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Ralph Temple was still at his cottage, or, more properly, hut, waiting impatiently for Vernon to reappear, that he might obtain his share of the contents of the tin box.
He had led a lawless life, and more than once been engaged in dishonest transactions, but never in one of such magnitude as the present. He calculated that, even if they surrendered the box in consideration of a reward, he would not receive less than a thousand dollars, and he was planning how he would dispose of this sum.
This was the project which he fixed upon: For years he had been desirous of visiting California, in the hope that chances of getting rich, honestly or dishonestly, might be met with in a State whose very name was suggestive of gold. With a thousand dollars he would feel justified in going. Moreover, there would be an advantage in leaving a part of the country where he was an object of suspicion to the authorities, and was liable at any time to be arrested for complicity in more than one questionable transaction.
In his lonely hut he knew nothing of the developments in the last robbery—whether any reward had been offered as yet. This was necessarily left in the hands of Vernon, while he remained to guard the hidden treasure.
A state of suspense is all the harder to bear when a man has nothing else to divert his thoughts, and this was the case with Temple.
"What if the box should be discovered?" was the thought that haunted him.
Finally, though he had once before visited the hiding-place of the tin box, he decided to go again, and started at such a time that he arrived about an hour after Harry and the detectives had unearthed and removed it.
Meanwhile, it becomes necessary to state that Philip Ross, whose curiosity was excited by the continued absence of Harry, made up his mind once more to visit the wood to see if he could discover any traces of his victim.
"He's hiding in the wood so as to make an excitement," thought Philip.
"He'll make a great fuss about what we did to him."
In fact, Philip was getting a little anxious about the results of his high-handed treatment of Harry. He was not sure but Harry might have him arrested, and this excited his fears. He admitted to himself, reluctantly, that tying a boy hand and foot, and leaving him all night in the forest, was rather more than a joke.
He called at the hotel for Congreve, but was told that he had gone to ride.
After a little hesitation, he decided to go to the wood alone, carrying with him, by way of precaution, a stout cane which belonged to his father, to defend himself with in case Harry should be lying in wait and make an attack upon him.
On his way he had occasion to pass by the locality of the hidden treasure, though, of course, he knew nothing about this.
Just at the spot he heard a tramping in the fallen leaves, and, looking up hastily, saw Ralph Temple approaching.
Now, Temple, as we know, was a man of questionable reputation, and, moreover, once already he and Congreve had had an angry altercation with him. It is not much wonder, therefore, that Philip's heart beat with fear at the prospect of meeting this man alone, so far from help.
He could not get away without attracting attention, and, therefore, as the best thing under the circumstances, hid himself behind the broad trunk of a stately oak tree, and in fear and trembling waited for the unwelcome intruder to depart.
Ralph came along, with a quick, swinging gait. He was a tall man, of strong frame, and an unprepossessing countenance appropriate enough to his character and reputation.
His first glance was directed toward the spot where he had helped bury the box upon which his future plans depended.
There was something that startled him in the evident displacement of the leaves, as if there had been others there since the morning.
"Can it have been taken?" he asked himself, with a thrill of anxiety.
He strode forward hurriedly, and, removing the leaves, discovered signs of recent disturbance. Most suspicious of all, he found one of the stakes, the end soiled with dirt, which had been used by the detectives.
With a beating heart and a muttered imprecation, he began to dig down to ascertain whether his apprehensions were justified.
Philip, peering from behind the tree, was very much alarmed by this incomprehensible proceeding.
What could the man be doing? Was he insane? He blamed his folly in seeking again this dangerous neighborhood after the encounter of the morning.
"Oh, if I were only safe at home," he mentally ejaculated; "or, if
Congreve were with me. If he discovers me he may kill me."
He thought of running away, but in the silence of the forest his steps would undoubtedly be heard, and he would be pursued. So it seemed most prudent to stay where he was. In fear and trembling he continued to watch the dreadful outlaw.
It was not long before Temple made the unwelcome discovery, suspected from the first, that the box was gone. He desisted from his work and gave vent to such a volley of imprecations that Philip trembled as if he had an ague fit.
Could it be, Temple asked himself, that Vernon had proved false to him, and, returning, conveyed away the box for his own individual profit?
"If he has, I'll kill him," he muttered, in a deep, growling tone.
Philip heard him, and his heart beat fast with fear. Who did Temple want to kill? Was it himself or Congreve?
"I'd give a thousand dollars, if I had it, to be at home," thought the miserable boy.
As for Temple, he was no less miserable. All his hopes and anticipations were dashed. The disappearance of the tin box, whoever might have removed it, would render it impossible to carry out plans of Californian emigration with which he had been solacing himself all the morning. Such a big haul as the present might never be made again.
His first suspicion fell upon his partner, but he also thought of the two whom he had met in the forenoon in the wood. They had been suspiciously near the spot, and might be implicated in the loss. It didn't seem probable, but it was possible.
At this inauspicious moment Philip, yielding to a tickling in the throat which he couldn't overcome, coughed. It was not a loud cough, but Temple heard it.
He instantly started for the quarter from which the sound proceeded, and in a few seconds discovered and dragged Philip by the collar from behind the tree.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded, sternly.
"Nothing," answered Philip, trembling.
"Ha! You are one of the boys that I caught prowling round here this morning."
"I have as much right here as you," said Philip, plucking up a little courage.
"Have you? We'll see about that," snarled Temple. "Where's the other fellow?"
"He isn't here."
"Isn't here? I don't believe it. He's hiding somewhere near."
"Then you can find him," said Philip, sullenly.
"No matter! I've got you, you rascal!" And he shook Philip fiercely.
"What villainous work have you been up to?"
"I don't know what you mean," said Philip, his teeth chattering. "I am the son of Colonel Ross, and he won't allow me to be treated this way."
"I'd treat him the same way if I caught him here," growled Temple, with a lack of reverence for the colonel's exalted position, which struck Philip with horror. "Now, tell me what you have done with the tin box, you young scoundrel!"
"The tin box!" ejaculated Philip, in genuine amazement.
"Yes, the tin box. You know well enough what I mean."
"I don't know anything of any tin box; indeed, I don't."
"Do you mean to say you didn't dig it up from the place where we put it?"
"No; indeed I didn't! I don't know anything about it. What was in it?"
Was this ignorance real or affected? Temple could not tell. What was certain was that the box was gone, and this boy was hovering about the spot. It would be folly to let him go.
"I don't believe you," he said, bluntly. "You must come with me."
And he began to drag Philip off in the direction of his hut.
"Oh, where are you taking me?" asked the frightened boy.
"You'll know soon enough. I'm going to keep you till the tin box is restored to me."
Poor Philip! As he was jerked along by his collar, in the stern grasp of the outlaw, he suffered a good deal more than Harry had in his recent captivity.
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