ROBERT FINDS HIMSELF IN A TIGHT PLACE

The action of Fitzgerald was so rapid and unexpected that Robert was
unable to protect himself in any way. He fell, but mechanically,
as he had seen trapeze performers do in the circus when falling,
he held himself erect, with his hands at his sides, and dropped in
that position into three feet of water at the bottom of the well.
Fortunately for him the depth of the well was not great, about fifteen
feet, and he sustained no injury to his limbs, the water, moreover,
breaking the force of the descent.

Still, when unexpectedly he found himself at the bottom of the well,
his situation was by no means pleasant.

“What could have induced Mr. Fitzgerald to push me in?” he asked
himself in a bewildered way. “What possible object could he have in
doing it?”

That his employer did push him he couldn’t doubt, for he felt the
push, which was a forcible one. Yet it seemed so causeless, so utterly
without an object, that he was tempted to doubt the testimony of his
senses. To the reader, of course, it is perfectly clear, but we have
sources of information that Robert had not.

He was not a boy to give up, though it certainly looked hopeless
to attempt to get out. Had the well been at the East it would have
been walled in on all sides by rocks, but stones of any size are not
numerous in many parts of the West, and this had originally been
boarded, but some of the boards had disappeared.

“It isn’t very deep,” thought Robert, “but how in the world am I to get
out?”

He made several attempts, but they were all futile. Things began to
look serious, for the house was deserted, and probably very few persons
came that way.

While in a state of painful anxiety he heard, faintly, a boy whistle.
The sound became more distinct as if the boy were approaching, and hope
was kindled in our hero’s breast.

“If I could only attract his attention,” he thought.

He shouted as loud as he could, but the sound was partially lost before
it reached the surface of the well. Still it attracted the attention of
Fred Lathrop, the boy who was whistling, who stopped to listen.

“Where did that sound come from?” he thought.

It was repeated, and this time he could distinguish the word “Help!”

“By gracious, it comes from the well!” he said to himself. “Who can be
down there?”

He drew near and looked down. It was darker near the bottom, but he
could descry Robert, who was looking up.

“Who’s there?” asked Fred.

“It’s I—a boy. Help me up!”

“How did you get down there?”

“Help me out and I’ll tell you.”

“I don’t see how I am to do it,” said Fred, after a pause.

“Isn’t there a rope round about there somewhere?”

“The old well-rope used to be coiled up in a corner of the house; I
don’t know whether it’s there now.”

“Look—will you?”

Fred needed no second request. He went to the house and was fortunate
enough to find the rope. He brought it with him to the edge of the well.

“I’ve got it!” he exclaimed.

“Throw one end to me.”

This was done.

“Now, do you think you can pull hard enough to draw me out? I will help
myself with my feet.”

“I am afraid I’m not strong enough.”

“Suppose you try,” said Robert, who didn’t like to give up the hope of
an immediate escape.

“Stop, there’s my brother-in-law coming across the fields,” said Fred,
eagerly. “He will help me.”

“Mr. Davis!” he cried, “come here and help me.”

“What are you up to, Fred?” inquired the young man addressed. “Are you
fishing in the well?”

“Yes; I am fishing—for a boy,” responded Fred.

“Are you gone crazy?”

“No; come here and look for yourself.”

Davis did so, and was sensible enough to understand, though very much
surprised, that it would be best to postpone his inquiries till the boy
was rescued.

“Give me hold of the rope!” he said. “Now, you boy down there, can you
give a good, firm grip?”

“Try me and see.”

“If you let it slip through your fingers you will fall back and hurt
yourself.”

“I won’t let it slip. Keep firm hold yourself.”

It was not altogether an easy task, and Robert was rubbed unpleasantly
against the sides of the well; but at length victory crowned the
efforts of the three, and our hero, his clothes looking none the better
for his immersion in the water, and his contact with the sides of the
well gave him a decided tramp-like appearance.

“Well, here you are!” said Mr. Davis. “How did you get into the well?
Did you fall in?”

“I was pushed in,” answered Robert.

“Pushed in!” repeated Fred and his brother-in-law in concert.

