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A cry of horror went up from those who saw the mishap, and some women present turned their heads away, expecting that the semi-intoxicated individual would be killed.
Nat's heart leaped into his throat, but he did not lose his presence of mind. He was but a few feet from the man, and as quick as a flash he jumped forward, caught the fellow up, and dragged him out of harm's way.
"Wha—what yer doin'?" stammered the fellow, gazing unsteadily at our hero.
"Do you want to be killed?" asked Nat, sharply.
"They won't—won't dare to kill me," said the fellow. "I'm a—a—good citizen."
"He ought to be locked up," said a man standing near.
"It was a brave deed," said one of the ladies.
"Who's goin' to lock me up?" demanded the tramp, for he was nothing less. And he began to show fight, at which the majority of the crowd turned away, and hurried to board the train. Nat hesitated for a second, and then concluded to let the train go on and take the next one.
"Say, you pulled me from the track, didn't you?" said the man, after another look at Nat.
"Noble boy. I ought to reward you."
"I don't want any reward."
"Humph! Don't worry, my dear friend—Tom Nolan ain't got no money to reward you with." And the semi-drunken man indulged in a senseless chuckle.
"See here, haven't I met you before?" demanded Nat, looking at the man more closely than ever.
"Maybe yer have, an' maybe yer haven't."
"Where do you come from?"
"Me? I'm an Ohio man, I am, and I ain't ashamed to own it. Ohio's best State in the Union."
"So you are from Ohio. Were you ever in and around Brookville and Caswell?" went on our hero, suddenly.
"Sure. I spent two months in that district not very long ago. But I had to git out, I did." And the tramp chuckled again.
"What made you get out?" And now Nat was all attention.
"Folks didn't like me around."
"Didn't you treat them fairly?"
"Sure I did, but they thought their barns was too good for Tom Nolan to sleep in."
"And that's why they chased you away, eh?"
"Thet's it, my young friend. It was this way—to tell the plain truth. One night I went to sleep in a barn with my pipe in my mouth. Fust thing I knowed some hay got afire. A man came runnin' to put the fire out, and I had to leg it to git away."
"Was that up between Caswell and Brookville?"
"You've struck it, but—but—what's this to you, anyway?" and now Tom Nolan began to look disturbed.
"It's a good deal to me. That was my uncle's barn, and I was accused of setting it on fire."
"Gee shoo! Yer don't say! Say, I've put my foot into it, ain't I?"
"You certainly have."
"But, say, honest, I—I didn't mean to set the shebang afire—not on my life, I didn't."
"You were smoking, and fell asleep."
"Thet's the honest truth o' the matter, my young friend. I'm a tramp, an' down on my luck, but I ain't no barn burner, not me!"
"Well, you had better come with me," said Nat, decidedly.
"What are yer goin' to do?"
"I want a witness to what you just said."
"Goin' to have me—me locked up?"
"No, it's not worth it. I only want to prove to my uncle that I am not guilty, that's all."
The tramp followed Nat down into the street and then over to John Garwell's office.
"Why, what does this mean, Nat?" demanded his employer, in astonishment, for visits from tramps were unusual.
Our hero lost no time in telling his story.
"I want my uncle Abner to know that I am innocent, that's all," he continued. "It won't do any good to hold this chap, for the barn wasn't hurt much, anyway."
"I'll settle this," said Mr. Garwell, and called in a stenographer, who took down what the tramp had to say. Then the confession was typewritten, and Tom Nolan signed it, and John Garwell added his signature as a witness.
"There, Nat, that is all right now," said the real estate broker. "You can send that to your uncle when you please, and we can keep a copy."
"This is all I want," said our hero to the tramp. "You may go now."
"Don't want no more o' me?" asked Tom Nolan.
"Say, ain't this confession good fer a quarter?"
"I'll give you a quarter if you'll promise not to spend it for drink."
"I'll promise," said the tramp, and Nat handed him twenty-five cents. Tom Nolan thanked him, and shuffled off; and that was the last our hero saw or heard of him.
"I'm sorry I lost so much time," said Nat to his employer. "But I wanted to square myself with Uncle Abner if I could."
"I don't blame you, Nat. I have no doubt it is a great worry off your mind."
"It is. Now, Uncle Abner will know I told him the plain truth."
That night Nat wrote Abner Balberry a long letter, telling of his meeting with the tramp. He enclosed the signed confession, and he had the letter registered, so that it might not get lost in the mails. A few days later came a reply, in which Nat's uncle said he remembered seeing the tramp around on the day of the fire, and stating that he was very sorry that he had ever thought his nephew guilty.
Nat's work frequently took him out of town, and on one occasion he had to go to Albany, a trip which he enjoyed thoroughly, as it gave him a chance to visit the State Capitol.
"Nat," said John Garwell one day, "didn't you once tell me, that your father and grandfather had come from New York and Brooklyn?"
