Chapter XI. A Crisis

Abner Holden's disappointment was excessive at the sudden falling through of his horse trade, and his feeling of anger against Herbert for his agency in the matter was in proportion to his disappointment. His chief thought, as he hurried home from the tavern, was that he would make the boy smart for his interference.

"I'll give him a good flogging," muttered Abner to himself, and he felt that this would be some slight compensation for the injury and slight loss which Herbert had caused him to sustain.

"I'll teach him to spoil my bargains," he said, while his face wore an expression decidedly ugly. "I reckon he won't do it a second time."

It was in this frame of mind that he reached home.

Herbert had just entered the kitchen with an armful of wood for the housekeeper, and having thrown down his burden, was about to go back, when, on turning, he confronted the stormy and wrathful face of his employer.

"He's found out," Herbert concluded at once, and he braced his nerves for the storm which he knew must come.

"Well, young man, I've an account to settle with you," said Abner, abruptly.

Herbert did not reply, but waited for Mr. Holden to state the matter. But in Abner's present angry condition, he chose to construe his silence into cause of offense.

"Why don't you speak?" he said. "What do you mean by looking me impudently in the face?"

"I have no intention of being impudent," said Herbert. "I think you are mistaken, Mr. Holden."

"Do you dare to tell me I am mistaken?" roared Holden, lashing himself into a rage.

"I don't mean to do or say anything that is not perfectly respectful," said Herbert, manfully, looking steadily in his employer's face.

"Why did you tell a pack of lies about my horse this morning, and so make me lose my trade?"

"I didn't tell a pack of lies," said Herbert.

"Didn't you tell the man who came here that he was an ill-tempered brute, and blind of one eye?"

Abner Holden glared upon the boy as if he wanted to spring upon him, and give him a thrashing on the spot.

"I told him that Spitfire was not suitable for a family horse."

"What did you tell him that for?"

"Because it was true."

"Supposing it was true, didn't you know that you were spoiling my trade?"

"I am sorry for that, Mr. Holden, but if he had bought the horse, supposing it to be gentle, it might have broken his wife's neck."

"What business was that of yours? That was his lookout."

"I didn't look upon it in that way. I thought he ought to buy the horse with his eyes open."

"You did, did you?" roared Abner. "Then I advise you to open your own eyes, for you're going to get one of the worst lickings you ever had."

Abner Holden's anger now reached an ungovernable pitch. Looking about him for a weapon, he espied the broom resting against the wall. He seized it, and with a scream of rage, made for Herbert, shaking off the grasp of the housekeeper, who tried to stay him.

Herbert, perceiving the peril in which he stood, ran round the table, which stood, with leaves open, in the middle of the floor. Abner pursued him with headlong haste.

"Lord preserve us! The man is mad!" ejaculated the housekeeper, trying to get out of the way. But in this she was not successful. The kitchen was small, and before she could guard against a collision, Abner had stumbled over Mrs. Bickford, and both came down together. She uttered a succession of piercing shrieks, and, with a view of relieving Herbert, pretended that her life was in danger, grasping Abner by the hair and holding him fast.

Herbert saw that this was the favorable moment for escape, and, seizing his hat, dashed out of the house. He ran across the fields as fast as his limbs could carry him, expecting that he would be pursued. Before we follow him, we will describe the scene that took place after his flight.

"Let go my hair, Mrs. Bickford!" exclaimed Abner, tugging vainly to break from the housekeeper's grasp.

"I dare not," she said. "I'm afraid you'll murder me."

"You are making a fool of yourself," retorted Abner. "What should I murder you for? But I will, if you don't let go!"

"Hello, who's talking of murder?" demanded a rough voice.

The speaker was a neighbor, who chanced to be passing, and was led to enter by the uproar, which was plainly audible outside.

"Save me!" exclaimed Mrs. Bickford. "He's threatened to murder me."

"Stop your nonsense, you old fool!" retorted Abner, vexed at the equivocal position in which he was placed.

"What's all this row about? Mr. Holden, you ought to be ashamed of yourself for attacking a defenseless woman."

"I didn't intend to," said Abner, sullenly. "She got in my way, and I stumbled over her; and then she seized me by the hair."

"What were you going to do with that broom?" demanded the other, suspiciously.

"What was I going to do? I was going to thrash that rascally boy of mine, and Mrs. Bickford knew it perfectly well."

"What has he done?"

"He? He's spoiled a trade of mine by his lying, and I was going to flog him for it, when Mrs. Bickford got in my way."

"Well, said the visitor, shrugging his shoulders, "I don't want to interfere in your affairs. I suppose that you've a right to flog the boy. but it strikes me that a broom handle is rather an ugly weapon."

"It isn't half heavy enough," said Abner, savagely; "but where is the boy? Did you see him?"

"Given leg-bail, I reckon, and I don't wonder at it."

"Run away?" ejaculated Abner, disappointed. "Did you see where he went?"

"No, I didn't, and if I had, I'm not sure that I would tell you."

Abner would like to have thrashed the man who showed so little sympathy with his anger, but he felt that it would hardly be prudent. He went to the door and looked out. But there was no trace of Herbert to be discovered.

"He'll get it when he does come back," he said to himself.

The idea that Herbert might not come back at all never once occurred to him. He resolved that the flogging should lose nothing by being deferred.

We must now return to Herbert, whom we left running across the fields.

His departure had been so sudden, that his prominent idea was to get out of the way of his employer's violence. He was at first under the impression that he was pursued, but when, after running perhaps a quarter of a mile, he ventured to look around, he saw, to his great relief, that there was no one on his track. Being out of breath, he stopped, and, throwing himself down on the grass in the shadow of a stone wall, began to consider his plans for the future.

Everything was in doubt except one point. He felt that he had broken, finally, the tie that bound him to Mr. Holden. He would not return to him. He had experienced enough of Abner's ugly and unreasonable temper to feel that there could be no harmony between them, and as to submitting to personal violence from such a man as that, his blood boiled at the thought. He knew that he should resist with all the strength he possessed, and what the result might be he did not dare to think. What lay before him in the future he could not conjecture, but whatever it might be, he felt that it was better than to remain an inmate of Abner Holden's household, and in his power.

But where should he go? That was a question not easily answered. After his experience of his uncle's indifference to him, he did not wish to appeal to him for aid, yet he felt that he should like to go to New York and try his fortune there. Thousands of people lived there, and earned enough to support them comfortably. Why not he? It was a thousand miles off, and he might be some time in getting there. He might have to stop and work on the way. But, sooner or later, he resolved that he would find his way to the great metropolis.

But there was one difficulty which presented itself at the outset. This difficulty related to his clothing. He had on a pair of overalls and a ragged vest which Abner had provided for him, intending that he should save the good suit he brought with him for Sundays. His present suit, which had been worn by half a dozen of his predecessors, Herbert decidedly objected to wearing, as, in addition to being faded and worn, it was by no means a good fit. He must get his other suit.

But this was in Mr. Holden's attic, and it would hardly be prudent to venture back for it, as Abner was on the lookout for him, and there would be a collision, and perhaps he might be forcibly detained. Fortunately, his money he had about him. This amounted, as the reader already knows, to nearly fifteen dollars, and would, no doubt, be of essential service to him in the project which he had undertaken. As to the clothes, he must think of a way of securing them, before setting out on his journey to New York.