Chapter XXIV. An Attempt to Recover the Revolver
 

As Walter had been brought up with a strict sense of honesty, he was somewhat in doubt whether he ought to keep the revolver, which was a handsome one, silver-mounted. He decided, however, that it would be quixotic to disarm himself and put the outlaw in a position to renew his attack, as he undoubtedly would, if only because he would wish to get even with the boy who had humiliated him. Walter had, to be sure, promised to give it up if the owner called for it, but he meant at the same time to secure his arrest.

He did not mention to the professor that he had received a letter from the owner of the weapon, as his employer would have insisted upon his giving it up. Professor Robinson was a timid man, and, though he was of stout build and possessed a fair measure of strength, he had not as much spirit as some boys of ten.

"What are you going to do with the revolver, Walter?" he asked uneasily, as they set out on their way from Fremont to Stilwell.

"I am going to carry it with me, professor."

"Then you had better withdraw the charges."

"Why should I?"

"The weapon might go off."

"I mean that it shall if the owner makes another attack upon us."

"You don't think he will?" asked the professor, nervously.

"I think it very probable."

"I wish we had never met him," said the unhappy professor.

"So do I; but as we have, we must make the best of it."

"If you had only given him back the revolver we should have had no more trouble."

"Pardon me, professor, I think we should have had a great deal of trouble. Once give the fellow his old advantage over us and he would use it."

"I never had such an experience before," complained the professor, looking at Walter reproachfully, as if he thought that somehow it was the fault of his young assistant.

Walter smiled.

"Do you know, professor," he said, "your remark reminds me of a statement in an Irish paper to this effect: 'Several persons have died during the last year who never died before.'"

"I don't see the point," said the professor, peevishly.

They were about half-way to the next town when Walter heard the sound of a galloping horse behind him.

Looking out of the side of the wagon, he saw the now familiar figure of the outlaw as he rode up alongside. He looked critically at Walter, and saw that the coveted revolver was in our hero's hand, ready for action.

"Why didn't you give the revolver to my messenger this morning, boy?" he demanded, with a frown.

"I didn't think it would be safe," Walter answered significantly.

"Didn't you know it was my property?"

"I wasn't sure of it."

"What do you mean by that?"

"I didn't know whether you had paid for it."

"You are impudent. Professor Robinson, will you make the boy give me back my revolver?"

"I have told him to," answered the professor, in an apologetic tone, "but he won't obey me."

"Then why don't you discharge him? I wouldn't keep a boy in my employ who disobeyed me."

"I am well satisfied with him, except on this point."

"I am ready to leave you, professor, if you say the word," said Walter, and he made a motion as if to jump out of the wagon.

"No, no!" exclaimed the professor, in alarm. "I don't want you to leave me."

"Then I won't. I think it might be bad for you if I did," said Walter, with a significant look at the horseman.

"Well, boy," said the outlaw, harshly, "I can't waste my time here. You sent me a message to come for my revolver myself if I wanted it."

"Yes."

"Well, here I am. Now give me the weapon."

"I think I shall have to decline."

"Are you going back on your word?" demanded the outlaw.

"Not exactly."

"Then what do you propose to do?"

"Keep along with us till we reach Stilwell. Then we will go before a magistrate. You will make your demand for the weapon, and in his presence I will surrender it."

"Do you take me for a fool?" thundered the robber.

"No, and I want you to understand that I am not a fool, either."

"You are acting like a fool and a knave."

"I should certainly be acting like a fool if I gave up the revolver, and had it immediately pointed at me or my companion, with a demand for our money."

"But I gave you my word--"

"Of course you did, but I put no confidence in your word."

While this conversation was going on the poor professor looked on and listened with an expression of helplessness on his broad face. He was essentially a man of peace, and was by no means fitted to deal with a highwayman.

"Look here," said the outlaw, after a pause, and in a milder tone, "I have a special attachment for that weapon, or I would drop the whole matter and buy another one. But this was given me by an old pal, now dead, and I set great store by it. Professor, although the revolver is mine by rights, I will waive all that and offer you twenty-five dollars for it. That will pay you for all the trouble I have put you to."

Professor Robinson, though not a mean man, was fond of money, and this offer tempted him. It would be getting twenty-five dollars for nothing, and that was a piece of good luck not likely to present itself every day.

"I accept your offer," he said gladly.

"But I don't," put in Walter, calmly. "Allow me to say that the professor has no claim to the weapon. I took it with my own hand, and it has never been in his possession."

"All right! Then I'll give you twenty-five dollars for it."

"I decline your offer."

"I'd like to wring your neck, you young thief!"

"I have no doubt you would."

"Once more, and for the last time, will you give me back that revolver?"

"I have told you when and on what conditions I would surrender it."

"When?"

"At Stilwell, in the presence of a magistrate."

"You are very crafty. You want me to be arrested for attempted robbery."

"Yes, that is my wish."

"I've a great mind to snatch the revolver from you."

"Come on, then!" said Walter, holding it firmly, pointing at the outlaw.

"You've got the drop on me, youngster, but mark my word, I'll have that weapon yet, and I'll punish you for giving me all this trouble."

"Have you anything more to say?"

"No."

"Then suppose you ride on. We have been delayed long enough."

The robber did go, but aimed a volley of imprecations at Walter, of which the latter took no notice.

In the early evening they arrived at Stilwell and secured rooms at the hotel.

Among the guests was a cattleman from Dakota, who had been to Chicago with a herd of cattle and was now on his way back. He was loud in his complaints of a highwayman whom he had met two days previous, who had relieved him of a wallet containing five hundred dollars.

"Won't you describe him?" asked Walter, struck by a sudden suspicion.

The cattle dealer did so. His description tallied with the personal appearance of Walter's enemy.

"Was he on foot?" asked Walter.

"No; he was on a black horse."

Walter nodded.

"I know him," he said.

"Has he robbed you?"

"No; I have robbed him."

"What do you mean?" inquired the cattle dealer, in wonder.

"Do you recognize this?" and Walter exhibited the revolver.

"Yes; it looks like the revolver he pointed at me."

"Probably it is."

"But how do you happen to have it?"

"I took it from him."

"You--a mere boy!" exclaimed the cattle dealer, incredulously.

"Yes. I will tell you about it."

And Walter gave an account of the circumstances under which the revolver had come into his possession.

"It is a handsome weapon," said the cattle dealer, taking it into his hands and examining it. "It must be worth a hundred dollars."

"I think I shall keep it for my own use," said Walter, quietly.

"I'll give you seventy-five dollars for it."

"I would rather not part with it. Indeed, I should not feel justified in selling it, considering the way it came into my hands."

"Well, boy, you're a smart one; but I surmise you haven't seen the last of the owner."

The speaker was right.