Chapter XV. A Four-Footed Foe
 

Abner Holden's reflections, when he found himself left alone in Ralph's cabin, bound hand and foot, were not of the most agreeable nature. It was humiliating to find himself baffled at every point, and, for once, completely defeated in his attempt to exercise his authority over the boy who had been bound to him.

That Herbert should escape from him beyond the chance of recovery seemed now almost certain. If he were free, something might be done. But he was so securely bound that it was impossible to get free without help, and the lonely situation of the cabin made it very doubtful whether anyone would come within hearing until the return of Ralph himself. When that would be was uncertain.

Three hours passed, and still no prospect of release. The bonds chafed his wrists, and his situation was far from comfortable. He tried to loosen the cords, but without success.

"Must I stay here all night?" he thought, in alarm.

But deliverance was at hand, though its first approach was disagreeable.

A large dog entered the cabin through the open door, drawn thither, probably, by curiosity. When he saw Abner he appeared to take a dislike to him, and barked vehemently.

"Go away, you brute!" said Abner, wrathfully.

The dog, however, appeared instinctively to understand that Abner Holden was able only to threaten him, and barked more furiously than before; sometimes approaching within a foot of the helpless prisoner, and showing a formidable row of teeth, which Abner feared every moment might fasten upon his arm or leg.

Abner Holden was not a man of courage. Though his disposition was that of a bully, he was easily frightened, and the fierce look of the dog alarmed him not a little. In fact, it might have tested the courage of a much braver man than Mr. Holden.

"Go away!" he shrieked, shrinking back as far as he could from the open mouth of his persecutor.

A hoarse bark was the only reply, and the dog made an artful spring, which was only a feint, but had too much the appearance of earnest to suit his enemy.

"Oh, will nobody save me from the brute?" groaned Abner, in an ecstasy of terror. "If I could only get my hands loose!" and he tugged frantically at the cord.

Feeling how utterly he was at a disadvantage, he condescended to coax his fierce antagonist.

"Be quiet, that's a good dog," he said, with hypocritical softness.

The dog noticed a change in his tone, and evidently viewed it with some suspicion. Still his bark became less fierce and his looks less threatening.

"Good dog!" repeated Abner, in wheedling tones. "There's some dinner."

And he pushed over the provisions which Ralph had left.

While the dog was apparently taking his offer into consideration, a boy's voice was heard outside, calling "Carlo, Carlo!"

The dog pricked up his ears and ran out of the cabin.

"So you are here, you truant," said the boy. "Why did you run away? What have you to say for yourself, sir?"

The dog answered by a wag of his tail.

"Oh, yes, you may wag your tail, but I've a great mind to punish you for running away, and putting me to the trouble of finding you."

"Hello!" cried Abner, in a loud voice.

"Who's that?" thought the boy, surprised.

As the voice evidently came from within the cabin, he ventured to the door, and looked in. He was considerably surprised to see Abner Holden, whom he knew well by sight, lying bound hand and foot in the corner.

"Is that you, Mr. Holden?" he asked, in a tone of surprise.

"Of course it is," said Abner, who was not in a very pleasant frame of mind.

"Are you tied?"

"Don't you see I am?" snarled Abner.

"Who tied you?"

"That rascal Ralph. I mean to have him hung, if I live."

"Ralph! Why, I thought he was quiet and peaceable."

"He tried to murder me, but changed his mind, and tied me, as you see."

"I can't understand it."

"There is no need of understanding it. Come and unfasten these cords. I feel stiff and cramped."

The boy tried to unfasten the cord, but it was too securely tied.

"Where is your knife?"

"I haven't got any."

"Then take the axe."

There was an axe standing at the corner of the room. This the boy got, and, with the keen edge, severed the string.

Abner stretched himself to relieve his cramped limbs. Then he bethought himself of his late persecutor.

"Is that your dog?" he asked, surveying his four-legged enemy with no friendly expression.

"Yes, that's Carlo. Come here, Carlo."

"He's been in here barking at me, and threatening to bite me, and now I'll have my revenge."

"What do you mean?" inquired the boy, in alarm, as Abner seized the axe and swung it over his head.

"Stand aside, boy!"

"What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to kill that brute."

"No, no, he's a good dog. He won't do any harm," said the boy, in alarm.

"I'll kill him," said Abner, fiercely.

The dog surveyed his enemy with suspicion. He seemed to understand that danger menaced him. He growled in a low, hoarse, ominous tone, which showed that he was on his guard, and meant to do his part of the fighting, if necessary.

His owner had retreated to the door, and now tried to call him away.

"Carlo, Carlo, come out here, sir."

But Carlo would not come. He had no intention of shrinking from the danger that threatened him, but was bent on defending himself, as became a brave and dauntless dog, whose courage was above suspicion.

If Abner had not been so exasperated, he might have been terrified, but anger re-enforced his courage, and, moreover, he had a great deal of confidence that the axe which he held in his hand would make him more than a match for the dog.

"I'll kill him!" he exclaimed, and once more he swung the axe over his head, and brought it down with a tremendous force in the direction of the dog.

Alas for poor Carlo, if the axe had struck him! But he was wary, and knew something of warlike tactics, and with watchful eye carefully noted Abner's movements. The boy uttered a cry of alarm at the peril of his favorite, but Carlo sprang to one side just as the axe descended, and it was buried in the earthen floor of the cabin so deeply that Abner could not immediately recover it.

The advantage was thus transferred to the other side, and the dog was not slow in perceiving it.

With a bound he sprang upon his adversary, and bore him to the floor, seizing his coat between his strong teeth. He pulled and tugged at this with a strength which no ordinary cloth could possibly withstand.

"Take him off! take him off!" shrieked Abner in terror.

The boy sprang to the rescue.

"Come away, Carlo," he said, grasping him by the collar; "come away, that's a good dog."

But, habitually obedient as Carlo was, his young master found it difficult to get him away. He felt that he had received a grievous injury--that his life had been attempted--and he wanted to have satisfaction. Finally his master succeeded in drawing him away, but not till Mr. Holden's coat was badly torn.

The latter was crestfallen and angry, and not so grateful as he ought to have been to his young defender.

"I'll make your father pay for this coat, you young rascal!" he said.

"It isn't my fault, Mr. Holden," said the boy.

"Yes, it is. It was your dog that tore my coat."

"Carlo wouldn't have torn it, if you hadn't attacked him."

"He attacked me first."

"You had better go away, Mr. Holden, or he may go at you again."

A low growl from the dog whom he held by the collar re-enforced this suggestion, and Abner, uttering threats both against the dog and his master, strode out of the cabin and bent his steps homeward.

As he entered the kitchen, the housekeeper turned, and, noticing his torn coat, exclaimed, "Good gracious, Mr. Holden, what's happened to you? How came your coat so badly torn?"

"It was a dog," muttered Abner, who did not care to be questioned.

Mrs. Bickford supposed he must have taken off the coat, and the dog had torn it as it lay upon the ground.

"What a pity!" she exclaimed. "Whose dog was it?"

"Alfred Martin's. I'll make Martin pay for the coat. He has no right to keep such a brute."

"You must be hungry, Mr. Holden."

"Yes, get me something as quick as possible."

"Have you seen anything of Herbert?" asked the housekeeper.

"No," snapped Abner.

This was a falsehood, of course, but he felt rather ashamed to confess that he had seen Herbert, and that the latter had got the better of him. Mrs. Bickford perceived that he was out of humor, and did not press the question. She concluded that he was angry because his quest had been unsuccessful.