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

IN WHICH ERNEST VISITS HIS UNCLES'S LIBRARY

While Tom Thornton was looking for a battery with which to reduce my fortress, my uncle appeared to be searching for some paper in his safe.  I concluded that Tom’s unexpected arrival had suggested some business to be done with him.  I was in a fever of anxiety to hear what passed between them.

Uncle Amos handled the papers, folding and unfolding them, giving each a hasty glance, and then restoring it to the safe.  One document in particular attracted my attention, on which my uncle gazed much longer than on any other, and then laid it down, apart from the others, on the bottom of the safe.  While I was watching his motions with breathless interest, I heard the front door slammed violently.  My uncle was startled.  He hastily closed the door of the safe, locked it, and put the key under the cushion of his arm-chair.  Taking the lamp in his hand, he hastened out of the room.

“Thomas!” I heard him call, after he had passed into his chamber.

In a moment he returned to the library, followed by Tom, who had in his hand a heavy stick taken from the wood-pile.

“What are you going to do?” demanded my uncle, as he glanced at the club in Tom’s hand.

“I am going to make that boy tell me where the girl is,” replied Tom.

“With that stick?”

“Yes, with this stick.”

“You will never find the girl in that way,” said my uncle, shaking his head.  “Throw your stick away.”

“But the rascal insulted me with almost every word he spoke,” growled Tom.

“I told you to handle him gently.  You can’t drive him.”

“But he must tell me where the girl is.”

“He will not, of course.  If he thinks the girl has been abused, he is just foolish enough to take her part, and would be pounded to a jelly before he would tell you a word about her.  If you are careful you can find out where the girl is.  Probably he carried her off in the boat.  You say it must have been nearly dark when he left Cannondale.  He could not have gone far with her.  Either she is at Mr. Hale’s in Parkville, or she is concealed somewhere in this vicinity.”

Uncle Amos appeared to gasp with the mighty effort this long speech had cost him.

“The young rascal shall tell me where she is, or I will break his head.  I will teach him that he can’t trifle with me, if he can with you,” replied Tom, in snappish tones.

“You will defeat your own purposes.  Where is Ernest now?”

“In his room; and I locked him in,” answered Tom, with a kind of chuckle, indicating that he thought he had done a big thing.

“Locked him in!” exclaimed my uncle.  “How long do you suppose he will stay there?”

“Till I choose to let him out,” said Tom, who still appeared to be very well satisfied with himself.

“I think not.  There are two windows in the room, and when he gets ready to leave he will do so.  You seem to think the boy is a fool.  Very likely he has taken the alarm by this time, and has gone off to look out for the girl, if he has hidden her in this vicinity.”

“Do you suppose he has gone?” asked Tom; and his tones indicated his perplexity.

“I don’t know; but you can’t do anything till daylight, and I want to talk with you about our affairs.”

“Confound your affairs!” ejaculated Tom, petulantly.  “I can’t stop to-night to talk about them.  I came after the girl, and I must have her too.”

“Thomas, I can no longer endure this wasting anxiety,” continued my uncle, solemnly.  “This boy haunts me by day and by night.  I seldom sleep an hour at a time.  For your sake I am suffering all this; but you are cold, distant, and harsh to me.”

“What do you wish me to do, governor?” demanded the reckless son.  “I send you all the money you want.”

“It is not money, but a clear conscience, that I need,” groaned the wretched old man.  “I would rather live in abject poverty than purchase plenty at such a fearful price.”

“Don’t be foolish, governor.”

“I live in constant fear of the boy, especially since he questioned me, months ago, about his parents and his property.”

“Of course you told him he had no property.”

“I did.”

“Then it’s all right.  In the course of a week we will send him to New Orleans.  When he has gone you can change your residence, and he will lose the track of you.”

“Perhaps he will not be willing to go to New Orleans; he certainly will not under such treatment as you bestow upon him.  Thomas, my brother’s will-”

My uncle paused and looked at his son, as though in doubt whether to finish the sentence he had begun.

“Well, what of the will?” demanded Tom, evincing more interest than he had before exhibited.  “Of course you destroyed that years ago?”

“No, Thomas, I dared not do such a thing,” replied my uncle, in a hoarse whisper.

“You did not!” exclaimed Tom.  “Where is it?  Let me have it!”

“No, Thomas, I dare not even yet destroy it,” groaned the old man.

“This is madness!”

“Perhaps it is.  I wished to talk with you about it.  It is no longer safe for me to keep it in the house.”

“Why don’t you burn it, then?”

“I dare not.”

By this time I was so dizzy holding my head down, that I was obliged to raise it.  I was so giddy and confused that I came very near rolling off the top of the bay window; and in my efforts to save myself, I made a noise, which disturbed the conference.  Tom and my uncle were alarmed.  I heard them rush out of the room.  Without waiting to ascertain their intentions, I put on my shoes, and climbed down from the bay window to the ground.

