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

IN WHICH ERNEST HAS AN INTERVIEW WITH MR.TOM THORNTON

From my perch over the bay window of the library, I had heard Tom Thornton express his savage determination to crush out of me the information he wanted.  Being forewarned, I was in a measure forearmed, and I did not intend to be caught in a vulnerable position.  I decided to do a little light skirmishing before the battle opened.  What I had seen and heard of my assailant gave me a wonderful self-possession, for which I could not account to myself.

I hurried on my clothing, though I dressed myself with the expectation of taking a cruise on the lake before my head rested on the pillow again.  Though I felt that it was my first duty to protect Kate Loraine, and send her to a place of safety, I fully realized that I had a battle of my own to fight.  By their own confession, Tom and his father had wronged me deeply.  If my mother was still living, as I believed she was, they had probably wronged her a hundred fold more than me.  With these thoughts and feelings, an impulse of desperation seemed to inspire me.  I was ready for anything, but I was astonished and amazed at my own calmness.

“Do you think I’m going to wait all night for an answer?” demanded Tom, gruffly, before I had half finished dressing myself.

“If I am to give the answer, I expect you will wait till I get ready,” I replied.

“Do you, indeed?” stormed he.

“I do, indeed.”

He moved towards me, and I retreated to a corner of the room, where stood a heavy base-ball bat, which had been presented to me for skilful playing.  That corner was my base of supplies.

“Do you know where that girl is?” said he, pausing and glancing at my muscular artillery in the corner.

“Hold on a minute, till I am dressed, and I will answer the question.”

“Answer it now-this instant.”

“Not yet.”

“What do you mean, you young villain?  Do you intend to insult me?”

“That question is rather refreshing, Mr. Tom Thornton, after coming to my room in the middle of the night as you did.  Do you mean to insult me?”

“Insult you, you young villain!” sneered he.

“Insult me, you old villain! for I’m sure you have had a deal of experience in the villain line.”

“Will you answer my question, or not?  Do you know where that girl is?” he continued, when he saw it was as easy for me to use harsh epithets as for him.

“When I have dressed myself I will answer, but not till then,” I replied, adjusting my collar with more than usual care.  “Mr. Tom Thornton, I don’t wish to quarrel with you on our first acquaintance.  Besides it don’t look well for near relations to quarrel.”

“What do you mean by near relations?” he asked, evincing some alarm.

“Your name is Thornton, and so is mine.  As you come to the house of my uncle, I suppose we must be relations.  But I assure you I have no particular desire to claim kindred with you.”

“You are an impudent young cub; and if you are any relation to me, you shall have some of the starch taken out of you before you grow half an inch taller,” replied Tom; and in the war of words I felt that I had the weather-gage of him, for I knew things of which he supposed I was entirely ignorant.

“I don’t think my impudence exceeds yours, Mr. Tom Thornton.  You didn’t come into my room behaving like a gentleman,” I answered, as I put on my sack coat.

“I am not in the habit of having a boy speak to me as you do.”

“I am not in the habit of having any one speak to me as you do,” I retorted.  “But I don’t want to quarrel with you, as I said before.”

“Well, Mr. Ernest Thornton, if your high mightiness is ready to condescend to answer my question, I must beg the favor of a reply,” sneered he, putting the lamp down upon the table.

“Take a seat, Mr. Thornton.  Your speech is improving,” I added, throwing myself into a chair near my base of supplies.

I think my visitor was entirely satisfied by this time that he could make nothing by bullying me; and it seemed to me that in reaching this point I had accomplished a great deal.  Tom Thornton sat down in a chair, near the table where he had deposited the lamp.

“Thank you, Mr. Ernest Thornton.  I am seated, and await your further pleasure,” he continued, with a curling lip.

“You intimated that you came on business.”

“I certainly hinted as much as that.”

“And your business relates to Miss Kate Loraine?”

“It does.  I took the liberty to inquire if you knew where she was at the present time.  A direct and unequivocal answer to this question would oblige your humble servant very much,” said Tom, nervously; and I saw that it was with the greatest difficulty he could confine himself to this satirical style of speech-for he wanted to break out in menace and violence, to crush me with hard words and savage demonstrations, which prudent cunning restrained him from using.  “Do you know where the girl is?”

“I do,” I replied, promptly.  “I trust my reply is sufficiently direct and unequivocal.”

“It is; and you will oblige me by informing me, as directly and unequivocally, where she is,” said he, rising from his chair.

