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- True to Himself - 6/44 -
up in her desk, and the temptation to obtain possession of it was too strong to resist.
"I'll have to get rid of that boy and the dog, I suppose," he went on. "If it wasn't for the noise I'd shoot the dog; but it won't do to arouse the neighborhood. As for the lad, I reckon the sight of a pistol will scare him to death."
I was not so sure of that, and I grated my teeth at the thought of my present helplessness. Had I been free, I am sure I could have escaped easily, and perhaps have had the tramp arrested.
It was an alarming prospect. Kate was the only occupant of the house, and the nearest neighbor lived a full five hundred feet away. If attacked in the middle of the night, what would my sister do?
For a moment I felt like exposing myself, but then I reflected that such a course would not liberate me, and he would know that he had nothing to fear from me at the house, whereas, if I kept quiet, he might, by some lucky incident, be kept at bay.
So I lay still, wondering when he would start on his criminal quest.
"Now, one more drink and then I'll be off," he continued, and, producing a bottle, he took a deep draught. "Ha! That's the stuff to brace a man's nerves! But you mustn't drink too much, John Stumpy, or you'll be no good at all. If you'd only let liquor alone you might be as rich as Aaron Woodward, remember that." He gave something like a sigh. "Oh, well; let it pass. I'll get the tools and be on the way. The money in my pocket, I'll take the first train in the morning for the West." He paused a moment. "But no; I won't go until I've seen Woodward. He owes me a little on the old score, and I'll not go until he has settled up."
There was an interval of silence, during which Stumpy must have been feeling around in his pockets for a match; for a moment later there were several slight scratches, and then a tiny flame lit up the interior of the tool house.
"Let's see, where did I leave them tools? Ah, yes; I remember now. Behind those barrels."
And Stumpy moved over to where I was in hiding.
FOLLOWING JOHN STUMPY
I expected to be discovered. I could not see how it could possibly be avoided. John Stumpy was but a few feet away. In a second more he would be in full sight of me.
What the outcome of the discovery would be I could not imagine. I was at the man's mercy, and I was inclined to think that, our interview of the morning would not tend to soften his feelings toward me.
But at that instant a small, yet extremely lucky incident occurred. A draught of wind came in at the partly open door and blew out the match, leaving the place in darkness.
"Confound the luck!" ejaculated John Stumpy, in high irritation. "There goes the light, and it's the last match I've got, too."
This bit of information was gratifying to me, and, without making any noise, I rolled back into the corner as far as possible.
"Well, I'll have to find them tools in the dark, that's all." He groped around for several seconds, during which I held my breath. "Ah, here they are, just as I left 'em last night. Reckon no one visits this shanty, and maybe it will be a good place to bring the booty, especially if I happen to be closely pushed."
I sincerely hoped that he would be closely pushed, and in fact so closely pushed that he would have no booty to bring. But if he did succeed in his nefarious plans, I was glad that I would know where to look for him.
No sooner had the man found the bag of tools,-- which was nothing more nor less than a burglar's kit,-- than he quitted the place, and I was left to my own reflections.
My thoughts alarmed me. Beyond a doubt John Stumpy intended to rob the Widow Canby's house. The only one at home was Kate, and I groaned as I thought of the alarm and terror that she might be called upon to suffer. As it was, I was sure she was worried about my continued absence. In my anguish I strove with all my might to burst asunder the bonds that held me. At the end of five minutes' struggle I remained as securely tied as ever.
What was to be done? It was a puzzling, but pertinent question. By hook or by crook I must get free. At great risk of hurting my head I rolled to the door of the tool house, which Stumpy had left wide open. Outside, the stars were shining brightly, and in the southwest the pale crescent of the new moon was falling behind the tree-tops, casting ghostly shadows that would have made a timid person shiver. But as the reader may by this time know, I was not of a timid nature, and I gave the shadows scant attention until a sudden movement among the trees attracted my notice. It was the figure of some person coming rapidly toward me.
At first I judged it must be Stumpy returning, and I was on the point of rolling back to my hiding-place when I saw that the newcomer was a boy.
When he reached the edge of the clearing he paused, and approached slowly.
"Roger Strong!" he called out. I instantly recognized the voice of Dick Blair, one of the youngest members of the Models, who, during my capture, had had little to say or do. He was the son of a wealthy farmer who lived but a short distance down the road from the Widow Canby's place.
I had always considered Dick a pretty good chap, and had been disagreeably surprised to see him in company with Duncan Woodward's crowd. How Duncan had ever taken up with him I could not imagine, except it might have been on account of the money Dick's father allowed him to have.
"Roger Strong!" he repeated. "Are you still here?"
I could, not imagine what had brought him to this place at such an hour of the night. Yet I answered at once.
"Yes, I am, Dick Blair."
"I thought maybe you had managed to get away," he continued, as he came closer.
"No; you fellows did your work pretty well," I replied as lightly as I could, for I did not want to show the white feather.
"Precious little I had to do with it," he went on, as he struck a match and lit a lantern that he carried.
"You were with the crowd."
"I know it; but I wouldn't have been if I'd known what they were up to. I hope you will not think too badly of me, Roger."
"I thought it was strange you would go into anything of this kind, Dick. What brings you back to-night?"
"I am ashamed of the whole thing," he answered earnestly, "and I came to release you-- that is, on certain conditions."
My heart gave a bound. "What conditions, Dick?"
"I want you to promise that you won't tell who set you free," he explained. "If Dunc or the rest heard of it, they would never forgive me."
"What of it, Dick? Their opinion isn't worth anything."
"I know it-- now. But they could tell mighty mean stories about me if they wanted to." And Dick Blair turned away and shuffled his foot on the ground to hide his shame.
"Don't mind them, Dick. If they start any bad report about you, do as I'm doing with the stain on our name-- live it down."
"I'll try it. But you'll promise, won't you?"
"If you wish it, yes."
"All right; I know I can trust you," said Dick. Producing his pocket knife, he quickly cut the cords that bound me. Somewhat stiff from the position in which I had been forced to remain, I rose slowly to my feet.
"I don't know whether to thank you or not for what you've done for me, Dick," I began. "But I appreciate your actions."
"I don't deserve any thanks. It was a mean trick, and I guess legally I was as guilty as any one. Just keep quiet about it and don't think too hard of me."
"I'll do both," I responded quickly.
"It's a mighty lonely place to spend the night in," he went on. "I'm no coward, but I wouldn't care to do it, all alone."
"I haven't been alone."
"No." And Dick looked intensely surprised. "Who has been here?"
I hesitated. Should I tell him?
"A tramp," I began.
"Why didn't he untie you?"
"He didn't see me."
"Oh, I suppose you hid away. What did he want, I wonder?"
"He was after some tools."
"Tools! There are none here, any more."
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