pallid look. "Was I walking too fast for you?"
"I feel very weak," said Herbert. "Would you mind stopping a little while? I should like to lie under a tree and rest."
"All right, bub. There's a nice tree." "Don't you feel tired, Abner?"
"No; I feel as strong as hearty as a horse."
"You are bigger than I am. I guess that is the reason."
Abner was a rough boy, but he showed unusual gentleness and consideration for the little boy, whose weakness appealed to his better nature. He picked out a nice, shady place for Herbert to recline upon, and, taking off his coat, laid it down for a pillow on which his young companion might rest his head.
"There, bub; I reckon you'll feel better soon," he said.
"I hope so, Abner. I wish I was as strong as you are."
"So do I. I reckon I was born tough. I was brought up different from you."
"I wish I were at home," sighed Herbert. "Is it a long way from here?"
"I reckon it is, but I don't know," answered Abner, whose geographical notions were decidedly hazy.
An hour passed, and still Herbert lay almost motionless, as if rest were a luxury, with his eyes fixed thoughtfully upon the clouds that could be seen through the branches floating lazily above.
"Don't you feel any better, bub?" asked Abner.
"I feel better while I am lying here, Abner."
"Don't you feel strong enough to walk a little further?"
"Must I?" asked Herbert, sighing. "It is so nice to lie here."
"I am afraid we shall never get to New York if we don't keep goin'."
"I'll try," said Herbert, and he rose to his feet, but he only staggered and became very white.
"I am afraid I need to rest a little more," he said.
"All right, bub. Take your time."
More critically Abner surveyed his young companion. He was not used to sickness or weakness, but there was something in the little boy's face that startled him.
"I don't think you're fit to walk any further today," he said. "I wish we had some good place to stay."
At this moment a carriage was seen approaching. It was driven by a lady of middle age, with a benevolent face. Her attention was drawn to the two boys, and especially to Herbert. Her experienced eyes at once saw that he was sick.
She halted her horse.
"What is the matter with your brother?" she said to Abner.
"I reckon he's tuckered out," said Abner, tacitly admitting the relationship. "We've been travelin' for several days. He ain't so tough as I am."
"He looks as if he were going to be sick. Have you any friends near here?"
"No, ma'am. The nighest is over a hundred miles off."
The lady reflected a moment. Then she said: "I think you had better come to my house. My brother is a doctor. He will look at your little brother and see what can be done for him."
"I should like it very much," said Abner, "but we haven't got any money to pay for doctors and sich."
"I shan't present any bill, nor will my brother," said the lady, smiling. "Do you think you can help him into the carriage?"
"Oh, yes, ma'am."
Abner helped Herbert into the carriage, and then, by invitation, got in himself.
"May I drive?" he asked, eagerly.
"Yes, if you like."
The kind lady supported with her arm Herbert's drooping head, and so they drove on for a mile, when she indicated that they were to stop in front of a large, substantial, square house, built after the New England style.
Herbert was taken out, and, after Abner helped him upstairs, into a large, square chamber, with four windows.
"What is his name?" asked the lady.
"He had better lie down on the bed, and, as soon as my brother comes, I will send him up."
Herbert breathed a sigh of satisfaction, as he reclined on the comfortable bed, which was more like the one he slept in at home than the rude, straw bed which he had used when boarding with Mr. and Mrs. Barton.
Half an hour passed, and the doctor came into the room, and felt Herbert's pulse.
"The boy is tired out," he said. "That is all. His strength has been exhausted by too severe physical effort."
"What shall we do to bring him round?" asked his sister.
"Rest and nourishing food are all that is required."
"Shall we keep him here? Have you any objection?"
"I should object to letting him go in his present condition. He will be a care to you, Emily."
"I shall not mind that. We shall have to keep the other boy, too."
"Certainly. There's room enough for both."
When Abner was told that for a week to come they were to stay in Dr. Stone's comfortable house, his face indicated his satisfaction.
"Ef you've got any chores to do, ma'am," he said, "I'll do 'em. I'm strong, and not afraid to work."
"Then I will make you very useful," said Miss Stone, smiling.
The next day, as she was sitting in Herbert's chamber, she said: "Herbert, you don't look at all like your brother."