“Yes.”

“Who pushed you in?”

“My employer—the man I was travelling with.”

“What made him do it?”

“That is more than I can tell.”

“Was he angry with you?”

“There had been no quarrel nor disagreement, and I supposed we were
excellent friends.”

“I wouldn’t fancy such a friend,” said Fred, dryly.

“The man must have had some motive,” said Mr. Davis, who was a young
lawyer.

“I can’t think of any. I think he may have been insane,” said Robert,
to whom this had occurred as a possible solution of the problem.

“How long had you been with him?”

“Only about a week. He proposed to me to take a walk this morning, and
brought me here.”

“Your clothes look the worse for the fall,” said Fred.

“Yes, I look like a tramp,” answered Robert, glancing down at his wet
and muddy clothes with disgust. “I’ve got another suit at the hotel,
unless Mr. Fitzgerald has carried off my valise. I don’t much like
going back there in this trim.”

“You needn’t,” said Fred. “Come home with me. You are about my size;
I will lend you one of my suits, while yours is being cleansed and
dried.”

“Thank you!” said Robert, relieved; “you are very kind. And what will
your mother say when she sees you bringing such a looking tramp home
with you?”

“Don’t trouble yourself about that,” said Fred. “Mother will understand
it. She’ll see that even if you do look like a tramp you’re not a
professional.”

“That’s just what I am,” responded Robert, smiling. “I am a
professional—circus rider.”

“You don’t say so!” exclaimed Fred, with something of interest. “Are
you a bareback rider?”

“Yes.”

“We’ve got a horse in the barn. Won’t you try riding on him?”

“Oh, the horse has to be trained as well as the rider: I can’t perform
on a horse that has never been in the ring.”

“Then how did you happen to be with this man that served you such a
trick?”

Robert explained.

Quarter of an hour’s walk brought them to a substantial farm-house
occupied by Fred’s family. He introduced Robert to his mother—a
pleasant-faced lady, who received our hero cordially, especially after
she had been informed of the manner in which he had been treated by his
employer.

Fred took Robert up to his own bedroom, where he placed one of his own
suits at his disposal. The soiled suit was taken down-stairs, where it
was first dried by the fire and afterwards brushed clean till it once
more assumed the respectable look which rightfully belonged to it.

Meanwhile Fred went round to the hotel to ascertain whether Fitzgerald
had made his appearance.

He ascertained that he had returned and reported that the boy had gone
on to the next town, where he was to join him. He paid the bill of
both, took both valises and drove to the nearest railway station.

“He’s taken French leave!” said Fred. “He evidently never expects to
see you again.”

“He may be disappointed in that,” said Robert, quietly; “I may appear
to him when he least expects it. I intend to find out if I can what was
his object in throwing me into the well.”

“That’s where I’m with you!” said Fred. “I wouldn’t let him go
unpunished for such an outrage.”

When Robert came to reflect upon his situation, however, he felt
embarrassed. His bills, of course, had been paid by Fitzgerald, and he
had not yet received any wages. The consequence was, that while he was
nearly two thousand miles distant from his starting-point, he had but
a dollar and a half in his pocket. He might, to be sure, write to Dr.
Grey for a portion of his savings, but it would take some time for the
remittance to arrive.

Robert somehow had an objection to sending to Dr. Grey for money,
though the money was his own. It seemed like a confession of failure,
and he did not care to write what sort of an accident had befallen him,
since it would involve long explanations. Therefore, though he had but
a dollar and a half left, he decided to set out on his way home; that
is, towards the East, trusting to luck to get along. Though this was,
perhaps rash, it was not so rash in Robert’s case as it would have
been in the case of an average boy, for he had been accustomed to earn
his own living and possessed some talents and accomplishments which he
could turn to account.

He took leave of his good friends, the Lathrops, without betraying
to them his condition, or they would have insisted upon giving him
substantial aid. As it was, Mrs. Lathrop insisted upon preparing, with
her own hands, a substantial lunch, which in due time Robert found very
acceptable.

