THE CANVAS MAN

When Mr. Tarbox came to understand how he had been hoaxed by the boys
he was furious, but his anger was ineffectual, for there seemed no way
in which he could retaliate. He had had his opportunity in the woods,
but that had passed, and was not likely to come again. Meanwhile he
found it hard to bear the jocose inquiries of his neighbors touching
his encounter with the “tiger.”

For instance, the next day he met the constable in the street.

“How are you, Mr. Tarbox?” inquired Spriggins, smiling.

“Well enough,” growled Tarbox, quickening his pace.

“I hear you had an adventure with a tiger yesterday,” said the
constable, with a waggish smile.

“Suppose I did!” he snapped.

“Ho, ho! Were you very much frightened?” continued the constable.

“I wasn’t half so much scared as you were when I wanted you to arrest
the giant.”

It was the constable’s turn to look embarrassed. “Who said I was
afraid?”

“It was enough to look at you,” said Tarbox.

“Well, maybe I was a little flustered,” admitted Spriggins. “Who
wouldn’t be afraid of a man ten feet high? They do say, Tarbox, that
you did some pretty tall running, and there wasn’t no tiger loose after
all.”

And Mr. Constable indulged in a chuckle which irritated the farmer
intensely. He resolved to retaliate.

“Do you know where I am goin’, Spriggins?” he asked.

“No.”

“Then I’ll tell you,” answered Tarbox, with a malicious smile. “I’m
goin’ to Squire Price to get another warrant for the arrest of
Anak—I’ve found out that that’s his name—and I’m goin’ to get you to
serve it.”

The constable’s countenance changed. “Don’t be foolish, Mr. Tarbox,” he
said.

“I understand my business, Spriggins, and I shall expect you to do
yours. I’ll see you again in half an hour.”

“I may not be at home; I expect I’ve got to go over to Medville.”

“Then put it off. Your duty to the State is ahead of all private
business.”

He went on his way leaving Mr. Spriggins in a very uneasy frame of
mind. When he went home to supper, he said to his wife: “Mrs. S., after
supper I’m going up into the attic, and if Nathan Tarbox comes round
and asks for me, you say that I’m out of town.”

“But it wouldn’t be true, Spriggins,” replied his wife.

“I know it won’t; but he wants me to arrest the giant, and it’s as much
as my life is worth,” answered the constable, desperately. “I don’t
think I’m a coward, but I ain’t a match for a giant.”

The farmer, however, did not come round. He had only made the statement
to frighten Spriggins, and retaliate upon him for his joke about the
tiger.

In the afternoon Robert, while out for a walk, fell in with one
of the canvas men, a rough-looking fellow, named, or at least he
called himself, Carden. Canvas men, as may be inferred from the name,
are employed in putting up and taking down the circus tent, and
are generally an inferior set of men, not differing much from the
professional tramp. Robert, who, in spite of his asseverations, had
considerable self-respect and proper pride, never mingled much with
them, and for that reason was looked upon as “putting on airs.” His
friend, Charlie Davis, was much more popular with them.

“Hallo, Robert,” said Carden, familiarly.

The canvas man was smoking a short, dirty clay pipe, and would have
made an admirable model for a picture of a tramp.

“Hello, Carden!” said Robert, coolly.

“Walkin’ for your health?” asked the canvas man, in the same
disagreeably familiar tone.

“Partly.”

Carden was walking by his side, and Robert did not like the familiarity
which this would seem to imply.

“Pretty good town, this!” continued Carden, socially.

“Yes.”

“Sorry I haven’t another pipe to offer you, Robert, my boy.”

“Thank you; I shouldn’t use it.”

“Don’t mean to say you don’t smoke, eh, Bob?”

“I don’t smoke.”

“That is, not a pipe—I dare say you wouldn’t mind a cigar or
cigarette, now.”

“I don’t smoke at all now. I did once, but found it was injuring me,
and gave it up.”

“Oh, it won’t hurt you. I’ve smoked since I was a chap so
high”—indicating a point about three feet from the ground—”and I
ain’t dead yet.”

Robert did not reply to this, but looked around anxiously for some
pretext to leave his unwelcome companion.

Just then they passed a wayside saloon.

“Come in, Bob, and have a drink!” said Carden, laying his hand upon the
boy’s shoulder. “It’ll do you good to whet your whistle.”

“No, thank you,” said Robert, shrinking from the man’s touch.

“Oh, don’t be foolish. A little whiskey’ll do you good.”

“Thank you, I would rather not.”

Meantime Carden was searching in his pocket for a silver coin, but his
search was fruitless.

“I say, Bob, I am out of tin. Come in and treat?”

“You must excuse me, Mr. Carden,” said Robert, coldly.

“Come, don’t be stingy! You get good pay, and can afford to stand
treat. We poor canvas men only have $15 a month.”

“If this will do you any good,” said Robert, producing a silver
quarter, “you are welcome to it.”

“Thank you; you’d better come in, too.”

Robert sacrificed the coin to regain his freedom, as Carden’s entering
the saloon seemed to offer the only mode of release.

“What a stuck-up young jackanapes!” muttered Carden, as he entered the
saloon. “He thinks a deal of himself, and don’t want to have nought to
do with me because I’m a poor canvas man. I doubt he’s got a good deal
of money hid away somewhere, for he don’t spend much. I heard Charlie
Davis say the other day Bob had $200.”

Carden’s eyes glittered with cupidity as the thought passed through his
mind.

“I’d like to get hold of it,” he muttered to himself. “It would be a
fortune for a poor canvas man, and he wouldn’t miss it, for he could
soon gain as much more. I wonder where he keeps it.”

