"I said that was pretty nearly the end of the story--but you know I've never quite given up hope of sometime finding that boy of mine."
"Will you let me look at that picture again?" asked Neil Durant.
As the mining engineer took the photograph from his pocket and handed it to Neil, Teeny-bits asked a question:
"That mark," he said in a voice that was peculiarly tense, "what was it like--was it--?"
"Yes," said Wolcott Norris, "it _was_ like the mark that I saw on your shoulder when Doctor Emmons...."
"Look!" Neil Durant suddenly broke in. "I know _now_ where I've seen the person that resembles this picture--it's _you_, Teeny-bits! Her eyes and mouth--just look!"
Teeny-bits gazed at the picture and finally raised his eyes to those of Wolcott Norris. He opened his lips to speak, but no sound came from them. For the moment his thoughts were too full to find expression in words.
"It seems--" he said unsteadily after a time, "like something I've been dreaming, and now I know why I've had such a strange feeling toward you--just as if you were my older brother--or my--my father. To-morrow when Neil and I go back to Ridgley, will you come?"
"Yes, Teeny-bits, I'll come," said Wolcott Norris, "and we'll go over to Greensboro and have a talk with those Chinese that Neil told me about."
Ted Norris jumped to his feet as if he had suddenly come out of a trance. "By thunder!" he cried, "my head is swimming round in circles, but I've just enough of a grip on my brains to see that you and I--that we--oh, shucks!--put it there!" And the big fellow thrust out his hand to Teeny-bits.
Next day the Norris cabin at Poca.s.sett was closed. Ted Norris went back to Jefferson and the other three traveled on toward Ridgley School. At the Greensboro station Teeny-bits and Wolcott Norris left the train and made their way to the Eating Palace of Chuan Kai. There the mining engineer, who knew how to talk to an Oriental, very quickly discovered that the proprietor of the establishment was a native of the Honan Province; that Shanghai and the Yangtse and Tung-sha were places not unknown to them, and then suddenly he put the question toward which he had been leading the conversation. When Chuan Kai had left China was Red Knife, the robber, alive? Chuan Kai started at the name and answered quickly:
"He is a devil! He will never die."
"And that was why your men acted strangely when they saw the mark on the young man's shoulder? They are from your region, too, and they know Red Knife's mark. It frightened them to find it on an American over here on this side of the world. That's all right. We've learned all we wish to know and you need have no fear, Chuan Kai, that any harm will come to you."
The Oriental had shown clearly that the mining engineer had hit upon the truth; there was no necessity of wasting more time in Greensboro. A little later Teeny-bits and Wolcott Norris were in the Hamilton station greeting Pa Holbrook, who insisted on taking them home to supper. No one could be more hospitable than this kindly old couple who made no excuses for the humbleness of their home and who gave to every one who entered it the true feeling of welcome. They accepted the mining engineer as a friend of Teeny-bits. Ma Holbrook said to herself that here was "a real fine man" and Pa Holbrook's mental comment was that he was a "genuwine gentleman." Teeny-bits could see that these two persons, to whom he owed so much, approved of Wolcott Norris, but he was filled with uneasiness at the thought of telling them what he knew must be told.
It all came out very simply after the meal was over. The story seemed to tell itself. Teeny-bits started it and Wolcott Norris helped him out, and when it was all done and Ma and Pa Holbrook grasped the full import of its meaning, there was no unpleasant scene.
Ma Holbrook put her handkerchief to her eyes, and the station agent said, "There, there, mother, don't cry."
"I'm not really crying," declared Ma Holbrook. "I'm just a little bit weepy, I'm so glad for Teeny-bits."
Pa Holbrook took the mining engineer's hand in his two old, gnarled ones and said something that made Teeny-bits very happy:
"Ma and I are old folks and we've kind of worried, you can understand, about Teeny-bits not having any family when we pa.s.s on. He's _everything_ to us, and of course this coming so sudden sort of works Ma and me up a mite, but when we're used to it we'll be the happiest people on the face of the globe to know that our boy has a real dad like you."
"I know what we'll do," said Ma Holbrook suddenly, "Pa and I will sort of adopt you, too, Mr. Norris. It don't really seem that you're much more than old enough to be Teeny-bits' brother, anyway."
At that the mining engineer got up and stood over by the window blowing his nose. When he turned round there was a redness about his eyes, and his voice was husky:
"It's a wonderful thing to me to know that Teeny-bits has had you two to look out for him all these years, and it's the best compliment I ever had for you to say that you'd like to adopt me too. We'll share Teeny-bits together and I'll be satisfied if I can make him care as much about me as he cares about you."
Teeny-bits felt that he ought to say something, but for the life of him he could not speak a word. He looked at these three persons who meant so much to him, he thought of all the things that had come to him since that first day when he climbed the hill to Ridgley School. The whole of it seemed to pa.s.s before his eyes like a panorama suddenly displayed.
How much had happened! How many new friends he had made! How much life held in store for him!
Ma Holbrook broke the trend of Teeny-bits' thoughts.
"Now," she said, smiling through the tears that still gathered in her eyes, "what are we going to call you?"
Teeny-bits laughed. He could speak now. "Why, Ma," he said, "there's only one thing to call me; I've been Teeny-bits all my life and I want to be Teeny-bits still."
_By_ CLAYTON H. ERNST
_Ill.u.s.trated by G. A. Harker_
"Clayton H. Ernst has avowedly written his story, 'Blind Trails,' for 'Boys from 12 to 18,' but the blood of any grown up who fails to find a thrill in the adventures of young Hal Ayres must be thin indeed. 'Blind Trails' is a far more interesting and better written story of adventure than many of those recently offered for full grown readers."--_The New York Sun._
"A story full of thrills that will keep the boy of 12 years or more curled up in the chair before the fire long after bedtime."--_The Philadelphia North American._
"A well-written and exciting story of a fight over the possession of valuable lumber lands. It is a book far better than the usual run of those intended for boys in the 'teens."--_The Saint Louis Star._
"'Blind Trails' is one of the best of the season's tales for big boys of sub-college age. It is well written, with real conversations and skillfully suspended interest, and more character-drawing than is usual in such stories."--_The Boston Herald._