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CHAPTER XXIII TONY’S ESCAPE
We must now return to our young hero, who was certainly in a critical position. Though strong for his age, the reader will hardly be surprised that he should have been overpowered by a man like Rudolph.

When the false Quaker’s hat and wig were taken off, though he was at first surprised, he for the first time understood why the man’s face and voice had seemed familiar to him from the time they first met.

He struggled in vain against the fate in store for him. He felt that with him it was to be a matter of life and death, and, taken by surprise though he was, he was on the alert to save his life if he could.

The well curb was partially destroyed, as we have said, but the rope still hung from it. At the instant of his fall, Tony managed while in transit to grasp the rope by one hand. He swung violently from one side to the other, and slipped a few feet downward. This Rudolph did not see, for as soon as he had hurled the boy into the well, he hurried away.

Tony waited for the rope to become steady before attempting to ascend hand over hand. Unfortunately for his purpose, the rope was rotten, and broke just above where he grasped it, precipitating him to the bottom of the well. But he was already so far from the opening that his fall was not over ten feet. Luckily, also, the water was not over two feet in depth. Therefore, though he was jarred and startled by the sudden descent, he was not injured.

Well,” thought Tony, “I’m as low as I can get—that’s one comfort. Now is there any chance of my setting out?”

He looked up, and it gave him a peculiar sensation to see the blue sky from the place where he stood. He feared that Rudolph was still at hand, and would resist any efforts he might make to get out of the well.

If he don’t interfere, I’m bound to get out,” he said to himself, pluckily.

His feet were wet, of course, and this was far from comfortable.

He made a brief examination of the situation, and then decided upon his plan. The well, like most in the country, was made of a wall of stones, piled one upon another. In parts it looked rather loose, and Tony shuddered as he thought of the possibility of the walls falling, and his being buried in the ruins.

It would be all up with me then,” he thought. “I must get out of this as soon as I can. If I can only climb up as far as the rope, I can escape.”

This, in fact, seemed to be his only chance. Using the wall as a ladder, he began cautiously to ascend. More than once he came near falling a second time, but by great exertion he finally reached the rope. He did not dare to trust to it entirely, but contrived to ascend as before, clinging to the rope with his hands. He was in constant fear that it would break a second time, but the strain upon it was not so great, and finally, much to his delight, he reached the top.

He breathed a deep sigh of relief when he found himself once more on terra firma. He looked about him cautiously, under the apprehension that Rudolph might be near by, and ready to attack him again. But, as we know, his fears were groundless.

He made sure that I was disposed of,” thought Tony. “What could have induced him to attempt my life? Can it be true, as he said, that I am heir to a fortune? Why couldn’t he tell me? I would have paid him well for the information when I got my money. Then he said he knew who I was—I care more for that than for the money.”

But Tony could not dwell upon these thoughts. The claims of duty were paramount. He must seek the horse, and go back to the hotel. He had been detained already for nearly three-quarters of an hour, and they would be wondering what had become of him.

He made his way as quickly as possible to where he had tied the horse. But he looked for him in vain. He had been untied and led away—perhaps stolen. Tony felt assured that the horse, of himself, could not leave the spot.

It must be Rudolph,” he said to himself. “He has made off with the horse. Now I am in a precious scrape. What will Mr. Porter say to me?”

Tony was in error, as we know, in concluding that Rudolph had carried away the horse. The tramp had no use for him. Besides, he knew that such a proceeding would have exposed him to suspicion, which it was very important for him to avoid.

Who, then, had taken the horse? That is a question which we are able to answer, though Tony could not.

Fifteen minutes before Sam Payson, whose place Tony had taken, with a companion, Ben Hardy, while wandering through the woods, had espied a horse.

Hello!” said Ben. “Here’s a horse!”

“So it is!” said Sam. “It’s rather odd that he should be tied here.”

“I wonder whose it is?”

Sam had been examining him carefully, and had recognized him.

It’s Mr. Porter’s Bill. Don’t you see that white spot? That’s the way I know him. I have harnessed that horse fifty times.”

“But how did he come here? That’s the question.”

“I’ll tell you,” said Sam. “I was at the hotel this morning, and heard that that boy Tony was to go over to Thornton with him.”

“That don’t explain why he is tied here, does it?”

“Tony must have tied him while he was taking a tramp in the woods. Wouldn’t Porter be mad if he knew it?”

“I shouldn’t wonder if Tony would get bounced.”

“Nor I. I’ll tell you what, Ben, I’ve a grand mind to untie the horse and take him back myself.”

“What’s the good? It would be an awful job. We came out here to have some fun,” grumbled Ben.

This would be fun to me. I’ll get Tony into trouble, and very likely get back the place he cheated me out of. I guess it’ll pay.”

“All right, Sam. I didn’t think of that. I’d like to see how Tony looks when he comes back and finds the horse gone.”

“It’ll serve him right,” said Sam. “What business had he to interfere with me, I’d like to know?”

“If you’re going to do it, you’d better hurry up. He may get back any time.”

“That’s so. Here goes, then.”

In a trice Bill was untied, and Sam, taking the halter, led him away. When Tony came up he was not in sight.

Though Tony felt convinced that Rudolph had carried away the horse, he felt it to be his duty to look about for him. There was a bare chance that he might find him somewhere in the wood. In this way he lost considerable time. Had he started for the hotel immediately, he would very likely have overtaken the two boys.

Sam kept on his way, and finally arrived at the hotel.

As he led the horse into the stable yard, James, the hostler, exclaimed, in surprise:

“How came you by that horse, Sam Payson?”

“Is that the way you thank me for bringing him back?” asked Sam.

He left the stable under the charge of Tony Rugg this morning.”

“Pretty care he takes of him, then!”

“What do you mean? Where did you find him?”

“Down in the woods.”

“What woods?”

“Between here and Thornton.”

“Wasn’t Tony with him?”

“No.”

“Are you sure of that? Are you sure you two boys didn’t attack Tony and take the horse away?” demanded James, suspiciously.

No, we didn’t. If you don’t believe me, you may ask Ben.”

“How was it, Ben?” he asked.

Just as Sam has said. We found the horse alone in the woods. We thought he might be stolen, and we brought him home. It was a good deal of trouble, for it’s full two miles.”

James looked from one to the other in perplexity.

I don’t understand it at all,” he said. “It don’t look like Tony to neglect his duty that way.”

“You’ve got too high an opinion of that boy entirely,” said Sam, sneeringly.

Just then the landlord passed through the yard.

What’s all this?” he asked.

The matter was explained to him.

Send Tony to me as soon as he comes back,” he said, with a frown of displeasure. “This must be looked into.”

“He’ll give Tony fits!” said Sam, gleefully.

You know how it is yourself, Sam,” said James.

I never ran off and left the horse in the woods,” retorted Sam.



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