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- True to Himself - 5/44 -
Duncan gave a sniff.
"I guess that's all put on."
"Not at all. What I am anxious to know is, what you intend to do with me."
"Well, first of all I want you to get down on your knees and apologize for your conduct toward me this morning."
"Not much!" I cried.
"You are in my power."
"I don't care. Go ahead and do your worst," I replied recklessly, willing to suffer almost anything rather than apologize to such a chap as Duncan Woodward.
Besides, what had I done to call for an apology? I had certainly treated him no worse than he deserved. He was a spoilt boy and a bully, and I would die rather than go down on my knees to him.
"You don't know what's in store for you," said Dunce, nonplussed by my manner.
"As I said before, I'll risk it."
"Very well. Where is the rope, boys?"
"Here you are," answered Pultzer. "Plenty of it."
As he spoke he produced a stout clothes line, five or six yards in length.
"We'll bind his hands a little tighter first," instructed Duncan, "and then his legs. Be sure and make the knots strong, so they won't slip. He must not escape us."
I tried to protest against these proceedings, but with my hands already bound it was useless.
In five minutes the clothes line had been passed around my body from head to feet, and I was almost as stiff as an Egyptian mummy.
"Now catch hold, and we'll carry him into the tool house," said Duncan. "I guess after he has spent twenty-four hours in that place without food or water he'll be mighty anxious to come to terms."
I was half dragged and half carried to the tool house and dropped upon the floor. Then the door was closed upon me, and I was left to my fate.
THE TRAMP AGAIN
I am sure that all will admit that the prospect before me was not a particularly bright one. I was bound hand and foot and left without food or water.
Yet as I lay upon the hard floor of the tool house I was not so much concerned about myself as I was about matters at Widow Canby's house. It would be a hardship to pass the night where I was, to say nothing of how I might be treated when Duncan Woodward and his followers returned. But in the meantime, how would Kate fare?
I knew that my sister would be greatly alarmed at my continued absence. She fully expected me to be home long before this. As near as I could judge it was now an hour or so after noon, and she would have dinner kept warm on the kitchen stove, expecting every minute to see me drive up the lane.
Then again I was worried over the fact that the widow had left the house and her money in my charge. To be sure, the latter was locked up in her private secretary; but I felt it to be as much in my care as if it had been placed in my shirt bosom or the bottom of my trunk.
I concluded that it was my duty, then, to free myself as quickly as possible from the bonds which the members of the Model Club had placed upon me. But this idea was more easily conceived than carried out.
In vain I tugged at the clothes line that held my arms and hands fast to my body. Duncan and the others had done their work well, and the only result of my efforts was to make the cord cut so deep into my flesh that several times I was ready to cry out from pain.
In my attempts I tried to rise to my feet, but found it an impossibility, and only succeeded in bumping my head severely against the wall.
There was no use in calling for help, and though I halloed several times I soon gave it up. I was fully three-quarters of a mile from any house and half that distance from the road, and who would be likely to hear me so far off?
The afternoon dragged slowly along, and finally the sun went down and the evening shadows crept up. By this time I was quite hungry and tremendously thirsty. But with nothing at hand to satisfy the one or allay the other I resolutely put all thoughts of both out of my head.
In the old tool house there had been left several empty barrels, behind which was a quantity of shavings that I found far more comfortable to rest upon than the bare floor.
As the evening wore on I wondered if I would be able to sleep. There was no use worrying about matters, as it would do no good, so I was inclined to treat the affair philosophically and make the best of it.
An hour passed, and I was just dropping into a light doze when a noise outside attracted my attention. I listened intently and heard a man's footsteps.
I was inclined to call out, and, in fact, was on the point of so doing, when the door of the tool house opened and in the dim light I recognized the form of the tramp moulder who earlier in the day had so impudently asked me for help.
I was not greatly surprised to see him, for, as mentioned before, the old tool house was frequently used by men of his stamp. He had as much right there as I had, and though I was chagrined to see him enter I was in no position to protest.
On the contrary, I deemed it advisable to keep quiet. If he did not see me, so much the better. If he did, who could tell what indignities he might visit upon me?
So I crouched down behind the empty barrels, hardly daring to breathe. The man stumbled into the building, leaving the door wide open.
By his manner I was certain that he had been drinking heavily, and his rambling soliloquy proved it.
"The same old shebang," he mumbled to himself, as he swayed around in the middle of the floor, "the same old shebang where Aaron Woodward and I parted company four years ago. He's took care of his money, and I've gone to the dogs," and he gave a yawn and sat down on top of a barrel.
I was thoroughly surprised at his words. Was it possible that this seedy-looking individual had once been intimate with Duncan Woodward's father? It hardly seemed reasonable. I made a rapid calculation and concluded that the meeting must have had something to do with the proposed railroad in which I knew Mr. Woodward had held an interest. Perhaps this tramp had once been a prosperous contractor.
"Great times them were. Plenty of money and nothing to do," continued the man. "Wonder if any one in Darbyville would recognize-- hold up, Stumpy, you mustn't repeat that name too often or you'll be mentioning it in public when it ain't no interest for you to do it. Stumpy, John Stumpy, is good enough for the likes of you."
And with great deliberation Mr. John Stumpy brought forth a short clay pipe which he proceeded to fill and light with evident satisfaction.
During the brief period of lighting up I caught a good glance at his face, and fancied that I saw beneath the surface of dirt and dissipation a look of shrewdness and intelligence. Evidently he was one of the unfortunates who allowed drink to make off with their brains.
Mr. John Stumpy puffed on in silence for several minutes. I wondered what he intended to do, and was not prepared for the surprises that were to follow.
"Times are changed and no mistake," he went on. "Here I am, down at the bottom, Nick Weaver dead, Woodward a rich man, and Carson Strong in jail. Humph! but times do change!"
Carson Strong! My heart gave a bound. This man was speaking of my father. What did it mean? What did the tramp know of the events of the past? As I lay behind the barrels, I earnestly hoped he would go on with his talk. I had heard just enough to arouse my curiosity.
I was certain that I had never, until that day, seen the man. What, then, could he have in common with my father?
Instinctively I connected the man with the cause of my father's imprisonment-- I will not say downfall, because I firmly believed him innocent. Why I should do so I cannot to this day explain, but from the instant he mentioned my parent's name the man was firmly fixed in my memory.
In a few moments Mr. John Stumpy had puffed his pipe out, leaving the place filled with a heavy and vile smoke which gave me all I could do to keep from coughing. Then he slowly knocked the ashes from the bowl and restored the pipe to his pocket.
"Now I reckon I'm in pretty good trim to go ahead," he muttered as he arose. "No use of talking; there ain't anything like a good puff to steady a man's nerves. Was a time when I didn't need it, but them times are gone, and the least little job on hand upsets me. Wonder how much that old woman left behind."
I nearly uttered an ejaculation of astonishment. Was this man speaking of Mrs. Canby? What was the job that he contemplated?
Clearly there could be but one answer to that question. He knew the widow had gone away, and in her absence he contemplated robbing her house. Perhaps he had overheard her make mention of the money locked
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