"Do you mean Abner, Miss Stone?" Herbert asked.
"Yes; have you any other brother?"
"Abner is not my brother at all."
"How, then, do you happen to be traveling together?"
"Because we've both run away."
"I am sorry to hear that. I don't approve of boys running away. Where do you live?"
"In New York."
"In New York!" repeated Miss Stone, much surprised. "Surely, you have not walked from there?"
"No, Miss Stone; I was stolen from my home in New York about a month ago, and left at Abner's house. It was a poor cabin, and very different from anything I was accustomed to. I did not like Mr. and Mrs. Barton; but Abner was always kind to me."
"Is your father living?" asked Miss Stone, who had become interested.
"Yes; he is a broker."
"And no doubt you have a nice home?"
"Yes, very nice. It is a brownstone house uptown. I wonder whether I shall ever see it again?"
"Surely you will. I am surprised that you have not written to tell your father where you are. He must be feeling very anxious about you."
"I did write, asking him to send me money to come home. Abner was going with me. But no answer came to my letter."
"That is strange. Your father can't have received the letter."
"So I think, Miss Stone; but I directed it all right."
"Do you think any one would intercept it?"
"Mrs. Estabrook might," said Herbert, after a pause for consideration.
"Who is she?"
"What makes you think so? Didn't she like you?"
"No; besides, it was her nephew who carried me off."
Miss Stone asked further questions, and Herbert told her all the particulars with which the reader is already acquainted. When he had finished, she said: "My advice is, that you write to your boy friend, Grant Thornton, or tell me what to write, and I will write to him. His letters will not be likely to be tampered with."
"I think that will be a good idea," said Herbert; "Grant will tell papa, and then he'll send for me."
Miss Stone brought her desk to the bedside, and wrote a letter to Grant at Herbert's dictation. This letter she sent to the village postoffice immediately by Abner.
GRANT RECEIVES A LETTER
Mr. Reynolds had spared no expense in his efforts to obtain tidings of his lost boy. None of his agents, however, had succeeded in gaining the smallest clew to Herbert's whereabouts. Through the public press the story had been widely disseminated, and in consequence the broker began to receive letters from various points, from persons professing to have seen such a boy as the one described. One of these letters came from Augusta, Ga., and impressed Mr. Reynolds to such an extent that he decided to go there in person, and see for himself the boy of whom his correspondent wrote.
The day after he started Grant, on approaching the house at the close of business, fell in with the postman, just ascending the steps.
"Have you got a letter for me?" he asked.
"I have a letter for Grant Thornton," was the reply.
"That is my name," said Grant.
He took the letter, supposing it to be from home. He was surprised to find that it had a Western postmark. He was more puzzled by the feminine handwriting.
"Have you heard anything from the little boy?" asked the postman, for Mr. Reynolds' loss was well known.
Grant shook his head.
"Nothing definite," he said. "Mr. Reynolds has gone to Georgia to follow up a clew."
"Two weeks since," said the postman, "I left a letter here dated at Scipio, I11. It was in a boy's handwriting. I thought it might be from the lost boy."
"A letter from Scipio, in a boy's handwriting!" repeated Grant, surprised. "Mr. Reynolds has shown me all his letters. He has received none from there."
"I can't understand it. I left it here, I am positive of that."
"At what time in the day?" asked Grant, quickly.
"About eleven o'clock in the forenoon."
"Can you tell to whom you gave it?"
"To the servant."
"It is very strange," said Grant, thoughtfully. "And it was in a boy's handwriting?"
"Yes; the address was in a round, schoolboy hand. The servant couldn't have lost it, could she?"
"No; Sarah is very careful."
"Well, I must be going."
By this time Grant had opened the letter. He had glanced rapidly at the signature, and his face betrayed excitement.
"This is from Herbert," he said. "You may listen, if you like."
He rapidly read the letter, which in part was as follows:
"DEAR GRANT: I write to you, or rather I have asked Miss Stone, who is taking care of me, to do so, because I wrote to papa two weeks since, and I am afraid he did not get the letter, for I have had no answer. I wrote from the town of Scipio, in Illinois—
"Just what I said," interrupted the postman.
