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

IN WHICH ERNEST WONDERS WHAT TOM THORNTON WILL DO, AND FINDS OUT.

Though I had not travelled much, I felt quite at home on the train.  I was not troubled with any of that disagreeable quality called “greenness,” for I had read the newspapers every day regularly for five years; and, through them, a person may know the world without seeing much of it.  Besides, nearly all my schoolmates had come from places more or less distant; and, being of an inquiring mind, I had “pumped” many of them dry.

With what I had read, with what I had learned from pictures, maps, and diagrams, and with what my friends had told me while we were sailing in the Splash, I had a tolerably correct idea of the city of New York.  I was very much surprised, when I arrived there, to find how familiar the streets were to me.  I had pored for hours at a time over the street maps of the cities in Colton’s Atlas; I had walked in imagination through the streets of London and Paris; and I had read the encyclopaedia, and all the books of travel which came in my way.

After this course of study, I was not burdened with “greenness.”  I felt at home; and, though I looked with interest upon scenes and objects that were new to me, I did not keep my mouth wide open, or stare like an idiot.  I take all this pains to prove that I was not green, because I had an especial horror of verdancy in general, and verdant boys in particular.  I kept myself cool and self-possessed, and I was delighted to find that no one looked at me, or appeared to think I was ill at ease.

I was dressed in my best clothes, and though they were made by a provincial tailor, Parkville was progressive enough to boast of a genuine artist in this line.  There was nothing about my companion, any more than myself, to attract attention.  Doubtless most of the people thought we were brother and sister, or that some elderly gentleman and lady, seated in another part of the car, would claim us when we reached our destination.  I suppose I thought of all these things because I feared that some one was looking at me, and because I had an especial dread of being noticed at that time.

Even Bob Hale, partial as he was, and sympathizing with me to the fullest extent, could not deny that I had been guilty of what he called “technical theft.”  In the very worst possible phase in which it could be viewed, I had robbed my uncle’s safe of nearly fifteen hundred dollars, and I had the money in my pocket.  I was liable, therefore, to be arrested at any moment when the intelligence of my constructive crime should be forwarded to the proper officers, or whenever a deputy sheriff from Parkville could overtake me.

My conscience did not then, and it does not now, accuse me of the crime of theft.  That money was really mine, though, if it had been applied or invested by my legal trustee, in accordance with the law, and the last will of my father, I should have had no more right to touch it than if it had belonged to another person.  My uncle and his graceless son were engaged in a scheme to rob me.  The latter wished to destroy the will at once,-supposed it had already been done,-while the former, from simply prudential motives, preserved it.  In his own words, he dared not burn it.  He evidently kept it that it might open an avenue of escape in case his vicious plan miscarried.  After I had been disposed of, sent off and had “lost the run” of my uncle, the document could be destroyed.  I felt, therefore, that I was fully justified in using enough of the money, at least, to enable me to obtain justice.

It was nine o’clock in the evening when the train arrived at Albany.  We could go no farther that night, and I felt the awkwardness of my situation.  I did not like to go to a hotel with Kate Loraine; and, leaving her in the ladies’ room at the railroad station, I looked about the premises till I found a respectable-looking baggage-master, whom I asked to direct me to a good boarding-house.  He gave me the street and number of one he could recommend, and I called a carriage, which conveyed us to the place indicated.  It was kept by a very worthy old lady, who fortunately had two vacant rooms, though she seemed to be suspicious, and hesitated about taking us.

“Who are you?” asked she, bluntly, as she surveyed me from head to foot.

“My name is Ernest Thornton.  This young lady’s name is Kate Loraine.  She is going to her uncle’s in New York.  I was recommended to stop at your house, and I have money enough to pay for all we have,” I replied, as squarely as I could speak, and telling as much of the truth as it was important for the old lady to know.

“How long do you want to stop?” she asked, apparently satisfied with my reply.

“I don’t know yet.  I shall be able to tell you to-morrow,” I answered, for I had some doubts whether I should leave the next day.

“Well, I suppose I can keep you,” said she.

“Thank you.”

“Have you had any supper?”

“No, ma’am, we have not.”

I paid the hackman, who stood with the valise I had bought in Romer for Kate, in his hand, and he departed.  I don’t know whether any one thought we were runaways or not.  We were safe for the present.  The old lady showed us our rooms, and then went to get us some supper.  I sat down in my chamber to think over the situation.  I was not quite satisfied, and of course I wished to keep out of trouble just as long as I could.

