AN ATHLETIC CONTEST.

Carden, the canvas man, though discharged from the circus, did not
leave town. He hoped to be reinstated in his old position, and made
a personal appeal to the manager. But the latter returned a decided
negative.

“Don’t I do my work well?” asked Carden.

“I have no fault to find with you on that score.”

“Then why do you discharge me?”

“You know well enough.”

“Is it because that boy Robert Rudd has lied about me?”

“Robert Rudd would not lie about anybody. I have perfect confidence in
him. As for you, Carden, you may as well make up your mind to leave the
town and seek employment elsewhere. As long as I am manager of this
circus I will never again employ you in any capacity.”

Carden’s face grew dark and lowering. He saw that the manager was in
earnest, and he said no more, but went away muttering something to
himself in a low voice which the manager could not understand.

“That is a bad fellow!” thought Mr. Coleman. “We are well rid of him.
He looks as if he could do something worse than steal.”

Finding himself foiled in his attempt to regain his old place, Carden
felt still more incensed against the boy, whom he considered to be
the cause of his dismissal. He felt that it would be a satisfaction
to injure him in some way, and so revenge himself. For this purpose
he determined to remain in the town until the circus left. He secured
board, therefore, in the family of a farmer not far away, and spent his
days about the village and his evenings in some low drinking place.

One day as he was sauntering along the street, with a discontented
scowl upon his face, he came face to face with a well-dressed man, who
appeared to be a stranger in the place.

He would have passed him by without any other notice than a passing
glance, had not the stranger accosted him.

“A pleasant day, my friend,” he said, affably.

“Who said I was your friend?” returned Carden, with a growl.

“I assumed it, since you have no reason to be my enemy,” said the
other, not in the least put out by the roughness with which his
greeting was received.

“I don’t know you, and I don’t want to,” continued Carden.

“Really, you are very frank,” laughed the new acquaintance. “A trifle
rough, perhaps, but I like sincerity. You are no hypocrite, my friend.”

“I should like to hear anybody call me so,” said Carden, defiantly.

“I won’t be the one at any rate. However, its dry talking in the
street. Suppose we go in here (they were just passing a drinking
saloon) and drink to our better acquaintance.”

He could have said nothing better calculated to soften Carden’s
asperity.

“I believe you’re a trump, after all,” said the canvas man, in a
changed tone.

“I hope you’ll find me so. Well, come in.”

Carden readily followed him into the saloon, and they sat down to a
table with a bottle and two glasses before them.

“Now, what’s your game?” asked Carden, abruptly.

“My game?”

“Yes. I s’pose you wouldn’t have stood treat if you hadn’t wanted
something of me.”

The stranger laughed.

“You are sharp,” said he. “However, I don’t mind confessing that
I am a stranger in the place and wanted company and possibly a
little information. Do you know anything about the circus—Coleman’s
circus—which I see is showing here?”

“I ought to. I belong to it.”

“Oh, you are connected with it.”

“No. I’m not now. I was.”

“So, you left them.”

“Left them,” repeated Carden with an oath. “I was kicked out.”

“Indeed, my friend, I sympathize with you. May I ask in what capacity
you were employed?”

“I was a canvas man.”

“Really, I don’t want to meddle with what is none of my business, but
on what pretext were you discharged?”

Carden hardly liked to admit that he was suspected of theft, but his
wrongs were recent and he took a bitter satisfaction in dwelling upon
them. So he overcame his reluctance by degrees.

“It was all on account of that young rascal Robert Rudd,” he said.

“Robert Rudd!” repeated the stranger, his face indicating strong
interest. “Who is he?”

“A bareback rider—a mere boy, whom I could twist round my finger.”

“But I don’t see how he could get you discharged.”

“Then I’ll tell you. He went to Coleman and told him that he found me
trying to unlock his closet and get at his property.”

“Of course that was false?”

“Of course it was!” growled Carden. “But the manager believed him, and
bounced me.”

“What could make the boy get up such a story?”

“He hated me; he treated me like a dog, and put on airs, just as if we
wasn’t in the same business. He wouldn’t drink with me when I asked
him.”

“Then he is proud, is he?”

“Yes, but he hasn’t anything to be proud of. He thinks himself a
gentleman, just because he can ride, and looks down on me as a poor
canvas man.”

“He must be very disagreeable!”