"I wrote that Mr. Ford had carried me away and brought me out West, where he put me to board in a poor family, where I had scarcely enough to eat. Mr. Barton had one son, Abner, who treated me well, and agreed to run away with me to New York, if we could get money from papa. But we waited and waited, and no letter came. So at last we decided to run away at any rate, for I was afraid Mr. Ford would come back and take me somewhere else. I can't tell you much about the journey, except that we walked most of the way, and we got very tired—or, at least, I did, for I am not so strong as Abner—till I broke down. I am stopping now at the house of Dr. Stone, who is very kind, and so is his sister, who is writing this letter for me. Will you show papa this letter, and ask him to send for me, if he cannot come himself? I do so long to be at home once more. I hope he will come before Willis Ford finds me out. I think he has a spite against papa, and that is why he stole me away. Your affectionate friend,
"Please say nothing about this," said Grant to the postman. "I don't want it known that this letter has come."
"What will you do?"
"I shall start for the West myself to-night."
"Mrs. Estabrook intercepted that letter," said Grant to himself. "I am sure of it."
WILLIS FORD FINDS THE RUNAWAYS
"I shall be absent for a few days, Mrs. Estabrook," said Grant to the housekeeper, as he entered the house.
"Where are you going?" she inquired.
"I can't tell you definitely."
"Hadn't you better wait till Mr. Reynolds gets back?"
"No; business is not very pressing in the office, and I can be spared."
The housekeeper concluded that Grant was going to Colebrook, and did not connect his journey with the lost boy.
"Oh, well, I suppose you understand your own business best. Herbert will miss you if he finds you away when his father brings him back."
"Do you think he will?" asked Grant, eyeing the housekeeper sharply.
"I'm sure I don't know. I suppose he expects to, or he would not have traveled so far in search of him."
"Shall you be glad to see him back, Mrs. Estabrook?"
"Of course! What makes you doubt it?" demanded the housekeeper, sharply.
"I thought you didn't like Herbert."
"I wasn't always petting him. It isn't in my way to pet boys."
"Do you often hear from Willis Ford?"
"That is my business," answered Mrs. Estabrook, sharply. "Why do you ask?"
"I was wondering whether he knew that Herbert had been abducted."
"That is more than we know. Very likely the boy ran away."
Grant called on the cashier at his private residence, confided to him his plan, and obtained a sum of money for traveling expenses. He left the Grand Central Depot by the evening train, and by morning was well on his way to Chicago.
Meanwhile, Willis Ford had left no stone unturned to obtain news of the runaways. This he did not find difficult, though attended with delay. He struck the right trail, and then had only to inquire, as he went along, whether two boys had been seen, one small and delicate, the other large and well-grown, wandering through the country. Plenty had seen the two boys, and told him so.
"Are they your sons, mister?" asked a laborer of whom he inquired.
"Not both of them—only the smaller," answered Ford, with unblushing falsehood.
"And what made them run away now?"
"My son probably did not like the boarding place I selected for him."
"Why didn't he write to you?"
"He didn't know where to direct."
"Who is the other lad?"
"The son of the man I placed him with. I think he may have induced Sam to run away."
Finally Ford reached Claremont, the town where the boys had actually found refuge. Here he learned that two boys had been taken in by Dr. Stone, answering to the description he gave. One, the younger one, had been sick, but now was better. This information he obtained at the hotel.
Ford's eyes sparkled with exultation. He had succeeded in his quest, and once more Herbert was in his hands, or would be very soon.
He inquired the way to Dr. Stone's. Everybody knew where the doctor lived, and he had no trouble in securing the information he sought. Indeed, before he reached the house, he caught sight of Abner, walking in the same direction with himself, but a few rods ahead.
He quickened his pace, and laid his hand on the boy's shoulder.
Abner turned, and an expression of dismay overspread his face.
"Ha, my young friend! I see that you remember me," said Ford, ironically.
"Well, what do you want?" asked Abner, sullenly.
"You know well enough. I want the boy you have persuaded to run away with you."
"I didn't persuade him."
"Never mind about quibbling. I know where the boy is, and I mean to have him."
"Do you want me, too?"
"No; I don't care where you go."
"I reckon Herbert won't go with you."
"And I reckon he will. That is Dr. Stone's, isn't it? Never mind answering. I know well enough it is."
