Chapter XXIV. Who Mr. Allen Price Was
 

I will not deny that I was considerably taken aback by my unexpected meeting with the man who had been following me. I had been firmly under the impression that he was still lolling around Smalleyville, waiting for a chance to continue his journey.

But if I was surprised, so was Mr. Allen Price. Every indication showed that he had not missed me at my departure, and that he was under the belief that I had been left behind.

He stopped short and gazed at me in blank astonishment.

"Why-- why-- where did you come from?" he stammered.

"From Smalleyville," I returned as coolly as I could. "And that's where you came from, too," I added.

"I didn't see you on the train," he went on, ignoring my last remark.

"I didn't come up by train."

"Maybe you walked," he went on, with some anxiety.

"Oh no; I rode in a carriage."

"Humph! It seems to me you must have been in a tremendous hurry."

"Perhaps I was."

"Why, you excite my curiosity. May I ask the cause of your sudden impatience?"

He put the question in an apparently careless fashion, but his sharp eyes betrayed his keen interest.

"You may."

"And what, was it?"

I looked at him for a moment in silence.

"I came to see a man."

"Ah! A friend? Perhaps he is seriously sick."

"I don't know if he is sick or not."

"And yet you hurried to see him?"

"Yes."

"Well, that-- that is out of the ordinary." He hesitated for a moment. "Of course it is none of my business, but I am interested. Perhaps I know the party and can help you. May I ask his name?"

"It's the same man you telegraphed to," I returned.

Mr. Allen Price stopped short and nearly dropped his handbag. My unexpected reply had taken the "wind out of his sails."

"I telegraphed to?" he repeated.

"Exactly."

"But-- but I telegraphed to no one."

"Yes, you did."

"Why, my dear young friend, you are mistaken."

"I'm not your dear friend," I returned with spirit. "You telegraphed to Chris Holtzmann to beware of me. Why did you do it?"

The man's face fell considerably, and he did not answer. I went on:--

"You are following me and trying to defeat the object of my trip to Chicago. But you shall not do it. You pretend to be an ordinary traveller, but you are nothing more than a spy sent on by Mr. Aaron Woodward to stop me. But I have found you out, and now you can go back to him and tell him that his little plan didn't work."

The man's brow grew black with anger. He was very angry, and I could see that it was with difficulty he kept his hands off me.

"Think you're smart, don't you?" he sneered.

"I was too smart for you."

"But you don't know it all," he went on. "You don't know it all-- not by a jugful."

"I know enough to steer clear of you."

"Maybe you do."

The man evidently did not know what to say, and as a matter of fact, neither did I. I had told him some plain truths, and now I was anxious to get away from him and think out my future course of action.

"What's your idea of calling on Chris Holtzmann?" he went an after a long pause.

"That's my business."

"It won't do you any good."

"Perhaps it may."

"I know it won't," he replied in decided tones.

"What do you know about it?" I said sharply. "A moment ago you denied knowing anything about me. Now I've done with you, and I want you to leave me alone."

"You needn't get mad about it."

"I'll do as I please."

"No, you won't," he growled. "If you don't do as I want you to, I'll have you arrested."

This was strong language, and I hardly knew what to say in reply. Not that I was frightened by his threat, but what made the man take such a strong personal interest in the matter?

As I have said, I was almost certain I had seen the fellow before, though where and when was more than I could determine. Perhaps he was disguised.

"Perhaps you don't think I know who you are," I said quickly.

My words were a perfect shock to Mr. Allen Price. In spite of his bronzed face he turned pale.

"You know who I am? Why, I am as I tell you,-- Allen Price," he faltered.

"Really," I replied, with assumed sarcasm.

"Yes, really."

"I know better," I returned boldly.

I was hardly prepared for what was to follow. The man caught me by the arm.

"Then what you know shall cost you dear," he cried. "I'm not to be outwitted by a country boy. Help! Police! Police!"

As he uttered his call for assistance he let drop his handbag and drew his purse from his pocket.

"I've got you, you young thief!" he cried, letting the purse fall to the sidewalk. "You didn't think to be caught as easily, did you? Help! Po-- Oh, officer, I'm glad you've come!" the last to a policeman who had just hurried to the scene.

"What's the matter here?" demanded the minion of the law.

"I just caught this young fellow picking my pocket," exclaimed Mr. Allen. "Where's my pocketbook?"

"There's a pocketbook on the sidewalk," put in a man in the crowd that had quickly gathered.

"So it is." He picked it up. "You rascal! You thought to get away in fine style, didn't you?" he continued to me.

For a moment I was too stunned to speak. The un-looked-for turn of affairs took away my breath.

"I didn't pick his pocket," I burst out.

"Yes, you did."

"It isn't so. He's a swindler and is trying to get me into trouble."

"Here! here! none of that!" broke in the officer. "Tell me your story," he said to Mr. Allen Price.

"I was coming along looking in the shop windows," began my accuser, "when I felt a hand in my pocket. I turned quickly and just in time to catch this fellow trying to make off with my pocketbook."

"It is a falsehood, every word of it," I declared.

"Shut up!" said the officer, sternly. "Please go on."

"He is evidently a smart thief," continued Mr. Allen Price. "I must see if I have lost anything else."

He began a pretended examination of his clothes. In the meantime the crowd began to grow larger and larger.

"We can't stay here all day," said the policeman, roughly. "What have you got to say to the charge?"

"I say it isn't true," I replied. "This man is a humbug. He is following me for a purpose, and is trying to get me into trouble."

"Ridiculous!" cried my accuser. "Why, I never heard of such a thing before!"

"That story won't wash," said the officer to me. "Do you make a charge?" he continued to Mr. Allen Price.

My accuser hesitated. "I will, if it is not necessary for me to go along," he said. "I am pressed for time. My name is Sylvester Manners. I am a partner in the Manners Clothing Company. You know the firm, I presume."

"Oh, yes, sir," replied the officer. He knew the Manners Clothing Company to be a rich concern.

"I will stop at the station house to-morrow morning and make a complaint," continued Mr. Allen Price. "Don't let the young rascal escape."

"No fear, sir. Come on!" the last to me.

"I've done no wrong. I want that man arrested!" I cried. "He is no more a merchant here in Chicago than I am. He--"

But the officer would not listen. He took a strong hold upon my collar and began to march me off. Mr. Allen Price walked beside us until we reached the corner.

"I will leave you here, officer," he said. "I'll be down in the morning, sure. As for you," he continued to me, "I trust you will soon see the error of your ways and try to mend them, and--" he continued in a whisper, as the officer's attention was distracted for a moment, "never try to outwit John Stumpy again!"