“Of course he is, but the manager don’t think so. He treats him as if
he was a prince.”

“Do you know anything about this Robert Rudd?” asked the stranger,
thoughtfully. “Has he got parents living?”

“Not as I know of.”

“How long has he been with the circus?”

“He has been riding ever since he was a small kid.”

“Does he ride well?”

“Oh yes, he’ll do,” said Carden, with faint praise.

“I should think he would have been afraid to provoke you—a strong,
stout man like you,” said the stranger meditatively, surveying the
strong frame and muscular arms of the ex-canvas man.

“He’ll repent it yet,” flamed up Carden, his resentment fired by these
artful words. “I don’t mean to have any whipper-snapper like him get
the better of me.”

“I can’t say you are wrong, my friend, though I know nothing of the
matter further than you have told me. What are your plans? When were
you discharged?”

“Day before yesterday. Coleman told me to leave town, but I shan’t. I
shall hang round here till I see some way of gettin’ even with that
young rascal.”

“It does seem hard that you should have had your means of living taken
away from you through the spite of a boy. He must have a very bad
disposition, this Robert Rudd.”

“Yes,” said Carden, in a voice which was becoming thick through his
frequent potations, for he was drinking two glasses or more to the
stranger’s one. “I’m a poor man, and it’s hard to be thrown out of
work.”

“I suppose you haven’t saved up much money, then?”

“Saved! What could I save out of fifteen dollars a month?”

“That is poor pay, certainly. Is this boy, Robert Rudd, well paid?”

“Well paid? He’s got two hundred dollars saved up.”

“You don’t tell me so! That is a good deal for a boy. Where does he
keep it?”

“In his locker,” answered Carden, an expression of cupidity sweeping
over his face.

This was not unnoticed by the stranger, who said to himself: “Unless I
am greatly mistaken, the boy was right in charging you with trying to
get at his hoard. I can read it in your face.”

“You say he is a fine rider?” he said, changing the subject.

“Oh, yes; he’s well enough.”

“But if anything should startle the horse or frighten him, anything
unexpectedly, I mean, he would be in some danger of being thrown off,
wouldn’t he?”

“That’s so!” said Carden, as if a sudden idea had dawned upon his mind.

“It seems a dangerous business, this,” said the stranger, carelessly.
“If, now, some malicious person should throw something at the horse
when he was in the ring, it might prove dangerous to the boy.”

“So it would!” said Carden, eagerly.

“Well, my friend,” said the stranger, rising, “I see we’ve drained the
bottle. Suppose we go out again.”

When they emerged into the street, Fitzgerald, for it was he, shook
hands with the canvas man, and said: “Well, I must go back to the
hotel. I hope to meet you again, my friend.”

“I think I’ve set things in train,” thought Fitzgerald. “I will attend
the circus this evening.”

The two boy riders were taking their usual afternoon walk, when they
met Carden. The canvas man frowned, but his face seemed also to wear an
expression of triumphant malice, as if he could foresee some evil in
store for Robert.

“Did you notice how Carden looked, Robert?” asked Charlie.

“Not very pleasant. He hasn’t forgotten me for detecting him in his
attempt to rob me.”

“He looked as if he had heard of some bad luck for you.”

“That must be your imagination, Charlie. I’ve had no bad luck.”

“I wonder what makes Carden stay here now he is discharged from the
circus,” said Charlie, thoughtfully.

“I suppose he can stay here as cheap as anywhere,” said Robert. “I
don’t trouble myself about him or his plans.”

“He is your enemy, Rob. He may try to do you some harm.”

“I will be on my guard, but I won’t worry myself about it.”

They came to an open field, where half a dozen boys were engaged in
athletic sports. There was soon to be a picnic, and prizes had been
offered for the best running, leaping and vaulting, and these boys were
engaged in practising for the grand contest.

“Let us stop and look at them,” said Charlie.

“Very well,” answered his friend.

So they took up a position about fifty feet away and regarded the
contestants with interest.

Their presence was noticed by the boys, who at once recognized them as
circus riders.

“Let us invite them to join us,” said Frank Perry, a boy of sixteen.

“Yes,” chimed in several others.

“I object,” said Ronald Percy, stiffly. “My father wouldn’t care to
have me associate with circus performers.”

