Chapter IX. New Trouble
 

"He's alive, boys."

These were the words that greeted my ears on recovering my senses. I opened my eyes and saw that I was surrounded by a number of boys and men.

"How did you come here?" asked Henry Morse, a sturdy farmer who lived in the neighborhood.

I was too much confused to make any intelligent reply. Rising to a sitting position, I gazed around.

The tool house had burned to the ground, there being no means at hand to extinguish the fire. The glare of the conflagration had called out several dozens of people from Darbyville and the vicinity, several of whom had stumbled upon me as I lay in the clearing.

"What's the matter, Roger?" asked Larry Simpson, a young man who kept a bookstore in the town.

"The matter is that I nearly lost my life in that fire," I replied.

"How did you come here?"

As briefly as I could I related my story, leaving out all references to my personal affairs and the finding of Nicholas Weaver's statement. At present I considered it would do no good to disclose what I knew on those points.

"I think I saw that tramp yesterday," said Larry after I had finished. "He bought a sheet of paper and an envelope in my store, and then asked if he could write a letter there."

"And did he?" I asked in curiosity.

"Yes. At first I hated to let him do it,-- he looked so disreputable,-- but then I thought it might be an application for a position, and so told him to go ahead."

"Who did he write to? do you know?"

"Somebody in Chicago, I think."

"Do you remember the name?"

"He tried the pen on a slip of paper first. It wouldn't work very well. But I think the name was Holtzmann, or something similar."

I determined to remember the name, thinking it might prove of value sometime.

"The thing of it is," broke in Henry Morse, "what has become of this Stumpy? If he stole the Widow Canby's money, it's high time somebody was after him."

"That's true," ejaculated another. "Have you any idea which way the fellow went?"

Of course I had not. Indeed, I was hardly in condition to do any rational thinking, much less form an opinion. The thief might be in hiding close at hand, or he might be miles away.

"Some of us had better make a search," put in another. "Come, boys, we'll spread out and scour the woods."

"That's a good idea," said Tony Parsons, the constable of the town. "Meanwhile, Roger Strong, let us go to Judge Penfold's house and put the case in his hands. He'll get out a warrant, and perhaps a reward."

I thought this was a good idea, and readily assented, first, however, getting one of the boys to promise that he would call at the widow's house and quiet Kate's fears concerning my whereabouts.

It was now early morning, and we had no difficulty in making our way through the woods to the main road.

"Guess we won't find the judge up yet," remarked Tony Parsons as we hurried along. "I've never yet found him out of bed afore seven o'clock. It will make him mighty mad to get up afore this time."

"I'm sorry to disturb him," I replied, with something of awe at the thought of rousing a magistrate of the law.

"But it's got to be done," went on Parsons, with a grave shake of his head, "unless we all want to be murdered and robbed in our beds!"

"That's true. I'd give all I'm worth to catch that tramp."

"Reckon Widow Canby'll be dreadfully cut up when she hears about the robbery."

"I suppose so."

"She may blame you, Roger. You see if it was anybody else, it would be different. But being as it's you, why--"

"I know what you mean," I returned bitterly. "No one in Darbyville believes I can be honest."

"I ain't saying nothing against you, Roger," returned Parsons, hastily. "I reckon you ain't no worse than any other boy. But you know what public sentiment is."

"So I do; but public sentiment isn't always right," was my spirited answer.

"Who did you say those boys were that tied you up?" went on the constable, to change the subject.

"Duncan Woodward was the principal one."

"Phew! Reckon he didn't think tying you up would prove such a serious matter."

"If it hadn't been for that, the robbery might have been prevented. I would have been home guarding the widow's property, as she expected me to do."

"Reckon so you would."

"In a certain sense I hold Duncan Woodward and his followers responsible for what has occurred."

"Phew! What will Mr. Woodward say to that, I wonder?"

"I can't help what he says. I'm not going to bear all the blame when it isn't my fault."

"No, neither would I."

At length we reached the outskirts of the town. Judge Penfold lived at the top of what was termed the Hill, the aristocratic district of the place, and thither we made our way.

"Indeed, but the judge ain't stirring yet!" exclaimed the Irish girl who came to answer our summons at the door.

