Chapter XVII. A Sudden Resolve
 

My heart beat rapidly as I walked up to the gate. How would the good lady who had done so much for Kate and myself receive me?

An unkind word or an unfavorable insinuation from her would have hurt me worse than a thousand from any one else. She had been so generous that to have her turn would have made me feel as if I had lost my last friend on earth.

But as she had taken me in before when others had cast me out, so she now proved the friend in need.

"So they've thought better of it and set you free, Roger?" she said as I hurried up.

"Yes, Mrs. Canby," I returned. "I hope-- I hope--" I began, and then came to a full stop.

"What?" and she caught my hand.

"I hope you don't think I had anything to do with the robbery," I stammered.

"No, Roger, I don't. I think you're an honest boy, and I've got to have more proof against you than I've heard yet before I'll believe otherwise."

"Thank you, ma'am, oh, thank you!" I blurted out, and the tears started to my eyes and rolled down my cheeks.

The events of which I am writing occurred several years ago, but I am not ashamed of those tears. They were the outcome of long-pent-up feelings, and I could not hold them back. My sister cried, too, and the Widow Canby and Uncle Enos looked very much as if they wished to join in.

"I knew you wouldn't think Roger did it," cried Kate. "I said all along you wouldn't, though everybody said you would."

"Folks don't appear to know me very well," returned Widow Canby, with a bit of grim humor in her tone. "I don't always think as others do. Come into the house and give me full particulars. Who is this man? Why, really! Captain Moss, I believe?"

"Yes, ma'am, Captain Moss-- Roger's uncle, at your service," replied he, taking off his cap and bowing low. "I thought you'd remember me. Your husband as was once sailed to Boston with me."

"Oh, yes, I remember you. Will you come in?"

"Thank you, reckon I will. I have no home now, and hotels is scarce in Darbyville. I only arrived this noon, and I've been with Kate ever since. I must hunt up a boarding-house to stay at. Do you know of any close at hand?"

"Perhaps I do. Let us talk of that later on. I want to hear Roger's story first."

"Just as you say, ma'am. Only I must get a place to stop at to-night."

"You shall be provided for, Captain Moss. I have a spare room."

"You are very kind to an old sea-dog like myself, Mrs. Canby," said Uncle Enos.

The widow led the way into the dining room. The lamp was already lighted, and while my sister Kate busied herself with preparing supper, Mrs. Canby and my uncle sat down to listen to my story.

For the first time I told it with all the details that concerned myself,-- how I had been waylaid by the Models, how Dick Blair had released me, what Stumpy had done at the tool house, and all, not forgetting about the statement Kate and I wished so much to find.

The Widow Canby and my uncle listened with close attention until I had finished.

"It's a strange story, Roger," said the widow, at its conclusion. "One hard to believe. But I know you tell the truth."

"What a rascal this Woodward must be!" broke in my uncle "He's a far greater villain in his way than this John Stumpy. I am strongly inclined to figure that you're right, and he is the one that ran your father up on a lee shore."

"I don't think father did a single thing that was wrong-- that is, knowingly," I returned. "If he did do wrong, I'm sure Mr. Woodward made it appear as if it was all right."

"No doubt, no doubt. If you could only get to the bottom of this Weaver's statement."

"And when is this trial to come off?" put in Mrs. Canby. "Really I don't see what good it will do me if this man has lost the money."

"I'd like to find that, too," I returned.

Presently Kate announced that supper was ready, and we all sat down. The widow said that she had found her sister much better, and on receiving Kate's letter had started for her home at once. The loss of the money did not disturb her as much as I had anticipated, and as every one was hungry, the meal passed off tolerably well.

When we had nearly finished there was a knock on the door, and Kate admitted Mr. Woodward's errand boy. He had a note for me. It contained but a single sentence:--

"Please call at my house this evening about nine o'clock."

I read the note over with interest, and then informed the others of what it contained.

"Shall you go?" asked Kate, anxiously.

"I suppose I might."

"Maybe it's a plot," suggested the widow.

"Might waylay you," added Uncle Enos. "A man like him is liable to do 'most anything."

"I don't think he would dare do me any bodily injury," I replied. "He would know I had told some one where I was going, and that my absence would be noticed."