Ronald was the son of a rich manufacturer, and was generally
considered snobbish by his companions. At any rate he presumed greatly
upon his “blue blood” and his father’s wealth, and attempted to be very
exclusive. It certainly was nothing to the discredit of his father that
he had worked his way up to his present position from the position of
a poor factory boy, but it might have led Ronald to reflect upon the
folly of his personal pretensions. But his mother claimed to be of
“genteel” family, and had imbued the boy with her own notions.

“What’s the objection, if they are circus performers?” asked Sidney
Grey, who might really have claimed aristocratic lineage if he had so
desired.

“Do you consider circus performers fit company for you?” asked Ronald,
superciliously.

“Yes, if they behave themselves like gentlemen; and these two look as
well bred as we are.”

“Of course they do,” said Frank Perry. “Let us have them here.”

This seemed to be the general wish, and Ronald’s protest went for
nothing.

Sidney Grey left the group of boys and walked towards where Robert and
Charlie were standing. He was a slender boy with a frank, pleasant
face which prepossessed a stranger in his favor at first sight.

“Won’t you join us?” he asked. “We are practising for the picnic next
Saturday. There are to be some prizes offered for running, vaulting,
and so on.”

“Thank you,” answered Robert. “I will join you with pleasure.”

“So will I,” said Charlie, “but I am afraid I might beat you all in
jumping.”

“We will take the risk,” said Sydney, smiling.

“We are just going to have some leaping, and will give you a chance.
Perhaps it is lucky you won’t be at the picnic.”

Sidney returned to his friends, followed by the two circus boys.

The trial about to commence was a standing jump. The two rivals for
superiority were Sidney and Ronald. They were of about the same size,
and seemed, so far as appearance went, very well matched. Probably
there was nothing, save his family and position, of which Ronald was
more proud than of his jumping, and he looked forward complacently to
the trial which was now about to take place.

“Will you try first?” asked Sidney of Robert.

“No, thank you; I will wait to the end.”

“Won’t you?” he next asked of Charlie Davis.

“I don’t mind,” answered Charlie, readily.

Charlie was small of his age, and was not likely to be a very
formidable competitor. He made a jump which proved to be a little less
than five feet, and was not bad for a boy of his size who was not
accustomed to this kind of exercise.

“There, boys, beat that if you can,” he said, of course in fun.

The boys smiled and the trial continued.

It is unnecessary to chronicle each jump. Sidney Grey came up at last
and jumped six feet and three inches.

“Very well, Sidney,” said one of his friends. “I don’t believe that
will be beat.”

“I do,” said Ronald, emphatically. “I haven’t tried yet.”

“Take your turn, then,” said Sidney, good-naturedly. “I shouldn’t be
surprised if you beat me.”

Ronald appeared to be of the same opinion, and it turned out that his
expectations were fulfilled. He gathered himself up for a tremendous
effort, and cleared six feet four inches.

“Good!” said Sidney, not disturbed by his rival’s success. “If you jump
like this next Saturday you will carry off the prize.”

“I’ve beat you all,” said Ronald, triumphantly.

“Not quite all,” said Sidney. “There’s one here who hasn’t jumped yet,”
pointing to Robert.

“Oh well, he can try if he wants to,” said Ronald, superciliously,
looking as if he thought it didn’t matter much whether he did or not.

“Your name is Robert, isn’t it?” said Sidney.

“Yes.”

“Then, Robert, you will have the honor of closing this contest.”

Under ordinary circumstances Robert would not have cared to win, but he
had chanced to overhear Ronald’s objections to associating with circus
performers, and had noticed the airs of superiority which he assumed,
and he thought he would like to take down his pride a little. His
training had given him unusual strength and elasticity of limb, and he
was better prepared than any of the other boys to excel in a contest of
this kind.

He took the position which had been marked as the starting point, and
standing for a moment motionless, made a sudden spring forward, and the
result was regarded with admiring astonishment.

“Six feet and eight inches!” declared Sidney, after measuring. “You are
the champion, Robert. None of us can come up with you.”

The face of Ronald was an interesting study. He was astonished and
mortified. He couldn’t bear to have his record surpassed.

“It wan’t a fair leap,” he said with chagrin. “He stood too far
forward.”

“No, he didn’t,” answered, Sidney; “I noticed how he stood myself.”

“If you like, I will jump again,” said Robert quietly, turning to
Ronald.

“That will be fairer,” said Ronald, hoping Robert would the second time
fall short of his own mark.

