Dick Hamilton's Fortune/17
Peters soon had the horse ready, and as Dick leaped into the saddle his father came hurrying out to the stables.
"Now be careful, Dick/' he cautioned. "Don't do anything rash. What are your plans?"
"I'm going to ride in the direction of Leonardville. That's about ten miles by the main road. I'll inquire as I go along; but what I'll do after I get there I can't tell."
"Well, be careful, that's all," concluded Mr. Hamilton. "The fellows who stole Grit are no common thieves, I imagine, and I hope you don't get into trouble with them."
"I'm not worrying about trouble. Once I get where Grit is, he and I can take care of the thieves all right," and Dick laughed grimly.
He started off at an easy canter, though Rex was full of mettle and wanted to gallop.
"No, Rex," said Dick, for he had a habit of talking to his horse as he did to Grit. "We'll take it easy. We've got a long day ahead of us."
It was about ten o'clock, and Dick decided to ride several miles without stopping to make inquiries, as the day previous he had pretty well covered the neighborhood near his home. But in about an hour, having reached a small village, he asked several persons he met if they had seen anything of his dog. No one had, and he pushed on.
Mile after mile he rode, stopping every little while to make inquiries, but without avail. He got dinner at a wayside hotel and then resumed his trip. It was about three o'clock when, as he stopped at a watering trough under a big chestnut tree on the edge of the road, he saw a wagon coming toward him.
"I'll ask this man," thought Dick. He waited until the vehicle and the driver were in plainer view through the cloud of dust raised and then he exclaimed:
"Why, Henry! How'd you get out here?"
"Oh, I've been after some old iron," replied the secretary and general man-of-all-work of the International and Consolidated Old Metal Corporation. "I heard of a farmer who had a lot of scrap for sale and I went after it."
"Did you get it?"
"Sure. It's in the wagon," and Henry nodded toward the rear of his vehicle, which was filled with a mass of broken iron. "I started away from home yesterday afternoon expecting to get back last night, but I had a breakdown and I had to stay until morning. But what are you doing out here?"
"Looking for Grit," and then Dick told about the theft of his dog. "I don't s'pose you've seen anything of him, have you?"
"Where did you say that letter came from?" asked Henry, showing some excitement.
"Leonardville. That's where I'm headed for. Why?"
"Then I saw your dog!" exclaimed Henry.
"Where?" asked Dick, excitedly.
"I was driving along last night," went on the young representative of the old metal concern, "and, just before I had my breakdown, I saw a wagon pass me. I looked in the back and saw something covered with a blanket. It was moving, and I wondered what it could be when I heard a dog bark. I thought it was rather funny to cover a dog up that way on a hot day. One of the men leaned back, and, when it barked, he hit the dog with a whip."
"Poor Grit!" murmured Dick. "Wait till I get hold of those fellows. Where did they go, Henry?"
"I'll tell you. I was thinking that was a pretty mean way to treat a dog, but I never thought they might have stolen him, and were trying to keep him hid. I watched their wagon until it was out of sight and then—"
"Did you lose sight of them?" broke in Dick.
"I went on a little farther," continued Henry, "and one of the springs of my wagon broke. I knew I couldn't get it fixed until morning, so I unhitched the horse and drove him along until I came to a hotel. This was at Maysville, and when I got to the tavern I saw the same two fellows. They were just driving away, and I heard one say it wasn't far to the Eagle Hotel. Now there's an Eagle hotel in Leonardville, and I'll bet you'll find your men and dog there. I'd like to go back with you and help—"
"That's all right, Henry," interrupted Dick. "I guess I can manage," and, calling back his thanks to the young iron merchant, and promising to see him later, Dick urged his horse off at a gallop, disappearing in a cloud of dust.
"Now there's a good example for you to follow, old bag of bones," said Henry, addressing his own steed. "Why don't you try that for a change and you'd get home to supper quicker. Well, I s'pose you'll last longer if you don't go so fast," and, with that comforting reflection, Henry managed, after a time, to get his horse in motion, the beast having almost gone to sleep during its driver's talk with Dick.
"Now to find Grit!" exclaimed the millionaire's, son, as he galloped on. "Poor dog, I hope they haven't abused you very much."
Dick did not stop along the road to make any further inquiries. He reached Leonardville in good time and soon found his way to the Eagle Hotel. He let Rex trot into the stable yard, and, dismounting, told one of the hostlers to feed and water the animal when it had cooled off.
As Dick started up the steps to the porch, intending to make some inquiries of the landlord, he suddenly started back in surprise, for, coming out of the main entrance, was Simon Scardale.
"Hello, Simon!" exclaimed Dick.
"Why-er-w-w-why, hello—Dick," stammered Simon. Have you come to—what are you doing here?" he managed to say, with an attempt at pleasantry.
"I might ask you the same thing," responded Dick.
But Simon did not wait to hear anything further. He darted back into the hotel murmuring:
"Wait a minute—I've forgotten something—see you right away—"
"He acts as though he was afraid to meet me," thought Dick, as he walked on. "I wonder what he's doing here?"
An instant later he was surprised to see Simon come out of a side door and fairly run to the stables. At the same instant a man appeared in the door of the barn, and to him Simon made frantic gestures to remain hidden. Then, as Dick watched this by-play with a bewildered air, there came from the stable the bark of a dog.
"Grit!" exclaimed Dick. "Grit! Grit, old boy!"
The barks became a howl of rage and there sounded the rattle of a chain.
"Grit! Grit!" cried Dick, running toward the stable.
There was the noise of a chain snapping. Then came frightened shouts. An instant later Simon, followed by a ragged man and a youth, dashed from the barn with the bulldog in close pursuit. Out of the hotel yard they raced, with Grit growling and barking and making fierce leaps for them.
"Grit!" called Dick, but, for once, Grit refused to obey his master's voice. His heart was too full of revenge for the insults he had suffered.
Out into the highway ran Simon and the two others, with the dog gaining at every leap.
"Help! Save me!" cried Simon, as Dick ran out to see what the end would be. He was fearful that Grit would get one of the fleeing ones down and set his teeth into his throat.
"Grit! Grit!" he called, frantically, but the bulldog never heeded.
Simon turned, hoping to get out of the path of the maddened beast, but he did not reckon on Grit's quickness. The dog made a grab for Simon's trousers and caught them at the seat. There was a ripping sound, a frantic yell from Simon, and he fell, rolling over and over in a cloud of dust.
"Grit! Don't bite him!" shouted Dick, fearful of what might happen.