Read CHAPTER X of Cudjo's Cave , free online book, by J. T. Trowbridge, on ReadCentral.com.

THE WIDOW’S GREEN CHEST.

Mr. Villars had spoken truly when he said Penn’s persecutors would not rest here. In fact, Mr. Ropes, and three of his accomplices, were even now on the way to Mrs. Sprowl’s abode, to make inquiries concerning the schoolmaster.

That lone creature had scarcely reached her own door when she saw them coming. Now, though Penn was not in the house, her son was. Great, therefore, was her trepidation at the sight of visitors; and she evinced such eagerness to assure them that the object of their pursuit was not there, and appeared altogether so frightened and guilty, that Ropes winked knowingly at his companions, and said,

“He’s here, boys, safe enough.”

So they forced their way into the house; her increased tremor and confusion serving only to confirm them in their suspicions.

“Not that we doubt your word in the least, Mrs. Sprowl,” Ropes smiled sarcastically. “But of course you can’t object to our searching the premises, for we’re in the performance of a solemn dooty. Any whiskey in the house, widder?”

The obliging lady went to find a bottle. She was gone so long, however, that the visitors became impatient. Ropes accordingly stationed two of his men at the doors, and with the third went in pursuit of Mrs. Sprowl, whom they met coming down stairs.

“Keep your liquor up there, do ye?” said Ropes, significantly.

“I I thought ” Mrs. Sprowl gasped for breath before she could proceed “the master had some in his room. But I can’t find it. You are at liberty to to look in his room, if you wants to.”

“Wal, it’s our dooty to, I suppose. Meantime, you can be bringing the whiskey. Give some to the boys outside, then bring the bottle up to us. That’s the way, Gad,” said Silas, as she unwillingly obeyed; “allus be perlite to the sex, ye know.”

“Sartin! allus!” said Gad.

It was evident these men fancied themselves polite.

“But he ain’t here,” said Silas, just glancing into Penn’s room, “or else she wouldn’t have been so willing for us to search. Le’s begin at the top of the house, and look along down.” They entered a low-roofed, empty garret. “As we can’t perceed without the whiskey, we’ll wait here. Meantime, I’ll tell you what you wanted to know.”

They sat down on a little old green chest, and Ropes, producing a plug of tobacco, gave his friend a bite, and took a bite himself.

“What I’m going to say is in perfect confidence, between friends;” chewing and crossing his legs.

Gad chewed, and crossed his legs, and said, “O, of course! in perfect confidence!”

“Wal, then, I’ll tell ye whar the money fur our job comes from. It comes from Gus Bythewood.”

“Sho!” said Gad, looking surprised at Silas.

“Fact!” said Silas, looking wise at Gad.

“But what’s he so dead set agin’ the master fur?”

“I’ll tell ye, Gad.” And Mr. Ropes rested a finger confidingly on his friend’s knee. “Fur as I kin jedge, Gus has a sneakin’ notion arter that youngest Villars gal; Virginny, ye know.”

“Don’t blame him!” chuckled Gad.

“But ye see, thar’s that Hapgood; he’s a great favoryte with the Villarses, and Gus nat’rally wants to git him out of the way. It won’t do, though, for him to have it known he has any thing to do with our operations. He pays us, and backs us up with plenty of cash if we get into trouble; but he keeps dark, you understand.”

“The master ought to be hung for his abolitionism!” said Gad, by way of self-excuse for being made a jealous man’s tool.

“That ar’s jest my sentiment,” replied Silas. “But then he’s allus been a peaceable sort of chap, and held his tongue; so he might have been let alone some time yet, if it hadn’t been for What in time!”

Ropes started, and changed color, glancing first at Gad, then down at the chest.

“He’s in it!” whispered Gad.

Both jumped up, and, facing about, looked at the green lid, and at each other.

The chest was so small it had not occurred to them that a man could get into it. Lysander had got into it, however, and there he lay, so cramped, and stifled, and compressed, that he could not endure the torture without an effort to ease it by moving a little. He had stirred; then all was still again.

“Think he’s heerd us?” said Silas.

“Must have heerd something,” said Gad.

“Then he’s as good as a dead man!”

Silas drew his pistol, resolved to sacrifice the schoolmaster on the altar of secrecy. But as he was about to fire into the chest at a venture (for your cowardly assassin does not like to face his victim), the lid flew open, the chivalry stepped hastily back, and up rose out of the chest not the schoolmaster, but Lysander Sprowl.

Silas had struck his head against a rafter, and was quite bewildered for a moment by the shock, the multitude of meteors that rushed across his firmament, and the sudden apparition. Gad, at the same time, stood ready to take a plunge down the stairs in case the schoolmaster should show fight.

“Gentlemen,” said the “wanderer on the face of the ’arth,” straightening his limbs, and saluting with a reckless air, “I hope I see ye well. Never mind about shooting an old friend, Sile Ropes. I reckon we’re about even; and I’ll keep your secret, if you’ll keep mine.”

“That’s fair,” said Ropes, recovering from the falling stars, and putting up his weapon. “Lysander, how are ye? Good joke, ain’t it?” And they shook hands all around. “But whar’s the schoolmaster?” And Silas rubbed his head.

“I know all about the schoolmaster,” said Lysander, stepping out of the chest; “he ain’t in this house, but I know just where he is. And I reckon ’twill be for the interest of me and Gus Bythewood if we can have a little talk together, tell him. If he’s got money to spare, that’ll be to my advantage; and what I know will be to his advantage.”

So saying, Lysander closed the chest, and coolly invited the chivalry to resume their seats. They did so, much to the amazement of Mrs. Sprowl, who came up stairs with the whiskey, and found the “wanderer on the face of the ’arth” conversing in the most amicable manner with Gad and Silas.