"He'll have bub sure," said Abner, disconsolately. "But I'll follow 'em, and I'll get him away, as sure as my name's Abner Barton."
FORD TAKES A BOLD STEP, BUT FAILS
"I wish to see Miss Stone," said Willis Ford, to the servant.
"I'll tell her. What name shall I say?"
"Never mind about the name. I wish to see her on business of importance."
"I don't like his looks," thought the maid. "Shure he talks as if he was the boss."
She told Miss Stone, however, that a gentleman wished to see her, who would not tell his name.
Miss Stone was in Herbert's chamber, and the boy—now nearly well, quite well, in fact, but for a feeling of languor and weakness—heard the message.
"What is he like?" he asked, anxiously.
"He's slender like, with black hair and a black mustache, and he talks like he was the master of the house."
"I think it is Willis Ford," said Herbert, turning pale.
"The man who abducted you?" ejaculated Miss Stone.
"Yes, the same man. Don't let him take me away," implored Herbert.
"I wish my brother were here," said Miss Stone, anxiously.
"Won't he be here soon?"
"I am afraid not. He has gone on a round of calls. Bridget, tell the young man I will be down directly."
Five minutes later Miss Stone descended, and found Willis Ford fuming with impatience.
"I am here, sir," she said, coldly. "I understand you wish to see me."
"Yes, madam; will you answer me a few questions?"
"Possibly. Let me hear what they are."
"You have a boy in this house, named Herbert Reynolds?"
"A boy who ran away from Mr. Joel Barton, with whom I placed him?"
"What right had you to place him anywhere, Mr. Ford?" demanded the lady.
"That's my business. Permit me to say that it is no affair of yours."
"I judge differently. The boy is sick and under my charge."
"I am his natural guardian, madam."
"Who made you so, Mr. Ford?"
"I shall not argue that question. It is enough that I claim him as my cousin and ward."
"Certainly. That doubtless conflicts with what he has told you. He was always a liar."
"His story is, that you beguiled him from his home in New York, and brought him against his will to this part of the country."
"And you believe him?" sneered Ford.
"It matters little whether you do or not. He is my sister's child, and is under my charge. I thought fit to place him with Mr. Joel Barton, of Scipio, but the boy, who is flighty, was induced to run away with Barton's son, a lazy, shiftless fellow."
"Supposing this to be so, Mr. Ford, what is your object in calling?"
"To reclaim him. It does not suit me to leave him here."
Ford's manner was so imperative that Miss Stone became alarmed.
"The boy is not fit to travel," she said. "Wait till my brother comes, and he will decide, being a physician, whether it is safe to have him go."
"Madam, this subterfuge will not avail," said Ford, rudely. "I will not wait till your brother comes. I prefer to take the matter into my own hands."
He pressed forward to the door of the room, and before Miss Stone could prevent it, was on his way upstairs. She followed as rapidly as she could, but before she could reach him, Ford had dashed into the room where Herbert lay on the bed.
Herbert was stricken with terror when he saw the face of his enemy.
"I see you know me," said Ford, with an evil smile. "Get up at once, and prepare to go with me."
"Leave me here, Mr. Ford. I can't go with you; Indeed, I can't," said Herbert.
"We'll see about that," said Ford. "I give you five minutes to rise and put on your clothes. If you don't obey me, I will flog you."
Looking into his cruel face, Herbert felt that he had no other resource. Trembling, he slipped out of bed, and began to draw on his clothes. He felt helpless, but help was nearer than he dreamed.
"Mr. Ford, I protest against this high-handed proceeding," exclaimed Miss Stone, indignantly, as she appeared at the door of the chamber. "What right have you to go over my house without permission?"
"If it comes to that," sneered Ford, "what right have you to keep my ward from me?"
"I am not his ward," said Herbert, quickly.
"The boy is a liar," exclaimed Ford, harshly.
"Get back into the bed, Herbert," said Miss Stone. "This man shall not take you away."
"Perhaps you will tell me how you are going to help it," retorted Ford, with an evil smile.
"If my brother were here—-"
"But your brother is not here, and if he were, I would not allow him to interfere between me and my cousin. Herbert, unless you continue dressing, I shall handle you roughly."
But sounds were heard upon the stairs, and Ford, as well as Miss Stone, turned their eyes to the door.