"Was your grandfather ever interested in some property around Central Park?"
"I don't know but what he was. But he got rid of his belongings, so I was told, when he moved away."
"Did you ever see any of the papers?"
"Yes, sir, some years ago. They were in a trunk up in my uncle Abner's garret."
"What was your grandfather's full name?"
"Chester Stout Nason. His mother was a Stout."
"And your father's full name?"
"William Henry Nason."
"Did he have any brothers?"
"No, sir—only a sister, who was Uncle Abner's first wife."
"I see. Are those papers still in the trunk you just mentioned?"
"They ought to be. They were packed away with some old account books—bad debts, I once heard father call them. Father had an idea he could collect some of the debts some day. But I guess they are outlawed."
"More than likely. I'd like to see those papers regarding that land near Central Park."
"Why, Mr. Garwell? Do you think there is anything in it for me?" cried our hero, quickly.
"I'm not prepared to say that until I see the papers. I am looking up six parcels of land, which a certain company want for the purpose of putting up a big hotel. Some of the old deeds mention a Chester S. Nason as holding a half-interest in one of the plots of ground—the interest being assigned to him in payment of a claim he had on one Maurice LeRoy. Did you ever hear of such a man?"
"Well, supposing you get those papers for me, and let me examine them."
"Shall I send to Uncle Abner for them?"
"I think it might be better for you to go home and sort out the papers yourself. I'll explain just what I am after. Besides, if the papers are valuable, you had better not trust them to the mails. I'll pay your railroad fares."
"All right, I'll go home for them whenever you say, Mr. Garwell. I hope the papers do prove valuable," and Nat smiled broadly.
"Don't raise false hopes, Nat. There may be nothing in it. But there is nothing like being sure."
"Is the tract of land valuable?"
"Very. It is located in the most fashionable territory around Central Park."
"When do you want me to go home?"
"You can start to-morrow if you wish. There is no rush of business on just at present. I presume you will be back within four or five days?"
"I'll come back as soon as possible."
"Take your time. A couple of days on the farm will do you good. It will be like a touch of old times."
"That is true," answered Nat.
The opportunity to go back to the farm pleased him. He packed his dress-suit case that night, and left on the ten-o'clock train in the morning. He was dressed in his best and had quite a city air about him. Certainly he could no longer be called a "greeny."
Nat spent the night at Cleveland, and took the train to Brookville in the morning. Almost the first person he met in the town was Sam Price.
"Hullo, are you back?" cried the country boy, shaking hands.
"Back for a few days, Sam."
"You look fine, Nat."
"I feel fine. How are you getting along?"
"Pretty good. Life on the farm is rather slow. Somebody told me you were tired of the city."
"It isn't true, Sam."
"Fred Guff says he wants to go to the city, too, but his mother won't let him."
"I suppose Fred helps my uncle Abner?"
"Yes, but your uncle don't get along with him very well. Fred's too slow for him."
Sam had driven to town with his buckboard, and he readily agreed to give Nat a ride over to Abner Balberry's farm. They were soon on the way, and less than an hour brought them in sight of the place.
"Some young man is coming, ma!" cried Fred, who was sitting on the doorstep, munching an apple. "Sam Price is driving him."
"Wonder what he wants here?" said Mrs. Balberry, shading her eyes with her hands. "Mercy sakes! It's Nat!"
"Nat!" repeated the boy. "Huh! if it's him I guess he's sick of the city. I thought he wouldn't make a go of it."
"Don't you be too sure of that," said the mother, shortly. "Nat has more ginger in him than you have."
By this time Nat was at the horseblock. He leaped off the buckboard, and advanced to greet Mrs. Balberry and her son.
"How do you do?" he cried, cheerily. "Aren't you surprised to see me?"
"I certainly am," answered Mrs. Balberry, as she shook hands.
"Got tired of the city, eh?" came from Fred. "I knew it wouldn't last."
"Do you think you could do anything in the city?" demanded our hero, sharply.
"Of course I could."
"It's hard work to get along in New York."
"I don't care—I wouldn't make a failure of it if I went. I guess you wasn't smart enough for them New Yorkers," added Fred, maliciously.
"What makes you think that, Fred?"
"If it wasn't so you wouldn't be back."
"Have you given up your place with Mr. Garwell?" asked Mrs. Balberry.
"No, I'm home on a vacation of a couple of days, that's all."
"Oh, then you are going back?" came from Fred, and his face fell.
"Certainly I am. I have a first-class position, with a promise of advancement, so it would be sheer foolishness for me to give it up."
"Ma said you were with a real estate man."
"That can't pay much."
"It pays very well."
"Ten dollars a week, at present. But I am to get more soon."
"You don't mean to say they pay you ten dollars a week," cried Fred.
"That is my regular salary."
"Then I'm going to the city to-morrow," said Fred, decidedly.
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