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

IN WHICH ERNEST MAKES A LANDING ON THE HUDSON

Tom Thornton was no fool, and it was easy enough for him to see that I understood the situation.  It was useless for him to tell me that any tenderness on the part of my uncle saved me from arrest, for the son would have crushed me like a worm beneath his feet in spite of the father.  I think he got up and left me because he could not control his temper, and feared a scene.  He cooled off in a few moments, and came back, as I knew he would.

“You defy me to arrest you-do you, Ernest?” said he, dropping into the seat at my side.

“Yes; if you wish to put it in that form, I defy you to arrest me.  I repeat that I should be very glad to have you do it.”

“Why so?” asked he, nervously.

“It would give me a chance to defend myself, and that is just what I want, now I have the means to do so.”

“You have some queer conceits, young man,” sneered he.  “What have you done with that girl?”

“She is safe.”

“I asked you what you had done with her.”

“And I didn’t answer you.”

“What have you done with her?”

“She is safe.”

“Running away with her is another criminal offence.”

“If it is, I shall fight that battle on the same ground with the other.  If you choose to take me back to Parkville on any charge, of course you can do so.  If you do, a certain document will be brought to light, which will convince Mrs. Loraine and everybody else, that Mr. Tom Thornton, with his gold watch and chain, his span of bays, and his fine clothes, isn’t worth a dollar in the world.”

Tom’s lip actually quivered.

“I don’t want to injure you, Ernest,” said he.  “Your uncle is not willing that you should be brought to justice.”

“I have no desire to bring him to justice, either.”

“You talk like a fool, like a small boy,” said he, impatiently.

“Then don’t talk with me.”

“You will make out that you haven’t done anything wrong yourself, but your friends have made a martyr of you.  When I offer to get you out of the scrape into which you have plunged, you speak just as though you were the injured party.”

“Exactly so, and I speak just what I mean.  You talk to me just as though you and your father had not suppressed my father’s will, intending to rob me of my inheritance, and kept my mother in a madhouse for ten or a dozen years.”

“What sort of bosh are you talking now?” demanded Tom, with an effort, while his face was pale, and his frame trembled.

“I can prove it all.  If you and your father wish to tell me where my mother is, and to make terms you can tell me what you will do,” I added, following up my advantage.

“You have taken some ridiculous notion into your head, and I really don’t know what you are talking about.”

“Did you ever read my father’s will?”

“Your father’s will!” exclaimed he.  “I never heard that he made a will.  If he did, it was the most ridiculous thing he ever did in the whole course of his life, for he hadn’t a penny to leave.”

“Perhaps you can tell me why my uncle so persistently refused to tell me anything about my father or my mother?”

“I certainly can if you insist upon it; though, having more regard for you than you have for yourself, I should prefer to follow your uncle’s example, and not say anything about them.”

“I will not ask you to spare my feelings, Mr. Tom Thornton.  Your father went so far, when I insisted upon it, as to tell me that my mother was insane.”

“She is, poor woman, and I don’t wonder that her reason was dethroned,” replied Tom, whose face brightened up wonderfully as he spoke.

“He refused to tell me anything about my father.”

“Which was very kind of him.  Your uncle is a strange man; but his greatest weakness is his regard for you.  It is best you should know nothing of your father; but if you wish to know, I’ll tell you.”

“I do wish to know.”

“He committed a forgery in London, and died in Newgate before his trial took place.  Your poor mother was so grieved that it made her insane.  Now you know the whole truth, and you can understand why your uncle did not wish to talk to you about your father.”

I confess that I was rather startled by this explanation, and I could not help asking myself if there was any truth in it.  It certainly accounted for my uncle’s unwillingness to tell me anything about my parents.  But I would not believe it.  It was treachery to my father’s memory to do so.

“Did he make his will in Newgate?” I asked.

“His will!  What will?  I have told you he had not a penny in the world.  Your uncle has ever since paid your mother’s board in the insane asylum.”

“That is very kind of him.  Can you tell me where she is?”

“I don’t know.”

“I suppose not; and probably it would not be convenient for you to tell if you did.”

“I would tell you if I knew.  If you desire it, I will persuade your uncle to tell you.  You keep talking about a will.  What do you mean by it?”

“I found such a document in my uncle’s strong box.”

“Where is it?”

“It is safe.”

“If there is any such document it is a mere fiction.  I don’t know anything about it.”

“You don’t?”

“No.”

“All right.”

“What do you mean?”

“Nothing.”

“Of course when you speak of a will, you mean something by it,” persisted Tom.

“It’s no use to talk.”

“Why not?”

“Because the truth isn’t in you.”

“I speak the exact truth.”

“No-you don’t.”