He set out on his journey on foot. His small capital would not allow
him to travel in any other way. His clothes had been dried and pressed,
and he presented a neat appearance, so that he was not likely to be
taken for a tramp, though in his earlier days he had travelled in that
character.

He walked in a leisurely way during the forenoon, and about noon sat
down under a tree and ate his lunch. It was a plentiful one, but
Robert, whose appetite had been sharpened by his walk, did full justice
to it. In fact he ate it all.

“There’s no particular hurry,” he thought; “I may as well lie here for
awhile and rest during the heat of the day.”

It was not quite 2 o’clock when he was roused from a revery by hearing
carriage wheels. He looked up and saw a lady in a four-wheel carriage,
drawn by a horse who was inclined to be fractious. The lady driver was
evidently anxious, for she pulled the reins frantically, and called
out, “Whoa! you sir! Why don’t you behave? Oh dear, what shall I do?”

The horse shook his head, pranced, backed, and was evidently prepared
to make trouble, much to the discomfort and alarm of the lady.

“Oh, dear! I wish I hadn’t come alone!” she exclaimed. “I didn’t think
Prince would behave so. It’s lucky if I don’t get my neck broken!”

The horse was quite aware that he was master of the situation, and
that his driver had lost her presence of mind, and, with a perversity
which we sometimes see in horses, made up his mind to act as badly as
possible.

So occupied was the lady that she did not see the boy, who sat under
a tree by the roadside, nor suspected that in him she was to find a
deliverer.

If there was any one accustomed to horses, and utterly without fear
of them, it was Robert, as may be supposed from the nature of his
training. He sprang to his feet when he perceived the situation, and,
running forward, took off his hat, and asked politely, “Can I be of any
service to you, madam?”

“Can you drive horses?” asked the lady, doubtfully.

Robert smiled.

“I’m used to them,” he answered.

“Then won’t you get in and drive for me? Prince is acting very badly
to-day.”

Robert did not wait for the carriage to stop, but with his usual
activity clambered in, and was at the lady’s side in an instant.

“Now,” he said, “let me take the reins.”

“If you are sure that you can drive,” said Miss Stafford, doubtfully.

“You shall see for yourself,” answered Robert, confidently.

He held the reins with a firm hand. The horse, though immediately
sensible that there was a new hand at the helm, if I may speak
figuratively, wasn’t quite ready to yield.

Seeing that he was still fractious, Robert took the whip and brought it
down smartly on the horse’s flanks.

“Oh, what are you doing?” asked the lady in alarm. “Prince will run
away with us!”

“Let him try it,” said Robert, his eyes flashing. “If I can’t subdue
him, I’ll sell out to some one that can!”

This was a boy’s expression, but his confident manner served to
reassure Miss Stafford, though Prince did really undertake to run. The
road, however, was good, there were no carriages to encounter, and
Robert gave him his head, holding the reins, however, in a strong, firm
grasp.

“I never rode so fast in my life!” said Miss Stafford nervously, as
they flew over the road. “Don’t let us tip over.”

“No, ma’am, I won’t.”

After a while Prince slackened his speed. It was rather a warm day,
and he found that it was not quite so good fun running as he found it
when he felt that his driver was frightened—now the least sign of
fractiousness was instantly followed by a smart stroke of the whip.

“I believe you do understand horses,” said Miss Stafford at length.

“It’s my business to understand them,” answered Robert.

“You ain’t a—jockey, are you?” asked the lady.

“No; I have been a circus-rider.”

“You don’t say so!” ejaculated the lady. “You can’t jump through hoops
and all them things, can you?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You are not with a circus now, are you?”

Robert explained that he had left circus life for a time, but had been
thrown out of employment unexpectedly.

“I am going to a birthday party of a little niece of mine,” said Miss
Stafford. “She is twelve years old to-day. There will be twenty or
thirty boys and girls there. I wish you could do something to amuse
them. It would make us all the more welcome.”

“I am a little of a magician,” said Robert. “If you think they would
like to see some tricks—”

“The very thing!” exclaimed Miss Stafford, enthusiastically. “They are
all fond of tricks. Where did you learn?”

