FITZGERALD’S DISAPPOINTMENT

The tramp was stout and clumsily made, and although he was strongly
made he was not agile. Moreover, the branch by which Robert had helped
himself upward was over six feet from the ground, and had only been
reached by a leap. The trunk of the tree was large in circumference,
and afforded no facilities for climbing. The efforts of the pursuer,
therefore, were vain.

“Come down!” he shouted, peremptorily.

“I have already said that I am very comfortable here,” answered Robert.

“Do you mean to defy me?”

“I don’t wish to have anything to do with you.”

“I wish I had a pistol!” muttered the tramp. “I’d soon have you down
then.”

Robert was devoutly thankful that he was not provided with such a
weapon. He felt relieved by the discovery, for it had occurred to him
as possible, and in that event he would have had to make a virtue of
necessity and come down.

“Why didn’t I lay hold of the boy when I had him beside me?” thought
the disappointed tramp. “Who would have thought he could have sprung up
like that?”

He determined to try once more what he could accomplish by threats.

“Look here, boy, if you know what’s best for yourself, you’ll come
down!” he cried, furiously.

“I think it’s best for me to remain up here,” said Robert.

“When you come down I’ll wring your neck, you little rascal!”

“That isn’t much inducement for me to come down,” said Robert, coolly.

“If you come down within five minutes and hand over your money, I’ll
let you go without doing you any harm.”

“That’s very kind of you, but I need it myself.”

Robert’s coolness incensed the tramp, who would have felt more
satisfaction if his intended victim had exhibited terror.

Robert was reminded of the scene in the woods at Crampton, where Mr.
Tarbox had besieged Charlie Davis and himself, and the trick by which
they had then escaped. This would not work now, and indeed it didn’t
seem clear how he was to escape at all. There was nothing but to remain
up in the tree, and try to tire out the patience of the thievish tramp.

Twenty minutes passed. They passed slowly for Robert, but they also
passed slowly for his besieger, who was in a hurry to get possession of
the boy’s money, and feared some one might come along to whom he could
appeal for help. If he had known that Robert had twenty dollars in his
pocket his eagerness would have increased.

“Are you coming down?” he demanded, looking up in the tree fiercely.

“When you are gone away,” answered the boy, composedly.

“If you wait much longer I’ll murder you when you do come down. You may
think I won’t do it, but I’m savage enough to do anything.”

“I don’t doubt it at all,” said our hero.

“I might tell you of how I’ve served other persons who trifled with me.”

“Do!” replied Robert. “It’ll take up the time.”

“No,” answered the tramp, suspiciously. “I don’t care to have you
inform against me, but I want you to remember that I am a desperate
man.”

“I’ll take it for granted. I don’t want to fall into the hands of such
a man.”

The tramp hunted about for a stone to throw at the boy, but in that
part of the West stones are not as plenty as in New England, and his
kind intentions were frustrated.

“Perhaps you think I’ll go away after a while,” he said presently,
“but that’s where you make a mistake. I will stay here all night, if
necessary.”

He looked as if he would really carry out his threat, and Robert, it
must be admitted, in spite of his coolness of demeanor, began to feel
anxious.

“What an obstinate ruffian!” he thought. “If he keeps his word, it will
be decidedly uncomfortable for me.”

“Will no one come along?”

That was the thought that kept recurring to him. It seemed to offer the
only means of escape.

At last he heard wheels, and was thankful. So did the tramp, and felt
uneasy. But when the carriage came along it turned out to contain a
woman and young boy. It would do no good to hail them, for they could
not help him, and the tramp might be led to attack and rob them. So
Robert was constrained to let the carriage pass, and to find himself
once more in solitude with the tramp.

“You did well not to speak,” said the latter, grimly. “If you had I
would have robbed her, too.”

“Just what I thought,” returned Robert. “That seems to be your
business.”

“Don’t be impudent, boy!”

“Isn’t it the truth?”

“Come down and you’ll find out.”

“I know well enough already.”

Another half hour passed, and no one came by. At last the two heard a
sound and a man whistling; the same seemed approaching.

“I hope it’s a strong, able-bodied man,” thought Robert.

When at length the man came in sight, a great tide of joy swept over
him. It was the very man whose presence he would have desired above
all others. It was Hercules, who had at one time been employed in the
same circus with himself, to perform feats of strength.

