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CHAPTER XXI IN THE WOODS
Rudolph took care to breakfast in good season the next morning. He felt that this day was to make his fortune. The deed which would entitle him to a life support was to be perpetrated on that day. He shuddered a little when he reflected that a life must be sacrificed, and that the life of the boy who had been for years under his guardianship, who had slept at his side, and borne with him the perils and privations of his adventurous career. He was a reckless man, but he had never before shed blood, or at any rate taken the life of a human being.

What’s the odds?” he said to himself. “The boy’s got to die some time or other, and his dying now will make me comfortable for life. No more hungry tramps for me. I’ll settle down and be respectable. Eight hundred dollars a year will relieve me from all care.”

At a few minutes after nine Tony set out on his journey. It never occurred to him that the old Quaker in suit of sober drab, who sat on the piazza and saw him depart, was a man who cherished sinister designs upon him. In fact, he had forgotten all about him, and was intent upon his journey alone.

Take care of yourself, Tony,” said James.

Oh, yes, I’ll do that,” said Tony, little dreaming how necessary the admonition was likely to prove.

I may as well be starting, too,” thought Rudolph.

About two miles on began the woods. They extended for nearly a mile on either side of the road.

I’ll explore a little,” thought Rudolph. “I shall have plenty of time before the boy comes back.”

Some forty rods from the road on the right-hand side the tramp discovered a ruined hut, which had once belonged to a recluse who had for years lived apart from his kind. This had now fallen into decay.

The general appearance of the building satisfied Rudolph that it was deserted.

A rod to the east there was a well, open to the view; the curb having decayed, and being in a ruined condition, Rudolph looked down into it, and judged that it might be about twenty feet deep.

A diabolical suggestion came to him. If he could only lure Tony to this well and dispose of him forever.

I’ll do it,” he muttered to himself.

Meantime, Tony drove rapidly to Thornton and sought the purchaser of the buggy. There was a delay of half an hour in finding him, but at last his business was done, and he set out for home.

It was not quite so amusing leading the horse as sitting in a buggy and driving him. But all our pleasures have to be paid for, and Tony was ready to pay the price for this one. After all, he reflected, it was quite as amusing as working about the stable yard, especially after it occurred to him to mount the animal.

Everything went smoothly till he entered the woody part of the road.

Now I shall be home soon,” he said to himself. “But, hello! who’s that?” as a figure stepped out from the side of the road. “Oh, it’s the Quaker. I wonder what brought him here?”

“Friend, is thee in a hurry?” asked the impostor.

I suppose I ought to get back as soon as I can,” said Tony. “Why, what’s up?”

“Thee is the boy from the hotel, is thee not?”

“Well, what do you want of me?”

“There’s a man in the woods that has fallen down a well, and I fear he is badly hurt.”

“How did you find him?”

“I was walking for amusement when I heard groans, and, looking down, I could see the poor man.”

Tony never thought of doubting this statement, and said, in a tone of genuine sympathy: “Poor fellow!”

“Will thee go with me and help get him out?”

“Yes,” said Tony, readily, “I’ll do it. Never mind if I am a little late. Where shall I put the horse?”

“Lead him into the woods, and tie him to a tree.”

“All right. I guess that will be the best way.”

The horse was disposed of as had been suggested and the two set out on what Tony supposed to be their charitable errand.

I don’t see what made you go into the woods?” said our hero, a little puzzled.

“I was brought up in the woods, my young friend. It reminds me of the time when I was a boy like thee.”

“Oh, that’s it. Well, it was lucky for the man—that is, if we can get him out. Did you speak to him?”

“Yea, verily.”

“And did he answer?”

“He groaned. I think he was insensible. I saw that I should need help, and I came to the road again. Luckily thee came by.”

“Had you been waiting long?”

“Only five minutes,” answered Rudolph.

In reality he had been compelled to wait nearly an hour, much to his disgust. In fact, he had been led to fear that there might be some other road by which one could return from Thornton, and that Tony had taken it. Should this be the case, his elaborate trap would be useless.

They had come quite near the ruined dwelling, and already the curb of the well was visible.

Is that the well?” asked Tony.

Yes,” answered the Quaker.

Let us hurry, then,” said Tony.