Again Robert took his place, and would not jump till Ronald himself had
declared that he was in the right place. Then, making an extra effort,
he cleared six feet and nine inches.

“You didn’t make much by your doubting, Ronald,” said Frank Perry.
“Are you satisfied now?”

“I didn’t bargain to jump against a circus boy,” said Ronald, sullenly.

“That won’t affect your chances at the picnic,” said Sidney. “Robert
won’t be there.”

“Nor I,” said Charlie Davis.

“We are not much afraid of you, Charlie,” said Sidney, smiling.

“Oh, I didn’t half try!” said Charlie.

“It’s lucky for us you didn’t,” said Sidney.

Ronald walked off in disgust, but Robert and Charlie remained with
their new friends, whom they found pleasant and companionable. That was
the last of the contests, but a game of ball was got up, in which the
two circus boys joined.

When they were ready to part Sidney said, in a friendly way, “I am glad
to have made your acquaintance. Come and see me to-morrow afternoon if
you feel like it. I should like to ask you something of your life and
adventures, for I suppose you have had adventures.”

“Thank you; I will come,” answered Robert.

But circumstances arose which prevented his keeping his engagement.

Fitzgerald had put a new idea into the head of the canvas man—an idea
which the man’s unscrupulous and cruel nature readily welcomed and
adopted. It was with malicious satisfaction that he thought it over,
and considered how he should carry it out.

There was, however one circumstance that interfered with his
cheerfulness—the want of money. He had never been a saving man, and
now that he was discharged, and without an income, his fortunes were
at a low ebb. He foresaw that after carrying out his purpose it would
be necessary for him to leave Crampton, but as his purse contained but
seventy-five cents it did not seem possible to go far unless he walked.

“If I had only got that boy’s $200, I should be all right,” he said to
himself. “It would have been better for him and for me, too, for in
that case I wouldn’t do him any harm.”

[Illustration: THE ACCIDENT IN THE RING.]

Carden had no friends of whom he could ask a loan with any hope of
success—in fact, it is doubtful whether he had any friends at all.
While in this perplexity he chanced to recall a conversation he had
heard some days before in a billiard saloon. It ran thus:

“Yes, Tarbox has more money than any farmer in town. He is mean and
close-fisted, and so spends next to nothing. Of course when that is
kept up year after year a man can’t help getting rich.”

“Where does he invest his money—in savings banks?”

“No, he is afraid of them. He is of a suspicious nature, and I
shouldn’t wonder if he follows the example of an old uncle of his who
died twenty years ago.”

“How is that?”

“Why, the old man lived in a miserable way in a poor hut, and after he
died it was found that he had secreted large sums in various places in
and about the hut. I don’t know how many thousand dollars.”

“Did Nathan Tarbox inherit any of his uncle’s money?”

“Yes, he came in for a third of it.”

“You think he hides his money in the same way?”

“I think it very probable. Of course it is very silly, for he gets no
interest, and he is really in more danger of losing it than if it were
earning dividends of interest in some good bank. However, that’s the
man’s nature.”

In his necessity Carden recalled this conversation, and, having no
conscientious scruples, he pondered how he should turn it to account.

“If I could find one of the farmer’s hiding-places for his money,” he
thought, “I might make a good thing out of it. The money isn’t doing
him any good. I might as well have it.”

He mechanically took his way towards the Tarbox farm, impelled by a
faint hope that he might hear or see something to his advantage.

Now it chanced that at some distance from the farm-house was an old
barn, which had been built by the farmer’s father, and which was still
used, though a newer one had been built nearer the house.

From the street, towards the close of the afternoon, Carden saw Mr.
Tarbox taking his way towards this old barn, and out of curiosity he
jumped over the stone wall and followed him.

“I wonder if it would do any good to ask him to lend me five dollars?”
thought the canvas man. “I might tell him I had been discharged through
the influence of Anak and the boy, and he has reason to hate both. At
any rate it won’t do any harm to try. So I’ll follow him cautiously,
and see if I can accomplish anything.”

Mr. Tarbox did not perceive that he was followed. He went by a
well-worn path to the old barn, and, opening a small door at the side,
went in.

Carden came up presently and peered in through a crack of the door. The
crack was narrow, but still wide enough to enable him to see what was
going on within.

