Read CHAPTER VI. of Seek and Find / The Adventures of a Smart Boy, free online book, by Oliver Optic, on ReadCentral.com.

IN WHICH ERNEST GETS AN IDEA

The knocking at the door of the cottage was continued almost without intermission.  The visitor was evidently endowed with only a small portion of the necessary virtue of patience, for when he ceased pounding for an instant, it was only to curse and swear at the heaviness of the sleepers within.  I was sure that old Jerry and Betsey, who slept in the rear of the house, would not hear the summons, even if the imperative messenger broke the door down; but I was rather surprised that my uncle, who, I always supposed, slept with one eye open, if he ever slept at all, did not answer the call more promptly.

I got out of bed, and looked out at the window, hoping to obtain a sight of the visitor; but the night was too dark for me to distinguish his form or features.  Again he swore, and again he hammered away at the door.  What they do in New Jersey when it rains is to let it rain; and what I did when he pounded was to let him pound.  I was perfectly willing he should pound; I even hoped that he enjoyed it.  In spite of the anxiety I felt for poor Kate, I could not help laughing at the ludicrous earnestness with which he swore and pounded.  Like most men, my uncle was cool when he was not excited; and as there had been nothing on the present occasion to excite him, I suppose he was cool.  Doubtless he stopped to dress himself before he answered the summons.  Very likely the dread necessity of speaking to the visitor appalled him, and he desired to postpone the trying ordeal as long as possible.

I am obliged to acknowledge my belief that Mrs. Loraine’s messenger was exceedingly unreasonable, for he did not intermit his hammering long enough to ascertain whether any one was coming to the door or not.  What was not more than five minutes in fact, might have seemed to be half an hour to him.  Within as short a time as could have been properly expected, I heard the door of my uncle’s library open, and uneasily I listened for the result.  The bolt on the front door creaked and grated.  The door opened with difficulty, and while my uncle was tugging at it, I lifted the sash of my window a couple of inches, that I might hear what passed.

The door swung back, and I put my head to the window to catch the first words that were spoken.  Of course my uncle was not the first to utter them; he seldom spoke, and never was surprised into speaking, even on an emergency.

“Well, governor,” said the messenger, crustily, “you sleep like a rock.  Where is that confounded boy of yours?”

“In bed,” replied my uncle.

“Rout him out; I want him,” continued the visitor, pushing his way into the house.

This movement prevented me from hearing what followed immediately; but I hastened to my door, hoping to catch a word which would enable me to determine who the person was.

“The young villain has run away with Mrs. Loraine’s step-daughter,” I heard him say, as I opened the door wide enough to permit me to catch the sound.  “I tell you, governor, you must get rid of the young vagabond, or he will swamp the whole of us.”

“Hush! he will hear you,” said uncle Amos.

“No matter.  I have pounded away hard enough to wake the dead.  If that didn’t rouse him, nothing will,” added the messenger, gruffly.

“Silence!”

“I have had about enough of this thing,” continued the rough visitor.  “You insist on keeping the whelp here, when you know he is a bombshell in your path and mine.  Why don’t you send him to sea, and let him get drowned?”

“Be still, Thomas,” replied my uncle, in a whisper.

“I won’t be still, governor.  The vagabond has run away with that girl, and-”

They passed into the dining-room, and I could not hear the rest of the sentence.  The visitor was Tom Thornton, for my uncle called him Thomas.  I was a vagabond, and a bombshell in the path of both of them.  Tom called my uncle “governor,” and this indicated that he was his son.  I half suspected this before, but it was news to me to learn that I was regarded as a dangerous young man.  Why was I dangerous?  I had not done anything to imperil the life or the fortunes of either of them.

My uncle would not tell me anything about my father, or my mother, save that the latter was insane and the inmate of an asylum.  Now, Tom objected because I had not been sent to sea to be drowned!  They were talking about me down stairs, and I slipped on my pants, and crept down the stairs.  I found that they had entered my uncle’s library, and the spring lock on the door had fastened it.  I listened, but I could not distinguish what was said.

I was determined not to be balked in my purpose, for this was an opportunity which might not occur again for years to obtain some clew to my own affairs.  In fact, I had resolutely resolved to seek and find my mother, who was still living; and I wanted information.

The library of my uncle was contained in an addition to the house which had been erected after the completion of the original structure.  It was on the end of the house, and could be reached only through his chamber.  The roof was flat, and covered with tin plates.  On the side fronting the lake there was a bay window.  The middle sash was generally open at the top in warm weather, as I had no doubt it was at the present time.

