Chapter X. Under Arrest
 

I will not hesitate to state that I was nearly stunned by Mr. Aaron Woodward's unexpected statement. I knew that when he announced that I was a worse villain than my father he meant a good deal.

Yet try as hard as I could it was impossible for me to discover what he really did mean. I was not conscious of having done him any injury, either bodily or otherwise. Indeed, of late I had hardly seen the man. The Widow Canby was not partial to dealings with him, and I never went near him on my own account.

It was plain to see that the merchant was thoroughly aroused. His face was pale with anger, and the look he cast upon me was one of bitter resentment. For the instant he eyed me as if he intended to spring upon me and choke the life out of my body, and involuntarily I shrank back. But then I recollected that the minions of the law who stood beside me would not allow such a course of procedure, and this made me breathe more freely.

"Yes, sir; he's a worse villain than his father!" repeated Mr. Aaron Woodward, turning to Judge Penfold; "a most accomplished villain, sir." And he shook his fist within an inch of my nose.

"What have I done to you, Mr. Woodward?" I demanded, as soon as I could speak.

"Done, sir? You know very well what you've done, you young rascal!" puffed the merchant. "Oh, but I'll make you pay dearly for your villainy."

"I've committed no villainy," I returned warmly. "If you refer to the way I treated Duncan this morning, why all I've got to say is that it was his own fault, and I can prove it."

"Treated Duncan? Oh, pshaw! This is far more serious affair than a boy's quarrel. Don't let him escape, Parsons"-- the last to the constable, who had his hand on my shoulder.

"No fear, sir," was Parson's reply. "He's already under arrest."

"Under arrest?" repeated the merchant quickly. "Then you've already heard--"

"He is ahem-- only under detention as a witness," spoke up Judge Penfold. "I do not think he had anything to do with the theft of the widow's money."

"Widow's money! What do you mean?"

In a few words Judge Penfold explained the situation. "Isn't this what you came about?" he asked then.

"Indeed, no, sir. My affair is far more important-- at least to me. But you can make up your mind that Strong's story is purely fiction. He is undoubtedly the real culprit, undoubtedly. Takes after his father."

"My father was an honest man!" I cried out. "I don't care what you or any one may say! Some day he will be cleared of the stain on his name."

"Oh, undoubtedly," sneered Mr. Woodward. "Mean while, however, the community at large had better keep a sharp eye on his son. Whom do you assert stole the Widow Canby's money?"

"A tramp."

"Humph! A likely story."

"It's true. His name was John Stumpy."

"John Stumpy!"

As Mr. Aaron Woodwind uttered the name, all the color forsook his face.

"Yes, sir. And he claimed to know you," I went on, my curiosity amused over the merchant's show of feeling.

"It's a falsehood! I never heard of such a man," cried Mr. Woodward, but his face belied his words.

"Well, what is your charge against Strong?" asked Judge Penfold, impatiently, probably tired of being so utterly ignored in the discussion.

The merchant hesitated.

"I prefer to speak to you about the matter in private," he said sourly.

"That isn't fair. He ought to tell me what I am accused of," I cried, "Every one who is arrested has a right to know that. I have done no wrong and I am not afraid."

"All assumed bravery, Judge Penfold; quite assumed, sir."

"No, sir. Tell me why you want me locked up," I repeated.

But instead of replying Mr. Woodward drew Judge Penfold to the rear end of the hall and began to speak in so low a tone that I could not catch a word.

"You don't mean it!" I heard the judge say presently. "Come into the library and give me the particulars."

The two men passed into the room, closing the door tightly behind them. They were gone nearly quarter of an hour-- a long wait for me. I wondered what could be the nature of Mr. Woodward's accusation against me, but failed to solve the mystery.

At length they came out. Judge Penfold's face was a trifle sterner than before. Mr. Woodward looked pleased, as if his argument had proven conclusive.

"You will take Strong to the jail at once," said the judge to Parsons "and tell Booth to be careful of his prisoner."

"Yes, sir."

"Don't let him escape," added Aaron Woodward, anxiously. "Don't let him escape, sir, under any circumstances."

"No fear," was Parsons's ready answer. "I never had one of 'em give me the slip yet."