“Hercules!” cried Robert, joyfully, from his perch in the tree.

Hercules paused and looked about in surprise, for he saw no one except
an ill-looking tramp, who, he was sure, had not spoken to him. He
thought he recognized the voice, but was not certain.

“Who is it calls me?” he asked. “Where are you?”

“Here, in this tree.”

Then Hercules espied our hero and recognized him.

“Robert Rudd,” he cried, in mingled surprise and joy.

“Yes, it is I.”

“What are you doing here? I had no idea of seeing you here.”

“Nor I you; but I am glad you came along.”

“Why are you up there?”

“Because the gentleman below insists upon my giving him my money, and I
have a use for it myself.”

“Ha!” said Hercules, eying the besieging force narrowly. “Well, he
looks like a thief and a scoundrel.”

Meantime, as may readily be imagined, the tramp had been busily
scanning him. Now the appearance of Hercules was very deceptive. He was
not a man of large, powerful frame—indeed he did not look as strong as
the tramp; but his sinews were of iron and his muscles were immense,
but these were concealed by his clothing. Only in the ring, when he
performed his feats of strength, were they displayed to advantage. The
tramp was not a classical scholar, or the name Hercules might have told
him something. As it were he really thought himself the more powerful
man of the two, and it came into his mind that he might as well enlarge
his schemes of plunder and force this new acquaintance to pay tribute
as well as the boy whom he was besieging.

“You call me a thief and a scoundrel, do you?” he said, flaming up in
fierce wrath.

“Yes, I do,” returned Hercules, eying him coolly.

“How dare you do it?”

“Why shouldn’t I?” said Hercules, contemptuously. “Didn’t you mean to
rob this boy if I hadn’t come along?”

“I will do it yet, but I have business with you first.”

“What kind of business?”

“Empty your pockets, and don’t be long about it,” said the tramp,
approaching Hercules menacingly.

It had never occurred to Robert that the tramp would attempt anything
so absurd as to attack the professional champion, whose name was famous
for strength, and when he saw that such was his intention he laughed
aloud in amazement.

“Don’t crow, young rooster!” cried the tramp, angrily. “I’ll tackle
your friend first; your turn will come by and by.”

“Oh, you want to have a tussle with me, do you?” said Hercules, eying
the other with a smile of amusement.

“Yes, I’ll finish you up in short order,” said the tramp, boastfully.

“Don’t be afraid, Hercules!” cried Robert, with a laugh.

“I’ll try not to. So you want me to hand over my money, do you?” he
said.

“Yes; and you’d better be quick about it, too,” growled the tramp.

“Suppose I don’t?”

“Then I’ll whip you till you can’t stand.”

“This is better than any circus I ever attended,” said Robert,
delighted.

“He’ll think it’s a circus before he gets through,” said Hercules,
significantly. “Well, my ill-looking friend, I must inform you in the
outset that you are taking a good deal of trouble for a very little. My
stock of money is very low.”

“I don’t care; you can hand over what you’ve got.”

“Or fight for it?”

“Yes,” growled the tramp.

“I think I’ll fight—a little friendly encounter. It’s the custom to
shake hands first; will you do it?”

The tramp extended his hand, which Hercules at once grasped with such
an iron pressure that the tramp fairly danced and howled with pain,
while the veins swelled upon his forehead.

“Let go!” he yelled.

Hercules released his hand with a laugh.

“It’s only a small lesson, my friend. Do you want my money now?”

“Who are you?” asked the tramp, with the addition of an oath.

“I am Hercules, the strong man. You made a mistake when you tackled me.”

“I’m off, then,” said the tramp.

“Not quite yet. You need a further lesson.”

So saying, Hercules seized the tramp suddenly, raised him aloft, threw
him up in the air, and then hurled him to the distance of a couple of
rods, where he lay stunned for a minute or two.

“Now clear out!” said Hercules sternly, as the rascal rose to his feet
and limped off. “I would give you in charge if it were not too much
trouble. Never let me set eyes on you again!”

“I won’t if I can help it,” muttered the tramp as he slunk away.

“Now, Robert, come down from the tree, and tell me all about yourself.”

Robert told his story, and asked Hercules for similar information.

