Chapter XI. Robert Comes to the Rescue.
 

The attack was so sudden, and the old man's desperation so reinforced his feeble strength, that Ben Haley was thrown forward, and the measure of gold coins fell from his hand. But he quickly recovered himself.

"Let me alone," he said, sternly, forcibly removing his uncle's hands from his face, but not before the clawlike nails had drawn blood. "Let me alone, if you know what is best for yourself."

"You're a thief!" screamed Paul. "You shall go to jail for this."

"Shall I?" asked Ben, his face darkening and his tone full of menace. "Who is going to send me there?"

"I am," answered Paul. "I'll have you arrested."

"Look here, Uncle Paul," said Ben, confining the old man's arms to his side, "it's time we had a little talk together. You'd better not do as you say."

"You're a thief! The jail is the place for thieves."

"It isn't the place for me, and I'm not going there. Now let us come to an understanding. You are rich and I am poor."

"Rich!" repeated Paul.

"Yes; at any rate, you have got this farm, and more money hidden away than you will ever use. I am poor. You can spare me this money here as well as not."

"It is all I have."

"I know better than that. You have plenty more, but I will be satisfied with this. Remember, I am your sister's son."

"I don't care if you are," said the old man, doggedly.

"And you owe me some help. You'll never miss it. Now make up your mind to give me this money, and I'll go away and leave you in peace."

"Never!" exclaimed Paul, struggling hard to free himself.

"You won't!"

His uncle repeated the emphatic refusal.

"Then I shall have to put it out of your power to carry out your threat."

He took his uncle up in his strong arms, and moved toward the stairs.

"Are you going to murder me?" asked Paul, in mortal fear.

"You will find out what I am going to do," said Ben, grimly.

He carried his uncle upstairs, and, possessing himself of a clothesline in one corner of the kitchen, proceeded to tie him hand and foot, despite his feeble opposition.

"There," said he, when his uncle lay before him utterly helpless, "I think that disposes of you for a while. Now for the gold."

Leaving him on the floor, he again descended the cellar stairs, and began to gather up the gold coins, which had been scattered about the floor at the time of Paul's unexpected attack.

The old man groaned in spirit as he found himself about to be robbed, and utterly helpless to resist the outrage. But help was near at hand, though he knew it not. Robert Rushton had thought more than once of his unknown passenger of the day before, and the particular inquiries he made concerning Paul Nichols and his money. Ben Haley had impressed him far from favorably, and the more he called to mind his appearance, the more he feared that he meditated some dishonest designs upon Paul. So the next morning, in order to satisfy his mind that all was right, he rowed across to the same place where he had landed Ben, and fastening his boat, went up to the farmhouse. He reached it just as Ben, having secured the old man, had gone back into the cellar to gather up the gold.

Robert looked into the window, and, to his surprise, saw the old farmer lying bound hand and foot. He quickly leaped in, and asked:

"What is the matter? Who has done this?"

"Hush!" said the old man, "he'll hear you."

"Who do you mean?"

"My nephew."

"Where is he?"

"Down cellar. He's tied me here, and is stealing all my gold."

"What shall I do? Can I help you?"

"Cut the ropes first."

Robert drew a jackknife from his pocket, and did as he was bidden.

"Now," said Paul, rising with a sigh of relief from his constrained position, "while I bolt the cellar door, you go upstairs, and in the closet of the room over this you will find a gun. It is loaded. Bring it down."

Robert hurried upstairs, and quickly returned with the weapon.

"Do you know how to fire a gun?" asked Paul.

"Yes," said Robert.

"Then keep it. For I am nervous, and my hand trembles. If he breaks through the door, fire."

Ben Haley would have been up before this, but it occurred to him to explore other parts of the cellar, that he might carry away as much booty as possible. He had rendered himself amenable to the law already, and he might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, so he argued. He was so busily occupied that he did not hear the noise of Robert's entrance into the room above, or he would at once have gone upstairs. In consequence of the delay his uncle and Robert had time to concert measures for opposing him.

Finally, not succeeding in finding more gold, he pocketed what he had found, and went up the cellar stairs. He attempted to open the door, when, to his great surprise, he found that it resisted his efforts.

"What makes the door stick so?" he muttered, not suspecting the true state of the case. But he was quickly enlightened.

"You can't come up!" exclaimed the old man, in triumph. "I've bolted the door."

"How did he get free? He must have untied the knots," thought Ben. "Does the old fool think he is going to keep me down here?"

"Unlock the door," he shouted, in a loud, stern voice, "or it will be the worse for you."

"Have you got the gold with you?"

"Yes."

"Then go down and leave it where you found it, and I will let you come up."

"You're a fool," was the reply. "Do you think I am a child? Open the door, or I will burst it open with my foot."

"You'd better not," said Paul, whose courage had returned with the presence of Robert and the possession of the gun.

"Why not? What are you going to do about it?" asked Ben, derisively.

"I've got help. You have more than one to contend with."

"I wonder if he has any one with him?" thought Ben. "I believe the old fool is only trying to deceive me. At any rate, help or no help, it is time I were out of this hole."

"If you don't open the door before I count three," he said, aloud, "I'll burst it open."

"What shall I do," asked Robert, in a low voice, "if he comes out?"

"If he tries to get away with the gold, fire!" said the old man.

Robert determined only to inflict a wound. The idea of taking a human life, even under such circumstances, was one that made him shudder. He felt that gold was not to be set against life.

"One--two--three!" counted Ben, deliberately.

The door remaining locked, he drew back and kicked the door powerfully. Had he been on even ground, it would have yielded to the blow, but kicking from the stair beneath, placed him at a disadvantage. Nevertheless the door shook and trembled beneath the force of the attack made upon it.

"Well, will you unlock it now?" he demanded, pausing.

"No," said the old man, "not unless you carry back the gold."

"I won't do that. I have had too much trouble to get it. But if you don't unlock the door at once I may be tempted to forget that you are my uncle."

"I should like to forget that you are my nephew," said the old man.

"The old fool has mustered up some courage," thought Ben. "I'll soon have him whining for mercy."

He made a fresh attack upon the door. This time he did not desist until he had broken through the panel. Then with the whole force he could command he threw himself against the upper part of the door, and it came crashing into the kitchen. Ben Haley leaped through the opening and confronted his uncle, who receded in alarm. The sight of the burly form of his nephew, and his stern and menacing countenance, once more made him quail.

Ben Haley looked around him, and his eyes lighted upon Robert Rushton standing beside the door with the gun in his hand.

He burst into a derisive laugh, and turning to his uncle, said: "So this is the help you were talking about. He's only a baby. I could twist him around my finger. Just lay down that gun, boy! It isn't meant for children like you."