"Then wake him at once," said Parsons. "Tell him there has been a most atrocious robbery and assault committed."

"Mercy on us!" said the girl, lifting up her hands in horror. "And who was it, Mr. Parsons?"

"Never mind who it was. Go at once."

"I will that! Robbery and assault. Mercy on us!"

And leaving us standing in the hall, the hired girl sped up the front stairway.

"The judge will be down as soon as he can," she reported on her return.

We waited as patiently as we could. While doing so I revolved what had occurred over in my mind, and came to the conclusion that the crime would be a difficult one to trace. John Stumpy had probably made good use of his time, knowing that even if I had lost my life in the fire my sister would still recognize him as the thief.

Suddenly I thought of the written confession that must yet remain in my pocket, and I was on the point of assuring myself that it was still safe when a heavy foot-step sounded overhead, and Judge Penfold came down.

The judge was a tall, slender men of fifty, with hollow cheeks, a pointed nose, and a sharp chin. His voice was of a peculiarly high and rasping tone, and his manner far from agreeable.

"What's the trouble?" he demanded, and it was plain to see that he did not relish having his early morning sleep broken.

"Widow Canby's house was robbed last night," replied the constable; and he gave the particulars.

Judge Penfold was all ears at once. Indeed, it may be as well to state that he was a widower and had paid Widow Canby much attention, which, however, I well knew that good lady heartily resented. No doubt he thought if he could render her any assistance it would help along his suit.

"We must catch the fellow at once," he said. "Parsons, you must catch him without fail."

"Easier said than done, judge," replied the constable, doubtfully. "Where am I to look for him? The country around here is pretty large."

"No matter. You are constable, and it is your duty to seek him out. I will sign the warrant for his arrest, and you must have him in jail by to-night, without fail."

"I'll do what I can, judge," returns Parsons, meekly.

"Strong, I'll have to bind you over as a witness."

"Bind me over?" I queried in perplexity. "What do you mean?"

"Hold you, unless you can give a bond to appear when wanted."

"But I had nothing to do with the burglary."

"You are principal accuser of this John Stumpy."

"Well, I'll promise to be on hand whenever wanted."

"That is not sufficient. Your character is-- is not-- ahem! of the best, and--"

"Why is my character not of the best?" I demanded.

"Well, ahem! Your father, you see--"

"Is innocent."

"Perhaps-- perhaps, but, nevertheless, I will have to hold you. Parsons, I will leave him in your charge."

"You have no right to arrest me," I cried, for I knew very little of the law.

"What's that?" demanded Judge Penfold, pompously. "You forget I am the judge of that."

"I don't care," I burst out. "I have done no wrong."

"It ain't that, Roger. Many innocent men are held as witnesses," put in Parsons.

"But I've got to attend to Mrs. Canby's business," I explained.

"I fancy Mrs. Canby would rather get on the track of her money," said Judge Penfold severely. "Can you furnish bail?"

I did not know that I could. The woman who had been robbed was my only friend, and she was away.

"Then you'll have to take him to the lockup, Parsons."

This news was far from agreeable. It would be no pleasant thing to be confined in the Darbyville jail, not to say anything of the anxiety it might cause Kate. Besides, I wanted to follow up John Stumpy. I was certain I could do it fully as well as the constable.

"Come, Roger, there is no help for it," said Parsons, as I still lingered. "It's the law, and it won't do any good to kick."

"Maybe not, but, nevertheless, it isn't fair."

We walked out into the front hall, the judge following us.

"Of course if you can get bail any time during the day I will let you go," he said; "I will be down in my office from nine to twelve and two to four."

"Will you offer a reward for the capture of the man?" I asked.

"I cannot do that. The freeholders of the county attend to all such matters. Parsons, no doubt, will find the scoundrel."

As the judge finished there was a violent ringing of the door bell. Judge Penfold opened the door and was confronted by Mr. Aaron Woodward, who looked pale and excited.

"Judge, I want you-- hello! that boy! Judge, I want that boy arrested at once! Don't you let him escape!"

"Want me arrested?" I ejaculated in astonishment. "What for?"

"You know well enough. You thought to hide your tracks, but I have found you out. Parsons, don't let him get out of the door. He's a worse villain than his father was!"