But the time had come when Tony was to have revealed to him the real character of his companion. A branch, which hung unusually low, knocked off the hat and wig of the pseudo Quaker, and Tony was petrified with dismay when he saw revealed the black, cropped head and sinister face of Rudolph, the tramp.

Rudolph!” he exclaimed, stopping short in his amazement.

Yes,” said the tramp, avowing himself, now that he saw disguise was useless; “it’s Rudolph. At last I have you, you young scamp!” and he seized the boy’s arms as in the grip of a vise.

Tony tried to shake off the grip, but what could a boy do against an athletic man?

“It’s no use,” said the tramp, between his teeth. “I’ve got you, and I don’t mean to let you go.”

“What do you mean to do, Rudolph?” asked Tony, uneasily.

What do I mean to do? I mean to make you repent of what you’ve done to me, you young whelp.”

“What have I done?”

“What haven’t you done? You betrayed me, and sold me to my enemies. That’s what you’ve done.”

“I’ve only done what I was obliged to do. I don’t want to do you any more harm. Let me go, and I won’t meddle with you any more, nor say a word about you at the hotel.”

“Really,” said Rudolph, with a disagreeable sneer, “I feel very much obliged to you. You are very kind, upon my soul. So you won’t tell at the hotel that the Quaker gentleman is only a tramp, after all.”

“No, I will say nothing about you.”

“I don’t think you are to be trusted, boy.”

“Did you ever know me to tell a lie, Rudolph?” asked Tony, proudly. “I don’t pretend to be a model boy, but there’s one thing I won’t do, and that is lie.”

“I think I had better make sure that you don’t say anything about me,” said the tramp, significantly.

How?” asked Tony.

I don’t mean to let you go back to the hotel at all.”

“But I must go back. I must carry the horse back.”

“That’s of no importance.”

“Yes, it is,” persisted Tony, anxiously. “They will think I have stolen it.”

“Let them think so.”

“But I don’t want them to think me a thief.”

“I can’t help it.”

“What are you going to do with me? Where are we going?”

“Before I tell you that I will tell you something more. You have often asked me who you were.”

“You always told me I was your son.”

“It was not true,” said Rudolph, calmly. “You are not related to me.”

“I felt sure of it.”

“Oh, you did!” sneered the tramp. “You are glad that you are not my son!”

“Who am I?”

“I will tell you this much, that you are the heir to a fortune.”

“I—the heir to a fortune!” exclaimed Tony, in natural excitement.

Yes; and I could help you to secure it, if I pleased.”

Tony knew not what to say or to think. Was it possible that he—Tony the Tramp—was a gentleman’s son, and heir to a fortune? It was almost incredible. Moreover, what was the object of Rudolph in imparting this secret, and at this time, when he sought revenge upon him? “Is this true?” he asked.

Perfectly true.”

“And you know my real name and family?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Oh, Rudolph, tell me who I am,” Tony said, imploringly. “Help me to the fortune which you say I am entitled to, and I will take care that you are rewarded.”

Rudolph surveyed the boy, whom he still held in a firm grasp, and watched his excitement with malicious satisfaction.

There’s one objection to my doing that, boy,” he said.

What is that?”

“I’ll tell you,” he hissed, as his grip grew tighter, and his dark face grew darker yet with passion, “I hate you!”

This he uttered with such intensity that Tony, brave as he was, was startled and dismayed.

Then why did you tell me?” he asked.

“That you might know what you are going to lose—that you might repent betraying me,” answered Rudolph, rapidly. “You ask what I am going to do with you? I am going to throw you down that well, and leave you there—to die!”

Then commenced a struggle between the man and boy. Tony knew what he had to expect, and he fought for dear life. Rudolph found that he had undertaken no light task, but he, too, was desperate. He succeeded at last in dragging Tony to the well curb, and raising him in his sinewy arms, he let him fall.

Then, without waiting to look down, he hurried out of the wood with all speed. He reached the hotel, settled his bill, and paid to have himself carried over to the nearest railroad station.

Not until he was fairly seated in the train, and was rushing through the country at the rate of forty miles an hour, did he pause to congratulate himself.

Now for an easy life!” he ejaculated. “My fortune is made! I shall never have to work any more.”


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