“It’s the worst of the life I lead,” said Robert to himself, as he
walked on, “that I am thrown into the company of such men as that. It
isn’t because they are poor that I object to them, for I am not rich
myself; but a man needn’t be low because he is poor and earning small
pay. I suppose Carden and the other canvas men think I am proud because
I don’t seek their company, but they are mistaken. I have nothing in
common with them, except that we are all in the employ of the same
manager. Besides, I do talk with Madigan. He is a canvas man, but he
has had a good education and is fitted for something better, and only
takes up with this rather than be idle.”

Half an hour after, Charlie Davis joined him.

“Rob,” said Charlie, “I met Carden, just now. He was half drunk, and
pitching into you.”

“He ought not, for I had just lent him a quarter.”

“He said you were too proud to drink with him.”

“That is true, though I wouldn’t drink with one I had more respect for.”

“He asked me where you kept your money. You’d better look out for him.”

“I shall. I have no doubt he is capable of robbing me, and I would
rather spend my own money myself.”

“I’m not afraid of his robbing me,” said Charlie.

“No, I suppose not; but I wish you would save some of your money, so as
to have something worth stealing.”

“Oh, I’ll begin to save sometime.”

It was perhaps the thought of this conversation that led Robert in the
evening after the entertainment was over, or rather after his part of
it was over, to walk round to one of the circus wagons, in which, in a
small closet, he kept some of his clothing and the whole of his money.

As he came up he saw in the darkness the crouching figure of a man
trying the lock of his compartment with one of a bunch of keys he held
in his hand.

“What are you doing here?” demanded Robert, in a quick, imperious tone.

The man, like all who are engaged in a disreputable deed, started
suddenly and half rose from his crouching position, still holding the
keys in his hand. He did not answer immediately, probably because it
was rather difficult to decide what to say.

“What are you doing here?” demanded Robert, once more.

“None of your business!” answered the man, whose temper got the better
of his prudence.

“I should think it was my business, as you were trying to get at my
property.”

“That’s a lie!” said the man, sullenly.

As he spoke he stepped out of the wagon, and Robert recognized him as
the canvas man, Carden, introduced in the last chapter.

“It’s the truth,” said Robert firmly. “I know you, Carden, and I am not
much surprised. It won’t do to try it again.”

“I’ve a great mind to thrash you for your impudence!” growled Carden.

“I can defend myself,” returned Robert, coolly, who had plenty of
courage.

Carden laughed derisively.

“What can you do?” he said. “You’d be like a baby in my grasp.”

“I am not afraid of you,” said Robert, with composure. “Don’t come
around here again.”

“I shall go where I please,” said Carden, with the addition of an oath.
“And don’t you go to telling tales of me, or I’ll wring your neck.”

Robert did not answer, but when Carden had slunk away, opened the
locker himself, and took out a wallet filled with bills.

“It is imprudent to leave so much money here,” he reflected. “If I
hadn’t come up just as I did, Carden would have got hold of it. What
shall I do with it?”

Robert felt that it would not do to carry it round with him, as that
would be about as imprudent as to leave it in the locker. He decided
after a little reflection upon leaving it with the manager of the
circus, in whom he had every confidence, and deservedly. He accordingly
sought Mr. Coleman after the entertainment was over.

“Well, Robert, what is it?” asked the manager, kindly.

“I have a favor to ask of you, sir.”

“Very well; what is it?”

“I came near losing all my savings to-night. Will you take charge of
this wallet for me? I don’t feel safe with it in my possession.”

“Certainly, Robert. How much money have you here?”

“Two hundred dollars.”

“Whew! You are rich. You say you came near losing it?”

“Yes, to-night.”

“How was that?”

Robert detailed his visit to his locker, and his discovery of the
canvas man attempting to open it, but he mentioned no names.

“Which of the canvas men was it?” asked Mr. Coleman.

Robert hesitated.

“I don’t want to get the man into trouble,” he said.

“That does you credit, but if we have a thief with us it is important
that we should know it, for there are others whom he may try to rob.”

From what he knew of Carden, Robert felt that the apprehension was very
well founded, and he saw that it was his duty to mention the name of
the thief.

“It was Carden,” he answered.

“The very man I suspected,” said the manager. “The other men are rough,
but he looks like a scoundrel. He came to me and begged for work, and
I engaged him, though I knew nothing about him. I shall see him in the
morning, and discharge him.”

The manager did not forget. The next morning he summoned Carden, and
said, quietly, “Carden, you are no longer in my employ. I will pay you
to the end of the week, but I want you to leave now.”

“What’s that for?” growled the canvas man, looking ugly.

“It’s on account of what happened last night,” said the manager.

“Has that young fool been blabbing about me?”

“I have said nothing about any one.”

“No, but I know Robert Rudd’s been telling tales about me.”

“He answered my questions, but said he didn’t want to get you into
trouble.”

“Of course not!” sneered Carden. “He’s a nice boy, he is; the young
liar.”

“You seem to know what he said,” observed the manager, eying the man
keenly.

“I s’pose he said I was tryin’ to rob him.”

“He did, and I believed him.”

“Then he lied!” said the man, fiercely. “He’ll repent the day he told
tales about me.”

“That will do, Carden,” said the manager, quietly. “Here’s your money.”

Carden went off swearing. As he was leaving the grounds of the circus
he met Robert.

“You’ve been blabbing about me. I’ll fix you,” he said.

Robert made no reply, for he did not care to get into a dispute with
such a man.