Chapter XXIII. In Chicago
 

I had not been mistaken in my opinion of Mr. Allen Price. He was following me, and doing it with no good intention.

I concluded the man must be employed by Mr. Woodward. Perhaps I had seen him at some time in Darbyville, and so thought his face familiar.

I was glad that if he was a detective I was aware of the fact. I would now know how to trust him, and I made up my mind that if he got the best of me it would be my own fault.

One thing struck me quite forcibly. The merchant and John Stumpy both considered my proposed visit to Chris Holtzmann of importance. They would not have put themselves to the trouble and expense of hiring some one to follow me if this was not so. Though Mr. Aaron Woodward was rich, he was close, and did not spend an extra dollar except upon himself.

I was chagrined at the thought that Holtzmann would be prepared to receive me. I had hoped to come upon him unawares, and get into his confidence before he could realize what I was after.

I began to wonder when the telegram would reach Chicago. Perhaps something by good fortune might delay it.

Mr. Allen Price walked over to the telegraph office, and following him with my eyes I saw him pay for the message and then stroll away.

Hardly had he gone before I too stepped up to the counter.

"How long will it take to send a message to Chicago?" I asked of the clerk in charge.

"Probably till noon," was the reply. "The storm has crippled us, and we are having trouble with our lineman."

"It won't go before noon!" I repeated, and my heart gave a bound. "Are you sure?"

"Yes; perhaps even longer."

"How about the message that gentleman just handed in?"

"I told him I would send it as soon as possible,"

"Did you tell him it wouldn't go before noon?"

"No; he didn't ask," returned the clerk, coolly. He was evidently not going to let any business slip if he could help it.

"Is there any possible way I can get to Chicago before noon?" I went on.

The clerk shook his head. "I don't think there is," he replied.

"What is the nearest station on the other side of the bridge?"

"Foley."

"And how far is that from Chicago?"

"Twelve miles."

"Thank you."

I walked away from the counter filled with a sudden resolve. I must reach Chicago before the telegram or Mr. Allen Price. If I did not, my trip to the city of the lakes would be a failure.

How was the thing to be accomplished? Walking out on the covered platform, out of sight of the man who was following me, I tried to solve the problem.

Smalleyville was a good ten miles from the misplaced bridge, and in a soaking rain such a distance was too far to walk. Perhaps I might get a carriage to take me to the spot. I supposed the cost would be several dollars, but decided not to stand on that amount.

I had about made up my mind to hunt up a livery stable, when some workingmen rolled up to the station on a hand-car.

"Where are you going?" I inquired of one of them.

"Down to the Foley bridge," was the reply,

"Will you take a passenger?" I went on quickly.

"You'll have to ask the boss."

The boss proved to be a jolly German.

"Vont ter haf a ride, does you!" he laughed.

"I'm not over particular about the ride," I explained. "I've got to get to Chicago as soon as possible, even if I have to walk."

"Vell, jump on, den."

I did so, and a moment later we were off. I was pretty confident that Mr. Allen Price had not witnessed my departure, and I hoped he would not find it out for some hours to come.

The rain had now slackened, so there was no further danger of getting soaked to the skin. There were four men on the car besides the boss, and seeing they were short a hand I took hold with a will.

Fortunately the grade was downward, and we had but little difficulty in sending the car on its way. At the end of half an hour the stream came in sight, and then as we slackened up I hopped off.

Down by the water's edge I found that the bridge had shifted fully six inches out of line with the roadbed. It was, however, in a pretty safe condition, and I had no difficulty in crossing to the other side.

Despite the storm a goodly number of men were assembled on the opposite bank, anxiously watching the efforts of the workmen. Among them I found a man, evidently a cabman, standing near a coupe, the horses of which were still smoking from a long run.

"Are you from Foley?" I asked, stepping up.

"No; just come all the way from Chicago," was the reply. "Had to bring two men down that wanted to get to Smalleyville."

This was interesting news. Perhaps I could get the man to take me back with him. Of course he would take me if I hired him in the regular way, but if I did this, I was certain he would charge me a small fortune.

"I am going to Chicago," I said. "I just came from Smalleyville."

"That so? Want to hire my rig?"

"You charge too much," I returned. "A fellow like me can't afford luxuries."

"Take you there for two dollars. It's worth five-- those two men gave me ten."

"What time will you land me in Chicago?"

"Where do you want to go?"

That question was a poser. I knew no more of the city of Chicago than I did of Paris or Pekin. Yet I did not wish to be set down on the outskirts, and not to show my ignorance I answered cautiously:--

"To the railroad depot."

"Have you the time now?"

"It is about seven o'clock."

"I'll be there by nine."

"All right. Land me there by that time, and I'll pay you the two dollars."

"It's a go. Jump in," he declared.

I did so. A moment later he gathered up the reins, and we went whirling down the road.

The ride was an easy one, and as we bowled along I had ample opportunity to ponder over my situation. I wondered what Mr. Allen Price would think when he discovered I was nowhere to be found. I could well imagine his chagrin, and I could not help smiling at the way I had outwitted him. I was not certain what sort of a man Chris Holtzmann would prove to be, and therefore it was utterly useless to plan a means of approaching him.

At length we reached the suburbs of Chicago, and rolled down one of the broad avenues. It was now clear and bright, and the clean broad street with its handsome houses pleased me very much.

In half an hour we reached the business portion of the city, and soon the coupe came to a halt and the driver opened the door.

"Here we are," said he.

I jumped to the ground and gazed around. Opposite was the railroad station, true enough, and beyond blocks and blocks of tall business buildings, which reminded me strongly of New York.

I paid the cabman the two dollars I had promised, and he drove off.

In Chicago at last! I looked around. I was in the heart of a great city, knowing no one, and with no idea of where to go.

Yet my heart did not fail me. My mind was too full of the object of my quest to allow me to become faint-hearted. I was there for a purpose, and that purpose must be accomplished.

My clothes were still damp, but the sunshine was fast drying them. Near by was a bootblack's chair, and dropping into this, I had him polish my shoes and brush me up generally.

While he was performing the operation I questioned him concerning the streets and gained considerable information.

"Did you ever hear of a man by the name of Chris Holtzmann?" I asked.

"I dunno," was the slow reply. "What does he do?"

"I don't know what business he is in. He came from Brooklyn."

The bootblack shook his head.

"This city is a big place. There might be a dozen men by his name here. The street what you spoke about has lots of saloons and theatres on it. Maybe he's in that business."

"Maybe he is," I returned. "I must find out somehow."

"You can look him up in the directory. You'll find one over in the drug store on the corner."

"Thank you; I guess that's what I'll do," I replied.

When he had finished, I paid him ten cents for his work, and walked over to the place he had mentioned.

A polite clerk waited on me and pointed out the directory lying on a stand.

I looked it over carefully, and three minutes later walked out with Chris Holtzmann's new address in my pocket.

As I did so, I saw a stream of people issue from the depot. Some of them looked familiar. Was it possible that the train from Smalleyville had managed to come through, after all? It certainly looked like it.

I was not kept long in doubt. I crossed over to make sure, and an instant later found myself face to face with Allen Price!