“I’ve been to see a sister who lives near here,” he said, “and now am
on my way back to North’s circus, where I am engaged.”

“Where are they?”

“At Athens.”

“How far off is that?”

“Only ten miles.”

“Is there anything for me?” asked Robert, eagerly. “I want to work my
way back to the East.”

“They’ve got a rider—but I forgot, your doctor won’t let you ride. If
you don’t mind selling at the lemonade stand, there’ll be a chance.
They’ve sent off the boy that worked for them the first of the season.
Young Ajax is with the circus, and others whom you know.”

“I’ll go.”

The same night the two friends joined North’s circus, and set out on a
leisurely return to the East.

We must now go back to Chestnutwood, where the old man, Cornelius
Richmond, though blessed with a large share of the gifts of fortune,
was passing his declining years in loneliness, with no one of his
kindred near him except his nephew, Hugo. For years Hugo had been
his constant companion; in manner, at least, he had been devoted to
his uncle, yet the old man had never been drawn to him. Sometimes he
reproached himself because he could not feel more warmly towards his
nephew.

“Hugo seems devoted to me,” he said to himself. “Why is it that I
cannot thoroughly like him? It must be because my heart is in the grave
of my son Julian. Ah, if only his son were living, that I might have my
grandson with me. That boy whom I saw riding in the circus—I could
get to love him for his resemblance to my son; but Hugo tells me he has
lost all traces of him.”

The simple old man little suspected that his crafty nephew had taken
effectual means to prevent his ever seeing any more of this boy,
towards whom he felt a yearning affection, for which we can account,
though he could not. Indeed, he was not a man to suspect guile of any
one, being in himself so guileless, and he really thought that Hugo’s
attentions were dictated by genuine affection, instead of selfish
scheming for his uncle’s wealth.

“You have heard nothing more about the boy, Hugo?” he asked one morning.

“No, uncle,” answered Hugo, suppressing an expression of impatience.

“It is strange.”

“I am afraid you would be disappointed in him, even if we could find
him, and bring him here, Uncle Cornelius.”

“No, I should not be disappointed, for I should not expect too much.
It would be a pleasure to look upon the boy’s face, and think my lost
Julian was again before me.”

“The old fool!” muttered Hugo under his breath. “Will he never quit
harping on that boy?”

“You must remember that he has been brought up in a circus, amid
very objectionable associations, uncle,” he said aloud. “What can be
expected under such circumstances?”

“What is his name?”

“His circus name is Robert Rudd.”

The old man repeated it softly to himself.

The same day he sent for a lawyer, and professed his intention to
modify his will.

Hugo was alarmed.

“Can he be going to leave anything to that boy?” he asked himself.

He would have liked to have asked his uncle, but only contrived to
hint a question, to which the old man replied evasively. In reality,
he had appended a codicil to his will, bequeathing the sum of ten
thousand dollars “to the young circus rider, generally known as Robert
Rudd,” and did not like to mention it to Hugo lest the latter should
remonstrate with him, and the old man felt too weak to argue.

“There will be enough left for Hugo,” he said to himself. “Ten
thousand dollars is but a small part of my property.”

“It is very lucky,” thought Hugo, “that I made arrangements with
Fitzgerald to dispose of the boy, in case my uncle has done anything
foolish in his will. It will save litigation and trouble.”

He looked at the old man—frail, feeble, apparently on the verge of
the grave—and reflected with impatience that as he looked now he had
looked for five years past. His hold on life was tenacious.

“Good heavens! He may live for five or ten years yet!” thought Hugo.
“He looks as if a breath would blow him away; yet he encumbers the
earth year after year, holding one in a detestable slavery to his whims
and caprices. I shall be an old man myself, or almost one, before
Chestnutwood falls into my possession; but when it does”—and his
eye flashed with hopeful anticipation, and he walked with a prouder
gait—”when it does I will live!”

One day Hugo was just getting ready for a solitary walk when the
servant announced, “A gentleman to see you, sir.”

“A gentleman? What name?” asked Hugo.

“He said his name was Fitzgerald, sir.”

“Fitzgerald?” exclaimed Hugo, his voice betraying the excitement he
felt. “Tell him I will be with him at once.”

He entered the drawing-room, and Fitzgerald arose from a sofa on which
he had seated himself.

