Chapter X. The Clouds Gather
 

At twelve o'clock Abner Holden returned home, still in good humor. As he did not anticipate another call from his expected customer until the afternoon, he made no inquiries.

"Perhaps he won't hear about it," thought Herbert, and as he did not wish to have any trouble with Mr. Holden, he hoped it might prove so.

Abner was so elated at the thought of his good bargain in prospect, that he could not keep it to himself.

"I've about sold Spitfire, Mrs. Bickford," he said to the housekeeper.

"Sold Spitfire! Who wants to buy him?"

"A man that called here this morning. What do you think he wants him for?"

"To break his neck," suggested the housekeeper.

"He wants him for a good family horse for his wife to drive," and Abner Holden burst into a laugh.

"Perhaps he's anxious to become a widower," said Mrs. Bickford.

"No; the fact is he thinks the horse is gentle."

"You told him so, I suppose?"

"Of course, I did."

"Knowing it to be false?"

"Shut up, Mrs. Bickford. You know all is fair in trade."

"No, I don't, Mr. Holden. To my mind, a lie's just as much a lie in trade as in anything else. I suppose the man trusted to your recommendation."

"Suppose he did. I got cheated on the horse, and I've got to get rid of it, somehow. As it is, I shall make a handsome profit."

"Well, Mr. Holden, all I've got to say is, I am glad I haven't got as tough a conscience as you have."

"You don't know anything about business, Mrs. Bickford."

"Well, manage things your own way. I ain't responsible, but I pity the poor man if he buys Spitfire."

"So do I," chuckled Abner. "That's where you and I agree, Mrs. Bickford."

Herbert listened in silence. He was disgusted with the utter disregard of fair dealing exhibited by Abner Holden, though he was not surprised at it. He felt glad that he had been the means of saving Mr. Richmond from being overreached, though he know very well that Mr. Holden's rage would be furious when he learned what had interfered with the trade. He did not feel under any obligations to reveal his own agency in the matter, unless direct inquiry was made of him. In that case, he would manfully stand by his acts.

"I'm expecting the man this afternoon, Mrs. Bickford," said Mr. Holden, "and shall stay around home to see him. When he comes, call me at once; and mind, not a word about Spitfire."

"Just as you say. I wash my hands of the whole affair."

"Washing your hands won't do you any harm," said Abner, with a laugh at what he supposed to be a witticism.

Mrs. Bickford took no notice of this remark. It was not quite easy to say why she remained in charge of Mr. Holden's household, for certainly, she had no respect for her employer. However, he did not meddle with her, or, if he did, he got the worst of it, and it was perhaps the independence that she enjoyed which led her to remain in the house. Knowing Abner's character, she was not particularly shocked at this last evidence of it, but went about her work as usual, with scarcely a thought of what had passed.

Abner Holden sat at the window, and looked up the road, awaiting anxiously the appearance of the customer.

"I hope he'll bring the money with him," he thought. "I'd like to have matters all arranged to-day, before he smells a rat. If I get the money once in my hands, he may scold all he pleases about the horse. It won't disturb my rest."

But the old clock in the corner kept ticking--minute after minute passed--and still the stranger did not appear.

"He can't have struck a bargain with Sam Nichols," muttered Abner, apprehensively. "If he has, it'll be sort of a swindle on me. Maybe Nichols has been telling him lies about me."

Abner waxed so angry over this supposition, that although it was merely conjecture, he already began to consider in what way he could "come up with Sam Nichols."

"That money would come very handy," thought Abner. "There's a horse worth two of Spitfire, I can get for a hundred and fifty, and that would leave me a hundred. I wish he would come."

He looked out of the window, and, not content with that, went out of the front door, and, shading his eyes with his hands, looked up the road. But he could see nothing of Mr. Richmond. Abner began to fear that he had lost his bargain.

"I guess I'll put on my hat and go round to the tavern," he said to Mrs. Bickford. "If the gentleman I spoke of should call while I am away, just send the boy around after me as quick as possible."

"Very well."

Abner Holden walked hurriedly to the tavern, determined to bring about a bargain, which would be so desirable for him, if it were a possible thing. He must and would get rid of Spitfire, however many falsehoods he might have to tell. What was truth in comparison to two hundred and fifty dollars! Suppose Spitfire should run away with the stranger's wife and break her limbs, or even her neck, it was everybody's duty to look out for himself in this world.

Thus reasoned Abner Holden. There is no particular need of my commenting upon the fallacy of this reasoning, since it is not likely that any of my young readers will sufficiently admire his character to be in any danger of being led into imitation of it.

At the end of a very few minutes, Abner stood on the piazza, of the tavern, a little out of breath with rapid walking.

"Is Mr. Richmond still here?" he inquired of the landlord, anxiously.

"Yes, but he means to leave in five minutes."

"Where is he?"

"In his room."

"I want to see him on particular business--I wish you would send up and ask him to come down."

"Very well."

"William," said the landlord, summoning his son, "go up and tell Mr. Richmond that Mr. Holden wishes to see him."

"You don't know of his having bought a horse of Sam Nichols, do you?" asked Abner, nervously, of the landlord.

"No, I am sure he has not."

Abner felt somewhat relieved by this. As long as he was still unprovided with a horse, there was still a chance of Spitfire. He resolved, if necessary, to abate something from the rather high price he had demanded in the morning.

Mr. Richmond followed William downstairs.

"You wish to see me?" he asked, glancing toward Mr. Holden.

"Yes, about the horse you were looking at this morning."

"I have concluded not to take him," said the other, coldly.

"You didn't buy of Sam Nichols, did you?"

"No; his horse did not suit me."

"You haven't any other in your eye, have you?" asked Mr. Holden.

"No."

"Then, hadn't you better look at mine again?" he said, persuasively.

"It would be of no use."

"If the price is any objection," said Abner, insinuatingly, "I don't know but I might say a LEETLE less, though the animal's wuth more'n I ask for it."

"It isn't the price that stands in the way, Mr. Holden."

"What is it, then? Sam Nichols hain't been slandering me, I hope. If he has, I'll be even with him."

"Spare your anger against Sam Nichols. He said nothing against you; though I believe you warned me against him."

"Yes, I did. I felt it my duty to caution you, so you might not be overreached by him."

"You prefer to overreach me yourself," said the other, quietly.

Abner started, and changed color.

"What do you mean?" he said. "Who told you I wanted to overreach you?"

"Why, this is the way the matter stands. I asked you for a good family horse, such as my wife might drive with safety. Didn't you understand me so?"

"Of course."

"And you tried to sell me an ill-tempered brute, blind of one eye, for an extortionate price. Can you deny it?"

"Somebody's been telling you a pack of lies," said Abner, hoarsely.

"I don't think they are lies. I have every reason to think they are true. By the way, what is the animal's name?"

"Spitfire," said Abner, rather reluctantly.

"A good name for a family horse," said the stranger, sarcastically.

"Where did you learn all this?" demanded Abner. "Who's been slandering the horse?"

"I got my information at your place, from one who ought to know."

A light dawned upon Abner Holden's mind.

"Herbert told him," muttered Abner to himself. "That cursed boy has spoiled my bargain, and he shall smart for it."

In a furious rage, he retraced his steps homeward, breathing threats of vengeance dire against our hero.