Carden was actuated at first by mere curiosity, but his curiosity
speedily gave place to deep interest when he saw Tarbox lift a trap
door and prepare to descend into the barn cellar.

“What is he going to do, I wonder?” thought the canvas man.

He was disappointed to find that the farmer and his operations were
concealed from him, as, though he could see the trap door, he could
not look down into the cellar. Of course it was possible to enter the
barn and look down, but this would be too venturesome, and, if he were
observed it would be hard to explain his curiosity in any satisfactory
manner.

However, it occurred to the eager looker-on that it might be possible
for him to look down into the barn cellar through some crevice near the
bottom of the barn. No sooner had the idea come into his mind than he
discovered exactly such an opening as he desired. He lost no time in
throwing himself flat upon the ground, and putting his eye to a round
hole—once a knot hole.

Now his curiosity was gratified. Through this loop-hole he saw the
farmer with a small spade in his hand, which he appeared to keep
permanently under the barn, digging at a particular spot in the
northeast corner, only a few feet from the ladder beneath the trap-door.

Carden’s heart beat high at this sight. It naturally recalled to him
the conversation he had heard in the billiard saloon, and putting the
two together he jumped to the conclusion that Tarbox had come to this
out-of-the-way spot to visit one of his hoards—perhaps to add to it.

“If it should be so,” he muttered to himself, “then I am in luck. It
won’t be my fault if I don’t borrow a good sum without the farmer
knowing anything about it. Let me see what he is doing.”

He glued his eyes persistently to the loop-hole, and watched with an
anxious eagerness which can be surmised the movements of the miserly
farmer.

Tarbox did not need to dig long. Presently he threw aside his spade,
and getting on his knees began to fumble with his hands in the cavity
he had made.

He drew up a round wooden box, such as housewives often use to keep
saleratus or other supplies in, about the size of a market box of
strawberries. Probably it was one he had taken from the pantry without
his wife’s observation, for Tarbox was a man who could keep a secret
from his wife, at any rate when it related to money.

When Carden saw this box produced his suspicions were increased almost
to certainties, and he waited with breathless anxiety till Tarbox
should open it.

This the farmer did not long delay doing, and the unseen witness was
rewarded for his watching in seeing that the box was more than half
full of silver and gold. The silver preponderated, but a few gold coins
were mixed with them.

Carden felt like a hungry man favored with the sight of a rich repast,
and his eyes glittered with cupidity. He would like to have made his
way at once to the cellar, throttled the farmer and seized the box,
but that would have been very imprudent. Tarbox was a powerful man,
and he would have fought desperately for the money that was so dear to
him. Besides, even had Carden secured the box, he could have hardly
got away in the afternoon without being observed. No, he must curb his
impatience, and defer his visit to a more seasonable time.

“I can do it to-night,” he muttered to himself, “after the performance
is over. Then I will get out of town as soon as I can. I wonder how
much money there is there.”

This was a fruitful and pleasing subject of contemplation, and occupied
his thoughts as he hurriedly left the barn and made his way to the high
road.

He went to his boarding-place, made his small possessions in the way of
clothing into a bundle, and regarded it with satisfaction.

“To-night I will leave Crampton forever,” he said. “After all, I shall
be in fair luck, even if I did get kicked out from the circus.”

There was one thing, however, that he did not take into the account.
He had acted as a spy upon the unsuspecting farmer, and so became the
possessor of a valuable secret. It didn’t occur to him that possibly he
in turn might have attracted observation, and that his movements might
have been watched.

It chanced that Charlie Davis was strolling out alone, and had seen
Carden enter Mr. Tarbox’s field and make his way to the barn.

“What can Carden be going there for?” thought Charlie. “I’ll watch him.”

Charlie had also seen Mr. Tarbox, and he was not slow in concluding
that Carden, for some reason which he could not at once guess, was
watching him.

“What in the world can Carden be looking at?” he thought. “There can’t
be anything to steal in that old barn. At any rate he’s up to some
mischief, I’ll bet a hat. I’ll tell—let me see—I’ll tell Anak, and
ask what he thinks about it.”

It was 6 o’clock when Charlie returned to the circus tent, and he
broached the subject at once to the Norwegian giant.

Anak was a shrewd fellow, and he guessed the truth.

“There’s something valuable there on which Carden has some designs, but
he isn’t likely to do anything till late to-night. Meet me after the
performance, and we’ll take a stroll over that way.”