Chapter XV. The Excitement Deepens
 

Walter was fortunate enough not to lose his head under any circumstances. He noticed that his opponent held him by his right hand, and it was his right arm which had been lamed. Naturally, therefore, it had lost some of its strength. This was his opportunity. With a sudden twist he wriggled out of the giant's grasp, and, understanding that it was dangerous to be at too close quarters, he threw open the outer door and dashed into the yard.

Whether this would, on the whole, have helped him, was uncertain, as the tramp could probably outrun him, but just in the nick of time a team appeared, driven by a young man, perhaps twenty-five, of remarkable size. Hiram Nutt was six feet six inches in height, the tallest man in the county, and he was as athletic as he was tall. He tipped the scales at two hundred and ten pounds, and was famous for his feats of strength. He was a farmer's son and lived at Elm Bank.

When he saw Walter dash out of the house, pursued by an ill-looking tramp, he thought it high time to interfere.

"What's up?" he demanded, still retaining his seat in the wagon.

"None of your business!" retorted the tramp, too angry to be prudent, "The kid's been impudent, and I'm going to pound him to a jelly."

Meanwhile, Walter was leading the tramp a chase round the wagon, narrowly escaping seizure.

"Help me!" exclaimed Walter, panting.

"If you do, I'll lay you out!" exclaimed the pursuer, who had been too much occupied to notice the formidable size of the young man in the wagon.

Hiram Nutt smiled--a smile of conscious strength.

"Jump in the wagon, boy!" he said. "I'll take care of you."

Walter obeyed directions, and the tramp tried to follow him.

But in an instant Hiram had risen to his full height and, leaping to the ground, hurried to the rear of the vehicle and caught hold of the tramp. The latter tried to resist, but he was like a child in the grasp of a man. He looked up in amazement, for he was proud of his strength.

"What museum did you escape from, you--monster?" he panted.

Hiram laughed.

"Never mind," he said. "It's well I'm here. Now, boy, who is this man?"

"I found him in that house, ready to strike down the lady who lives there because she would not give him what money she had."

Hiram Nutt's brows contracted.

"Why, you thieving scoundrel!" he cried, vigorously shaking his captive, "you dared to threaten Mrs. Gregory? Did he hurt the lady?" he added anxiously.

"No; I heard her cry for help and rushed in. Then he turned upon me."

"He might have killed you!"

"I wish I had!" ejaculated the tramp, with a scowl.

"Where is Mrs. Gregory now?"

"I told her to go upstairs."

Just then the lady, who from an upper window had observed the discomfiture and capture of her enemy, came out.

"Oh, Mr. Nutt," she exclaimed, "I am so glad you came along! I was afraid this brave boy would get hurt."

"It isn't he that will get hurt now," said Nutt, significantly. "How came this fellow in your house?"

"He came in half an hour ago and asked for food."

"And you gave it to him?"

"Yes; I got ready a lunch for him and made him some tea, though he wanted liquor."

"And this was the way of repaying the favor?"

"He had heard in some way that my husband brought home some money last evening and he demanded it. I wish, Mr. Nutt, you would take charge of it till my husband comes home. I don't dare to have it in the house."

"It won't be necessary, for there comes your husband."

It was true. Ephraim Gregory turned the corner of the street, and paused in surprise at the spectacle before him.

"What's the matter, Lucy?" he asked.

She briefly explained.

"I am so glad you are at home," she sighed. "But how do you happen to come so early?"

"I think it was a presentiment of evil. I thought of the money I had left with you, and it occurred to me that it might expose you to danger. So I got leave of absence and took an early train for Elm Bank." "What shall I do with this fellow, Mr. Gregory?" asked Hiram.

"I'll go into the house and get a rope to tie him. Then we'll take him to the lock-up."

"Let me go!" said the tramp, uneasily. "I was only joking."

"You carried the joke too far, my friend," said Hiram, significantly. "I'll take you round to the lock-up--by way of joke--and Judge Jones will sentence you to the penitentiary--just to help the joke along."

"Let me go!" whined the tramp, now thoroughly subdued. "I am a poor man, and that's what led me to do wrong."

"I suppose you never indulged in such a little joke before?"

"No; this is the first time."

"Probably you are a church member when you are at home," said Hiram, in a tone of sarcasm. "You're a good man gone wrong, ain't you?"

"Yes," said the tramp.

"You look like it. Such good men as you are better off in jail."

"I'll leave town and never come back--I will, on my honor!" pleaded the tramp, earnestly.

"I don't put any confidence in what you say. Ah, here's the rope. Now, hold still, if you know what's best for yourself."

The tramp attempted resistance, but a little vigorous shaking up by his captor soon brought him to terms. In five minutes, with his hands and feet firmly tied, he was on his way to the lock-up. Mr. Gregory and Walter accompanied him in the wagon.

"Now, Mr. Sherwood," said Gregory, when their errand was completed, "I want to thank you for your brave defense of my wife."

"I only did what any one would do under the same circumstances," said Walter, modestly.

"Any one of the requisite courage. You put yourself in danger."

"I didn't think of that, Mr. Gregory."

"No, I suppose not, but it is proper that I should think of it. You have placed me under an obligation that I shall not soon forget. You must do me the favor to come home to supper with me and pass the night. Will it interfere seriously with your business?"

"I am a life-insurance agent," said Walter, "or, at least, I am trying to be, but have not yet succeeded in writing a policy."

"I have been thinking of insuring my life for a small sum. If you come home with me you may talk me into doing it."

"Then I will certainly accept your invitation," said Walter, smiling.

"My wife made me promise to keep you. She wants to show her gratitude. Besides, you may be wanted to appear against the prisoner to-morrow morning."

"I shall be glad to help him to his deserts," said Walter. "The sooner he is locked up the better it will be for the community."

Walter had no reason to regret his acceptance of the invitation. Mrs. Gregory exerted herself to the utmost in providing an appetizing supper, far in advance of anything he would have had set before him at his boarding-house, Mrs. Canfield being an indifferent cook. Generally her butter was strong and her tea weak, while the contrary should have been the case, and her biscuit heavy with saleratus. Walter thoroughly enjoyed his supper, and was almost ashamed of his appetite. But it gave his hostess great pleasure to see his appreciation of the meal, and she took it as a compliment to herself as a cook.

After supper Walter and Mr. Gregory sat down to business. He explained the methods of the insurance company for which he was acting as agent, and found Mr. Gregory an interested and intelligent listener.

"You may write me a policy for a thousand dollars," he said.

"You will need to pass a medical examination," said Walter.

"Certainly; will our village physician do?" "Yes."

"Then take your hat and walk over with me. It is only half-a-mile distant."

The whole matter was adjusted that evening, and Walter was pleased to feel that he had made a successful start in his new business.

The next morning the tramp was brought before Justice Jones, who arranged to hold court early to oblige Walter and Mr. Gregory, and the prisoner received a sentence of a year's confinement. He gave the name of Barney Fogg, and under that name received his sentence. He scowled fiercely while Walter was giving his evidence, and as he was taken from the court-room handcuffed, he turned toward our hero and said: "It's your turn now, young bantam, but I'll be even with you yet."

"What a terrible man!" said Mr. Gregory, shuddering. "I hope I shall never see him again."