"If you go, take me in tow," said my uncle. "I needn't go in with you, but I can hang around outside, and if anything goes wrong, all you've got to do is to holler like all creation, and I'll come to the rescue."

"Oh, if Roger runs any risk, I'd rather he wouldn't go," exclaimed Kate, in alarm.

"I don't think the risk is very great," I returned. "Besides, I may find the missing statement. That is worth trying for."

"I shall be in dread until you return," she replied, with a grave shake of her head.

"When will you start?" asked Uncle Enos.

"About half past eight. It won't take over half an hour to reach his house."

We continued to discuss Mr. Woodward for some time, and also the action of the Models and what I should do on their score. My Uncle Enos was for prosecuting them, but the Widow Canby said that the future would bring its own punishment, and on this we rested.

"And now about my board," began Uncle Enos, during a dull in the conversation. "I must find a boarding-house for after to-night."

"Wouldn't you like to stay with the children?" asked Mrs. Canby.

"Yes, ma'am; indeed I would. To tell the truth, it's my intention sooner or later to offer them a home with me."

"I should hate to have them leave me," returned the widow, quickly.

"I suppose so."

"How would you like to board with me? As I have said, there is lots of room, and you have just eaten a sample meal. We do not live in style-- but--"

"Plenty good enough style," interrupted Captain Enos, "and better grub then we had on the Hattie Baker, I'll be bound. I'd like it first rate here if the terms wasn't too high."

"What do you think fair?"

"I'm sure I don't know, ma'am. I haven't paid a week's board in three years."

"Would five dollars a week be too much?"

"No, ma'am. Are you sure it's enough? I don't want to crowd your hospitality."

"I'd be satisfied with five dollars. Of course boarders are out of my line, but there are exceptions to all cases. Besides, I'll feel safer with another man about the house. No reflection on you, Roger, but you won't always be here together."

"No, ma'am," replied my uncle. "I must visit my brother-in-law at the prison-- that will take several days."

"Will you take me with you?" asked Kate, eagerly.

"Certainly, and you, too, Roger, if you want to go."

"I would like to very much," was my reply. "But I want to ask even a bigger favor than that, Uncle Enos."

"Yes?"

"Yes, sir. You may think it a good deal, but you've been so kind, and I haven't any one else to go to."

"Well, what is it, my boy? I'll do it if I can."

"Lend me about fifty dollars."

My Uncle Enos raised his eyebrows in surprise.

"Fifty dollars?" he repeated.

"Yes, sir. That is, if you can spare it. I'll promise to pay it back some day."

"And what do you intend to do with it?"

"I want to go to Chicago, sir."

"To Chicago?"

All three of my listeners repeated the words in chorus; then Captain Enos continued:--

"And what are you going to do there?"

"I want to hunt up this Holtzmann, and find out what he knows about my father's affairs. I'm satisfied that he is as deep in it as Mr. Woodward or John Stumpy, and if I can only by some means get him to tell what he knows, I may accomplish a good deal."

My Uncle Enos put his hand upon my shoulder; "Well, Roger, you're a brave boy, and I'll trust you. You shall have fifty dollars, and a hundred, if you want it, to do as you think best. Only don't get into trouble."

"Thank you Uncle Enos, thank you!" I cried heartily. "Some day I'll pay you back."

"I don't want it back, my lad. If you can catch any proofs that will help clear your father, I shall be more than satisfied."

"And when shall you go?" asked Kate.

"I don't know. It will depend on my interview with Mr. Woodward and also on what John Stumpy does. Not inside of several days, at least. Besides, we want to see father first, you know."

"Of course."

"We can go to Trenton tomorrow," said Uncle Enos. At Trenton was located the State prison. After consulting a time table printed in the Darbyville Record, we found we could catch a train for that city at 8.25 from Newville the next morning, and this we decided to take.

Having settled this matter, we returned again to the discussion of the incidents surrounding the robbery, and what would probably be the next movements of those fighting against me. Uncle Enos grew greatly interested, and said he knew a lawyer in New York who might secure some good private detective who could take the case in hand.

Finally it came half past eight, and putting on my hat, I started for Mr. Woodward's residence.