I had hardly accomplished my descent before Tom and my uncle appeared at the window of my chamber.  They had rightly attributed the noise to me, and hastened to my room to learn what had happened.

“He has escaped,” said Tom, as he drew in his head, after satisfying himself that I was not on the roof.

I went round to the front of the house to ascertain what they would do next.  There was a horse and chaise in the road, with which Tom had come, the animal fastened to a post.  He neighed as I approached him.  I found that he was shivering in the cool night air, after the severe sweat he had had in coming.  I took a robe from the chaise and covered him, for I liked a horse almost as well as a boat.  When I had finished this kindly act, Tom came out of the house with a lantern in his hand.  He was followed by my uncle, and they went down to the landing, where my skiff lay.

“He hasn’t gone off in the boat,” said my uncle.

“And he shall not,” added Tom, as he walked off and disappeared behind the house.

I was alarmed lest he should go off to the Splash and find Kate there; but presently he returned with an axe in his hand.  Giving the lantern to his father, he proceeded to smash the skiff with the axe, his object being to prevent my going on board the Splash.  I regarded it as a puny effort on his part, and was relieved to find they did not intend to visit her themselves.  As soon as I was satisfied in regard to his purpose, I crept carefully up to the horse, unfastened him, and jumped into the chaise.  The animal was full of spirit, and anxious to go.

“Have you found the girl?” I shouted to Tom, as I drove within a few feet of where he stood.

He sprang for the horse’s head as soon as he discovered my intention; but I gave him the rein, and he went off like a rocket.  I turned towards Parkville, and after going half a mile, I reined up to ascertain whether I was pursued or not.  I could hear nothing; so I turned into a by-road, leading to a grove.  I had taken this step only to procure a diversion of Tom’s plans, if he had any, and I fastened the horse to a tree.  Covering him up with the robe again, I walked back to the highway.  In less than ten minutes, I heard the well-known rattle of my uncle’s buggy.  I stepped behind a bush till it should pass.  As it went by, I heard my uncle’s voice, as well as Tom’s.  My diversion had worked well, for both had gone in pursuit of me, and I was delighted with the result.

As fast as my legs would carry me, I hastened back to the cottage.  A light was burning in the library.  I was almost choking with anxiety, for I had a purpose to accomplish.  I climbed up to the bay window, pulled the sash down, and leaped into my uncle’s “sanctum sanctórum.”  With trembling hand I raised the cushion of the arm-chair.  I could hardly repress a shout of joy, as I saw the key, just where my uncle had put it.  Eagerly I seized it and opened the safe door.  I grasped the huge document that lay on the bottom of the safe, and opened it.  I read,-

“’In the name of God, amen!  I, Ezra Thornton, being feeble in body, but of sound and disposing mind-”

“It is my father’s will!” I exclaimed, without pausing to read any more.

My heart was in my mouth.  I glanced at other papers; but I did not understand them, and it seemed to me then that the will was all I wanted.  I thrust that into my pocket, and was about to close the safe door when my eye rested upon a thick pile of bank bills.  I wanted money.  Would it be stealing to take some of these bills?  No!  All that my uncle had was mine, according to his own statement.  There were thousands of dollars in the pile.  I could not think or reason in the excitement of the moment.  I took about one fourth of the bills, thrust them into my pocket, closed the door of the safe, locked it, and put the key under the cushion in the chair.

I got out of the window, and placed the sash as I had found it.  When I reached the ground, the cold sweat stood on my brow, so violent were my emotions.  I entered the front door of the cottage, passing old Jerry on the way, and went to my chamber, the key being on the outside, where Tom had left it.  I prayed that God would forgive me if I had done wrong, for I could not determine whether I had or not.

As the will and the money would not be safe in my pocket, I wrapped them up in a piece of newspaper, and concealed them in the closet.  By this time it was daylight.  I sat for half an hour in a chair, thinking what I should do.  At sunrise Tom and his father returned.  I suppose old Jerry told them he had seen me, for both came up stairs immediately.

“Now, you young villain!” yelled Tom, as he rushed towards me, beside himself with passion.

I retreated towards the chimney, and pulled out my bat.

“What are you going to do with that?” demanded he.

“I am going to defend myself,” I replied, as firmly as I could; but I was terribly agitated.

“We’ll see if you are;” and he sprang towards me.

“Gently, Thomas; don’t be rash,” interposed my uncle.

“Keep your distance, or I’ll smash your head!” I added, making a few vigorous passes with the bat.

He was prudent enough to heed this warning, and left the room, but only to return with the club he had selected before.