“I hope you don’t suspect my honor or integrity,” said Riccabocca, appearing to be wounded at the thought.
“Never mind about that,” said Mr. Gates shortly. “Actions speak louder than words.”
“I am quite ready to settle—quite,” said the professor. “The money is in my room. I will go up and get it.”
There seemed to be no objection to this, and our two friends saw him ascend the staircase to the second story. Philip felt pleased to think that he had succeeded in his quest, for his share of the concert money would be nearly seventy dollars. That, with the balance of the money; received from Farmer Lovett, would make over a hundred dollars.
They waited five minutes, and the professor did not come down.
“What can keep him?” said Philip.
Just then one of the hostlers entered and caught what our hero had said.
“A man has just run out of the back door,” he said, “and is cutting across the fields at a great rate.”
“He must have gone down the back stairs,” said the clerk.
“In what direction would he go?” asked Philip hastily.
“To the railroad station. There is a train leaves in fifteen minutes.”
“What shall we do, Mr. Gates?” asked Philip, in dismay.
“Jump into my buggy. We’ll get to the depot before the train starts. We must intercept the rascal.”
The Race across fields.
It so happened that Professor Riccabocca had once before visited Knoxville, and remembered the location of the railroad station. Moreover, at the hotel, before the arrival of Philip, he had consulted a schedule of trains posted up in the office, and knew that one would leave precisely at ten o’clock.
The impulse to leave town by this train was sudden. He had in his pocket the wallet containing the hundred and fifty dollars, of which a large part belonged to Philip, and could have settled at once, without the trouble of going upstairs to his room.
He only asked leave to go up there in order to gain time for thought. At the head of the staircase he saw another narrower flight of stairs descending to the back of the house. That gave him the idea of eluding his two creditors by flight.
I have said before that Professor Riccabocca was not a wise man, or he would have reflected that he was only postponing the inevitable reckoning. Moreover, it would destroy the last chance of making an arrangement with Philip to continue the combination, which thus far had proved so profitable.
The professor did not take this into consideration, but dashed down the back stairs, and opened the back door into the yard.
“Do you want anything, sir?” asked a maidservant, eyeing the professor suspiciously.
“Nothing at all, my good girl,” returned the professor.