When Miss Stafford was informed that Robert had learned of a real
magician, that is of a professor of magic, she was very much pleased.

“I will engage you, then,” she said, “for the afternoon and evening.
When I say engage you, I mean I will pay you for your trouble.”

“Oh, I won’t charge anything,” said Robert.

“But you must!” said the lady positively. “Louisa Stafford never allows
any one to work for nothing. Besides you have perhaps prevented Prince
here from breaking my neck. I certainly won’t be mean enough to make
you work for nothing. I warrant you are not over-provided with money.”

“Well, no,” answered Robert, smiling. “I can’t say I am. I have only
a dollar and a half here, though I have some money in the hands of a
friend at the East.”

“And how far are you expecting to travel?”

“To New York.”

“To New York—almost two thousand miles—on a dollar and a half!
Goodness gracious, what a wild idea!”

“Oh, I expect to find something to do on the way, and if I don’t I
shall meet with good friends.”

“A dollar and a half! I never heard of such a thing!” reiterated Miss
Stafford.

Miss Louisa Stafford was a rich and kind-hearted maiden lady, who,
unlike many of her class, was very fond of young people and a great
favorite with them. No gathering of her nephews or nieces was
considered complete without the presence of Aunt Louisa, who was sure
in every way to promote the happiness of the young company. She was
delighted to secure in Robert one who could so materially help her,
and inwardly resolved to reward him well for his services.

They drove up to a large house with a broad lawn, shaded by fine trees,
under which were assembled a merry crowd of young people. When Miss
Stafford’s carriage was espied there was a rush to greet her.

“How are you all, children?” she said, heartily. “Oh; I see you are
looking at this young gentleman with me. Well, he has saved my life.”

“Saved your life!” exclaimed the children in chorus.

“Yes, Prince undertook to run away with and upset me, but Master
Robert, here (she had inquired his name), subdued him, and here I am. I
have taken the liberty to invite Professor Rudd to join our party.”

“Professor Rudd!” repeated the children, bewildered.

“Yes; this young gentleman is a professor of magic, and he will perform
some tricks this evening. This afternoon I expect you to be polite to
him, and invite him to join your games.”

This all were very ready to do, for Robert was good-looking and
gentlemanly in appearance, and soon made himself a general favorite.

Supper was served between five and six o’clock, and early in the
evening Robert appeared as a magician. He had quite a variety of
tricks and illustrations, and this part of the programme gave great
satisfaction.

The next morning (for Miss Stafford and Robert also passed the night in
the hospitable mansion) when our young hero was ready to start out on
his journey, Miss Stafford, put in his hand a sealed envelope.

“Don’t open this,” she said, “till you have gone at least a mile.”

Robert felt curious to learn what was in the letter, but faithfully
carried out the wishes of Miss Stafford, and did not open it till he
was more than a mile away.

On opening it, to his surprise he found inclosed two $10 bills, with
the following words written in pencil:

“MY YOUNG FRIEND ROBERT: I desire you to accept the inclosed and
hope you will find it of use. You needn’t hesitate, for it comes
from a crusty old maid who has more than her share of this world’s
goods, and likes to do a little good as she goes along in life,
instead of saving up thousands for heirs who might squander it.
Accept my good wishes and thanks beside for the service you have
done me in taming a perverse brute, and when you are again in this
vicinity be sure to call on your friend,

“LOUISA STAFFORD.”

“The old lady’s a trump!” exclaimed Robert warmly. “There isn’t one in
a thousand that would be so generous. This is a regular windfall to me
as I am situated now. Now I shan’t be obliged to send to Dr. Grey for
part of my savings.”

Robert continued on his way with a light heart, for it is wonderfully
cheering to think that one has money enough to pay for rest and food at
the close of the day. Our young hero decided that he would not walk all
the way to the East, but would on the day following take the cars at
any convenient station.

Pursuing his journey, he came to a portion of the road which ran
through the primeval forests, he felt it to be rather a relief, for the
morning was well advanced, and the sun began to make him uncomfortably
warm. He soon had occasion to learn that to be warm is not the most
undesirable thing that can happen to a traveller.