And with great gravity he drew from his pocket a pair of ancient handcuffs, one of which he attached to my wrist and the other to his own.

"Come, Roger. Better take it easy," he said. "No use of kicking. March!"

"But I'd like to know something about this," I protested. "What right--"

"It is all quite legal," put in Judge Penfold, pompously. "I understand the law perfectly."

"But--"

"Say no more. Parsons, take him away."

"I shall see you later," whispered Mr. Woodward in my ear as the constable hurried me off.

The next instant we were on the street. Arrests in Darbyville were rare, and by the time we reached the jail we had a goodly following of boys and idle men, all anxious to know what was up.

"He stole the Widow Canby's money," I heard one man whisper, to which another replied:--

"Light fingered, eh? Must take after his father. I always knew the Strongs couldn't be trusted."

The jail was a small affair, being nothing more than the loft over a carpenter shop. The jailer was a round-faced man named Booth, who filled in his spare time by doing odd jobs of carpentering in the shop downstairs. We found him hard at work glueing some doors together. I knew him tolerably well, and he evinced considerable surprise at seeing me in custody.

"What, Roger; arrested! What for?"

"That's what I would like to know," I returned.

In a few words Parsons told him what was to be done, and Booth led the way upstairs.

" 'Tain't a very secure place," he returned. "Reckon I'll have to nail down some of the windows unless you'll give me your word not to run away."

"I'll promise nothing," was my reply. "I'm being treated unfairly, and I shall do as I think best."

"Then I'll fasten everything as tight as a drum," returned Booth.

Going below, he secured a hammer and some nails, with which he secured the windows and the scuttle on the roof.

"Reckon it's tight enough now," he said. "Just wait, Parsons, till I get him a bucket of water."

This was done, and then the two men left me, closing and locking the door of the enclosed staircase behind them.

The loft was empty, saving a nail keg that stood in one corner of the floor. Pulling this out, I sat down to think matters over.

Try my best I could not imagine what charge Mr. Aaron Woodward had brought against me. Yet such had been his earnestness that for the nonce everything else was driven from my mind.

The sounds of talking below interrupted my meditations. I recognized Kate's voice, and the next moment my sister stood beside me.

"Oh, Roger!" was all she could say, and catching me by the arm she burst into tears.

"Don't take it so hard, Kate," I said. "Make sure it will all come out right in the end."

"But to be arrested like-- like a thief! Oh, Roger, it is dreadful!"

"Never mind. I have done no wrong, and I'm not afraid of the result. Have they heard anything of John Stumpy yet?"

"Dick Blair says not. Mr. Parsons and the rest are after him, but he seems to have disappeared for good-- and Mrs. Canby's money with him."

"Have you heard from her yet?"

"No; but I've written her a letter and just posted it to Norfolk."

"She won't get it till day after to-morrow."

"What will she say? Oh, Roger, do you think--"

"No, I don't. The widow always trusted me, and I know she'll take my word now. She is not so narrow-minded as the very folks who look down on her."

"But it is awful! Over two hundred dollars! We can never make it up. We've only got twenty-eight!"

"We can't exactly be called upon to make it up--" I began.

"But we'll want to," put in Kate, hastily.

"I'd feel better if we did. The widow has always been so kind to us."

"How long must you stay here?"

"I don't know. As long as Judge Penfold sees fit, I suppose."

"If only they could catch this John Stumpy."

"I hope so-- for other reasons than those you know, Kate."

"Other reasons?"

"Yes; very important ones, too. John Stumpy knew father well. And he was mixed up in that-- that miserable affair."

"Oh, Roger, how do you know?"

"I heard him say so. Besides, he dropped a letter that proved it. I have the letter in my pocket now. It's the dying statement of one Nicholas Weaver--"

"Nicholas Weaver! He was a clerk with father!"

"So I thought. Who Stumpy is, though, I don't know. Do you?"

"No; but his face I'm sure I've seen before. Let me see the letter. Have you read it?"

"No; I hadn't time to spell it out, it is so badly written. Maybe you can read it."

"I'll try," replied Kate. "Hand it over."

I put my hand in my pocket to do so. The statement was gone!