The first to enter was Abner.
"Oh, it's you, is it?" said Ford, contemptuously.
He had thought it might be Dr. Stone, whom he was less inclined to face than he professed.
"Yes, it is. What are you doing here?"
"It is none of your business, you cub. He's got to come with me."
"Maybe you want me, too?"
"I wouldn't take you as a gift."
"Ho, ho," laughed Abner, "I reckon you'd find me a tough customer. You won't take bub, either."
"Who is to prevent me?"
"I will!" said a new voice, and Grant Thornton, who had fallen in with Abner outside, walked quietly into the room.
Willis Ford started back in dismay. Grant was the last person he expected to meet here. He had no idea that any one of the boy's home friends had tracked him this far. He felt that he was defeated, but he hated to acknowledge it.
"How are you going to prevent me, you young whippersnapper?" he said, glaring menacingly at Grant.
"Mr. Willis Ford, unless you leave this room and this town at once," said Grant, firmly, "I will have you arrested. There is a local officer below whom I brought with me, suspecting your object in coming here."
"Oh, Grant, how glad I am to see you! Is papa with you?" exclaimed Herbert, overjoyed.
"I will tell you about it soon, Herbert."
"You won't let him take me away?"
"There is no danger of that," said Grant, reassuringly. "I shall take you home to New York as soon as this good lady says you are well enough to go."
Ford stood gnawing his nether lip. If it had been Mr. Reynolds, he would not have minded so much; but for a mere boy, like Grant Thornton, to talk with such a calm air of superiority angered him.
"Boy," he said, "it sounds well for you to talk of arrest—you who stole my aunt's bonds, and are indebted to her forbearance for not being at this moment in State's prison."
"Your malicious charge does not affect me, Mr. Ford," returned Grant. "It was proved before you left New York that you were the thief, and even your stepmother must have admitted it. Mr. Reynolds discharged you from his employment, and this is the mean revenge you have taken—the abduction of his only son."
"I will do you an injury yet, you impudent boy," said Ford, furiously.
"I shall be on my guard, Mr. Ford," answered Grant. "I believe you capable of it."
"Don't you think you had better leave us, sir?" said Miss Stone.
"I shall take my own time about going," he answered, impudently.
But his words were heard by Dr. Stone, who had returned sooner than he anticipated, and was already at the door of the room. He was a powerful man, and of quick temper. His answer was to seize Ford by the collar and fling him downstairs.
"This will teach you to be more polite to a lady," he said. "Now, what does all this mean, and who is this man?"
The explanation was given.
"I wish I had been here before," said the doctor.
"You were in good time," said Grant, smiling. "I see that Herbert has found powerful friends."
Willis Ford, angry and humiliated, picked himself up, but did not venture to return to the room he had left so ignominiously. Like most bullies, he was a coward, and he did not care to encounter the doctor again.
Within an hour, Grant telegraphed to the broker at his office: "I have found Herbert, and will start for New York with him to-morrow." Mr. Reynolds had only just returned from his fruitless Southern expedition, weary and dispirited. But he forgot all his fatigue when he read this message. "God bless Grant Thornton!" he ejaculated.
THE HOUSEKEEPER'S RETRIBUTION
The train from Chicago had just reached the Grand Central Depot. From the parlor car descended two boys who are well known to us, Grant Thornton and Herbert Reynolds.
Herbert breathed a sigh of satisfaction.
"Oh, Grant," he said, "how glad I am to see New York once more! I wonder if papa knows we are to come by this train?"
The answer came speedily.
The broker, who had just espied them, hurried forward, and his lost boy was lifted to his embrace.
"Thank God, I have recovered you, my dear son," he exclaimed, fervently.
"You must thank Grant, too, papa," said the little boy. "It was he who found me and prevented Mr. Ford stealing me again."
Mr. Reynolds grasped Grant's hand and pressed it warmly.
"I shall know how to express my gratitude to Grant in due time," he said.
On their way home Grant revealed to Mr. Reynolds for the first time the treachery of the housekeeper, who had suppressed Herbert's letter to his father, and left the latter to mourn for his son when she might have relieved him of the burden of sorrow.
As Mr. Reynolds listened, his face became stern.