“I am sorry to disoblige you, Mr. Tom Thornton; but I must respectfully decline to give you any information on that point,” I answered, firmly.

“Am I to understand that you refuse to tell me where she is?” demanded he, turning up the cuff of one of his coat-sleeves.

“That was the idea I intended to convey,” I replied, imitating his example by rolling up one of my coat-sleeves.

“You won’t tell me.”

“No, sir.”

“You know where she is?”

“I do.”

“And won’t tell?”

“I will not.”

He turned up the other coat-sleeve, and I did the same.

“I’ll tell you what it is, youngster, we have played this farce long enough,” Tom proceeded, in a rage.  “I want you to understand that I am not to be trifled with.  You may make a fool of the old man, but you can’t make a fool of me.”

“Perhaps nature has already done that kindly act for you,” I put in, as he paused to take a long breath with which to whet his wrath.

I know, now, that it was wrong for me to make these saucy and irritating replies; but I could not well help it then.  Tom Thornton was a villain, by his own confession.  My uncle had declared that he had stained his soul with crime for his son’s sake.  Whichever was the greater villain, it was clear that the son was the more obdurate, graceless, and unrepentant of the two.  I had no patience with him.  I had no respect for him, and I certainly had no fear of him.  Even policy would not permit me to treat him with a consideration I did not feel.

“For your insults we will settle by and by; at present my business relates to this girl,” said he, smarting under my charge.

“Well, Mr. Tom Thornton, so far as Miss Loraine is concerned, your business with me is finished,” I replied.

“Not yet; before I have done you will be glad to tell me where the girl is.”

“I will tell you nothing in regard to her.”

“I command you to tell me where she is.”

“You may command, if you choose.”

“And I will be obeyed,” said he, furiously.

“You will see whether you are or not.”

“Who are you, young man, that have the impudence to enter the house of a lady, and entice away her daughter?” foamed he.

“I am Ernest Thornton.  I did not enter the house after you rode off with the lady; I did not entice the girl away, and she is not the lady’s daughter.”

“Silence!  Don’t you contradict me.  You ran away with the girl!”

I whistled a popular air, simply to prove that I was not intimidated, and that Tom was not getting along very rapidly.

“Once more, and for the last time,” roared Tom, foaming with passion, “will you tell me where the girl is, or will you take the consequences?”

“If it’s all the same to you, I’ll take the consequences,” I answered.

“Very well; you will take them, or you will tell me the whole truth,” said he, savagely, as he rushed to the door.

There was a key in the lock, which I seldom or never used.  He took it out, left the room, and locked the door behind him.  He was evidently so much in earnest that he did not intend I should escape the fiery furnace he was preparing for me.  I could not but laugh at his folly in thinking to confine a live boy of sixteen in the chamber of a cottage.  I concluded that he had gone for a stick, a club, or some other weapon, with which to reduce me to subjection.

Though I felt able with the base-ball bat to defend myself from the assaults of Tom, I did not court the conflict.  There was room for an accident which might deprive me of the power to serve Kate in the hour of her extremity; and I was disposed to keep her on the safe side, if I did not keep there myself.  I heard the heavy footsteps of Tom Thornton, as he descended the stairs, and walked through the hall.  I concluded that he would see my uncle before he returned.  I slipped off my shoes, and put one in each side pocket of my sack.  Fearing that my bat might be removed during my absence, I thrust it up the chimney, at the fireplace, resting one end on a jamb, where I could easily reach it.

Carefully opening the window, I stepped down upon the roof of the library, and thence to the top of the bay window, to the position I had before occupied.  My uncle was in the library, but Tom was not with him, and I concluded that he had gone out of the cottage for the weapon he wanted.  I felt safe enough, however; for, by lying down on the top of the bay window, close to the wall of the building, I could not be seen by any one who did not come close to the place where I was concealed.

I bent over and looked into the library window a second time.  By the side of the grate, at the end of the room, a small iron safe had been built into the brick-work of the chimney, in which my uncle kept his papers and other valuables.  In the occasional visits I had made to the library, after I was conscious of the mystery which shrouded my affairs, I had gazed wistfully at the iron door of this safe, and longed to possess the secrets which it contained.  I believed that there were papers in that strong box which could tell me where my mother was, or give me some clew to her place of imprisonment.  Perhaps the whole history of my father’s family was contained within its iron sides.  Perhaps the story of my wrongs could be traced from the documents there.  If not, why was I so carefully excluded from the library?

I felt a deep and thrilling interest when I glanced into the room, and saw uncle Amos seated before the open door of this safe.