Half a mile from the entrance of the wood he saw sitting on the fallen
trunk of a tree a rough-looking fellow, whose face looked even more
repulsive than usual from a short black beard which appeared to be of
a week’s growth. He looked like what he was—a tramp, who was so from
choice, even more than from necessity.

“What an ill-looking fellow!” thought Robert.

The man looked up, and scanned the boy curiously.

“Hallo, young chap!” he said.

“Hallo!” returned Robert.

“Have you got any tobacco about you?” inquired the tramp.

“No, I never use it.”

“Then have you a cigar? That will do just as well.”

“No; I don’t smoke at all.”

“Oh, you are an innocent baby!” said the man, with a sneer of
disappointment.

Robert did not think it necessary to reply, but was moving on, being
anxious to get away from so undesirable a companion as soon as possible.

“Stop a minute, boy—don’t be in such a hurry,” said the man.

“If you have anything to say to me I will listen,” said Robert, coldly.

“You will, will you? You’re mighty accommodatin’! Where are you goin’?”

“Straight ahead!”

[Illustration: ROBERT AND THE TRAMP.]

“Any fool would know that. That isn’t an answer.”

“Why do you wish to know?” retorted Robert.

“That’s my business!” said the tramp, his repulsive features assuming
an ugly expression. “You’d better answer my question.”

Robert thought on the whole it would be prudent to avoid trouble by
keeping on as good terms as possible with the man.

“I can’t tell you,” he said, “for I don’t know myself. I expect to keep
on till I get to New York.”

“That’s where I’m goin’! Suppose we keep company,” said the man with a
grin.

“We can keep company for the present, if you wish,” answered Robert,
trying to repress his disgust.

“Look here, young fellow! Have you got any money?” asked the tramp with
a sidelong glance.

Robert was not surprised at this inquiry, for he had expected it, but
in spite of his courage it alarmed him, for he could see that he was no
match in physical strength for this ill-looking man.

“A little!” he answered.

“How much?”

“That’s my business,” answered Robert, provoked. “I don’t ask how much
money you’ve got.”

“I haven’t a cent,” said the tramp, “but,” he added, significantly,
“I’m going to have some soon.”

The look which accompanied this declaration made it evident what he
meant, and Robert looked about to see what chance he had of escape
if the worst came to the worst. As to surrendering the $20 for which
he had been indebted to the generosity of Miss Stratton, he had no
intention of doing it, unless it should be absolutely necessary.

“I have nothing to do with your affairs,” said Robert. “If you’ll let
me know which way you are going, I’ll go the other way.”

“Will you so? No, boy, you don’t get rid of me so easily. We’re goin’
the same way. If you want to leave you can, but you must hand over your
money first.”

“Are you a thief, then?” demanded Robert, quickly.

“No; and you’d better not call me so. I’m only goin’ to borrer your
money; I’ll give you my note for it,” returned the tramp with a cunning
grin.

“I decline to lend,” said Robert stoutly.

“Look here, my young chicken!” said the man in a menacing tone. Ain’t
you crowin’ rather too loud for a bantem? Do you know who I am?”

“No, but I can guess.”

“Guess, then?”

“You’re a man whose company I do not like.”

The tramp laughed. Instead of offending, the reply appeared to amuse
him.

“That’s true enough, I reckon. Well, I’m a man that don’t stand no
nonsense. I want your money.”

He advanced towards Robert in a menacing manner, and our hero, who had
been looking about him, jumped aside nimbly, and seizing the branch of
a tree swung himself up into the branches, before his companion clearly
understood his intention.

“Oh, that’s your game, is it?” he said, angrily. “It won’t do!”

He darted forward, but Robert bad been too quick for him, and was
already out of reach. He was light and agile by nature, and his
training in the ring had helped to make him more so.

“So you think you’ve escaped me, do you?” he demanded with an oath.

Robert did not answer, but looked calmly down upon him from the tree.

“Come down at once!”

“Thank you; I’d rather stay here,” said our hero calmly.

Without a word the tramp made an effort to follow Robert up the tree.