Herbert’s cheek was pale, but in a resolute voice he answered, “I will not.”
Abner Holder, laid his finger upon the trigger, and would, in his anger, have carried his threat into execution; but at the critical moment he was conscious of a violent blow, and the pistol was wrenched from his hand.
Turning quickly, he met the stern glance of Ralph the Ranger.
“What does all this mean?” demanded Ralph, in a tone of command.
“What right have you to interfere?” said Abner Holden, sulkily.
“The right that any man has to prevent murder,” said Ralph, briefly.
“I wasn’t going to murder him.”
“What were you going to do?” asked Ralph, looking keenly at Abner. “Why were you pointing the pistol at him?”
“I wanted to frighten him.”
“You meant to have him think you were going to fire. I believe you were.”
“Why didn’t he come down when I bade him?”
“I’ll answer that question,” said Herbert, from the top of the tree. “Mr. Holden promised to beat me if I would come down, but I didn’t think that a sufficient inducement.”
“I have a right to beat you,” said Abner, doggedly. “Ain’t you bound to me; tell me that?”
“I was,” said Herbert, “and if you had treated me well, I would have stayed with you; but I don’t mean to remain to be abused.”
“You hear the lad’s answer,” said Ralph. “I like his spirit, and I’ll stand by him. He won’t return with you.”
While this conversation had been going on, Abner had been slowly edging himself toward the spot upon which Ralph had thrown the pistol, which he had wrenched from him. While Ralph was speaking, he suddenly darted forward, seized the weapon, and, facing about, said, with malicious triumph, “Now, you’re in my power, both of you. We’ll see whether he’ll go back with me or not.”
As he spoke he pointed the pistol toward Ralph.
The latter laughed contemptuously.
This irritated Abner Holden.
“I will count ten,” he said. “Unless the boy begins to come down before I stop, I fire at you. One—two——”
“Hold!” said Ralph, and, drawing his revolver from beneath his hunting-jacket, he pointed it at Abner. “Two can play at that game, Abner Holden. This revolver is fully loaded. It gives me six chances of hitting you. You have but one chance with your pistol. The moment your finger touches the trigger, your doom is sealed. I never miss my aim.”
A sickly hue overspread the face of Abner Holden. He had counted on Ralph’s being unarmed. He saw that he had made an important and most unlucky mistake.
“Put down your revolver,” he said, in a very different tone. “I wasn’t in earnest, you know.”
“I know nothing of the kind,” retorted Ralph. “You looked to me as if you were very much in earnest.”