I stole softly up stairs to my chamber, from which one of the windows opened upon the flat roof over the library.  I raised this window, and crawled like a cat over to the bay window, the top of which was considerably lower than the roof.  Lying down on the projection, I placed my head near the top of the window.  I was rejoiced to find that I could hear the voices of the occupants of the room below me.  More than this, a lucky thought, as I regarded it, occurred to me as I lay there.  The window was pulled down at the top, and I found that I could get into the room almost as easily as I could stay out.  I deemed this an important discovery, for I fully intended, at the first convenient opportunity, to explore the library.  Though the thought came to me, I did not follow out its leading at this time.

“How can I get rid of him?” demanded uncle Amos, as I placed my head near the open sash; and it was evident that the parties had made some progress in the discussion while I was securing my position.

“Send him off.  I can find a place for him in a store in New Orleans, where the yellow fever will make an end of him,” replied Tom.

“Thomas, I will not harm him.  I don’t want to kill him,” added uncle Amos.

“Of course you don’t want to kill him-let the fever do that.  Let him go away, and lose the run of you.  Something must be done at once.  He is a smart boy, they say, and if he should happen to get an idea, he would blow you and me so high that we never should come down.”

That was an idea, and I happened to get it.

“My son, I have stained my soul with crime for your sake,” added my uncle, bitterly.  “We have wronged this boy enough.  I will not have him injured.”

“I don’t wish to injure him, only to get him out of the way, so that he will lose the run of you,” replied Tom, petulantly.  “He don’t know anything about me.”

“Don’t flatter yourself, Tom Thornton,” I thought, but did not say.

“I am willing to do anything proper to be done with him.  He will graduate soon at the Institute, and we must find a place for him in some business,” said uncle Amos.

“I will find a situation for him in New Orleans.”

“Not to take his life.”

“No, no; certainly not.  I know of a firm there that wants a young man from the north, and you must send him off in the course of a week.  Now, what has the villain done with that girl?”

“I don’t know; he has not brought her here,” answered my uncle.

“What has he done with her?  There was a young fellow with him; do you know who he was?”

“Probably the Hale boy.  They run together.”

“What could they have done with the girl?”

“I don’t know.  What motive had they for carrying her off?”

“Out of pity I suppose.  Kate is a careless girl, wilful, and disobedient.  She objects to being shut up in her chamber for her misdemeanors.”

Tom Thornton related the incident in which Bob and I had been concerned on the pier.

“The child must have been badly abused, or she would not have jumped into the lake,” said uncle Amos, when he had heard the story.

“It does not concern you or me whether she has been or not.  I fancy the girl is not of much use to any one.”

“Why do you run after her, then?”

“What’s the use of arguing the question.  Mrs. Loraine wishes me to find the girl, and return her; and I’m going to do it, if I have to choke your smart boy to get at it.  Where is he?”

“In his chamber; but you must not harm him,” replied uncle Amos, nervously.  “He is as high-spirited as his father was.”

“What do I care for that?  He must tell me where the girl is.”

“Perhaps he will not be willing to tell you.”

“Then I shall make him do so,” added Tom, savagely; and it seemed to me he was getting up a very pleasant prospect for me.

“You must handle him very carefully,” said my uncle, nervously.

“If he tells me where the girl is, that’s all I want of him.  If he don’t, I shall-I shall crush it out of him.  He will find I am not made of milk and water.”

“You will find I am not, either,” I said to myself, as, when Tom moved towards the door, I rose from my recumbent posture, and hastened back to my chamber.

I slipped off my pants, and got into bed again, that I might not be suspected of having left it.  I had scarcely done so before Tom entered my room with a lamp in his hand.  I opened my eyes, rubbed them, and stared at him.

“I want to see you, youngster,” he began.  “I suppose you don’t know me.  My name is Jones.”

“If your name is Jones, my name is Smith,” I replied, with gross imprudence.

He looked at me, and appeared to be startled by my sharp and reckless reply.  Very likely he thought me as smart as my reputation.

“Your name is Thornton,” said he.

“So is yours,” I answered; and I couldn’t help it.

He stared at me again.  Perhaps he concluded that I had obtained my information of Kate Loraine, and he knew that I had seen him at her step-mother’s house.

“What have you done with that girl?” demanded he.

“Hold on a moment till I dress myself,” I replied, as I jumped out of bed, and began to put on my clothes.