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- True to Himself - 20/44 -
"I heard it was about two o'clock in the morning," vouchsafed Farmer Decker.
"Then I can easily prove an alibi," said the tramp, triumphantly. "I can prove I was with my esteemed friend Mr. Woodward at that hour. Isn't it so, Aaron?"
The merchant hesitated. I fairly held my breath to catch his answer. Would he commit deliberate perjury?
"Quite true," he replied slowly. "Mr. Stumpy was with me last night. We sat up in the library, smoking, and playing cards until after midnight, and then I showed him to bed. He could not possibly have committed the crime of which Strong speaks."
"Then the boy must be the guilty one hisself," said the farmer. "And so young, too. Who would a-thought it! What shall we do with him, Mr. Woodward?"
"You had better help me take him back to Darbyville jail," responded the merchant.
MY UNCLE ENOS
John Stumpy gave a smile of triumph. As for myself, I stood aghast. Mr. Aaron Woodward had committed deliberate perjury, or at least, something that amounted to the same thing. He had positively declared that John Stumpy was at his house at the time of the robbery of Widow Canby's house, and could not, therefore, be the guilty party.
It was easy to guess that in this statement it was his intention to screen his partner in iniquity. To be sure, he had been forced to take the position by Stumpy himself, but once having taken it, I was morally certain he would not back down.
His action would make it harder than ever for me to clear myself and bring the tramp to justice. His word in a court of law would carry more weight than mine or my sister's, and consequently our case would fall to the ground.
I was glad that Dick Blair could testify concerning my whereabouts and the scene in the dining room directly after the robbery. The merchant knew nothing of Blair's presence on the occasion-- at least I imagined so from his conversation-- and might, by saying too much, "put his foot in it."
But now my mind was filled with only one thought. The three men intended to take me to the Darbyville jail. I was to be ignominiously dragged back to the prison from which I had escaped.
Once again in Ezekiel Booth's custody I was certain he would keep so strict a guard over me that further breaking away would be out of the question. Perhaps Judge Penfold would consider me so dangerous a prisoner as to send me to the county jail for safe keeping, in which case it would be harder than ever for me to clear myself or see Kate.
For an instant I meditated taking to my legs and running my chances, but this idea was knocked in the head by Farmer Decker grasping me by the collar.
"Maybe he might take a notion and run away," he explained. "He did it once, you say."
"A good idea to hold him," said Mr. Woodward. "Have you finished hitching up?"
"Have you room for him?"
"I might put in another seat."
"Do so. And hurry; the rain has slackened up a bit, and we may reach Darbyville before it starts again."
The extra seat was soon placed in the carriage. Then the farmer procured a couple of rubber blankets.
"All ready now," he said. "How shall we sit?"
"You and Mr. Stumpy sit in front. I and the boy will occupy the back seat. Come, Strong, get in."
For an instant I thought of refusing. The merchant had no right to order me. But then I reflected that a refusal would do no good, and might do harm, so without a word I entered the carriage.
The others were not slow to follow. Then Farmer Decker chirruped to Billy, and we rolled out of the farm yard and down the road.
But little was said on the way. I was busy with my own thoughts, and so were Mr. Woodward and Stumpy. The farmer asked several questions, but the merchant said he would learn all he wished to know at the judge's office, and this quieted him.
About five o'clock in the afternoon we rolled into Darbyville. While crossing the Pass River the sun had burst through the clouds, and now all was as bright and fresh as ever.
Judge Penfold's office was situated in the centre of the principal business block. When we arrived there we found a number of men standing about the door, no doubt discussing my escape, for they uttered many exclamations of surprise on seeing me.
Chief among them was Parsons, who looked pale and worried.
"Roger Strong!" he exclaimed. "Where have you been?"
"Took a walk for my health," I replied as lightly as I could, though my heart was heavy.
"Well, I guess we'll make sure it shan't happen again," he returned. "Hi, there, Booth! Here's your prisoner come back!"
In a moment the carpenter appeared upon the scene.
"You rascal, you!" he cried in angry tones. "A fine peck of trouble you've got yourself into!"
"What's all this about?" asked a heavy voice from the stairs, and Judge Penfold stood before me.
"I have brought your prisoner back, judge," replied Mr. Woodward.
"So I see. Well, Strong, what have you to say for yourself? Do you know breaking jail is a serious offence?"
"I don't know anything about it. I know I was locked up for nothing at all, and I escaped at the first chance offered."
"There was no chance offered at all, judge," broke in Booth, fearful of having a reflection cast upon his character. "He just went and ripped the hull floor up, that's what he did."
"Silence, Booth! Come upstairs and we will hear the particulars."
In a moment we were in Judge Penfold's office. I was told to take a seat on a bench, with Booth on one side of me and Parsons on the other.
Then Mr. Woodward introduced John Stumpy as a friend from San Antonio, Texas, and the two told their story, corroborated at its end by Farmer Decker, who trembled from head to foot at the idea of addressing as high a dignitary as Judge Penfold.
"What have you to say to this, Strong?" I was asked.
In a plain, straightforward way I told my story from beginning to end, told it in a manner that did not fail to impress nearly every one in the court-room but the judge and my accusers.
Of course Mr. Woodward and John Stumpy stoutly denied all I said, and their denial carried the day.
"Until we can have a real trial I will send you back to jail," said Judge Penfold.
"Why don't you send John Stumpy to jail, too?" I asked. "He is as much accused as I."
"We have only your word for that."
"Then let me send for my sister Kate and Dick Blair."
Judge Penfold rubbed his chin reflectively.
"I think I'll have to put you under bonds," he said to John Stumpy.
"Why so? The boy's word doesn't amount to anything," put in Mr. Woodward.
"Only a matter of form, Mr. Woodward. I will make it a thousand dollars. Will you go his bondsman?"
"Of course he will," said John Stumpy, hastily. "Won't you?"
The merchant winced. "I-- I guess so," he stammered. "But it's a strange proceeding."
In a few moments, by the aid of two other men, the bond was made out.
"I will make your bail a thousand dollars also," said Judge Penfold, turning to me. "I suppose it's quite useless though," he added sarcastically.
"Not quite so useless as you might think," exclaimed a hearty voice from the rear of the court-room.
I thought I recognized the tones, and turned hastily. There beside my sister Kate stood my uncle, Enos Moss, of whom I have already spoken.
He was a grizzly bearded sea-captain of seventy, with manner and speech suggestive of the brine.
Breaking from Parsons and Booth, I ran to meet him. He shook both my hands and then clapped me on the shoulder.
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