He got down on his knees before the trunk, and had inserted the key in the lock, or rather had made an ineffectual attempt to do so, when suddenly the candle was extinguished, and a horrible blast on the fish horn resounded through the garret.
Now, Abner Holden was not a very courageous man. In fact, he was inclined to superstition. He knew that he was engaged in a dishonorable attempt to rob a boy who was placed in his charge, and there is an old proverb that says “conscience makes cowards of us all.” It must be admitted that it was rather calculated to affect the nerves to find one’s self suddenly in the dark, and at the same time to hear such a fearful noise proceeding from an unknown quarter.
Abner Holden jumped to his feet in dire dismay, and, without stopping to reflect on the probable cause of this startling interruption, “struck a bee line” for the staircase, and descended quicker, probably, than he had ever done before, narrowly escaping tumbling the entire distance, in his headlong haste.
Herbert had to stuff the bedclothes into his mouth to keep from bursting into a shout of laughter, which would have revealed his agency in producing the mysterious noise.
“I thought I heard a frightful noise last night soon after I went to bed,” said Mrs. Bickford, at the breakfast table. “Didn’t you hear anything, Mr. Holden?”
“No,” said Abner, “I heard nothing. You were probably dreaming.”
“Perhaps I was. Didn’t you hear anything, Herbert?”
“I sleep pretty sound,” said Herbert, quietly.
Abner Holden watched him as he said this, and was evidently more perplexed than ever. But that was the last visit he paid to the garret at night.
EXPOSING A FRAUD
It would be hard to tell what Abner Holden’s precise occupation was. He had thirty or forty acres of land, but only cultivated enough to produce supplies of vegetables for his own table, and grain for his horses. He kept four cows, and he had, at this time, three horses. He had the Yankee propensity for “swapping,” and from time to time traded horses, generally managing to get the best of the bargain, for he was tolerably sharp and not much troubled by conscientious scruples about misstating the merits of his horses.
But, about two months before Herbert came into his employ, he had himself been overreached, and found himself the possessor of a horse of excellent outward appearance, but blind of one eye, and with a very vicious temper. He accepted the situation with a bad grace, and determined, as soon as possible, to “trade” the horse to another party.
One day, about a fortnight after Herbert’s arrival, a gentlemanly-looking stranger knocked at Abner Holden’s door.
The call was answered by the housekeeper.
“Is Mr. Holden at home?” he inquired.
“Yes, sir,” was the reply.