Chapter XIX. A Clever Ruse
 

I must confess I was frightened when Mr. Woodward locked the door of his library and caught me by the collar. Was it possible that he contemplated doing me physical harm? It looked that way.

I was not accustomed to such rough treatment, and I resented it instantly. I was not very large for my age, but I was strong, and ducking my head I wrenched myself free from his grasp and sprang to the other side of the small table that stood in the centre of the room.

"What do you mean by treating me in this manner!" I cried. "Unlock that door at once!"

"Not much, sir," replied Mr. Woodward, vehemently. "You've made some remarkable statements, young man, and I demand a clear explanation before you leave."

"Well, you demand too much, Aaron Woodward," I replied firmly. "Unlock that door."

"Not just yet. I want to know what you know of Holtzmann of Chicago?"

"You won't learn by treating me in this manner," was my determined reply. "Unlock that door, or, take my word for it, I'll arouse the whole neighborhood."

"You'll do nothing of the kind, young man," he rejoined.

"I will."

"Make the least disturbance and you shall pay dearly for it. Understand, sir, I'm not to be trifled with."

"And I'm not to be frightened into submission," I returned with spirit. "I have a right to leave when I please and I shall do so."

"Not till I am ready," said he, coolly.

I was nonplussed and alarmed-- nonplussed over the question of how to get away, and alarmed at the thought of what might happen if I was compelled to remain.

I began to understand Mr. Aaron Woodward's true character. Like Duncan, he was not only a bully, but also a brute. Words having failed, he was now evidently going to see what physical force could accomplish.

"Forewarned is forearmed" is an old saying, and now I applied it to myself. In other words, I prepared for an encounter. On the centre table lay a photograph album. It was thick and heavy and capable of proving quite a formidable article of defence. I picked it up, and stepping behind a large easy chair, stood on my guard.

Seeing the action, the merchant paused.

"What are going to do with that?" he asked.

"You'll see if you keep on," I replied. "I don't intend to stand this much longer. You had better open the door."

"You think you're a brainy boy, Strong," he sneered.

"I've got too much brain to let you ride over me."

"You think you have a case against me and Mr. Stumpy, and you intend to drag it into court and make a great fuss over it," he went on.

"I'm going to get back my father's honest name."

"What you mean is that you intend to drag my name in the mire," he stormed.

"You can have it so, if you please."

"I shall not allow it. You, a young upstart!"

"Take care, Mr. Woodward!"

"Do you think I will submit to it?" He glared at me and threw a hasty glance around the room. "Not much!"

Suddenly he stepped to the windows and pulled down the shades. Then he took out his watch and looked at the time. I wondered what he was up to now. I was not long in finding out.

"Listen to me," he said in a low, intense tone, "We are alone in this house-- you and I-- and will be for half an hour or more. You are in my power. What will you do? Give up all the papers you possess and promise to keep silent about what you know or take the consequences."

It would be telling an untruth to say I was not thoroughly startled by the merchant's sudden change of manner. He was about to assault me, that was plain to see, and he wished me to understand that no one was near either to assist me or to bear witness against his dark doings.

I must fight my own battles, not only in a war of words, but also in a war of blows. I was not afraid after the first shock was over. My cause was a just one, and I would stand by it, no matter what the consequences might be.

"I don't fear you, Aaron Woodward," I replied, as steadily as I could. "I am in the right and shall stick up for it, no matter what comes."

"You defy me?" he cried in a rage.

"Yes, I do."

I had hardly uttered the words before he caught up a heavy cane standing beside his desk and made for me. There was a wicked determination in his eyes, and I could see that all the evil passions within him were aroused.

"We'll see who is master here," he went on.

"Stand back!" I cried. "Don't come a step nearer! If you do, you'll be sorry for it!"

He paid no attention to my warning, but kept on advancing, raising the cane over his head as he did so.

When he was within three feet of me he aimed a blow at my head. Had he hit me, I am certain he would have cracked my skull open.

But I was too quick for him, I dodged, and the cane struck the back of the chair.

Before he could recover from his onslaught I hurled the album at him with all force. It struck him full in the face, and must have loosened several of his teeth, for he put his hand up to his mouth as he reeled over backward.

I was not astonished. I had accomplished just what I had set out to do. My one thought now was to make my escape. How was it to be done?

The key to the door was in the merchant's pocket, and this I could, not obtain. The windows were closed, and the blinds drawn down.

I had but an instant to think. Spluttering to himself, my assailant was endeavoring to rise to his feet.

A hasty glance around the room revealed a door partly hidden by a curtain next the mantelpiece. Where it led to I did not know, but concluding that any place would be better than to remain in the library, I tried the door, found it open, and slipped out.

"Stop, stop!" roared Mr. Woodward. "Stop, this instant!"

But I did not stop. I found myself in the dining room, and at once put the long table between us.

"Don't you come any nearer," I called out sharply. "If you do, it may be at the cost of your life."

As I spoke I picked up a fancy silver knife that lay on the table. It had a rough resemblance to a pocket pistol, and gave me the idea of palming it off as such.

"Would you shoot me?" cried the merchant, in sudden terror, as he saw what he supposed was the barrel of a revolver pointed at his head.

"Why shouldn't I?" was the reply. "You have no right to detain me."

"I don't want to detain you. I only want to come to a settlement," he returned lamely.

"And I want nothing more to do with you. I'll give you one minute to show me the way to the front door."

"Yes, but, Strong--"

"No more talk, if you please. Do you intend to show me the way out, or shall I fire?"

Then Mr. Aaron Woodward showed what a coward he really was. He gave a cry of horror and sank completely out of sight.

"Don't shoot, Strong. I pray you, take care. I'll show you the way out, indeed I will!"

"Well, hurry about it. I don't intend to stand any more nonsense."

"Here, this way. Please stop pointing that pistol at me; it might go off, you know."

"Then the sooner you show me the way out, the better for you," I returned coolly, inwardly amused at his sudden change of manner

"This way, then. I-- I trust you will keep this-- this little meeting of ours a secret."

"Why should I?"

"Because it-- it would do no good to have it made public."

"I'll see about it," was my reply.

By this time we had reached the front door, and with unwilling hands the merchant opened it.

"Now stand aside and let me pass," I commanded.

"I will. But, Strong--"

"No more words are needed," I returned. "I have had enough of you, Mr. Aaron Woodward. The next time you hear from me it will be in quite a different shape."

"What do you mean?" he cried, in sudden alarm.

"You will find out soon enough. In the meantime let me return your fancy knife. I have no further use for it."

I tossed the article over. He looked at it and then at me. Clearly he was mad enough to "chew me up." Bidding him a mocking good night, I ran down the steps and hurried away.