“Ah! Fitzgerald!” said Hugo, with assumed indifference.

“Yes, it is I. I have—”

“Hush! I am about to take a walk about the place. You can join me, and
whatever you have to say, you can say more freely as we walk.”

“Very well, sir; it is immaterial to me.”

Hugo took his hat, and the two sauntered along the broad walk till they
reached a point at some distance from the mansion.

“Mr. Fitzgerald, what have you got to tell me?” asked Hugo eagerly.

“The boy won’t trouble you any more,” answered Fitzgerald,
sententiously.

“You mean—the circus rider?”

“Certainly; your young cousin.”

“Hush!” said Hugo, angerly. “How dare you call him my cousin?”

“Because he was your cousin,” said the other firmly. “He stood between
you and the property, and that is why you wanted me to put him out of
the way.”

“I won’t discuss that matter just now—I will simply ask you if you
mean to assure me that the boy is dead?”

“Yes.”

“You can swear it?”

“Of course. He is at the bottom of a well in a distant Western State,
unless he has been fished out.”

“He must have been very careless to fall in, whoever he was,” said Hugo.

“Very much so!” said Fitzgerald mockingly.

“Well,” said Hugo, philosophically, “he’d probably have met with a
violent death anyway. This bareback riding is dangerous.”

“So it is; I saw him thrown from his horse in the ring at Crampton.”

“Indeed! Was he hurt?”

“Sprained his ankle—that was all. He had to retire from the ring for
the season. Then I offered him an engagement to travel with me to the
West.”

“Indeed! Very kind of you!” said Hugo, indifferently. “Well, shall we
go back to the house?”

“Go back to the house!” repeated Fitzgerald, surprised. “Why, we
haven’t transacted our business.”

“Our business! Why, what business have I with you?”

“I want pay for my work,” answered Fitzgerald sharply.

“Your work! Really, I don’t remember to have employed you,” said Hugo
with languid indifference.

“Can he mean to go back on his promise?” Fitzgerald asked himself
uncomfortably.

“You promised me $2000 down when I had done this job, and $3000 more
when you came into your inheritance,” he said quickly.

Hugo, who was a man of consummate meanness, could not bear to part with
so large a sum of money. Now that he had obtained all that he desired,
and believed that his young cousin, the only possible obstacle between
him and his uncle’s wealth, was out of the way, he thought he might
safely repudiate the bargain, and send off Fitzgerald penniless, or at
any rate with a trifle.

“You seem to be dreaming, or romancing,” he said coldly.

“Do you mean to say you did not promise me the money?” he demanded
passionately.

“I never did; of course not. I have never had any dealings with you.”

Fitzgerald clenched his hand together until the nails entered the
flesh. Had he committed a detestable crime for nothing?

“Look here, Mr. Hugo Richmond,” he said, passionately. “This won’t do!
You are not going to use me and then throw me off. Pay me this money,
or I will report you.”

“You had better reflect before you try it,” said Hugo, composedly.
“I shall accuse you of black-mail, and your charge would never be
believed.”

“Wouldn’t it? You may find yourself bitterly mistaken.”

“You must remember that in charging yourself with murder you will run
the risk of the hangman’s rope. Even if the charge could do me any harm
you would probably lose your own life.”

This was no doubt true, and Fitzgerald stared at the man who had
tempted him to a crime and now threatened him with the consequences
while he held back the reward, with stupefaction.

“You see your plan won’t work,” said Hugo, smoothly.

“I believe you are a fiend incarnate!” exclaimed Fitzgerald, feeling
baffled and defeated.

“Really, I don’t much care what you think of me.”

“Do you mean to send me away penniless?” asked Fitzgerald, hoarsely.

“No, I will take pity on your necessities and give you fifty dollars.
I don’t recognize any claims you may pretend to have on me, but I will
help you so far.”

“Give me the fifty dollars, then!” said Fitzgerald, sullenly.

Hugo drew from his wallet five ten-dollar bills, and handed them to his
companion.

“Now,” said he, “I must wish you good morning. Don’t come in my way
again!”

As Hugo walked back to the house Fitzgerald looked after him.

“This will prove a bad morning’s work for you, Mr. Hugo Richmond!” he
muttered.