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Half an hour previously Dick Hayden and his congenial friend, Bob Stubbs, reached the cabin. They had much pleasant and jocose conversation on the way touching their young captive, and how he had probably passed the night. They had personal injuries to avenge, and though Achilles was responsible for them, they proposed to wreak vengeance on the boy whom a luckless fate had thrown into their hands.
"My shoulders are sore yet," said Hayden, "over the fall that big brute gave me."
"And my head hasn't got over the crack I got when he laid me flat with his club," responded Stubbs.
"Well, we've got a friend of his, that's one comfort. I'm going to take it out of the kid's hide."
"You don't mean to—do for him?" said Stubbs, cautiously.
"I don't mean to kill him, if that's what you mean, Stubbs. I have too much regard for my neck, but I mean to give him a sound flogging. You ain't afraid, be you?"
"Catch Bob Stubbs afraid of anything, except the hangman's rope! I don't mind telling you that I have reasons to be afraid of that."
"Why? You've never been hung, have you?"
"No; but an uncle of mine was strung up in England."
"He got into trouble with a fellow workman and stabbed him."
"He was in bad luck. Why didn't he cut it, and come to America?"
"He tried it, but the bobbies caught him in the steerage of an ocean steamer, and then it was all up with him."
"Well, I hope his nephew will come to a better end. But here we are at the cabin."
There was nothing in the outward appearance of the hut to indicate that the bird was flown. Janet bolted the door after releasing the prisoner, and no one could judge that it had been opened.
"All is safe," said Bob Stubbs.
"Of course it is! Why shouldn't it be?"
"No reason; but some of his friends might have found him."
"All his friends are at Groveton. Then they had no idea what we did with him."
"They must have found out that he was gone."
"They couldn't find him, so that would do him no good."
Stubbs was about to draw the bolt, but Hayden stayed his hand.
"Wait a minute, Bob," he said; "I'll look in at the window, and see what he is doing."
Dick Hayden went around to the rear of the building, and flattened his face against the pane in the effort to see the corner where the captive had been tied. He could not see very distinctly, but what he did see startled him.
He could perceive no one.
"Could the boy have loosened the rope?" he asked himself hurriedly.
Even in that case, as the window was nailed so that it could not be opened, and the door was bolted, there seemed no way of escape. His eyes eagerly explored other portions of the cabin, but he could not catch a glimpse of Kit.
He rushed round to the front, and in an excitement which Stubbs could not understand, pulled the bolt back with a jerk.
"What's the matter, Dick?" asked Stubbs, staring.
Dick Hayden did not answer, but threw open the door.
He strode in, and peeped here and there.
"The boy's gone!" he said hoarsely, to Stubbs, who followed close behind.
"Gone!" echoed Stubbs, in blank amazement. "How did he get away?"
"That's the question," responded Dick, growling.
"Well, I'm—flabbergasted! There's witchery here!"
Dick Hayden bent over and picked up the pieces of rope which lay in the corner where the prisoner had been placed. He examined the ends, and said briefly, turning to Stubbs: "They've been cut!"
"So they have, Dick. Who in natur' could have done it? Perhaps the kid did it himself. Might have had a knife in his pocket."
"Don't be a fool, Stubbs! Supposin' he'd done it, how was he goin' to get out?"
"That's what beats me!"
"Somebody must have let him out."
"Do you think it's his circus friends?"
"No; they're all in Groveton. Somebody must have been passin' and heard the boy holler, and let him out."
"What are you goin' to do about it, Dick?"
"Goin' to sit down and take a smoke. It may give me an idea."
It will be noticed that of these two, Dick Hayden, as the bolder and stronger spirit, was the leader, and Bob Stubbs the subservient follower. Stubbs was no less brutal, when occasion served, but he was not self reliant. He wanted some one to lead the way, and he was willing to follow.
The two men sat down beside the cabin, and lit their pipes. Nothing was said for a time. Dick seemed disinclined to conversation, and Stubbs was always disposed to be silent when enjoying a smoke.
The smoke continued for twenty minutes or more.
Finally Dick withdrew the pipe from his mouth.
"Well, Dick, what do you think about it? What shall we do?" inquired his friend.
"I am going to foller the kid."
"But you don't know where he's gone," replied Stubbs.
"No; but I may strike his track. Are you with me?"
"Of course I am."
"Then listen to me. The one that let the boy out knows the neighborhood. The boy would naturally want to go to Groveton, and likely he would be directed to Stover. If the kid had any money, he would ask Stover to drive him over, or else he would foot it."
"You're right, Dick. That's what he'd do," said Stubbs, admiring his companion's penetration.
"Then we must go over to Stover's."
"All right! I'm with you."
"I'm a poor man, Bob, but I'd give a ten dollar bill to have that kid in my power once more."
"I don't doubt it, Dick."
"I hate to have it said that a kid like that got the advantage of Dick Hayden."
"So would I, Bob."
"If I get hold of him I'll give him a lesson that he won't soon forget."
"And serve him right too."
The two men rose, and took their way across the fields, following exactly the same path which our hero had traveled earlier in the morning.
They walked with brisk steps, having a definite purpose in view. Dick Hayden was intensely anxious to recapture Kit, whose escape had balked him of his vengeance, and mortified him exceedingly. As he expressed it, he could not bear to think that a boy of sixteen had got the advantage of him.
At length they reached the red house already referred to, and saw Ham Stover, the owner, in the yard.
"You are up betimes, Dick," said Stover. "What's in the wind?"
"Have you seen aught of a boy of sixteen passin' this way?" asked Dick, anxiously.
"A likely lookin' lad, well dressed?"
"He was round here an hour ago, and took breakfast in the house."
This was true; the slight refreshment Janet had brought him having proved insufficient to completely stay the cravings of Kit's appetite after his night in the cabin.
"Where is he now?"
"What do you want of him?"
"Never you mind—I'll tell you bimeby. Where is he?"
"He wanted me to harness up and take him to Groveton."
Dick Hayden and Stubbs exchanged glances. It was evident that they had struck Kit's trail.
"Well, did you do it?"
"No; I couldn't spare the time. Besides I wanted the horse to go to the village. I'm going to harness up now."
"What did the boy do?"
"How long since did he start?"
"About half an hour or thereabouts."
Dick Hayden made a rapid calculation.
"We may overtake him if we walk fast," he said.
Without stopping to enlighten the curiosity of Mr. Stover the two men set out rapidly on the Groveton road.
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