"That woman is a viper!" he said. "In my house she has enjoyed every comfort and every consideration, and in return she has dealt me this foul blow. She will have cause to regret it."
When they entered the house Mrs. Estabrook received them with false smiles.
"So you are back again, Master Herbert," she said. "A fine fright you gave us!"
"You speak as if Herbert went away of his own accord," said the broker sternly. "You probably know better."
"I know nothing, sir, about it."
"Then I may inform you that it was your stepson, Willis Ford, who stole my boy—a noble revenge, truly, upon me for discharging him."
"I don't believe it," said the housekeeper. "I presume it is your office boy who makes this charge?" she added, pressing her thin lips together.
"There are others who are cognizant of it, Mrs. Estabrook. Grant succeeded in foiling Mr. Ford in his attempt to recover Herbert, who had run away from his place of confinement,"
"You are prejudiced against my son, Mr. Reynolds," said Mrs. Estabrook, her voice trembling with anger.
"Not more than against you, Mrs. Estabrook. I have a serious charge to bring against you."
"What do you mean, sir?" asked the housekeeper, nervously.
"Why did you suppress the letter which my boy wrote to me revealing his place of imprisonment?"
"I don't know what you mean, sir," she answered, half defiantly.
"I think you do."
"Did Master Herbert write such a letter?" "Yes."
"Then it must have miscarried."
"On the contrary, the postman expressly declares that he delivered it at this house. I charge you with concealing or suppressing it."
"The charge is false. You can't prove it, sir."
"I shall not attempt to do so; but I am thoroughly convinced of it. After this act of treachery, I cannot permit you to spend another night in my house. You will please pack at once, and arrange for a removal."
"I am entitled to a month's notice, Mr. Reynolds."
"You shall have a month's wages in lieu of it. I would as soon have a serpent in my house."
Mrs. Estabrook turned pale. She had never expected it would come to this. She thought no one would ever be able to trace the suppressed letter to her. She was not likely again to obtain so comfortable and desirable a position. Instead of attributing her ill fortune to her own malice and evil doing, she chose to attribute it to Grant.
"I am to thank you for this, Grant Thornton," she said, in sudden passion. "I was right in hating you as soon as I first saw you. If ever I am able I will pay you up for this."
"I don't doubt it, Mrs. Estabrook," said Grant, quietly, "but I don't think you will have it in your power."
She did not deign to answer, but hurried out of the room. In half an hour she had left the house.
"Now I can breathe freely," said the broker. "That woman was so full of malice and spite that it made me uncomfortable to feel that she was in the house."
"I am so glad that she has gone, papa," said Herbert.
That evening, after Herbert had gone to bed, Mr. Reynolds invited Grant into his library.
"My boy," he said, "I have settled accounts with Mrs. Estabrook; now I want to settle with you."
"Not in the same way, I hope, sir," said Grant.
"Yes, in the same way, according to your deserts. You have done me a service, that which none can be greater. You have been instrumental in restoring to me my only son."
"I don't want any reward for that, sir."
"Perhaps not; but I owe it to myself to see that this service is acknowledged. I shall raise your salary to fifteen dollars a week."
"Thank you, sir," said Grant, joyfully. "How glad my mother will be."
"When you tell her this, you may also tell her that I have deposited on your account in the Bowery Savings Bank the sum of five thousand dollars."
"This is too much, Mr. Reynolds," said Grant, quite overwhelmed. "Why, I shall feel like a man of fortune."
"So you will be in time, if you continue as faithful to business as in the past."
"It seems to me like a dream," said Grant.
"I will give you a week's leave of absence to visit your parents, and tell them of your good fortune."
There were anxious hearts in the parsonage at Colebrook. For some weeks the minister had shown signs of overwork. His appetite had failed, and he seemed weary and worn.
"He needs change," said the doctor. "A run over to Europe would do him good. He has no disease; he only wants change."
"A trip to Europe," said Mr. Thornton, shaking his head. "It is impossible. It has been the dream of my life, but a country minister could not, in half a dozen years, save money enough for that."
"If your brother Godfrey would lend you the money, Grant might, in time, help you to pay it."
Godfrey never had forgiven Grant for running counter to his plans.