By this time Tom Thornton had probably reached the cottage of his father, and had learned what had happened.  My uncle had told him that I had obtained the precious will-that the charter of their villany was gone.  He had found that “that boy” was not to be trifled with.  “That boy” had possessed himself of the fearful secret of their evil practices, had probed the mystery of their iniquity, and was ready to come down upon them like an avenging spirit, to expose their rascality, and to publish to the world the story of their infamy.

How mad, vexed, overwhelmed Tom was I could easily imagine.  He had no more soul than a brickbat, and without a doubt had heaped abuse upon his father, had berated him for not burning the will, and for permitting me, by his weak fears, to be a bombshell in their path so long.  Before I knew who Tom was, I had heard hard words pass between them.  I now supposed he was angry because my uncle would not “dispose” of me in some manner which he proposed.

Tom Thornton and his father had discovered that the evil man shall not prosper in his way; the sword of retribution was hanging over them, and their cherished scheme was crumbling to pieces.  My uncle was in despair, as he had been when I left him.  Piteously he had begged of me to be merciful to him; and if he had told me where my mother was, and promised to do justice to her, I am sure I could not have gone another step to expose him.  But my uncle was an old man-if not in years, at least in sorrow and suffering.  For years he had been pursued by the terrors of a guilty conscience; had been in an agony of doubt and fear, if not of remorse.  He was broken down, had lost his courage, and there was nothing to fear from him.

Tom was a different person.  He was bold and daring.  He had no conscience, and apparently no fears.  He was young and vigorous, strong-minded and reckless.  For years he had been living like a nabob upon the income of the property which my father had left for me.  He had been swimming in luxury, driving his span, and spending half his time in winning the favor of the fair widow Loraine, whose fortune, if not Kate’s, he intended to add to his own ill-gotten wealth.  Tom Thornton would not resign his possession of the property, and his bright prospects of the future, without a terrible struggle, and I was quite confident that I should have to fight a grim battle with him.

What would he do?  That was the vital question with me.  As the prudent general endeavors to anticipate the purposes of the enemy, I tried to measure the probable intentions of Tom Thornton.  What would he do?  Would he have me arrested as a criminal for robbing my uncle’s safe?  I confess that the cold sweat stood upon my brow as I thought of it; as I considered what an awful thing it would be to be carried back to Parkville by an officer, and sent to the common jail.  But, perhaps, if this were done, it would be the best thing that could possibly happen to me.

If arrested and tried, I should have the privilege of the meanest criminal to defend myself.  I should call on Squire Hale to produce my father’s will.  I should lay bare in a court of justice the whole of Tom’s and his father’s infamous conduct.  But Tom knew that I had taken the will; that I had deprived him of his sheet anchor.  With only half an eye he could see what the consequence of arresting me must be.  My uncle would groan and tremble at the very idea of such an exposure.  After these reflections, I came to the conclusion that I should not be arrested as a criminal.  Tom Thornton would fight his battle with other weapons than those of justice and the law.

Tom had shown by his acts that he did not scruple to take the law into his own hands, and I was convinced that my future trials were to be caused by individual persecution rather than public prosecution.  Again the question came up, What will he do?  It was certain that he would follow me, and it was almost as certain that he would find me.  I had hardly a doubt that he would take the night train from the west, and be in Albany the next morning.  Such a person as Tom Thornton must be a selfish man, and I concluded that he would not trouble himself much more about finding Kate.  His own trials overshadowed those of the fair widow of Cannondale.  He would be after me rather than Kate.

While I was anxiously considering the case, the landlady called me to supper.  She poured out the tea, and asked more questions than I cared to answer; but so far as I said anything, I told the truth.  I did not sleep many hours that night; I was too much disturbed by the perils of my situation to slumber.  I thought, and thought, and thought.  Tom Thornton would arrive in the morning.  At the railroad station he would begin his inquiries for me.  The baggage-master, who had directed me to the boarding-house, would tell him just where I was.

I had almost made up my mind to leave Kate in Albany, go to New York alone, find her uncle, and then return for her; but the thought that Tom would arrive in the morning caused me to abandon this plan.  I rose very early, and walked down to the river, where I found a steamer would leave for New York at eight o’clock.  I went back to the boarding-house, and after breakfast paid the bill.  We walked down to the river, and went on board of the steamer.  I took a seat where I could see everybody that came on board of the boat, for I felt very certain that Tom Thornton was already in the city, and searching for me.  I was not wrong, for just as the boat was on the point of starting, and I was congratulating myself on the fact that we were safe, I saw him standing on the wharf, looking at me.