“But I do.”

“You know all about the will.  I heard my uncle speak to you about it; and I heard you ask if it was not destroyed.  You asked for it, and wanted to burn it then.  Don’t you know anything about it now?”

“You heard all this?” said he, biting his lips.

“I heard it.”

“You dreamed it.”

“No, I didn’t dream it.  I heard a great deal more than this.  You wanted to destroy the will; but your father said he dared not do it.”

“Pray, where were you, when you heard all this?”

“On the top of the bay window of the library.  The upper sash was pulled down, so as to let the air in.”

“Then you are an eaves-dropper as well as a thief.”

“I was on the eaves of the bay window, and I dropped down about the time you went up stairs to look for me.  Now you know all about it-and so do I. You may tell me my father died in Newgate, and that you never heard of any will.  I shall believe just as much of it as I please, and no more.  You think I’m a boy, Mr. Tom Thornton; but I’ve got brains enough to know chalk from cheese.”

Tom wiped his forehead.  He did not like my style; but he could not do anything.  He dared not take any decided step.  After observing the feebleness of his position, I made up my mind that I had won the victory.  He was afraid to arrest me, and I felt as safe as though I had been in London then.  But there was one more point I wanted to impress upon him.

“I have no doubt, Ernest, that you have some paper which you think is valuable; something which has the form of a will,” said Tom, after he had fidgeted about in his seat for some time.

“It has that form,” I replied.

“I should like to know what the paper is.  Where is it?”

“No matter where it is.  I know its value, and I have put it where, the moment you take your first step against me, you will find it lying like a big snake in your path.”

“Won’t you let me see it?”

“No.”

“I only want to know what it is.  You need not let it go out of your own hands.”

“I won’t show it.”

I had made my point.  I had assured him the will would be forthcoming when he took any step to annoy me.  Tom tried all sorts of persuasion to induce me to exhibit it; but without denying that I had it, I declined to produce it.  He was so weak that I began to despise him.  At last he got mad, and threatened me with all sorts of calamities.  I told him, when he became abusive, that I would not talk any more with him, and abruptly left him.

Most of all, I desired to shake him off and get rid of him.  While he was watching me, I could not convey Kate to her uncle, and I was puzzled to know what I should do.  When the steamer arrived at New York, Tom would keep both eyes fixed upon me, and I should have no chance to assist my fair companion.  I walked about the boat, and thought the matter over; but the more I considered it, the more unsatisfactory it seemed.

About one o’clock the steamer made a landing at Poughkeepsie.  I went down to the main deck, from which the gangway planks led to the wharf.  I found Tom Thornton there, apparently for the purpose of assuring himself that I did not take “French leave” of him, which was just the thing I intended to do, if it could be done without his notice.  I went forward, but found that the stern of the boat was swung in, so that the forward gangway was twenty feet from the pier.

Returning to the saloon deck, I carefully examined the position of the boat in regard to the shore.  I went out upon the space over the guards, and outside of the state-rooms.  On the edge of the wharf there was a storehouse, the end of which reached about to the middle of the steamer’s wheel.  The top of the paddle-box was nearly on a level with the flat roof of this building.  I could not see Tom Thornton, but I concluded that he was still watching for me on the main deck.  The space between the top of the paddle-box and the roof of the storehouse was not more than three or four feet, and I concluded that a girl as resolute as Kate Loraine would leap across the gulf without difficulty.  I went to her state-room, and gave the four raps.  She was glad enough to see me, and taking her valise I told her to follow me.  I waited till I heard the order given to haul in the plank, and then led Kate up the rude steps on the curve of the paddle-box, heedless of the sign which interdicted passengers from ascending.

A waiter shouted to me; but, fearful that I should be accused of trying to evade the payment of our fares, I threw him my tickets, and told him I must land at Poughkeepsie.  I reached the top of the paddle-box with Kate, and jumped over on the roof myself, with her carpet-bag in my hand.

“Now jump, Kate!” I called, as I heard the bell ring to start the wheels.

“I am afraid,” she replied, shuddering, as she looked down into the yawning gulf below.

“Jump quick, and I will catch you!”

“I cannot!  I cannot!” exclaimed she, in an agony of terror.

The wheels turned, and in an instant the space was too wide for her to come on the roof, or for me to return to the boat.  The people discovered us, and began to shout.  I saw the waiter give the tickets to a man; but, at the same instant, Tom Thornton, perceiving me on the roof of the storehouse, sprang upon the rail, and leaped ashore, as the stern swung in and grazed the pier.  The steamer went on her course; and I saw the man to whom the waiter had given the tickets assist the frightened Kate down from the paddle-box.

I was on shore, but so was Tom Thornton.