Chapter XIV. Taken Prisoner
 

"What does all this mean?" demanded Ralph, in a tone of command.

"What right have you to interfere?" said Abner Holden, sulkily.

"The right that any man has to prevent murder," said Ralph, briefly.

"I wasn't going to murder him."

"What were you going to do?" asked Ralph, looking keenly at Abner. "Why were you pointing the pistol at him?"

"I wanted to frighten him."

"You meant to have him think you were going to fire. I believe you were."

"Why didn't he come down when I bade him?"

"I'll answer that question," said Herbert, from the top of the tree. "Mr. Holden promised to beat me if I would come down, but I didn't think that a sufficient inducement."

"I have a right to beat you," said Abner, doggedly. "Ain't you bound to me; tell me that?"

"I was," said Herbert, "and if you had treated me well, I would have stayed with you; but I don't mean to remain to be abused."

"You hear the lad's answer," said Ralph. "I like his spirit, and I'll stand by him. He won't return with you."

While this conversation had been going on, Abner had been slowly edging himself toward the spot upon which Ralph had thrown the pistol, which he had wrenched from him. While Ralph was speaking, he suddenly darted forward, seized the weapon, and, facing about, said, with malicious triumph, "Now, you're in my power, both of you. We'll see whether he'll go back with me or not."

As he spoke he pointed the pistol toward Ralph.

The latter laughed contemptuously.

This irritated Abner Holden.

"I will count ten," he said. "Unless the boy begins to come down before I stop, I fire at you. One--two----"

"Hold!" said Ralph, and, drawing his revolver from beneath his hunting- jacket, he pointed it at Abner. "Two can play at that game, Abner Holden. This revolver is fully loaded. It gives me six chances of hitting you. You have but one chance with your pistol. The moment your finger touches the trigger, your doom is sealed. I never miss my aim."

A sickly hue overspread the face of Abner Holden. He had counted on Ralph's being unarmed. He saw that he had made an important and most unlucky mistake.

"Put down your revolver," he said, in a very different tone. "I wasn't in earnest, you know."

"I know nothing of the kind," retorted Ralph. "You looked to me as if you were very much in earnest."

Still with his revolver he covered Abner.

"Put down your weapon," said Abner, nervously. "It might go off."

"Yes, it might," returned Ralph. "I will lower it, on one condition."

"What is that?"

"That you lay down your pistol on the ground."

Abner demurred, but finally felt compelled to do as he was commanded.

"That is well," said Ralph, quietly. "Now, I will take care that you are not tempted by it again."

He walked toward the pistol, lifted it, and, pointing it in the reverse direction, fired it off among the trees.

"So much for that," he said. "Now, Herbert, you may come down."

Herbert complied promptly. He felt the utmost confidence in the prowess and good faith of his new friend, and did not fear to descend, though his bitterest enemy awaited him beneath.

Meanwhile an idea struck Abner Holden. He saw that he was no match for Herbert as long as Ralph chose to befriend him. He resolved to enlist the latter on his side.

"Hark you, Ralph," he said, "come aside with me. I wish to speak to you a moment."

Ralph followed him a few paces in silence.

"Now what is it you have to say to me?" he demanded.

"About this boy," said Abner, insinuatingly. "He is bound to me."

"Well?"

"And the law gives me authority over him."

"Well?"

"I want him to go back with me."

"Well?"

"Will you promise not to interfere between us?"

"I can't promise that," said Ralph, briefly.

"Stay a moment," said Abner, seeing that he was on the point of leaving him; "of course, I am willing to make it worth your while. I'll give you--well, three dollars, to help me secure him, and carry him back to my house."

"What do you take me for?" asked Ralph, looking at the other, steadily.

"For a poor man," said Abner. "Think a moment. Three dollars will buy you provisions for a week. They couldn't be more easily earned. In fact, you needn't do anything. Only promise not to interfere between the boy and myself."

Ralph turned upon him scornfully.

"I have promised the boy my protection," he said, "and you would have me forfeit my word for a paltry three dollars?"

"I'll give you five," said Abner, supposing that the sum he had offered was not sufficient.

"Not for five dollars, nor five thousand," returned Ralph, shortly. "I thought you meant to insult me, but I see you only judge me by yourself. The boy shall not return with you. Make up your mind to that."

"I can have you arrested," said Abner, angrily.

Ralph laughed.

"Let that comfort you for the loss of the boy," he said.

"I'll have the boy, too," muttered Abner, turning to leave them.

"Where are you going?" demanded Ralph.

"I am going home."

"Not yet."

"Why not?" demanded Abner, facing about.

"Because I can't spare you yet."

"What right have you to interfere with my movements?" said Abner.

"None, perhaps; but I will inquire into that afterward. It is enough that, for the present, you must stay here."

"I shall do no such thing," said Abner, and he again turned to go.

Ralph deliberately lifted his weapon, and took aim.

"What do you say now?" he asked.

"Surely, you will not fire at me," said Abner, turning pale.

"Not if you remain where you are."

"How long do you mean to keep me?" demanded Abner, sullenly.

"As long as may be necessary. That is all. Herbert, go into the cabin and look in one corner for a cord."

Herbert soon returned with a stout cord, tough and strong.

"What are you going to do with that?" asked Abner suspiciously.

I'm going to bind you," said Ralph, coolly.

"I'll have the law on you for this," said Abner, hoarsely.

"All in good time," said Ralph. "But I advise you to consider whether the law has nothing to say against attempted murder."

"What do you mean by that?"

"I mean that you attempted to murder this boy, and would have done so, in all probability, if I had not interfered. When I am arrested, I shall feel it my duty to make this known to the authorities."

Abner was silent. He felt that Ralph's testimony would have an ugly look.

"Let me go," he said, after a pause. "You needn't be afraid of my troubling either of you. Don't tie me."

"Abner Holden," said Ralph, "I know you, and I know you are not to be trusted. I have resolved to help this boy to escape from you, and I mean to do it effectually. For this purpose, I must subject you to temporary inconvenience. I advise you not to resist."

He had already tied the hands of Abner Holden, who, as he looked into the fearless, resolute face of the Ranger, felt that it would not do to resist. It chafed him most to think that Herbert, his bound boy, should be a witness of his humiliation, and he scowled savagely at our hero. But Herbert showed no triumph. His was a brave and generous nature, and had it rested with him, he would have let Mr. Holden go, but he did not think it best to interfere.

Ralph quickly tied both hands and feet, and then took the helpless body of Abner into the cabin, where he placed him in one corner.

"Are you thirsty?" he asked.

"Yes," said Abner, sullenly.

Ralph placed a cup of water to his lips. He also placed a loaf of bread beside him, which, though his hands were tied at the wrist, he would still be able to reach, and then beckoned to Herbert.

"Come," he said, "it is time that we were going."

Abner gnashed his teeth with anger, as he watched them issue from the cabin together, and felt how utterly helpless he was to prevent them.