"I wish I could spare the money myself, Mr. Thornton," said the doctor. "Five hundred dollars would be sufficient, and it would make a new man of you."
"It might as well be five thousand," said the minister, shaking his head. "No, my good friend, I must toil on as well as I can, and leave European trips to more favored men."
It was noised about through the parish that the minister was sick, and the doctor recommended a European trip.
"It's ridikilus," was Deacon Gridley's comment. "I work harder than the minister, and I never had to go to Europe. It's just because it's fashionable."
"Mr. Thornton is looking pale and haggard," said Mrs. Gridley.
"What if he is? He ought to work outdoors like me. Then he'd know what work was. Ac-cordin' to my notion, ministers have a pooty easy time."
Mr. Tudor was of the same opinion.
"It's all nonsense, deacon," he said. "Father wanted me to be a minister, and I'd have had a good deal easier time if I had followed his advice."
"You wouldn't have had so much money, Mr. Tudor," said Miss Lucretia Spring, who heard this remark.
"Mebbe not; but what I've got I've worked for."
"For my part, although I am not near as rich as you are, I'd give twenty dollars toward sending the minister abroad," said kindly Miss Spring.
"I wouldn't give a cent," said Mr. Tudor, with emphasis.
"Nor I," said Deacon Gridley. "I don't believe in humorin' the clergy."
Saturday came, and the minister was worse. It seemed doubtful if he would be able to officiate the next day. No wonder he became dispirited.
Just before supper the stage drove up to the door, and Grant jumped out.
"I am afraid he has been discharged," said Mr. Thornton, nervously.
"He does not look like it," said Mrs. Thornton, noticing Grant's beaming countenance.
"What is the matter with father?" asked Grant, stopping short as he entered.
"He is not feeling very well, Grant. He has got run down."
"What does the doctor say?"
"He says your father ought to take a three-months trip to Europe."
"Which, of course, is impossible," said Mr. Thornton, smiling faintly.
"Not if your brother would open his heart, and lend you the money."
"He would not do it."
"And we won't ask him," said Grant, quickly, "but you shall go, all the same, father."
"My son, it would cost five hundred dollars."
"And for twice as much, mother, could go with you; you would need her to take care of you. Besides she needs a change, too."
"It is a pleasant plan, Grant; but we must not think of it."
"That's where I don't agree with you. You and mother shall go as soon as you like, and I will pay the expenses."
"Is the boy crazy?" said the minister.
"I'll answer that for myself, father. I have five thousand dollars in the Bowery Savings Bank, in New York, and I don't think I can spend a part of it better than in giving you and mother a European trip."
Then the explanation came, and with some difficulty the minister was made to understand that the dream of his life was to be realized, and that he and his wife were really going to Europe.
"Well, well! who'd have thought it?" ejaculated Deacon Gridley. "That boy of the minister's must be plaguey smart. I never thought he'd be so successful. All the same, it seems to me a mighty poor investment to spend a thousand dollars on racin' to Europe. That money would buy quite a sizable farm."
Others, however, less narrow in their notions, heartily approved of the European trip. When three months later the minister came home, he looked like a new man. His eye was bright, his face bronzed and healthy, his step elastic, and he looked half a dozen years younger.
"This all comes of having a good son," he said, smiling, in reply to congratulations, "a son who, in helping himself, has been alive to help others."
Half a dozen years have passed. Grant Thornton is now a young man, and junior partner of Mr. Reynolds. He has turned his money to good account, and is counted rich for one of his age. He has renewed his acquaintance with Miss Carrie Clifton, whom he met for the first time as a summer boarder in Colebrook, and from their intimacy it wouldn't be surprising if Grant should some day become the wealthy jeweler's son-in-law.
Uncle Godfrey has become reconciled to Grant's following his own course. It is easy to become reconciled to success.
Willis Ford is confined in a penitentiary in a Western State, having been convicted of forgery, and there is small chance of his amendment. He has stripped his stepmother of her last penny, and she is compelled to live on the charity of a relative, who accords her a grudging welcome, and treats her with scant consideration. The bitterest drop in her cup of humiliation is the prosperity of Grant Thornton, toward whom she feels a fierce and vindictive hatred. As she has sown, so she reaps. Malice and uncharitableness seldom bring forth welcome fruit.